The salient features of women's clothing in the 20's are short skirts and dropped waistlines. The silhouettes of the earlier part of the decade are long and cylindrical, with the skirt falling 7" to 10" below the knee. Despite the relatively simple silhouette, the wide variety of detail was astonishing. Even inexpensive, ready-made clothing from catalog and chain stores such as Sears portrayed an imaginative range of cuts and trims.
The 'one hour dress' was designed by the Women's Fashion Institute to be made in one hour.
The long straight style had a great many variations, one extremely popular fashion was the Basque dress or Robe de Style (circa 1924). This dress style is best known from the beautiful creations of Jeanne Lanvin. It is a sort of compromise between the straight twenties silhouette and the old fashioned belled-skirt. It featured a tubular bodice that draped straight down to a dropped waist, then a full skirt (not bias cut, but with gathers at the waist) ending at mid-calf or ankle. These were very popular for afternoon and evening wear.
The silhouette of the early twenties was still rooted in the shirtwaist and skirt mode of the teens. It was in high fashion that the long straight silhouette started to get a toe-hold. As the decade continued, the long straight shape moved to day time wear. Then evening wear became straighter and shorter, after which daytime wear copied it.
It was in evening wear that the innovations of twenties style first appeared. By 1926, women who grew up in a world that barely acknowledged knees were very nearly wearing their dresses above them.
The look we regard as 'the Flapper look' only lasted about 3 years, from 1925 to 1928. By 1928 high fashion had drifted onward, but the look of the Flapper lives on in popular consciousness.
During the early 1920s, waistlines were at the waist, but were loose and not fitted. Women wore suits with long hemlines and somewhat full skirts, often with belts at the waist of the jackets. Dress and suit bodices alike were worn loose, even baggy.
1926 - The cocktail dress is born.
Many garments of the 1920s fastened with buttons. The closer-fitting flapper- style dresses fastened with a continuous lap, usually applied to the left side seam of the garment. Hooks and eyes, buttons, or snaps were all utilized to fasten the lap. The zipper, first patented in 1893, was not utilized in garments until the latter part of the decade. It was originally known as a "locker", and did not receive its current name until 1926. It was not widely used until the late 1930s.
As the decade reached its end, fashion started to revert to a longer silhouette, and waist lines started to make a tentative reappearance. The fabrics and cut clung more closely to the body. As a sort of compromise between the old shorter skirt and the newer longer skirt, there was a brief period when evening clothes had both.
The common fabrics used were silk, cotton, linen, and wool in varying combinations. The colours ranged tremendously from bright greens, reds and blues, to subdued pastels. On the whole, the colours and prints used were assertive. Silk was highly desired for its luxurious qualities, but the limited supply made it expensive.
In 1891, "artificial silk" was first made from a solution of cellulose in France. After being patented in the United States, the first American plant began production of this new fabric in 1910. In 1924 this fiber became known as rayon. Rayon stockings became popular in the 1920s as a substitute for silk stockings. Rayon was also used in undergarments. With the invention of Rayon and a few other synthetics, the twenties became the dawn of the first man-made materials.
The garment industry experienced great growth during the 1920s, maybe as a result of the simpler styles. Mass produced garments became available to almost everyone. Moderately priced clothing became more popular than one-of- a-kind garments.