Rebellious Fashion: A History

Over the year’s, fashion has played a major part in shaping and reflecting the social climate. From the flapper dresses of the 20s to the power suits of the 80s, clothes are a powerful weapon for challenging the norm. Style Editors Beatrice Rae and Ashleigh Stern take a look at rebellious fashion through the decades…

Wartime Style


Women’s fashion took on a new purpose in the war years, and flourished despite air raids and austerity. With their husbands, fathers and brothers at war, women ran factories, drove ambulances, built vehicles and ammunition, and raised families single-handedly.

It was the era of powerful women with rolled hair, red lips and drawn-on seams down the backs of their legs. It was the era of resourcefulness. Old items were reworked in to new ones as clothing could only be bought with coupons, which were limited. Women also turned to practicality, with trousers becoming increasingly popular as well as ‘siren suits’, originally designed for use on the way to and in air-raid shelters.

Women adapted to war time with style and creativity, and many found it hard to return to traditional housewife roles when the war had finished.

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The Roaring Twenties

The true birth of fashion and liberation, the 20s is known as roaring for a reason. A booming economy led to many coming in to large sums of money, and a period of extravagance and decadence ensued. Elaborate parties frequented by ‘flapper girls’ defined the decade.

20s fashion was beautifully elegant, featuring midi length loose fitting dresses, dropped hems, tassels, jewels and pearls. Evening looks would often incorporate headdresses and extravagant feathers, allowing women to be more daring with their style. The 20s was the first era of real progression in exposing the body in a positive fashion and a step towards equality, liberalism and freedom in fashion.

These two dresses are inspired by not only the 20s classic silhouette but the decadent fabric. The first blue dress takes the dropped-hem loose fitting inspiration from the era which is a really elegant shape, its modernized by using it in a mini dress form. The second incorporates a classic tasseled fabric, a notorious 20s fashion statement.

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Swinging Sixties

The swinging 60s was the time of the mini skirt and bee-hive hair. Bringing us style icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot and Twiggy, 1960s style still resonates in today’s society. Possibly Audrey Hepburn’s most famous style moment was the 1961 LBD she wore in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Off-screen, she became an off-duty inspiration with her chic capri trousers and ballet pumps.

Brigitte Bardot was the French actress, style icon and sex-symbol all women wanted to be. Her messy blonde hair piled high in her famous beehive, Bardot made off-the-shoulder tops fashionable.

Twiggy, described on her website as ‘the world’s first supermodel’, was a massive style icon in the 60s and, indeed, today. The ‘skinny kid with the face of an angel’ was the pinup with long legs and the mini-skirts to match.

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The Liberating Seventies

Known as the decade of chilled happiness and good vibes, the 70s was an era of music and fun, and the fashion of the time definitely reflected this.

Fashion drastically moved away from the 60s miniskirts and geometric prints, to larger than life flares and bell sleeves, and floaty floral and paisley prints. This decade also marked the birth of the lava lamp, and patterns in fashion often copied these bold clashing colours and oozy shapes, soon followed by the break through of tie dye.

70s fashion was all about shape and detail, large platform shoes and flowing fabrics. The ‘happiness’ vibes of 70s youth were portrayed in fashion through quirky symbols and slogans, many of which are still popular today.

The looks I’ve chosen use the bell sleeves and classic 70s flares, with bold colours and detailed patterns. The flared trousers are a flattering shape, as flares elongate your legs, and the patchwork patterns perfectly channel that 70s vibe. The bell sleeved floating top incorporates loose fitting 70s glam with the classic modern elasticated crop top and Bardot shape neck line.

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Power-Dressing Eighties

The 1980s marked an era where a woman could choose from a variety of styles and dress how she wanted. One such style was that of female power dressing. Defined as ‘the practice of dressing in a style intended to show that one holds an important position in business, politics, etc’, power dressing was all about women in the work place.

However, it then transcended into everyday wear. The 80s had a tailored look, with a lot of women wearing jackets, if not fully tailored suits, feminizing them with soft pussy-bow blouses. Shoulder pads were central to power dressing, increasing the shoulder width of a woman in order to help her feel powerful in a world dominated by men.

Television shows such as Dallas and Dynasty helped to shape women’s fashion by introducing lavish costume jewelry into night and day wear. Huge earrings and stones (real or not) were central to 80s style. Lastly, of course, the 80s brought us the body suit- an all-in-one that has made a comeback in the last couple of years. 80s fashion will continue to influence our style today.

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The Naughty Nineties

The 90s was all about pop culture, oversized everything, denim and anything gimmicky. Many often associate the 90s with Will Smith’s flashy colourful bomber jackets in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the Spice Girls’ little crop tops and baggy combat trousers with an excessive amount of chains and zips.

The 90s also brought back the kitten heel, ridiculously small clutches, cute fluffy clothes and chokers. The quintessential girly look became something a bit sporty and edgier, and it was the first time where casual clothes and lounge wear became the in style. Print and pop culture sky rocketed in popularity, and teens became inspired by their favourite popstar’s looks. Who wouldn’t want to copy Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s denim fantasy?

I have chosen two denim numbers (and not just      because of Britney and JT) because denim was all the rage in the 90s. The classic denim dungaree with cute patchwork detailing is the perfect combination of fun and sporty, and is a great way to recreate a fabulous 90s look. To go even further you could add a twisted wired choker and some gimmicky badges. The jacket with graffiti style spray looks like it was taken straight from the wardrobe of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and there’s no better way to sum up 90’s fashion!

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Beatrice Rae and Ashleigh Stern

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