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

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [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    

Vintage 1920s Dress Lot - Slightly Damaged1920 Dazzling Metallic Silver Lace Flapper Dress W/silver Beading/lame & ChiffonStunning 1920s Vintage Embroidered Rosette Drop Waist Lace Flapper Dress1930 Lavish Warp Dye Gold Lame Silk Strappy High Style Party Dress1920 Plum Color Fluffy Ostrich Cape W/chiffon LiningAntique Original Edwardian To 1920s Silk Lace & Beads Vintage Handkerchief Dress1920 Intense Purple/hotpink Chiffon Flapper Dress W/metallic Lace & Roses1920 Shades Of Happy Pink Chiffon Ruffled Flapper Dress With Beading1930 Golden Silk Slipper Satin Bias Cut Evening GownVintage 1920s Chemise Antique Dress Embroidered Net Matching Slip Gorgeous!#1045, 1930's Brocade Evening Gown Bias CutAntique 1920's Teal Silk Chiffon Flapper Long Gown Night Lingerie Dress Vintage Stein & Blaine Gown 1930's For Study Or Salvage Custom MadeAntique Black 1920's Flapper Cape Coat Art Deco Era Vintage Clothing Velvet Vintage 30s Silk Geometric Skyscraper Design Art Deco Flapper Dress 40" Bust#1047, 1930's Printed Taffeta Evening GownRare 20s Vintage Irish Lace Silk Bows Study Flapper Gatsby Mall Downtown Dress SVtg Depression Era Sheer Navy Blue Polka Dot Day Dress- No ReserveArt Deco Handmade Embroidered Kitchen Apron Linen SewingAntique Edwardian To 1920's Size 38 Vtg Sheer Lawn Or Voile Long Sleeve BlouseVintage 1920's Champagne Charmeuse Silk Party Dress, Ruffled Handkerchief HemVtg 1930's Delicate Tatted Crocheted Bodice Top For Nightgown Super Condition!Flapper Dress Antique Party Gown Victorian Vintage Wedding Gown Dress Art Deco Vintage 20s 1920s Dress Gown Or Robe Lingerie Baby Blue Silk Lace Pocket No BeltEmbroidered Piano Shawl W/ Long Fringe - IndiaVtg 1930's Black Taffeta Bias Cut Evening Glam Gown Dress LargerVtg 1930's Yellow Dropwaist Embroidered Dress Tagged Novia Handmade Size 36Vintage 1930's Corset Garters Back Lacing Stays Boned Style 237 Size 34 Peach #1046, 1930's Gold Metallic Lace Evening Gown Over Black NettingVtg 40s Sexy Knit Dress Secretary Pin-up Crochet Collar Cuffs Hot Pink S 36Antique Vintage Slovak Womens Peasant Folk Costume Kroj Apron Hand EmbroideryArt Deco Silk Taffeta Chemise SlipVintage 20s 30s Flapper Dress Burn Out VelvetVint 1920s Drop Waist Flapper Dress Fab Lace Bib Collar Huge Flower Needs RepairAntique 1920's Flapper Black Netting W/ Sequins Overlay Collar Vintage 20s - 30s Silk Boudoir Slippers Ribbons Roses Size 4 Trinity Worth StyleVtg 1920s Pink Purple Silk Crepe Drop Waist Dress Flapper Era Great GatsbyVintage Red Flapper DressVintage/antique Pure Silk Black Chantilly Lace Skirt FlounceAntique Jantzen Royal Blue Wool One Piece Mens Bathing Suit Nra 311 Us Size 40Vintage Antique Flapper DressVintage Pink/orange Color "radelle" Rayon/satin Underware1920-30's Brown Silk Velvet Flapper Dress Lg Vtg 1930's Full Length Cotton Lawn Nightgown W/delicate Embroidery Spots "as Is"Vintage 1930's-40's Brown Polka Dot Day Bow Dress Xl Beaded Unique Vintage Flapper Dress1920's Antique Neiman Marcus Peau De Soie Silk Lingerie Tap PantsVintage Silk Wedding Dress Gown 1930s Ivory Gatsby-era Opera Stage Play CostumeAntique Victorian Edwardian Bra Top Camisole BrassiAntique Hand Sewn Cotton Dress For Fabric Cutters Bisque Doll ClothesVintage 20s Middy Sailor Shirt Top Jc Penney L Xl Athletic White Cotton B40Womens True Vintage Black Flapper Dress June Fox Frocks Black Roaring 20s Jazz