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

Printed textile with an allover design of bands with stylised stags, deer and fawns in dark red next to Indian-style foliage. Printed textile with an allover design of bands with stylised stags, deer and fawns in dark red next to Indian-style foliage. TRC 2021.0095

10. Clothing for leisure

As women took on more important roles in the workforce, they began earning more money and obtained more holidays. This social phenomenon, along with a growing interest in fitness and health led to popularising new types of leisure activities. Exercise, enjoying fresh air, and healthy diets were becoming an integral part of women’s lives.

Sportswear thus further integrated into female fashion; tennis dresses were popular and their shape would even influence the way a daily dress would be designed with the addition of the pleated skirt section.

Woman's pyjama set in cream and black with black collar, cuffs and pockets. The Netherlands, 1920s. TRC 2007.0820.Pyjama fashion

An interesting fashion trend we see in the 1920s is the rise of ‘pyjama fashion’. Popularised by Coco Chanel, pyjamas became a great alternative to traditional clothing styles. As women began to express individuality in their fashion choices, their wearing loose trousers and more revealing tops became increasingly popular as beachwear.

Nowadays the thought of trousers being restricted to men may seem unheard of, but many people at the time found this new development shocking.

By wearing trousers and favouring comfortable clothing over restrictive items, women were increasingly blurring the line between traditional gender norms of dress and fashion. Pyjamas were a comfortable and stylish form of coverup for the beach.

This is a trend that, although born in the 1920s, would reach its peak popularity in the 1930s. The example in the exhibition is actually from the beginning of the 1930s, but representative of that development.

Woman's dress in off-white cloth with a machine embroidred design of small sprigs of stylised flowers. The Netherlands, 1920s. TRC 2007.0710.Sportswear

Interestingly enough, sportswear in the 1920s meant clothing to be worn during the day while being active, rather than clothing made to practise sports. Garments made especially to practise sports were a novelty for women at the time. The tennis dress in the exhibition, for example, is a simple white, long length pleated skirt silhouette that resembles many daily dresses of the time.


People tended to go more on holiday at the beach and to the mountains to relax or exercise. Going to the beach where women were swimming alongside men was becoming more common; women’s bathing suits developed further. It was still a new activity and thus some surprising materials and shapes were used to make swimwear.

They could be made out of wool, and men’s swimwear would look like shorts with long straps attached underneath the nipples. The length of shorts and sleeves would vary (USA beaches sometimes even checked on length), but they progressively became more revealing.

Leisure wear from the 1920s. From the exhibition The 1920s from Head to Toe. Photograph by author.While women’s swimwear up to the 1910s had been very modest and composed of long sleeved, long skirt attires with bloomers underneath, in the 1920s it started to become more similar to men’s.

Either one or two pieces, they were often sleeveless and could include shorts. Revealing much of the body was still a new phenomenon and especially in the first part of the decade many beaches tried to police how revealing a bathing suit could be.


Skiing was also a popular form of physical activity in the decade. The first Winter Olympic Games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France.

Women came up with their own made-up winter sports outfits; pairing warm trousers, sweaters, scarves and coats (often belted) and overlaying warm socks/stocking over the trouser legs themselves.

Usually headwear would consist of warm berets or caps. It is interesting to note once again that sports (such as skiing) provided the opportunity for women to go one more step in crossing gender clothing norms by being allowed to wear trousers.

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