History's fashion icons: Elizabeth I, Frida Kahlo, and Marilyn Monroe

Sofia, Sara and Meg show how three powerful fashion icons of the past have influenced the clothing trends we see today.

multiple writers
6th December 2020
Whether its puff-sleeves, floral designs or red lipstick, Sofia, Sara, and Meg show that some fashion will never be forgotten by history.

Queen Elizabeth I

How can one describe Queen Elizabeth I? Strong, powerful, independent, dedicated...The list will go on for a long time until one thinks of fashionable.

However, as England’s most powerful woman, Elizabeth set, what we would now call, “the trends” in the 16th century. Clothes may be perceived as a form of expression now, but during the Elizabethan era, they were a symbol, representing the wearer's social status and wealth.
Not only was the Queen supposed to dress the best, but she was also forced by the law to do so. Starting with the 14th century, sumptuary laws dictated what one was allowed to wear in England. Colours, fabrics and trims were all were directly linked to the social rank. 

With its farthingales, ruffs, bodices and puff-sleeves, Elizabethan clothing looks heavy and stiff in today’s world. “It's like something we’d see in a couture fashion runway” or “This reminds me of Cersei Lannister”, you'll think.

Nowadays, corsets can be paired with everything. You can wear corsets on a night out and the next day at brunch; from jeans to tulle skirts, from pleated pants to mom jeans...the possibilities are endless

@fitfashionhistory

However, these elements are closer to our reality than what first meets the eye. For example, the bodices transitioned into corsets. That being said, it’s enough to open the Explore page on Instagram and feel overwhelmed with how many corsets you’ll see. Still, unlike Queen Elizabeth I, you won’t need someone to dress you. Besides, nowadays, corsets can be paired with everything. You can wear corsets on a night out and the next day at brunch; from jeans to tulle skirts, from pleated pants to mom jeans...the possibilities are endless. There are no rules, and certainly, no sumptuary laws.

Similarly, according to Vogue, “the puff-sleeve trend is here to stay”. Without the ruff and the farthingales, the puff-sleeves don’t look as stiff anymore, do they? From household names to affordable fashion retailers, puffy sleeves are everywhere. Like the corset, they are versatile. From formal outfits to festival tops, puff-sleeves have found their way into the mainstream fashion of today.

We may be quick to laugh at Elizabethan fashion, but, when we look more carefully at our own wardrobe or the trends around us, we’ll discover that the differences are not as stark as we believed. Elizabethan fashion seems stiff in today’s world but some essential pieces have survived the test of time and gracefully transitioned to adapt to the 21st century.

Sofia Chiscop

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, perhaps the most recognizable female artist of all time, and her famous fashion sense have become what we consider “iconic” in today’s world.

Kahlo was one who drew attention to Mexico’s vibrant and colourful approach to clothing and self-expression, becoming a muse for many famous western designers

History has given us many fashion icons, each with their own style which would either define their times or generation. Kahlo was one who drew attention to Mexico’s vibrant and colourful approach to clothing and self-expression, becoming a muse for many famous western designers, and it’s safe to say her influence still lives on. 

@fitfashionhistory

Her recognizable eyebrows and floral wardrobe would become closely linked to the nature of her work - her self portraits full of colour, expressive figures, and vivid scenes all reflected her identity and self-expression. 

Her style not only contributed to the popularization and appreciation of Mexican culture, but it also served as an inspiration for freedom of expression for many other women. The way she dressed was not solely an expression of looks, but also an expression of her attitude towards life. Not allowing herself to be bound to any rules, her free-spirited approach towards life encouraged more women to let themselves enjoy and express themselves without fearing societal judgement.

Contemporary popular culture clearly loved the free-spirited persona that Frida Kahlo portrayed and stood for, with designers, such as Dolce & Gabbana and Givenchy, creating collections inspired by her, and corporations using her image to sell their products. Merchandise with her image, Barbie dolls modelled after her, and other mass-producers have been using her persona as a means to make profit. This has caused quite the controversy, because even though she has gained the reputation of a fashion “icon,” some of those endeavours may be seen as appropriations of her culture and heritage.

Representing Mexican, queer, physically disabled, anti-capitalist views, her uniqueness has been serving as an inspiration and a voice for the unheard

Kahlo is a great example of a woman who was appreciated both for her style and her artistry and intellect. Representing Mexican, queer, physically disabled, anti-capitalist views, her uniqueness has been serving as an inspiration and a voice for the unheard. Her style is more than just about fashion. As a ground-breaking artist examining taboo topics - not only for the 1920s and 30s, but for today’s culture as well - she provides a female voice in the male, west-centric echo chamber society seems to be rooted in.

Sara Nigohosyan

Marilyn Monroe

The classic red lip. The short blonde hair. The filter-less photos. There is only one fashion icon this can be. You guessed it! Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe is well known for her variety of looks, from glamour to casual, that influence the fashion world today

Monroe is well known for her variety of looks, from glamour to casual, that influence the fashion world today. She has been used as a symbol in many theatre and live television productions. The musical classic ‘Blood Brothers’, uses Monroe to represent freedom and sexiness and the desire to live a lavish lifestyle. She is mentioned several times; for example, the line “from an old movie with Marilyn Monroe” in the song ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, emphasises the idealistic representation that comes with her name. Character Mrs Johnstone, who is from a lower class family, aspires to be like her and dreams of following in her footsteps to create a successful career for herself.

@marilynmonroe

More recently, Strictly Come Dancing contestant Maisie Smith was compared to Monroe after wearing a short blonde wig, paired with a stunning red lip. Being seen as sexy and seductive allowed Maisie to appear confident, just as Monroe did on the silver screen.

Her confidence can also be seen through her amazing performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’, performed on the 45th birthday of President John. F. Kennedy in 1962. Monroe's rendition of this well-known song emphasises the way she was able to capture an audience just through her beauty alone. Even in today's society, she continues to inspire women to embrace their beauty, live unapologetically, and build their confidence.

Meg Howe

Featured image: @allaboutfashionhistory on Instagram
All images courtesy of Instagram

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