Finery in Fashion
The formal wear norms of respectable middle-class dress did not change much in early 20th century fashion. Men and women were required to dress appropriately in the morning, afternoon, and evening. They also had several costumes, each suited for a distinct action, such as strolling, riding, or driving.
Chiffon and Lace
Fashionable upper class women wore rustling chiffon and lace to project a soft, feminine image. Evening gowns had low necklines, but skirts were lengthy and voluminous to hide an undesirable glimpse of the ankle or leg.
Around the middle of the 1920s, clothes started to have less decoration. Use of two or more shades of the same colour or fine tucking, shirring, pleating, founcing, etc., added interest. Patterned chiffon became popular in the late 1920s, and chiffon coats won over afternoon dresses. Fur collars and cuffs were added to coats made of Kolinsky, moleskin, musquash, squirrel, etc. In 1922, monkey fur was used as a trim. In the early 1920s, fox fur was in style, and people wore it as a hood or on the collar of their coats. Costume jewellery, like long drop earrings, shoulder pins, ropes of beads, a slave bangle worn on the upper arm, etc., softened the look of shaved heads and chemise-topped dresses. (Waugh, 2013)
Women wore layers of complex undergarments and heavily boned corsets beneath their light chiffons to sculpt their bodies. To shape a woman’s figure into the famous feminine silhouette known as the “S-bend,” a tightly laced corset shoved out the bottom, pulled in the waist, and pushed out the breast.
Women in New Zealand and three American states gained voting rights in the 1890s. Suffragettes pushed for the right to vote extended to all women in the early 1900s. With newfound political independence came newfound freedom of fashion for women. Corsets were gradually phased out in favour of unboned stays, and by 1910, a straighter, less curvy design was in style. Léon Bakst (1866-1924) developed exotic oriental-style costumes for the Russian ballet, which profoundly impacted these more loose designs. When it premiered in Paris in 1909, the ballet created a stir.
Because wartime work necessitated utilitarian attire, women in the early 1900s could wear pants for the first time. For farm work, jodhpurs was suitable, and for some industry occupations, women wore boiler suits. Working women’s new experiences forever transformed attitudes toward women’s clothes.
Bow Tie and Day Dresses
In men’s formal wear, the bow tie became a popular accessory during the early 1900s. It added a touch of elegance to men’s suits and was often worn for formal evening occasions. Meanwhile, day dresses for women encompassed a wide range of styles, from simple and tailored designs to more elaborate ensembles with intricate details and embellishments.
Piece Suit and Lounge Suit
The piece suit, consisting of a matching jacket and skirt or trousers, became a fashionable choice for women in the early 20th century. It offered a practical yet stylish alternative to dresses and allowed for more flexibility in movement. On the other hand, the lounge suit remained a staple in men’s fashion, representing a less formal option for daytime or informal occasions.
Homburg Hat and 1900s Fashion
The homburg hat became a fashionable accessory for men during the 1900s. This hat featured a distinctive crease along the crown and a rolled brim, adding a touch of sophistication to men’s outfits. Alongside the homburg hat, other accessories such as gloves, canes, and pocket squares played a significant role in completing the well-dressed gentleman’s attire. Overall, the fashion of the 1900s encompassed a diverse range of styles, reflecting the evolving societal norms and the desire for elegance and practicality.
Gaff, J. (2000). 20th Century Design: 1900-20: The birth of modernism. Gareth Stevens Publ.
Waugh, N. (2013). The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930. United States: Taylor & Francis.
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