Women’s Workwear Styles: surviving the Past 100 Years

Thank you to  Carolyn Greenwood from Aspinall London provided the following text and media.


Women’s Workwear Styles:  Surviving the Past 100 Years

From the androgynous waistlines of the twenties all the way up to Ally McBeal’s microminis, the history of women’s workwear gives us a unique perspective on the events of the twentieth century as well as the changing role of women.


Which iconic styles have stood the test of time?




  • Women were given the vote and afforded the same political rights as men and won some educational and professional improvements.
  • Women ditched the corset, embracing their post-WWI freedom with relaxed shapes and dropped ‘flapper’ waistlines.
  • Prosperity of the roaring twenties mirrored in opulent fabrics like silk and velvet.
  • Straight, androgynous cuts and short hairstyles.


Iconic Twenties: The cloche hat.

Celebrity Fan: Cara Delevigne



  • The Depression era saw the decadence of the flapper look give way to a new conservative, sophisticated style.
  • Simple dresses and neat separates dressed up with carefully-chosen accessories.
  • Small, embellished hats worn at an angle.
  • The wool suit with shoulder pads and fluted, knee-length skirt epitomises 30s workwear chic.


Iconic Thirties: Gauntlet gloves    

Celebrity Fan: Adele








  • The “waste not want not” era of the Second World War meant clothes were produced with minimal fabric, pleats and trimmings.
  • Trousers were adopted by women working on war service out of practical necessity.
  • Decorative patterns, florals and polka dots.
  • Makeup, curled hair and homemade accessories injected glamour into austere looks.
  • Button front blouses and belted jackets.


Iconic Forties: Victory rolls paired with red lipstick.

Celebrity Fan: Gwen Stefani




  • Following the austerity of wartime, the fifties were all about startling silhouettes and full-on ladylike glamour.
  • Accessories took centre-stage as women matched their hats, gloves and handbags to their chosen workwear look.
  • Skirts were either full or fitted.
  • Formal suits in conservative colours with nipped in waists and sloping shoulders.


Iconic Fifties: The Stiletto

Celebrity Fan: Dita Von Teese



  • Jackie Kennedy’s iconic look was everywhere in the early sixties – short boxy jackets were worn with stiletto heels and prim headwear.
  • Shift dresses as immortalised by Twiggy.
  • Pussy-bow blouses and wool skirts.
  • The swinging sixties were all about young people. For the first time, new fashions –     
  • like mini skirts – were designed specifically with young buyers in mind.


Iconic Sixties: The pillbox hat.

Celebrity Fan: Carla Bruni





  • As more women joined the workforce, the feminist debate took its toll on seventies workwear – some felt women should wear trousers and others thought that was wrong because it represented wanting to be seen as a man.
  • Manmade fabrics
  • The iconic jersey wrap dress – perfect for the office or disco.
  • Silhouettes: tight on top, loose on bottom.
  • Layering was key


Iconic Seventies: The wrap dress

Celebrity Fan: The Duchess of Cambridge




  • By the eighties, we had our first female prime minister and power dressing was in: women proclaimed themselves as equals in the workplace by dressing more seriously.
  • Bigger was better hair, makeup, jewellery and shoulder pads were amped up to extremes.
  • The power suit with its huge shoulder pads as seen on the likes of Joan Collins and Margaret Thatcher.
  • Bright colours.
  • Money, money, money: Expensive clothes ruled all.

Iconic Eighties: The power suit

Celebrity Fan: Beyonce



  • Power dressing was still in for much of the nineties.
  • Late nineties saw a return to minimalism in line with the advent of grunge music, with more relaxed styles and muted colours.
  • Floral print dresses
  • Mary Jane shoes
  • Approaching the millennium, things went more conservative with pinstripe tailoring and slim-fit open collar blouses (Ally McBeal-style micromini optional)


Iconic Nineties: The Alice Band

Celebrity Fan: Gywneth Paltrow



Noughties and Now

–       A return to classic style and timeless tailoring.

–       Power dressing lived on through Samantha Jones in Sex and the City.

–       Accessories like statement necklaces used to express personal style

–       We are influenced by other decades and cultures now more than ever

–       Quirky accessories and vintage prints.

–       The availability of designer and high-street pieces allows today’s working woman to create a signature look that’s perfectly her and change it according to her own mood.



Iconic item: Styling up your workwear with the latest “it” handbag has become an iconic component of modern workwear.

Celebrity Fan: All of them!


Aspinal of London – Infographic Copy