How Does Clothing Style Reflect Cultural Changes?

outfitting modern womanWe all know that our clothing style reflects who we are and who we want to be. Whether you’re a skateboarder in baggy jeans and a hoodie or a banker wearing a pressed suit and heels, your outfit speaks volumes about you. It can tell others how you spend your free time, what you find important, even reflect a lot about how you feel about yourself personally. But clothes also go beyond showing our personality. They can reflect our culture around us and even changes in our culture. Clothes can inspire respect, fear, or obedience. The changes in clothing over time show how our cultural values have changed and the changes in our views of people in power.

From gladiator clothing with thong shoes (or bare feet!) complete with robes tied around the waste to the power suits of today, clothes have gone through some drastic changes. The outfits worn by the courts of Spain and England in the fourteenth century were completely different than the ones worn decades before. With thick, rich fabric woven with bright gold thread, they showcased money and put high value on appearance. Both men and women wore multiple layers, with the women squeezing into dresses that pushed their form into the ideal one. The most well-known clothing item that addresses this is the corset! The ideal female form was one to suffer for, but now through cultural changes, we embrace multiple forms as ones of beauty and no longer force women to wear corsets.

From the embroidered clothing of royalty dripping with jewels we changed our clothing to fit a more adventurous and outdoor life. The long robes were exchanged for shorter ones. Over decades in America we saw flapper dresses change to mod ones, to minis, the men went from wearing tailored suits to baggy clothes. The changes in our culture have had a direct effect on the style and kind of clothes that we wear. We’ve come a long way from the amazing rich Tudor dresses that were once so popular. Utility became more important than fashion as people had to work with their hands more and more. A gradual shift away from inherited wealth meant few nice clothes and more that could be dirty either through play or hard work outside. As our culture has changed, so has our clothing. It’s an integral part of our lives and reflects the values of today as well as any changes we are experiencing.

Even the radical shifts in baby clothing reflect our cultural mores.  Take, for example, something non-glamorous like baby boy onesies where the latest trend is to begin dressing babies in multi-piece outfits far earlier than even one decade ago.