Summer Fashions of the 1920s
Nowadays in the warm weather we can dress more or less as we like to keep cool, but even within some people’s living memory, that was far from the case. During the 1920s there remained a wide gulf between male and female modes: traditional dress codes were relaxing and by early-decade women enjoyed loose, comfortable cotton dresses with comfortable necklines and short sleeves – even soft white plimsolls or sneakers for weekends. Yet respectable men were expected wear conventional three-piece suits, including waistcoats, and formal shirts with neckties, whatever the weather. The most casual summer choice for the average 1920s male was a ‘sports jacket’ teamed with a pair of light flannel trousers, as in the early-1920s family snapshots above and below.
Children – boys and girls – benefitted from the gradual shortening of frock and shorts hemlines and white and pale colours were, as ever, favoured for the summer and in hot climates, but men simply did not wear shorts, except for competitive sports like athletics. Women’s frocks still extended to the calves during the early-1920s, but simple styling was welcome in summer and lightweight materials – crisp cottons, linens and soft silks bearing geometric designs following the Art Decoaesthetic, or fashionable stripes. These fresh, easy-to-wear modes made women feel more youthful, as evidenced by this postcard portrait below of a 41-year old lady photographed on 14th July 1924.
From 1925/1926 female fashions grew increasingly minimalist: hemlines rose significantly to around knee level, remaining there until the end of the decade. Light jersey-knit suits in classic muted tones, comfortable and broadly termed ‘sportswear’ for leisure occasions, were promoted by pioneering designers such as Jean Patou and Chanel, as seen in the Georges Lepape illustration below for Vogue, 1928.
Also popular as summer wear in the late-1920s were floating dresses of silk chiffon or the new artificial material, ‘art silk’, or rayon, worn with picturesque brimmed hats, undulating or handkerchief hemlines a particular feature of 1929/1930, as seen in this family snapshot taken in Richmond Park.
In Britain for much of the 1920s, beachwear was rather conservative and fashioned from clinging jersey fabric that became waterlogged when wet. Men wore vest sections to their costumes, as they had done since the late-Victorian period, and ladies’ bathing suits were typically modest, featuring short sleeves and short legs, as seen in this family snapshot taken in Devon in 1924.
However, beachwear was evolving and becoming more sporty and colourful with bold contrasting trims. Patterned wraps created a new sense of style on wear on the beach and fitted rubber swimming caps came into vogue, perfect for protecting newly-shorn locks, as seen in this late-1920s French illustration.
By the late-1920s wealthy tourists frequenting the sun-drenched beaches of California and elite resorts along the French Riviera were setting a new trend for sunbathing and acquiring a suntan, now that sun-burnt skin was no longer the shameful sign of outdoor labour, but representative of luxury and leisure. With the fashionable emphasis increasingly on glowing golden limbs, swimwear began to grow briefer, as narrow shoulder straps and low-backed costumes evolved. New forms of beachwear also developed – sleeveless blouses and loose beach pyjamas, as promoted for the first time on the front cover of Vogue’s Summer Travel number in 1929.
For more on 1920s fashion, see my best-selling book, Fashion in the 1920s, available online from: