ike history, fashion repeats itself. From the 1920s to Y2K, fashion has changed drastically, but the trendiest looks from each era seem to find their way back into our closets. Do you often find yourself in high waisted flare jeans listening to vinyls from the 70s? Wearing a cropped t-shirt out of your older sister’s closet from the 90s? It’s not random, it’s the cycle of fashion.

Fashion trends are cyclical. Most trends are started by fashion brands, models, and celebrities, and then slowly trickle into our closets. When people see celebrities wearing something, they are more likely to hop on the bandwagon. Since the look isn’t yet mainstream, people will want to adopt the trend before anyone else does, this way they will be considered to have a unique style. That is, until it becomes mainstream. When trends become mainstream, they start to show up on social media, in retail stores and in online boutiques. This makes them less desirable, but also allows them to become a closet staple. 

For example, in the 90s and into the 2000s, low-rise jeans began as a trend. Up until the last ten years, low-rise jeans were still being worn frequently. Then, high-waisted jeans became the trendy thing to wear, and today they are still a closet staple, and low-rise jeans are considered a “Y2K trend.” 

Most trends that have been introduced will at some point find their way back, it just might take a decade or so. 

Here are some of the most popular fashion trends from the last century that make up the fashion of the 2020s, by decade.

1920s: The Slip Dress

Woman walking in the street with a black slip dress.
The slip dress went from an undergarment to a fashion statement. Image courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar. 

The slip dress has been coming back in style lately, especially during spring and summer, but it can also be worn in colder weather over another garment, such as a long-sleeved shirt. 

The roots of this dress come from the roaring 20s. Back then, though, this type of dress was called a “step-in,” and was considered an undergarment. They were made out of either silk or cotton. Back in the 20s, the dresses were more boxy, and less shapely. Of course, all trends are interpreted and modernized, and the slip dress is no exception. While it was considered an undergarment back then, now, it can be worn on its own. Slip dresses are even a common style of dress to be worn by bridesmaids. This is a perfect example of the evolution of fashion.

1930s: The Wide Leg Trouser

Brown pants.
High rise jeans will always be trending. Image courtesy of The Fashion Spot.

The 1930s were the era of sporty-chic. Fitness was considered trendy, and the high-waisted pants which accentuated the waistline was highly fashionable. Because of this turning point in women’s fashion in particular, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the first to attend a formal event wearing pants. 

Wearing pants early in the century represented more than just a fashion trend. It was a sign of empowerment, in a society where women were seen as wives and mothers and nothing more. They often weren’t allowed to wear pants. This trend is still relevant today as much as it was in the 30s, as we continue to push for equality. Plus, the wide leg trouser is ultra trendy.

1940s: Hair Scarves & Bandanas

Rosie the Riveter.
Rosie the Riveter circa 1943, a turning point in women’s fashion. Image courtesy of JSTOR.

Hair scarves are coming back stronger than ever before. The origin of this trend stems from another era of women’s empowerment. The 1940s were a continuation of the 1930s in that sense, bringing on a new era of women being heard and seen, especially with the influence of Rosie the Riveter and women in the workforce. The hair scarf became a popular trend that stemmed from practicality, to keep the hair out of a woman’s face while she worked. It is still very relevant today, worn by models, celebrities, and people on the street. 

1950s: The “Greaser” Look

A group of young men in leather jackets.
All that’s missing is the motorcycle. Image courtesy of Retro Waste.

The 50s were an era of experimentation; countless trends were born into this decade, but one of the most influential ones was the Greaser look. This look goes hand-in-hand with the rockabilly style in women’s fashion which was introduced around the same time. As seen in Grease, these styles represented a rebellious, motorcycle-riding, leather-wearing era. The look of a greaser consists of a white t-shirt, jeans, and a bold leather jacket. This style can be worn by both men and women. 

1960s: Oversized Sunglasses

Audrey Hepburn.
Audrey Hepburn made her mark and still influences women’s fashion today. Image courtesy of Insider.

The 1960s were a time when typical, traditional sunglasses got a makeover. From oversized to cat eye, to dark lenses and colorful frames, the 60s were an experimental time for eyewear. Many of these styles are still very popular today. Starting in the early 60s, the Breakfast at Tiffany’s era, sunglasses got more of a cat eye look, and a larger frame. By the late 60s, sunglasses became more oversized, rounder, with darker lenses. Now, oversized sunglasses and geometric frames are still very much in style.

1970s: Flared Pants

Blue flare jeans.
The best part of flared jeans is that they can be paired with basically any shoe. Image courtesy of Who What Wear.

It’s hard to pick just one trend from the 70s that’s still influential today. From jumpsuits to platform heels to flared pants, the 70s are perhaps one of the most influential eras when it comes to fashion. Today, so many 70s styles are still in our closets and being worn on a daily basis. The most common piece of clothing from such an influential time are flared pants. Flared pants are a closet staple for so many of us today. Most flared pants we see today are in jean form, giving a casual denim look a bit more flare. They’re still worn by celebrities quite frequently, letting us know that the trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

1980s: The High Waisted Jean

High waisted jeans.
Nothing says 80s like high-rise acid wash jeans. Image courtesy of Etsy.

Much like the 1970s, picking one trend from the 80s is not easy. There are so many styles that we still see today which were born in the 80s, from hairstyles to fanny packs to denim on denim. The ones we probably all have in our wardrobe, though, are the high waisted jeans. Now commonly referred to as mom jeans, these are the epitome of 80s fashion influencing the modern era. The idea behind the mom jean is to accentuate your waistline, and eliminate the need for a belt, because the denim hugs your waist so well. Today, this style of jean is still just as popular. Aside from the brief detour down the low-rise jean road during the 90s and 2000s, high-waisted pants have always been in style. 

1990s: Biker Shorts

Three women in various outfits with biker shorts.
Biker shorts are perhaps the most versatile piece of clothing we’ve seen so far. Image courtesy of HuffPost.

This trend seemed to come out of nowhere, but we are all here for it. The biker short trend originated in the 90s, and has made a serious comeback. When they rose to popularity back then, they were worn by the most influential people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, and even Princess Diana. They can be paired with almost anything, from oversized shirts to sweatshirts and jackets, even blazers. They can be dressed up or down, depending on the color and pattern. They were briefly out of the fashion-sphere for a decade or two since the 90s, but are back and stronger than ever. 

2000s: Baby Tees

Hailey Bieber hopping on the baby tee bandwagon. Image courtesy of Grazia Daily.

Lately, perhaps due to nostalgic feelings toward the Y2K era, 2000s trends have come screaming back, leaving little to no time to adjust. It seems as though we are at the end of a fashion cycle, and the 70s and 80s high-waisted flare is fading away. Since the past year or so, low rise jeans and baby tees have become a staple for celebrities and people in the fashion world. The baby tee is a shirt that is purposely shrunken worn by mostly women, but lately men, too. These shirts often have graphics and show the mid drift. The trend was started in the 90s, with influence from movies like Clueless.

One thing we know for sure is, history repeats itself. It seems like today’s fashion trends are made up of bits and pieces of various decades from the past century. Perhaps that makes this the most influential era of all. If the trends should leave us, rest assured we will see them all again someday. For now, we can enjoy the melting pot of fashion trends that makes up the 2020s. Who knows what’s to come around next?

Nov 14, 2022