1920s Fashion

There were many causes and effects on womenswear in the 1920s. The whole rebellious flapper business began after the Roaring Twenties, a fun-loving, celebratory period of time spanning from 1920-1929 and famous for the Art Deco prints, parties, jazz, nightclubs, dancing (most notably the Charleston routine), and, of course, the fashion.

Ralph Lauren Fall 2012:

The Roaring Twenties was spurned by post-war celebrations. Adding to these festivities were the invention of the more modern automobile by Henry Ford and the increased pay rates of jobs by the government in an anti-Membership Union movement. Since people of the twenties now had more money, their spending and shopping increased and created a more fruitful economy. People could now buy more couture designs, like those of Elsa Schiaparelli and Jean Patou, autos, and cosmetics. They could spend money on more unnecessary things, like partying all night and going to popular nightclubs.

Since the Roaring Twenties were so festive and different from the nineteenth century, so were the people. “Bright young things” or, younger people, began to look at life in a more rebellious, modern perspective. When women of the twenties gained the right to vote, they became more headstrong in their ways. Young women ditched their corsets and stuffy, floor-length dresses in favor of more movable, shorter dresses and skirts in lighter, breathable materials. Hemlines rose and women began to take a more masculine route in dressing for everyday life. Women of the twenties wore tweed business suits and trousers, as popularized by milliner-turned-designer Coco Chanel. Drop-waist dresses and flashy fur, sequins, and highly-pigmented colors were often seen. Young women shore their long, bothersome hair and took on short, bobbed hairstyles that required little maintenance. Women wore cloches, a type of hat that in French means “bell”. Closures to clothing articles included buttons, snaps, zippers, and newly-developed hooks and eyes. Rayon tights became popular, as did cotton, wool, and jersey. The material of artificial silk was carried over from the 1910s into the next decade. Use of cosmetics also became popular throughout younger people. As a result of the younger part of the population were so different from their parents and ancestors, people on the older side of the generation gap looked down on them with disapproval and coined the young women “flappers”, a term often synonymous with the 1920s today.

Three notable designers of the 1920s were Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Jean Patou. Coco Chanel, as she was nicknamed as a nightclub singer, made jersey a common fabric choice among the wealthy. She introduced it in her “LBD” or, Little Black Dress, done in crepe and jersey. Chanel brought simple, practical clothing like her tweed suit and sportswear to the forefront. She also mass-marketed costume jewelry, or imitation jewelry. Clean, classic Chanel lines can be found in her 2.55 handbag and in her signature fragrance’s bottle, which is still marketed today. Elsa Schiaparelli, who, despite minor disputes with Chanel, was a creative designer. She made her name by designing dresses such as the Tear Dress and the Lobster Dress and pulled inspiration from the Surrealist and Art Deco designs of her day. All in all, Schiaparelli was an avant-garde designer who loved the unrealistic. Jean Patou did significantly well through his womens’ sportswear and his widely popular  tennis skirt, still a closet staple today. After suntans became acceptable in the twenties, Patou marketed the first ever suntan lotion.

All the fashions of the twenties still have an impact on modern designers, with everything from the cloche to menswear-inspired pieces resurfacing in today’s 21st century collections.

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Get inspired by the twenties!


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