The 1920s From Head To Toe Fashion From 100 Years Ago

A long-sleeved dress made out of a black, red and white printed material. The Netherlands, 1920s. A long-sleeved dress made out of a black, red and white printed material. The Netherlands, 1920s. TRC2016.2304

3. Some influences on fashion: From nautical themes to modernity

Many specific styles and influences from world culture and art can be seen in the pieces on show with specific patterns or techniques. With the new feminine ideal of a boyish, slender, modern woman at work, men’s fashion also had a great impact on women’s clothes.

Emulating a men’s suit, a type of pyjama features a collar and cuffs, reminding us of a men’s formal outfit. In the same context, women started wearing their own type of Windsor leather shoes, sometimes with an added heel. Although the cut of clothing might be deemed more “masculine”, transparent fabrics (with adapted underwear) and open backs served as a feminine, sensual touch on some garments.

Small bag covered on both sides with a geometric, Art Deco design of transparent, green, red and yellow glass beads. The Netherlands, early 20th century. TRC 2021.2368Art Deco

Art Deco with its simplified geometric shapes was very present in 1920s architecture, but also made its way into fashion by influencing printed textiles, especially in the latter part of the decade. Examples of this interest in contrasting geometric patterns and colours can be seen in samples of fabric in a black and red, printed polka dot dress, but also in small bags (TRC 2021.2368).

Nautical themes

Anything nautical was popular: little ships, navy blues and white, as well as navy-like collars adorning dresses. This is perhaps due to the beach becoming more and more popular as a destination for leisure as well as by menswear influencing women’s outfits (naval and military uniforms).

A sleeveless, ankle-length, unfitted 1920's dress, made out of a silk fabric with an Oriental pattern (floral; Chinese prosperity symbols) in green, blue, orange and red on an off-white background. The Netherlands, 1920s. TRC 2016.2301.Orientalism

Other trends such as Orientalism (inspiration from Asian and Middle Eastern cultures) were also at work. Inspiration derived from ancient Egypt was particularly promoted by the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. There was also a growing interest in East Asian textiles, such as kimonos and Chinese imperial clothing.

Some Chinese robes and Japanese kimonos were  imported and remade into wearable women’s coats. Early dresses from the period often feature geometric motifs and golden appliques on a dark background emulating Oriental aesthetics, while Asian influences could be seen in silken fabrics featuring Chinese-like flowers or even characters.

High-end fashion

The creations of the famous designers of the decade, such as Coco Chanel, Lanvin, Poiret and Schiaparelli did not only dictate walkway pieces, but inspired more affordable, daily garments as well. Chanel's concept of a little black dress as an essential garment in any woman's wardrobe was developed in the 1920s, even though wearing such a simple black garment had already been a normal for women before. People who could not afford these pieces tried to make them at home.

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