Women’s fashion was arguably at its worst at the turn of the 20th century, and thankfully, discussions about the corset being harmful to women’s health began circulating around the early 1900s when corset use was at its highest. Corsets started as a close-fitting sleeveless bodice that soon evolved into an undergarment wrapped around the ribs to compress the torso area. Corsets were known to misalign the spine and squeeze internal organs, often leaving women uncomfortable and out of breath.
This awareness led to a gradual shift in fashion, with women increasingly rejecting the restrictive corset in favor of more comfortable and practical clothing. The early 20th century witnessed the rise of looser and more relaxed styles, such as the “S” curve silhouette and the introduction of the brassiere.
Bathing Suit Dresses
We can only speculate on the challenges of wearing taffeta bathing suits in the 1920s. It must have been a cumbersome experience, trying to navigate in fabric that was not designed for swimming. How they managed to stay afloat and enjoy their time at the beach or pool is truly impressive. Thankfully, fashion has come a long way since then, and swimwear has evolved to be more functional and comfortable.
Modern bathing suits are made from materials specifically engineered for swimming, providing freedom of movement and allowing individuals to fully enjoy their aquatic activities. The progression of fashion reflects a greater understanding of the importance of practicality and comfort in clothing, ensuring that people can fully engage in their chosen activities without unnecessary constraints.
Of all the fashion trends that emerged in the 1920s, the flapper dress remains the most iconic and influential. The term "flapper" was derived from the lively and spirited young women who enthusiastically embraced this new style. The defining characteristic of the flapper dress was its loose and straight silhouette, featuring a drop waist that fell just below the knee. This departure from the traditionally fitted and restrictive garments of the past was revolutionary.
The flapper dress symbolized a departure from the conventional ideals of femininity, introducing a more androgynous look to womenswear. By discarding the frills and corsets of previous eras, women were able to embrace a sense of freedom, comfort, and practicality in their clothing choices. Interestingly, the flapper style was also referred to as "la garçonne," which means "boy" in French, further emphasizing its departure from traditional feminine norms.
Hobble skirts were long and close-fitting skirts that were specifically designed to force women to walk with tiny steps. This fashion trend, prevalent in the early 20th century, exemplified how women were perceived at the time, not as individuals with the agency but as objects to be constrained and controlled. The hobble skirt is credited to Paul Poiret, a French designer known for his innovative approach to fashion.
Poiret rejected the use of petticoats and corsets, opting instead for a sleek and restrictive silhouette. While these skirts may have been visually striking, they severely limited women's mobility and physical freedom. The hobble skirt serves as a stark reminder of the constraints placed upon women in that era and highlights the evolving nature of fashion as a reflection of societal values.
Smoking jackets were an appropriate variant of a standard dinner jacket that peaked in popularity in the 1920s. However, this style took a few decades to fall out of favor. These jackets were essentially glorified bathrobes made of velvety maroon fabric, designed for men to wear while smoking. While they were seen as the ultimate symbol of luxury and sophistication for men, they were also saturated with smoke due to their primary purpose.
Over time, as awareness of the health hazards of smoking grew and societal norms changed, the popularity of smoking jackets declined. Today, they are often seen as relics of a bygone era, representing a time when smoking was more prevalent and socially acceptable.