Sally, Irene and Mary 1925


In the era of fast fashion, it's easy to feel far removed from the trends of the past. But we have a lot in common with the style priorities of the 1920s, when women began to explore more revealing, androgynous, and comfortable clothing for the first time. Flapper fashion, the most shocking and new style of the time, is what tends to stick out at people when they look back at the roaring 20s. However, flappers weren't commonplace or widely accepted by any means. As iconic as they were, there were a lot of trends beyond beaded fringe embraced by the modernist "New Woman" that we can take inspo from in 2021. 

Looking back on style eras, it's always important to have a sense of perspective about the negative cultural aspects of the time, keeping in mind that we must always prioritize vintage style, and not vintage values. 

Here are my picks for trends from flappers, silent film stars, and everyday women from the 1920s that should return in 2021!

Dropped Waist

Drop waisted dresses were the perfect way to highlight the popular silhouette of the era. During World War I, the Edwardian era's S-shaped and heavily cinched body ideal had gradually become more natural as women were asked to conserve materials commonly used in corsets for the war effort. Alongside the advancement of white women being given the right to vote, corsets were replaced entirely with girdles and brassieres, and the 1920s popularized the straight rectangular "La Garçonne" body type that came along with more liberating undergarments. The comfortable and flattering drop waist dresses of the time softened women's natural curves in a stylishly androgynous way. 

Two Fashionable Ladies in Cloche Hats and Drop Waisted Dresses, 1926

In 2021, since we're spending more time than ever at home, we always welcome ways to feel both comfortable and stylish. Sporting a patterned or textured drop waisted dress with stockings is a great way to feel put together without extra effort. 

Cropped Hair

Another characteristic of the liberated "New Woman" was the ability to shed her long feminine locks in favor of a close-cropped hairstyle made iconic by Josephine Baker. The influence of the Harlem Renaissance on the culture of the 1920s cannot be understated, as black music, literature, and fashion were heavily appropriated by the white artists of the time. Closely cropped styles that suited natural hair quickly became popular universally. If women couldn't cut their hair, they would pin it up to appear shorter. The favored way of styling bobbed hair was in "Marcel Waves" named after hair stylist Marcel Gateau, who used curling tongs to create waves that laid flat on the head. 

Another huge influence on the roaring 20s was the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922. This event created an "Egyptian Revival" where ancient Egyptian patterns and styles became popular in the Western world. Egyptian-inspired blunt bobs with straight bangs were another stylish way to wear the short hair trend. 

Josephine Baker with her iconic short waves sometime in the early 20s

Silent film star Louise Brooks with a blunt bob mid 1920s

Nowadays, a lot of people are going longer between washing their hair to avoid damaging it. Low-maintenance short hairstyles can make styling easy and cute, and bobbed hair is definitely making a comeback. 

Cocoon Coats

Another comfort-centric trend of the 20s was the cocoon coat, an oversized plush-textured fur-lined wrap coat that tapered towards the knees. Cocoon coats were popularized by one of the most iconic designers of the early 20th century, Paul Poiret, who was inspired by the Egyptian Revival styles in his choice of patterns and silhouettes. This design was definitely around pre-1920s, but was embraced by flappers for its comfort and fashionable but shapeless appearance. 

a late 1910s Cocoon Coat

I can definitely see cocoon coats being embraced in 2021 for the same reason that flappers loved them-- they're both comfortable and glamorous. Being wrapped in a cocoon of velvet and silk while on a Zoom call sounds like peak pandemic fashion to me!

Rouged Knees and Bold Blush

As skirts became shorter than ever in the 20s, women were embracing the freedom of showing the most sexy and scandalous body part — their knees! Stockings were still commonplace during the time because of advancements in synthetic materials after the war, but many women desired to show more of their bare legs. This led to the risqué trend of rolling down stockings to just below the knee in place of of using garters, revealing a patch of bare leg that would be revealed while dancing the Charleston. Soon, many women began to apply blush to their knees, sometimes even painting designs on them with makeup, as a flirty way to accentuate the section of skin. This perfectly complemented the 1920s ideal of bold cheek blush as seen on silent film stars. 

Flappers showing some sexy knee-skin

Rolled down stockings and knee paint!

In 2021, I can absolutely see this quirky makeup style coming back as a new way to accessorize. Bold face blush and artistic makeup has been a trend for the last few years, and rouged knees seem fitting for the cottagecore craze that blew up last year!

Refillable Makeup Compacts

In the 20s, the rise of silent films saw actresses applying heavy makeup to create drama and contrast in their on-screen appearance. Flapper women embraced dark, dramatic makeup to add another layer of glamour to their style, while less adventurous women stuck to thinned eyebrows, blush, and lipstick. This normalization and popularization of makeup was the dawn of the cosmetics industry, which began to manufacture refillable metal compacts containing every makeup essential. Makeup compacts were creatively designed, including spaces for blush, powder, and lipstick that could be repurchased and replaced after they ran out. Some compacts even included spaces for cigarettes, beauty tools and a watch, making them a useful investment for the "New Woman." I've heard many stories about flappers carrying their stylish compacts with them and scandalously applying their makeup in public.

Dorothy Gray Ad 1928

In recent years, there seems to be more awareness towards reducing waste and single-use disposable products. The cosmetics industry has exploded in the last hundred years, and most women own far more makeup than they could use before it expires. I think that refillable makeup compacts could make a huge comeback in the zero-waste movement, showing that we can buy stylish high quality cosmetics without creating huge amounts of plastic waste. In addition, refills for compacts are both more cost-effective and versatile than buying entire new palettes. We've seen magnetic build-your-own palettes rise in popularity in recent years, and I'm hoping to see some more creative zero-waste compacts released soon.

We've talked about the good styles of the 1920s, but I think we can leave these things in the past...

Forehead-Covering Hats

Another popular item of the 20s was cloche hats, which were a small and tight type of hat that covered women's foreheads. Somehow, I can't see these returning to the limelight in 2021. Everyday hats have fallen out of fashion for the most part, and the cloche hat seems a little too frumpy for today's tastes.

A group of women in the 1920s, all in cloche hats.

Pencil-Thin Eyebrows

The fashionable eyebrow style of the 20s was plucked thin and drawn on, which couldn't be further from today's tastes. As I mentioned, makeup trends were set almost entirely by silent film stars of the era, whose style was created to be as expressive as possible in black and white. The curved, thin brows were able to capture emotion better than natural shapes. I've seen some people use this style recently for avant-garde makeup, but I think we've primarily learned our lesson from the 90s skinny brow trend, and won't see it coming back any time soon. 

Clara Bow displaying the popular thin brows.

If you need me, I'll be rouging my knees and drowning in my cocoon coat.

Thanks for reading,

-Celina Carra

Sources: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1920-1929/

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