Who Wore What When (and Why?): The History of Fashion

Amanda Hallay – LIM College

Fashion history. Why is it important, and why should we study it? Because fashion is not an island; it’s a response. It’s a response to what is happening in the world that creates it, so there are reasons why people in the past wore what they did.

There are reasons why fashion changed so quickly in the 20th Century but took four thousand years to change in Ancient Egypt. There are reasons why hemlines rose in the Twenties, fell in the Thirties, and rose again in the Forties. There are reasons why Elizabethan men wore earrings, why Victorian men wore top hats, why Regency women wore white, and why fashion in the Swinging Sixties swung.

By taking us on a colorful journey through six historic eras, fashion historian Amanda Hallay will demonstrate how fashion was a direct response to the socio-economic, political, and cultural landscape, and why fashion history is one of the most telling optics through which to study the people of the past.


Discussion Questions:

1. If fashion is a response to the world that wears it, how do you think fashion will respond to the post-Covid world?

2. Fashion of the past thirty years or so hasn’t moved very much. If we were to appear on the streets of 1991 wearing what we are wearing right now, we probably wouldn’t look like “Time Travelers from the Future.” Skinny jeans with strategically placed rips, graphic tees, hoodies, sweatpants: everything we wore in the ’90s we’re basically still wearing today. When we think of how fashion changed so incredibly from the ’20s to the ’40s (or the ’50s to the ’70s), why do you think fashion has been so slow to embrace real change over the past thirty years?

3. In the lecture, we looked at how dramatically fashion changed from the 1920s to the 1930s. How might fashion have evolved had Wall Street not crashed, and The Great Depression hadn’t happened?