Various social trends were at work during the 1920s. Historians have characterized the decade as a time of frivolity, abundance and happy-go-lucky attitudes. Several years had passed since the end of World War I. People felt free-spirited and wanted to have fun. As a result, fashions became less formal.
At the same time, improved production methods enabled manufacturers to easily produce clothing affordable by working families. The average person's fashion sense became more sophisticated.
The feminine liberation movement had a strong effect on women's fashions. Most importantly, the corset was discarded! For the first time in centuries, women's legs were seen. A more masculine look became popular, including flattened breasts and hips, and bobbed hair.
Style, at all social levels, was heavily influenced by the newly created, larger-than-life movie stars. For the first time in history, fashion influences and trends were coming from more than one source.
Paris continued to be the seat of haute couture (high fashion). Coco Chanel exerted a great influence during the decade, appealing to the practical American woman through her use of simple ensembles, scarves and inexpensive jewelry.
For women, face, figure, coiffure, posture and grooming became important fashion factors in addition to clothing. In particular, cosmetics became a major industry. Glamour was now an important fashion trend, due to the influence of the motion picture industry and the famous female movie stars.
The 1920s saw the emergence of three major women's fashion magazines: Vogue, The Queen, and Harper's Bazaar. Vogue was first published in 1892, but its up-to-date fashion information did not have a marked impact on women's desires for fashionable garments until the 20's. These magazines provided mass exposure for popular styles and fashions.
During the early 1920s, waistlines were at the waist, but were loose and not fitted. Women wore suits with long hemlines and somewhat full skirts, often with belts at the waist of the jackets. Dress and suit bodices alike were worn loose, even baggy.
In 1923, waistlines began to drop to a point between the natural waist and hips, while styles continued to be loose and baggy. In 1924 the waistline dropped to the hip.
In 1925, "shift" type dresses with no waistline emerged. At the end of the decade, dresses were being worn with straight bodices and collars. Tucks at the bottom of the bodices were popular, as well as knife-pleated skirts with a hem approximately one inch below the knee.
In 1928, styles changed again! Hemlines rose to the knee and dresses became more fitted. These changes laid the foundation for the elegantly styled fashions of the 1930s.
Many garments of the 1920s fastened with buttons. The closer-fitting flapper- style dresses fastened with a continuous lap, usually applied to the left side seam of the garment. Hooks and eyes, buttons, or snaps were all utilized to fasten the lap. The zipper, first patented in 1893, was not utilized in garments until the latter part of the decade. It was originally known as a “locker”, and did not receive its current name until 1926. It was not widely used until the late 1930s.
Undergarments changed to suit the new fashions. As noted, the feminine liberation movement helped women discard the confining corset, although boned corsets continued to be readily available. The chemise or camisole was employed in place of the corset. During the early part of the decade, chemises paired with bloomers kept a woman decently covered beneath her outer garments. Bandeaus gained popularity later in the decade.
Cotton and wool were the abundant fabrics of the decade. Silk was highly desired for its luxurious qualities, but the limited supply made it expensive. In 1891, "artificial silk" was first made from a solution of cellulose in France. After being patented in the United States, the first American plant began production of this new fabric in 1910. In 1924 this fiber became known as rayon. Rayon stockings became popular in the 1920s as a substitute for silk stockings. Rayon was also used in undergarments.
The garment industry experienced great growth during the 1920s, maybe as a result of the simpler styles. Mass produced garments became available to almost everyone. Moderately priced clothing became more popular than one-of- a-kind garments. New York's garment district moved from the Lower East Side to Seventh Avenue where it has remained the “hub” of women’s fashion in the United States. In 1922, the country’s first outdoor shopping mall - The Country Club - was built in Kansas City, Kansas. It remains in existence today.
On October 24, 1929, the great Crash of Wall Street occurred, changing fashion dramatically.
Horsham, Michael. 20s & 30s Style. London: Quintet Publishing Limited,
Burns, Leslie Davis, Nancy C. Bryant. The Business of Fashion. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1997.
Blum, Stella, ed. Everyday Fashions of the Twenties. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1981.
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