18 March 2014

1920s fashions - more than just flappers

Fashion in the 1920s was written by Jayne Shrimpton, to be pub­lished by Shire Publications in April 2014. The books says that the 1920s ushered in drastic changes; this happened as fashion abruptly changed from the corseted world of the 1910s to rouge, flapper dress­es, cigarette holders, bobbed hair, rising hemlines and the Anything Goes attitude of the Roaring '20s!

Louise Brooks, 1926
a very modern, very elegant actress

This was the birth of modernity, a hugely important mile-stone in fashion history. So the book examines the social history of the post-World War I generat­ion via photographs and illustrations of fashions and accessories which made the 1920s such an elegant and stylish time. Appropriately the author Jayne Shrimpton is a dress historian and portrait special­ist from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Before the book is released, I was able to read Jayne Shrimpton’s own article “Puttin' on the Ritz”, in Inside History Magazine, Jan-Feb 2014. I am not that excited about whether one generation liked seams sewn on the bias or not, or whether tulle became old fashioned and jersey became popular. So it was lucky for me that Shrimpton wanted to exam­ine the wider social and cultural historical context as a backdrop to 1920s fashion. She also wanted to consider the special clothing worn for particular occasions, such as weddings and sports. I too want to know about whether universal suffrage was achieved, how unemployment affected returned-servicemen, were progressive or conservative social values dominant in post-WW1 society and what impact did cinema have on daily life?

The wedding party 1920s
Photo credit: State Library of Queensland

Written material included popular novels, letters, diaries and mem­oirs. Visual images ranged from newspaper and magazine advertise­ments, fashion illustrations and family photographs. Shrimpton summarised her top six sources for information about 1920s fashions thus:

1. Fashion plates, produced specifically for high-end magazines like Vogue. Artists worked closely with dress and textile designers like Paul Poiret.

2. Magazines and periodicals which showed advertisements for average clothes available to the general public. Many were from great, inter-war department shops.

3. Paper garment patterns, for sewing and knitting done at home. This became hugely popular after the troops came home from WW1.

4. Surviving dresses, in antique clothing companies, shops and museums. And in my case, from grandmother who married in 1923.

5. Images and memories from family picture collections. Some were formal studio portraits with people dressed up; others were casual amateur snapshots, relaxing in the garden or on the beach. Bridal photos were a very helpful source of information.

The evidence suggests that many women thought about things other than jazz music, smoking cigarettes and driving fast cars. Flapper dresses and the "anything goes" attitude of the Roaring '20s did not define and restrict the post-World War One generation.

Echo of Paris Pattern Book

Talking of the impact of cinema on real life, readers interested in fashion will remember that the Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion was shown at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne until March 2014. In 1923 Steichen was appointed Chief of Photography for Condé Nast, creating work for Vanity Fair, Vogue and an important advertising agency.The Melbourne exhibition included 200+ black and white photos taken by Steich­en of models, film stars, theatrical stars and other celebrities like the incomparable Marlene Dietrich.


Deb said...

The wedding party looks like my grandparents' marriage. The hats, dresses and bouquets look rather lovely. Note there is only one bridesmaid and groomsman, not hundreds of people in the bridal party.

Hels said...


my grandmother too... she was married in 1923 with just one bridesmaid, so her wedding party photo looked very similar. Except I have not seen big hats before.

My granny wore one of those lacy cloche style bridal caps that became a veil.

Parnassus said...

Another good source to trace this kind of history would be through widely-copied leaders of fashion, such as Irene Castle or Geraldine Farrar, and a host of others.

Hels said...


thank you. I certainly need all the help I can get in this topic :)

Really I got onto the topic through reading about:
1. the achievement of female suffrage (1895-1906),
2. the welcoming of women athletes into the 1900 Olympic Games and
3. the impact of the 1914-18 war. Like Shrimpton, I wanted to exam­ine the wider social and cultural historical context of women's lives in the 1920, including fashion.

Ann ODyne said...

just click this link to images of 1920's fashions and be amazed.

Joseph said...


We may expect the fine and decorative arts to survive for hundreds of years but clothes tend to be thrown into the rubbish bin every 10 years or so.

Thus we have to rely on contemporary images for good scholarship. So I loved your images, thank you.

How to Invest in Art said...

I would like to thank you for the efforts which you have made in writing this article. Nice to such useful and informative article.

Hels said...

How to Invest in Art

many thanks. I must admit that Jayne Shrimpton did all the hard work in her book "Fashions in the 1920s" and in Inside History Magazine. Both worth reading.

Hels said...


I have a new book now to read and review - Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper.