Coronavirus Update: Our team is here to help our clients and readers navigate these difficult times. Visit our Resources page now »

Skip to Main Content
by SixFigureStart | February 17, 2009


Flappers of the late ?20s were the Carries and Samanthas of their day: bold, sassy, and fond of flaunting fabulous frocks. They stepped out in sequined sheaths, pricey handbags tucked under their arms. They sported make-up, they smoked cigarettes, and bared limbs. Panties grew scanty?though back then that meant shifting from corsets to ?step-in? panties, not from bikinis to thongs.

When the stock market plummeted, hemlines dropped with it. Reckless spending was out; thrift was in. Dainty footwear gave way to chunky, functional styles. By the time war arrived in 1939, European designers were turning out simple, sturdy clothes made to stay in fashion. Mass production made ready-to-wear clothing cheaper and available in a wider range of styles.

In the late 1980s and early ?90s, street fashion was the rage in New York. Young women rummaged through thrift stores, looking to assemble the ragtag look of the grunge trend. But by the late 90s, grit began to give way to glam. The funky downtown Carrie of Sex and the City gradually metamorphosed into a label-conscious princess. The fab four strutted their way through Manhattan in designer labels and over-the-top confections, oversized flowers and dizzying patterns, sending women scurrying to sample sales and burning up credit cards at an alarming rate. Debt be damned; those Manolos were must-haves.

Sept. 11th cast the first pall over fin de siècle shopping, but it was short-lived. The Prez told us to keep blowing our paychecks, and who were we to argue? But as the years passed, more of us began to avert our gaze from too much eye-candy. The title of The Devil Wears Prada reflected our growing hostility towards fashion dictators. In post-fin de siècle style, the heroine turned her back on Balenciaga for more serious pursuits.

The Great Recession is the final blow to the SATC look. Designers are turning to a more mature aesthetic, pressured to offer clothes in a wider range of prices. On Jan. 11, the New York Times Style section reported a new interest in calf-length hemlines and structured silhouettes, noting that cheaper textiles and more seasonless looks have already made their appearance on New York runways. Reports on name ?Depression Chic? as the #1 designer trend for 2009. Faded Sack Dress, anyone? Some designers are trying to revive flapper styles, but the tailored styles of the ?30s and ?40s may better entice women re-entering the job market. That doesn?t mean there?s no room for fun: The ragtag ?80s look is making a comeback, giving women permission to raid the rummage sales once again. Glorious Grecian goddess gowns recall the glory days of Hollywood, when catching a flick was about the only entertainment people could afford.

A new Coco is needed ? someone who can make us feel comfortable and confident; powerful and pretty, taking a cue from the style of the new First Lady. Perhaps we can even look smart ? here?s predicting a return of intellectual-chic. Shoes that aren?t instruments of torture would be nice, too.

And maybe, just maybe, the reign of emaciated models will finally come to an end. In tough times, women can?t afford to look fragile and undernourished. A strong, athletic look that radiates health and celebrates a more natural female form is just what we need after too many years of trying to look like adolescent boys. It happened before, and it can happen again. We can hope, anyway.

--Posted by Lynn Parramore,

Screwed: 20,000 in California
Recession Briefing 2.17
Out on the Street: F*@# You Money


Don't Miss Vault's Newsletter

Career advice, tips, and updates on Covid-19.