Summer Fashion Trends Through the Decades
Not only is summer a season devoted to leisure and good times spent with family and friends, but it’s also an opportunity for sporting fashions that typically can’t be worn at other times of the year – like bathing suits, shorts, tank tops, bright colors, sandals, and more.
Of course, we love summer because the warm weather encourages us to spend more time by the pool or at the beach, but we also appreciate that the season perfectly complements pearls, with their glistening luster and oceanic origins. Not only are pearls the birthstone of June, but they also come from beyond the beach, naturally embodying the summertime mood.
If you’ve been seeking inspiration for your summer style and hoping to refresh your warm-weather wardrobe, you may be looking for some unique ideas. Let’s explore popular summer trends throughout the decades, so you can see how summertime fashion has evolved over the years, from the 1800s through today.
And remember: just because you’ve heard about a style rule (like “Don’t wear white after Labor Day) or trend doesn’t mean you have to follow it. When it comes to your personal style, you make all the rules – so feel free to borrow ideas from any decade that suits your personal preferences!
Beaches first became a popular summer hangout spot in the early 1800s. With the introduction of railroads, ocean beaches emerged as an attractive recreational destination. Women enjoyed the ocean water and bathed in smock-like gowns. During this time, beachgoers would cover up as much skin as possible because the beauty standard favored pale skin over tanned skin.
Modesty played a huge role in acceptable 19th-century fashion and was considered a major sign of beauty. Women would sew weights into the hems of their bathing gowns to prevent themselves from floating up to the surface of the water and exposing their legs. As seaside activities grew increasingly crowd-pleasing, more and more people found themselves enjoying swimming, surfing, and diving. Towards the end of the century, the swim garments were starting to feel burdensome, and beachgoers craved a new style swimsuit that was functional yet still modest.
By the 1920s, swimwear noticeably began to shrink, showing off women’s curves and revealing more skin. The sensual evolution of swimwear was slowly beginning to emerge. During the 20s, women wore swim dresses, which consisted of two pieces: a long, snug-fitting top over shorts. Swimwear was made in ribbed jersey material, which made it more comfortable and more conducive for swimming.
Although swimwear was becoming more revealing, beach police in the early 20s would still patrol the area and measure the distance between the bottom of a woman’s swim dress and her knee. Too much skin showing could result in a $10 fine or even jail time. As the decade progressed, swimsuits continued to become tighter and shorter – all in spite of the beach police.
During the 1920s and 30s, casual summer clothing was synonymous with dresses. For those vacationing to beaches or lakes, beach pajamas, casual pants, and sport shirts were worn. Beach pajamas had very wide legs with a high waistline and a sleeveless top. When not participating in water activities, women relaxed and lounged in these beach pajamas and even accessorized their vacation outfits with pearls.
Bathing suits during the 1940s evolved to become a one-piece suit with a fitted bust and waist and a flared skirt, shorts, or a combination of both. Towards the end of the decade, strapless swimsuits were a popular trend among women.
Playsuits were exclusive to the summer season and were made up of multiple pieces: a matching top, skirt, and shorts. They were often made from the same material as swimsuits so that the pieces could be purchased together. Women would commonly pair playshorts with a swimsuit top, so the ensemble could be worn both in and out of the water. These stylish sets could be found in a variety of vibrant colors and patterns.
In the 1950s, fashion prioritized elegance, femininity, and perfectly-matched accessories like a simple strand of pearls and matching stud earrings. Throughout the decade, a woman strived to look her best, even during a day spent by the pool or at the beach.
Swimsuits during the 50s had modest coverage but were flattering and form fitting, giving women a desirable hourglass shape. One-piece suits with boy-cut bottoms and sweetheart necklines were a popular look throughout the summer season. Swim caps were often required for women with long hair, to prevent drains from clogging and to keep pools sanitary. Because of this, the 1950s saw a rise in the need for stylish swim caps. Colorful caps with designs and textures were a summertime staple, and women flaunted their fashionable swimsuits and swim caps at the beach and pool.
This decade was the first to embrace women regularly wearing shorts during warmer weather days. Shorts during the 50s varied in length, style, and color, but as the decade progressed, shorts became shorter and tighter.
Drifting away from the more reserved style in the 1950s, the 60s brought in rebellious new times, breaking fashion norms and traditions. Vivid colors and a more revealing wardrobe characterized fashion in the 60s.
Summer throughout the 60s saw a growing popularity of two-piece swimwear, and swimsuits started becoming tighter and smaller. The bikini and low-cut bathing suit bottoms were introduced in the mid 60s.
Casual summer clothes during the 60s consisted of short skirts and shift dresses. Summertime fits were often accessorized with round, oversized sunglasses, straw bags, and Art Deco jewelry.
Swimwear from the 1970s is iconic, mostly because west coast surf culture was still inspiring “California dreamin'” in people who couldn’t escape to the coast.
If you’ve noticed a trend in this article so far, you may have picked up on the fact that swimwear and summer fashions in general grew smaller and shorter throughout the decades. The 1970s was no exception to this trend, with short shorts being produced in every color and fabric imaginable, including denim, cotton, velvet, and suede.
You may also have seen the iconic photograph of model and actress Farrah Fawcett in a bright red one-piece, which is a now-famous image that was originally taken in Farrah’s Los Angeles backyard in 1976. The aspirational photograph established the beauty standard for summer style at the time.
In the 1980s, sporty, one-piece bathing suits were all the rage, in addition to high-cut bottoms that were also known as the “V Hip” bikini. Casual, button-down shirts with colorful prints were seen on oceanside boardwalks and other vacation destinations throughout the country. Lightweight cotton or chambray jumpsuits were also a playful way to add variety to 80s summer style. Pop star Madonna was also known for her skin-baring styles featuring bodysuits and layers of pearls – looks that were replicated by her fans everywhere.
Today, light-colored clothing during the summer season is a must to keep cool in the heat. White and beige clothing in lightweight, breathable fabrics are totally chic and perfect for the warmer summer days. To elevate a casual summer look, wear a pearl necklace or pearl earrings to instantly feel polished and stylish.
According to Vogue, this year’s summer fashion trends include checkerboard prints, white button-down shirts, heeled sandals, menswear-inspired shorts, dainty eyelet dresses, and slouchy shoulder bags. We’re even seeing a return to modesty, with some women opting for bathing suits with more ample coverage. A 1920s-inspired onesie is a nod to a period of time when beachgoers were more concerned about protecting their skin from sun exposure than showing off their physical assets.
Summer fashion today draws inspiration from trends throughout all the decades, but pearls are fitting for any era. Whether you’re staying at home or vacationing this summer, pearls are the perfect summertime accessory. No matter the occasion, pearls are easy to wear and versatile enough to pull together almost any outfit.
If you’re interested in incorporating pearls into your own summer outfits, or you’d like to show a young girl in your life how she can fully express herself through summer style, you can consider our cultured pearl starter necklaces, which are popular accessories for today as well as treasured keepsakes for forever. After all, wearing pearls to the beach feels totally appropriate and natural. Start a new summertime – or anytime – tradition with Add-A-Pearl necklaces.