Fashion and footwear from the 1920s

With the release of the movie ‘The Great Gatsby’ (directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan), I feel like reviewing the fashion and footwear of the 1920s. The movie is an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, a classic and regarded as a Great American Novel. The novel is set in Long Island, New York in 1922, an era known as the Roaring Twenties. The Roaring Twenties was characterized by affluence, jazz music, art-deco architecture and also criminal activity like bootleg alcohol and smuggling. Al Capone was one of the notorious criminals of that time.

In terms of fashion for men in the 1920s, men wore suits, ties and hats. Pinstripe suits with silk ties were very popular during that era. To finish the look, men had handkerchiefs peeking out of the breast pocket of their suits, or wore a boutonnière, which is a flower in the buttonhole of their lapel. Hats that were fashionable for men in the 1920s were straw boaters and fedora or homburg hats. Fedora and homburg hats look similar and are associated with the 1920s gangster look.

The 1920s was a time of more freedom for women. The Roaring Twenties gave rise to flapper culture. Flapper was a term for a young woman in the 1920s who was more liberated than earlier generations and could vote and drive. She wore makeup, had short hair and wore dresses and skirts with shorter hemlines.

The Roaring Twenties was characterized by increased organized criminal activity, and also more freedom for women, like the ability to drive. Note the bare arms and dropped waistline of this flapper-style dress.

The Roaring Twenties was characterized by increased organized criminal activity, and also more freedom for women, like the ability to drive. Note the feathered headband, bare arms and dropped waistline of this flapper-style dress. The man wears a pinstripe suit with silk tie and fedora hat.

Cloche hats that were bell-shaped (cloche is French for bell) and closely fitted the head were popular with 1920s women. It was only possible to wear this type of hat with short hair. Hence, short hairstyles, especially bobs, were in vogue with flappers.

In women’s fashion, flapper dresses were straight and loose with dropped waists. A straight and boyish silhouette was preferred. Flappers did not wear tight corsets of previous generations. Bare arms were common and hemlines were shorter than earlier generations, about knee-length. All this made it easier for flappers to dance. The Charleston was an extremely popular dance in the 1920s and involved swaying arms and kicking up of heels. For 1920s evening wear, flapper dresses had tassels or fringes, especially at the hem, and these would swing when the wearer danced. Flappers smoked, drank and danced. Long cigarette holders are associated with this era. Fabrics with metallic details, beads, lace and sequins were popular in the 1920s, especially for evening wear. Fur was also in. Flappers accessorized with long strands of pears or beaded necklaces. Accessories with feathers like feather boas or feathered headbands were also fashionable. Headbands, turbans and sequin caps were all fashionable in the Roaring Twenties.

An example of 1920s fashion. The woman has a short bob haircut typical of that period. Note also the woman's accessories like feathered headband, feather boa, long strands of pearls and a long stem cigarette holder.

An example of 1920s fashion. The woman has a short bob haircut typical of that period. Note also the woman’s accessories like feathered headband, feather boa, long strands of pearls and a long stem cigarette holder.

In terms of women’s footwear in the 1920s, the characteristics of shoes from that period were a Mary Jane or T-Bar strap with Louis XV heels. The Mary Jane or T-Bar straps were fastened with a button or a buckle. The high heels were not very high, about 2 – 3 inches or 5 – 8cm in height. Shoes from the 1920s had what is known as Louis XV heels. These are thick heels that curve outward at the bottom. They are named after the French King Louis XV. This type of heel was worn during the reign of Louis XV (1715 – 1774), back when men wore high heels.

A pair of gold embossed evening shoes from the mid-1920s. This pair was made in England and feature the buttoned strap and Louise XV heels characteristic of shoes from the 1920s.

A pair of gold embossed evening shoes from the mid-1920s. This pair was made in England and feature the Mary Jane buttoned strap and Louise XV heels characteristic of shoes from the 1920s.

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