Monday, July 13, 2015

All That Jazz

McCall Quarterly, Autumn, 1928

The conclusion of World War I, the "War to End All Wars", brought dramatic change to the United States as well as other countries.  Soldiers returned home with stories of amazing people and places they had seen and were unwilling to go back to the farm, as the old song says. So much carnage on a world-wide scale had never before been seen.  Young people in particular felt they had to live for the moment since the future is not guaranteed.

from Pinterest

Technology, manufacturing, and customs changed quickly.  The world became smaller as airplane travel was not an unrealistic dream, but a reality.  Automobiles were quickly produced and rapidly sold.  Cars made it possible to travel several states in a single day. Many advertisements targeted women drivers.

1928 Chevrolet ad

ad from The Delineator, 1923

Women won the right to vote in 1920 (the 19th Amendment) and never looked back.  They eagerly traded in their corsets, bustles, and voluminous petticoats for freedom of movement.  One could not hop into a car, dance freely, or go to work in such cumbersome attire. 

Actress Louise Brooks wearing a fur trimmed coat and cloche hat

Hemlines rose, but not overnight.  It wasn't until 1925 that hemlines reached the knee - a perfect length for dancing the Charleston until dawn.  Waistlines had begun to drop in the latter war years and by 1922 settled at the hips.  Because of shorter dress lengths, shoes and stockings became more than a necessity - they became a fashion statement.  Silk stockings were produced in a large variety of colors and patterns.  Shoes, stockings, and dresses became more coordinated.  The most popular style of shoe in this decade was the Mary Jane ankle strap button shoe. 

Montgomery Ward catalog ad, 1920s

Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1925

Arms were bared in public, many young ladies openly smoked, and no longer did they retreat to the powder room to apply makeup.  Compacts and cigarette cases from both the 20s and 30s are popular collectibles.

Actress Gloria Swanson
photo by John Abbe, 1921

Bernard Hewitt catalog, 1928

Another law with far-reaching consequences was also enacted in 1920 - Prohibition.  The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution made it  illegal to sell alcohol in the US. It was repealed in 1933. Nightclubs and speakeasies popped up overnight.  It became socially acceptable for men and women to get dressed up, take their new car, and go out dancing and drinking.

Giggle Water cocktail ad, 1928

Flappers smoking in a train car

For many, the Roaring 20s was a period of prosperity and elegance. Evening attire in particular was used to show off wealth.  The materials, accessories, headpieces, and shoes were as elegant and expensive as the owner could afford.  Fur coats were standard apparel for women of means.

photo from

Actress Bebe Daniels, ca. 1927

Derry & Toms Autumn Fashions, 1928

Many famous designers got their beginnings in the 1920s:  Chanel, Lanvin, Patou, Fortuny, Molyneux, and Vionnet are a few of the most well-know names.

Coco Chanel's "Little Black Dress" was introduced in the 20s

"Jeanne Lanvin invented what was called the robe de style made of velvet and silk.  She often designed this dress in robin's egg blue, a shade which is now known as Lanvin blue." (source:

1929 Lanvin robe de style, photograph by Granger
Metropolitan Museum of Art

No self-respecting woman appeared in public without a hat, and the cloche is the iconic hat of the 1920s.  Reportedly, Caroline Reboux of France, a milliner, invented it around 1923.  One variation of the cloche dipped lower on one side than the other, giving it a rakish appearance.  

photo from

The popular cloche has been cited as one of the reasons women began to opt for short hair.  Long hair prevented the cloche from being worn tightly on the head, as it was intended.  Several short hairstyles were popular in the 20s.

Finger Waves

Bobbed hair - note the bee sting lips

Actress Louise Brooks wearing the Dutch boy

Josephine Baker's Eton Crop
photo via
Getty Images

Both day and evening dresses were long, lean, and angular. A boyish figure was sought after - so much so that larger busted women bandaged their breasts or wore a Symington Side Lacer.  This bra could be laced at both sides and pulled tightly.  In essence, it was a corset for the bust.  Other flappers wore a bra which consisted of sections of lace bandeau lined in net.  Underwear was minimal, generally knickers and chemise.  Both were sheer and lightweight.
Sear, Roebuck and Co. ad for stockings

1920s lingerie ad via

Several sources state the term "Flapper" originated in Great Britain where there was a short-lived fad of young women wearing unbuckled galoshes. They flapped when walking. The name stuck even after the fad passed and "flapper" evolved to mean a liberated young woman.

Wedding Gown
House of Callot Soeurs design for Edna Johnson 1926

The 1920s were flanked on one end by the end of World War I and the other by the stock market crash of 1929. In just eleven short years, America was forever changed.  The image of the flapper is to many the definitive symbol of the Roaring 20s.

photo via
by kinseysue on etsy

reference sources:

Below are some original 1920s sewing patterns, courtesy of the Pattern Patter Team on etsy. 

McCall 4622 from FloradoraPresents; 
Ladies' Home Journal 5947 from allthepreciousthings


Mail Order 6794 from MidvaleCottage; 
Butterick 1741 from VintageNeedleFinds

Pictorial Review 4168 from SelvedgeShop; 
Superior 9064 from DejaVuPatterns
Butterick 1832 from Mrsdepew; 
McCall 4881 from ShellMakeYouFlip

McCall 4987 from kinseysue


  1. Great article and information! Love the roaring 20's!

  2. Great article and information! Love the roaring 20's!

  3. Very interesting post and great photos! Not so sure about the Symington Side Lacer though :D

  4. I love the stockings with the diamonds up the back!

  5. Great overview, and I LOVE all the images and illustrations! Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Wow, too cool! Great research...

  7. Love this! Especially the shoes. ☺

  8. This is a treasure-trove of information about a fascinating era. The graphics are gorgeous. Thought I knew a lot about flappers but the Symington Side Lacer was something new to me.
    Thanks for including my pattern in this impressive blog.

  9. Awesome article & wonderful photos!

  10. Great post Kinsey Sue! Very interesting and informative. Thank you!

  11. Kinseysue....what a great article.
    An amazing insight into the fashions of almost 100 years ago !
    Fantastic photos and illustrations !

  12. Great article. I learned a lot of information about 20's fashion!