How have Iconic Women in History Shaped Fashion?

There’s nothing truer in the fashion industry than when people claim that fashion is revolutionary. This doesn’t just mean the eschewing of long dresses for the mini skirt in the liberating 1960s or even t-shirts with jarring slogans printed unashamedly across the front. It means that fashion comes back around.

While we’re crossing our fingers that crimping your hair and wearing tube socks doesn’t make a reappearance, styles of the past regularly come back into fashion and give us new inspiration for what to wear. This is certainly the case when we look at some fashion icons that have leapt straight out of the history books. So, which historical women do we still take fashion inspiration from today?



Cleopatra is perhaps one of the most iconic figures in history, thanks to her resurging popularity with Shakespeare and the early Hollywood films that featured the story of her life. The striking eye make-up that Cleopatra made famous is still in use today with models from Milan to Paris and New York. Cleopatra pioneered the ‘melon hairstyle’ and helped bring attention to the peplum skirt. She mixed modest Greek styles with more revealing Egyptian ones and used her love of pageantry and her unique charisma to cement herself as a fashionable figure at the time.

Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of Cleopatra is probably the best interpretation of her fashion – and likely where modern-day designs take their inspiration. The film featured 65 costume changes and helped revive Cleopatra as a figure for inspiration.

Although, it’s not just in the fashion world that Cleopatra is an inspiring figure. Cleopatra arguably inspired the make-up of the modern-day, with her iconic cat-eye and rouge cheeks. While she also continues to shine on screen, with the rumoured Angelina Jolie take on her life perhaps coming onto screens in 2020. Besides film, her classic aesthetic exists proudly in gaming; on some iGaming sites Cleopatra is a character featured in many online slots and is the figurehead for the Ancient Egypt theme popular among online gaming. Referred to as a historical staple of grace, poise and power, her image lives on even in avenues we might not immediately predict.


Marie Antoinette

While the provenance of her “let them eat cake” expression may be clouded in mystery, one thing we know for certain is how much of a fashion icon Marie Antoinette was at the time and still remains now. Up until Marie Antoinette, queens had been dutiful and loyal beside the king and had little in the way of style. Versailles culture was all about fashion. From the guardainfante dresses that accentuated the curvature of the skirt, which later translated to the pannier in the 18th century. This then eventually inspired the circle skirt of today, alongside the frills and lace that we associate today with luxury and higher quality garments.

The beehive hairstyle of the 1960s could give credit to Marie Antoinette and Versailles for its loftiness, while the simple updo is a toned-down version of the style. Some historians claim that the desire to keep up with Marie Antoinette’s fashion, especially at a time when social unrest was rife, led in small part to the beginnings of the French Revolution.

Marilyn Monroe


History doesn’t have to search back too far to find one of the most iconic modern-day fashion inspirations. In her heyday, Marilyn Monroe was the most revered figurehead of fashion. Her curvy figure helped transform a movement that equated beauty with size, and people still cite her as a fashion and beauty innovator. The famous Marilyn Monroe beauty mark is a trend copied to this day. From the signature high heels that Marilyn showed could be used for work and play helped the simple slip-on earn itself a place in even the most casual wardrobe. The headscarf she became known for wearing as she jetted about also became the inspiration for a whole gamut of hair fashions, while her famous proclamation that she wore only ‘Five drops of Chanel No.5’ to bed, cemented the iconic fragrance in the history books as being a woman’s nightstand staple.

Her body positivity and confidence is certainly a message that women continue to revisit in celebrity diet-driven contemporary society. She embraced herself, flaws and all, and she was confident in herself and her image. It’s no surprise that those who continue to think outside the beauty box cite her as a major inspiration.

No doubt in 100 years’ time, the fashion icons of today will be lining the history books. Perhaps Lady Gaga’s meat dress or Kim Kardashian’s champagne moment will be what we refer back to as iconic points in fashion history. Nevertheless, some people make a mark on fashion and fashion refuses to let them go, allowing them to seep into worldwide design and individual choices well after they have gone.

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Reynu joined WomenNow from the beginning on. She loves writing and combines this with her love for India, the country her parents emigrated from to the United States looking for a better life and opportunities. Studying litterature and journalism helped laid the foundation for her writing skills. She is into badminton and an avid runner. Her dream is to live between New York and Mumbai.