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    

Fabulous Original 1930s Bias Cut Lace Evening Dress With Bolero - Uk 10 / 12Original 1930s Black Satin Couture Evening Dress With Cape Bolero - Uk 8 / 101930's Pink And Green Three Piece Lingerie Set! True Vintage! So Deco! Rare!Museum Quality 1930's Blue Cotton Day Dress! True Vintage! So Deco!Vintage 1920s 20s Silk Crepe Floral Print Drop Waist Flapper Dress Art Deco 30sVintage 1930's Great Print Dress 36-28-44 Navy And YellowMuseum Quality 1930's Print Cotton Day Dress! True Vintage! So Deco!Vtg.1920's Art Deco Era Flapper Wedding Dress Ensemble, W/ Orig. Veil & UndersRare Antique 1930s 40s Farm House Shabby Chic Lace Work Summer Dress Vintage Silk Dress - 1920's Embroidered ChemiseSuperb 30s Horsehide Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket Medium1920's Stifel Polka Dot Workwear Indigo Shirt Repro K&th Engineer Vtg Japan1930s Jazz Dance Women's College Print Beach PajamasAnt. Vintage 1920's 30's Wax Flowers Wedding Headpiece Band & Double VeilEthereal 1920s Flapper Exquisite Downton Abbey Tiered Fine Ornate Wedding DressAdorable 1930s 40s Farm House Shabby Chic Summer Dress Vtg.1920's Bathing Suit, Wool Jersey Knit, Art Deco Era Flapper W/ OverskirtVintage 1930s Crimson Silk Crush Velvet Trio Dress Bolero Cloche Hat Look! Rare!Vintage 1930's Print Apron Dress, Cotton Feedsack Floral Fabric Lilac PinaforeAntique French Beaded 1920's Flapper Dress PinkVintage 1930's Silk Blue Velvet Trim And Black Rayon Dress 36-28-38 Super SweetVtg 1920s Stockings Silk Rasaine Rare Ankle Design SeamedAntique Vintage 1930s 40s Women's Blouse Antique Flapper 1920's Beaded DressWorn Vintage 1930s 1940s Horsehide Leather Motorcycle Brown Jacket Vest True Vintage 1920s Silk Broadcloth Deco Patterned Kimono And Pants Lounge Set MRare Antique 1930s 40s Grey Long Sleeve Elaborate Dress Branded By Petti Vintage 1920s Lace & Silk Gray Xs Dress1920's Rayon Flapper Dress,hand Embroidery,harlequin Hem1930's Vintage Ladies Dress ~ivory Color Crepe Button Front~everglade ImportedRare 1920s Rhinestone Flapper Dress Silk Chiffon As-isVintage 1930s Rust Day DressAntique Vintage 1920's Orange Blossoms Flower Bridal Headpiece1910's 20's Suit Coat Smoking Jacket Wool Union Clothing Co Frog Closure1930s Wwi Wwii Leather Horsehide Mortorcycle Flight Jacket Heavy Brown Vintage1930s 1940s Horsehide Leather Motorcycle Brown Jacket Vintage Original Size 461930s Ladies Shoes By SimsVintage 1930's Bias-cut Gown With Matching Shawl Sexy!!!Vintage 1930s 1940s Lounging Pajamas Set, Ivory Wide Leg Pants, Mandarin JacketVintage 1920s Silk & Chiffon Large Flapper Dress Vtg 1930's 40's Black Crepe Long Drop Waist Evening Gown Dress W/fringeVintage 1920s Or 30s Peach Chemise Button Crotch Size 34 Excellent Condition Vintage 1920s 20s Fur Collar Wool Flapper Suit Art Deco 30s Seal BrownVintage 30s Umbrella Printed Black Crepe Dress Peter Pan Collar Red Velvet 3/4 S1920s Tassel Dress Deco Great Gatsby Vintage Sequin Cocktail Party Ball Gown 8Vtg 1920's 30's Ivory Silky Wedding Gown Dress As Is For Study Or FabricEdwardian Art Deco 1920s Vintage Navy Blue Black Blazer Jacket Original Wool XsVintage (1920s?) Deep Purple Velvet Dress W/sequins-m/l1920s Long Tassel Dress Deco Gatsby Vintage Sequin Cocktail Party Ball Gown 7#16202: 1920's Black Velvet & Lace Dinner DressVintage 1920's Whitewwhite Dress,100% Cotton,nurse ?Vintage 1930's Style Glamorous Nightgown 156'' Hem Sweep Sz Sm Cinadre LingerieVtg 70s 80s 90s Green Lace Hippie Wedding Party Maxi Flapper 20s Festival DressBeautiful Vintage 1930s Dress Halloween Costume Small Extra SmallVtg 30's Yum Yum Pink Tap Pants Pantie 2 Bralettes Brasier Gastby StyleSheer, Floral Flapper Dress. 1920's, Vintage, Women's Size L!30s Elegant Black Wool Rhinestone Embellishment Classic Swing CoatRare Original 1930s Deco Lace Evening Dress / Boudoir Gown - Uk 8, 10, 12Vtg Victorian Edwardian 20's Camisole Ivory Crochet Lace Summer Blouse Crop Top Designer For David Howard Karen Okado Climax 20's-40's Vintage Black Dress 7/8