Kait Shaw-Kelly explores her love of twentieth-century fashion in this two part series. She spent a week creating an outfit every day in the style of a particular decade and offers historiographical commentary on each decade. Part I takes us on a journey from the 1920s to the 1950s. Part II will be published next week.
Fashion. It changes relentlessly, no matter how hard we cling to our favourite looks. Whether it is the jump from mom jeans to skinny jeans, or shift dresses to body-con dresses, through the years we’ve experienced many changes in current, desirable trends. While celebrities in the 40s and 50s oozed a certain breed of Hollywood glamour, red lipstick and perfect curls, nowadays we witness an increase in defined makeup, perfect manicures and Instagram-promoted clothing.
However, I am a girl stuck in the wrong decade. Having always preferred a more vintage feel to my clothes, I can only dream of being able to enjoy the flapper trend on a day to day basis or wear the bold, monochrome makeup of the 60s. So, for one week only I decided to indulge this dream and challenge myself. Using only my wardrobe (and one or two cheap charity shop buys) I fashioned myself seven outfits for seven days of pure fashion-history. From the 1920s to the 1980s, I recreated and stylised outfits that I feel encompassed the general mood of these years, letting myself get as creative as possible while keeping my own personal touches and interpretation. One thing I learned? You can never have too much red lipstick. Never.
The 1920s was an age of new modernity and freedom. With the American Dream bursting into full effect, the world experienced a rise in women’s hemlines and a loss in traditional feminine clothing. As dresses became straighter and shorter, Art Deco also began to influence trends. Sequins, ruffles and fur became fashion staples, and women grew less afraid of expressing themselves individually. The infamous ‘flapper bob’ was copied by many women and the sleek drop-style dress of the time was easily made at home, allowing lower class women to blend in with the rich.
To achieve this look, I followed two rules – shapeless, and beautiful accessories. Choosing a dusky pink coloured shift dress, I paired it with a long faux fur scarf and pearls to pull the colours together. With my usually curly hair, I straightened it and clipped it into a false bob, pining the longer layers back and under to create the famous 20s hairstyle. A fun and outrageous look, I can only imagine how confident women used to feel wearing these clothes.
In the 30s, fashion began to slip back into femininity. By 1933, the boyish look of the 1920s was a fleeting memory. Hair became curlier and longer, while dresses emphasised a nipped in waist and skirts became longer at the back. With cotton being used by Chanel, it was suddenly seen as more than just a ‘work’ fabric. With women gradually experiencing more freedom, and thus bigger responsibilities during the day-time, beautiful dresses were kept until the evening – they were long, and often made of metallic lame. Daytime dresses dropped in length to mid calf, and with cheap catalogue clothing becoming popular after the Great Depression, many women enjoyed factory-made clothing such as the ‘hoverette’ – a wrap dress with reversible patterns.
For my outfit, I chose the iconic ‘town’ dress as a basis – simple but beautiful, it featured puffy or detailed sleeves, a longer skirt and a tight belted waist. For hair and makeup, I copied a simple 30s updo and toned down the 20s makeup using more rouge.
The 1940s was similar to the 30s, but skirts and dresses became more A-line in shape. The hourglass-figure came into fashion strongly, and women also began wearing trousers or suits. Being wartime, fabric was restricted heavily meaning dresses ultimately became shorter. Trousers were worn in the factories to prevent flimsy dresses from snagging on machinery, but they soon became part of casual and home clothing – they were also stylised heavily in films and photography. Necklines also became more experimental, and plus-sized clothing became more widely distributed.
For my 40s look, I decided to focus on the acceptance of trousers in fashion, pairing black with black to create a chic look. I used wide-leg, silky trousers with a simple black button up blouse, wearing my hair in victory rolls and smart makeup.
The 50s turned back to femininity after WWII, with designers such as Dior encouraging large skirts and soft shoulders in fashion. Waistlines grew even tighter and smaller, with boned corsets being used to create a ‘wasp waist’ and a more girlish frame. Women were expected to be well-kept and groomed, often co-ordinating colours, patterns, fabrics, hats and accessories into their daily outfits. Dressing well became increasingly linked to status
and respect, with designer fashion boutiques being set up worldwide. Trousers also became more lady-like, with slacks losing their boyish style and capri-pants becoming popular. Cigarette trousers were often worn with a thin leather belt and flat shoes, and were always durable.
For my look, I took inspiration from a famous Audrey Hepburn photograph and created a simple look; Black cigarette trousers and a black low back, roll neck jumper paired with black flat shoes. I recreated a smooth 50s style ponytail, dark filled in eyebrows and red lipstick.
This article will be continued...