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British Fashion Through the Decades

  1. a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behaviour.
  2. "the latest Parisian fashions"

synonyms: vogue, trend, craze, rage, mania, mode, fad, fancy

Britain is one of the cornerstones in the world of fashion, and one of the ‘Big Four’ design leaders alongside Milan, New York and Paris.

British clothing has evolved significantly over the last 100 years - this is Farnol’s overview of British fashion through the decades, including some of Britain’s most iconic looks.

victorian fashionImage Source

 1900s - The End of the Victorian Era

Women wore narrow waistlines, long-length skirts and broad-brimmed hats adorned with feathers and ribbons. Hair was generally worn wavy and piled on top of the head, and shoes were narrow and pointed. 

Gents chose three-piece suits, with trousers cuffed at the bottom. Top Hats also remained a requirement for the upper classes. Everyday shoes took the form of toe cap, lace up boots.


1920s fashionImage Source

1920s - Roaring Twenties Fashion

The 1920s was a turning point in British fashion. Slowly, but surely, individuals ditched the restrictive, ultra-conservative fashions of the past and turned to more comfortable, practical clothes.

1920s style involved women rejecting the restrictive corset in place of loose-fitting, straight-line skirts. Emblematic of 1920s British fashion, the flapper dress was born; a straight, flat-laying dress often adorned with tassels or feathers for smarter occasions. For the first time in centuries, 1920s style saw hemlines rising to the knee, as women adopted a more masculine silhouette. Coco Chanel, a 1920s fashion icon, was one of the first high-profile women to embrace this look. Coco Chanel introduced the Breton stripe into French style during this time, which in turn inspired the Farnol Breton striped t-shirts today.

Well-tailored suits in muted colours dominated 1920s men’s fashion. Three-piece suits and high- waisted jackets meant an emphasis on formality permeated this period. Wide-legged trousers, known as ‘Oxford bags’ were popular by the mid-20s.

1930s - A Shift from Previous Centuries

1930s British fashion for women saw a shift from the body-sculpting attire of previous centuries. Shorter skirts became commonplace, with clothing featuring a more relaxed fit.

1930s men’s fashion saw colour palettes becoming more subdued in sharp contrast to the roaring twenties fashion. Men sported a fedora, tipped down covering an eye – a signature look of the time.

1940s fashion

Image Source

1940s - New Silhouettes

With the incorporation of shoulder pads into clothing, women’s 1940s British fashion adopted a more masculine silhouette. Wartime rationing meant fabric was in shorter supply than in previous decades. As a result, dresses came up to knee length. Necklines came in an array of styles including sweetheart, square and V neck.

1940s menswear featured muted colours and less restrictive shapes. Due to rationing, the emphasis in 1940s British fashion was on creating long-lasting, sustainable clothing.

1950s - The ‘New Look’ + Teddy Boy fashion

Women’s 1950s British fashion was heavily influenced by French fashion designer Christian Dior, with his ‘New Look’ collection. The former boyish silhouette of the 1920s and 30s were replaced with full skirts and large busts to accentuate a smaller waist –creating the tea dress. The look took inspiration from the Victorian era; however skirts and dresses were shorter.

1950s fashion for guys included more comfortable, fuller-looking suits with the ability to fit virtually any man’s body type. Men’s casual wear took the form of a ‘preppy look’ - cardigan sweaters and straw hats for summer.

1950s youth culture saw the introduction of the British subculture - Teddy Boys. Teddy boy fashion was largely influenced by styles worn in the Edwardian period. The iconic Teddy Boy style is comprised of customised drain pipe trousers and crepe-soled shoes.

1960s - Mod Fashion + The Swinging Sixties

The 1960s was a transformative period, with the era’s rebellion against tradition and social norms translating in to its style. 1960s British fashion enjoyed a revolution, bringing with it swinging sixties and mod fashion.

60s fashion trends included boxy jackets, shift dresses and stilettos, as well as false eyelashes and bold, mismatched prints. In the late 1960s, the hippie movement began to influence fashion, bringing about bell-bottom jeans, tie-dye and paisley prints.

Early 1960s British fashion saw the slim-fitting, single-breasted suit and skinny tie combination become a hit. In the mid-1960s, the Mod or ‘Modernism’ movement came about and gradually spread throughout the UK. Although Mod style was most prevalent in fashion in the 1980s, it originated in the late 50s/60s and gradually spread through the UK. Interested in how to dress mod? Men who sported the mod style generally wore leather jackets, parka coats and had greased-back hair.

1970s fashionImage Source

1970s - Glam Rock fashion + No Rules

What did people wear in the 70s? 70s looks drew their inspiration from hippie culture and movie star glamour. If you’re after 70s fashion ideas, key pieces included bell-bottoms and geometric print shirts.

The mid 70s saw a shift to androgynous glam rock fashion, 1970s British fashion included velvet suits, frilly shirts, silk scarves, satin shirts and platform shoes favoured by Slade and Bowie.

70s looks became more relaxed towards the end of the decade. A signature 1970s British fashion look; the ‘inverted triangle’ comprised of shoulder pads, pantsuits, and rolled up shirts. Disco style also made its entrance in the late 1970s for both men and women. For men’s’ 70s outfit ideas, think bold, three piece-suits, flared trousers, pointed shirt collars and aviators.

1980s fashionImage Source 

1980s - Iconic 80s fashion: Big Hair + Power Dressing

Several subcultures came about in the 80s, including new romantic/new wave fashion and punk style. These subcultures were brought about by popular artists of the time, Bowie and The Sex Pistols.

From neon to acid wash jeans, bucket hats to Miami Vice style, there are almost too many trends to name that first made an appearance in the 1980s. 1980s style clothing started out with a subdued colour palette in varying shades of brown and orange.

Mid 1980s British fashion saw vibrant colours making their way back into people’s wardrobes, in addition to the aerobics craze of the 1970s (leggings, headbands and leotards). Power dressing emerged as a leading 1980s British fashion trend. Tap into the power dressing look with shoulder pads, pointed heels and large sleeves.

1990s - 90s Style Minimalism

From pedal pushers to combat trousers, bucket hats to choker necklaces, 90s trends are certainly memorable.

1990s British fashion was diverse in its waves, from the grunge chic of the early 90s to the minimalism movement that took a sharp dive away from the bold 1980s trends.

The easy elegance of 90s minimalism of which muted colour palettes and easy to wear styles were signature, have protruded into the style of today. Signature 1990s British fashion included sheer fabric garments and slip dresses in neutral shades.

2000s - Noughties Fashion Trends

The new millennium brought with it a transformation in British style.

2000s womenswear trends included the tracksuit, low-rise jeans, tube tops and capri pants. 2000s menswear trends featured bootcut jeans, studded belts and graphic tees.

British Fashion Today

British fashion is continually evolving. Decades of experimental trends have all had their own part to play in the quintessentially British style we recognise today.

The key to curating a timelessly cool, Brit-influenced wardrobe? Trends come and go, style transcends all seasons. Choosing classics such as a trench coat will help you to look stylish year after year, whatever directional new piece you rock it with. Investing in excellent quality essentials, for instance a cashmere scarf provides a cosy yet luxe, timeless style.

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