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Men’s Fashion Transformations Through Time

Author: Jake Holyoak
by Jake Holyoak
Posted: Oct 30, 2017

From platforms and sideburns to and mullets and matching tracksuits, there’s no arguing with the fact that the way men dress and groom themselves has massively changed over the past few decades. Right now, men’s fashion of the past is taking over what we look like today. So, what trends are making a decent comeback and what should we dodge like a bullet?

River Island, a leading UK men’s clothing brand, explains the changes in men’s styles since the 1970s and shows us how we can get the ideal retro look in 2017.


We were just coming down from swinging in the 1960s and suddenly fashion was on a new course. Clothing got tighter, colours got brighter and men in platform shoes was not only acceptable, but encouraged. Polyester and cotton were the fabrics-of-choice, while lycra, velour and terry cloth rocketed in popularity later in the era. Just like the 1950s and 1960s, Hollywood films like Saturday Night Fever — which encouraged guys to adopt the leisure suit into his style — heavily influenced British fashion and men continued to customise American trends to complement the British way of life.

During the 1970s, the shaggy, unkempt look reigned supreme when it came to grooming. And this also had a knock-on effect in men’s fashion. Perms and other hefty hairstyles left little room for hats which dropped off the men’s fashion radar in this decade, while the unwaxed chest hair was a trophy that needed showing off via an explosion in men wearing open-collar shirts unbuttoned past their chests.

Style icons of the 1970s

George Best, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen.

Main off-duty clothing trends
  • Half-fastened shirts.
  • Flared trousers.
  • Tight tops.
  • Platform shoes.
  • Velvet suits.
  • Low-rise, bell-bottom trousers.
  • Double denim outfits.
  • Roll-necks jumpers.
Main formal clothing trends
  • Wide lapels.
  • Big shirt collars.
  • Kipper ties.
  • Large sunglasses.
Grooming trends
  • Shaggy, long manes.
  • Thick moustaches.
  • Blowdryed hairdos for maximum volume.
  • Wax-free bodies.
Get the style today

Relive the original disco era with wide-leg pants, skinny-sit unbuttoned shirts and a leather jacket. Denim has eternal life, and double-denim was huge in the 1970s — get a patchwork denim shirt to ease the stress of teaming it with the right shade jeans and large sunglasses. Men in the 1970s also tried a lot of textures on the same outfit, so breathe life into the era by layering a wool roll-neck sweater with a velvet jacket, corduroy trousers and suede loafers.


As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, soft fabrics in men’s clothing soared. Flared trousers narrowed as tops widened from the skin-tight fitting of the previous decade’s style rule-book.

While the 1960s was the age of Aquarius, the 1980s was the era of experimentation. On the same street, you could see punks in biker jackets, men wearing eye-liner, pinstripe suit professionals, and guys sporting acid-wash ripped jeans and baggy tees. Men weren’t afraid to try out new looks and this decade was also iconic for its androgynous fashion when men’s and women’s clothing started to blur. During the 1980s, it wasn’t unusual to see men wearing heeled boots, statement earrings, make-up, and feminine-tailored shirts.

On the flip side, British and American societies were entering a politically conservative era and parts of male fashion obeyed. Particularly in the big cities, suits had a revival and men sported boxy blazers with emphasised shoulder pads. As for casualwear, British blokes replicated the preppy style taking off in the US with a high dependency on denim and a love for tracksuits that would really kick-off a decade later. Men’s fashion in the 1980s was also heavily influenced by the explosion in rebellious fashion thanks to the punk culture in the UK and Hollywood rebels like Robert Downey Junior, Johnny Depp and Rob Lowe.

Style icons of the 1980s

Prince, Tom Cruise, David Bowie, Boy George, and Michael Jackson.

Main off-duty clothing trends
  • Seersucker fabric.
  • Varsity jackets.
  • Punk leathers.
  • Stonewash jeans.
  • Trainers.
  • Dungarees.
  • Loafers.
  • Sweaters and sweater vests.
Main formal clothing trends
  • Boxy, big-shouldered blazers.
  • Pinstripe materials.
  • Double-breasted jackets.
  • Patterned shirts.
  • Bold and loud ties.
Grooming trends
  • Mullets, hi-tops, flat-tops, Mohicans, and perms.
  • Shaved heads
  • Short sideburns.
  • Clean-shaven.
  • Volume-boosting hair mousse.
  • Less call for bushy beards and moustaches.
Get the style today

Get the 1980s’ look by teaming a punk-style leather jacket with distressed, light-blue-wash jeans and black chukka boots. For the tailored trend, go for a pinstripe suit with a slim-fit, patterned shirt, and when work’s out, kick-back in a baggy tee, bleached jogger jeans and unzipped Varsity bomber jacket with hi-top trainers.


The 1990s was all about music, with grunge, US rock and Britpop battling it out against sugar-pop, Eurodance and techno. Instead of dressing just to look good, more men wore clothes to represent what they liked and which social group they belonged to. Britpop — led by bands like Blur, Pulp and Oasis — gave rise to working-class lads styling themselves with polo shirts, parkas and trainers, while US boy bands encouraged men to wear turtleneck sweaters with spiked hair, and hip-hop acts pushed the oversized tee and baggy jeans combo.

During the era of Labour, Girl Power and the first Playstation console; men’s fashion divided like never before.

Style icons of the 1990s

Will Smith, Kurt Cobain, David Beckham, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the Gallagher brothers (Oasis).

Main off-duty clothing trends
  • Popper joggers.
  • Bucket hats.
  • Turtleneck knits.
  • Flannel shirts.
  • Ripped or baggy jeans.
  • Windbreakers.
  • Parkas.
  • Trainers.
  • Logo sweatshirts.
  • Baseball caps.
  • Graphic tees.
  • Desert boots.
  • Chunky watches.
  • Dog tags.
Main formal clothing trends
  • Mod suits (e.g. skinny ties, slim fits, short lengths, and narrow lapels).
  • Single-breast jackets with notched lapels.
  • Wide neckties.
  • Dark suits (e.g. navy or grey).
  • Chelsea boots and brogues.
Grooming trends
  • Spiked bleached hair.
  • Bowl cuts.
  • Wet-look gel.
  • Shaggy hairdos.
  • Goatees and stubble.
Get the style today

Skip your next barber appointment and revive Britpop with a shaggy hairstyle, faux-fur-lined hooded parka in khaki and retro runner trainers for a styled grunge look. Or, shave in a stubbled goatee and pull on a graphic baggy sweater with joggers and a baseball cap. There was nothing better than a decent matching tracksuit in the 1990s. Recreate this comeback trend today with charcoal joggers and a marl grey zip-up hoodie for off-duty days, then throw on an open flannel shirt, plain tee, ripped jeans, dog tag necklace, and chunky watch with desert boots for heading out.

These iconic men’s styles are back for a reason. Inspire your outfits with a twist of retro for a timeless, masculine look.

About the Author

Jake Holyoak Digital Marketing Executive Mediaworks

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Author: Jake Holyoak

Jake Holyoak

Member since: Aug 23, 2017
Published articles: 25

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