1920s Fashion Liberated Womenswear for the Workplace and Leisure
1920s fashion saw women’s clothing spring to the forefront with designs that dared to eschew the previous generation’s Victorian prudishness and flaunt American women’s road to liberation as they sought and obtained the right to vote during that decade of optimism.
Short skirts and bobbed hair signaled the freedom of women to dress in a manner that allowed them more freedom of movement and ease in dressing. Gone were the corsets and the elaborate hairdos from the previous decade, replaced by flapper dresses and even trousers.
Men, too, embraced the optimism and the move to a more casual lifestyle. They began wearing athletic apparel on the street, as opposed to the formal suits of the previous decade.
Rayon, one of the first synthetic fabrics, made its popular appearance during the era of 1920s fashion, heralding a new era of easy-care fabrics at a lower cost than silks and wools. Ease in manufacture also helped create mass-produced garments that could be purchased off the rack, as opposed to the previous generation’s mostly handmade clothing.
Mix-and-match separates became important ingredients in the wardrobes of both men and women, as ease of dressing and a more casual lifestyle. These wardrobe staples were also an indispensable part of working women’s apparel, as many of them left the drudgery of housework for the high-energy environment of the office as secretaries, nurses, and telephone operators.
As the era progressed, pleated skirts that allowed women to move freely became wardrobe staples of 1920s fashion. Low-waisted dresses that flared at the hips with cloche hats worn over bobbed curls replaced the frilly chapeaux and elaborate buns of previous years.
With women’s increased entry into the workforce, the need for a more practical look became apparent. Flatter bust and hip lines, therefore became stylish, as corsets got tossed into the trash heap in favor of camisoles, bloomers, and knickers. Criticized by reactionaries as “masculine,” the movement was merely one toward a more natural, practical look.
Even though fashion was decidedly more casual, cosmetics became more important. With the silver screen glamorizing heavily made-up female film stars, American women strived to imitate the look. While the previous generation ranted against women wearing makeup as “painted ladies,” implying that the women who wore makeup were lacking in morals, this generation embraced cosmetics such as rouge, powder, and lipstick, paving the way for a burgeoning cosmetic industry to spring up to meet the demand of 1920s fashion.