Why the 70s, 80s, and 90s seem like the worst fashion decades.

Most fashion enthusiasts would agree that the 70s, 80s, 90s and the early 00s had some of the weirdest fashion trends in history. The 70s were kind of ugly with strange silhouettes and an abundance of yellow and brown. The 80s were extravagant and unnecessarily bright and crazy. The 90s were a boring decade of minimalism and underwear as outerwear. Finally the early 00s exist in a brief moment of time completely separate from the logic of the universe, resulting in an era of hot pink and Juicy Couture Tracksuits.

Something had happened before the 1970s that changed the ways in which we approach fashion. The 1960s can be seen as that crucial turning point in the bad fashion trajectory. Although the 1960s are generally seen as a pretty reasonable fashion decade (Breakfast at Tiffany’s was made in the 1960s, so it is automatically a good decade), the 1960s did see a crucial rise in the counterculture that fundamentally changed the way society at large approached fashion. The sixties saw the start of the trend of individualism. Conformity was no longer required to be stylish, your fashion was defined by your own individualism, the music you listened to, or the groups you were a part of. Previously fashion had acted as a symbol of the social roles people were expected to play. While there was certainly an aspect of individualism in fashion which had existed from the Early Modern period, it was only applicable to minor deviations in fabric and colour, which are questions of personal taste rather than vivid representations of self-expression.

The 1960s had seen the beginning of fashion as a reflection of the music scene of the time. This came into full swing in the 1970s and the disco movement was one of the defining trends of the era. Disco clothing shone in the nightclubs, reflecting off the lights and showing off the wearer’s body. It was a stark contrast to the buttoned up hourglass silhouette of the 1950s and early 60s. It was representative of an individual’s personality and interests, demonstrating how fulfilling social expectations wasn’t as necessary as it had been in previous eras.

The disco fashion of the 1970s reflected the popular music of the time. Public Domain

Fashion throughout these decades was also linked to various social and political movements. This can be seen with the shoulder pads of the 1980s, while they look incredibly goofy today, back in the 80s they were symbols of women’s success in the corporate world. The masculinised silhouette that shoulder pads provided represented the breaking of the glass ceiling that had kept women from positions of power. Shoulder pads crept into many fashions of the 1980s, acting as an example of how wider social movements were affecting fashion trends.

The 1980s fashion for wearing shoulder pads became a staple of the working woman’s wardrobe. Photo by Alan Light shared under a Creative Commons (BY 2.0) License

The fashions of the 70s, 80s and 90s represented the emergence of the importance of individuality when deciding fashions. For previous eras the aim of fashion was to appear as beautiful as possible. Before the 20th century fashion was an indicator of status due to its expense in finding luxurious fabrics and producing the garments. In the early 20th century due to the ease in producing glamorous fashions, the most important thing became to look as beautiful as possible. The late 20th century changed those rules and while appearing beautiful is still important to a great number of people, self expression and individuality has become an important aspect of the fashion equation.







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