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Carnaby: One swinging street, 100 years of fashion

It wasn’t just hip in the 1960s. Carnaby has been synonymous with cool for a century, says Rebecca Gonsalves

Carnaby Street may be best known as the setting for the counterculture of the Swinging Sixties, but a new project launched yesterday explores a neat century of music heritage in the warren-like locale squeezed between Soho and Covent Garden.

The street and its surrounds have changed much over the century that spans from the opening of jazz club Murray’s on Beak Street in 1913, via the hippies and mods of the 1960s and the punks of the 1970s to the present day in which a pedestrianised shopping area is home to brands with indelible links to the music scene such as Pretty Green and Fred Perry.

1910s Only those truly on the cutting edge would have ditched the feminine ruffles and flounces that lingered into the 20th century by 1913, but the First World War soon put paid to such fripperies as working women soon demanded more practical garments. Hats and headpieces were still de rigueur, although a knee-length dress would be rather recherché.

1920s Flapper chic – all dropped waists, beads and fringes – is one of the definitive styles of the Roaring Twenties, a time synonymous with the smoky jazz clubs dotted around London. The nightclubs of Carnaby Street would have been filled with young women competing for the affections of the survivors of the war by slinking and shimmying around in fox-fur stoles.

1930s The glamour and escapism of Hollywood inspired the early 1930s, after the fun times of the previous decade were brought to a sudden halt by the Wall Street Crash. When the Depression hit, hemlines fell back to the floor, while a softer, draped silhouette harked back to a more traditional ideal of romance and femininity inspired by ancient Greece and Rome.

1940s With the return of war came the return of utility-inspired dressing for women, while clothing rations led to furnishing fabrics being used for dressmaking. Tea dresses in floral fabrics were created with wide shoulders, narrow waists and pleated skirts just above the knee.

1950s As the “teenager” emerged in the post-war era, identified by marketers and social scientists, the influence from American culture was great once again. Rockabilly styles, popular the first time around in the 1950s, have seen a resurgence in recent years, inspired by pin-ups such as Bettie Page.

1960s The Swinging Sixties were a time of huge importance as revolution and counterculture were on the rise among young “women’s libbers” and fashion was dominated by Mary Quant and the miniskirt, Vidal Sassoon and his five-point cut, and model Twiggy. Bright, bold colours and psychedelic patterns were typical of the simplified shapes, reflecting LSD hallucinations.

1970s Once hems could go no higher, they began to fall again, reflecting the tumble the optimism of the 1960s took. Flower power prevailed, however, as designers went back to nature for inspiration for their louche, floor-skimming dresses. The bohemian vibe continued with Spice Trail touches including turbans and rich colours and prints.

1980s Everything went big: hair, aspirations and mobile phones, as women began to be taken seriously in the traditionally male-dominated world of work for the first time. Heavily padded shoulders were a sign of strength, while jewel colours reinforced ideas of luxury and wealth.

1990s While catwalk fashion may have taken a more minimal and conceptual direction in the 1990s, street style was heavily influenced by the music scene. Rave culture was all about smiley-adorned pieces teamed with sportswear, while Britpop fans returned to the mod styles of the 1960s with fishtail parkas and feathered haircuts.

2000s With the rise of fast fashion, the shelf life of trends became shorter and shorter, and so in the past decade we cycled through boho, rock chic and bodycon, the latter favoured by a certain faction of the pop charts, Wags and reality TV stars who insisted on keeping bandage dresses and stacked platform heels on life support.