The beginning of the 20th Century was a very important period in woman’s history. The 1920s was the decade where women really proved they were equal to men, having their own independence and financially supporting themselves. I decided as I will be teaching a 1920’s ‘Flapper’ Dress course, that it would be appropriate to write about the ‘Roaring Twenties’!
At the beginning of the 20th Century the “S” shaped Corset was in fashion and it created a Pigeon type shape, where the breasts were enhanced and rounded with the waist pulled in very tight. Due to the style of the “S” shape, the corset would push so much on the spine it would force the wearer to push their behind out. It was one of the most awkward Corsets that had ever been designed. The hobble skirt had also been introduced in 1910 which made it even harder to move. The perfect example of this silhouette and style is of Camille Clifford as shown in the image above.
The fashion of the Edwardian era was very elegant and British tailoring was at its best. Art Nouveau was influencing fashion using pastel colours and extreme curves. However the suffragette movement in Britain was well in full swing before the start of World War 1. The British suffragettes were led by Emmeline Pankhurst, who stood for equal rights for women. With the outbreak of the Great World War, men were fighting on the front line and women were required to work in the factories to help with the war effort and as a result required more practical clothing. Women started to prove that they could work as hard as men. This created a great sense of independence for woman and for the first time in history women were setting their own goals, wearing more masculine clothing, earning their own money and were becoming more self confident. This change effected all levels of society and of course, it attracted a lot of criticism from men but also anxious opinions from women of the older generations, who were against the new radical change to women’s behaviour, labelling it as “unfeminine” and “unattractive”. Thanks to the women’s contribution in the 1st World War, Women in Britian finally gained the right to vote in 1918, but women could only vote over the age of 30, this was a massive achievement for the women’s movement. German suffragettes also achieved this in Germany the same year as Britain, however other European countries took quite some time to give the vote to women, for example in France, it was only achieved after the end of the 2nd World War.Women wanted to gain the same rights as men, more freedom, better education and business opportunities so they could be independent and support themselves. As there was a shortage of men after the war, women could finally rely on themselves and not worry about marriage and depend on a man to support them. There was also a demand for a more open, sexual liberation, where as before the topic of sex had been a taboo. Now women were openly talking about their sexual needs and desires. The role of a woman had completely changed and this change was reflected in the fashion, as the fashion then was about an expression of liberation. Around 1910, a French designer named Paul Poiret was designing elegant but basic clothes for the modern woman, with looser dresses that hung from the body, enabeling the wearer to move more freely and with light fabrics now in fashion, such as chiffon, this made it possible.
Other designers were not far behind him such as Gabriella (Coco) Chanel. The 1920s fashion scene was mostly female designers, who understood what women wanted in terms of fashion. Chanel created simple, practical clothes that would fit more perfectly to the active lifestyles women were now leading. The fabrics popular at this time were soft jerseys and chiffons. Chanel’s designs were simple and easy to copy, less material and therefore more affordable and offered a more social equality for all. Trade mark designs of Chanel include ‘Chanel Suit’ and ‘The Little Black Dress’. The black dress was a simple design and could be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. This idea of simplicity would be something that would benefit women in the next decade as at the end of the 20’s, the stock markets crashed in October 1929, also known as ‘Black Tuesday’ and the ‘Great Depression’ hits the western world severely, so being able to sew your own simple clothes would be something that would come in handy. Simple dresses were more practical and more economical. However other fashion designers still worked with expensive materials when making similar designs for special occasions, using beads and sequins to still keep an obvious mark between the social classes of upper and lower. The term flapper came into popular use to describe the women known for their fashion and liberated life styles.
Corsets were still around in the 20’s but not very popular. From the 1900s onwards, whalebone, which had been used previously to sculpt the corset was not being replaced by new materials. Such as coated steal bones and suspender attachments were also a fequent edition to the corset. However the 20th century modern women required more freedom and this paved the way for less restrictive garments, however undergarments were still required to create the boyish ideal shape of the time. Some support was still required for women who did have a fuller chest and hips. Developments in elasticated fabrics and Nylon were to create an overwhelming change to women’s fashion, both outer and underwear.
The modern fashion trends also had a great effect on the new silent film industry, theatre, literature and art. Black Kohl rimmed eye make up and dark red lips were the fashion. The dark, over the top make up was used in silent cinema to create a more dramatic effect that was needed to make the facial features stand out more.
Towards the end of the decade a new look was starting to emerge, more sophisticated and modern. Femininity was once again becoming more desirable and fashion was to make another change but the battle for equality for women had only just begun!
Which leads me to my ‘Flapper’ dress course. I have focused for a very long time on Corsets and I thought it would be a nice change to teach another important part of historical fashion. The 1920s was an extreamly important era that I find very interesting. The fashion was simple and very different from the extravagant elegance of Victorian and Edwardian periods. The course I will teach is a day workshop, starting at 10am running till 3pm on Saturday 17th September at the new Linkle Nähinstitute. There will be a small history lesson about the era, learning about the style and the dress patterns of the period. There is a maximum of 8 places per workshop and each student will learn how to construct their own flapper fringe dress which would be perfect to wear to Boheme Sauvage parties! The course costs 60€ and includes finging and zip, a selection of teas and home made cakes. The fabric, the students must bring themselves but I can give more information about this via email. For more information on the course please check here: http://www.corsets-in-berlin.com/workshops/