1920s. The decade that started with a roar and ended with a crash. The roar following the end of the Great War, helped by a rise in economic prosperity and freedoms this brought. Henry Ford’s mass-produced car increased affluent young people’s mobility. Mass media; the movies, radio and amateur's cameras helped the fashionable elements of the jazz culture spread: The crash, of course, was the Wall Street Crash.
Women’s greater freedom, born of necessity during the war and recognised in the granting of suffrage, continued and grew in the new more progressive society – although by many their behaviour was considered just plain scandalous! The US government (maybe as unsuccessfully as its Prohibition Laws) tried to legislate to stop this – arresting women on beaches in the new ‘immodest’ knitted swimsuits, regulating the length of women’s skirts … but fashion is fashion and young women were not going to give in.
Young women eschewed restrictive corsets for more fluid lines of dreamily elegant dresses cut on the bias, a mode introduced by French couturiere, Madeleine Vionnet.
“When a woman smiles, a dress must smile with her.” Madeleine Vionnet
The decade was also known as The Jazz Age – a title credited to F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’. The ‘wildness’ of the new Jazz music created a soundtrack to the decade and brought with it the infamous Charleston dance and it’s even more scandalous companion, the Black Bottom!
Daisy Buchanan's (Carey Mulligan) dazzling dress in the 2013 Baz Luhrmann film of The Great Gatsby
Dancing the Charleston required clothing which allowed movement; this came with style and panache in Coco Channel’s creation of shockingly short ankle freeing hemlines and loosened waists for women. Her dresses, and those of fellow designers, were incredibly beautiful and lavishly embellished. A lady's shoes, like her dresses, were extravagantly decorated, a favourite was the Mary-Jane style, these were dancing shoes - and with hair cut into a short bob and an oh so elegant head band - the empowered ‘Flapper’ was born!
Energetic, extravagant and emancipated! We have a lot to thank them for!