Fashions of the 1920s – Paperdolls and More

Several weeks ago at Shakespeare & Co. used bookstore,I found three slim books of paper dolls, each devoted to a decade of fashion – the 1920s, ’30s, and ’50s. Each book was only $3.50 so I snapped them all up. There were part of someone’s private collection, each book has two dolls with 15 costumes per doll. Nothing had been cut out and all the books were in fairly good shape, only a little discoloration on one. Here’s a brief look at the fashions of the 1920s.

Fashions of the 20s.cover

On the cover are fashions (from left) by Worth (1928), Schiaparelli (1928), and Chanel (1928). The outfits inside are essentially illustrations of evening gowns and dresses, frocks, and various ensembles by those designers as well as Beer, Callot, Caret, Cheruit, Drecoll, Lavin, Lelong, Louiseboulanger,  Molyneux, Paguin, Patou, Poiret, Redfern, Rochas, and Vionnet. The designers are all identified by last name in the book.

The introduction notes that this particular era was one of social and political upheaval. For example, in 1920, the 19th Amendment passed and women finally won the right to vote. (However, don’t forget that African Americans were consistently denied the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald published the novel The Great Gatsby in 1925. The story takes place in 1922. I read it in high school (and it’s still in print) but I confess I don’t recall much of the story line anymore  And I’m not a big fan of the director Baz Luhrman so I don’t have any urge to see the movie, The Great Gatsby, except on cable. And if I see it on cable, it’ll just be for the costumes and hats. 😉

The ’20s was the Jazz Age and the era of the flapper – a woman with bobbed hair who wore a loose-fitting knee-length dress that revealed her arms and she (gasp!) openly wore makeup.

Louiseboulanger evening dress, Chanel suit
Louiseboulanger evening gown and wrap (1925), Chanel coat and dress ensemble (1926)

The fashions of the time reflected these tremendous political and cultural changes. Women’s clothing was less restrictive. They cut their hair. Hemlines went up. You can find a succinct summary of this era on this page “Fashions in the 1920s,” from a website devoted to the A & L Tirocchi Dressmakers Project in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ll quote a couple of sentences here:

The straight-line chemise topped by the close-fitting cloche hat became the uniform of the day. Women “bobbed,” or cut, their hair short to fit under the popular hats, a radical move in the beginning, but standard by the end of the decade.

Coco Chanel was one of the fashion of this era. The artist and designer Erte is also emblematic of this period. You can see some of his work on the website (don’t forget to view his alphabet collection.) I really loved his work in college and bought a print of one of his fashion illustrations of a lady in silver. Among his many talents, Erte worked as a fashion illustrator as well as a costume and set designer for the stage and screen.

I love the design details on 1920s clothes – beautiful necklines and drape as well as lovely Art Deco elements. Plus I’ve always been a big fan of the cloche hat, a popular style back then and still worn by plenty of women today. I love the way it frames the face. The red suit by Chanel (at right) features a cloche hat.

The evening gown on the left is by Louiseboulanger (yes, she spelled it that way, as one word). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a fabulous fashion collection, has some of this French designer’s work. The Met also has photos of her creations in their collection online. Check out this link to view the five pieces in their collection. Be sure to look at the suit from 1932. There are several photos, including multiple views of the skirt, blouse, and jacket.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t fine much about her online but here’s a very brief blurb on Louiseboulanger on the website of the Museum at FIT, which has two of her designs, an evening dress and an ensemble.

Here are a few more images from the paperdoll book. If you want to see some fascinating photos and fashion plates, check out Victoriana Magazine‘s page: 1920s Fashion. What do you think of fashions of the ’20s?

The dolls - the one on the left is wearing a corset and the other, a swimsuite
The dolls – the one on the left is wearing a corset by Rente (1924) and the other, a swimsuit by Tom Tye (1924)


Vionnet and Caret
Summer frock by Vionnet (1923) and an evening gown by Caret (1923)

















Evening gown by Beer (1920) and "Palm Beach" outfit by Worth (1921)
Evening gown by Beer (1920) and “Palm Beach” outfit by Worth






Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

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