The 1920s brought astounding change, not only in fashion, but also in culture. Women won the right to vote, and with the vote came a sense of freedom and feminine self-expression. There was also a shift as top-name designers shifted from exclusively catering to the wealthy, to designing more practical fashions for the mainstream female.
While many think of the 20s and imagine the iconic Flapper regalia—bobbed hair, cloche hats, long necklaces, and fringed dresses—there was far more to 1920s fashion than the Flapper costumes we see women sport today at Halloween parties.
Turning away from the boosted bosoms and tight corsets of previous fashion decades, hemlines began to rise. Women finally experienced the freedom of showing a little leg, with hems falling a few inches below the knee. With the “shocking” rise of hemlines came an increased interest in women’s hosiery, with silk being the most desirable fabric, and white, beige, and grey as the most favored colors.
The shift or chemise dress, with its dropped waist and straight styling, became popular. The dropped belted waist was seen frequently, especially with Chanel designs. Arms and shoulders were bared, with V or scoop necklines, revealing more womanly flesh than ever before.
In colder months, a woman would cover up with a wrap-over coat, jacket, or cardigan covering the basic shift dress, along with the cloche hat typical of the decade. The wrap coats were wide, with voluminous sleeves, and fur trim or fur accoutrements if the wearer could afford it.
For evening gowns, the hem tended to rise and fall as the 1920s passed, but exposing the back and shoulders was always in style. Photographs of the time showed women sporting the boyish bobs and posing in a “girlish” manner, in stark contrast to the elaborate coiffures and stiff poses of previous generations.
By the time 1923 had arrived, the tradition of changing into morning, afternoon, and evening wear every day had waned, replaced by the simplicity of shopping frocks and traveling frocks.
1926 brought the installation of the “little black dress” by Chanel, with the idea of black being the most flattering color. It was called the “Ford dress,” the implication being that it would quickly become as popular as the Ford automobiles.
Slenderness was the idealized form of beauty in the 1920s, as only a slender figure could wear the popular fashions of the day in a flattering manner. But the fringed mini-dress that is seen as the cliche look of the 1920s is actually a modern misconception based on a 1960s resurgence of certain faddish 1920s fashion styles. The hemlines did rise to just above the knee, and some fashions did sport elegant drapings of beadwork, as women of the time enjoyed the “swishy” sensation of soft fabrics or beads swirling about their legs as they danced.
The 1920s, known as the Age of Chic, were years of tumultuous, thrilling change, and the fashions of the era typified those changes, a visual voicing of the freedom and creativity that young women of the decade sought to express.