Women's Fashions of the 1920s - Flappers and the Jazz Age

1920s Handkerchief Hemline


Women's fashions of the 1920s were typified by

  • Less tailoring leading to an abandonment of the corset
  • A Tubular silhouette erased the typical feminine shape
  • Dropped waistlines created a long, slim figure
  • Shorter hemlines made it easier to drive cars and move quickly

Women's fashions of the 1920s are a large part of the Jazz Age identity. New technology and the end of the horrors brought about by World War I and the 1918 Flu Pandemic gave rise to a youthful exuberance personified by the Flapper.

Contrary to popular misconception, the short skirts and bold make up of the flapper did not rule the fashion of the day but were an iconic and memorable look. Fashion periods are usually distinguished by the female silhouette which presented a boyish figure with flattened breasts and loose clothing for most of the decade.

The drop waist shift dresses of the 1920s relieved women of the last vestiges of Edwardian formality. Less tailoring, as well as the availability of the sewing machine meant that women could easily make fashionable clothing at home so that high fashion was no longer restricted to the elite.

Women felt empowered when they won the right to vote (1920 in the US, 1928 for 21 year old women in Britain). The widespread use of the automobile, radio, and increased educational opportunities encouraged young women to cut off their hair and kick up their heels.

1920s Girl With Rolled Stockings


1926 Flapper With Flask


The New Culture of the 1920s

During World War I, young women worked outside the home more than they had in the past. They drove cars and disregarded tradition. Gender specific clothing began to fall by the wayside after women worked in munitions factories during the Great War.

A kind of cynicism that came in the aftermath of the World War I and the devastating flu pandemic of 1918 created a youth culture that glorified fast living, dancing, and the exciting sounds of syncopated jazz described by the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald as the Lost Generation.

The youth drank in carefree disregard of Prohibition (which outlawed the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol but not its consumption) and lost respect for authority and traditional morals. Young women smoked cigarettes and danced the Charleston and Blackbottom, typified by fast, jerky movements. Short skirts allowed greater freedom to dance; and plunging necklines, and low backs put more of the female body on display than ever before.

Flappers incorporated an unusual use of clothing into the wild new style. Flappers rolled stockings below the knee, and wore unhooked rubber galoshes that flapped when they walked.

Fashion icons of the 1920s like Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Clara Bow presented glamorous images of party girls, hoydens who flouted tradition and shocked their elders by cutting their hair into a bob as well as wearing bold, obvious make-up.

1920s Fashion - Short Skirt & Cloche Hat

Ancestor photo inherited by Infrogmation
Ancestor photo inherited by Infrogmation | Source

Fashions of the 1920s - Hemlines

Not all women wore the short skirts or the flippant styles of the flappers.

Skirt hemlines began to rise in 1913 when skirts stopped just above the ankles. By 1818, hemlines had risen to just below calf length and for the next several years showed variations of a few inches one way or another.

In the early 1920s, uneven hemlines gave the appearance of shortening when uneven, scalloped, and handkerchief hems became fashionable. 1925 saw the dramatic rise of skirt hems into the Flapper style that has come to typify women's clothing of the Roaring Twenties, but was a relatively short lasting phenomena.The short skirts of the Flapper was generally worn by younger women while older women wore longer skirts.

By 1929, asymmetrical skirt hems brought hemlines back down. But fashions brief flirtation with short hemlines gave us the image of the modern woman, a style that continued (more or less) throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.

Women's Underwear of the 1920s

Rejection of the stiff tailoring of earlier styles made corset sales plummet. A new, elasticised corset replaced the old, stiff, restricted whalebone corsets of the past.

Young women flattened their breasts with fabric bands to enhance a slim, boyish figure.

As hems rose, the legs were suddenly and shockingly on display. Silk and rayon stockings hooked onto long 'girdles' with snap on garters. Stocking came in shades of colors that gave the appearance of bare legs. Flappers rolled their stockings to just below the knee for ease of movement while dancing.

1927 - Joan Crawford in Hostess Pants

From The US Library of Congress
From The US Library of Congress | Source

1926 Fashion - Beautiful Beaded Dress With Ancient Egyptian Detailing

From the US Library of Congress
From the US Library of Congress | Source

Fashion Designers of the 1920s

Gabrielle Coco Chanel entered the fashion world in the 1920s with her loose shift dresses, blouses, and evening coats in dark and natural shades. Long, belted blouses, and Russian peasant style embroidery simplified the look of women's clothing. In 1926, Coco Chanel claimed to have introduced introduced the Little Black Dress, a fashion staple that has endured for 85 years.

  • Coco Chanel's jewelry workshop introduced the long chain necklaces and multiple stands of faux pearls associated with the flapper look.
  • A new, masculine look offered loose, sailor style trousers for women to wear at home and at the beach. These 'beach pajamas' were an early form of a pants suit.
  • Art Deco played a prominent role in the fashion trends of the 1920s with geometric shapes based on natural lines.
  • The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 set off an instant craze for all things Egyptian. Clothing styles and embellishments reflected designs and patterns of ancient Egypt.
  • The designer Jean Patau designed romantic fashions embellished with fine lace, embroidery, and a lavish use of beading. Along with Coco Chanel, Patous' garconne look created a tubular silhouette that de-emphasized the feminine figure by flattening the breasts, narrowing hips, and ignoring the waist.
  • In 1922, Jean Patou became the first designer to embroider his initials onto the fabric of his sportswear designs, a concept that is still popular today.

Greta Garbo in Cloche Hat circa 1920


1920's Fashion - Zelda Fitzgerald with Bob


1920's Hair and Hats

Modern concepts of hygiene encouraged women toward more frequent hair washing. Emancipation from traditional gender styles encouraged women to cut their long hair and free them from the complicated hair styles of Edwardian times.

The bob appeared in the US shortly before World War I but really took hold in the 1920s, infuriating the older generation and igniting controversy about gender and appearance with the new androgynous look.

Women with bobs needed more frequent hair cuts, and wanted permanent waves, ushering in an explosion of beauty parlors that offered dye jobs, and perms, as well as the fashionable new hair cut.

Cloche hats were all the rage; narrow, close fitting, bell shaped hats that often featured feathers, bows, beads, or artificial flowers.

Flappers held hair out of their eyes while dancing with headbands decorated with embroidery, beads, or a feather.

1920s Fashion - Fabrics

  • Natural fabrics like wool and cotton were still worn, but technology and mass production manufactured synthetics like rayon, introduced in 1910 as a faux silk.
  • Knits became popular for day, sportswear, and evening wear, offering comfort, and stretchability for the increased interest in spots, fitness, and dance.
  • Patterns based on the look of Ancient Egypt, and Art Deco gave an exotic, geometric look to clothing styles.
  • Fair Isle weave patterns, tweeds, and strips were popular for day wear.
  • New technology introduced easier garment closures with zippers and metal snaps.

1927 Fur Coat


Coats and Shoes of the 1920s

Coats were generally calf length with the wrapper style predominating. The wrap coat was fastened with a large button or tab and buckle and featured a shawl style collar often trimmed in fur. In addition to the familiar furs, coats and collars were sometimes trimmed in monkey fur.

Shoes were generally high heels just over two inches. The mass production of shoes in the early part of the 20th century offered the availability of affordable shoes and encouraged young women to by more shoes. Mary Janes and T strap styles with a medium slightly curved high heel were the dominant shoe of the day.

Women also wore tied Oxford type shoes with a short, stack heel for day wear.

1925 Skiers in Trousers


1920's Girls With Bobs and Radio

The Brox Sister, Bobbe, Lorraine and Patricia were Broadway and Jazz singers
The Brox Sister, Bobbe, Lorraine and Patricia were Broadway and Jazz singers | Source

1920 Evening Dress - Lavin


1925 Girl in Striped Dress

From Family Photo Collection of Infrogmation (talk)
From Family Photo Collection of Infrogmation (talk) | Source

1920's Bride

Fashions of the 1920's

1920's Fashion - A Wonderful Compilation of Photos, Music, and Videos

Books consulted:

The Jazz Age - The 20's - Our American Century; Time Life

1920's America's Decades; edited by John F. Wukovits; Greenhaven Press

American Decades 1920 - 1929; edited by Judith S. Baughman; Manly, Inc.

Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion; edited by Valerie Steele; Scribner Library

© 2011 Dolores Monet

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Comments 10 comments

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM

Great Hub! I love all the photos. My grandmother was a flapper in the l920's and I have some photos of her that look like yours. She was a hoot! Her town in PA had a Women's Smoking Club which she was invited to join in the 20's even though she didn't smoke. The club went into l990's and met once a week to "discuss relevant topics." They were the first in her town to wear women's pant suits in the l970's. What I loved about my grandmother was that she was always on the cutting edge of fashion and whatever else was going on at the time. She was a cool grandmother and I miss her very much. She passed away in l997, but was still "flapping strong" all the way to the end of her life.

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

susette - Thank you for commenting and sharing the story about your grandmother. She sounds like one interesting woman. It must have been wonderful to listen to her stories and hear about her life.

drspaniel profile image

drspaniel 4 years ago from Somewhere, where the sun shines once a year...

Great videos/photos of an immense change in women's fashion and rights for that matter! Something to note quickly, is that not all women changed in the "Jazz age" in fact, most women were stuck in the normal way of life at the time. As for the "flappers", most of them worked during the day as phone operators and did the worst jobs around.

Sorry for getting a little carried away there, but still this is a really nice Hub, which fully deserves the 100 Hubscore! Congratulations!

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

drspaniel - there's something about women working and short skirts. Mary Quant designed mini skirts to make it easier for working girls to run for the bus. Also, with the flappers, the shorter skirts made it easier to dance to the new wild music. Thanks for you input!

vibesites profile image

vibesites 3 years ago from United States

I enjoyed reading this hub. I wondered why these women then went Egyptian style, until I read this hub -- and I remember there was also the first "Cleopatra" film back in the 20s. I think these styles might come back in style in mainstream fashion, or some already have come. The 20s and the 30s are the best eras for women's fashion, in my opinion. Voted up, interesting/awesome/beautiful. :)

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

amanda - oh me too. My old great aunt was a flapper and my uncle used to tell me how cute she was! Thanks!

The Kemist - thank you. It sure was!

vibesites - thank you! Oh yes, the finding of King Tut's tomb was big news and greatly influenced styles of the day. I agree, I think the 20's and 30's were just fabulous for women's clothing. Many of these styles, you could wear today and fit right in.

Catherine 2 years ago

Your image captioned "1920s girls with bobs and radio;" Those are the Brox Sisters (Bobbe, Lorraine, and Patricia.) They were Broadway/Jazz singers in the 1920s. Bobbe was married to Composer Jimmy VanHeusen. They are my great-great aunts! :)

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Catherine - really! How cool is that! Your aunts are out there for all to see, an iconic glimpse of the past. I love that photograph. It's my favorite of the lot. Thank you for sharing the information.

Sarah 7 weeks ago

Great, informative article! Just a note, Ernest Hemingway coined the term "Lost Generation," which he first heard from Gertrude Stein. Fitzgerald wrote about it too, though, and his life epitomized it.

Thanks for the read!

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 weeks ago from East Coast, United States Author

Sarah - glad you enjoyed! Hemingway may have coined the phrase, but Fitzgerald, as you said, epitomized the Lost Generation.

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