Plastic in Fashion Through the Decades
After the androgyny of the 1920s flapper look, the 1930s saw a return to ultra-feminine dresses that showed off a woman's curves. New, plastic-based fabrics such as rayon would mimic the flattering drape of silk while providing durability and freedom of movement to suit women's increasingly busy lifestyles. In addition, plastic sequins added extra sparkle to glamorous 1930s evening gowns.
1930 Hair Combs
The famous glitz and glamour of old Art Deco Hollywood poured into 1930s fashion and accessories, one of the most notable being the Art Deco hair comb. While some were made of expensive gems and metals, many were constructed of plastics, making them a classic trend that could be worn by all economic classes. The use of synthetic material in the manufacturing of the iconic 1930s hair comb perpetuated this trend through the 30s and beyond.
A scientist at DuPont developed the plastic fiber "nylon" in the late 1930s, and by the early 1940s it replaced silk in women’s stockings, which themselves took on the generic name "nylons." Nylon became a popular material in many products during World War II when silk became scarce and expensive. It found a variety of uses in military applications because it was valued for its light weight, incredible strength and resistance to damage.
1940 Bullet Bras
Bullet bras, typically made from stiff plastic nylon and satin, first made their appearance in the 1940s. The structured, pointy, cone-like shape created voluptuous results and rose to popularity when Hollywood stars, including Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner, began sporting them.
1950 Full Skirts
Historically, silk was the only fabric used to make tulle, the airy, elegant, mesh netting that helps give skirts their bell shape. But in the 1950s plastic fibers began to replace silk in tulle after Japan's silk trade collapsed. Nylon tulle grew in popularity as consumers recognized that the versatile fabric was economical, strong and durable. It is most commonly used for veils, gowns and ballet tutus. Tulle comes in an array of colors and can be easily dyed to fit consumer’s needs.
1950 Horn-Rimmed Glasses
Favored by iconic singer Buddy Holly, horn-rimmed eyeglasses rose in popularity. These dark, heavy framed glasses were made from tortoise shells or less expensive molded plastic. The plastic material allowed new shapes to be molded and mass produced faster and more cost effectively than other materials.
A strict departure from the minimalist 1940s, fashion in the 1950s celebrated dresses and a woman's hourglass shape, aided by heavy-duty corsets and undergarments. Invented in 1958 as a replacement for rubber in corsetry, stretchy plastic fiber Lycra® helped women achieve similar looks more comfortably.
Bikinis came into fashion in 1963 after being featured in the musical "Beach Party." These suits were fabricated mainly from plastic-based fabrics made from nylon or Lycra® or a mix of the two materials. The all-important factors: The bikini stretched and was pulled on like a pair of panties.
By 1969 the androgynous hippie look was in style, often featuring bare midriffs, bell bottom pants and paisley prints. More conservative women favored "lounging" or "hostess" pajamas, consisting of a tunic top over floor-length culottes. Polyester often replaced silk to create the chiffon fabric for this iconic look.
1960 Go-Go Boots
Go-Go boots, often made from plastic vinyl, were introduced in the mid-1960s to complement the shorter hemlines of the new, modern look. Go-Go boots drew attention to the legs, accentuated the simple A-line silhouettes but also offered some modest coverage for the less daring but fashion-minded women.
1970 Platform Shoes
In the 1970s, platform shoes went hand in hand with the disco era. Often featuring more than four inches of thick, stacked plastic bases, these shoes were sported on dance floors by both men and women and loved for their fashionable appeal without the discomfort of their counterparts, stilettos.
The 1970s were defined by the disco era, and many of the fabrics used to shake your groove thing wouldn't have been possible without plastic. Stretch hot pants, clinging Lycra® disco pants, sequin bandeau tops, stretch halter jumpsuits and gold lame all took to the dance floor thanks to plastic fibers.
1970 Leisure Suits
Leisure suits were one of the most memorable fashions from the 1970s. Consisting of pants and a matching shirt-like jacket, the leisure suit was typically made from double knit polyester. It often included features such as wide lapels, contrasting stitching, bell bottom hems and bold geometric print fabric. Men's style in the 1970s was revolutionized by the leisure suits.
Everything was big in the 1980s, even aerobic fashion. The foundation for any aerobic outfit of the 80s was plastic spandex. Known for its versatility and strong structure, spandex gained immense popularity in the 1980s in a range of clothing items, beginning with biking shorts and workout apparel.
By the 1980s sneakers were everywhere. The plastic in the thick cushioned soles allowed them to be engineered for sportsmanship as well as style. High-tops burst onto the scene, and athletes like Michael Jordan began endorsing top-of-the-line sneakers.
1980 Hair Accessories
The 1980s were all about hair. It was big. It was curly. And it was accessorized. Banana clips added color and style to women's hair-dos, and scrunchies let women everywhere give their hair personality. Created in hundreds of designs, colors, sizes and fabrics, the biggest thing nearly all banana clips and scrunchies have in common is plastic!
Plastic spandex continued to grow in popularity into the 1990s as garment makers discovered its versatility. Casual styles took precedence and stretchy dresses, leggings, and athletic wear such as spandex bike shorts began appearing in clothing styles outside of the gym.
1990 Fanny Packs
Fanny packs were seen as functional, won the world over and wouldn’t have been possible without plastic fabrics, as well as the plastic clips and belt that held the pack above its namesake.
1990 Polar Fleece
Soft, comfortable, warm and durable polar fleece fabric has changed the way we dress for the cold weather! Used in casual jackets, hats, sweaters and blankets, fleece is an essential plastic-based material to keep you dry in cold-weather climates. It can also be made partially from recycled plastic bottles!
2000 Retro Fashion
In the 2000s everything old was new again! Among the resurging trends; plastic or plastic-based accessories. Lucite bracelets, headbands, cocktail rings and even hair scrunchies were seen as elements to add additional style to a woman's look.
In the second half of the 2000s, the popularity of dresses surged as fashion moved away from more unisex styles and became a means for women everywhere to play up their feminine side and imbue sex appeal. Structured dresses were seen walking runways and the elegant and sometimes extravagant shapes and styles are often made possible by plastic boning and plastic-based accents such as sequins and lace.
Since their creation in the 1940s, sunglasses have been popular, especially as stars like Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy Onassis were seen sporting them nearly around the clock. The accessory saw a huge rebirth in the 2000s, and the trendy little plastic frames became emblazoned with high-end designer logos.
2010 Nail Decals
Many women love spicing up a look with flashy, colorful and salon perfect nails, but the worst part about that fancy manicure is that it won’t look perfect forever. In the 2010s, women were able to get longer lasting, more durable, and artsy nails all thanks to plastics! Plastic polymer nail decals are all the rage with celebrities from Vanessa Hudgens, Pink and Beyonce to the models who prowl the cat walks at fashion week. The new innovation is a polymer (plastic) film that essentially sticks to your nail like plastic shrink wrap once heated. The manicure can last up to two weeks on your fingers, and even longer on your toes and gives you endless colors and patterns to choose from.
2010 Sustainable Clothing
Green fashion isn’t about wearing uncomfortable clothing or accessories. This decade took a basic t-shirt to a new level by using recycled plastic bottles for the fabric, closign the recycling loop. Big brands like H&M and Stella McCartney have devoted entire collections to “eco-chic” fashion with alternative materials such as faux-leather, micro suede and other plastic-based materials, making eco-chic a fashion do!
From jeans leggings – jeggings – and thigh-high tights for day, to decorative ankle socks with booties, 2010's focus was on legs. Each of these looks shares one thing in common - plastic! Plastic, through nylon, Lycra®, and spandex, adds the stretch to leggings, tights and socks and helps them stay up and hold their form wear after wear, making it the essential component to the hottest trends of this time. Jeggings have more Lycra® (the elastic stuff) built into them than normal leggings do, making them more durable, while still being fashionable and comfortable!