Mens and womens fashion in the 1920s

Mens and womens fashion in the 1920s

There are key eras of the 20th Century whose fashions we look back on and romanticise, the Roaring Twenties is undeniably one of them. The social changes and restrictions of the era gave birth to a new type of woman, the flapper, and the fashions she wore. We’re ever fascinated with the romantic notion of that woman.

But while 2012 fashion doesn’t mark an explosion of flapper revivalism, it is the perfect time to indulge in some of the eras elements.

Read on to find out what the current revival of the era’s fashion entails, along with a description of the styles that were popular last time the 20s were popular. And don’t forget that to subscribe to’s newsletter or RSS feed if you’d like to keep up to date with all of the latest fashion trends and inspiration on how to wear them.

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As you’ll see in our points on flapper dresses below, the 1920s fashion revival of 2007 and 2008 was short lived. The fault for that, however, lay with the over-production of its styles by fast fashion stores. However, fashion is again at a point where popular culture has been drawing on the era for inspiration and, as such, it lingers on the fashion trend radar.

Most notable has been the popularity of Boardwalk Empire, and the anticipation around Baz Lurhmann’s upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Since the latter has been pushed back in release, it’s likely that 2013 will see another spike in all things Jazz Age once the film hits cinemas.

But all this begs the question as to what guise 1920s fashion is taking in 2012 and on to 2013? With so many Twenties styles having been so recently reinterpreted, what’s styles are there that can feel both fresh and on trend?

ralph lauren flapper dress
Ralph Lauren, F/W ’12

Here’s the best thing about 1920s fashion as a revival, as seen through the eyes of fall 2012’s fashion trends: it’s subtle. If you have a mental picture that entails a fringed dress, feather boa, bobbed haircut and cigarette holder, forget it entirely. Unless you’re going to a costume party, that’s not what this is about.

Instead, what we saw on the runways, was a range of elements of 1920s fashion, subtly worked through collections in modern ways.

1920s fashion: flapper dresses

While most collections steered clear of the cliche flapper dress, it wasn’t gone entirely. The thing for fall though, is not to wear it as described above. A beaded or fringed drop-waist dress can easily be modernised by your shoes and accessories.

Issa London presented one of the most obvious interpretations, though elsewhere – such as at Ralph Lauren and Jil Sander – the simple satin chemise sufficed as a modern update on 20s flapper dressing.

flapper dresses
Flapper dresses at Issa, F/W ’12

1920s-style coats

Here’s the real winner for fall/winter 2012: the 1920s inspired coat cut. Not only is this a more practical way to indulge in a revival of the era, it’s also the freshest. Imagine outerwear in the 1920s and you’ll imagine something that swathes or sheaths rather than hugs the wearer. Oversized coats in shapeless or cocoon cuts, soft and luxurious, the kind that can be wrapped around the torso or left wide and open.

Jil Sander’s takes on these sat somewhere between the opulence of the 1920s and the refined elegance of the 1950s, but either way they felt decidedly modern at the same time. Daks presented some floor-length versions, and Max Mara’s cream coloured take was slim cut enough to hint at the era without copying it too closely.

20s style cocoon coats
Oversized coats at Max Mara and Jil Sander, F/W ’12

For other types of 20s inspired outerwear, channel the Jazz Age fascination with all things exotic and look out for oriental embroidery and kimono cut evening jackets. Velvets and brocades, rich and embellished, were also big in the day for evening outerwear, whether in coats with oversized sleeves or in cloaks and capes. Fur trims on oversized, wrap-around coats are also an instant nod to the Twenties.

For a visual representation of the mood, look to Erte’s illustrations of women wearing swaddled cloaks of operatic proportions.

1920s fashion: masculine suiting

For one other way to pay homage to the 1920s without heading down the beaded dress route, take inspiration from either menswear of the day, or the androgynous styling of the 20s women who channeled it.

With Coco Chanel and Marlene Dietrich as muses, relaxed suiting in luxurious fabrics is ideal for night time or occasions, while during the day a more casual mens suit never goes astray.

If you want to channel the prohibition era gangster scene add some suspenders or a newsboy cap.

masculine 20s fashion
Masculine 20s-inspired fashion at Ralph Lauren and Max Mara, F/W ’12

1920s film noir

Tending towards the flapper in its femininity though with styling that offers up a far darker and more of mysterious edge, elements of film noir and its origins are one possible interpretation of 2012’s 1920s fashion revival. Follow the link to our Film Noir and fashion article to see how the style is shaping up.

1920s hairstyle

The revival of 20s fashion is one for both men and women, yet the cuts of clothing associated with 20s menswear are no longer modern enough for most guys. That’s why of all the fashions seen in the likes of Boardwalk Empire, it’s the 20s / 30s slicked back undercut that has had the most impact. Follow the link to find out the options, how to have it cut and how to style it.

The most recent first full blown revival of 1920s fashion saw flapper dresses become one of the defining women’s clothing trends of 2008. The revival of flapper fashion began a year earlier, however, when then-trend setter Kate Moss was spotted at the Glastonbury music festival wearing a bolero that had all the hallmarks of the flapper girl. Suddenly, we all wanted a piece of Roaring 20s cool and, while the fashion industry had long been experimenting with fashion revivals, the fast fashion industry was quick to cater. As were the luxury fashion houses. So everywhere you looked flapper dresses and flapper-influenced pieces could be seen.

flapper dresses

Each of them offered up the loose-fitting dresses with embellishments such fringing and beading that the 1920’s fashion is romanticised for. But it couldn’t last as a trend. Too many fast fashion retailers and fashion houses were producing flapper dresses, and it wasn’t always easy to tell them apart. So it was that a fashion that had originally lasted for most of the 1920s lasted little more than a year in the 2000s. Which is why the piece we reference above about a 20s fashion revival highlights the fact that another 1920s fashion comeback might not see a full blown return of the flapper dress but a return of its elements and details instead.

Flapper dress styling inspiration

Though the Roaring Twenties is often thought of alongside parties, dancing and glamour, the sporty aspect was not forgotten when 1920s fashion return to the fore in 2008. With Coco Chanel originally popularising tanned skin, the 1920s flapper girl was fit, healthy and sporty. In many ways, The Great Gatsby‘s Jordan Baker epitomised this Jazz Age fashion trend – if you haven’t read the book or seen the film imagine golfing girls with golden skin and long shorts, or 1920s style tennis-chic.

1920s sports fashion

If you’re looking at including elements of the Roaring 20s in your own perfect wardrobe then these are the names and the details you should be keeping in mind.

The icons and influencers of 1920s fashion and the Jazz Age in general:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
  • Louise Brooks and Clara Bow
  • Coco Chanel
  • Jazz

The elements:

  • Beading and fringing
  • Drop-waists
  • Kate Moss for Topshop
  • Short bobs
  • Flapper headbands

Kate Moss in December Vogue; Kate Moss for Topshop beaded flapper dresses and cape; The Great Gatsby; Coco Chanel.

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