Flappers In Focus

The Economist 1843

BY KASSIA ST CLAIR | SEPTEMBER 28TH 2016

Asked what women wore during the 1920’s, most people would picture the same thing: a drop-waisted dress, low-heeled Mary Jane shoes, a long string of pearls and a headband decorated with a diadem and a curling feather.

Designers were making clothes that reflected profound social and cultural change. The corseted silhouette of Victorian and Edwardian times was already becoming looser before the first world war, as simpler fashions and the drive for women’s suffrage caught on. The war, which forced women to enter the workforce in greater numbers, sped up the revolution: long skirts and trailing sleeves were serious impediments around factory machinery or on the farm.

Once the war was over, many women returned to their old lives, but the spirit of emancipation persisted. Women were gradually gaining political as well as economic power: over-thirties were given the vote in 1919 in Britain, and with fiancés and husbands killed on the battlefields, would-be housewives were forced to become financially independent. Meanwhile, the crumbling of the old social order and the growth in the retail sector meant that women that might once have gone into domestic service became shop girls, living in cities with a disposable income to spend on travelling, make-up, clothes, fashion magazines and cinema tickets.

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