The era of the 1920s has become a cultural phenomenon with the movie re-make release of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and TV shows like HBO’S Boardwalk Empire. Our culture has become fascinated with the time period of the Roaring 20s, hosting our own parties to mimic the “speakeasies” of the time period. The era’s ideas have even trickled down to the college party scene, with fraternities hosting “The Great Fratsby,” requiring guests to dress to the nines in their faux-pearls and leather suspenders. With this new cultural craze, I decided to investigate some of the elements that went into creating the 1920s “look.”
Taking a look at this painting by Albert Janesch, we can notice his obvious realistic take on a simple vase of wilting flowers and a tea cup. However, looking closer, we can also notice the irregular softness of the piece. The tips of the flowers and the edges of the vase and tea cup appear smudged and undefined.
Looking at these two pieces by Louis Icart, we are able to see the same types of undefined edges in the Janesch piece and an overall softer look to the paintings. The women’s bodies are elongated and have a flow that allows them to look as though they are seeping into the background of the picture, but still maintain a boldness. Like the Janesch painting, the backgrounds are subtle, but overall help to emphasize the main focus of the pieces, which in this case are the women dressed in white flouncy dresses.
In all three paintings, you are able to sense the feeling of romanticism—the soft fallen petals, the elongated dresses that flow off the women’s bodies, even the natural pastel colors.
Now taking a look at the fashion of the 1920s, romanticism remains consistent.
Every dress, whether it be for an everyday look or for evening wear, has a simple fit; one that sits straight on the body without accenting any curves. The women of the time strived to look plain and simple, “boyish” almost. But looking further into the history of the time period, we find that the public romanticized this look as it became acceptable for women to wear shorter skirts and show more skin. The women in these four pictures share a measure of simplicity to us that was considered bold at the time. They wear plain, long dresses, accented with a single string of pearls and strappy, short heels. These mundane and simple characteristics were heightened by the sexual revolution of the 20s; a time where women were told to showcase a masculine look while maintaining a heightened sex appeal. Through the supporting elements of color and brush technique, the paintings shown above also share this concept of "powerful simplicity."
The 1920s was also an era of elegance matched with the romantic simplicity. The colors were as light and delicate as were the dresses they wore. And within the undefined lines of the paintings and subtle curves of the fashion, a defined feminine look was born.
Now let’s take a look at how we can make this style applicable to today. To start off, here is Vogue's recent shoot of Carey Mulligan for their May 2013 issue.
Notice how each dress helps to elongate her body, while still accenting her feminine curves. Her head dresses are also very 1920s-esque with feathers and large beaded broaches. And the most striking look of the shoot has to be the picture of her in the pink dress made almost entirely out of pearls.
Vogue has touched upon the high-fashion approach to modernizing the 1920s style, but let’s look at how we can obtain the essence of the 20s in our daily wardrobe.
In this look from Anthropologie, a cocktail dress is transformed to give off a 1920s feel by taking away a waistline. The dress is a shimmering nude pink color, exemplifying the romantic and girly nature of the 1920s flapper.
Taking a look beyond dresses, we can see that incorporating the same pastel color scheme in all of your major clothing pieces can bring back the 20s look. To maintain the masculinity, try a light pink blazer or nude dress pants. And to keep yourself warm in the up coming winter months, try an adorable cloche hat.
And don’t forget, 1920s looks may already be in your closet! For easy ways to bring back the 20s, a simple nude shirt or long polka dot skirt works perfectly. Also, try cigarette pants or oxfords; all in light colors of course.
By understanding everything that went into making the 1920's the era that it was, we are now able to understand its idea of “romanticized masculinity” and "powerful simplicity." And incorporating this idea into your fashion today can be as easy as a pastel blouse paired with a string of pearls. Gatsby lovers rejoice!