When we think about the fashion of the 1920s, glitz and glamour comes to mind. Consequently, this decade’s major improvement for women’s fashion is often overlooked. Learn about that decade’s move towards simplicity in dressing.
- 1920-1929 a Decade of Simplicity in Fashion
- Simplicity Style Fashioned the Body
- Women’s Clothing in the 1920s
- What Is La Garçonne Style?
- Housedresses Became Everyday Fashion
- Skin, Hair, and Accessories
- Suntan Became a Sign of Wealth
- An Iconic Hair Style for Jewelry and Hats
- Simplicity and Technological Process Permitted Everyone to Achieve a Fashionable Look
- Style Icons of the Fashion of the 1920s
- Why Do We Assocciate the Fashion of the 1920s with Glitz and Glamour?
- Shop the 1920s Inspired Trend
- More 1920s Clothing
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1920-1929 a Decade of Simplicity in Fashion
After decades of uncomfortable underwear like corsets, crimolines, etc., motor fashion started the trend towards more practical clothing for women. However, it took until after the Great War to free women from these waist- and hip-defining tortures when not riding in/driving a car or working in a fabric.
The fashion moved towards casual suits for men, and as the decade progressed, the shapes of women clothing became more and more simple. Within this framework of increasing simplicity, the wearing comfort of garments increased. As a result, women’s attire gained a more natural shiloutte.
As compared to the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the hems of the skirts and dresses moved up. However, when looking at the decade itself, hemlines rose until 1926, and fell thereafter.
Simplicity Style Fashioned the Body
The 1920s fashion was all about the whole look. The simple lines and androgynous cuts of the flapper and shift (chemise) dresses looked best on a ruler- or so-called banana shaped body. More on body-shape and a body-shape determining tool. Consequently, those gals with curves used various shaping undergarments to minimize their hips and boobs.
Women’s Clothing in the 1920s
As a leftover from WWI, the trench coat became mainstream in outerwear for all genders.
What Is La Garçonne Style?
La Garçonne refers to the flapper dress, the typical dress style of the 1920s. Its main characteristics are the dropped waist, creeping hemlines, and economical fabrics. The waistlines dropped until 1923 and remained stagnat before rising again in 1928. Coco Chanel was one of the designers of this style. For more see Coco Chanel and her life.
Housedresses Became Everyday Fashion
Stay-at-home wives wore loose pullover housedresses in solids, gingham, plaid, or with vertical stripes. Due to the technological development middle class households had labor-saving appliances. Consequently, middle-class women could wear more sophisticated day dresses everyday by help of an apron.
The Sportswear Trend of the 1920s
While wearing sportswear as casual daywear had been acceptable for men already a long time, it became a big trend for women in the 1920s. Many fashion historians attribute the sportswear trend to Coco Chanel. However, Jean Patou and Jane Regny also designed clothing. Think, for example, Jean Patou’s famous tennis-inspired yellow skirt and sweater set.
But not all dresses had a shapeless silhouette. Jeanne Lanvin, for instance, designed feminine and romantic style dresses with long, full skirts. Some of them even had panniers. She accessorized them with straw hats. This style looks great on curvy women, and creates hips on inverted triangle shaped bodies.
Skin, Hair, and Accessories
Suntan Became a Sign of Wealth
Suntanned skin accompanied the sporting look. This trend is very interesting from a societal point of view because it turned the centuries-long association of tanned and pale skin. Formerly, namely, the Rich and Aristocrats avoided the Sun to distinguish themselves from the working class. But since the Industrial Revolution, more and more workers had to spend 12 and more hours inside. Consequently, they remained pale. On the contrary, the European Wealthy and Nobelity now spend time in resorts in Southern Europe, where they got the tans. The onset of the shift in the association of skin tan might have started already when outdoor sports had become a fashionable activity of the upper class starting in the Victorian Era.
An Iconic Hair Style for Jewelry and Hats
In the early years, many young women excused their short bob by claiming they had burned their hair when curling. However, despite societal dismiss from their older peers, more and more women got a bob. The short bob started with the shingle style, followed by the Eton crop. Towards the end of the decade, women grew their hair again.
The short hair cut made the cloche hat (more on the cloche hat), and for going out, caps and headbands popular. During daytime, headbands were a favorable accessory with the sporting style. The invention of bakelit permitted costume jewelry for the masses. In the evening the free neck offered a perfect canvas for long chandellier earrings. More on which earrings are best for which style.
Simplicity and Technological Process Permitted Everyone to Achieve a Fashionable Look
The upper and middle classes bought their clothing from the designers and department stores, respectively. In the USA, mail ordering via General Stores remained common among upper middle class women in rural areas.
The technological progress in the production of synthetic fibers, and fabrication of fabrics (e.g., jersey) increased the availability of affordable fabrics. Furthermore, due to industrial mass-prodution sewing machines became affordable (More on the history of sewing). Therefore, many women could sew these simple shifts and full skirts at home. Consequently, anyone could achieve the fashionable look. Quality of the fabrics and craftsmanship remained the only differences.
Style Icons of the Fashion of the 1920s
Due to the Great War, many young women remained single and were in the working class to support themselves. Since they had nothing to ask and care for, but themselves, they spent their free money on dressing. In the eyes of married women, these working-class girls had a lot more freedom. Therefore, the style of the typical working-class girls’ attire became the inspiration for many middle class stay-at-home wives. Note that it’s not a first in fashion history that the street style of a minority inspired the mainstream. Just think, for example, Bohemian Style or the celebrities of the Red Light District in the 19th century.
Of course, the Nobility and Rich remained on the list of Style Icons. For instance, Prince Edward of Wales, or actress Gilda Grey, just to mention a few. New were fashion icons who became famous due to their special abilities in art, music, or sport.
French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, for instance, became a fashion icon both on and off court. She played in a Jean Patou-designed short sleeved, pleated tennis dress and bandeau. Her style fostered the sleeveless, knee-length shift-like tennis dress inspired trend. Consequently, such desses became everyday dresses and acceptable even at lunch in It restaurants.
Why Do We Assocciate the Fashion of the 1920s with Glitz and Glamour?
While some evening gowns still remained nearly floor-length, the hem lengths and cuts of most evening attire were in sync with the daywear. In other words, day- and evening wear differed only by the decoration. The elaborated beadwork, embroidery, and sequins of the nighttime looks are the reason why, today, we associate the Twenties of the 20th century with glitz and glamour.
Shop the 1920s-Inspired Trend
More 1920s Clothing and Fashion History
de Courtais, Georgina, 2006. Women’s Hats, Headdresses and Hairstyles: Medieval to Modern, Dover Fashion and Costumes, Amazon.
DeWitt, Nancy, 2016. Motor Age Fashion, Toppan Leefung Pte. Ltd., China.
Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.
Reddy, K., 2020. 1920-1929 Fashion History Timeline
Young, Caroline, 2016. Style Tri-bes, Frances Lincoln Ltd.
Young, Caroline, 2019. Living with Coco Chanel: The homes and landscapes that shaped the designer, Frances Lincoln Ltd.
Photos and video: N. Mölders
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