Fashion Of The 1920

′S Essay, Research Paper

The 1920 s, a period that saw dramatic changes in dress, was perhaps the first

modern decade of the twentieth century. The corseted woman of the previous decade,

with her hobble skirts and huge hats, looked as if she came from another world when

compared to the modern woman of the 1920 s. The result was extreme. Fashionable

1920 s female body evolved from the elaborately trimmed dress with its high waist

position and ankle length skirt at the beginning, to the simple, hardly decorated, shapeless

tube with a hip level waistline and a skirt barely covering the knees at the end of the

decade. The initiation of the new fashion boom all began with their change in social

aspects and attitudes along with their new way of life. The women s independence

movement of the 1920 s resulted in a dramatic change in dress as shown by the desire to

look youthful, boyish, flat-chested, and at the same time want her independence and


The 1920 s was the new decade of the century. This was the Jazz Age, the decade of

the flappers. 1920 s opened with an explosion of color, wailing sounds, fast rhythms of

jazz, and energetic dancing. Everyone was into learning the latest dance, the Charleston.

It was attitude, a period of escapism, a youthful reaction against the dark and serious

clothes. These were the days to rebel. From 1920-1930, the world was one big party,

aptly described by the phrase The Roaring Twenties. (Presley,p3)

Women slowly began joining socialist party s with the influence of increasing local

socialist women s organizations and a national magazine of that day, Socialist Woman.

One major question, which arose to many women s minds was, once economic base of

sexual oppression was corrected, would equality follow? (Zinn,p45) That argument

became sharper as the women s movement of the early twentieth century grew, as women

spoke out more, organized, protested, paraded for the vote, and recognition as equals in

every sphere, including sexual relations and marriage. Women, conscious of women s

oppression and wanting to do something about it, were going to college and becoming

aware of themselves not just housewives. Like Katie Richards O Hare said, Socialism is

needed to restore the home. (Zinn, p47)

Tuesday, November 2, 1920, was the most unusual Election Day in American history.

On August 10, the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution had become

law. This enactment granted American women the right to vote on an equal basis with

men. This is where it all began. At one point in the 1920 s, women were regarded as

inferior to men. According to the social standards of time, a woman s place was in a

home. Her life was pretty clear: marry, bear children, raise children, keep house, and stay

clear of husband s business work. After many years, long struggles for women suffrage

had reached its inevitable end. At last, in voting booths, women were full-fledged citizens

on a par with men. The ballot was still only one step towards full emancipation of

American women.

In the beginning, women were discriminated against in jobs and in professions. Many

places of employment were closed to females, including universities and colleges. As time

went by, women slowly gained their independence and freedom, even if they were

confined to certain areas. If a women accepted outside work it had to be a school teacher,

librarian, typist, or sales clerk; all respectable jobs fit for a lady. The so called lower

class women worked in factories or as a seamstress. There were very few women doctors

and lawyers. Some women achieved fame and success on stage, as writers, artists, concert

musicians, or operatic stars. Eventually women were accepted for all work.

The male detractors did not then realize it, but social structure of the United States

was changing drastically, even more than it had during the war. Transformation in

costume linked to various consequences of war, and further changed in people s way of

life, with new attitudes of mind and new modes of production. The transform of the social

scene resulted in women contributing to industrial war effort, and after the war taking on

an ever widening range of work, gaining civil and economic rights, and playing a greater

role outside their homes. Therefore, the 1920-1929 costume adapted to suit this new way

of life.

For the so-called new woman, leading her freer life, training to work, enjoying

sports, and dancing; the clothes had to be functional, light, and comfortable. The new style

ignored the waist and the breast, shortened the skirt, cropped the hair, and got rid of the

corset for the suspender belt. The clothes became simpler like men s; lace was no longer

popular, embroidery simple, hat trimmings dwindled, and the flowers and feathers

disappeared. The new ideal was androgen, girls striving to look as much like boys as

possible. This new fad awaited the men returning from war.

During the 1920 s, bodies were finally released from clothing, which pretty much

controlled them. The theorem of clothing had drastically changed for the first time in 600

years.(Squire,p169) For the first time in over a century women were able to move and

breathe freely. Hems rose gradually to the knee, legs were encased in flesh-colored silk

stockings, and arms were bare. In July, 1920, a fashion writer reported in the New York

Times that the american womans has lifted her skirts far beyond any modest

limitation. (Allen,p88) For the first time in history, women s body came into public view

in the Miss. America Pageant in 1921 at Atlantic City.(Petrow,Video) In 1924, something

called flattener came out and was intended to abolish the bust. Dresses became tubular

and low waisted, there were no curves of the body shown which denied all femininity.

Black and white were the most popular colors of the decade. In 1925, hemlines were the

shortest in history.(Herald,p62) In 1926 designers were making garments suitable for both

men and women; which had to be simple, sporty, comfortable, and appropriate for both


Some of the major reasons as to why women were so into changing their dress and

getting into the major fads, like smoking and drinking, was because of Hollywood stars

and big designers like Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.(Laver,p235) These two

women were part of the whole artistic movement of that time. Schiaparelli introduced

good working class clothes into polite society. Her simple clothes had an elegance which

made everyone admire and copy them. Coco Chanel was known for her classic cardigan

style suit; and Irene Castle popularized the bobbed hair style accompanying the cloche

hat. The Hollywood big silver screen played a big role model as to how women dressed

also. The women looked up to their role models like Clara Bow, the so-called It girl and

Joan Crawford. In magazines they had the fashionable Gibson Girl all dressed up with

the latest style. The flappers too were the heroine of the decade, always in style with the

short skirt, turned-down hose, and rouged knees; sort of like the like the Gibson Girl.

The cutting of women s hair was the most drastic action of rebellion against the state

of subjection. The bob, which in most cases cropped close to the head like a man s,

became extremely popular and by 1924 was in full fashion. Some women enhanced the

style with the popular cloche hat, which tightly fitted to the bobbed head. Even shorter

hair in the shingle style, which could be adapted to any shape of the head, rivaled the bob.

The early form of the shingle was short and exposed to the hair line at the back of the

neck. In 1925, the common hair was being cut to follow the shape of the head with

perhaps a slight fringe and soft waves at the sides. In 1926 and 1927, the bobbed hair cut

and shingle were not enough; what appeared was the extremely short boyish style known

as the eton crop. The hair was straightened and cut well above the ears, which was later

modified by longer pieces curled forward onto the cheeks.

By those days between the new masculine attitudes, clothing, and hair cuts, the only

way to distinguish a young women from a schoolboy was the rouged lips and penciled

eyebrows. The vogue of rouge and lipstick in 1920 alarmed parents of the younger

generation; but those who thought it was immoral were soon applying it regularly and

made no effort to disguise the fact. The manufacturers of cosmetics and the owners of

beauty shops rose. The big characteristics of the 1920 s makeup fad was the use of pale

powder, cream rouge, blush for circles on the cheeks which looked like apples, and the

brows were plucked and penciled in thin arches.(Retro Magazine,p1) Lips were painted

very red, emphasizing the cupid s bow of the upper lip, and de-emphasizing the width of

the lower lip, creating a rosebud pout.

This was the dream period, as one lady said everyone looked beautiful.

(Petrow,Video) Women came into the public eye, which shocked them all with their

youthful, boyish looks. There was a change in everything; from their clothes, to make-up,

to hair, and even their freedom and independence. The women in those days fought hard

to get what they wanted, and if they did not get it, the would not give up; they were

tough. They had the attitudes of the men. Women got into sports and working, doing what

they only dreamed for. They were having fun. These were the good old days, it was the

decade not to have missed.



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