1920s Women’s Fashion: Iconic Style that Changed the World

The 1920s were an era of change and liberation for women; they were finally able to express themselves in a way that was both bold and beautiful. Women’s fashion became an essential part of this movement, with daring and iconic styles that have remained popular even today. From flapper dresses to pleated skirts, this fashion revolution had a profound impact on society and stands as a testament to the power of self-expression and individuality. In this article, we will explore the world of 1920s women’s fashion and discover why it remains such an iconic style that changed the world.

1920s Women's Fashion: Iconic Style that Changed the World
1920s Women’s Fashion: Iconic Style that Changed the World

The Rise of 1920s Women’s Fashion

The 1920s was a time of dramatic social and cultural changes in United States and Europe. It was an era of liberation, as women gained more freedom. With more women entering the workforce and becoming financially independent, there was a shift in the way they dressed and presented themselves. Women’s fashion in the 1920s broke away from the traditional clothing constraints and allowed them to experiment with bolder, more masculine styles.

The Impact of World War I

The devastation of World War I had a significant impact on women’s fashion in the 1920s. During the war, women had to take on new roles in the workforce to support the war effort. This newfound sense of independence led to a change in the way women dressed. It was no longer practical for women to wear long, flowing dress or skirts as they needed to be mobile. Instead, they wore shorter, more practical clothes. At the same time, the war also led to a rise in the availability of new materials and fabrics, as well as the development of new manufacturing techniques. This meant that clothing could be made more quickly and at a lower cost, making fashionable clothes more accessible to all.

The Flapper Movement

The 1920s was also the era of the “Flapper”. The term “Flapper” was used to describe young women who were carefree, independent, and rebellious. They listened to jazz music, drank alcohol, and danced the night away in speakeasies, which were illegal bars that sprang up during Prohibition. This rebellious attitude was reflected in their fashion choices. The Flapper look was all about showing off skin. They wore dresses that were shorter and looser, which allowed them to move freely. They also wore makeup, smoked cigarettes, and bobbed their hair, which was a significant departure from traditional women’s fashion. These changes in fashion were symbolic of a new era and a new way of thinking among women.

The Influence of Art Deco

Art Deco was also a significant influence on women’s fashion in the 1920s. The Art Deco movement was characterized by clean lines, geometric shapes, and bold colors, which were reflected in clothing design. Dresses, coats, and accessories were adorned with sequins, beads, and fringe, which created a sense of glamour and sophistication. Art Deco style also influences the jewelry of the era, with the introduction of geometric shapes and bold colors like emerald and sapphire. All these changes contributed to the iconic style of the era, which still endures today.

The Flapper Look

The 1920s was a decade that marked a significant change in women’s fashion. The flapper look, in particular, was an iconic style that changed the fashion world forever. This subsection delves into the details of the flapper look that defined 1920s women’s fashion.


The flapper look was all about showcasing a woman’s silhouette. Clothing was designed to be loose and comfortable, with a shift dress being the most popular choice. The shift dress was a straight, knee-length dress that hung loosely on the body. It had a low waistline, and the hemline fell just above the knee.

In addition to the shift dress, women also wore loose-fitting blouses, cardigans, and sweaters. These tops were often made of silk or cotton, and they were usually embellished with lace or fringe. Jackets were also popular during this time, and they were usually made of fur or wool.

  • The iconic accessory of the flapper look was the cloche hat. This hat was worn low on the forehead and pulled down over the ears. It was made of wool or felt, and it often had embellishments such as feathers or beads.
  • Women also wore long strands of pearls, which were either real or fake. The pearls were worn long and layered, and they often hung down to the waist.
  • Shoes were usually low-heeled and made of leather. T-strap shoes were especially popular, as they were comfortable to wear and added a touch of elegance to the outfit.


The flapper look was all about embracing a more natural look. In contrast to the heavy makeup of the previous decade, women in the 1920s wore minimal makeup. The focus was on creating a fresh, youthful appearance.

The most popular makeup look was the “smoky eye.” This involved using dark eyeshadow to create a smudged look around the eyes. Women also used mascara to darken and lengthen their eyelashes. Eyebrows were plucked to create a thin, arched look.

For the lips, women used bright red or dark berry-colored lipstick. The lips were usually shaped into a “Cupid’s bow” look, which was achieved by using a lip liner to create a curved and pointed shape.

The flapper look of the 1920s revolutionized the fashion world and inspired many other fashion trends that followed.

The Social Impacts of 1920s Women’s Fashion

The 1920s witnessed a revolution in women’s fashion that profoundly impacted society and culture. The changes in fashion reflected the evolving role of women in society and challenged the traditional gender roles of the time. Women’s fashion in the 1920s was characterized by a new sense of liberation and individual expression, and it became an important marker of women’s social status and political significance. This section explores the social impacts of 1920s women’s fashion on the lives of women, including increased agency, political significance, and breaking down gender barriers.

Increased Agency

Women’s fashion in the 1920s was a reflection of the changing role of women in society. Women were no longer content to be passive observers or followers of fashion. Instead, they wanted to express themselves and assert their individuality. This led to a surge in the popularity of short haircuts, which were seen as a sign of rebellion against the traditional gender roles of the time. Women also began wearing more comfortable and practical clothing, such as trousers and shorter skirts, which enabled them to participate more actively in sports and outdoor activities.

The trend towards more practical and comfortable clothing was also a reflection of the increasing workforce participation of women. With more women entering the workforce, there was a greater need for functional and professional clothing that enabled women to work comfortably and safely.

Political Significance

The fashion choices of women in the 1920s were not purely a matter of personal preference or aesthetics. They were also closely tied to women’s political struggles for equal rights and suffrage. Women’s fashion became an important symbol of political resistance and feminist ideologies. Some women even used fashion as a form of protest, wearing clothing that deliberately challenged traditional gender norms and societal expectations.

The iconic “flapper” style of dress, which featured shorter skirts, lower waistlines, and looser, more flowing clothing, was a particularly powerful symbol of women’s liberation and defiance. This style of dress challenged traditional notions of femininity and conventional dress codes, and it became a rallying point for women fighting for their rights.

Breaking Down Gender Barriers

Women’s fashion in the 1920s also played an important role in breaking down gender barriers. The new, more practical styles of clothing enabled women to participate more fully in society and to interact with men on more equal terms. Women’s fashion helped to erode the traditional gender boundaries that had long kept women in a subordinate position.

Another important aspect of the 1920s fashion revolution was its impact on the fashion industry itself. With the rise of ready-to-wear clothing and mass production techniques, fashion became more accessible and affordable to a wider range of consumers. This democratization of fashion helped to break down class barriers and opened up new opportunities for women in the fashion industry.

Artistic and Cultural Influences

The 1920s was a time of great change, and nowhere was this more evident than in women’s fashion. The artistic and cultural influences of the time had a significant impact on the clothing women wore, from the cut and style of their dresses to the accessories they chose to wear. Here are some of the key influences that shaped women’s fashion in the 1920s:

Art Deco

One of the most significant influences on fashion in the 1920s was the Art Deco movement. Art Deco was characterized by bold geometric shapes and patterns, and this aesthetic was reflected in the clothing of the time. Dresses were often cut in simple shapes to showcase the bold patterns and prints that were popular at the time, such as zigzags and chevrons. Accessories such as earrings and necklaces also featured geometric shapes, adding to the overall Art Deco aesthetic.

  • Examples of Art Deco-inspired dresses included those with dropped waists and straight, loose-fitting silhouettes.
  • Accessories such as cloche hats and long beads were also popular during the Art Deco period.

The Modernist Movement

The Modernist movement was another significant influence on fashion in the 1920s. This movement emphasized simplicity and functionality, and this was reflected in the clothing of the time. Women’s clothing became less constricting, with shorter hemlines and looser silhouettes becoming more prevalent. The Modernist movement also had a significant impact on women’s sportswear, which became increasingly popular during this time.

  1. One of the most iconic examples of the Modernist influence on women’s fashion was the flapper dress. This dress was defined by its loose, straight silhouette and shorter hemline, and it quickly became a symbol of the era.
  2. Other examples of Modernist-inspired clothing included simple blouses, skirts, and trousers, all of which were designed to be comfortable and functional.

The Ballet Russes

The Ballet Russes was a prominent ballet company that toured Europe and America during the early 20th century. The company’s performances were known for their elaborate costumes and sets, and these designs had a significant impact on women’s fashion in the 1920s. The Ballet Russes inspired designers to experiment with new textures and fabrics, such as silk and velvet, and to incorporate more dramatic elements into their designs.

Some of the most iconic examples of Ballet Russes-inspired fashion included:
– Dresses with dramatic sleeves and flowing skirts
– Shawls and capes made of luxurious fabrics
– Embellished accessories such as turbans and bracelets

The artistic and cultural influences that shaped women’s fashion in the 1920s were vast and varied. From the bold geometric patterns of Art Deco to the simple functionality of the Modernist movement, these influences combined to create a style that was both iconic and revolutionary.

More Than Just Trends: Sustainability and Ethics

Women’s fashion of the 1920s not only symbolized the liberation of women but also raised concerns about sustainability and ethics. Here are the major issues related to 1920s women’s fashion:

Fur Usage

The 1920s marked an era where fur coats became a popular trend. Women, especially those from high social classes, flaunted their fur coats as a sign of luxury and status. However, the production of fur is a highly controversial matter. Animals are kept in captivity and go through inhumane treatment before they are eventually killed for their pelts. Moreover, the chemical treatment involved in the processing and dyeing of fur has severe environmental impacts. Those who are conscious of these issues opt for cruelty-free faux fur instead.

Labor Conditions

The rise of mass production techniques in the 1920s brought about the need for cheap labor. Women, including children, were forced to work in factories with minimum wages and appalling working conditions. The fashion industry was not exempt from this reality, and many women worked excessively long hours under harsh conditions to produce the latest trends.

  • The fashion industry was one of the first industries to employ women in large numbers.


The mass production of clothing during the 1920s contributed to the birth of consumerism. Companies created catchy advertising campaigns and fast fashion to encourage people to consume more and more. This led to the normalization of discarding perfectly good clothes that were no longer in style, which created a negative impact on the environment.

Influential fashion designer Coco Chanel was one of the pioneers of the concept of “less is more.” She encouraged women to adopt a more practical and minimalistic approach to their clothing choices.

Legacy and Pop Culture References

The 1920s were a time of excitement and change, not just in fashion but in many aspects of life. The era’s new styles and trends were a reflection of the shifting social norms and the newfound confidence of women, who were starting to gain more independence and freedom.

The Enduring Popularity of 1920s Fashion

Today, nearly a century later, the fashion of the 1920s still resonates with people. The era’s styles were bold, daring, and modern, and they continue to inspire contemporary designers and fashion trends. The flapper dress, with its drop waist, fringed skirt, and sparkling embellishments, is one of the most iconic examples of 1920s fashion, and it continues to be popular as a Halloween costume, a vintage-inspired wedding dress, or just a fun party outfit.

  • The Great Gatsby: Perhaps the most famous example of 1920s fashion in popular culture is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby. The story is set in 1922, and the film adaptations of the book (including the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and the 2013 version directed by Baz Luhrmann) are known for their elaborate and opulent costumes, which perfectly capture the glamour and excess of the Jazz Age.
  • Downton Abbey: Another popular TV series that showcases the fashion of the 1920s is Downton Abbey. Set in England shortly after World War I, the show features a mix of upper-class and working-class characters, each with their own distinctive style. The women’s fashions in particular are beautifully detailed, with intricate beading, lace, and embroidery.

Inspiration for Modern Designers

The influence of 1920s fashion can also be seen in the work of contemporary designers. They often borrow elements of the era’s styles, such as the dropped waistline, the use of geometric shapes and bold prints, and the incorporation of metallics and sparkles. Many designers have embraced the androgynous silhouette that was popular in the 1920s, with boxy jackets, wide-leg pants, and oversized hats.

“The fashions of the 1920s were so incredibly modern and daring for their time,” says fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank. “They were liberating for women, and they had a lasting impact on the way we dress.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions Answers
What were some popular hairstyles in the 1920s? Short bobs, shingled hairstyles, and finger waves were popular hairstyles in the 1920s.
What were some iconic fashion trends of the 1920s? Flapper dresses, cloche hats, and stockings with seams were popular fashion trends during the 1920s.
Why did the fashion of the 1920s change? The fashion of the 1920s changed due to various factors such as the end of World War I, the rise of the flapper culture, and the introduction of new materials such as rayon and nylon.
What were some common fashion accessories in the 1920s? Long beaded necklaces, headbands, and cigarette holders were common fashion accessories in the 1920s.
Who were some fashion icons of the 1920s? Some fashion icons of the 1920s include Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker, and Louise Brooks.
How did 1920s fashion influence modern fashion? 1920s fashion influenced modern fashion in various ways such as popularizing shorter hemlines, loose-fitting clothing, and the use of comfortable and practical fabrics.

Thank You for Exploring 1920s Women’s Fashion!

Thank you for taking the time to read about the iconic fashion of the 1920s. The flapper style revolutionized fashion and paved the way for modern clothing. From flapper dresses to finger waves, the fashion trends of the 1920s are timeless and continue to inspire designers today. We hope you enjoyed reading about this transformative era and invite you to come back again for more fascinating insights on women’s fashion throughout history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *