Each decade brings its historical changes that are echoed in fashion. In the 1920s cities were rebuilt after World War I, trains, planes, radio and television appeared. Women gained the right to vote, continued to work, studied at universities, and started driving cars and playing sports. All of these events have changed fashion.
During the war, women worked men's professions and could no longer wear corsets and long dresses. They began to wear trousers, clothes became more comfortable, the dresses and skirts became shorter. And after the end of the war, women continued to wear these clothes.
Due to mass tailoring, models appeared on sale for any budget. After the exhausting war and the end of the Spanish flu, people wanted to fill their lives with bright colours and positive emotions, make up for a lost time, they dreamed of carelessness and fun. And the twenties became "roaring".
In the United States, due to the great popularity of jazz music, this period is also called the Jazz Age. Women danced the Charleston in fringed dresses, which added a sense of movement during the dance. Typically, the fringe was sewn along the thigh line and went down to the hem of the dress for maximum shine and shimmer. When the hem shortened over time, the fringe visually compensated for the change in length. When dresses with an open back came into fashion, long fringes were sewn on the shoulders or trimmed the shawl to cover the hands.
Flappers were brave and independent young girls who burned through life and personified the era of the roaring twenties. Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, these girls were without any special moral foundations, windy, adored parties, looked for adventure, dyed brightly, wore defiant clothes, listened to jazz, did not hesitate to smoke and drink alcohol. The flapper image was popularized by the actresses Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and Faye Rae, as well as the writer Zelda Fitzgerald, who was called the first American flapper.
The fashion of those years was strongly influenced by cinema. Hollywood film stars became famous all over the world and girls wanted to be like them. Style icons at that time were Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swenson, Paula Negri, Mary Pickford, Anita Page, Teda Bara, Colleen Moore.
In addition to actresses, dancers were also style icons at that time. In the first half of the 1920s, the Dolly sisters were still popular. In the twilight of their careers, they had an affair with the owner of the Selfridges department store, Gordon Selfridge, who was paying off their gambling debts.
Dolly sisters (Emma Hamilton and Zoe Richards) in Mr Selfridge (2013-2016):
Also, the whole world was crazy about the breathtaking dancer Josephine Baker. Her outrageous banana skirt dances became scandalous and world-famous.
One of her dances:
As for the shocking, the most extraordinary person in Europe was the Marquise Louise Casati, who led a luxurious lifestyle and wanted to be a living work of art. She shocked and inspired artists, poets, and designers with her extravagance. The Marquise walked the streets with snakes and cheetahs, who had collars inlaid with precious stones. Louise sought to buy the most expensive houses, creating luxurious interiors in them, throwing grandiose parties, at which she shone in crazy outfits. One of her fancy dresses made of electric bulbs once nearly killed her with a short circuit.
At this time, the Art Deco style was born in art. It has influenced all aspects of contemporary visual culture: architecture, painting, photography, cinema, and fashion. Art Deco combined cubism, futurism, constructivism, avant-garde, national and ethnic motives (Eastern, African, Chinese, Egyptian, Russian). The collaboration of artists, illustrators, and fashion designers has created unusual models of clothing and accessories.
The Russian style appeared in European fashion due to emigration after the revolution. The emigrants sewed dresses and coats with fur, painted scarves, and shawls. Russian embroidery was very popular. The Russian style was also influenced by the stage costumes in the ballets of Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Seasons. They also inspired oriental motifs, after which kimonos, harem pants, and a turban came into fashion.
Egyptian motifs became popular after 1922, when the tomb of Tutankhamen was found. Egyptian designs and hieroglyphs adorned fashionable clothing, lines, and silhouettes reminiscent of the crisp geometric shapes of Egyptian art. The bob haircut came into fashion, like Cleopatra had.
The standard of beauty at this time was a woman-boy (la garçonne) without an accentuated waist, with a flat chest and narrow hips. Therefore, women wore free straight-cut dresses, without emphasis on the chest, with a low waist, without sleeves. The straight cut of the dress made it easy to sew it at home, everyone could look fashionable, regardless of social class or status. The length of the dresses gradually rose to the knee.
Mature and conservative women continued to wear old-fashioned dresses, like Queen Mary of Teck, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. A very interesting photo where she was photographed with the Queen of Belgium, Elizabeth of Bavaria. While Queen Elizabeth of Bavaria wears a trendy sleeveless gown with a boyish silhouette and a short haircut decorated with a bandeau, Queen Mary of Teck is dressed in Edwardian fashion, in a long fitted dress and a fluffy hairstyle.
Evening dresses were often with a back cut. Dresses were decorated with bugles, fringes, sequins, beads, lace, appliques, and embroidery. Sleeveless dresses were completed with long boas, hand-painted shawls with embroidery, fringe, often with a floral print.
Many brides of the 1920s chose cream or pastel low-waisted dresses. Dresses were decorated with embroidery, lace, beads, pearls. The length of the dresses has been shortened. The veil often covered the forehead, the head was decorated with a bandeau or tiara. Sometimes brides wore a brimmed hat or cloche hat instead of a veil.
There were two royal weddings in the UK in the 1920s that have inspired new generations of brides. In February 1922, Princess Mary wore a traditional ivory bridal gown with a train. Messrs Raville created the dress with silver embroidery with lotus flower motifs, beads, and pearls. Instead of a tiara, the bride's head was decorated with a wreath of flowers, there was a belt of beads at the waist.
Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future queen, on her wedding day in April 1923 wore a more fashionable dress. The ivory straight fit dress was created by Elizabeth Handley-Seymour. The dress had two trains: one starting from the shoulders, the other from the waist. Instead of a tiara, the bride had a silk bandeau.
I saw the wedding train with lush flowers that in the 1920s wore Astrid of Sweden, the future Queen of Belgium. It was during the exhibition BackSide: Fashion from Behind exhibition at the Costume and Lace Museum in Brussels.
Photos from the exhibition:
In addition to dresses, in the 1920s, much attention was paid to business clothes, because many women started working. Women wore costumes with feminine elements. There were also separate jackets, which were worn as an addition to skirts or dresses.
Accessories were an essential part of the twenties look. During emancipation, women began to smoke in public, so they got new luxurious accessories: long mouthpieces, cigarette cases, and lighters, decorated with rhinestones, gold, and jewelry.
Women loved to decorate their heads with hairpins and a bandeau with embroidery, artificial flowers, ostrich feathers, and jewelry. At weddings, balls and elegant high society parties, women wore tiaras low on their foreheads like a bandeau, thus adapting them to fashion trends. Inspired by Egyptian culture, voluminous bracelets were worn high on the arm.
By the influence of Coco Chanel, pearls have become one of the main pieces of jewelry. There was popular to wear the pearl thread, once or several times wrapped around the neck and freely descending to the chest.
Fur was very fashionable at that time. It was used at any time of the year for boas and capes, or even for decorating evening dresses.
In the 1920s, hand fans continue to be worn. They become brighter and mainly were made of feathers.
Gloves remained a must-have accessory for going out to town and at social events. Sleeveless dresses were completed with long gloves above the elbows.
Lily James in Downton Abbey (2010-2015):
The coats were worn with hats, in fashion were bell-shaped cloche hats, which looked beautiful with short haircuts. The hats had no brims, and the edges of the crown reached to the eyebrows to emphasize the eyes. Sometimes they closed the eyes, so fashionistas had to maintain their posture and raise their chins.
As the skirts became shorter, the shoes became a prominent feature of the wardrobe. In the early 1920s, shoes had sharp toes that gradually became rounded. In the middle of the decade, webbed shoes with a rounded toe became popular. Bright, contrasting colours and geometric designs prevailed. Coco Chanel created two-tone models.
Women wore shoes with small steady heels with straps and fasteners that helped not fly off during dancing. In the summer, women wore flat sandals with thick soles or smooth leather shoes.
Evening shoes were sewn from velvet, silk, satin, leather, and decorated with beads, rhinestones, pearls, buckles, painting, appliqués.
In the cold season, lace-up boots were worn.
Velvet slippers were worn at home: they perfectly completed pyjamas.
Thinness became fashionable, and women for the first time in the history of beauty began to consciously and collectively fight with overweight. Therefore, the women were actively involved in sports, they needed comfortable clothing. Clothing manufacturers quickly grasped the new attitude and began to develop models for sports, and for this, the jersey was the best suited. In sportswear, blouses with a low waist and long sleeves, pleated skirts, and dresses prevailed.
Clothing for driving cars has also become popular: leather coats, jackets, gloves, hats, and glasses.
Usually women wore pyjamas to the beach. Swimwear consisted of two pieces, more like a T-shirt and shorts, but made of dense fabric, often wool. Over time, these suits became lighter, and one-piece swimwear appeared with cutouts on the chest to expose the arms and legs.
Makeup and hairstyles
In the 1920s, lush hairstyles were replaced by short haircuts with perming.
Amy Beth Hayes in Mr Selfridge:
Tanning began fashionable, unlike all previous eras when white skin was a sign of aristocracy. For makeup women used lipsticks of bright red shades, pencils for eyebrows, dark shadows, and black eyeliner for eyes, making their look languid and deep like the eyes of the silent films idols.
Nail polishes appear, which instantly become a fashion hit because bright nails are so effectively combined with fashionable smoking habits.
Paul Poiret was the main fashion designer during the Belle Epoque and after WWI. He tried to come up with new fanciful models that no longer fit the time, lured clients with parties, but as a result, this led him to bankruptcy. The fashion designer called his new rival Coco Chanel "the inventor of luxurious poverty."
Coco Chanel was the most copied of all the fashion designers at that time. A real hit was her woollen jersey suit, which was considered the standard of informal clothing. Flawless lines made her suits, seemingly simple and slightly shapeless, a symbol of luxury. She also offered women straight jumpers, knitted vests, cardigans, pleated skirts made of soft tweed. One of her most famous creations, a little black dress, was created in 1926, in memory of her deceased lover. Black colour in clothes at that time was worn only in mourning, but Coco Chanel changed this tradition.
Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel in "Coco Before Chanel" (Coco avant Chanel, 2009):
Since a little black dress creation, it has many changes and variations, but it remains a model of elegance and taste even nowadays. She wore a lot of pearls and made them fashionable.
Coco Chanel has also made pyjamas fashionable, not only for sleep but also for beach and relaxation. All her clothes were based on simplicity and comfort, which was unusual for that time.
Illustration of a little black dress from Vogue, 1926:
The main rival of Coco Chanel was Elsa Schiaparelli. Elsa presented her first collection of everyday wear display No. 1 in 1927. A knitted jersey was her trend. In her second collection, she introduced a "sweater with a bow", which soon all fashionistas in Paris wore. It became one of the most copied fashion models of the time.
Jean Patou's fashion house specialized in sportswear. His best advertisement was the style of the famous tennis player Suzanne Lenglen. Jean created for her a silk white pleated skirt above the knee, a white sleeveless cardigan, and a headband for the Wimbledon tournament in 1921. It was the world's first clothing for a specific sport. Before that, all athletes looked the same.
Jean Patou then began designing suits for golf, horse riding, skiing, and swimming. The designer divided swimwear into two types: professional sports swimming and the beach.
Jean Patou was also among the first couturiers that include perfume in fashion collections. In 1925, he presented three premiere fragrances.
In the 1920s, Madeleine Vionne, inspired by Greek vases and Egyptian paintings, created extravagant dresses with an oblique cut, and the dresses perfectly repeated the curves of the female body. Madeleine Vionne was a master of the art of drapery, offering hugely popular seamless dresses. She sewed dresses from one piece of fabric, which were fastened either on the back, or with a bow tied at the chest, and sometimes even without a fastener. The peculiarity of Vionne's creations was that her outfits were shapeless on a hanger, becoming masterpieces on the body. Clients could not always understand how to wear this or that model, so the creator consulted clients.
Jeanne Lanvin, despite the fashion trends of emancipation, continued to create "stylish dresses" (robe de style). She lowered her waistline but her dresses were still with fluffy skirts. For decorating she used oriental and Russian motives, embroidery, and fur. Most often, such dresses were worn for graduations, weddings, and other events.
In the 1920s, pleated dresses "Delphos" by Mariano Fortuny were very popular among the creative elite. Fortuny invented a unique technology of silk pleating. The dresses were light, uncontrolled movements, reminiscent of ancient Greek tunics. In those years, such dresses were worn by Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova.
In the next decades, these dresses were collected and worn as art objects.
Peggy Guggenheim in 1951:
Natalia Vodianova has several Delphos dresses, which she wore at social events and in the film Belle du Seigneur (2012).
Replicas of Delphos dresses were worn in the final season of Downton Abbey.
I saw one of the Delphos dresses at the Dressing the Body: Silhouettes and Fashion 1550-2015 exhibition at the Barcelona Design Museum:
In the new Soviet country in the 1920s, during the devastation and unemployment, people mainly wore clothes that they could afford. Nevertheless, women tried to look beautiful. They wore dresses made of canvas, straight skirts made of soldier's cloth, chintz blouses, and cloth jackets.
The New Economic Policy (1921-1929) for the clothing industry set the task of creating a uniform fashion for all.
Fashionistas of the 1920s during the NEP had the same ideals as emancipated women all over the world - a thin figure that allowed them to wear dresses with a low waist, knee-length, unusual hairstyles for short hair, pearl threads (often artificial) wrapped around necks, gloves, bright lipstick. Women also wore closed shoes with a stable heel-glass. Cheap dyed furs were very popular.
Hats were criticized as a clear sign of bourgeoisness and were actively supplanted by red kerchiefs, which were tied at the back of the head.
Private entrepreneurs - NEPmen - began to import clothes from Europe. Expensive fashionable import garments were worn by the NEPmen themselves and their families, famous people and families of high-ranking officials. Those who could not afford the benefits of NEP, provided themselves with fashionable clothes with needlework, altering old dresses, referring to patterns in fashion magazines.
The first Soviet fashion magazine "Atelier", in which many famous artists took part, appeared in 1923. It was headed by Nadezhda Lamanova, who sewed clothes for the imperial family before the revolution, and then for the Soviet elite. This issue was the last: it was expensive to publish, moreover, the party leadership assessed it as too "bourgeois".
In 1925, Nadezhda Lamanova together with Vera Mukhina released the album "Art in Everyday Life", in which they presented models of household clothes. Their dresses were intended for ordinary women and had a simple cut so that each reader had the opportunity to sew a decent outfit for herself.
In the same year, Lamanova and Mukhina took part in the World Exhibition in Paris and received the Grand Prix for national identity combined with modern fashion trends. Their outfits were demonstrated by the shocking Lilya Brik, the main muse of Vladimir Mayakovsky and the famous fashionista of that time, with her sister Elsa Trioli.
Lilya Brik was one of the brightest icons of the creative bohemian style in the USSR. She always dressed in the latest fashion clothes, thanks to her constant travelling and her sister who lived in France. Lilya wore extravagant evening gowns and she was one of the first women in the Soviet Union who wore trousers.
In the late 1920s, women dressed in the style of the NEP were considered inappropriate to the morality of the new Soviet society.
My favourite fashion outfits of the "roaring" 1920s in cinema
First on the list, of course, is Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (1959). Even though the plot takes place in the 1920s, Marilyn's dresses were adapted for the femininity effect to her image. They were not straight cut but fit the figure of the actress. The fashion effect of the 1920s was obtained with the decoration and the lack of accent at the waist.
Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis wore loose-fitting dresses and cloche hats. The film won an Academy Award for Best Costumes in Black and White.
Jessica Biel in Easy Virtue (2008) played a glamorous American woman who dyes her hair platinum blond, wears trousers, and drives a racing car, which outrages the family of her new husband from the English countryside. In addition to strict male outfits, Jessica wore graceful feminine dresses.
Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris (2011), as the mysterious muse of avant-garde artists, wore typical bohemian dresses of the 1920s.
Angelina Jolie in the film Changeling (2008) often appeared in coats and cloche hats.
Emma Stone in Magic in the Moonlight (2014) mostly wore leisure clothes.
Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifa wore chic stage costumes and robes in Chicago (2002). The film won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
Simple romantic dresses were worn by Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil (2006).
Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander and Amber Heard in The Danish Girl (2015) wore costumes that show the heroes belonging to the bohemian circles.
And for a dessert - Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby (2013). The actress wore fur boas and dresses with revealing cutouts on the back, decorated with gold threads, beads, and fringes, designed by Miuccia Prada. Headbands inlaid with pearls and diamonds and other jewelry for the film were created by Tiffany & Co. The film won an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Costume Design.
Today the fashion of the twenties is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for both fashion designers and fashion photographers.
Almost a year we are living in the new decade of the twenties of the XXI century, and historical changes have already begun. How these changes will affect fashion, whether we actively dress up or don’t want to take off the comfortable home clothes that we got used to during quarantine and what epithet will be fixed to our twenties, time will tell.
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