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30 Years of Fashion Design: 1900s to 1930s Women's Fashion

Updated on September 17, 2019
viryabo profile image

I look at today's fashion and see how it's all inspired by vintage fashion. The character & uniqueness of old-age chic. That's what I love!

When we talk about fashion design of the early 20th century, we must not forget the fact that what we know as fashion today really emerged around the middle of the 19th century, at a time when the horizons of the fashion industry broadened, because of the new mobility and emerging independent lifestyle many wealthy women.

In the mid-19th century, Charles Frederick Worth was considered as the pioneer of haute couture fashion. He was the first known couturier to open a fashion house The House of Worth, in 1858. This was just around the time that women's yearnings for more practical, yet stylish clothes were becoming evident. His boutique's popularity grew such that it was dominated by Parisian haute couture all through the second half of the 19th-century.

Prior to that period, dressmakers and tailors were the ones who inspired style, making fashionable and elaborately sewn garments that were majorly worn by the elite and ladies at the royal courts. Gradually, women began to seek practical clothes for their new-found lifestyle, and as their demand for such grew from the end of the century to the beginning of the 20th-century, fashion houses began to emerge.

The emergence of a few couture houses further stimulated the public's appetite for sensible but fashionable clothes, and by the beginning of the 1900s, haute couture fashion was born.

Haute Couture Fashion - 1900 to 1919

By the beginning of the 20th-century, bespoke fashion houses hired artists to sketch and paint designs for dresses, gowns, and other garments for their growing clientele who always wanted something special.

A century before this, when a wealthy client required a special gown, sample garments were made for her. If she was fine with any of the samples (all samples were made from inexpensive cloth), she then made an order for it and when they desired modifications, these were made.

By the turn of the century, sample garments gave way to sketches of couture clothing. These sketches of fashion design creations which were presented to clients who in turn either made orders for their preferred designs or asked for modifications to some sketches to suit their style.

Soon, the fashionable outfits worn by stylish women were strikingly similar to those worn in the heydays of Frederick Worth's designs, and magazines began to include sketches and sepia photographs of haute couture styles.

By 1910, a woman’s fashion silhouette became the order of the day. Styles became softer, more practical to wear and much more flexible than in the previous years. Unlike the multiple layers of fabrics used in the past, clothing became less complex and was made from much less fabric.

Women could now wear dresses without help from their maids.

Fashion design had a new look, and the first female couturier and fashion designer Jeanne Paquin organised the first real fashion show, showcasing chic gowns of "quiet sophistication" that appealed to women of refined taste. Her top-notch clients included the Queens of Belgium, Portugal, and Spain.

As the men went away to WW, their women had to go out to work and as more women started to earn a living, a new dress style appeared. The styles created were better suited to women’s newfound activities, and as the clothes became simpler, felt hats and turbans replaced the popular headgears of the 1900s fashion era.

Because of the effects of war, clothing in darker and muted colours became the norm. there were too many sons, brothers, fathers and husbands injured or dying at the war fronts and the general conditions of the times demanded sobriety and austerity.

By 1915, women's skirts rose above the ankles and soon after, further up to mid-calf, designs that required less fabric. The golden age of French haute couture fashion went through great changes and rapid reformation. Fashion designers began to find new clients in the ranks of silver screen actors, heiresses, and the wives and daughters of wealthy industrialists.

1920s Fashion Design and Apparel Styles

The First World War changed how women were perceived in society because constraints were removed, and they began to experiment more with clothing styles and a radical change soon emerged. Dresses with long trains became outdated and gave way to above-the-knee dresses and pinafores. This was also the decade of:

  • Feathers
  • Sequins
  • Hats and other headpieces
  • Dropped waist dresses
  • Rolled down stockings

Exposing the knee was the height of fashion. Bouffant coiffures gave way to sophisticated short bobs, and the need for corsets greatly reduced because designs of women clothing moved towards a "boyish silhouette” style, as was seen with the loose styled dresses and gowns.

In the 20s the flapper dress was the most popular style for women, and everyone desired it. Also referred to as the Charleston dress, these attires, in various cuts and silhouettes, became popular.

Fashion design included flat-chested and waist-less shapes and cuts emerged, and there was an "aggressive" dressing down that was softened with feather boas, embroidery, showy fashion accessories, blunt-toed shoes, and long cigarette holders.

This was also the era that sheer stockings become fashionable, which was a good thing when compared to the thick and unattractive woollen stockings worn by fashionable women a decade earlier.

Clothing Styles of the 1930s

By the beginning of the 1930s, the effects of the great depression had slowly started to set in, and fashion design had to step down to be more compromising. There had to be a balance between preserving feminism and re-discovering subtle elegance and sophistication.

The clothing styles became more romantic, waistlines reappeared, and hems started to drop once again. There were bias-cut lace gowns, velvet and satin long evening dresses, flutter sleeves, and thin belts, and while the bust line re-appeared, the loose cuts of the swinging 20s became outdated.

The backless evening gowns and soft slim-fitting day dresses become appreciated by those in tune with fashionable styles and the female body's slim, toned, and athletic silhouette became the vogue. Certainly, this was because the outdoor activities women engaged in was on the rise.

Consequently, this new found 'athleticism' stimulated fashion design, and designers and couturiers began to create designs of sportswear apparel, manufacture started to produce them and refer to them as ready-to-wear clothing fashion.

The 1940s to the 1960s Fashion

The 1940s were austere times and fashion took a nose-dive once again. Because of the war, it was trendy to appear in uniforms and seeing uniformed men and women was a common sight. Full uniforms, caps, footwear, and all were worn to special events, family occasions, and ceremonies. This fashion trend continued after the end of the 2nd World War in 1945 - Read the article

© 2009 viryabo


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    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks Dolores. Im such a vintage fashion enthusiast and still appreciate styles of nearly a hundred years old. Such is hard to find today.

      Thank you for the visit & up votes. Really appreciated it, especially coming from a great hubber.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I love historic fashion and this hub was voted up for being fabulous! The videos were fantastic, especially the color film from the 1920s. I've never seen anything like it!

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks Tonipet for the nice comments and thank you for visiting.

      Please go ahead, its an absolute pleasure and an inspiration. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.


    • Tonipet profile image

      Tonette Fornillos 

      8 years ago from The City of Generals

      HI viryabo,

      Loved what I've read. I'll be referencing this to some of my old-fashioned hub, if you don't mind. Liked the way you described the differences. It's what women of today will find something interesting. Awesome hub, Thanks!

    • jboland profile image


      9 years ago from Chico, CA

      Great resource, well researched and written.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you Mabmiles.

    • mabmiles profile image


      9 years ago

      Amazing fashion, Thanks for this article.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Marshfox, thanks for the clarification and for visiting.


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Actually shereen, that's not why the cuts of the dress changed. The hourglass shape had already fallen out of style by the 1920s. The hourglass figures were particularly popular during the Edwardian period (1890s -1910) because the Prince of Wales (who was the master of the social set) at that time was particularly fond of the "mature female" figure. However as time rolled on, the corsets required to achieve that shape fell out of favor and became impractical during world war 1. There was a movement to make clothes that were less fitting and allow for more mobility as the image of the active, modern young woman became popular at the start of the 1920s. Also, to reduce the costs of cloth (there was a global depression in the 1920s), the dresses saw more straight line cuts rather than the obnoxious tucks and frills of the proceeding years. It wasn't so much diet that changed the image as world events. While the modern diet has contributed to current fashion, its more the amount of exercise and portions of modern food. Even for the time period the food wasn't all that better for you (in some cases it was worse), it was more of case that they moved around more than we do and ate less than we do.

    • profile image


      9 years ago


    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      I agree with you Shereen. Today's diet has really molded us into a totally different form of new body figure.

      Amazing how diet works on our body configuration, and talking about fashion design and the style of these days is so way different from design themes of the past.

      Thanks for the visit Shereen.


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I've heard from my mother-in-law those 1920s clothes are made to suit hourglass shape. Nowadays it is difficult to find hourglass body shape due to the modern diet.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      GmaGoldie, thanks for stopping by and for your nice comments.


    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      10 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Wonderful fun and frolic! Thank you! Very delightful~

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      AnnaSophia, i'm glad this is of help.

      Thanks for visiting and the inspiring comments.


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      i think that this will help me a lot with my assignment,

      thanks :)

      gorgeous pictures by the way.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Brian, thanks for the visit.

      I agree with you. Couture rules!


    • Baron Couture profile image

      Baron Couture 

      10 years ago from Delaware

      Couture Rules

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Hi karina, thanks for dropping by. So glad you enjoyed it. Godbless.

    • Karina S. profile image

      Karina S. 

      10 years ago from USA

      Great hub, nice pictures. I Enjoyed reading it. Haute couture is my passion, too. Thanks,viryabo.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Hi Roswebbart, thanks for stopping by.


    • RosWebbART profile image

      Ros Webb 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      another great hub!!

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      LOL. Thanks for the visit eBower, and your nice comments.

    • Ebower profile image

      Erin Bower 

      11 years ago from Georgia

      great hub! I love anything to do with fashion! The video on predicting fashion in the year 2000 was hilarious! :)

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      Thanks plants and oils for the nice comments. You sound like a Marilyn Monroe. Hourglass figure is a beautiful shape desired by many women. Wearing a flapper dress definitely wont do justice to your body shape. It will hide the nice curves you possess.

      Prasetio30, thank you for your nice comments. I like it when men have an interest in fashion. Your partner must be a lucky chic.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      11 years ago from malang-indonesia

      great history about fashion design. Great research and nice picture also. great hub, very complete.

    • Plants and Oils profile image

      Plants and Oils 

      11 years ago from England

      Fascinating, thank you! I don't think 1920s clothes would suit me, though, I'm an hourglass shape.


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