So Buffalo Gal, do you have a favorite era in vintage clothing?
Not really—I love it all! Every bit of every history. But I suppose each person gravitates slightly toward one era or another. In my youth, my boyish figure and girlish charms were suited for the 1920s. I do so admire the line and design of that era, in particular, the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. Perhaps this is because I grew up gazing upon my beauty queen Grandmother who, at all of 4’11”, frequently wore bias-cut gowns to flatter her figure. Or maybe it’s that I grew up in an area with so many building designed by Martin and Wright. The Larkin Company Administration Building, now demolished, was overly simplistic in design. It was Modernism at its best. This part of the country is famous for its artistic talents. Just outside of Buffalo, New York, were the Roycrofters, a handicraft community founded by Elbert Hubbard. The simple, long lines of the architecture and arts coming out of this locale run parallel with women’s fashion.
I grew up hearing family tales from the prohibition era, of baby carriages filled with booze, carted back and forth from neighborhood to neighborhood. My relatives were always dancing and dining at the Statler Hotel. I listened to stories of my father’s mother, playing the piano in show houses featuring silent screen movies. All this seemed so very romantic and elegant to me.
When people think of the 1920s, they tend to think immediately of flappers. However, the 1920s were rich with many fashion movements. These include what we now call the Gatsby Era, Arts and Crafts, Bohemian Artist, Asian, Egyptian, Sportswear, and the Modern Art Deco Movement. Many of these styles are still worn in today’s fashions. Surrealism also supported fashion in the early 1920s. Modern art cubism and art deco influenced the designs of the mid to late 1920s. The Boxed Silhouette is easily related to Picasso’s cubism work, as is the direction in many Art Deco buildings. The 1920s set the stage for what we refer to as contemporary fashion.
Some 1920s drop waist garments are not for the pear-shaped, very short of stature gals, or those with, let’s say “lots to love.” However, the low-waisted dresses with fullness at the hemline allowed women to kick up their heels in dances crazes like the Charleston! Still, there was not one definitive waist line in the Roaring 20s. Some of the Bohemian styles had an empire waist and belting that could fall wherever one chose.
The below-the-knee length still remains my favorite dress or skirt length. I’ve never heard man nor woman say “Hey, she’s got a great looking pair of knees!” Knees look funny to me, kind of like camel legs. Tunic-tops and sweaters reaching to the hips were popular too. All of these cuts and draping work fabulously to create one long line.
Changes were also seen in textiles and fabrics… Ahhh silk, luxurious silk, was too expensive for most. Thus in the late 19th century, artificial silk was first made from a solution of cellulose. This fabric would later be known as rayon.
With this new fabric readily available, designers began to work with it more. The invention of the bias cut by Madeleine Vionnet changed the look of fashion draping forever. Yes, the 1920s rayon bias-cut dress seems to still be a shape that suits all frames, especially a slim and shorter frame such as mine. To me, anything that can give the illusion of height is key. Nothing is more exquisite than the human body, and the simple elegance of this draping allows the body’s beauty to come through the clothing. I’ve always believed that the person should wear the clothing and not the other way around. There is something in this style that reminds me of the Roman Age…a statue of Diana or Venus de Milo draped in fabric, all gathered into diagonal lines, elegant and timeless.
The freedom of movement was very important to women in the 1920s. Since my childhood, Isadora Duncan has been an idol of mine. The freedom of dance and the beginnings of modern dance were inspiring. When I was young I saw a film of Isadora Duncan where she’s frolicking across the garden, dancing with the movement of scarves. For one of my first dance recitals, I— like many first recital girls—danced with too many scarves, hoping to recreate the magic of Ms. Duncan.
Women in the 1920s adored and adorned themselves with beautiful scarves. So, ingeniously, did designers weave scarves into the construction of garments? They certainly did. Weaving a scarf through the button hole of a jacket was common in that era. Now it seems such clever details elude designers. Dare I mention Ms. Duncan scarf tragedy? Fashion Lesson Number 93: Never wear a long scarf when traveling on an apparatus with spinning spokes!
Countless times I’ve heard women say they love scarves but do not know what to do with them. A few tips and some inspiration will show you how to use scarves in unique ways, but I’ll save that for another blog. Check back soon!