The 1920s were an exciting time for fashion and culture. After the end of World War I and the influenza pandemic, people craved something more light-hearted and carefree. The Flapper generation was born, with their short hair, loose morals, and new ideas about love, marriage and drinking.
Women cut their hair, shortened their skirts and abandoned corsets in favor of lighter materials like silk and rayon. They also started to embrace new trends like fringe, feathers, slashes of red on white dresses, green eyeshadow inspired by the dancers in the Folies Bergère cabaret in Paris – not to mention cat-eye makeup and cigarette holders as accessories! Let’s take a look at some lesser-known facts about 1920s fashion…
7 Things You Didn’t Know About 1920s Fashion
The 1920s are often seen as a decade of excess, a time of fast cars, loose morals and extravagant dressing. Men donned boaters and bowlers, double-breasted suits and narrow-cut tailoring; women donned cloche hats, feather boas and flapper dresses. To look at the photographs from that period is to be struck by the audacity of it all: the high-necked chemise gowns with sleeves that extended no further than the elbow; the knee-length bolero jackets with upturned tails; the sheer stockings worn with open-toed shoes. And yet there was much more to 1920s fashion than these outlandish examples suggest. It was also a time when many enduring values in menswear were established – such as suiting as standard day wear, brown being seen as an essential neutral and high quality fabric being key – while women’s wear saw new emphasis on femininity through softer silhouettes and narrower fits.
1. 1920s Fashion Beginnings
The decade began with a sense of change, as the First World War came to an end and the social restrictions of wartime were relaxed. The Roaring Twenties saw a shift towards more extravagance in fashion – it was the first time that high hemlines were publicly acceptable, and women’s hair was no longer kept long. Although the Charleston and the shimmy were among the most ostentatious styles of the time, fashions did begin to ease back towards the end of the decade – in part due to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 – and there was a sense of transition between the two decades.
2. 1920s Women’s Fashion
For much of the 1920s, women’s fashion focused on increasing delicacy and waist definition. The silhouette of the decade was defined by the decolletage, knee-length skirts and wide-brimmed cloche hats. A new silhouette emerged in the late 1920s, as the flapper look came to symbolize the decade. Inspired by the French ‘flamboyant’ look, a style characterized by an extremely short decolletage, wide shoulders and a narrow skirt, the flapper look married femininity with an almost exaggerated masculinity. Top hats, silk stockings and open-toed shoes were all part of this new style.
3. 1920s Men’s Fashion
While women’s fashion was focused on increasing delicacy, menswear was all about increasing formality and structure: double-breasted navy suits and wool mix fabrics were standard day wear, while black tie was de rigeur for evening occasions. Trousers were higher waisted than they are today, while cuffs featured on both trousers and jackets. The most distinctive feature of 1920s menswear, though, was what was worn on the head: boaters, bowlers and fedoras were all popular styles.
4. Shifting Silhouettes
The 1920s saw a marked shift in the silhouette of women’s fashion. As the decade progressed, the waistline fell and the skirt length rose, creating a more voluptuous silhouette. In contrast, the silhouette of men’s fashion remained fairly steady throughout the decade – with only slight variations in the cut of the suit and the width of the tie. The most significant trend in menswear was the move towards darker colours, such as navy blue, and the addition of texture through the use of patterned fabrics.
5. Waist Coats and Floor Length Skirts
One of the most significant changes in women’s fashion during the 1920s was the rise of the waistcoat. The waistcoat had been a standard part of men’s formal wear since the Victorian era, and the initial rise of the women’s waistcoat during the early 1920s was a continuation of this trend. However, the increasing popularity of the knee-length skirt during the mid-1920s saw the waistcoat become a key component of women’s fashion for the first time in its history.
6. The Rise of Dark Colours and Textured Fabrics
The 1920s saw a rise in the prominence of dark colours and textured fabrics, with black and navy blue increasingly used for both men’s and women’s clothing. The black-and-white colour combination was particularly prominent in the early 1920s, before gradually being replaced by navy blue as the decade progressed. The rise in the use of dark-coloured fabrics is often attributed to the loss of young men during the First World War, which left an abundance of cloth that had been dyed khaki.
In the early 1920s, the trend towards extreme femininity in women’s fashion was reflected in the growing popularity of decoration. Hoopskirts and bustles were a common feature of women’s fashion during this period, along with a range of decorative cloths for the dress. Towards the end of the decade, though, the pendulum began to swing back towards simplicity as the flapper look gained traction. Wide-brimmed hats were replaced with cloche hats and large decorative accessories fell out of fashion.
The 1920s were a decade of change and diversification in fashion. While some trends from the era proved short-lived, others established key facets of menswear that remain in place today. The advent of the flapper style in the final years of the decade heralded a general shift towards more extreme femininity in fashion – a trend that was reflected in the growing popularity of hoop skirts and bustles.