Beauty is fluid. For proof, look no further than the varied beauty and fashion trends popular in the United States in the 20th century. Depending on the decade, the ideal man or woman looked quite different. While men's styles focused largely on clothing rather than their bodies, 20th century beauty trends for women were heavily influenced by the size and shapes of their figures.
As television and film became more popular midway through the century, Americans began looking pop culture and beauty icons for fashion cues. Women pined to look like blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe in the '50s, and waiflike Kate Moss in the '90s. Men first looked at silver screen stars and later bulked-up bodybuilders as influences.
Some of these fashion trends in the 20th century look outdated to modern eyes. But whether the look was understated and tailored or over-the-top and glamorous, these trends were all the craze at one point. Just remember: beauty was, and is, in the eye of the beholder.
During the early 1900s, women wore S-bend corsets to emphasize their figures. The aim was to show off one's curves by pushing the hips back and the chest up. Illustrator Charles Gibson popularized this look, which became known as the Gibson Girl. Women wore puffy blouses embellished with lace and ribbons. Large, wide-brimmed hats covered their hair, which was often parted in the center and made fuller with extensions. In the 1910s, frilly shirts were still in fashion, as was a higher waistline; skirts, however, became tighter.
Young men preferred trimmed mustaches and short hair, while only older gentlemen sported beards in the early 1900s and 1910s. Three-piece suits were common, along with narrow jackets and starched collars. After the onset of World War I, men commonly posed for photographs in military uniforms.
The Flapper-style dress, with its straight silhouette and shorter hemline, came about in the mid-1920s as women opted for more casual attire. The aim was to have a boyish figure and a flat chest. Most daringly, women also began to wear their hair short as a way to express themselves. The Jazz Age was all about excess and partying, and exposed skin and non-traditional femininity expressed a carefree attitude.
Men of that era started wearing suit pants with cuffs, and the lapels on their jackets were smaller compared to the wider lapels popular during World War I. Shoes became more lavish, with wingtips and fringed tongues. Like the women, Jazz Era men aspired to be thin.
In the early 1900s, women preferred wide-brimmed hats. By the '20s, they started wearing the close-fitting cloche hat, which was perfect for women who opted for short hairstyles. These rakishly tilted hats were often paired with chic flapper dresses.
Men wore all sorts of hats in the 1920s, depending on the occasion: straw boaters, panamas, bowlers, or fedoras. The bowler was particularly popular; towards the end of the decade, men wore these hats in brighter colors.
By the 1930s, women had abandoned the boyish look. Now they favored clothes that accentuated the natural waistline and fitted more closely to the body. Narrow hips, however, were still greatly desired. The economic hardships of the era led to the rise of cheaper factory-made clothing, particularly garments featuring zippers. But evening dresses were all about glamour; silky, clingy, bias-cut dresses showed off a woman's figure.
As for men in the '30s, they wanted to be Superman – literally. An athletic figure was greatly sought after, and clothes emphasized broad shoulders and narrow waists. Military-inspired jackets and coats were popular, as were high-waisted, pleated pants. As for evening wear, Fred Astaire's tuxedo tailcoat was the must-have look.