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The 1920s – Society and Style Across Sizes

Model: Steff Benton/Bye Bye Bailey
Photography: Griffin Photography
Make-Up: Stacey Cremin Make-Up Studio
Hair: Ellie Hawksworth/Elligant Hair
Location: The Alverton Hotel, Truro
Dress and headband: Gatsbylady

 Words by Steff Benton

Ain’t Misbehavin’ when I say that the 1920s was arguably the era that launched a thousand styles. Effortlessly elegant, simple and stunning fashion; it is still relevant today. If you think of glitz, glamour and Great Gatsby, you have just a very small snippet of what the decade was all about.

Much like the 1950s, this is an era post-war and a culture wishing to break past social barriers. A great many young men had died in World War I, leaving a great many more young women behind. After the generation before them, who traditionally waited to be asked for their hand by potential suitors, these women decided they were not going to waste their lives waiting for marriage or spinsterhood, so set out to enjoy their lives instead, breaking away from the old, traditional values that had defined the generations preceding. There was great economic growth – and thus more disposable income – so ladies could go out, dance and have fun.
There was a revolution. Women over the age of 21 were given the right to vote in 1928. This, plus the desire for independence defined the women of this age as game changers. For the first time, women had much more educational and career opportunities. When you add to this the first affordable car, the Ford Model T in 1923, you can see how much this was an era for change.
For the first time, women ditched close fitting and waist-emphasising styles in favour of a much looser style and said goodbye to the wasp waist. It was certainly an advantage for a woman of the 1920s to have a naturally slim and boyish figure, but the shape could otherwise be achieved on a fuller figure by using shaping undergarments to flatten the bottom, hips and chest, if one desired.

While there was much emphasis on the androgynous silhouette, this decade did, however, go a long way to acknowledging within the clothing industry that ladies come in all shapes and sizes and can be fashionably dressed. For example, long and straight dresses would be worn and go some way to concealing build, and deep V backs would elongate the body. For the fuller figure of this decade, fabrics were quiet and sensible, but generally across the board, the aim was to challenge ideas of feminine beauty by reducing the curves synonymous with it.
Perhaps the most iconic image that comes to mind for the 1920s is the Flapper.

The Flappers were most often young women, defined by a desire to be different and to rebel against societal norms. Unlike their older counterparts, this was a group of women who openly enjoyed smoking, drinking, dancing and living life in the fast lane. Jazz music became very popular, which is also how this era got dubbed “The Jazz Era”.

Flappers’ dresses were loose and comfortable to allow ease of movement for dancing and dances such as the Charleston were considered much too wild. To distance themselves from the long locks of the Gibson Girls of the late 19th and early 20th century, Flapper hair was often cut off to a bob, sometimes to an even shorter style called the “Eton” cut; the look then finished off with a cloche hat or a fascinator.
The make-up shifted too. Previously, make-up had been associated with loose women but the flappers used it to create dramatic looks, accentuating the eyes and creating the classic Cupid’s bow lip. Rouge, lipstick and eyeliner became staples for a Flapper girl.

The Flapper silhouette was unmistakeable. Again, much like typical 1920s fashion, the look was androgynous and slender, but also very angular, inspired by Cubist artists such as Picasso, whose art was geometric with hard lines.
Despite the Jazz Era being almost 100 years ago, much of the style is still very wearable today. These are clothes made for comfort and loose fit as well as style, and complement a modern lifestyle nicely. There has been a massive shift, however, in dressing the fuller figure. Where the 1920s stayed away from dressing a shapely figure in anything too bright, sparkly and shiny, the opposite can be said for the present day. In a stark contrast to almost 100 years ago, you will find across all styles that women of all shapes and sizes wear vintage and reproduction clothing; not per past conventions but because we wish to make a statement about who we are as a person.
Sometimes, we may follow rules on what is flattering on us but increasingly we are wearing what we want regardless, because it makes us feel good.

We were all drawn to the vintage style because something about it makes us feel empowered. In a certain way, that makes us not so different to the Flappers.
The dresses of the 20s make a beautiful departure from the norm for an evening or occasion dress – or even for a beautiful, blushing bride!
Could we be set for a 20s revival, as 2020 is just around the corner? If anyone wants me, I’ll be swishing around in my sequinned Flapper dress, warming up my Charleston ready for it!

Lisa Harrison

Lisa Harrison

Lisa is the Deputy Editor of Vintage Life Magazine and Publisher at Dragoon Publishing. She is avid bookworm, collector of vintage homeware, loves travel, lazy weekends away and eats way too much cake!