Five Decades of Street Style, According to Bill Cunningham

The original street style photographer, Bill Cunningham was both a modest – he was discrete, didn’t like to talk about his work, but worked around the clock, he called himself a recorder, “a columnist who writes with pictures”, not a photographer, didn’t want to attract attention, choosing inconspicuous clothes to dress – and agile observer of street style, of people, of the times – in the five decades he chronicled New York City life, he noticed everything, never stopped noticing how real people dressed as they went about their business, never stopped noticing patterns of human behavior as well as the individual in the crowd, and social, cultural and political changes, he anticipated fashion. He did it all through his photography. And he always did it with the greatest enthusiasm and dedication. He never did it with nostalgia, as Cathy Horyn observes in the introduction to the book Bill Cunningham: On the Street. That’s just it about Bill Cunningham’s remarkable work: he documented the times, but always looking forward. That’s the nature of things, of life, of street style. And what a fantastic journey through time and through the street style of the times this book, the first published collection of his photographs, is.

“Money’s the cheapest thing.
Liberty and freedom is the most expensive.”


The 1980s, New York City, “Bill Cunningham: On the Street”
Think what you may, but today we have lost all our sense of humour for the situation.


The 1970s

The glamour. Movies influencing dress, from the vests and haircut of Jane Fonda in Klute to the baggy, layered menswear of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Workers dressed for success during the day and in Lurex for the night out. It was the disco era, the Halston time, the decade that ushered the minimalist, practical American style and the American designers onto the world stage.

The 1980s

Women commuting to work in sneakers, then switching to high heels. Long skirts worn with socks and ballet flats, the power suit, Lycra stretch pants and racing pants worn as daywear by New Yorkers, denim in all forms, torn jeans, black leather motorcycle jackets, peplum, oversized shoulders.

The 1990s

Black, the perennial colour of fashion, seen in new formulas for any time of day, lace, plaid, shirts as skirts, overalls, stretch bodysuits, tights with high heels, corsets as daywear influenced by Madonna’s Jean Paul Gaultier stage costumes, plentiful jewellery worn in layers reflecting influences of reggae and rap, women looking particularly feminine in menswear, the Versace baroque motif shirt.

The 1980s, New York City, “Bill Cunningham: On the Street”


The 2000s

Gender continues to be defined and redefined. Denim continues to evolve. People inventing their own style, the perennial love of black, an explosion of logos, surreal shoes, the white shirt that finds its place in every decade.

The 2010s

Fashion refuses to be recognizably distinct, gender-bending becomes even more accentuated, people are more image-conscious than ever, dressing to make themselves observed. Colour blocking, the rise of athleisure, the popularity of Thom Browne and menswear and above-the-ankle tailored trousers, the reaffirmation of comfortable, functional, tasteful, minimalist timeless style, like the camel coat, and the redefining of luxury as less is more on the background of the emergence of socially conscious fashion.

The 1990s, New York City, “Bill Cunningham: On the Street”


The book Bill Cunningham: On the Street, published by Clarkson Potter,
is out this September


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