The Influence of 1920s Fashion

The Jazz Age. Prohibition. The Harlem Renaissance. The 19th Amendment. These phrases are all associated with the Roaring Twenties, an era filled with economic prosperity and lots of glitz and glamour. The fashion of the era is a reflection of people’s luxurious lifestyles and liberated minds. There was a fashion revolution in women’s clothing: smaller corsets, the introduction of bras, higher hemlines, and new and interesting patterns. It was an exciting time to be woman. There has recently been renewed interest in the innovative fashion of the 1920s in the fashion industry, movies, and television.

Ralph Lauren, whose designs always have that classic “American” feel, delved into the era for both his Spring 2012 and Fall 2012 runway shows. For his Spring 2012 show, almost every model wore a summer version of the classic 1920s cloche hat.  During the era, wearing loose-fitting clothing was a reaction to the restrictive corset that had shaped the feminine silhouette for so many decades. Clothing inspired by menswear became popular as women gained more political and social power. Both of these features came up in Lauren’s collections in addition to the cloche hat. He managed to incorporate these 1920s designs into his clothes without making them look dated. By using light colors, silky and free-flowing fabrics, and accessorizing with wedges, he created outfits with a more modern version of the 1920s silhouette.

The new movie version of The Great Gatsby, makes debut in theaters. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is the ultimate story about the consequences of the excess of the Roaring Twenties. Incidentally, Ralph Lauren designed the men’s clothing for the original 1974 movie starring Mia Farrow. The movie was highly praised for its beautiful costume design; the costume designer, Theoni V. Aldredge, won an Academy Award for her work on the movie. The remake promises to have clothing that is even more exquisite and luxurious. The film’s costume designer, Catherine Martin, collaborated with Miuccia Prada and Brooks Brothers to create pieces for the film. Baz Luhrmann, the director, has asked Jay-Z to help produce the film’s soundtrack. The rapper will help add a modern vibe to the music from the period. Additionally, the movie stars well-known actors, like Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey MaGuire. The film will help bring the fashion of the 1920s to a whole new generation of movie-goers and fashionistas.

Lastly, Downton Abbey, the British soap opera that has become incredibly popular, entered the 1920s in its third season. In the United States, the season aired in January and February of this year with audiences gushing over the gorgeous period clothing. When we encounter the characters at the beginning of the season, World War I has been over for a couple of years. Everyone is eager to forget the somber clothing of the war period and wear more luxurious clothing. The fashion is completely different from the pre-war era. The young ladies now wear cloche hats, drop-waist dresses, lots of long necklaces, and menswear inspired pieces. In contrast, the older generation is depicted as wearing the Edwardian style that was popular earlier in the century. The immense popularity of the show is partly due to the incredible attention to detail that is paid to the costume design. This great display of 1920’s fashion as worn by a British aristocratic family brings the designs of the era to the forefront of the fashion world.

Although many decades have passed and garments have changed drastically, there is still a lot that we can learn from 1920’s fashion and incorporate into our own wardrobes. Below are examples of how to incorporate 1920’s-inspired clothing into a modern wardrobe.

1. Cloche Hat

Cloche Hat 

Many flappers showed off their short hair by wearing cloche hats. Cloche is the French word for “bell.” These fitted hats were decorated with different kinds of appliques, feathers, and brooches. Cloche hats are still made by many designers and are a great winter accessory. They appear in a variety of fabrics and have a variety of accents. There is something really feminine about them, and they look great with a classic winter wool coat.

2. Decorative Headbands


When not wearing cloche hats, young women loved to wear all kinds of beautiful headbands and other hair accessories to show off their bobbed hair. These headbands were a beautiful way to complement an elegant evening dress. Like cloche hats, headbands came in a variety of designs. Because of the general feeling of luxury of the era, these accessories had gold accents and were covered in all sorts of gems and feathers. These headbands are still found adorning the heads of many fashionistas and are a great way to show off a hairstyle.

3. Drop-Waist Dress

Drop-Waist Dress

In the 1920s, after centuries of wearing constricting corsets to achieve an hourglass figure, women started to wear clothes that produced a boyish silhouette. Many women wanted to go out to clubs and dance the Charleston as well. The drop-waist dress was the perfect garment to wear because it did not require a corset; it was loose, and therefore allowed women to move about and dance freely. The flappers who wore these dresses were telling the world that they were sick of wearing constricting clothing, and they wanted to be free. Although not the symbol of rebellion that they once were, drop-waist dresses still provide a unique way to rock a dress. In a light fabric, they’re perfect to wear on a beautiful spring day. Drop-waist dresses accented with fringe or sequins are also great to wear for a night out.

4. Statement Jewelry


Two things came together in the 1920s to define the jewelry of the period: Art Deco and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Art Deco is a design style that emphasizes geometric shapes, bold colors, and luxurious decoration. The Chrysler building in New York City is a perfect example of Art Deco architecture. The boldness of this design style is the perfect complement to the excess and luxury of the 1920’s. The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 also heavily influenced the jewelry. Designers were inspired by the boy king’s elaborate tomb, and as a result, incorporated gold and large gems into their pieces. The women’s jewelry of previous periods is feminine and dainty. The jewelry of the 1920’s is still feminine, but it is bold. The earrings are long, dangly, and have interesting shapes. The necklaces are also long, and have pendants that are chunky and appear in a variety of colors. The brooches are covered in gems and sparkle on the wearer’s chest. Today, we live in a world where women can pile on necklaces of all shapes and sizes and wear five bracelets on each wrist if they wanted to. The women of this period are the ones who made that possible. An outfit is nothing without accessories, and one statement piece can make a simple outfit into something amazing.

5. T-strap Shoes

 T-strap Shoes

For the first time, as hemlines rose, women had the opportunity to show off their shoes and feet. T-strap shoes became popular during this period because they were relatively comfortable to dance in, were unique, and allowed women to reveal a bit of skin. These shoes still appear in designers’ collections year after year because there’s something timeless about them. Their interesting design showcases a woman’s feet, and they’re a great alternative to regular pumps.

All images from Pinterest

About Slavena Salve Nissan

Slavena was co-editor-in-chief of "The Macaulay Messenger" during the 2014-2015 academic year. Here are 5 random things about her: 1. She was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Yes, that's a real country.) 2. Her name is of Slavic origin and means glory. 3. She still has all of her stuffed animals from childhood. 4. She has an intense love for libraries and can spend hours enthralled by a good book. 5. She's fascinated by the idea of reincarnation.