Fashion Rewind: A Brief History of Trousers Through The Ages

by Secret Closet on November 24, 2012 in Trend Alert
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Today we take you on a journey back in time to relive the defining moments in trousers fashion for a crystal view of how styles have come full circle through the decades. Did you know the actress Sarah Bernhardt was one of the pioneers in introducing trousers as fashionable women’s wear when she wore them in the 1890’s in Paris where it was till then both unheard and unseen?

Actress Sarah Berhardt first wears trousers in Paris in 1890s

After World War I ended, the roaring ‘20s as the period came to be known saw some real activity in the realm of modern fashion as a wave of prosperity and optimism swept through the US and women began entering the work force. It was at this time when Coco Chanel during a trip to Venice, came across wide-legged trousers. Rejecting the traditional restrictive perspective on women’s wear, she made the comfortable loose slacks a high fashion statement, finally liberating her gender from their corsets. The concept was born out of the practicality of the pants in easily alighting gondolas! The pyjama pants became a fashion staple for 1930s Hollywood stars, who would lounge about in them on set between takes. Therefore what we call palazzo pants today can be traced back to Chanel.

Coco Chanel discovers wide-legged slacks in the 1920s

The empowerment of women literally led to them “wearing the pants” and by the 1940s the trouser took on a more practical purpose as women worked in war efforts, factories, and on land. They wore trousers that were high-waisted and fitted around the hips, flaring out wide at the bottom. They also wore scarves over their hair to protect their glamorous curled hairdos.

Women working in factories during the war

The 1950s saw women embracing a more feminine version of the trouser inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s signature grace. This was the decade of the high waisted cigarette and capri pants that even complemented the hourglass figures. Bright colors and prints were extremely popular in this style much like they are today. They had high waists, side zippers, flat fronts, wide waistbands, full hips and were slim fitting through the legs ending just above the ankle.

Audrey Hepburn in printed cigarette pants

Audrey Hepburn popularizes the cropped trouser

The 1970s saw another fashion rebellion dominated by the hippie movement. Daring, carefree, ethnic looks with the aim to shock were the prevailing style. The ideal to shun everything materialistic and mainstream led to support for clothes of a non-western influence thereby giving rise to Indian and African fabrics including tie-die and paisleys. The exaggerated bell bottom flared trouser was the result of this rebellious attitude. The style gained more ground with the generation of the Charlie girls as they were known from the popular show “Charlie’s Angels”.

Charlie’s Angels in bell-bottoms

The bell-bottom was one of the most loved and long-lived styles thanks to Elvis Presley and Sonny & Cher until the 1980s power suit arrived under the patronage of Georgio Armani and Donna Karan. Power dressing was fueled by the idea that if women were to be taken seriously in the work place they must dress the part and consequently the masculine silhouette with broad shoulder pads, double breasted over-size jackets and trousers to match took over. While Armani stressed the unstructured look, Donna Karan added more curves. Other major players included Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor, and Calvin Klein. The inspiration for the style was in fact Katherine Hepburn whose 1942’s Woman of the Year was recreated by everyone from YSL to Ralph Lauren, and Tory Burch for their Fall/Winter 2012 collection.

The ’80s Power Suit

Katherine Hepburn in Woman of the Year

The ’90s is perhaps the most unforgivable and regrettable period in the history of fashion! The grunge movement aka “I just rolled out of bed” look was another form of rebellious fashion that we lived through. Unflattering baggy combat trousers and ripped up old jeans inspired by hip-hop bands and skateboard culture replaced the skinnys. The only positive we saw here was the healthy body image message it set for young girls. The trend was promoted by the All Saints who paired the clumsy trousers with cropped tops.

The Band All Saints promotes grunge

Stepping into the 21st century did not set off any major fashion movements however it did mark a significant obsession with denim and a return to the skinnys. Low-rise denims were popularized by pop stars like Britney Spears however many other cuts such as boot-leg, flare, and boyfriend jeans also came into fashion and brand awareness soared as Seven for Mankind, Diesel, and Citizens of Humanity became household names.

Way to much denim!

Finally 2010 and our favourite current period is perhaps simply known for its diversity and freedom of style where fashion implies wearing what looks good on you. From skinnys to high-waisted and harem to palazzos along with colors, statement prints and cropped are one big happy family co-existing in harmony.

Current day trend, high waist, wide-legged… love

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