When you think of Western fashions in the 1920s, glamorous flapper dresses may come to mind. But there was much more to 1920s clothing than the “Roaring 20s” style of the flappers.
The 1920s brought prosperity and opportunity to many, though not all. More people purchased consumer goods such as automobiles and ready-to-wear clothing. They went on more outings. They wanted everyday wardrobes that were more simple, casual, and practical than the previous decade. Women’s styles changed the most, as they enjoyed newfound freedoms and greater participation in public life.
The simpler styles of the 1920s meant that even those who sewed their own clothes could copy the day’s fashions. Here’s what you may see people wearing in pictures from the 1920s.
What Did Women Wear in the 1920s?
The classic 1920s female silhouette reflected the era’s new sense of freedom. It was loose, straight, and slender, with dropped waists and shorter hemlines.
Women’s Dresses: They Weren’t All Flappers
Everyday dress for most women was a casual cotton housedress, sometimes homemade. Housedresses were loose pullover styles in colorful gingham, plaid, vertical stripes, or solids. The use of aprons and labor-saving appliances at home—and the enlargement of women’s life outside the home—meant that by the end of the 1920s, women were wearing more sophisticated day dresses all day long.
Women donned fancier dresses for special occasions. For warm-weather parties, ladies wore elegant afternoon or tea dresses of sheer, layered fabrics in white or pastel colors. The iconic flapper dress—sleeveless, knee-length, and often beaded, embroidered, or sequined—was a more flamboyant choice for a night on the town, especially for those who lived the lifestyle of the Lost Generation.
Women’s Casual 1920s Clothing for Sports and Leisure
An active lifestyle became more popular for women. A sun-tanned appearance for those with pale skin became more popular. Some women wore sleeveless tennis dresses both on and off the court. Toward the end of the decade, sailor-inspired “middy” style and menswear-inspired button-down blouses were popular. Women wore these with pleated skirts or—more daringly—wide-legged chiffon trousers.
Women’s Hats and Hairstyles
Women wore hats in public. Straw hats with wide brims, trimmed with ribbon and flowers, were popular for outdoor life. Turbans, berets, and Tam O’Shanter hats were also perched confidently on many women’s heads. The close-fitting, narrow-brimmed cloche hat is the most iconic women’s hat of the decade. Cloche hats were often banded with large ribbons or decorated with bows or embroidery.
Women’s hairstyles had to accommodate these tight-fitting hats. In the early 1920s, many women still wore their hair long, but styled it to look short, with curls on the side and the rest in a bun. The decade’s most famous women’s hairstyle was the daring bob cut, with earlobe-length locks styled straight or curly.
What Did Men Wear in the 1920s?
Men’s fashions didn’t change so dramatically. Overall, their dressed-up, buttoned-down look became more casual.
Unless working or playing, men wore suits in public. Slim-fitting “jazz suits” complemented the trim physiques of Great War veterans at the outset of the 1920s. As the decade progressed, suits became looser and wider. British menswear, which set Western trends, was well tailored; the typical lounge suit was wide in the shoulder, with a loose-fitting, double-breasted jacket, matching vest, and high-waisted trousers, worn with a white shirt.
In the United States, suits were generally looser and longer, with flashier ties and stripes in both the shirt and suit fabric. Suit colors were fairly conservative; African American men sometimes wore bolder colors.
The 1920s saw several menswear fads. College students popularized the “Ivy League” look, with a slimmer fit, and longer, single-breasted jacket. Jazz Age culture produced the super-baggy “zoot suit.” Traditional suspenders generally gave way to belts, but some young men preferred flashy suspenders. Toward the end of the decade, mismatched vests were trendy.
Men’s Casual 1920s Clothing and Sportswear
Men appeared more frequently in public in sportswear. The popularity of golf fueled a fad for wearing knickerbockers, longer plus-fours, and wide-legged oxford bag pants. Sweaters and sweater vests, especially in Argyle patterns, became a sporty, casual alternative to wearing a suit jacket. Men sometimes donned white or light-colored flannel suits during the summer.
Men’s Hats and Hairstyles
Men with straight hair often wore it longer on the top and shorter on the sides. Whether slicked straight back or parted on the side, it was often combed into place with a greasy hair product. A variety of hats topped their look. Formal occasions called for bowler hats or similar-looking Homburgs. Banded fedoras were a popular everyday choice; the wide brim could be shaped to the owner’s preference.
What Did Children Wear in the 1920s?
Until toddlerhood, both boys and girls wore white gowns, which shortened to knee-length once they could walk. Young girls’ dress styles included baby doll, drop-waist, and sailor-style dresses. Older girls more closely copied women’s styles, with the straight, drop-waist dress a popular choice. Little boys wore short pants with matching jackets or short overalls and shirts. Older boys’ clothing more closely matched that of men: knickers, long pants, and button-down shirts.