Because your grandmother probably was! And it’s time to embrace her attitude and style!
The women (and fashions) of the 1920s were exciting, daring and avant-garde! They pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable. They demanded equality and they embraced a new and sexier style. And if ever an era sums up the essence and values of the haute couture styles of the Anderson Club, it has to be the women and fashions of that memorable decade.
And I don’t necessarily mean the frills, fringes and frivolity for which the period is famed. Although I love all of those things.
I mean the female experience that was going on behind the scenes during an epic decade of change and cultural liberation. A new era which really started in or before 1918. And which meant that by the 1930s, society for women was a very different place.
Pioneering women pushing the boundaries – sound familiar?
By the early 1920s women were empowered and enjoying new freedoms, confidence and wealth.
WWI had begun the emancipation of women, allowing many to work for the first time. More importantly, the work and often the clothes worn to work, meant women could embrace styles that hitherto had been seen as inherently masculine domains. For example, trousers (which really hadn’t been worn by women much or at all before WWI), were soon to become a 1920s fashion trend.
A bold new era of women’s fashion
By 1918, women over 30 in the UK had the vote at last.
Women were also starting to smoke, drive and even fly for the first time. And that meant they needed to wear practical clothing, much like the newly created jumpsuit, created for “jumping out” of planes and hot air balloons. In fact, it’s some of those daring, early heroines that were part of the inspiration behind our own jumpsuit collection.
Actresses and creatives started to talk about sexual experiences in a way that would have been shocking and beyond belief even just a few years earlier. And whilst the unbelievable horrors and hardships of the Great War were still fresh in most minds, at the beginning of the 1920s, there was a period of brief economic prosperity and a subsequent change in the national mood.
A hedonistic explosion
The result was that the 1920s was a hugely creative period. Perhaps best known for the Art Deco movement, this creativity extended to all the details of 1920s fashion too, from dresses to footwear and even hosiery.
It’s no surprise then, that the result of this collision of cultural changes and creativity was a hedonistic and giddy period. It was a time of bright young things, jazz bars, cocktails, increased sexual freedom and flamboyant, haute couture fashion styles.
The straight lines and Art Deco feel of 1920s fashion
During the course of the decade, hemlines gradually got shorter – from 1920, when they were still just above the ankle, through to the end of the decade when they’d risen to just below the knee.
Styles also got simpler and more masculine, reflecting the straight lines of the Art Deco movement.
In 1925, the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris highlighted new, modern and linear styles in architecture and interior design. Inevitably, this influenced the fashions of the day. Stripes and Art Deco style blocks of colour emerged in day and sportswear, but also in the cuts and patterns of elaborate evening dresses.
Slick, elegant new styles for women
By the 1920s women had been liberated from the constrictions of the corset which meant that the busty, plumped up cleavage was a thing of the past. Emphasis was now on a slimmer figure. Waistlines gradually dropped from just under the bust at the end of the war, to the hips and below by the middle of the decade.
Hats too had shrunk from large, extravagant affairs to the cloche hat! The bob haircut started appearing, at first with side curls for a softer appearance but by the mid-1920s, there was a trend towards an altogether more boyish look and figure.
The one-piece swimsuit was embraced even if it looks little like today’s swimwear, and sport very much became infused into the styles of the day.
The enduring influence of Coco Chanel’s little black dress
In 1926, Coco Chanel launched her little black dress. A day dress at first, it was simple, flattering but chic. And it wasn’t long before it had evolved into an evening dress and an iconic fashion item was born.
The little black dress can also be largely credited with re-introducing black as a popular and acceptable colour to wear. And Chanel’s simple idea remains the inspiration behind so many dresses that have been designed since. You can certainly see it’s influence in our own haute couture little red dress and collection.
Coco Chanel continued to be a major fashion influencer popularising trousers, and the concept of comfortable, easy to wear clothes and her name remains synonymous with glamorous but elegant style.
1920s Fashion that was fun, feminine and empowered
But what sings to me most about this period is that although women were clearly, if not consciously, experimenting with how they expressed themselves through clothing and style, the dress fashions remained inherently feminine, sexy and had a huge sense of fun.
You can’t think about 1920s fashion without thinking about fringed flapper dresses. Dresses with sequins, extravagant beading or pearl work, feathers and fur, bejewelled headbands, hair pieces and turbans.
And the emphasis was on exposing the flesh…the legs, the back and the shoulders! Daring but dainty.
Chiffons, velvets and taffeta with prints that echoed the orientalism of the early part of the century were popular. New fabrics were soft to wear and allowed freedom of movement for the new and lively dances. Some women even began to wear tuxedos as well!
The beginning of chic
Designer Madeleine Vionnet is largely credited with introducing or at least popularising the bias cut – which allowed the fabric to drape, hang and fold in a new and sensual way.
The tabard style dress was also typical of the era with elaborate side panels and a revealing low cut back.
Costume jewellery became fashionable, with long strings of pearls and beads as well as chokers and extravagant cigarette holders. Feather boas and flamboyance were de rigueur! And long elaborate shawls hung from a seductively bear arm and shoulder were a must.
The rise of Hollywood and the silver screen introduced a new feeling of glamour and helped popularise many of the fashions. While more affordable make up helped to recreate “the look”: cupid lips, kohled eyes and pink cheeks.
What a complex combination of straight lines and boyish looks with sexy attire and freedom!
Still culturally important today
The styles of that decade remain flattering, feminine, easy to wear and hugely influential.
Many of the iconic images we see of 1920s fashion and dresses are unbelievably daring when put in context. Some of the fabrics were almost see through with only elaborate sequin patterns protecting the wearer’s modesty!
It could be a conversation today
The statements and personal expressions behind the dress fashions of the 1920s still feel very relevant to 21st-century debates about whether women should embrace looking and feeling sexy. Can we be feminine and sexy and still be a force to be reckoned with in the boardroom?
It seems to me what fashions were saying back then was: I am sexy, I am empowered, and free to wear what I want and to celebrate all that is physical and sensual about me. And I am also man’s equal.
And right now, that’s never felt more relevant or more in tune with the vision and inspiration behind the haute couture Anderson Club collections or today’s feminist debate.
It’s time to make some new rules about women’s fashion
Your clothes should reflect who you are. And that isn’t really possible in a little black suit.
So are you ready to stand out from the crowd and be unmistakably you? Are you ready to salute the women and fashions of the 1920s? Break from women’s wear traditions and set your own fashion boundaries that reflect all that is unique about you?
The Anderson Club collection is all about you – what makes you strong, sexy, empowered and feminine. What makes you different.
It’s time to be daring.