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1920s Fashion: History & Trends

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

This lesson explains how the years after World War I were a time of great change throughout the world. No one could go back to the way things were before; everything had to change, including fashion.

Corsets to Cloches

Anyone who has seen an episode of Downton Abbey has witnessed a representation of the changes clothing styles went through from the early 1900s through the 1920s. This was a great change for everyone. As the men went off to fight in World War I, women stepped up to fill the roles vacated by men. Women went to work in offices, telephone operations, and other places normally staffed by men. Younger generations, scarred by the horrors of war, wanted to embrace life and have fun. Clothing styles changed along with these new attitudes. The restrictive corsets and long dresses of the previous decade were no longer in style. Women's clothing got shorter and looser, while men's clothing saw more suits and less stuffy formal wear. Commercialism was also on the rise; people could go to stores and purchase the clothes they wanted. New inventions such as the vacuum and washing machine made life easier for everyone. For the first time, the middle class had time to relax.

Trendsetters

Just like today, 1920s fashion was influenced by celebrities. People wanted to emulate their favorite stars, like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The 1920s was also a time when people started recognizing the works of different fashion designers. Women's fashions were influenced by designer Coco Chanel and the actress Marlene Dietrich. These women designed and wore more androgynous styles, with undefined hemlines and straighter, flowing dresses, and sometimes even pants. Men were influenced by people such as Charles Lindbergh and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford
douglas and mary

Styles

Women

The flapper style is the style most people think of when they think of 1920s fashion. Flapper women chopped off their hair into a short, almost masculine style. They wore short, loose fitting dresses. Big, fancy, straw hats gave way to smaller hats such as cloches, a simple hat shaped like the bell of a flower pot. These topped the women's newly bobbed hair.

Alice Joyce dressed in the flapper style
joyce

These women went to clubs and listened to jazz and smoked. Prohibition was in full swing in America, so if people wanted to drink, they went to underground clubs. Flapper girls enjoyed these types of places. More conservative women enjoyed this style of dressing but didn't entirely give in to the flapper lifestyle.

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