Clothing 191929

1920s Flapper Dress Pattern

1920s Flapper Style Dress

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ks the Western world celebrated the end of World War I (1914—18) clothing styles changed to reflect the enthusiasm of the time. The most striking differences came in the silhouettes, or shapes, of men's and women's outfits. In general, women's clothes went from flaring skirts to a tubular line, featuring flat chests and low waists, and men's clothes became much fuller, even baggy.

The changes in women's clothes came from new attitudes about life and work. During this decade women won the right to

Narrower skirts to the knee and jackets with low waistlines gave women a new, tubular silhouette.

Reproduced by permission of © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/ CORBIS.

Male Working Knees Silhouette

vote and many earned their own money. Women needed stylish clothes that they could wear to work or out during the day. For everyday wear women wore a tailored suit. For more festive occasions women wore clothes that were more comfortable and luxurious than before the war. The tight corsets that squeezed women into unnatural shapes were replaced with loose-fitting outfits and, eventually, by figure skimming gowns with revealing necklines and open backs.

With the end of rationing, or the sparing use of materials, clothes became elaborate. The most expensive were made of satin, silk, and brocade, a fabric with raised designs and adorned with ruffles, fringe, gathers, bows, jewels, and even fur. Women added fringed or transparent shawls to these outfits for even more decoration. Inspiration for women's clothing came from designers' ideas about the future. Designers created clothes that were very different from older styles. The most drastic change was the knee-length hemline. For the first time, women showed their legs in public, swinging them wildly to the new exuberant dances like the Charleston. Clothes also reflected the new art styles of the period. Bold geometric patterns and new designs were beaded, embroidered, and even painted on garments. The Orient and other cultures also inspired clothing styles, as seen with pajamas, the kimono sleeves of some dresses, and the turbans, or headwraps, complementing some outfits. The trendsetters for women were mostly fashion designers centered in Paris, France, including Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883-1971), Madeline Vionnet (c. 1876-c. 1973), Paul Poiret (1879-1944), and Jean Patou (1880-1936). Although only the wealthiest women could wear original designer fashions, middle-class women could buy copies of French designs in retail stores, and other women could buy patterns and yards of fabric to make their own.

For men, the decade offered similar style changes. Clothing became much looser. Men continued to wear the sack suit that became the most common style at the turn of the century, but the lines of the suit became more smooth, with wider trousers belted high on the waist and broad-shouldered jackets. The widest men's pants were called Oxford Bags. The shirts men wore with their suits had attached collars by mid-decade and came in white and pastel shades of blue, tan, and yellow. Men's ties were no longer plain; they now featured stripes, polka dots, and plaids. Men no longer


The fast, wild, and showy decade of the 1920s is sometimes called the Age of Flaming Youth, because the influence and energy of young people was unleashed in a new way during this period. Young people met in high schools and colleges. They gathered together and socialized in ways their parents and grandparents never had, and they created styles and fads that were imitated across the generations. In a world stunned by the devastation of World War I (1914-18), the fun and carefree freedom of the young was a welcome relief, and no style seemed too silly or frivolous to become high fashion.

World War I had raged throughout Europe, leaving almost an entire generation of young men dead or damaged. After the war, many young people rebelled against the values of their parents' generation, which they saw as having brought about the horrors of the war. They rejected the modesty, control, and respectability of the eras of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and embraced all that was modern, fast, and exciting. New inventions like the automobile (the Ford Model T began to be mass-produced in 1909) and new popular jazz music became symbols of the time. As the world recovered from death and destruction, many people celebrated being young and alive.

One thing that increased the influence of young people as a group was the growth of secondary education, or high school. The period following World War I was one of prosperity and industrialization. As more goods were mass-produced, people did not have to work as hard and childhood grew longer. Where once most adolescent children had to go to work, by the 1920s, many went to high schools instead. For the first time, large numbers of young people spent a great deal of time together. College enrollment also increased during the 1920s. These high school and college students began to develop their own ways of dressing, talking, and having fun. Films such as The Campus Flirt (1926) and College Days (1927) glamorized college life, and people everywhere began wearing raccoon coats and using college slang like the lighthearted students in the films. The college man and the flapper became the ideal young man and woman of the 1920s, and house parties, long drives, and fast, sexy dancing to jazz music became the most popular pastimes.

Another social change introduced by the youth of the 1920s was the idea of dating, or un-chaperoned social engagements between men and women. In the years before the war, it was considered improper for men and women to spend time alone unless they were engaged. Even then, a chaperon, or older companion, was usually present when a man and a woman socialized. Dating introduced the idea that men and women could spend time getting to know each other in private even if they did not intend to marry. Dating might mean going to a party or nightclub for music and dancing or a drive in the car. It could also mean necking and petting, nicknames for kissing and touching, that had been forbidden during the nineteenth century, but was viewed as good, clean fun by the young people of the 1920s.

Older, more conservative people were often shocked and scandalized by the behavior of the young during the Roaring Twenties. Besides dating and dancing in the modern close fashion, which many saw as immoral, youthful rebellion frequently included drinking illegal alcohol and using foul language. Young women began showing their knees, wearing heavy makeup, and smoking cigarettes. Many older community leaders tried to outlaw these disgraceful new fashions, but, even more than alcohol and cigarettes, the freedom of the age was addictive, and the new liberated styles were unstoppable. When the stock market crash of 1929 introduced the more somber age of the Great Depression (1929-41), many conservative people claimed that the hard economic times were a punishment brought on by the excesses of the youth of the 1920s.

had to wear heavy fabrics in the heat of the summer. Gabardines (a twill fabric), flannels, and tweeds were replaced with light seersucker, a striped, lightly puckered linen or cotton. Seersucker was sewn into sack suits or made into a suit with a belted jacket to wear in hot weather. Men's fashions followed such trendsetters as Edward VIII (1894-1972), the Prince of Wales; pilot Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974); tennis players Jean René Lacoste (1904-1996) and Bill Tilden (1893-1953); swimmer Johnny Weissmuller (19041984); college football star Red Grange (1903-1991); movie star Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926); and countless college students on campuses throughout the United States and Europe.

In addition to the changes in the styles of everyday and formal wear, new styles emerged. Sportswear for men and women provided outfits for tennis, golf, swimming, boating, and other sports. Sports became so popular that styles for watching sports also became fashionable. Heavy raccoon coats were seen in the stands at college football games; derby hats topped men's heads at horse races and around town; and spectator shoes, a style of multicolored shoe, adorned the feet of people watching sporting events. The navy blue blazer also became associated with yachting clubs, among other things.


Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Blum, Stella. Everyday Fashions of the Twenties. New York: Dover Publications, 1981.

Fass, Paula S. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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