Brief History of Women’s Fashion – The 1920s –
A concise illustrated history of 1920’s women’s fashion -1920 to 1929.
1.1920’s Style – The key Features.
2.Art Deco and 1920’s Fashion.
3.The Evolution of the 1920’s Silhouette.
4.The Age of Chic.
5.The 1920’s Wardrobe.
a.1920’s Day Wear
b.1920’s Evening Wear
c.1920’s Designer Flapper Dresses
d.Home Dress Making
6.The 1920’s Flapper and the influence of Hollywood.
7.1920’s Hairstyles and the Cloche Hat.
8.The 1920’s Make-up Look.
9. 1920’s Fashion Accessories.
b.lingerie & hosiery
10.1909 to 1929 – The end of an era in fashion.
“With silken legs and scarlet lips
We’re young and hungry, wild and free,
Our waists are round about the hips
Our skirts are well above the knee
We’ve boyish busts and Eton crops,
We quiver to the saxophone
Come, dance before the music stops
for who can bear to be alone?”
James Laver – The Women of 1926
The 1920’s era is unparalleled by the sheer magnitude of cultural change, beginning in many ways with the spread of women’s suffrage in the immediate post war years.The 19th amendment of the US Constitution in 1920 finally brought the vote to American women ( a surprising late adopter of women’s suffrage was France in 1945! ) and with it a new sense of freedom and rights of feminine self expression. As the old order of class society crumbled, there was a massive liberation in the creative arts around the developed world.
As for changes in fashion, the huge influence of Paris designers like Poiret,Patou,Molyneux, Chanel, Lanvin, Lelong, Callot Soeurs and Vionnet cannot be underestimated, not to mention British designers such as Norman Hartnell – who went from catering exclusively to the wealthy upper class in the 1920’s to designing British women’s utility dresses in the early 1940’s. But there were more factors at work other than the whims of clothing designers. The 1920’s was a cultural revolution!
The arrival of the Jazz Age from the city of New Orleans and the music of Louis Armstrong became the anthem for the flapper, black or white and especially in the USA where alcohol was prohibited throughout the 1920’s and the term the ‘Roaring Twenties’ can be said to have been aptly applied. The invention of film and the rising influence of Hollywood along with an increase in fashion marketing; the merging of the Arts Decoratifs and new Modernist movements; the cultural impact of a world war which reduced the grip of the class system on both sides of the Atlantic, encouraging different classes and races to mingle and share their sense of freedom in the fight for suffrage; and the rise of consumerism which promoted the ideals of ‘fulfilment and freedom’.
All these factors in post war culture would lead young women away from the Jane Austin era of corseted restrictions and ‘turns about the drawing room’.
As during the Belle Epoch in the 1900’s and decades later in the 1960’s, you would find a young bohemian movement – flying the flag for freedom of self expression, and the major cities of Paris, Berlin, New York and Washington were the social melting pots for the 1920’s cultural explosion. London of the 1920’s led the way in some respects with numerous infamous jazz clubs such as The Kit Cat Club, where the bright young things would carouse in decadence as satirized in Evelyn Waughs Vile Bodies. The Weimar culture of 1920’s Berlin immortalized by Christopher Usherwood in a series of Berlin novels which inspired the 1960’s musical Cabaret – was an all too brief spark of creativity and freedom before fascism slammed the door shut.
In the USA, the prohibition of alcohol produced the inevitable response of thousands of speak easy run by gangsters springing up across the nation. These were not to be confused with the 1920’s bohemian set, who ploughed their own path. One Notable such club to hit the headlines was the Krazy Kat Klub in Washington.
Perhaps the greatest gift to the 1920s era came from the African-American – whose culture developed rapidly during the 1920’s under the banner of “The Harlem Renaissance”. New Orleans Jazz made its way north to the segregated clubs of Chicago and New York, where the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, spread the musical message of freedom. Black American women had not only to fight for female emancipation, but had to scale the long ladder of civil rights . She played an enormous role in the liberation of all women.
The auto-mobile with all the sense of adventure that it promised was also a factor in the changes to women’s fashion and styles and continued to liberate women’s lifestyles as it had done in the 1910’s. While though the exclusive Rolls Royces, Cabriolets, Packards, and Horches had been the domain of only the wealthy socialites, by the end of the 1920’s, chirpy ‘two dog cars’ like the Renault and Citroen and Bugatti meant that bright young things of more modest means could enjoy the high life!
1.1920’s Style – The key Features.
There was far more to women’s fashion in the 1920’s than the iconic Flapper look of bobbed hair, long necklaces, cloche hats, flapper slang and dancing to the ‘Charleston’ !
The explosion of creativity in stunning innovative styles in dress, hair, swimwear, shoes – the list goes on, all raised the bar to a height that hasn’t been matched since. All subsequent eras would seek to emulate, re-create, or re-imagine the clothing styles pioneered by the 1920’s designers and the adventurous women who wore them!
The influence of Art Decoratifs and the emerging Modernist movement [ now referred to as Art Deco style] and in particular the fashion illustrators, also helped cement the slim, demure look of the era
What makes the 1920’s era so unique is that every single innovation introduced has in essence remained with us ever since in their component parts.
The Chemise Dress –
First making an entrance as an outerwear item in 1916 from designers such as Jeanne Lanvin , Callot Seours and Coco Chanel – by 1920, the chemise or shift dress, was to become the dominant line for day and evening wear. The dress hung from shoulder to just below the knee – the waist dropped to the hips [ this idea possibly came from the gradual wearing of loose belts over the earlier chemise frocks and middy blouses of the 1910s – Chanel in particular loved belts!].
She also had a penchant for the color black, with its easy capacity to flatter, and with the launch of her little black dress in 1926 – Chanel endorsed the validity of black – several years before any other designer saw its power.
Not only did the waist drop – but most significantly, the hemlines rose – dangerously! This sudden exposure of women’s legs in the 1920s, brought about a huge interest in women’s hosiery, and stocking sales went through the roof. Silk was still the main sought after fabric, and the common colours were beige and grey and white being the most favoured.
By the 1920’s, the prevailing mode seemed bent on divesting woman of the last wisp of raiment she could wear and be still considered clothed by the standards of the time.
For day wear – during the colder months a girl would wear a wrap-over coat or jacket/cardigan – worn with blouse and a pleated skirt – not forgetting the obligatory cloche hat of course. On summer afternoons the common choice was a basic shift dress – now often sleeveless, with a decolletage often as low as an evening dress. In evening gowns, the hem rose and fell as the decade waxed and waned, but it was all about revealing shoulders and backs!
Over these bare arms – in daytime – a wrap coat, worn with scarves and if she could afford it – fur accessories. Shoulders of coats were cut broad with voluminous armholes, which intensified the look of ‘shapelessness’. To compliment the newer slimmer silhouettes in evening gowns, capes appeared by the beginning of the 1920’s with gabardine being a favorite fabric.
The bobbed hair and girlish immaturity was the ‘correct pose’ for young women by 1922. Tennis player Suzanne Lenglen in a straight, sleeveless frock vanquished her opponent, who was still faithful to skirts, shirts and petticoats – the sporting influence finally permeating every girls wardrobe.
By 1923, gone was the traditional morning, afternoon and evening outfits – having been replaced by ‘shopping frocks’, travelling frocks, and frocks for dancing in – “Why daarling – simply everyone is doing the bell bottom !”
Chanel’s Little Black Dress.
Published in Vogue on October 1st 1926 and immediately dubbed the ‘Ford Dress’ by Vogues editor – a suggestion that it would become as popular as the Ford car. Its flattering silhouette suited just about any shape of a woman and it heralded a new Parisian ‘economy style’ or ‘poverty de luxe’ as Chanel herself described it; an expensive interpretation of a simple design made of modest materials.
There was no hoo hah about this dress however, just a simple little article with a rather basic sketch by Chanel herself and the following detail ” the frock that all the world will wear is model 817 of black crepe de chine. The bodice blouses slightly at the front and sides and has a tight bolero at the back. Especially chic is the arrangement of tiny tucks which cross in front. Imported by Saks.”
There was about it- no trumpets blaring, but a humble beginning as a day outfit, which Chanel was soon to follow with numerous black evening dress styles, which helped copper fasten the idea of the ‘the little black shift dress’ as a simple flattering ‘must have’ in every girls wardrobe.
The Screen Debut of the Little Black Dress
The real kudos for the ‘sudden’ popularity of the little black dress goes to Hollywood designer Travis Banton and Clara Bow. The first half hour of the iconic movie IT(1927) features a highly fashionable pleated frock worn by Bow at her work place. The same frock is then transformed into a sleeveless little black dress that had cinema goers eyes popping out of their heads. A fashion craze was born. A colour normally reserved for funerals was suddenly a must have in a woman’s wardrobe.
Popular Fads of 1920s Fashion.
a. Bobbed or cropped hairstyles.
b. Dancing to the Charleston and the Black Bottom dance ( thanks Louise !)
d. Rolled stockings
e. Flapper slang
f. The ubiquitous cloche hat
g. Jazz music
h. Mahjong parties
2.Art Deco and 1920s Fashion.
As early as 1908 – when Paul Poiret produced his Les Robes De Paul Poiret – illustrated by Paul Iribe -a total break away occurred from the conventional presentation of new lines in clothing. Iribe, was one of the original seven Knights of the Bracelet – which also included George Barbier, George Lepape, Charles Martin, Andre Marty, Bernard Boutet De Monvel, and Pierre Brissaud – whose divine illustrations graced the pages iconic fashion magazines like Gazette Du Bon Ton, and Art-Goût-Beauté .
These artists of the Art Decoratifs movement were collectively responsible for breathing their fresh Expressionist colors and flowing graceful lines into the world of fashion throughout the 1920s and on into the 1930s.
In 1925 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts décoratifs et Industriels Modernes Paris – fine art and fashion finely merged and what we can only describe as the Age of Chic was born!
Evening gowns in the first season of 1921 were of unusual magnificence, luxurious works of decorative art. Gowns draped on women of impossibly refined silhouettes now declared a new ideal of beauty – slenderness. The feminine shape was decreed to be straight and angular, echoing the influence of Les Arts Decoratifs , just as in the Belle Epoch era of the 1900’s – the curved shapes of Art Nouveau were echoed by the buxom Gibson Girl.
Until fashion photography took its place in 1930s film magazines like Hollywood’s Photoplay, the magazines of the period, displayed a simplicity that is striking. ” Longer than life young ladies, with their short, tubular dresses, cigarettes in long black holders, cloche hats, bobbed hair and hands of diamond bracelets” [ The Golden Age of Style ].
3.The Evolution of the 1920s Silhouette.
Leaving behind once and for all the ‘ S ‘ bend corset look of the Edwardian age, it was only natural that the modernist influenced lines of the 1920’s would go to a polar opposite of – no curves at all, straight figure, flat chests and boyish look. It was a battle between the feminine and the modernist.
At the start of the decade the couture designs from Paris drew mostly from historical lines, with nipped waists and billowing skirts – called Robe de Style ( a trend that was to be repeated in the 1950s).
The fashion visionary Jeanne Lanvin was a major exponent of this style, producing beautiful pastel mother and daughter wardrobes, but she also helped popularise the ‘garconne look‘ – epitomized by the simple chemise dress in either daywear or evening wear and which was to become the dominant fashion line from 1923 to 1928. Coco Chanel was the new favoured young gun for this youthful boyish style.
The fringy mini-dress- so often seen as the typical evening gown from the 1920s, is a popular misconception brought about by the 1960s revival of certain 1920s fads.
In fact the normal hemline rose to just below the knee. This hem height was particularly favoured by women as they enjoyed the freedom and swishing feeling against their legs – of the new softer and more feminine fabrics weighed down with elegant bead-work – a particular feature in a 1920s evening dress. Many gowns were designed with the new dances in mind so freedom of movement was always important to a party going girl.
4.The Age of Chic.
By April 1925, when the ‘Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes‘ opened in Paris with exhibits from twenty eight nations, Decorative arts and design or Arts Decoratifs was merging with a new ‘modernist’ appeal that that was anti-decorative and almost industrial. Though nowadays referred to as Art Deco, the look that was to dominate up until the late 1930’s, was a combination of feminine and ‘modern’ industrial inspired designs. It was the ‘Age of Chic’ – a word that found itself into the vocabulary of almost every fashion article or advert written.” Sequinned dresses are chic for evening …..A smooth skin is chic …..The new short bob is chic ….”
Art Deco style was the dominant feature, not only in fashion, but in all creative arts right on up to 1939. Hollywood enthusiastically endorsed this new demure style from the late 1920’s, with imaginative film sets and stunning gowns adorning their female stars.
The names of the movie costumers as were as well known as the Paris Couturiers. Gilbert Adrian, Orry Kelly, Travis Banton, Edith Head and later – Walter Plunkett,whose wonderful costumes for the 1953 film Singin’ in the Rain, brilliantly parodied the over the top exuberance of 1920s Hollywood.
The aforementioned memorable scene from Clara Bow’s IT, where she took a scissors to her work dress and transformed it into an evening frock, was realised by Travis Banton and officially launched the little black dress on screen.
The word ‘chic’ was made popular in the hugely funny comic novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, published in 1925. The Great Gatsby may be remembered as the definitive book about the jazz age,( published that same year) but much is to be said about this mini Jazz Age masterpiece by Anita Loos, who introduced the worlds ‘first’ dumb blonde on the make.
The major designers in modernist fashions included Chanel, Lanvin ( who always seemed to be a step ahead of the younger ones) and new surrealist designers like Elsa Schiaparelli ( who first splashed on to the fashion scene in 1927 with her trompe l’oeil bow sweater) and Sonia Delauney.
Their chic designs of stripes and colourful blocks in dresses, jumpers and sportswear were soon to be copied by fashion periodicals and made available for the mass market.
5.The 1920’s Wardrobe.
1920’s Day Wear
The middy blouse, which American women had for some time found practical, had arrived in Europe in 1917 along with the American troops. Its impact was considerable, inspiring practical young designers like Coco Chanel to incorporate jersey and other traditionally male fabrics, to create the first genuine casual clothing for European women. These two piece models consisting of pleated skirts worn with loose belted jumpers and loose cardigans soon became the staple day-wear look for women by the early 1920’s.
It is difficult to say with any accuracy who first created the drop waist look. There are designs by Jeanne Lanvin as far back as 1914 which show these styles – albeit worn by younger girls. Coco Chanel had published a collection of evening gowns in 1916 in Harpers Bazaar which showed a clear move towards a drop waist style ,achieved with loose fitted belts. By 1923, the drop waist look was taking hold, and when wearing a skirt was achieved with low hanging belts, and in a frock with a faux drop waist sewn in.
By 1926, most spring and summer dresses were sleeveless or cap sleeved scoop-neck lightweight dresses with a lowered waist or no waistline at all. Day wear evolved into simple layered suit-styled jackets or cardigans, jersey blouses, and pleated skirts.
The wrap-over coat in tweed was the favourite winter coat, and if you could afford it, you draped your self in velvet and furs. Opulence was the key.
1920’s Evening Wear
Evening-wear was the domain of the great designers. Madeleine Vionnet popularized the bias cut, where a woven fabric, mainly silk, was cut at a 45 degree angle to its major seam lines, allowing the fabric to hang and drape in sinuous folds and stretch over the contours of a woman’s figure. The beauty of the bias cut, was that the dress could be pulled on and off with ease.
It heralded the free-form look of many evening gowns in the 1920s. The fabrics used were often highly decorative and there many sources for the fabric manufacturers to draw from, especially from the orient.
Another popular cut for evening frocks was a straight tabard-style with side inserts, and featured low cut backs and thin shoulder straps. No evening dress was complete without a luxurious fringed shawl to drape over the shoulders.
This completed the ‘pillar’ like effect seen so often in fashion drawings. Many frocks were heavily encrusted with beads and even jewellery!
1920’s Designer Flapper Dresses
Chanel’s black evening dresses with huge transparent draperies.
Molyneux’s transparent printed dresses with full scalloped skirts and arm draperies.
Paquin’s acid green moire dresses with a V-neck and bulk at the hip.
source –Vintage Fashion Sourcebook – Carlton Books
The modern ‘myth’ of the ‘flapper’ party dress is more a relic of the 1960’s revival. In fact the normal hemline was below the knee and particularly favoured by women as they enjoyed the swishing freedom against their legs of the new softer and more feminine fabrics weighed down with elegant bead work – a particular feature in a 1920s evening dress. Silk was the favored fabric in chiffon, velvet and taffeta .
Many gowns were designed with the new dances in mind so freedom of movement was always important to a party going girl. For the working class girl – the new fabric Rayon – an artificial silk, was the alternative when it came to designing an evening frock. Through the dissemination of haute couture to the streets of ordinary women – thanks to the Paris Patterns, published weekly in magazines such as the Pictorial Review.
Home Dress Making and the emergence of Ready-to-Wear.
Ready to wear clothing was in the future, and most women of moderate means simply went out and bought the latest McCalls, Pictorial Review, or subscribed to the sewing patterns published by design gurus like Mary Brooks Picken from the Women’s Institute. Her 1920’s Dress Design book ‘Modern Dressmaking’ was extremely popular amongst home-dressmakers and rare copies are hard to find. Fashion houses brought out new lines twice a year in the 1920’s and the cuts and appliqués were eagerly consumed and copied by fashion magazines around the world.
The electric Singer sewing machine also revolutionized the speed at which nifty women were able to knock together their new dress for the coming weekend dance.
6.The 1920’s Flapper and the influence of Hollywood.
At the time, when a woman was referred to as a ‘bit of a flapper’ it was generally not kindly meant. But there was indeed a flapper look and it has endured to this day as the defining ( though not always accurate ) look of the decade.The tubular silhouette, the backless chemise dress ( outrageous ! ) the lowered waistline, the bobbed hair, the feather boas, the long necklines and cigarette holders, the new slang and oodles of art-deco influenced faux jewellery.
Cartoonists such as John Held Jr , Rene Vincent ,and Georges Leonnec, whose hilariously naughty La Vie Parisienne illustrations stretched back to La Belle Epoch era, also helped epitomize and immortalize the youthful spirit of the flapper.
The greatest 1920s parody of them all is the truly hilarious PG Wodehouse series of Jeeves and Wooster novels,which captures the spirit of the Jazz Age amongst London’s and New York’s ‘bright young things‘.
By the late 1920’s, while those early Kit Kat Club going bright young people of high society had either married off, died of over partying or simply grown up – the real enduring image of the 1920’s flapper was to be given to us by Hollywood.
Audiences were mesmerized by those early icons of the silver screen such as Theda Bara, Gloria Swanson, Alice White, Louise Brooks, Clara Bow and Colleen Moore. They inspired millions of women to copy their fashion, coiffures and make-up looks. Dorothy Parker had a thing or two to say about these vivacious women:
The Playful flapper here we see,
The fairest of the fair.
She’s not what Grandma used to be, –
You might say, au contraire.
Her girlish ways may make a stir,
Her manners cause a scene,
But there is no more harm in her
Than in a submarine.
The 1920s flapper ideal also became associated with a new ‘lesbian chic’ popularized by the book La Garconne by Victor Margueritte, and epitomized now by the artwork of Tamara de Lempicka, whose iconic auto portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti) for the cover of German fashion magazine ‘Die Dame’ is regarded as one of the most significant paintings of the era.
7. 1920’s Hairstyles and the Cloche Hat.
Hairstyles of the 1920s – as with most other aspects of the 1920s woman’s look – were short short short !
The First World War forced many women – who worked in dangerous situations like munitions factories – to tie up their hair or in many cases, crop their locks altogether. The ‘short crop’ or ‘chignon’ hairstyle became so common in Holland, France and Germany by 1918 that soon famous stars like Irene Castle were playfully adopting them. Likewise, milliners responded to the call by designing closer fitting hats. French milliner Caroline Riboux developed the ‘cloche hat‘ ( meaning ‘bell’) in 1919 which was often fashioned round a clients head.
By 1922, Ladies found that there was a whole new war going on – hats versus hair!
Ladies hastily repaired to their unfortunate hairdresser and told him he was a rotten hairdresser and thanks to him, they couldn’t find a suitable hat!
The Cloche hat timeline – 1920 to 1929.
Hence the astute hairdresser began more to ‘thin’ out the hair until the back adornment was a simple ‘chignon‘ that could be tucked under these new cloche hats.The milliners struck back with an evolved hat style that couldn’t accommodate even this tiny “bun”.
There was the Dutch bob or Pageboy bob, Orchid bob,The Eton Crop, Egyptian bob,Coconut bob,Moana bob,Charleston Cut,The Shingle,Kiss-curl,Extreme Windblown,Frizzy Tousled Bob,The Poodle Cut, Soft-wave-Bob, Brushed Back Bob and so on.
The Dutch bob hair cut , first made popular in the USA as far back as 1921 when Mary Thurman adopted it was to become the most sought after bobbed hairstyle by 1926 and was worn by the likes of Colleen Moore and Louise Brooks. This page boy bob is the most iconic hairstyle of the 1920s.
The singer Mary Garden explained to the Pictorial Review in 1927, why she bobbed her hair;
“Why did I bob my hair? For several reasons. I did it because I wanted to, for one thing; because I found it easier to take care of; because I thought it more becoming; and because I felt freer without long, entangling tresses. But above and beyond these and several other reasons I had my hair cut short because, to me, it typified a progressive step, in keeping with the inner spirit that animates my whole existence.”
“I want you to bob my hair.”
At first, the barber’s mouth slid somewhat open. His cigarette dropped to the floor.
“My hair–bob it!”
8.The 1920’s Makeup Look.
Read our History of 1920s Makeup for the more detailed illustrated story of how the consumer boom in women’s make-up really took off in the roaring twenties. Cosmetics counters were fast becoming the norm in ladies departments stores and pharmacies. Beauty became a major business, with names like Max Factor ( the famed Hollywood make-up designer), Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden becoming household names and brands like Maybelline, Tangee and Coty rolling off girls lips.
The singular evening makeup look of the 1920s was the cupids bow lips, heavily rouged cheeks and kohl shadowed eyes. But with the help of more cosmetically safe face cosmetics being sold by pharmacists, it was more acceptable for women to apply a little lipstick during daytime too.
1920s beauty guides were featured regularly in magazines and the new ‘American-style-beauty as evoked by Hollywood was the ‘image idéale’ to be achieved.
The Real Flapper vs The Silent Screen Vamp Look.
Talia Felix wrote an interesting study for Glamourdaze, on the illusionary 1920s make-up styles of Hollywood starlets, filmed in high contrast ortho-chromatic – to the actual make-up used. The 1920s did see a massive increase in cosmetics use, but this again was influenced to a large degree by Hollywood. Most women were conservative in day make up, but the new push up lipsticks were to become every girls constant companion.
For a complete and lavishly illustrated guide to the history of make-up in the 1920s – Read the History of Make-up -The 1920’s or visit Vintage Make-up Guide.com for downloadable vintage beauty guides!
9.1920s Fashion Accessories.
The 1920’s Swimsuits
In the 1920’s – women’s swimsuit design rapidly evolved from the hideous petticoat affairs to the sleek, body hugging apparel of the Jantzen Swimsuit,an elasticated and revealing skin tight one piece which possibly did more for the emancipation of the female body than any other item of outerwear clothing . Women of a daring disposition could not wait to jump into them.
The famous Diving Girl logo heralded a new age of freedom and first appeared in beauty pageants in the early 1920’s and very quickly a swimsuit mania swept across the world. Swimsuits were still often of wool, and as such were not ideal for the job.
Parasols were as ever – a popular beach accessory, and are sadly missed from today’s beach fashions.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that Lastex, a woven satin finish elastic and silk material, also used in girdles, began to be used.
In the early 1920’s – the popular style was to wear black rolled stockings with your swimsuit,thanks to the Max Sennett’s Bathing Beauties, though this idea – however charming to look at, disappeared within a few years. Top designers such as Jean Patou and newer emerging talents like Sonia Delaunay believed that fine art could be integrated seamlessly into textiles and clothing.
Originally a painter, Delaunay’s vibrant colours and cubist shapes were a marked contrast to the minimalist styles of most bathing costumes.
Lingerie and Hosiery in the 1920s.
The post 1918 evolution of women’s lingerie in the 1920’s was equally dramatic.
By the end of the 1920’s, gone was the cupboard full of billowing snow white linen – layers of day and night chemises, drawers, knickerbockers and petticoats. A young woman by 1929 had but a few sets of Cami-knickers and princess slips.
Lingerie fabrics were of silk, crepe-de-chine, rayon and a new soft transparent fabric “crepe Georgette” devised by Chanel contemporary Georgette de la Plante.
However another myth of the 1920’s is of women abandoning corsets completely. Long-line elasticated smooth corsets replaced the old laced affairs of the previous decade and doubly served to enhance the tubular look which women wished to achieve. These newer synthetic corsets also sported zips down the side. The one-piece camisole replaced the old cotton chemise and were now made in silks, cut low to wear under evening dresses.
Leading brands of foundation wear in the 1920s included Gossard, Spirella, Berlei, Symingtons ( the Symington side-lacer) and Sears Roebuck and a new company called Maidenform – formed in 1922 – who put out a new bust uplifting bra which – despite the gamine flat bust fad – began to take hold by the late 1920’s. Pre-code Hollywood movies of the late 1920’s took enthusiastically dis-robed many of their female stars to show off undergarments.
A unexpected arrival in fashion from 1920 onwards was the new fashion of ‘exposing women’s legs.’ 1920s stocking sales rose inexorably.
The sudden rise in skirt hems brought with it a desire by women to wear more attractive and fashionable hosiery. Stocking Brands like Phoenix, Onyx, Berksire and Holeproof Hosiery were advertised in exquisitely ornate and risqué adverts by artists like Coles Philips.
In 1926 Wall Street Journal reported that Hole-proofs annual sales had increased from $2,037,000 in 1916 to $9,220,000 by 1925. A fascinating study of women’s hosiery advertising in the 1920s by Jean Elizabeth Harrison revealed the following graph study of Leg Exposure in women’s hosiery advertising from 1920 to 1929.
1920’s Shoe fashions.
In the 1920’s, there were three common types of women’s dress shoe: T-straps, Ankle Straps, and Pumps.
The Shoe Icon Museum Gallery.
Daytime Dress Shoes – Often quite pretty shoes, but in durable weather proof leather or silk faille. Mary Janes and Oxfords were the most commonly worn which were low at heel and either laced or button up.
Evening Dress Shoes – In the early 1920’s, shoes were quite Edwardian in nature, with pointy toes. As the decade advanced, shoes had more rounded toes with either Louis heels or the chunkier Cuban style. The favoured fabrics were luxurious silk satins, velvet or lace in black or white or brocaded designs.
Long before the name of Jimmy Choo or Prada became synonymous with women’s fashion shoes – the two
names which every woman of means sought out in fashionable shoes during the 1920’s were André Perugia and Salvatore Ferragamo. Nice born Perugia – the first major shoe designer of the 20th Century – created shoes that were considered masterpieces in aerodynamic design – and very comfortable – often low heeled or without heels at all. His Italian counterpart Ferragamo was the darling of Hollywood’s brightest starlets – a real visionary and exponent of modernist patterns and innovative materials – his most popular heels were made from cork.
10.1909 to 1929 – The end of an era in fashion.
Had a fashionable Edwardian lady of 1909 hopped on to HG Well’s Time Machine and zoomed forward just 20 years, she would have thought she was on an alien planet.
Compared to her ruffles and curves and un-powdered face, the girls around her as she strolled down Paris’s rue de la Paix, would have seemed emaciated and in desperate need of clothing cover. She would have been amazed by the sheer legs of the 1929 woman, her painted face, her cropped hair, and above all her independent demeanour as she motored about in the amazing horseless carriage – the auto-mobile.
The inspirational Paris based travelling ballet company Ballet Russes also came to an end after a 20 year run which had helped revolutionize fashion. Its founder Serge Diaghilev died with substantial debts, forcing the closure of the company and dispersal of its dancers.
The Hemline Index Theory.
It appeared in the weeks following the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 that the Hemline Index theory by economist George Taylor in 1926 was coming to pass with the unveiling of the Chatillon-Mouly-Rousse Autumn Collection, where some outfits ( not the entire collection ) by designer Jean Patou presented a dramatic drop in hemlines to the ankle and skirts hanging on the natural waist again.
However – Madame Fashion had already been dictating a move to more conservative use of fabrics earlier that year and designers like Jeanne Lanvin and Bernard & Co as well as long forgotten names in fashion such as Jean Michelline, were dropping hems in both day and evening wear to suit a less throwaway culture in fashion houses.
The first Spring collections of 1930 showed a return to the ‘feminine’ in both fashion and beauty. Female shape was in vogue again as a silent revolution grew among fashion designers,couturiers and stylists. Hair loosened up and waves were becoming softer. The sale of girdles and newer more comfortable shape wear rose as the severe angular lines of 1920’s modernism grew less a la mode.
The era of the chic garconne, with her Eton crops and beaded short skirts was over, but we’ll never forget her, that vivacious young woman of the 1920’s. She lit a fire that has never gone out. It shimmers to this day.
© 2014 Stevie McGlinchey
Vintage fashion blogger
Bibliography – Further Reading and Sources:
Fashion since 1900 – Valeria Mendez & Amy De La haye.
The Golden Age of Style – Julian Robinson.
The History of Feminine Fashion.
Flappers and their Flawless legs.
The Little Black Dress – from Chanel to Givenchy.
Coco Chanel – the Met Museum Collection.
1920s hairstyles – 12 classic bob cuts.
Fabulous Fashion (1907-67), Wilke & Co Ltd, Clayton (1985).
University of Chicago.
Why I bobbed my hair – Mary Garden.
The 1920s Berlin Project.
Trasko, Mary. Heavenly Soles: Extraordinary 20th Century Shoes.
1920’s Fashion – Women’s Dress and Style
The Photo Detective UK.