After the tight corsets and long-flowing dresses of the Edwardian Era, the 1920s was a decade of liberation for women. The most important change occurred on August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, giving women the right to vote. Fashion restrictions were also breaking down, as skirts hems crept up the leg and dress lines straightened out.

Although Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Paul Poiret are just a few of the legendary designers who came to prominence during the 1920s, the decade’s sense of style is routinely lumped together with the name of Coco Chanel. In 1921, the Parisian designer was well regarded enough that she could launch a perfume that bore her name and lucky number.

The scent proved immensely popular, but Chanel No. 5 was a sideshow compared to all the little black evening dresses Chanel designed. Chanel’s wool jersey suits were another mainstay. Her jackets were paired with straight skirts, which did away with the petticoats and hoops of the Edwardian and Victorian eras.

Although skirts generally got shorter in the ’20s, hemlines did not stay up for the duration. Before the stock market crash of 1929, skirts had crept up the leg until they almost reached the knee. After the crash, though, hemlines dropped precipitously, as if in sympathy.

Like a lot of 1920s designers, Chanel studded her garments with beads. In fact, the beaded chemise dress is an icon of the decade, thanks in no small part to its acceptance by trendsetters such as Josephine Baker.

Other garments, particularly coats and jackets, were more androgynous in appearance, borrowing freely from the styles of menswear. Typical outer garments ranged from three-quarter-length Russian-style coats, with buttons running in a vertical row below the left shoulder, to colorful tailored jackets that stopped at the knees. Fur at a coat’s collar and hem were popular.

By the 1930s Chanel was designing costumes for Gloria Swanson and other actresses. Meanwhile, the trend toward masculinity from the preceding decade continued until World War II. Many jackets got shorter, resembling tuxedos, while others drew from gaucho and toreador styles...

A new Parisian designer named Elsa Schiaparelli was just one of many who, in the 1930s, produced coats and jackets that were architectural in their structure and cut. Almost more importantly, Schiaparelli pioneered the acceptance of zippers in women’s clothing.

The dominant cut of skirts in the 1930s was long and flowing, with more material at the hem than the waist—the short straight skirt of the 1920s was out. Skirts on suits often featured kick pleats to make it easy to move in the garment and give it life as the wearer walked. Pleasant floral prints on lightweight materials for daywear were a tonic to the austere times, and soothing green was a favorite color for skirts during the decade.

Sweaters from turtlenecks to Vs had been somewhat popular in the 1920s, but the garment really came of age in the 1930s when a group of full-chested Hollywood starlets made the sweater the icon it is today. Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, and Jane Russell were the decade’s most popular “sweater girls.” While the sweaters and silhouettes beneath them are what most of us remember, the photographs of these actresses were frequently shot as advertisements for new, figure-flattering bras.

Finally, swimwear also received a fairly radical makeover in the 1920s and ’30s. At the beginning of the 20th century when men and women went to the beach, splashing about in the surf while covered from head to toe in water-absorbing wool was accurately described as bathing rather than swimming. In the 1920s, though, it became acceptable for men and women alike to show a little bit of skin at the beach or by the pool.

One company to capitalize on this change in social norms was Jantzen, which proclaimed the new free spirit of female swimmers with a diving-girl logo stitched on the outside of their suit’s left thigh. Catalina put its logo, a flying fish, in the same spot. Jantzen and Catalina suits of the 1920s and ’30s, including Jantzen’s Shouldaire, were still made of wool, but there was less material to drag the swimmer down, as the arms, legs, neck, and back were now bare.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Lot Of 25 Vintage 50s 60s Dresses Fit Flare Rockabilly Pin Up Retro Vlv CottonWomens Burberry Double Breasted Short Trench Coat Mac Size Large 14/161900 Rare Innovative Style Sky Blue Beaded On Net Gown Layers Skirt W/velvetVintage 1940's Ocelot Real Fur Coat Jacket Cites Exempt M 10 12 Uk1920 Gorgeous Heavily Embroider Drop Waist Flapper Wedding Or Garden Party DressLot Of 16 Vintage 60s 70s Dresses Psychedelic Disco Groovy Floral Mini MaxiBeautiful Womens Burberry Double Breasted Short Trench Coat Mac Medium 10/12Vtg The Queen 80s Sex Pistols T Shirt Seditionaries Punk Rock The Clash Sz Xl Pretty Vintage Lightweight Indian Gauze Cotton Floral Hippie Boho Festival DressVintage 1930's Flocked Teal Crepe Dress Gown Velvet Bodice1950s Vintage Lee Jeans 341-z Dead Stock Womens Dungarees 30w Nos Selvedge 30x34Mixed Lot 50+ Vintage Slips, Gowns, Lingerie, Silk Rayon Satin Nylon LabelsAntique Vtg Edwardian Dress Titanic La Belle Epoque Evening Gown, Beading, As Is1890s Victorian Silver Skirt Lifter With Finely Chased Fox Head And Rabbit.Real Russian Sable Fur Vtg Bolero Jacket Shawl Cape Wrap Coat. Sobol ZobelRussian Sable Real Fur Vtg Jacket Coat Cape. Couture Sobol Zobel Zibellino. S-m 1830 Cafe Au Lait Cotton Print High Waist Gown W/gigot Sleeves1920's Flapper Dress Crepe Lace Matching Jacket Rhinestones Downton Abbey L/xlVintage Mexican Traditional Embroidered Blouse Colors!Womens Burberry Double Breasted Short Trench Coat Mac Size Xl 18/20Vintage 1820's Satin Evening Spencer/jacket Antique OriginalVintage GirdleVintage Antique 1920s Ivory Beaded Dress Wedding Gown Informal Bridal FlapperVintage Van Raalte Blue Double Nylon Gusset Chiifon Embroidered Panties Brief 7 Vintage 1920s Crepe Flapper Blouson Dress Beaded Rhinestones Wearable Size LVintage 1940's Red Oriental Motif Kamehameha Tiki Pin Up Dress Hawaiian Pake MuuLot Of 11 Vintage 50s 60s Dresses Cocktail Party Shiny Wiggle Rhinestone LaceStunning 1950‘s Ceil Chapman Mocha Cocktail Dress, Princess Ball GownVintage 1930s 30s Big Tropical Hawaiian Flowers Silken Rayon Summer Dress S1930 Luxurious Hollywood Floral Printed Silk Satin Gown Plunging BackBeautiful Antique Art Deco Sequined Flappers Evening Dress- Heavily EmbelishedSexy Vintage Lingerie Satin Nylon Lace Full Sweep Negligee Long Nightgown 2x 3x 1920 Cream Silk Evening Jacket W/black And White Embroidered TrimAntique 1920's Original Lotus Blossom Floral Vintage Ladies Flapper Kimono Robe Vintage Van Raalte "prim Pink" Panty, Tunnel Elastic, Dbl Nylon Gusset, Size 6Exquisite Antique Vintage French 1920s Pure Silk & Lace Nightdress -corset Laced1920 Gold Beaded Flapper Dress W/gold And Black SequinsVintage 1950s Ivory Beaded Dress Wedding Ballgown Shirred Waist Sada Sacks 6-10Vtg Sheer Nylon Lace Satin Lingerie Slip Sweep Pantaloon Robe Nightgown 1x-3x Vintage 1880 Red Cotton Paisley Bustle Pad Antique OriginalGiuliana Teso Lux Real Silver Fox Fur Gilet Vest Bodywarmer Jacket Coat StoleAmazing Vintage 40's Palazzo Pants Romper Dress* Beach Pajamas * Leopard Print1920-30's Beaded Black Silk Chiffon Tabard Dress Sm Vintage Monkey Fur Coat Jacket 1920 - 1940 Sexy Vintage Lingerie Silky Satin Slip Lace Fashion Negligee Long Nightgown 3xAssuit Shawl, Brown Net With Brass AppliquesRetro Mod 70s Vtg Black Metallic Eyelet Crochet 30" Bell Bottom Pant Jumpsuit SVtg 1920s Pure Silk Embroidered Bodice Knee Length Slip Pale Peach Green `Vintage Heavy Beads Sequins Cocktail Jacket Dress --- Never Worn Corset Fitting In The Retail Store 1950 Corsetry Corsetiere Vintage Antique Vintage 50s M/l Sun Summer Cotton Halter Swing Full Party Rockabilly Dress VlvVictorian Taupe Wool Brown Pinstripe Tailored Winter Coat Military Style Jacket Vintage 60's Silver Sequins Cocktail Dress Wool Gene Shelley's Boutique DressAntique Victorian Embroidered & Laced Garden BodiceVtg Blue Shadowline Silky Soft Peignoir Robe Full Sweep Nightgown Gown Set L XlVictorian C. 1880s Tan Worsted Bustle Dress Sm Sassy Vintage Playtex Golden Rubber Long Ll Pantie Girdle W/4 Garters Nos MediumChic Vintage 30s 40s Wwii Era Aqua Rayon Linen Button Puff Quilted Day Dress Nos Nwt 70s Chemin De Fer Buckleback Bell Bottom Jeans 27-37 Tall High WaistVintage Olga Peignoir Set Size Large