Monday, October 20, 2014

Tectonic Shift: The Roaring Twenties and Art Deco Design

We who so love the fashions, jewelry and Art Deco design of the 1920s sometimes forget what it must have been like to live through a period when so much changed so quickly.  Just a decade before hemlines rose to the knee in 1925 many women were confined to the "S" shape corset and to so many layers of restrictive clothing that movement was not easy. The stultifying routines that culture and fashion dictated have left us with a treasure of incredibly intricate, delightful and astonishing array of dresses, robes, coats and under garments of the upper class Edwardian female in aristocratic England, Europe and upper class America, as well as the simpler garments of the middle classes.  As World War I swept away millions of men and the empires of 19th century Europe, it also swept in huge cultural changes for women. Just as with World War II, women moved into the workforce in Europe to fill the vacancies left by so many young men fighting.  The vote for women in America was only a few years away.  The war also led to vast shifts in wealth, as a true middle class took hold in Europe and America --  there was a market for the "costume" jewelry that was designed to accompany the loosely structured, free flowing outfits of the 1920s. Coco Chanel saw this and led the way!  It is said that Chanel even coined the term "costume jewelry" as she designed it to be worn with her outfits.  
Evening Dress Jeanne Hallee 1910-1914

Dress courtesy of

And so a young aristocratic woman who was raised with the strict social and fashion mores of the 1910s found herself with a bob haircut, a loose flowing chemise and very little in the way of undergarments just ten years later!  Her less wealthy sisters could afford to wear the beautiful faux jewelry that was common place by the 1920s.  The bob hair cuts made long dangle earrings a staple of the era. The flat front chemises were embellished with layers of  pearls and other long "flapper" necklaces. Bare arms were covered with rows of bangles.   After the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts from April to October of 1925 in Paris, what we now know as the Art Deco Design era exploded. The exhibition epitomized a "modern" style characterized by a streamlined classicism, geometric and symmetric compositions and a sleek, machine age look. (Wikipedia).  We now recognize these clean designs and wonderful 
geometric patterns in  designs from jewelry to architecture.  

The forces of these movements -- of women gaining some control over their own lives -- and of the spectacular explosion of creativity that followed the 1925 Paris Exhibition -- came to define what we now call "The Roaring Twenties."  The fashions and jewelry of this decade, and even with the Great Depression, the 1930s, are the lovely artifacts of tectonic shifts in Western culture. Sadly, the Art Deco era came to an abrupt end in 1939 when yet another war would again bring about jarring changes to Western culture.  It falls to another article to discuss the changes in fashion that followed the cultural upheavals after the  Second World War.
Set courtesy of

Rhinestone Clip courtesy of

Laubner, Ellie, Fashions of the Roaring '20s (A Schiffer Book for Collectors)
Wikipedia page on the 1925 Paris International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts