The fashion aesthetics of the 1920s were grounded in women’s fight for greater freedoms.One of the major aspects where women sought to enjoy more autonomy was in the way they dressed. This led to the emergence of loose flapper dresses and more androgynous-style clothing. The fashion era was characterized by light and airy styles that combined convenience and comfort with liberation.
As with every defining moment in fashion history, there were key people who made it possible. Read on to find out who these women were and how they helped influence a notable period in women’s fashion.
All About the 1920s Fashion Era
Previously, corsets were non-negotiables. Sure, they helped women get that coveted hourglass figure — a full bosom and a snatched waist — but it came at the price of being able to move and breathe freely.
This all changed with World War I. As the men trooped off to war, the women who were left at home had to assume their responsibilities. This included manufacturing and farming roles that necessitated heavy manual labor.
These developments gave them the opportunity to break free from traditional and restrictive clothing like corsets. Women started preferring simplicity in their clothing and opted for clothes “in favor of comfort and a lighter, more natural effect”(Dress historian, Jayne Shrimpton).
In its place, daring new styles like the “flapper” look became mainstream fashion. Flapper dresses featured streamlined silhouettes, dropped waists, and shorter hemlines. Taking inspiration from Coco Chanel, women also started to wear trousers — something only a man could previously wear.
Mademoiselle Coco Chanel may have been the revolutionary who started it all, but credit must also be given to other women who influenced the 1920s trends and styles. It was common to see women in simple frocks by day and ornate dresses embellished with sequins, embroidery, and headwork in the evening.
That’s not to say that there was complete freedom over what a woman could wear.
Wealthy women were still expected to change into different gowns for different occasions, but they enjoyed more flexibility than before.
For example, women started wearing newly-fashioned cocktail dresses as early as three o’clock in the afternoon even if cocktails officially started after 8 PM. They did so by manipulating the accessories they wore with them, which included hats, gloves, and shoes to make them appropriate for all times.
List of the 10 Ladies Who Influenced the 1920S Fashion Styles and Trends
Here are 10 influential fashionistas of the time who influenced the trends and styles of the era.
Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson was quite the trendsetter in her day for embodying 1920s fashion like no other.
Her extravagant sense of style was often accompanied by jewelry pieces from famous fashion houses like Louis, Pierre, and Jacques Cartier as well as Georges Mauboussib among others. From these jewelers, one could get pieces embellished with clusters of diamonds and other precious stones in gold and platinum settings.
Swanson’s fashion legacy included higher hemlines and heels stitched with imitation pearls and stones.
American dancer Desiree Lubovska was one of many women who popularized la garçonne or the flapper dress.
The 1920s dress perfectly resonated with her aesthetic sense which was defined by sharp angles. She thus wanted her body as well as her clothing to reflect this sensibility.
Flapper dresses’ clean lines and angular silhouettes fit Lubovska’s concept of simpler beauty perfectly. She wore them often and is one of the women who made them widely accepted.
Marjorie Willis took classic dresses to the next level by creating unconventional silhouettes with layered looks.
While most of the Roaring Twenties’ clothing called for straight lines that did little to define the waist, Willis’ avant-garde fashion sense wasn’t afraid of cinched waists and shorter layered skirts in unconventional and different fabrics.
Towards the end of the silent movie era, actress Clara Bow played a shopgirl in the classic 1927 film It. Because of the production, the concept of the “it girl” was born and Bow became its personification and the ultimate flapper girl.
Some of the looks she became famous for are the slimming chevron print, dropped waist, the little black dress, and statement sleeves. The fashion-hungry girls of the day quickly gobbled them up and these trends could be seen everywhere.
In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Bow is seen wearing her signature black frock at the shop which she later transforms into a sleeveless black number. The move inspired women and showed them how versatile LBDs (little black dresses) could be which is why many of us still have a staple black dress in our closets!
One of the most famous names on this list, Greta Garbo wasn’t just known for gracing the big screen. She was also recognized for being one of the most elegant and well-dressed women in Hollywood history.
Some of her enduring legacies include the beret, trench coat, turtleneck, and lace-up brogues. Despite the glamor that went with her profession, she was known to dress simply and comfortably without looking overly sexed up.
She enjoyed tailored looks that incorporated loose pants and corduroy jackets with large pockets.
Because of her effortless flair for fashion and striking beauty, she won the admiration of men and women.
Joan Clement is a celebrated actress known for her film “Shall We Join the Ladies?”.
One of her classic looks is a robe de style dress by Jeanne Lanvin. Another trademark 1920s style, the robe de style is characterized by a full skirt and a fitted bodice. The gorgeous Lanvin creation she wore gave the impression of a low-cut neckline that dipped at the waist before the skirt flared out below in luxurious folds of satin.
She was known to favor the designer as is evidenced by the 1926 wedding dress she wore. The classic design features delicate embroidered crêpe de Chine with a train that gracefully extends from the bertha.
From time to time, Clement wore simple, loose satin dresses accentuated by a single-strand pearl necklace with a cloche hat decorated with flowers. She would also wear all-white ensembles which remain popular to this day.
If you thought Beyoncé was fabulous, wait until you see the woman who inspired her fashion sense: Josephine Baker — an African American expatriate showgirl.
Josephine Baker was a master of all trades — singing, dancing, and even entertaining, but she was best known for her “banana dance.” On stage, she wore little else but accessories, but you could find her rocking a mean Art Deco print by day.
She popularized the Eton crop — a short, slicked-down variation of the bob which she often topped off with a cloche hat. Baker was unpredictable and bold when it came to fashion and is remembered for wearing sleepwear to parties. Her looks and unique styles undoubtedly influenced 1920s fashion in ways that we still feel today.
Here’s an interesting trivia about her: Josephine Baker was also a spy who enjoyed taking her pet cheetah for walks in Paris!
As a silver screen actress, Joan Crawford was capable of making a huge impression on her audiences. This included literary figure F. Scott Fitzgerald (who popularized the term “Jazz Age”).
Dazzled by her, Fitzgerald wrote –
“Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see at smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes”.
He further described her as,“Young things with a talent for living.”
However, flapper-style dresses weren’t her only stylish influence. She also helped popularize more relaxed sportswear and swimwear fashion for women.
Joan Crawford paid meticulous attention to what she wore and how she looked. Because of her penchant for fashion, she helped make wearing activewear as daywear acceptable, which forward-looking younger women quickly picked up on.
Marion Morehouse was one of the first supermodels in the world, so it's easy to see how this confident, unapologetic, and independent woman made a mark in the 1920s fashion scene.
According to British portrait photographer Cecil Beaton –
“The aim of models at this time was to be grand ladies, and Marion Morehouse, with her particularly personal ways of twisting her neck, her fingers and feet, was at home in the grandest circumstances."
The supermodel was regularly featured in Vogue and Vanity Fair. What she wore obviously influenced the fashion-minded young women of the day.
One of her more unforgettable outfits consisted of a sequined dress paired with a single strand of pearls around her neck. In another, she wore an elegant and gleaming gown of green and gold lamé with an intricate cut. On either side, two mink-trimmed bias panels completed the look.
Morehouse’s fashion choices were iconic and her ability to pull them off is still remembered to this day.
Actress and dancer Louise Brooks welcomed all the emerging trends from the 1920s, including the bob and trousers. She even spoke openly about her sexual experimentation.
As a glamorous style icon, she was often seen donning fur coats, velvet smoking jackets, palazzo trousers, and sparkling gowns.
Many of her outfits were complemented by a cloche hat, another 1920s staple that featured a bell-shaped close fit around the head. Though it was originally designed by Caroline Reboux in 1908, Brooks made cloche hats and bobs popular.
Global events and the women’s liberation movement heavily influenced the fashion styles that emerged during the unforgettable Roaring Twenties. Corsets became smaller and bras were introduced, hemlines became conveniently higher, and we saw new and interesting fabric patterns.
These remarkable women led the way and still shape the way we look and dress today.
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