1920s Fashion, Fabrics & Colors
1920s fashion was nothing short of revolutionary, and maintains an incredible look that people are still drawn to. Like many things, the way clothing was made and manufactured was vastly different from the way that it is currently done. In addition, some of the fabrics used in these garments are scarce or barely recognizable today.
Taking a look at the fabrics and colors popular in the Roaring Twenties makes it easier to understand how and why clothing from this era looks the way that it does.
During the 1920s fashion, women clothing was made from fine, high quality fabrics that were light, airy, and soft to the touch. Because people in this era didn’t have a gentle cycle on their washing machines, this also meant they were notoriously hard to clean. This explains why it’s difficult to find authentic vintage items of in truly pristine condition.
Unlike today’s clothing that is mass manufactured and made from highly durable synthetic fabrics, the quality and care that went into the construction of clothing during the 1920s fashion is nothing short of impressive. These fabrics were all carefully used to create gorgeous, statement-making styles that took the nation by storm during this decade.
Cotton was a booming industry in America in the 1920s fashion. Not unlike today, cotton was a highly favored fabric that had a variety of uses. Not only was this breathable material itself great for creating clothing that would withstand wear, it also could be treated in various ways to create differing textures and looks.
Voile is an elegant, gossamer-like fabric that is made from cotton. Sheer yet sturdy, it can easily take dye and be producd in a variety of color options. Lisel is a thread that is created when two thin strands of cotton are tightly intertwined. It also takes dyes exceptionally well and has a solid texture that is slightly more durable. Mercerizing is a chemical treatment that increases the sheen and strength of cotton, creating a lustrous look that was incredibly popular during this period.
Because silk was rare, Mercerized Cotton and Lisel were excellent alternatives when manufacturing ladies’ stockings. Voile, on the other hand, was used to create colorful, lightweight dresses that had an ethereal appearance but were still incredibly easy to wear on a day to day basis.
Wool is an always-popular fabric that was durable and perfect for many garments manufactured during this time period. Because of its inherently rough and bristly texture, wool was often combined with softer fabrics to create a wool blend that was slightly more comfortable to wear. Other fabrics like cotton or silk made this fabric soft to the touch and easier to maintain.
During this decade, wool was used to create garments where a little weight and warmth was necessary. Men’s suit jackets and other outerwear items during this era were made from tweed, which is a thick form of wool. Softer wool blends were used to create women’s dresses as skirts, as well as men’s suit jackets and pants.
The exceptionally soft feel of silk is simply unmatched. This difficult-to-obtain fabric comes in a variety of different textures, making it perfect for a variety of uses and garments. Traditional silk has a thin, shiny appearance that is smooth and pleasing to the eye. When silk threads are combined to create a heavier, rougher texture, this fabric is called Crepe. Similarly, Chiffon is a sheer, lightweight material that is also made from woven silk treads. Unlike crepe, however, it is a sheer, flowing fabric that is perfect for draping.
Crepe and crepe georgette were used during the 1920s to create evening gowns and other stunning, drop-waist dresses. Chiffon was also a popular fabric for dresses because of this exceptionally light appearance. Traditional silk was used to create high quality garments like wedding gowns and upscale dressing gowns. Most notably, silk was used to create stockings, which were a staple in every woman’s boudoir during the Roaring Twenties.
Rayon is a semisynthetic fabric. It is created when wood pulp is chemically treated and turned into thin cellulose fibers, which then are woven together. Viscose and Modal fabrics are also manufactured through a similar process. Because synthetic fabrics were in their infancy during the 1920s, at first this fabric had a rough, unappealing texture. As time went on, however, Rayon was combined with other materials to create a soft blend.
During the 1920s fashion, Rayon was commonly known as “artificial silk,” and was used in many of the same places that silk would have been traditionally used in the past. Intimate items like underwear, men’s neckties, and some dresses were manufactured from this revolutionary material.
Linen is a fabric that has been around for centuries, thanks to its sturdy texture and breathability. This fabric has a crisp, clean quality that provides endless appeal. A natural fabric that has been favored since the Egyptian Era, it was a popular choice for garments in the Twenties and remains relevant to this day.
During the Art Deco period, you could find linen fabrics within a variety of clothing items. Linen was a great choice for men’s suiting, as its lightweight yet structured look and feel allowed breathability during hot summer months. Undergarments were also made of linen – so too were tablecloths and napkins.
While knitwear is still incredibly popular in the modern era, it had a vastly different use during the 1920s. Knit sweaters were often associated only with athletic or collegiate apparel, and were considered too casual for everyday wear. As sportswear became commonplace, knits became exceedingly more popular with the masses.
It’s important to note that knits in the Twenties were slightly different in texture and design that the knitwear we own in the modern day. Because synthetics like Elastane were not yet introduced, knit sweaters did not have the same stretch or figure flattering look that they have today. The yarn was raw and stiff, where today it is soft and pliable.
Color trends are constantly in flux, and to fully understand what clothing looked like in the 1920s fashion, we must also take a look at what color combinations and patterns were popular in fashion during this era.
While some prints were incredibly popular, solid colors were almost always preferred. The reason is surprisingly simple. Because the Art Deco movement was in full swing, flappers wanted dresses that features beaded patterns, which are more apparent on fabrics that don’t have an inherent print themselves.
Dark colors like black, plum, and navy will always be popular due to the fact that they are incredibly flattering. With that said, muted pastels also were frequently featured in dresses and other women’s items. You’ll often see authentic 1920s dresses in dusty shades of peach, pink, sage, and yellow, which exuded an attractive and highly feminine look.
It’s unique color combinations, however, that truly brought these colors to life. Often, colors were placed next to their opposites, giving them a distinct contrast. Sunny yellows or warm oranges were combined with cornflower blues for a cheery, light look. Sage and lavender were also put together for a “pop” that evokes the feeling of Spring. Warm colors like rose, red, and plum were also combined for a tonal look that speaks to the taste of the time period.
While solids were preferred, prints were definitely still prevalent during this decade. It was common for men’s suits to have a subtle pinstripe or checkered pattern. Outerwear also was often created in plaids. Graphic, geometric patterns like polka dots and stripes were used sparingly, while floral prints, when utilized, were graphic and bold rather than soft and subtle.