1920s Fashion Icons
Communication both spoken and visual was very good in
the 1920s and 1930s and a new set of film stars who also became admired
fashion icons emerged. Consequently fashion ideas passed on quickly
across the world. Hollywood was producing silent films that
entranced cinemagoers and by the time of talking films, even more cinemas
sprang up in towns across America and Europe. For a few coins
escapism to a world of glamour was possible. Movie stars in
addition to royalty became adored fashion icons.
Going to the movies was a night not only for the
pleasure of seeing a romantic film, but also a journey to glamour and
the inevitable role reversal that watching a film engendered.
Women wanted to look like their fashion icon screen idols, wear the hairstyles, make up and
clothes that their favourite star, who obviously belonged to a very
modern advanced world wore. Film goers wanted modern looks like
their 1920s icons on screen and the royal idols in the papers.
Famous screen icon idols of the early years of movies
included Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Claudette
Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Rudolph Valentino, Cary Grant
and Clark Gable. Dietrich and Hepburn in particular gave credence
to women wearing trousers as they both enjoyed wearing them so much.
The similarity between Claudette Colbert shown here and Louise Brooks is
noticeable, whilst men everywhere donned the moustache so favoured by
It Happened One
Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert Movie Poster of the film.
In the 1920s and 1930s American fashion began to
assert itself and soon gained world recognition. Hollywood was
instrumental in providing the world with the latest looks for concepts
of dressing with feminine allure and glamour. Women demanded the
same exciting new fashions and beauty tricks and products as the film
icons and stars
wore and so costumers and beauty experts became important in their own
The signature fashion and beauty looks of both Joan Crawford and Greta
Garbo are credited to MGM's Gilbert Adrian, then head of costume at
Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
for example designed clothes for over 30 films with many costumes being
worn by movie fashion icons of the day. These
designers were all icons in their own right as well as serving the elite
of society of the day. Schiaparelli along with
Vionnet and Chanel
are mentioned on relevant pages on site.
Along with movie stars famous personalities set
fashion examples. In both the UK and the USA royalty was feted and
filled newsreels with their appearances at events whatever side of the
Atlantic they photographed. The
Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Princess
Marina and the
Duchess of York, later Queen Elizabeth consort of George
VI all attracted news and views on what and when they wore certain
clothes. In their day they were thought every bit as much fashion
icons as Princess Diana, Princess of
Wales was in her era. One of the social highlights of 1920 was the
Olympic Games in Antwerp.
Louise Brooks is one the most famous
fashion icons of the 20th century and of the 1920s. You may not know her
name, but you will know her face. Her distinctive black helmet like bob
cut hair often worn with bangs or a fringe as we would call the curtain
of hair today was her trademark.
This picture is typical of the
appearance of the Louise Brooks hairstyle still popular among fans
today, as it is so easy to style whilst looking crisp and modern.
The silent camera loved her freckled pale face and the
dramatic physical features of her head were well suited to movies made
only in black and white. Likewise Louise Brooks suited silent films best, as one
look from this 1920s icon could convey more than a thousand words.
Louise Brooks made only one
She was a gifted actress and appeared in 24 films
between 1925 and 1938 starring with names such as W.C. Fields, Jean
Arthur and William Powel. Her best known role was as Lulu in
Pandora’s Box in 1929. Her parallel stage career enabled her to
have a social life with the wealthy. Louise Brooks mingled with
the socially eminent and the
artistic and glamorous elite of the day. She mixed not only with
movie stars, but also intellectuals such as F Scott Fitzgerald who
brought attention to the sophisticated aspects of a new post war society
that emerged in the 1920s.
When her film career waned Louise Brooks had years of poverty
and was disregarded as an actress. In later life through the 1950s
to 1970s she became a well known thought provoking essayist, often
writing for film magazines as Louise Brooks.
Louise Brooks was the famous flapper of her era.
She was a model as well as an actress and frequently appeared in
advertisements. Louise Brooks had short hair, a short skirt and wore make
up. She bore no resemblance to anything vaguely Edwardian and
embodied the spirit of the Jazz Age. The flapper era worshipped
young people and Louise Brooks was the Madonna of her day with her signature image
of the perfect flapper look.
Modelling 1920s Boudoir Pyjamas
A complete contrast to Louise Brooks is Greta Garbo who was one of the most prominent and best loved stars of all the
1920s and 1930s icons. Many a costume history book touts her as an
intriguing fashion icon of mystery and allure. Her softer look was total different to Louise Brooks,
yet was full of femininity and captivation that sat happily
alongside that of the flapper.
Greta Garbo was born in 1905 as Greta Lovisa
Gustafsson in Stockholm. Born of impoverished parents she first
went to work at age 14 in a barber's shop, but later became a model.
Keen to act after featuring as a bathing beauty in a film Garbo studied
acting from 1922 to 1924 at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm.
Mauritz Stiller an important Swedish director gave her
a role in Gösta Berling's Saga along with the stage name Greta Garbo. He
ensured she could act for cinema screen using her instinctive playing to
the camera. Then in 1925 Garbo was also given a contract at
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the USA when Stiller went to work for MGM.
She made 27 films, but her greatest success was as a talking actress
because of her smooth feminine seductive voice. Garbo is remembered
for not only her great and unusual ethereal beauty, but also her voice.
She continued to make successful films until 1941 when
after the flop film Two Faced Woman she retired at 36 to become a
virtual recluse. Greta Garbo lived out a secluded life in the city of New York
where anonymity was easy.
The abdicated King Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor
revived le beau monde or the refined beautiful world of ‘fashionable
society,’ in the 1930s. The British monarch King Edward the VIII
abdicated his throne to his brother who became George VI and who was
also the father of the present Queen Elizabeth.
After his marriage in 1937 to American divorcee Wallis
Simpson, as his wife as the Duchess of Windsor, he lived in high style.
He was already a fashion icon and had been for many years noted as
always being immaculately groomed by choice rather than by position. As a couple they both loved fashion and being thought fashionable.
He had strong preferences in dress and was a fussy immaculate dresser
who led many styles of the era.
On the wedding day of the Duke and Duchess of
Windsor, Wallis wore a dress designed by Mainbocher. The rest of her trousseau
was designed by Mainbocher too although she wore clothes form many
designers including Schiaparelli, Chanel, Molyneux, Vionnet and Givenchy.
Duke and Duchess of Windsor 1936
In this wedding day image the
Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson wears a full length gown in
palest blue (said to match her eyes) and designed by Mainbocher.
Photographers followed the couple across America and
Europe to catch a glimpse not only of any interesting happenings between
the couple, but also because they both wore fabulous clothes and
jewellery and with improved communications a world audience eagerly
awaited their every move.
changed rules about clothing simply because individuals followed
fashions he set which were often for his own practical purposes. He had
a tuxedo made in dark blue as the construction and cut details showed up
better in photographs.
Paris based artist Elsa Schiaparelli invented the concept of the ‘evening
suit’ consisting of a plain simple gown worn with a heavily embellished
or elaborately decorated evening jacket. The jacket sometimes
sported appliqué or beadwork or even hand painted unusual joker motifs. An example of this is the famous dress worn by Wallis. Dali hand
painted a quirky lobster on a gown made for Wallis Simpson. Both
Wallis and the Duke were international fashion icons and feted in Europe
The Queen Mother
Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon was born in London, UK in 1900 and died in
2002 as Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
She married the Duke of York on January 13 1923. On marriage she became
the Duchess of York and fulfilled her first marital duty by bearing him two
girls in the early years. When her husband was crowned George VI in 1937 after
the abdication of Edward VIII she became his crowned Queen Consort. Her first daughter Elizabeth became
Queen of Great Britain and the Commonwealth in 1952 and was crowned in
This is the wedding photograph of the Duke
and Duchess of York on their wedding day. The dress was designed by
Madame Handley Seymour a former London court dressmaker to the dowager Queen
Mary. The dress followed the essential fashions of the day.
In 1923 the fashions of the day
were not only straight and fairly shapeless, but had also cast aside the
frills, fabrics and bows of a lost era. The classic simplicity of the much
copied designs by Chanel did not suit the rounded curvy figure of the duchess. She looked far better in softer more feminine clothes
as many other women did than the boyish fashions
of the day. Motherhood rounded out her figure even more and
although she was charming, pretty, captivating and the right material
for a wife of the grandest sort, she was not a naturally glamorous
chic woman compared with picture perfect contemporaries of the era.
The continental Princess Marina the Duchess of Kent
(shown below) exuded a classy style that was hard to beat. Likewise early on comparisons were made
between the then Duchess of York and Wallis Simpson, the amour of the Prince
of Wales. The latter woman made the famous
remark 'you can never be too rich or too thin', which is one the
Duchess of York would certainly have felt directed at her.
In an effort to
establish a distinctive fashion style the new King and Queen soon
summoned Norman Hartnell into royal service. Norman Hartnell had a dressmaking business operating
from four small rooms in Bruton Street in London. On his first visit to
Buckingham Palace in January 1937 the new King showed him several
Victorian Winterhalter paintings leaving Hartnell with a strong an
impression that they should be the source of inspiration for designing
the new Queen's evening gowns.
The Queen's new crinoline
style evening gowns were first seen in public in November 1937 and
they flattered her enormously, bringing an elongation to a body not as
model like in real life, as sketches by Hartnell suggested.
In the summer of 1938 Queen Elizabeth's
mother, Lady Strathmore died. A state visit to Paris was already planned
and after a brief delay it went ahead a few weeks later. In that time Hartnell
and his team worked around the clock to to reproduce a new wardrobe
based on more than 30 designs already prepared in a range of colours. The new order was now made up totally in white, an alternative royal
The Queen Elizabeth charmed the
Parisians with her fresh perfect complexion and the layered white floaty
dresses in styles that suited her and made her look a picture of assured
confidence in the French sun. The theatrical sentimental styles suited
her well and she never abandoned them once their success was well
established. She became a fashion hit and once Paris applauded her
she never looked back. Her style was established and she thrived
Parisian approval and a realization that the calculated
sentimental look had worked, was more than enough for any Queen. She
understood public relations and thereafter continued to dress in a style
that suggested wholesomeness, steadfastness, warmth, sweetness and
lovability. She became what she invented, a picture that said goodness
Inevitably photographs of her by Cecil Beaton wearing
the Hartnell creations helped create a more enigmatic vision in the
public's eye. It is alleged that she was not averse to a little
airbrushing to help define her waistline in the cause of good public
relations. She may not have fitted the same mould as other fashion
icons but even in her 100th year people loved to see what outfit she
would be wearing at an event.
The continental Princess Marina the Duchess of Kent
exuded a classy style that was hard to beat. Here is
Princess Marina in her elegant wedding gown, which is so classic in
fashion style it
could easily be worn today.
Shown here in her elegant wedding gown,
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