Ask any vintage clothing enthusiast: Those nipped in waists aren’t for the faint of heart, and they’re certainly not made for the majority of us, size-wise.
If trying to squeeze yourself into a skirt better suited for a 12-year old has ever prompted you to question if everyone in the 1950s and 60s must have been crazy petite, well, you’d be right, at least compared to today’s standards. The fact is, there are a variety of possible reasons—ranging from evolution to diet and cultural shifts—that women really are shaped differently these days.
Obviously, that cultural mirror that is fashion has played a role. Brief sartorial history lesson: While the 1920s flapper look and stark uniforms of the World War II era offered a brief reprieve, the “finer” woman’s clothing styles throughout the early part of the 20th century focused on tiny waists and highlighted the “womanly” bottom and cleavage.
The exaggerated feminine silhouette culminated in the 50s, when famed designer Christian Dior introduced “The New Look,” with its emphasis on curvy hip padding and corsets that framed a hyper-svelte center. Cut to the 60s and women’s liberation movement, where you see desexualized styles (think of the supermodel Twiggy, who made waves with her androgynous figure that fit perfectly into narrow shifts and skinny mini’s), followed by the 70s pantsuit, coinciding with the massive arrival of more women in the workplace.
Ultimately, these more “experimental” clothing movements, paired with the ultimate embrace of American sportswear, led to the ‘80s (hello sweatshirts and spandex leggings!) and ‘90s (Think: Kate Moss “heroin chic.”), and the deconstructed, often downright boyish shapes that we think of as ubiquitous today.
Figure-hugging clothes are by no means extinct, but they now belong to their own category, fondly referred to by fashionistas as “Body Con.” On most days, many Western women don shirts and pants that would be considered oddly baggy and oversized by yesterday’s sharp dresser.
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