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Thirty Years of Women's Fashion: 1900s - 1930s

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I look at today's fashion and see how it's all inspired by vintage fashion. The character & uniqueness of old-age chic. That's what I love!


When we talk about fashion design of the early 20th century, we must not forget the fact that what we know as fashion today really emerged around the middle of the 19th century, at a time when the horizons of the fashion industry broadened, because of the new mobility and emerging independent lifestyle many wealthy women.

In the mid-19th century, Charles Frederick Worth was considered as the pioneer of haute couture fashion. He was the first known couturier to open a fashion house The House of Worth, in 1858. This was just around the time that women's yearnings for more practical, yet stylish clothes were becoming evident. His boutique's popularity grew such that it was dominated by Parisian haute couture all through the second half of the 19th-century.

Prior to that period, dressmakers and tailors were the ones who inspired style, making fashionable and elaborately sewn garments that were majorly worn by the elite and ladies at the royal courts. Gradually, women began to seek practical clothes for their new-found lifestyle, and as their demand for such grew from the end of the century to the beginning of the 20th-century, fashion houses began to emerge.

The emergence of a few couture houses further stimulated the public's appetite for sensible but fashionable clothes, and by the beginning of the 1900s, haute couture fashion was born.

Haute Couture Fashion - 1900 to 1919

By the beginning of the 20th-century, bespoke fashion houses hired artists to sketch and paint designs for dresses, gowns, and other garments for their growing clientele who always wanted something special.

A century before this, when a wealthy client required a special gown, sample garments were made for her. If she was fine with any of the samples (all samples were made from inexpensive cloth), she then made an order for it and when they desired modifications, these were made.

By the turn of the century, sample garments gave way to sketches of couture clothing. These sketches of fashion design creations which were presented to clients who in turn either made orders for their preferred designs or asked for modifications to some sketches to suit their style.

Soon, the fashionable outfits worn by stylish women were strikingly similar to those worn in the heydays of Frederick Worth's designs, and magazines began to include sketches and sepia photographs of haute couture styles.

By 1910, a woman’s fashion silhouette became the order of the day. Styles became softer, more practical to wear and much more flexible than in the previous years. Unlike the multiple layers of fabrics used in the past, clothing became less complex and was made from much less fabric.

Women could now wear dresses without help from their maids.

Fashion design had a new look, and the first female couturier and fashion designer Jeanne Paquin organised the first real fashion show, showcasing chic gowns of "quiet sophistication" that appealed to women of refined taste. Her top-notch clients included the Queens of Belgium, Portugal, and Spain.

As the men went away to WW, their women had to go out to work and as more women started to earn a living, a new dress style appeared. The styles created were better suited to women’s newfound activities, and as the clothes became simpler, felt hats and turbans replaced the popular headgears of the 1900s fashion era.

Because of the effects of war, clothing in darker and muted colours became the norm. there were too many sons, brothers, fathers and husbands injured or dying at the war fronts and the general conditions of the times demanded sobriety and austerity.

By 1915, women's skirts rose above the ankles and soon after, further up to mid-calf, designs that required less fabric. The golden age of French haute couture fashion went through great changes and rapid reformation. Fashion designers began to find new clients in the ranks of silver screen actors, heiresses, and the wives and daughters of wealthy industrialists.


1920s Fashion Design and Apparel Styles

The First World War changed how women were perceived in society because constraints were removed, and they began to experiment more with clothing styles and a radical change soon emerged. Dresses with long trains became outdated and gave way to above-the-knee dresses and pinafores. This was also the decade of:

  • Feathers
  • Sequins
  • Hats and other headpieces
  • Dropped waist dresses
  • Rolled down stockings
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Exposing the knee was the height of fashion. Bouffant coiffures gave way to sophisticated short bobs, and the need for corsets greatly reduced because designs of women clothing moved towards a "boyish silhouette” style, as was seen with the loose styled dresses and gowns.

In the 20s the flapper dress was the most popular style for women, and everyone desired it. Also referred to as the Charleston dress, these attires, in various cuts and silhouettes, became popular.

Fashion design included flat-chested and waist-less shapes and cuts emerged, and there was an "aggressive" dressing down that was softened with feather boas, embroidery, showy fashion accessories, blunt-toed shoes, and long cigarette holders.

This was also the era that sheer stockings become fashionable, which was a good thing when compared to the thick and unattractive woollen stockings worn by fashionable women a decade earlier.

Further reading:

Women’s Vintage Handbags - 1900 to the 1960s

Vintage Clothing Styles We'll Hate to See Comeback

7 Famous Fashion Designers of the 1920s


Clothing Styles of the 1930s

By the beginning of the 1930s, the effects of the great depression had slowly started to set in, and fashion design had to step down to be more compromising. There had to be a balance between preserving feminism and re-discovering subtle elegance and sophistication.

The clothing styles became more romantic, waistlines reappeared, and hems started to drop once again. There were bias-cut lace gowns, velvet and satin long evening dresses, flutter sleeves, and thin belts, and while the bust line re-appeared, the loose cuts of the swinging 20s became outdated.

The backless evening gowns and soft slim-fitting day dresses become appreciated by those in tune with fashionable styles and the female body's slim, toned, and athletic silhouette became the vogue. Certainly, this was because the outdoor activities women engaged in was on the rise.

Consequently, this new found 'athleticism' stimulated fashion design, and designers and couturiers began to create designs of sportswear apparel, manufacture started to produce them and refer to them as ready-to-wear clothing fashion.

The 1940s to the 1960s Fashion

The 1940s were austere times and fashion took a nose-dive once again. Because of the war, it was trendy to appear in uniforms and seeing uniformed men and women was a common sight. Full uniforms, caps, footwear, and all were worn to special events, family occasions, and ceremonies. This fashion trend continued after the end of the 2nd World War in 1945 - Read the article


© 2009 viryabo


jacky on January 28, 2013:


viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on November 11, 2012:

Thanks Dolores. Im such a vintage fashion enthusiast and still appreciate styles of nearly a hundred years old. Such is hard to find today.

Thank you for the visit & up votes. Really appreciated it, especially coming from a great hubber.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on November 10, 2012:

I love historic fashion and this hub was voted up for being fabulous! The videos were fantastic, especially the color film from the 1920s. I've never seen anything like it!

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on November 14, 2011:

Thanks Tonipet for the nice comments and thank you for visiting.

Please go ahead, its an absolute pleasure and an inspiration. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.


Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on November 11, 2011:

HI viryabo,

Loved what I've read. I'll be referencing this to some of my old-fashioned hub, if you don't mind. Liked the way you described the differences. It's what women of today will find something interesting. Awesome hub, Thanks!

jboland from Chico, CA on September 17, 2011:

Great resource, well researched and written.

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on May 10, 2011:

Thank you Mabmiles.

mabmiles on May 10, 2011:

Amazing fashion, Thanks for this article.

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on January 28, 2011:

Marshfox, thanks for the clarification and for visiting.


Marshfox on January 28, 2011:

Actually shereen, that's not why the cuts of the dress changed. The hourglass shape had already fallen out of style by the 1920s. The hourglass figures were particularly popular during the Edwardian period (1890s -1910) because the Prince of Wales (who was the master of the social set) at that time was particularly fond of the "mature female" figure. However as time rolled on, the corsets required to achieve that shape fell out of favor and became impractical during world war 1. There was a movement to make clothes that were less fitting and allow for more mobility as the image of the active, modern young woman became popular at the start of the 1920s. Also, to reduce the costs of cloth (there was a global depression in the 1920s), the dresses saw more straight line cuts rather than the obnoxious tucks and frills of the proceeding years. It wasn't so much diet that changed the image as world events. While the modern diet has contributed to current fashion, its more the amount of exercise and portions of modern food. Even for the time period the food wasn't all that better for you (in some cases it was worse), it was more of case that they moved around more than we do and ate less than we do.

thersa on December 15, 2010:


viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on June 04, 2010:

I agree with you Shereen. Today's diet has really molded us into a totally different form of new body figure.

Amazing how diet works on our body configuration, and talking about fashion design and the style of these days is so way different from design themes of the past.

Thanks for the visit Shereen.


Shereen on June 04, 2010:

I've heard from my mother-in-law those 1920s clothes are made to suit hourglass shape. Nowadays it is difficult to find hourglass body shape due to the modern diet.

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on April 08, 2010:

GmaGoldie, thanks for stopping by and for your nice comments.


Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on April 08, 2010:

Wonderful fun and frolic! Thank you! Very delightful~

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on February 20, 2010:

AnnaSophia, i'm glad this is of help.

Thanks for visiting and the inspiring comments.


AnnaSophia on February 20, 2010:

i think that this will help me a lot with my assignment,

thanks :)

gorgeous pictures by the way.

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on January 30, 2010:

Brian, thanks for the visit.

I agree with you. Couture rules!


Baron Couture from Delaware on January 29, 2010:

Couture Rules

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on January 23, 2010:

Hi karina, thanks for dropping by. So glad you enjoyed it. Godbless.

Karina S. from USA on January 22, 2010:

Great hub, nice pictures. I Enjoyed reading it. Haute couture is my passion, too. Thanks,viryabo.

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on January 02, 2010:

Hi Roswebbart, thanks for stopping by.


Ros Webb from Ireland on January 02, 2010:

another great hub!!

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on October 03, 2009:

LOL. Thanks for the visit eBower, and your nice comments.

Erin Bower from Georgia on October 03, 2009:

great hub! I love anything to do with fashion! The video on predicting fashion in the year 2000 was hilarious! :)

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on August 30, 2009:

Thanks plants and oils for the nice comments. You sound like a Marilyn Monroe. Hourglass figure is a beautiful shape desired by many women. Wearing a flapper dress definitely wont do justice to your body shape. It will hide the nice curves you possess.

Prasetio30, thank you for your nice comments. I like it when men have an interest in fashion. Your partner must be a lucky chic.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on August 30, 2009:

great history about fashion design. Great research and nice picture also. great hub, very complete.

Plants and Oils from England on August 18, 2009:

Fascinating, thank you! I don't think 1920s clothes would suit me, though, I'm an hourglass shape.

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