Anyone with even a fleeting interest in fashion understands that trends and styles come and go – often returning to prominence decades later with slightly reworked interpretations in order to fit more modern tastes and tailoring. Call it an homage to classics that will ultimately never die, or sartorial archaeology that continues to unearth dusty gems. Yet, over the years we’ve come to understand that some things should stay in the past. As an attempt to understand everything that has come to represent what is deemed contemporary, we explore over 60 years of fashion to look back at what has merely “changed” and what was so ludicrous that it’s almost comical. Here are the biggest style changes and fads since the 1950s.
Pants Placements on the Hips
Today’s pants – regardless of snugness around the thighs and torsos – all seem to share one thing in common: they’re all low-rise. As GQ’s Glenn O’Brien puts it, “The waist is easy to find; just look for your navel and there it is! And believe it or not, for most of us, at least those of us who wear suits and those pants that can be legitimately called trousers, that’s the ideal target area for the waistband. I think the lowering of the rise was a European influence that began in the ’60s, but today America sets a low-rise standard of its own.” Take a look at a show like AMC’s Mad Men, where pants sat high and tight as if a sartorial fast ball, as an indication of what was deemed socially acceptable as it related to where a pair of pants should sit.
In speaking with Details, men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, Tommy Fazio, remarked, “People like Thom Browne helped our eyes adjust to the smaller lapel, the tighter suit, and the skinny tie. But I see some guys on the street now and it’s like, ‘He’s wearing a shoestring!'” What many men fail to understand is that skinny ties lend themselves to shrunken lapels and suits without shoulder pads. In the past, suits were more boxy and lapels were several inches thick, thus neckties matched the silhouette of the power uniform. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Neckties are moving to 3 1/2; inches at their widest point, at least based on the latest offerings from many major mainstream labels. That’s a narrowing of 1/4; inch or more from the width that’s been typical of conservative ties for the past few years.”
Belts Over Suspenders
The modern suspender was invented in 1820 by Albert Thurston as the answer to a conundrum faced by high-cut of mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century trousers that made traditional belt usage impractical. While the item itself has fallen in and out of favor, doctors in the 1950s even recommended suspenders to patients with extended bellies. According to TIME, “‘There are more big stomachs caused by the wearing of a belt than any other one thing I know of,” said a Chicago doctor named Dr. V. S. Cheney in 1928, urging people instead to practice ‘posture, exercise and the wearing of suspenders.'”
Hats Were an Everyday Occurrence
This era instantly evokes images of men rushing down crowded streets in overcoats and a sea of felt hats. In the 1950s, a sturdy hat wasn’t as much a style statement as it was a means of protection from the elements. The disappearance of the hat as an everyday item can be attributed to one major source of industrial advancement. According to NPR, President Dwight Eisenhower’s great achievement was building “a vast highway system across America. Interstates went up everywhere. Cities extended roads, turnpikes, highways, and suburbs appeared around every major city. People, instead of taking a bus, a tram, a train to work, could hop into their new Chevy or Ford and drive. Before Eisenhower, many more people used public transportation. After Eisenhower, they used a car.” In turn, less men needed to wear a hat.
The Trench Coat Was a Staple
Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blaine from Casablanca and Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau were among many men/characters to usher the coat into mainstream consciousness following its more utilitarian appropriations in World War II. Because men’s attire at the time dictated a suit and tie, a longer jacket was necessary to prevent “back vents” from hanging out.
A Pack of Smokes/Cigarette Case Was an Accessory
Sir Richard Doll was amongst the first people to suggest a close link between smoking and cancer when he published his assertion in a 1950 article in the British Medical Journal. According to The Guardian, “Cigarettes were considered harmless and 80% of men had a regular habit. Doll and his colleague Sir Austin Bradford Hill embarked on their investigation at the request of the Medical Research Council because lung cancer rates were climbing, but they expected to pin the blame on the fumes from coal fires. When they administered questionnaires to patients with suspected cancers, they found that all those with confirmed lung cancer were smokers, and all those who got the all-clear were not.”
Many of the most stylish and iconic pieces from the 1950s were as functional as they were decadent. With the rise in popularity of dress shirts with French cuffs, men of yesteryear didn’t have the luxury of securing the closure of his sleeve with a ready-made button. Hence, the need for cufflinks.
Collar pins (perhaps made famous in popular culture as part of Boardwalk Empire‘s Nucky Thomson’s stylish ensembles) were available in three options during the era. The Classic Collar Pin which was designed to be worn predominantly with rounded club collars and narrow collars, the Barbell for made-to-measure or bespoke shirts, and the Collar Bar which had a clasp on each end in order to hold the collar together.
Nehru Jackets/Mandarin Collars
With China and India being home to about one out of every three persons in the world, people outside those regions began yearning for a global understanding – including their fashion sense. The collar itself is inspired by apparel worn by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964. Featuring a front-button closure rising to a high, round neckline surmounted by a narrow stand-up collar, the most notable attribute of the piece is the absence of collars and lapels.
Seen as an outward display of opposition against the ongoing conflict in Vietnam, the tie-dye shirt was a physical embodiment of the spirit of young people whose values were drastically different than their parents. With roots in Indian bandhani and Japanese shibori – dyeing techniques that involve binding areas of fabric before dyeing to create color patterns – the origins in American culture actually stem from a Best Foods executive hired to market Hellman’s mayonnaise, Don Price, who asked his bosses if he could take a crack at fledgling brand, Rit Dye. According to The Los Angeles Times, “After researching uses for dye around the world, Price began a gonzo marketing campaign in New York’s Greenwich Village. He hoped to generate interest among the neighborhood’s free-spirited youths, who were fast becoming fascinated with psychedelic colors and artsy-craftsy garb.”
Jeans Not Deemed “Appropriate” for Women
In the 1960s, it was still deemed inappropriate for women to wear pants/trousers in schools, the workplace, and fine restaurants. French designer André Courréges – who started at the Jeanne Lafaurie fashion design house before moving on to Balenciaga – ushered in the era of the notion of “designer jeans” for women. Courréges famously told Francoise Giraud, then-executive editor of the French magazine, L’Express, “A woman’s body must be hard and free. Not soft and harnessed.” Consider this: in 1969 Rep. Charlotte Read became the first woman to wear pants in the U.S. Congress.
Turtlenecks as Rebellious
Daily News Record Magazine proclaimed 1967 the year of the turtle (neck). While in today’s society it’s deemed as something “conformist” in nature, at the height of its popularity it was quite the opposite – deemed the “anti-neck tie” by intellectual bohemians. According to The New York Times, “Francesca Granata, an assistant professor of art and design history at Parsons the New School for Design, traced the garment’s high-fashion roots to the ’60s, when, she said, ‘Pierre Cardin and YSL reinvented the men’s suit with a turtleneck instead of a buttoned shirt and a scarf instead of a tie.’”
While many think of Seinfeld’s “puffy shirt” when they recall what a poet shirt is, a more tailored, less-ruffled version is what created a frenzy during the era. Combining elements of yesteryear with a certain androgyny made famous by rock stars looking to push the boundaries on what was deemed “gender acceptable,” the shirt itself remains of the period and never really found an updated silhouette in modern times.
While the popularity of the flared, bell-bottoms has its roots in the 1960s counterculture movement associated with “free love,” the trend remained strong throughout the ’60s and into the ’70s when disco also embraced the wide-leg appeal. Leaving behind the denim in favor of bright cotton and satin polyester, it remains instantly recognizable as a fashion “miss” that spanned nearly two decades of popularity.
There was nothing subtle about the ’70s. The hair was big, the colors were bright, and even the smallest details took on a life of their own. The butterfly collar is a remnant of those sensibilities – a Saturday Night Fever-esque reminder that fashion became the second-skin for overindulgence.
While today’s sensibilities when it comes to men’s suits lend themselves to the “skinny movement,” the suits in the 1970s appeared unfinished-looking – with loose, frayed hems and edges – often referred to as “deconstructed tailoring.” As The Tailor’s Art notes, “Italian designer Giorgio Armani sparked a revolution in menswear when he introduced his softly constructed suit in the 1970s. Unlike most menswear of the time, Armani’s suits were elegantly loose and draped with little apparent inner structure. Their casual elegance was further enhanced by his choice of drab earth tones such as beige, stone, and taupe.”
Taking its cue from such styles as Yves Saint Laurent’s “safari suit,” the leisure suit that comes to mind sparks images of color-coordinated tops and bottoms with additional inherent characteristics of the Norfolk jacket. Seen as a unique alternative to going “semi-casual,” the leisure suit’s appeal remains firmly rooted in 1970s tastes.
While designers today still dabble in “technical fabrics,” you’d be hard pressed to find anyone looking to boast about polyester construction. Marketed for its durability and cheap price, when paired with the aforementioned leisure suit, you had a perfect storm of bad design with an even worse synthetic fiber makeup.
According to Vogue, “The ’70s saw Björn Borg strategically sporting a striped FILA band to keep his bang-heavy coif under control.” While it’s not a new phenomenon for people to adopt the stylings of their favorite athletes, it seems quite indicative of the era that people chose to normalize an accessory whose main job was to keep sweat out of a person’s eyes.
His and Her Matching Outfits
Believe it or not, countless brands marketed “his and her” outfits throughout the decade. While the phenomenon may be best reserved nowadays for Halloween antics, there was a real push to dress like your spouse no matter if it was an all-denim affair or something more intimate like underwear.
Running the gamut from mimicking The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘s drab construction to more ornate, crocheted versions, the poncho in the 1970s had nothing to do with fighting inclement weather.
While subdued checkered prints are still found in a variety of stylings of button-ups today, designers have long since abandoned plaid on trousers. A distant cousin of the madras print which remains popular today, those that swapped traditional block coloring for patterned bottoms always ran the risk of looking like a clown.
Fur Coats for Men
Perhaps made most famous by none other than New York Jets quarterback Broadway Joe Namath who regularly donned a full-length fur on the sideline during games in the ’70s, ultimately NFL regulations limited the sartorial risk, and the changing opinions on the ethical treatment of animals made the wearing of fur quite taboo.
For those looking to add even more flamboyance to already over-the-top and bold ensembles, the silk ascot that is worn around the neck provided additional flare that today seems akin to those today that simply have an overload of accessories.
Originally marketed as a comfortable and functional piece of clothing for powerlifters at the gym with thighs too large for traditional shorts/sweatpants , Zubaz were founded in the late ’80s and almost instantly became a cultural phenomenon. Selling $100 million USD in 1991 alone, there’s a rumor that the pants were actually manufactured in a Minnesota prison given the founder’s connections inside the penal system. At the height of their success, there were 50,000 pairs of Zubaz sold a week.
Wearing a Sweater Around Your Neck
Seemingly a precursor to other head-scratching fashion spins like wearing a visor flipped upside down and ski-goggles when not on the slopes, the preppy, ’80s equivalent has to be donning a sweater across one’s shoulders. Dubbed “emergencywear” by Chicago Now because the only rational could be, maybe I’ll need a sweater and I don’t feel like carrying it, the trend has become undoubtedly a way to paint someone as preppy and privileged.
Reverse Pleated Pants
While there has been an attempted renaissance for pleats as evidenced by runway shows by heavyweights like Burberry Prorsum, Calvin Klein, Dries Van Noten and Gucci as recently as 2012, the general consensus amongst men is that flat-front pants are more aesthetically pleasing because they don’t make the wearer appear heavier than he actually is.
Member’s Only Jackets
Existing in a realm where one wanted to be both casual and formal, the epaulette-laden Member’s Only Jacket fit the bill. With an ad campaign proclaiming “wear it anywhere because it’s perfect everywhere,” the company even tried to get political in one of the stranger commercials in the entire decade.
The velour jogging outfits of the ’70s morphed into the nylon and sheen tracksuits of the ’80s – perhaps most famously worn by Run-D.M.C. Brands like adidas, Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse and Fila all remain synonymous with the trend.
While not quite the same thing as “hammer pants” whose influence closely resembles their “harem” brethren, the term has come to represent an oversized pair of pants with oversized pockets and an abundance of zippers. Whereas something like the “cargo pant” had roots in functionality and was later updated, there seems to be now logical reason why the parachute pants looked the way they did.
The fanny pack answered the question, “What do I do with all my stuff if I refuse to use my pockets and simply won’t wear a backpack?” Produced in neon colors and variety of patterns and fabrics, the accessory relied on appealing to those who rationalized that enhanced functionality called for rewriting the book on toting items.
Made popular by the likes of LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane in music, and Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, the finger equivalent to a dookie chain was one of the first pieces of jewelry to stem from hip-hop culture connotations.
While the silk shirt has certainly seen a renaissance in recent memory thanks to the likes of Drake and Don C wearing the Versace blue silk barocco shirt from their 2011 collection, at the time the hard-to-pull-off item was a staple item for every man regardless of body type or profession. The result was a bunch of men walking around looking like they were on the way to a Jodeci concert.
First produced in 1991 and featuring color-changing technology that shifted based on temperature, according to Smithsonian, “in a brief three-month span, between February and May 1991, the company sold a whopping $50 million worth of color-changing, heat-sensitive T-shirts, shorts, pants, sweatshirts and tights.” For any and all those that decided to wear one’s “emotions” on their sleeves, a subsequent visit to the washing machine revealed that a little hot water could zap the magic out of the thermochromatic dye.
A distant relative of the poncho – but with distinctly more surf vibes influenced by South and Central America – the Baja hoodie first gained popular culture prominence when slacker legend, Jeff Spicoli, wore one in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Gaining traction throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s, the textured piece came to represent a counterculture movement that lacked the same cultural staying power as the hippie movement.
Grunge as a Fashion Statement
The grunge movement of the ’90s was undoubtedly a major source of inspiration for this gloomy trend that treated flannel shirts like they were cardigan sweaters thanks to those who abstained from using the buttons. As The New York Times wrote in 1992, “This generation of greasy Caucasian youths in ripped jeans, untucked flannel and stomping boots spent their formative years watching television, inhaling beer or pot, listening to old Black Sabbath albums and dreaming of the day they would trade in their air guitars for the real thing, so that they, too, could become famous rock-and-roll heroes. A culture was born.” James Truman, the editor in chief of Details at the time said, “To me the thing about grunge is it’s not anti-fashion, it’s un fashion. Punk was anti-fashion. It made a statement. Grunge is about not making a statement, which is why it’s crazy for it to become a fashion statement.”
Golf Visors as Street Style
Whereas brands like Polo, Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica sold a certain viewpoint as it related to luxury sport, ultimately they became entrenched with hip-hop. A laughable byproduct of this fusion between country club and urban motifs was the golf visor’s segue into a street style piece – either worn traditionally, backwards, or even worn backwards and flipped upside down. Perhaps a precursor for the fedora phenomenon that continues to be popular, there’s no denying that a golf visor as everyday wear seems as ludicrous as rocking bowling shoes at church.
Ski Goggles as Street Style
Ski goggles have produced not only one, but two strange trends in the last 20 years. In the ’90s it became fashionable to don bulky, colorful eyewear normally reserved for the slopes – perhaps most famously worn by Big Pun on his album cover Capital Punishment – and in subsequent years has become “trendy” to have raccoon-style tan lines on one’s face as if having worn ski goggles.
The wallet chain was another accessory that tried to toe the line between being functional and being a piece of jewelry. Generating appeal for both men and women alike, it became a counterculture statement rooted in capitalism.
The Length of Your “shorts”
Many credit Michael Jordan with the introduction of the baggy short into the NBA as a means to have enough fabric to cover his University of North Carolina shorts that became a habit for him to wear underneath his Bulls uniform on game day. As the era progressed, the athletic sensibilities became a staple for other shorts – culminating in “shorts” that nearly hit the sockline.
Overalls/The Single Strap
Trendsetters of the 1990s weren’t merely satisfied with adding a piece of clothing normally reserved for farming into their repertoire. No, it had to be different. Thus, we got the overall where one strap was left undone.
Square-Toed Dress shoes
“I don’t think square-toe shoes ever had a good moment,” New York designer and store owner Steven Alan told Details, “They’re like PT Cruisers.” Universally panned across the web for being convenient but lacking style – the “anti-loafer” – they have come to represent an attempt to be stylish that doesn’t have silly connotations like other fads, but is still viewed just as negatively.
The trucker hat phenomenon has become synonymous with Von Dutch – a company that capitalized off the art and design of Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard. While the brand would surely gain recognition for a variety of pieces bearing the name, their mesh hats were most responsible for the company pulling in $33 million USD in 2003 alone.
By 2009, sales for Ed Hardy exceeded $700 million USD for the brand. Clearly there was a demand for stylings that were unafraid to embrace the concept of being flashy and over the top. Coming to represent that oversaturation and overexposure is both a recipe for success and failure, one can’t help but think that the “parody” movement in streetwear has its roots in making fun of what graphic tees represented in the early part of the 2000s.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “The upturned collar’s roots stem from tennis champion René Lacoste, who in 1927 designed a polo shirt for his own use with flexible collars that could be turned up to prevent the neck from being sunburned.” Reappropriated on numerous occasions – most notably in the prep-charged ’80s and once again the new millennium – it’s deemed corny for polo shirts but is still relatively acceptable on the likes of outerwear like pea coats and track jackets.