Fashion Mirroring In European Society

Fashion divided first the rich and wealthy from the common man. It was restricted to the royal courts and families that had their say in matters of the state, the region, the city or were connected to it in one way or the other.

In the beginning of the last century fashion celebrated its entrée to the middle class and a bit later to the masses. Industrialization of the apparel industry made it possible that women of all social backgrounds could dress up with their personal choice of clothing yet within the guidelines of what was accepted and what was rejected in society and the choices they could make depended, just as today, on their budget.

Evolving fast and mirroring the moral standards, circumstances and lifestyles of the society as a whole, fashion broke free and went wild after World War Two.

Teenage fashion in Europe was heavily influenced by trends coming from America, which got it’s foothold in the market. Young men started to dress up rebellious. Leather jackets and jeans created the “Marlon Brando Look”, accompanied by a girl in high heels and slim fit pants, or a body-hugging, narrow skirt combined with a top that revealed a seducing cleavage was the top. The so called “Elizabeth Taylor” style caused for many girls a lot of trouble at home. This group was opposed by traditional dressed young men in suits, white shirts and ties. Their girls were dressed in pretty dresses, blouses and petticoats under the circular cut, full skirts. The two groups could not find much of a common ground. For the first time, fashion made visible, who is conservative and traditional and who is exploring new terrain, equipped with a restless, adventurous spirit and the desire for change.

This trend proceeded into the sixties when next to the conservative young people two additional groups appeared in Europe that could be identified by the fashion they preferred. Well dressed “Mods” in flower printed cotton shirts and velvet pants met the “Beatniks”.

The Mods, interested in the arts, fashion and trends, cultivated the rules of society as a playground for their own needs and had no interest at all in politics. This group explored their limits within the accepted borders of the society and wanted to excel in originality. Organizing happy “Happenings” they were opposed by the anti-materialistic Beatniks that organized “Sit Ins” and demonstrations.

Stimulated by the music of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Rolling Stones the Beatniks were representatives of the anti war movement and fought against restricting laws and for human rights. Politically active they could be identified on hand of their clothes: jeans, t-shirts and/or jumper and parkas. These items were their common uniting clothing style and valid for the female as well as male gender. This fashion in its simplicity was very much worn as others wear a uniform. Olive green and knee long, the parka with hood, was like a flag, signaling the attitude these young people had towards the society and in specifically the Vietnam War. This fashion was present when the students fought in the streets of Paris and Berlin and had not much in common with the beatnik culture in America. Denied by this group as “fashion” because fashion meant “consuming” it was nevertheless served as such to the Beatniks with pleasure. Levis was “the jeans brand” and a must have for each Beatnik that walked the streets of Europe. Fact is that Levis jeans were everything else then inexpensive then and only available in special Jeans Stores in Europe.

Groups were even more divided in 1970. Accelerating in speed fashion moved on in the 70ies and had for all new developing groups something on offer. It rather seemed that fashion was uniting all these different streams, attitudes, ethics and moral values or maybe better said: it took the edge off. The love and peace generation brought the Indian clothing style to Europe and America which turned out to be a huge resource for fashion designers, inspiring and boosting their creativity. Long skirts and dresses next to cute suede and jeans mini-skirts, floppy hats, the tunica for men and women. Bell-bottom jeans and worn out jeans enhanced with embroideries and colorful patches, this free-spirited trend left its footprints in fashion and comes back in many forms and shapes up to today.

Suede jackets in the style of American Indians with beaded décor and fringed sleeves, or embroidered blouses picked from various cultures, such as the Spanish Carmen Look, Torero pants for women and Boleros created the so called “Folklore Look” which was extremely popular in Europe. By opening up the treasure box of fashion of the world to young consumers, interest in other nations was stimulated and tolerance nourished – raising the awareness that everybody on this planet has something worthwhile to contribute and to offer and that we can share all the beauty of fashion. The Folklore Look is still coming back in cycles in a tuned down style and dresses nowadays women of all ages.

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