1920s Fashion

1920s style marked a change in women's fashions from the more restrictive silhouettes of the past in favour of more comfortable daily attire.

One of the key influences was Louise Brooks' flapper figure, including bobbed hair, short low-waist dresses with pleats and gathers (all the better to Charleston in) and plenty of embellishment like beading and fringing. The look was inspired by the geometric forms of the Art Deco movement.


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Key pioneers of 1920s style included Jean Patou and Coco Chanel. The latter is credited with being one of the first women to embrace the more masculine aesthetic of the period; she rejected the rigid corsetry of the past and introduced clothes that celebrated the era's interest in boyish figures, like the little black dress and Chanel's signature cardigan jacket.

Men's fashions in the 1920s included short suit jackets, cuffed trousers or wide-leg "Oxford Bags"-style trousers, waistcoats and sport-influenced attire like jumpers and knickerbockers.


1920's Womens Fashions and Changing Lifestyles


The passing of bustles and corsets gave clothing designers much greater freedom of expression resulting in innovative styling. Women dressing in the new and colorful fabrics echoed the joy felt by a war weary population following the end of hostilities.

1920's Dresses were lighter (due to less material and new synthetic fabrics) and brighter and shorter than ever before. Fashion designers played with fabric colors, textures and patterns to create totally new styles of dress. Evening dresses, coats and jackets were often trimmed with fur. Hemlines rose for most of the decade but dropped slightly toward the end.

Shoes and stockings assumed a greater prominence now that they were more visible. Silk stockings in all the colors of the rainbow, often with patterns, were designed to match the coordinated outfits of stylish women.

Correspondence schools flourished in the inter-war period as people sought to educate themselves and create a better future for themselves and their families. Dressmaking and millinery courses in particular were embraced by women who wanted the new fashions but couldn't afford retail prices. Others were looking to create full or part-time jobs for themselves.

Many women turned to fashion as a vocation in order to support their fatherless families in the case of war widows, or to earn extra income to spend on the new luxuries. Working women also embraced the relatively inexpensive ready-made clothes as mass production of contemporary clothing became common.

It didn't matter if there wasn't a department store in your town or city where you could shop for clothes or accessories as all the big department stores had mail-order catalogs where you could order clothes for men, women, and children for delivery by post. This meant country people had easy access to city fashions for the first time.

Pantsuits, hats and canes that gave women a sleek look without frills and avoiding the fickleness of fashion were popular for a while. The style was named after the novel La garçonne by Victor Margueritte. In Europe, this look featured women with short hair (Bubikopf) for the first time; in the U.S., "the bob" was reintroduced by actress Louise Brooks in the late 1920s.

The hairstyles of Hollywood stars were copied by women all over the world and womens magazines carried articles on how to achieve the current look. Hairstyles were much shorter than the previous decade and styles like finger waving, the Marcel wave and permanent waving were in vogue.


Women's underwear changed as a result of this move towards practical clothing, with corsets becoming smaller and more flexible, and modern style bras being introduced. The new bras provided shape and support whereas the older style tended to flatten breasts and constrict the chest.

Flappers, as the trendy young women were called in the U.S., wore short dresses with a straight loose silhouette. By 1927 seams had risen to just below the knee, so that part of the knee could be seen when dancing the Charleston.

Thus, the Roaring Twenties redefined womanhood — a new woman evolved; it became more acceptable to smoke and drink in public, closer body contact in dancing, shorter hair, make-up, different styles of dress, and greater participation in the workforce - all contributed to the new woman.


Men's Fashion in the 1920s

Cultural changes after World War I were vast, and men's fashion in the 1920s went through as radical a transformation as women's, although it's much less discussed in the annals of fashion and cultural history. The Jazz Age gave everyone an edgier take on life, and it was reflected in clothing.


Brief Overview of Men's Fashion in the 1920s

For the past few centuries, men had worn some variation on three-piece suits. Edwardian upper-class men in particular had been very formal, changing clothes several times a day as propriety dictated. The war changed attitudes and did much to level the classes, which reflected in fashion. Younger men, in a switch from wearing the clothes of their elders, adopted a look all their own with baggy plus fours and wide-legged trousers. Suits were simpler, with just slim, unpadded jackets over the trousers, and fabrics and colors were lighter and brighter than anyone had seen in years, reflecting the brightness of the music, theatre and good times.


Suits and Ties

For the workplace or most daily business, men of all ages wore suits. However, whereas suits had traditionally been broad-shouldered, they were now cut to give men a more slim, boyish look. Tight jackets with sloping shoulders ruled the day. Ties became more casual. Bow ties were fashionable, but so were knit ties, which was a vast difference from the silk that had been so prevalent. The knit tie went well with both the collegiate look and the leisure clothes that were so popular.


Sports Influence

Much of men's clothing in the 1920s took its cue from what popular athletes were wearing. The plus-fours, plus-sixes and plus-eights of course, were worn by golf stars such as Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, who topped them with colorful Fair Isle sweaters (multi-colored, multi-pattern sweater styles that originated in Scotland). "Plus" pants are categorized by how far the pants fell below the knee before being secured around the leg area. As tennis grew in popularity, the white trousers and V-neck sweaters the players wore informed much of what young men wore around town.

However, the sports influence wasn't exclusive to golf and tennis stars, as popular football players like Red Grange popularized somewhat of a coat phenomenon. He brought the raccoon coat and the camel hair polo coat into the 20s fashion mainstream.


Stylized Trousers

As men's trousers grew wider, a new major change appeared - the front crease. Emphasizing a man's overall shape, the crease made for a stronger silhouette and more striking look overall. Cuffs were added to trousers, further sharpening the look and drawing more attention to spectator shoes. Instead of suspenders, waist-slimming belts were becoming the popular means of holding up these slick new trousers.

The baggy trousers were called "Oxford bags," because they had originated at Oxford University, where a ban on knickerbockers prompted the students to turn to baggy trousers instead.

Popular though baggy trousers were, men's fashion in the 1920s changed as regularly as did women's. Some jazz enthusiasts felt their musical passions were best expressed through long, tight-waisted jackets and skinny trousers. It was the beginning of individuality as expressed via clothing.


Formal Wear

With casual wear so radically different from previous decades, and women's clothing changing so boldly, it may be something of a surprise to note that men's formal wear in the 1920s was much the same as it had always been. Black was the only color to wear in the evening, and while the frock coat had given way to the tailcoat, the overall look was the same. A starched white shirt and high collar with a bow tie was worn under the tails, and the black trousers topped shiny black shoes. For all else that changed then and has continued to change in men's wear, this formal suit remains much the same.

Fussy outerwear made of heavy furs, however, was giving way to slim wool coats, although many men still liked to throw a raccoon coat over their slim suits.


Hat Indulgence

No man of any class was out in public without a hat. That had been true for centuries and was still very much the case in the 1920s. In summer, light blazers were topped by a Panama straw hat or the shallow, flattop, stiff-brimmed hats called either boaters or skimmers, depending on the brim's width. Autumn and winter were all about the felt fedora, worn with panache by gangsters but beloved of all men for their style and comfort.


Chic Driving Style

The 1920s saw the rise of the automobile as a major part of the culture. The booming financial times meant that many more people could afford a car and the fashion industry took note, creating clothing worn almost specifically for driving. Men wore flat wool or tweed English driving caps and vented leather gloves when toting their sweeties around town. The leather jacket popularized by dashing aviator Charles Lindbergh was something no stylish man could do without, and many liked to include the white silk scarf as well.


Two-Tones and Wingtips

Another big change seen in 1920s mens wear were shoes. Single color boots and spats had given way to two-tone shoes in shades of brown and white or black and white. Although worn in the office as well as on campus, the shoes had a decidedly casual look. Black patent leather still was the only thing to wear as part of evening attire, but the wingtip, a pointed shoe with perforation over the toe, was being increasingly seen, adding some zing to a man's look. Even those who didn't like jazz wanted to look a part of the Jazz Age.


Designer Fashion and Catalog Shopping

Also noteworthy - and especially relevant because of its significance to the growth of the fashion industry in general - was the attention that designers began to pay to men's clothing. Since the economy was booming, it was only fitting that designers delivered the goods that made it possible for men to shop for luxury attire. The offerings grew exponentially throughout the decade.

Another change that had a major impact on the men's fashion industry was the introduction of catalog shopping. Made popular by the famous Sears, Roebuck and Co., the catalogs were rife with everything from dress shirts and shoes to vests and suits. This made buying men's 1920s clothing simpler than ever before.


Fashionable 'Til the Music Stopped

Men's fashion in the 1920s had a snap, sizzle and brightness that have mostly associated with women's Jazz Age couture, and it stayed that way until the stock market crash of 1929. However, although it took several decades for the youth to have such sway again, there was no going back to the stuffiness of centuries past. A new age had begun. During the Roaring Twenties, male fashions experienced an intriguing shift in style. The decade was wrought with excitement, stemming from stunning economic growth and the birth of celebrity culture. The parallels between "reel" and real life were impossible to ignore, as men's designers embraced Hollywood-influenced styles in particular.



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