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Festival re-creates era of excitement and leisure

Kate MacLean, Forest Service exhibits intern

The 1920s saw a release from convention and constraint in the fashion world, as well as in American society at large. Fashions became less formal in the free-spirited years following the end of World War I. The average person could now attain an air of sophistication thanks to improved production methods and more affordable fashion lines. Manufacturers for the first time easily produced clothing that was affordable for working families.

American citizens began to look to Hollywood stars instead of royalty as the bearers of modern style and future trends. Parisian designers, meanwhile, continued to set the mark in women’s fashion. CoCo Chanel’s designs were exceptionally popular among practical American women due to her use of scarves, “simple ensembles”, and inexpensive jewelry. In men’s fashion, it was London that ruled runways. A typical outfit for a well-dressed man now could be flannel trousers or twill pants matched with soft-colored sweaters.

In women’s fashions, cotton and wool were abundant and often used fabrics, while silk was a rare and expensive, yet desirable material. Rayon was developed during the 1920s as an artificial silk and was widely used in undergarments. Women’s dresses of the period were best characterized by an unusual waist and form. In the first few years of the decade, the waistlines sat at the woman’s waist, but were loose and non-fitted. By 1923, the waistline was often at the point between the natural waist and hips. By 1925, “shift dresses” displayed no visible waistline. In the next few years, dresses with straight bodices and collars, knife-pleated skirts and tucks at the end of bodices were popular. The influence of the female liberation movement could be felt in the shortening skirts, discarded corsets, loose-fitting dresses and bobbed hair. Changes in 1928 to knee-length skirts and more fitted dresses set the tone for the elegant fashions of the 1930s.



For women, garments often fastened with buttons, hooks and eyes, buttons or snaps. The zipper, originally known as a “locker”, would not be widely used until the late 1930s. The chemise or camisole replaced the corset, and was paired with bloomers beneath dresses.

The 1920s also saw the emergence of three major women’s fashion magazines: Vogue, The Queen, and Harper’s Bazaar. Although Vogue had been in print since 1892, it as well as the other two received its first mass public exposure during the 1920s. For the first time, everyday women in America could follow countrywide fashion trends.



At the Great Gatsby Festival Fashion Show, which will begin at 3 August 11on the Pope House Porch, such designs as described above will be seen again in a display of vintage clothing provided to fashion show organizers by Deborah Rush. All jean-wearing visitors to the festival should be especially sure to stay for this fine 1920s display of formal dress.


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