As we humans move along in the concept of time, eras and lives – we tend to romanticize past decades by literature, movies and modern interpretations of past clothes and trends. The period between 1920-1930 is perfect example of this. We view it as a period of glam, parties, sequins and champagne. This was, of course, only a fragment of people’s life – but nevertheless a picture we like to talk about. Here’s the fashionable life of the 1920s:
The Society during 1920 – 1930
Following the ending of WWI in 1918, the world tried to recover as smoothly as possible. This also meant the somewhat closing of the 19th century and the old hierarchical society. People no longer relied on the life before the war but began new ways of life with education, the middle class and entertainment for all social classes. Enjoying life through parties, music, dance and eventually movies would grow to become a more democratic matter. There was a new optimism in life and belief in the future. Therefore, the nickname The Happy 20s/The Roaring 20s.
Society grew immensely with automobiles, sound movies, telephones, Hollywood, literature, aviation, music and dance. For instance, it was in the 1920s Jazz emerged as well as the Charleston dance. Hollywood began to expand with new technologies and movie stars such as Clara Bow. As a contrast to the prior society, where Art Nouveau was leading (a style close to the nature with the shape and ideals), Art Deco and the geometric styles took place. Gone was the nature (kind of) and here was the future of edge. The optimism of life would end in 1929 with the crash of Wall Street and years of “societal depression” would follow.
Style of the 1920 – 1930
Even though fashion progressed from corsets to liberation of them, the first 20 years, the 1920s would consolidate the new fashion with full force. Gone was the deforming of women’s bodies and here was a new ideal of a loose silhouette. The loose silhouette was accompanied by skirts hitting knee-length (had never been shorter in history), and simple blouses and cardigans. The new style went in line with the new activities where one needed more functional clothes for sports, driving cars and work. It was a slight difference between daywear and evening with the former being more simplistic and the latter going full decoration with sequins and feathers. The day was functional and the night was entertainment.
Especially the style of the evening is something we adore the 1920s for. The evening dresses were delicate, romantic and detailed with embellishment, sequins, patterns, fringe and feathers. The neckline was rather low, the silhouette was straight and the loose skirts made room for dancing. These traits were joint for women in general but flappers in specific. The latter group, the flappers, took it to the “extreme” with even shorter lengths, more fringe, sequins and all things that added to the glam. Flapper girls were considered outrageous and had, according to society, loose morals for being out dancing, entertaining themselves and not being too specific about the etiquette of norms and sexuality.
The clothes between 1920 – 1930
The clothes between 1920-1930 mainly consisted of skirts, dresses, coats and blouses. As with previous decades, the change here was in the details. For instance, the length of the clothes hit right below the knees, and the hips were often marked with a simple belt. The clothes often included details of Art Déco with stripes, triangles and lines creating geometrical patterns. V-shaped necklines were still popular, being in line with the defined lines of Art Deco. The daywear was rather functional and often in dove colors such as brown, grey, blush or dove blue. The clothes were styled with petite hats, gloves and matching coats. Pants for women became more common, even though it didn’t reach daywear quite yet.
For the evenings the dresses were still the main attraction. Often being a bit longer than daywear and more sophisticated in terms of transparent fabrics, ruffles and decorative details. The dresses were styled with a longer necklace that emphasized on the long and rectangular silhouette. A headband with embellishment and matching gloves to the dress – were both common accessories for the evening. Fur was also trendy and often served as a detail on coats and accessories.
Beauty between 1920 – 1930
The beauty of the decade was revolutionary in many ways. For the first time in centuries, women began wearing visible and dramatic makeup. This was still centered to a small group, mainly Hollywood, performers and it-girls. To be underlines though is that the makeup look still underlined the liberation of the years. A dark smokey eye, thin eyebrows and dark lips were ideal. A pointy mouth was also trendy, with defined lines. For ultimate chicness the makeup look should be accompanied by the new haircut the Bob.
The Bob ended just below the ears and was often cut edgy and sharp (matched Art Déco here too). It framed women’s faces in a bold and defining way. Most of all though, the bob went against the norm of women having long hair or wigs in previous centuries. The new hairdo was sharp, fierce and statement of women’s independence. It was controversial as few, but women loved it. Read more here.
For the daily life the makeup was rather anonymous with perfect skin, blushy cheeks and some enhancement of the lashes. It looked pretty natural and was kept quite true to women’s natural features. Read more here. Same goes for the more conservative women that didn’t get their haircut, instead they styled the hair to look like a short haircut in the front, but the rest of the hair was tied up in a bun.
Spotlight of 1920 – 1930
If Poiret was the king of fashion in the previous decade it was about time the fashion world got a queen. That queen was no one else than Mademoiselle Chanel herself. She redefined fashion in her own way by the launch of the LBD in 1926, pants for women, perfume (Chanel No 5!) and a practical fashion for the everyday life. Her fashion was simple, black and white, inspired by menswear and a welcoming feature to the new life. Her solo fashion career actually began in the 1910s but her ideas and design got their lasting breakthrough in the 20s. It might have been a man that liberated women from their boxed-in fashion, but it was surely a woman that would keep the train going.
Other defining designers of the decade are Madeleine Vionnet and Jean Patou that both contributed to the era. More about Vionnet here.
Transition to 1930s
The 20s hit the start button of the new way of life, a life that would continue into the 1930s. The fashion would become even more practical with the depression and financial crash in 1929. Even though the 1920s can appear more liberal, in a fashion context, its main effect for the later decades was that it pushed the boundaries of design and style. So the experimenting with fashion and de-dramatizing of new looks- will forever be one of the greatest accomplishments of the decade. So hands down and hat off to the Cultural Revolution of the 1920s!
Next week it’s time for the 1930s and a decade that often seems forgotten in fashion history. But how about Hollywood glam, elegant evening gowns Elsa Schiaparelli? Yup, I’m here for it!
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