The Way We Were: A History of Fashion in Sheffield

Throughout this blog, I’ve looked at how the fashion landscape in Sheffield looks today and in the future, but what about the past? When we think of past fashion, it’s pretty easy to think of at least a key trend per decade- for example, 20’s was all about flapper dresses, the 50’s was all about full skirts, the 70’s was the time to put on your flares and the 80’s was all about disco! But how did the lovely folk of Sheffield interpret these trends? Let’s take a look:

Let’s start with the turn of the 20th century. At this time, it was fashionable for women to wear long skirts and corsets. However, in the 20s and 30s, the hemlines rose and couture fashion came into the spotlight, designing clothes for people who wanted to enjoy themselves. Then came the Second World War and a time of rations for the majority- several fashion houses were forced to close and ‘Make do and mend’ became a large part of dressing yourself, encouraged by the Government to ensure women got the most out of the clothes that they already had. Following the war, the textile industry began a period of innovation and new fabrics such as nylon, polyester and acrylic, creating a desire for easy to wear, easy to care for clothing. Traditions were once again disregarded by the 1960’s with the introduction of the miniskirt. The 1970’s were a period of flares and platform boots until punk came along and anti-fashion became the new fashion. Eighties fashion was personified by gaudy colours whilst in contrast, the 1990s was a period of minimalist grunge.

The Sheffield Scene

Wider trends quickly filter down to a local level and are interpreted by residents of the area. If you are interested in an in depth look into 20th Century fashions in Sheffield, get yourself down to the Sheffield Local Studies Library where you can have a look at the changing fashions using local newspapers. The trends in the newspapers vary from using vast amounts of fabrics in the 50’s right through to the ‘dangerous’ craze of ear piercing which took hold of Sheffield in the 70’s.

Sheffield’s 20th Century Timeline

1912: Mark’s and Spencer’s first shop in Sheffield opened, originally on The Moor.

1932: C&A Modes store opened at the bottom of the high street.

1940: A number of Sheffield’s large department stores were harmed during the Blitz including Atkinson’s, C&A Modes and Robert’s Brothers.

1989: Construction work begins on Meadowhall.


Fashion Sheffield

John Walsh Ltd, 1925. Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

It’s easy to picture the 1920’s as you would from ‘The Great Gatsby’ but the reality is that it wasn’t quite that decadent all the time. In the early part of the decade, the fashion didn’t change that much. It was only in 1925 that the fashions associated with the Roaring Twenties came into play. Women wore their hair in bob haircuts and danced The Charleston in short dresses for ease of movement.

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

The above photograph is of a young woman in the 1920’s wearing a coat designed by Painted Fabrics, a designer based in our very own Meadowhead!


The 1940’s was a world away from the elegant clothing of the 20’s. As a result of the war, rations came into play and thus, ‘Make do and Mend’ was the theme of the decade. Sewing skills were more important than ever and clothing was designed to be practical and simple.

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

The above is a leaflet which was issued by the Government urging families to ‘make do’ with what they already had.


The 1950’s was when fashion became more about freedom. The waistline became a prominent feature: women either wanted to hide it in ‘sack’ style dresses or emphasise it with full skirts.

50s 1

This lovely image came from my friend Sophie who was born and bred in Sheffield. This photo was taken in the 50’s and as you can see pastel colours and full skirts are a winning combination!


In the 60’s, hemlines got shorter. Mary Quant invented the mini skirt, prints were out in full force and platform go-go boots were coveted by most young women.

60s 1

In this photo courtesy of Sophie, you can see that hemlines are definitely shorter than in the 50’s, plus check out the bouffant style hair!


Jumpsuits, turtlenecks and hot pants were the focus of the 70’s. Pants had to be tight-fitting and even the men were wearing platform shoes.

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

This photo shows some cabaret singers strutting their stuff in Sheffield, wearing some extremely flamboyant stage costumes!

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Of course, the 70’s was the decade of punk and this article from the Sheffield Star shows that not everyone was feeling the punk movement!


In the mid-1980’s, fashion was inspired by pop stars such as Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. Think bright accessories, loud makeup and neon for youngsters and parachute pants for the more subdued.

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

The 80’s was an important time for Sheffield as construction began on Meadowhall in 1989.

70s 80s 1


80’s fashion wasn’t always about neon as this photo proves! I quite like this simple combination.


The 90’s had attitude. They were all about grunge- Kate Moss and Kurt Cobain were the poster people of a generation.

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library.

Image courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library.

You can see the grunge influence in this hairdresser’s advert for a salon in Leopold Square.


So, I hope you have enjoyed this little journey back in time to the fashions of yesteryear. If you want to find out more about fashion in Sheffield, there are a number of great resources out there:

Sheffield Archives

Sheffield Local Studies Library Catalogue

Yorkshire Fashion Archive

A big thank you to my lovely friend Sophie Guest and her family for giving me access to some of their family photos!





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