The Evolution of Beauty Through the Decades

The concept that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is no match for the ever-changing idea of what it means to be beautiful. A weave of societal expectation and an evolution of fashion makes up the tapestry of our beautification history. Forever fluid, a constant flow of inspiration and expectation, the ideal face shape, body shape and clothing choices will never stay the same for long. Throughout the last 60 years we have seen such a kaleidoscope of looks to rival the preceding decades.

The Swinging 60’s

Key the beginning of the end of well-established gender norms that revered modesty for women and uniform for men. While the decades preceding had seen the move away from modesty also, none quite as drastic as this era. Gone were the knee length poodle skirts and expectations that women would be the home maker; away went the assumption that only a man in a suit or uniform should be respected. Big hair and short skirts weren’t the only changes, we also saw the first natural looking breast enlargement, made possible by the discovery of the silicone implant. Make up also changed; we saw the introduction of bolder and brighter colours for eyes and the still-popular winged eyeliner emerged. While this decade didn’t see a huge change in what made the ideal body of a woman, it did see a relax on restrictive undergarments allowing a more natural representation under clothing.

The Groovy 70’s

Cue the desire to be thin and tanned in order to be deemed beautiful. The 70’s marked a shift towards a slim and sporty build. Not so popular for breast surgery but a rise in anorexia; the ideal build was willowy but still feminine. For men, the ideal of the stereotypical muscular and masculine build was replaced by androgyny and feminine delicacy. This look was supportive of the move towards more unisex clothing for them. They wore traditionally female clothing styles and even began to dabble in make-up. For women, there was no main look, it was the beginning of a fashion freedom of their own. It saw a lot of paisley patterns and block colours, the rise of flares and mismatched styles. By all accounts it paved the way for what would be our most colourful era yet.

The Rocking 80’s

Neon everywhere. Bigger hair than ever. More jewellery than seen before. This decade had never heard of the saying ‘less is more’. It was all about color and flounce and a tutu was a perfectly reasonable everyday skirt. Accessories were everything; playful coloured contact lenses were a great way to take it to the next level. High waisted and layered, everything from this era was about having fun with your look. Body shape still wanted its women to be thin and athletic, however the small waist, big chest look was definitely seen as ideal. The goal to look like the supermodels had really taken off; tall, tanned and flawless. For men, it was back to the gym dude look – big, muscly shoulders and a tight toned physique. Body building was all the rage with the emergence of celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s crazy now to reflect on how such a chaotic style only lasted the decade. 

The Grungy 90’s

As if trying to cleanse themselves of the decade before, everything in this era was plain and minimalist; including bodies. Even thinner expectations saw the coining of the term ‘heroin chic’. Women coveted a very slender body akin to that of the 1920s and men moved away from bulky and built to a more natural ‘everyman’ look – much more obtainable. Gone were the big and bright, and in was the ‘jeans and a t-shirt’ vibe that birthed the grunge look. Looking cool meant looking unwashed and messy with dark colours and ripped clothing. This decade was edgy but can still be seen in today’s idea of fashionable.

The 2000’s ‘Casual is the New Dressy’

The turn of the millennium took a turn for the downright weird. We combined the mismatch style of the 70’s with the simplicity and casual of the 90’s, and the outcome is somewhat hard to look back at now. It didn’t see a change in body expectations for either gender, if anything, the clothing was so casual, your body was the accessory. Low rise jeans made their debut and also saw their downfall in these 10 years. Celebrities wore jeans on the red carpet with crop tops or underneath skirts and dresses. For men it was all about the baggy gangster rap look. They wore clothes that were a few sizes too big and caps were a common accessory. This decade is what one would expect if toddlers were put in charge of dressing everyone.

The 2010 Hipster Revolution

Cue the vintage revival; this one made clothing from every other decade fashionable again (except maybe the 00’s). We saw a rise in recycled clothing as the younger generations became more conscious of sustainability. High waisted styles resurfaced for both men and women and button up shirts and slacks made a return. However, so did the grunge look, and the traditional looks of the 50’s. Casual and comfortable is very much a trend for the era, as well as expressing individuality. Men’s bodies still haven’t changed in societal expectation – no shock there – but the 2010’s saw the beginning of the Kardashian craze. Following Kylie Jenner’s swollen lips and the idolisation of Kim Kardashian’s curvy hourglass figure, beauty standards moved towards an artificial look. Not just breast implants anymore, it became fashionable to get dermal fillers and undergo surgery for butt implants in an attempt to replicate the unnatural look. Somehow, we managed to create the desire to look as different as we can, in the same years as we introduced the desire to all look the same.   

Now, in the early 2020’s, it’ll be interesting to see how this decade turns out. Hopefully we usher in an age full of self-expression and empowerment; one that is so much more open to diversity in what it means to be beautiful. The important thing to remember is that you’re never fully dressed without a smile.