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

Pouch decorated with a Japanese style design of stylised flowers on a mid-blue ground. Pouch decorated with a Japanese style design of stylised flowers on a mid-blue ground. TRC 2016.2172

6. Accessories galore

For women in the 1920s, jewellery was prominent, including brooches and long strings of pearls or beads. Hair was worn bobbed (not always cut short but tied in a chignon at the back and waved), and sometimes cut close to the head (especially in the latter part of the decade).

Gloves and a hat were must-have accessories for any day-look. The shape of the hat evolved from those with a wide brim, at the start of the 1920’s, into the iconic cloche hat in the latter part. It had a small brim and framed the entire head like a helmet.

Pair of leather shoes with a woven geometric pattern of diamonds and triangles. The Netherlands, 1920s. TRC 2012.0440a-b.In terms of footwear, leather lace-up, heeled boots and booties were still commonly worn. However, higher heeled pumps were also  present. The heels were curved slightly and quite wide. These pumps were made of leather or fabric and could feature geometric or Art Deco designs, T-straps and even stylish details such as lacing without a purpose.

As general fashion was becoming more and more influenced by men’s wear and an ideal of boyish, practical femininity flourished, shoe styles also evolved. Inspired by men’s Windsor style shoes, women’s shoes started to feature cut leather and laced-up fronts.

Shoes designed for evening wear were typically higher, with a pointed or almond toe shape. They could be made of suede, leather, or fabric, and often featured cut-outs to reveal more of the foot. Elaborate cut-outs or decorative patterns would make them into an integral accessory for evening wear.

Woman's matching set of pyjamas composed of a sleeveless, button down top and wide legged trousers. The Netherlands, 1920s. TRC 2007.0964.Nightwear

Pyjamas were of particular interest to women in the 1920s. They were of course used to sleep comfortably, but this was the start of women wearing ensembles of a top and trousers to bed, like men did. Sleeping robes and dresses had been more the norm for women before the 1920s.

Not only were these pyjamas seen as an indoor item to sleep in, but they also became a daily outfit to be worn outside. Made out of silk, cotton or other materials, these pyjamas made a statement and reflected on similar influences as their daily counterpart pieces. See for example the bright colours and geometric patterns of the TRC 2007.0964 remind us of the Art Deco influences of the time. Similarly, the cuffs and neckline on TRC 2007.0820 are reminiscent of men's wear, and the buttons are in a Chinese style, showing the wide influence Asia had on fashion at the time.

Pair of knickers in pale blue silk. Eastern Europe, 1920s-1930s (TRC 2021.0141).Underwear

The 1900s and 1910s emphasised a curvy, S-like body shape achieved by a layering of multiple underlayers; chemises, bloomers, petticoats, waist corsets, etc. However, with a change in clothing lines and a preferred body type as being slender and more rectangular, underwear changed as well. But emphasising femininity, lingerie was made more and more out of satin, crepe de chine and new artificial Rayon (favoured for its price, availability, breathable nature and pastel dyed colours).

Underwear was becoming simpler as the dresses themselves also simplified. Rectangular slips were a common underlayer between sheer dresses and underwear to flatten lines and avoid revealing the body under sheer clothing material.

White cotton bandeau bra with shoulder straps. Slovenia, 1920s. TRC 2021.0482.Corsets, while still in use especially by older women, were designed to flatten hips and thighs rather than the waist. These low corsets (or more accurately, girdles), were worn on top of slips and often had garter belts to fasten stockings. Thus, a woman’s body could be flattened into the desirable and fashionable boyish figure.

Brassieres and bras, and simple bands of rectangular fabrics with two shoulder straps (not really featuring breast cups or boning yet), lightly decorated and paired with culottes or silk shorts, were also becoming more and more popular as new types of undergarments.

Nightdress case with flap made from a fine cotton. The Netherlands, 1920s. TRC 2018.0306.Sleepwear pouches

Under the underwear on show are little colourful bags (TRC 2016.2172, TRC 2016.2175 and TRC 2021.1721). These are lingerie or nightdress pouches used to contain such delicate items when travelling or to disguise them from unwanted viewing. They were either in plain cotton or in an exotic, Asian silken material.


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