Women’s fashion

One of the truths of fashion is that trends are cyclical, to the point that many people joke that you should hold onto your old clothes because they will be trendy again in just a few years. While the trend cycle is no longer truly on the 20-year cycle that it once was, microtrends have made the current state of fashion nearly unrecognizable. the clothes that are currently being sold in stores and that are being worn by young people still have their roots in many of the trends that our mothers, grandmothers and even great-great-great grandmothers once participated in. 

One of the overarching trends of the last year or two has been “Y2K,” drawing back to the styles of the early 2000s by bringing back the dreaded combo of dress and jeans or people literally wearing shirts from their childhood and calling them baby tees. However, some of the clothes sitting on racks at the mall right now have some quite interesting roots back to the Victorian and Regency eras.

For example, American Eagle’s latest collection features the “boho” vibe that most spring collections typically have which is generally attributed to the fashion of the 1970s, but some of the specific pieces in this collection reflect much older trends. In fact, one particular tank top they currently have on sale is nearly identical to a Victorian corset cover, an undergarment that was used to smooth out any lines created from the structured corsets. This particular style of tank top is nowhere close to being a new, creative top, as the iconic designer Laura Ashley partnered with McCall’s to release some sewing patterns. These patterns included McCall’s 7981 in 1981 (which has since been re-released as McCall’s 8306) featuring a sleeveless blouse that is nearly identical in style to the top that American Eagle currently has on sale and to the corset covers from over a century ago. 

This particular example of Victorian corset covers becoming 1980s blouses becoming tank tops being sold by American Eagle today reflects a larger trend; many fashions of the late 1970s and early 1980s were deeply inspired by Victorian fashions as a whole, and these trends have come around once again. Laura Ashley and Gunne Sax reflect this occurrence perfectly. Gunne Sax was a line of prairie dresses for teenage girls that was popular between the late 1960s when it was started until the mid 1980s. While some specific design elements of the dresses changed, including much larger shoulders in the 1980s to fit more specific trends of the time, they remained extremely reminiscent of spring and summer fashions from the second half of the 19th century. From the puffy sleeves to the defined waistlines, long flowing skirts and the lace detailing to the dainty floral prints, the dresses were extremely similar. A few years ago when the “cottagecore” style took off, these vintage dresses became wildly popular once more, to the point that ModCloth released a collaboration with Gunne Sax where they produced more prairie dresses, now in a wider range of sizes, in 2023. 

The same style evolution and recycling has taken place with the empire waist dress, now known as a babydoll dress. During the Regency era, the style heavily favored by women in Western countries was an empire waist dress, where the waistline sat just under the bust line as opposed to near the natural waist. This style drew its inspiration from the styles worn in the Greek and Roman empires and was meant to evoke a sense of pastoral simplicity. This was a result of the Romanticism movement that likewise drew inspiration from empires of the past. This waistline was revived several times throughout the 20th century in the babydoll dress, particularly in the 60s and 90s, and has once again regained popularity today. 

Though the specifics of how pieces are styled and accessorized may have changed, clothing styles rarely disappear in the way that we might imagine they do — they are often simply recycled and reimagined into the pieces that will be on the shelves at the malls of tomorrow.