From the Archives: 5 Classic Summer Looks That Feel Just as Relevant in 2024

Iconic Summer Fashion Aesthetics
(Image credit: Who What Wear UK)

A few years ago, the world was completely devoid of the term "fashion aesthetic." Of course, style sub-cultures have always existed, with certain types of dressers subscribing to different looks, but we never actually had a phrase that encompassed the idea. Then TikTok took over, and in the years that have followed, it feels as if there’s a new "aesthetic" vying for our attention and disposable incomes every other day. That’s why we, Who What Wear UK’s editors, collectively approach trending fashion aesthetics with trepidation. We can’t in good conscience advise you to worship at the altar of "Mob Wife" one week then expect you to pivot to "Tomato Girl" the next.

These new looks are flaring up before the last even has time to take hold, let alone burn out, and trying to keep up with them isn’t anything we’d encourage. What we’d rather do with our time and energy is spotlight the ways of dressing we think have the most longevity and worth, ensuring that if you do decide to invest in or style yourself in line with them, you can do so in a way that’s only going to enhance your wardrobe, not confuse it. And just one of the ways that we do this is by looking to the past.

It's true what they say: What goes around tends to come back around eventually. Since we know that fashion is cyclical, it should come as no surprise when we see trends resurrect themselves from the past. You need only look at some of the latest designer collections and the growing penchant for all things deemed "classic" to know that archival fashion is integral to how we get dressed today. But what does this mean for summer 2024 specifically?

To find out, I began analysing the biggest summer fashion trends to see which make a return each year, and as you might have predicted, the most prominent can all be traced back to various points over the last century (and, in some instances, even beyond that). From the costumes worn by the likes of Brigitte Bardot in romantic French films to the standout pieces showcased on-stage by once-in-a-generation talents such as Billie Holiday, I wanted to get to the beating heart of summertime nostalgia and unearth some of the looks and trends that help capture this mood.

Just as prevalent now as they ever were, below, I’ve chronicled five enduring, iconic and classic summer aesthetics that will make everything else on your For You page feel irrelevant.


Iconic Summer Fashion Aesthetics

(Image credit: @nlmarliyn, @jastookes, Everett Collection, Getty Images, @bettinalooney, @natashandlovu, @ingridedvinsen)

When you think of '90s fashion trends, cargo trousers, platform-sole shoes and kitsch accessories may come to mind, but that's just one side of the decade's style legacy. The other is rooted in minimalism, with simple silhouettes, mix-and-match separates and a palette consisting exclusively of black and white being its strongest markers. We saw this in Julia Roberts' makeover in the 1990 film Pretty Woman. One thing that wasn't a big mistake was that cream skirt suit and black hat ensemble.

Fast forward to 1998 and The Parent Trap's incredibly chic villain Meredith Blake (played by Elaine Hendrix) became a style icon in her own right thanks to her pristine outfits that were tinged with the same glamour as Roberts' Vivian. This look, however, goes back further than the 1990s—just look at Brigitte Bardot's 1950s full-skirted dress, its black and white stripes giving it an air of French Riviera fabulousness. Billie Holiday's monochrome bow set upon broderie strikes the same high-glamour pitch, especially with the addition of sparkling jewels.

Today, this aesthetic continues with bold stripes on dresses with volume and shape, contrast edging on simple tops and swimming costumes, suiting that's smart yet easy to wear and pieces in fluid cuts and soft fabrications. Pretty accessories and refined footwear further drive forward this look, with a focus on pearls, shells and diamonds giving that high-end Riviera flourish.

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Iconic Summer Fashion Aesthetics

(Image credit: @hoskelsa, @smythsisters, @monamali_, @rosiehw, @oumaymaboumeshouli, Everett Collection, @lefevrediary, Getty Images, @emnitta)

I might not have taken history, but I do realise there are differences between the Greeks, the Romans and the Egyptians that go way beyond geographical coordinates. But in the interest of tightly honing this classic aesthetic, I'm left with little option but to group them together. From Diane Kruger's 2004 Helen of Troy to Elizabeth Taylor's 1963 Cleopatra, we've seen many goddesses grace the silver screen in swathes of fabric so beautiful they transcend myth.

On the summer 2024 runways, we saw draped dresses reminiscent of those carved into the marble of Greek and Roman statues, the fabric hugging the contours of the body in very deliberate, albeit freeing, ways. Now, naturally, we're seeing this mood take over social media, too, with sheer textiles drawing a transparent veil over the body.

What makes this look especially appropriate for summer is not only the hot countries from which it hails, but also how comfortable the key pieces can be to wear. Although sculpting, they're designed to move with the body they house, whilst cut-outs and lightweight materials offer extra breathability for the balmiest of temperatures.

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Iconic Summer Fashion Aesthetics

Although I can't guarantee any free drinks, I can tell you that Club Tropicana vibes will make a comeback this summer, just as they have done every summer since the late '60s. One needs only picture Diana Ross being, well, Diana Ross, wearing sequin dresses adorned with jewel-encrusted watermelons and gowns complete with marabou feather cuffs and sweeping trains like it's par for the course. However, the look goes back even further: Doris Day's turn as jazz singer Ruth Etting in the 1955 film Love Me or Leave Me has similar showgirl hallmarks, especially when she wears her glittering blue gown with a thigh-high split.

Easily the most joyful aesthetic I uncovered, it offers a technicolour antidote to the more muted palettes of not only the other looks on this list but also the overarching trends we've seen dominate the past few years. Summer is a time to live boldly and throw caution to the wind, so why not play dress-up in the process? Be it on holiday or at home, I implore you to throw on that minidress that makes you feel the sexiest version of yourself, or free those shoes you've been saving for a special occasion from their box and take them for a spin, even if it's just to pick up a pint of milk. If life is for living, then clothes, no matter how standout, are for wearing.

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Iconic Summer Fashion Aesthetics

Summer is synonymous with love, and whilst the French are often proclaimed the most romantic of all Europeans, I'd argue that when it comes to passion, it's all about the Italians and where they reside. Recent scenes that spring to mind include Daisy Edgar-Jones' turn as Marianne and her coming-of-age trip to Trieste in Normal People, which showcased the infinite power of a well-cut black sundress. Before her came Gwyneth Paltrow's Marge Sherwood in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley, whose "ladylike" full skirts and knotted, short-sleeved blouses set a fresh fashion movement in motion, even if it was swallowed whole by the Y2K movement that would take hold soon after.

Of course, the original love letter to Italy and the fashion it inspires came from Audrey Hepburn in the 1953 classic Roman Holiday. Her costumes were clearly a source of inspiration for Sherwood's, as both share commonalities in the form of mini tailoring, high-waisted shorts, elegant skirting and refined dresses. Accessories were basket bags and espadrilles—two items that strike the perfect balance between elegance and understatedness.

This is precisely the goal when it comes to achieving this aesthetic, especially now. Try layering a blue linen button-down over a floral slip, or opt for a light-coloured blazer in a linen or silken fabric worn with breezy shorts. Outfit-elevating additions like thin leather belts, anti-trend timepieces and simple drop earrings will lend the polish needed to complete this look.

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Iconic Summer Fashion Aesthetics

(Image credit: @sofiagrainge, Shutterstock, @deborabrosa, @hoskelsa, Getty Images, @abimarvel, @fakerstrom, @natashandlovu, @marina_torres)

Of all the fashion aesthetics that have been born on TikTok, the one that holds the most weight is the "coastal grandmother". Let me bring you up to speed. More than a look, the trend has become an entire lifestyle for summer. Inspired by wealthy, middle-aged women—think Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give—it's all about linen button-down shirts, matching wide-leg trousers or light-wash jeans and practical accessories, including oversized tote bags (for carrying your bottle of Lady A rosé), sun hats (because grown-up women know the value of UV protection), and chic yet easy-to-walk-in sandals. Hello, Birkenstocks.

However, the look isn't reserved for grandmothers, mothers or anyone in particular, for that matter. Classic beauty Faye Dunaway championed the aesthetic in 1969's The Thomas Crown Affair; her light yellow knit and white denim look offered a tonic to the psychedelic prints and bright colours that dictated much of the decade. Already proving to be one of the most popular looks of the summer, Breton stripes, gauzy knitwear and pull-on trousers are excellent starting points. From there, try layering in dungarees, puff-sleeved blouses, nautical-inspired shorts or a refined basket bag. I recommend DeMellier.

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Maxine Eggenberger
Deputy Editor

Maxine Eggenberger is Who What Wear UK’s deputy editor and has over thirteen years of experience in fashion journalism. She been creating engaging and elevated style content specifically for Who What Wear UK since 2018, covering runway reports, emerging trends, long-form features, self-styled shopping stories and columns, including her edit of the best new-in buys. She ensures the highest editorial standards are met across the site, leads the editorial team in their SEO strategy and keyword planning, works closely with the beauty team on content initiatives, represents the brand at industry events, and regularly contributes to social media, including her own Who What Wear UK TikTok franchise, French Style Fridays. Previously, Maxine appeared on ITV's This Morning in her own fashion segment and has interviewed countless celebrities—everyone from Victoria Beckham to Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.

Prior to Who What Wear UK, Maxine’s career began when, after completing her first-ever internship at Look magazine, she was offered a position on the brand's fashion desk. She accepted, leaving university a year early in the process. Her passion and natural talent for writing and styling meant she swiftly rose through the ranks to become the title's fashion news and commercial content editor, with a stint as’s fashion and beauty writer along the way. She later served as Look’s acting Editor in Chief, overseeing both print and digital, before embarking on a successful freelance career, working with Grazia, The Pool, and Marie Claire amongst others.

Maxine is based remotely from her countryside home near Edinburgh where she spends her downtime renovating her house, walking her dogs, hosting friends and trying to master the art of making Old Fashioned cocktails.