Real 1920s women’s fashion, Part 1

I actually wanted to title this, “Real 1920s women’s fashion versus bad Halloween costumes that pop up in search engines when you type in ‘1920s dresses'”, but that would have been too long; this isn’t The Daily Mail, after all.

Go ahead, search it. Bet what came up were photos of short, form fitting dresses with tons of fringe. Probably something like this:

Cue “wrong” buzzer sound

Sadly, the above is what many of us have in our minds when we think “1920s woman”, when the reality was this:

What Jay Gatsby’s party guests would have actually worn.

Many of us have a pretty accurate idea of what people wore in other decades of the 20th century… so why do we get 1920s women’s fashion so wrong? Where did our image of this decade’s female form take that turn from elegant, loose-fitting, sequined, below-the knee frocks to tight mini-dresses covered in fringe, with the wearers (Halloween party guests, no doubt) holding fake cigarette holders?

The answer is, quite simply, mid-20th century movies taking place in the 1920s that got the fashion really wrong. Exhibits A and B:

The Great Gatsby (1949)
Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (1959)

To be fair, pretty much all old movies that took place in earlier times were truly awful about being authentic to the fashion and style of that time; the actors always looked contemporary to whenever the movie was made — Marilyn screams “1950s” in the above still. She wears bullet bras in this movie, for Pete’s sake, when the 1920s signature look was a boyish, boxy figure with no boobs. But this was Marilyn, biggest sex symbol of the 20th century, so… boobs.

Bottom line: if you’re looking for an authentic 1920s women’s getup, forget Party City costumes and go for longer, straight-cut dresses without the ubiquitous fringe (yes, dresses did sometimes have fringe, but usually just a couple of inches on the hem). Here are a couple of photos of real 1920s women in evening wear:

We’ll talk about shoes and makeup another time.

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