The Evolution of Day-to-Day Fashion in America

America loves to be super comfy. No matter where we’re headed, most of us agree on what to wear–yoga pants. And if the event is fancy enough, joggers. But how did we get here?

People used to dress up! Not just for special occasions like graduations and fancy dinners. They used to dress up for everything. Going to the grocery store? A button shirt and a-line skirt were the way to go. Going to smoke cigars at the lounge with the boys? Pleated pants and a polo for sure. Going to sit on an airplane for five hours only to sit in an airport for a layover and then take a cab ride to a hotel? A fancy dress, hat, and gloves were the only acceptable choice.

From the good ol’ days of polyester and pleats to the present day of spandex and flip-flops, we’re taking a look at the evolution of daily wear in America!

1920’s

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We think a great place to base our investigation into daily wear is grocery stores! Everyone needs to eat, right?

So, is this a look into a fancy grocery store open only to dapperly donned gents and ladies? Nope! Just a good ol’ fashion place where people went to buy food and other sundry supplies.

The 1920s were unparalleled in terms of changing fashion trends. In the beginning of the decade–pictured here–we see the remnants of fashion as it was during World War I. The dresses were simplified so women could do the work left behind by men who went off to fight in the war. Women’s daily garments were shorter than those worn in decades before, and the styles began to blur gender lines as a matter of necessity for the work the women were doing.

Later in the decade, designers from Paris and England began to cater to the elite both in America and overseas, which resulted in drop-waist dresses, Mary Jane heels, and Cloche hats. These fashions were looser and straighter than the starched dresses of the 1910s and, as a result, transitioned easily to daily life.

We’re glad we don’t have to wear hats to buy eggs.

1930s

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Looking for a few fine apples to bring home to the family? Naturally, a french braid, white dress, and heels lend themselves to running this errand.

Fashion in the 1930s was greatly influenced by the economic downturn of the Great Depression. The financial crisis lead clothing makers to create pieces out of cheaper fabric than they were using in the 1920s, and the styles became more perfunctory. Fabric colors were more natural for the common folk–as opposed to the Hollywood elite or other people of means–and women’s day dresses (pictured above) usually fell between mid-calf and the ankle.

Though the styles were a little looser and more comfortable, we still have a LONG way to go to capri yoga pants and a Lulumon zip-up.

1940s

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We wish were as put together as these women from the 1940s who wore structured suit jackets and gloves to pick out the perfect carrots for dinner. This era in fashion was highly influenced by the military suits worn during World War 2. With most of the menfolk overseas, the women left behind were called upon to enter the workforce and take care of business at home.

The silhouettes of the time either reflected the utility of military garb or the shapeless jumpsuits worn in factory work. Most women wore their hair high and tight, so to speak, and headscarves became popular not only as a style but as part of womens’ daily uniforms.

You have to hand it to these women who were living in tumultuous times and still didn’t give way to the comforts of joggers and athletic shoes.

1950s

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We don’t think we’ve worn a bow tie for any occasion, ever. Not even on a trip to the local Walmart for groceries. But you can’t blame us, because we weren’t alive in the 1950s.

This fashionable family was formidably formal. The main thing we’d like to note is the fanciness of their wardrobe but also the notably stripped down style. Daywear during this time period still reflected the necessary changes to fashion that were made curing wartime. Styles were formal but also more utilitarian than those donned in previous generations.

As a side note, the 1950s were marked by femininity and formality, with a burgeoning wave of rebellion. James Dean was all the rage after he starred in three movies back to back. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes, “His character defiantly rejects the values of his elders while desperately aching to ‘belong’ and attempting to find a purpose in life. Dean’s performance spoke eloquently on behalf of disenchanted, disenfranchised teenagers and gave them a hero they could respect and admire.”

This family hadn’t yet been subject to Dean’s authority defying role in the culture, and they definitely hadn’t yet heard of boyfriend jeans and Toms sneakers.

1960s

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Our first question here is, “Why haven’t we ever had this much fun buying meat?” Our second question is, “Why aren’t waterlemlons that big anymore?”

In the early 1960s daytime attire was simple, modest, and put together. As the decade wore on, it became more colorful, bold, and youth driven. Fashion was so youth driven, in fact, that the term “Youthquake” was coined as a means of describing the way in which kids’ fashion staples started making their way into adult wardrobes. Items such as Mary Jane shoes and flat sneakers, as well as shapeless mini dresses that de-emphasized the female form. Here’s what we mean . . .

1960s Youthquake

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Behold, the Youthquake! Fashions inspired by the young at heart–and in age–to reflect the the idea that youth is powerful and fun is a value to be celebrated!

Still no yoga pants and Nike hats. You’ll note that even though fashion is beginning to take on a less “stuffy” feel, it’s still way more formal than the average loungewearer of the 2000s.

By the late 1960s the hippie movement was in full swing. As you probably already know, Hippie fashion was rife with paisley prints, bellbottom jeans, and tie-dye everything. Just check out a couple photos of Woodstock–which took place in 1969–and you’ll get the picture. These free form, mismatched prints included touches from far off lands in an effort to reflect he idea of embracing the whole world. Beading, kaftans, and kimonos began to influence even high-fashion items for women.

1970s

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This is starting to look more like the kind of clothing we would see at a grocery store today. Jeans, and a well fitting long sleeved shirt. The scarf at the neck would be more likely to be worn in our hair today, but this is a look with which we are more accustomed.

That being said, where aren’t Tangerines still only $.39 for 5?

While 1970s fashion was heavily influenced by the Hippies of the 1960s, 1980s fashion was brought to you by the B and “big” stuff. Big hair, big jewelry, and big shirts.

1980s

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These ladies from the movie Heathers are playing high school students. Blazers, shoulder pads, and bit jewelry, oh my! This is just the beginning though. Check out the cast of The Breakfast Club, who are also playing high school students . . .

1980s Again

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Let’s dive in to the average daily wear of the good, the bad, and the rebellious. The 1980s were a time of great wealth for America. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was a television show that reminded the country that with great wealth comes great responsibility . . . or just great big houses.

One of the mottos of the 1980s was, “If you got it flaunt it and you can have it all.” This was a generation of status seekers and they had a lot of big name stars–and accidental fashionistas–to emulate. Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Princess Diana were among the top names this generation was looking up to. Not to mention a lot of pop culture films that were suddenly available to the average apartment dweller and home owner by way of VHS video tapes and the ultimate home rental store, Blocksbuster.

What we love about the 80s is that fashion was unique and comfy, but it also reflected the individuality of the wearer. There were some basic pieces most people had, but no two people really wore them the same way.

1990s

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For some people in the 1990s, a shopping trip usually meant going to a mall in your best crew neck and high waisted khakis or jeans. For others, it was a defining moment meant to communication your inner angst to the world. Let us explain . . . we’ll begin with the cast of one of the most popular TV shows of the day, My So-Called Life.

Before we go there, you’ll note, casual wear still included belts and was void of yoga pants and joggers.

1990s, My So-Called Life

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What you see represented in this photo of a culturally iconic TV show from the 1990s is several fashion influences working side-by-side. You’ve got hip-hop, grunge, and Britpop. Let’s just say, there was a lot going on the 1990s.

Still, what we love about these trends is the way people were expressing themselves and leaving plenty of space for others to do the same. Want to wear a dress that hits at the ankle, with a pop of lace at the neck? No problem. Want to wear a Britpop inspired jacket with big gold button across the shoulders? Bring it on.

As in generations before the 1990s, music greatly and defined one’s sense of self and how they interacted with the culture.

And now that we know where we’ve come from, let’s see where we are today . . .

2021

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And here we are! 2021.

It’s hard to define a decade–or a year–when you’re in it. When we look back over the years through a rosy glow of remembrance, and with the benefit of perspective, we can more easily see trends. We can also see the causes and effects of cultural shifts. So, with limited perspective we’ll point out the obvious . . . we’ve come a long way from tapered blouses and bow ties.

Gone are the days of formal daily wear. We’ve traded in our heels for sneakers. We’ve traded in our ties and smart suit jackets for t-shirts and flip-flops. We get for a trip to the grocery store and a trip to the office in the same way–we wear the same outfits out to lunch as we do to attend a meeting with our colleagues.

So, now we ask you . . . what do you think is most heavily influencing our fashion today? And, where do you think we’re headed?

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