Decade to Decade: A Breakdown of Fashion’s History and Society’s Impact on Trends

Trends come and go every decade; this is something we all collectively observed and even celebrate through retrospective fashion when we wear trends from the 70s, 80s and 90s. But have you ever wondered where and what the trends stem from and how they’re conspired? Trends don’t just magically appear. Designers have to feel something to create. The same goes for artists and musicians. So when a trend is created, it is the product of a collective feeling from designers, celebrities and public figures. Where does the feeling come from? Our society.

50s, 60s and 70s

Think about it. In the 50s, after World War II women were wearing suits and men’s blouses, advocating equality. In the 60s, the United States was in the space race with the Soviet Union, a journey that was reflected in the architecture and fashion. The clothes were far-out and spacey. Big geometric shapes and white “go-go” boots gave an astronomical feel to every outfit in sight. Black and white seemed to be a large portion of the color palette until the late 60s and 70s, when the Vietnam War started to impact our society. According to Tony and Claës Lewenhaupt’s book Crosscurrents, people were protesting the war, segregation, pollution, pesticides, education and capitalism, just to name a few of the causes that were angering and separating people. Describing design as “commercial manipulation,” the authors of Crosscurrents found fashion to be “impersonal” and “unsexy” during this time period. Head to toe denim used to be a work ensemble, not just a fashion fad. In the 70s, this work attire was popular among all classes.

The Big 80s

In the late 70s to 80s, people became obsessed with exercising, which explains the aerobic exercise inspired Halloween costumes today. The nation’s workout craze is the explanation of the wide shoulders trend and shoulder pads in the 80s. In a more professional setting, expensive clothing was seen as almost a stairway to moving up in class and prestige. In everyday life, people began to experiment with fashion. Outfits were colorful and wacky. Big accessories and oversized clothes were huge trends that marked 80s fashion.

Minimalism in the 90s

As we look at the 90s, we see that technology was sweeping through the world, helping trends to spread like wildfire. The Internet and satellite played huge roles in the fashion world, as trends were globalized. TV shows, such as the beloved show Friends, started to impact fashion and create trends. Minimalism and grunge were mostly seen throughout the decade.


Early 2000s fashion was a collaboration of previous trends that came in the decades before. As technology continued to evolve, we began wearing what we wanted, picking from a pool of previous styles. Specific people and celebrities had the ability to set trends that could be seen on the Internet and early social media platforms, such as Myspace, which was headquartered in Beverly Hills, a celebrity hot bed.


Move to present day, where technology continues to affect how we dress. In the Digital Age, we are moved and influenced by what we see on social media. Does our modern society affect our fashion? Of course.

In a nation divided, our fashion trends are “deconstructed.” Asymmetry is symbolic of a separation of people and a lack of unity. When people look back at this decade, our society will be evident in our art, music and fashion.

Laura Robinson is a Penn State Costume Design and Technology professor with a specialization in the history of fashion and says she strongly believes that our modern nation is being reflected in food, music, art and fashion trends.

“We are deconstructing looks. What does that say about our society that everything is deconstructed?” says Robinson. “It’s kind of disturbing.”

Our society is written all over our music and clothes, figuratively and quite literally. Let’s hope that in years to come, solidarity returns to our nation and fashion.