Atonement: 1930s/1940

AtonementSocial unrest unfolded in the 1930s in the form of the Great Depression in the United States and the beginning of World War II in Europe.

Clothing went from the boyish, gamine silhouette of the 1920s to a more form-conscious style with well-tailored suits. Films also offered an escape from the everyday and the glamour of the silver screen translated into dramatic eveningwear.

Mid-calf A-line skirts, shawl collars, cap and puff sleeves, T-bar stacked heels, as well as tilt hats tipped to the side were popular looks for daytime.

In the evening, full-length, draped, bias-cut dresses with deep V-necks took centrestage. Velvet material, scalloped edges, fishtail skirts and Art Deco jewels were also worn by the women of the era.

In the first part of the 2007 film, Atonement – based on the novel by British author Ian McEwan – which is set during a summer in the 1930s, actress Keira Knightley wears a striking full-length emerald gown with a deep V-neck.

As the film progresses into the war-torn 1940s, her character is pictured wearing simple dark coats and hats over her nurse’s uniform.

Rear Window: 1950s

Rear WindowThe 1950s was an era of post-war change. The emergence of curvy sirens such as Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren made the hourglass figure popular and desirable.

Clothing-wise, the popular shape was a tiny waist contrasted with the curves of a pencil or full skirt.

Beaded cardigans, darted bust lines, cat-eye sunglasses, floral patterns, bobby socks and saddle shoes were popular for daytime wear. Denim and capri pants were also acceptable.

In the evening, women went for full skirts, long gloves, brocade, pearls, strapless bodices, fur stoles, chiffon and layers of petticoats. This look is exemplified in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1954 film, Rear Window.

The character of Lisa, played by actress Grace Kelly, is the epitome of 1950s elegance. Her evening look features a slim brocade-like black fabric top and flared white skirt that emphasises her tiny waist. Pearls around her neck and arms, as well as on her ears, complete the look.

Love StoryLove Story: 1970s

The 1970s saw clothing becoming more multi-functional and work for day and night. Personal creativity was also prized, which led to the popularity of handcrafted looks involving macrame, crochet and patchwork.

Volume was a key look of the era as well, with exaggerated sleeves, midi and maxi skirts, and flared jeans and trousers. The rise of disco led to the emergence of the jumpsuit.

The peasant look, as created by Yves Saint Laurent, with its tiered skirts and embroidered fabrics, also gave the fashion of the era a bohemian feel.

In the evening, plunging necklines, ruffles, spaghetti straps, halter-necks, jumpsuits, maxi skirts, faux fur jackets, lurex and asymmetric tops held sway.

In the 1970 film, Love Story, which is based on the novel of the same name by Erich Segal, the protagonists Oliver and Jenny are university students played by Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw.

Jenny can be seen wearing a multitude of wide-lapel coats, as were prominent during the 1970s, over her outfits and donning long sleeved dresses.

A Single Man: 1960s

A Single ManThe 1960s was a time of social revolution. Skirts became shorter with Mary Quant introducing the miniskirt in 1965. Clothing became cheaper to manufacture and mass production made fashion more accessible.

Plastic – whether in the form of raincoats, minidresses, or chunky jewellery – also had its turn in the sun.

Fashion sub-cultures evolved: Mods, or dapper Modernist boys, wore bespoke suits and sharp haircuts, while Rockers, or motorcycling youth, embraced leather jackets and denim.

Bib fronts, monochrome palettes, Mary Janes and Pilgrim shoes, tights, boots and vinyl accessories were worn during the day. At night, mini and babydoll dresses, matching accessories and watteau backs (a single back panel that falls to the hem like a train) were popular.

In A Single Man, a 2009 film set in 1962 California, fashion designer Tom Ford, who directed the film, dressed the main characters of George and Charlotte (played by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore) in sleek, mod-inspired clothing.

This article was originally published on May 17 2013 on  For similar stories, go You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.