By Joseph L. Garcia
The 1920s in the 2020s
IT’S EXACTLY 100 years since the 1920s began. The “Roaring ’20s” came in a few years after the end of the First World War (allegedly “the war to end all wars,” but who knew then?). The Western world was in an extended period of mourning for the lives and the way of life lost after the war, and were eager for something the world had never seen before. And fashion, art, music, theater, dance — all aspects of cultural life — went for it.
On a connected note, James Laver, an English author, art historian, and curator who focused on fashion came out with “Laver’s Law” which tried at that time to summarize the cycles of fashion.
• Indecent — 10 years before its time
• Shameless — five years before its time
• Outré (Daring) — one year before its time
• Smart — “Current Fashion”
• Dowdy — 1 year after its time
• Hideous — 10 years after its time
• Ridiculous — 20 years after its time
• Amusing — 30 years after its time
• Quaint — 50 years after its time
• Charming — 70 years after its time
• Romantic — 100 years after its time
• Beautiful — 150 years after its time
The list had foresight when it appeared in Taste and Fashion in 1937, but we suppose the faster pace of our world has put a rest to this trend cycle guide’s hum. While “Laver’s Law” states that fashions 20 to 30 years since they first appeared would be considered “ridiculous” and “amusing” at the least, Mr. Laver had no way of knowing that the 1990s would adopt 1970s style quite aggressively, moving on to the 1980s making a comeback in the early 2000s. Twenty-somethings were surprised and amused when fashions they discarded in the 1990s came back from the dead, reincarnated on the bodies of their younger friends and relatives in the 2010s, and this reporter saw the excess of the 2000s reflected in the fashions of the closing years of the 2010s — the gap between cycles has become smaller.
Laver’s Law predicting that fashions from 100 years ago would be considered “romantic” did prove to be correct when we consider one of the cultural touchpoints of the 2010s: Downton Abbey, a television program featuring the lives of aristocrats in England in the 1910s (corresponding to the Edwardian Era), which spawned a huge fanbase and a motion picture released last year. The world separated by 100 years from the world of Downton fell in love with the clothes, so who’s to say we aren’t about to do the same with the clothes from the 1920s? Granted, the ’20s have always had their moments, thanks to The Great Gatsby and Chicago, but we’re going to predict that the 1920s are going to have even bigger moments in this decade, thanks to nostalgia, parallel circumstances, and Laver’s Law. Here we present some trends that we’d like to see come back from 100 years ago.
“As the skirts went up, morals went down,” said author Harriett Worsley in Decades of Fashion, describing the moral panic building up behind flapper dresses. Because we’ve seen the shortest of skirts possible, I don’t think this applies to daily dress as we enter the 2020s. Shorter skirts, however, might be seen on evening attire — we’ll tell you after Paris Couture Week (which begins Jan. 20).
This was the formula that made Chanel a household name back in the 1920s: she took materials usually reserved for men’s clothing and made clothes that hid the curves a corset then would accentuate. Who knew freer movement would lead to freer women? The idea won’t be far-fetched: last year’s fashion shows showed jumpsuits and trouser suits for women, but what we’re really looking for is for nice, straight-cut skirt suits to come back to the mainstream.
Oh, this should be wonderful. The long gowns of the eras preceding the 1920s did not give much allowance to the enjoyment of shoes as part of an outfit, as they were always hidden underneath voluminous skirts. The 1920s changed that, and began a trend for highly embellished shoes because they were finally going to be seen. Very popular styles during that era were T-strap shoes and Mary Janes. The 2010s went through a cycle of shoe heel heights, namely: platform pumps, kitten heels, stilettos, cone heels, and so on. Slip-on styles were more popular for shoes in the 2010s, so women might not be eager to make the transition to buckles again. I will ask you, however: if you could stomach gladiator sandals, you can spare the few seconds to fasten a Mary Jane buckle.
EASE IN MOVEMENT
While the latter part of the 2010s saw seams easing up on waists and the lower part of the body (the skinny pants trend died sometime around this period), we’re yet to see a true revival of drop-waist, square-cut clothing, which gave maximum freedom in walking and dancing for the 1920s girl. The silhouettes of the last few years, however loosely, remained cinched, and we’re hoping the trend will be reversed in time for the 2020s.
Coco Chanel once said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” She lived in the early days of the bob haircut, and enduring style that’s still popular today, and was one of the most popular hairstyles of the last decade. It’s not going out anytime soon, and it will prove to be popular with the return of bangs and shag haircuts in the 2020s.
The 1920s saw a surge in the wearing of synthetic fabrics like nylon and rayon, mainly because they were new, and the methods of producing them were finally perfected by factories after years of experimentation to find substitutes for expensive fabrics like silk. Who knew the environmental disaster the textile industry would wreak on the Earth? Fur and feathers, all the rage in the 1920s, are officially dead, thanks to fashion brands finally taking a stand in their use, in light of dwindling animal populations. We see a parallelism with the 1920s here: as designers then pushed the boundaries on synthetics, designers now are pushing the boundaries on sustainable fabrics and naturally sourced materials.