Monday, June 6, 2016

Dropped Waists and Miss Fisher's Earrings: the Highs and Lows of 1920s Fashion

I don't often go for a 1920s look, not a very authentic one, anyway. It wasn't a good decade for stout women, or mature women, or breasts, or waists. It wasn't even the best of decades for skinny, flat-chested women. Trying for this look reminds me that we should always wear what works for us, not what's trendy. 

But sometimes a 1920s style can work, at least from certain angles, so I went ahead and had fun with it for once. Ironically, my wedding dress was also of a very 1920s style, so I'll tell you a bit about that in this post too.

It all started with the earrings ...

Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher
... which will always be my Miss Fisher Earrings. 

Every time I watch Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, I crave everything I see in the show, from the clocks, to the cars, to the coats ... but mostly I crave Miss Fisher's green, teardrop earrings. I've searched and searched for some like them, to no avail.

Finally, out of desperation, I entered "miss fisher earrings" in an Etsy search and lo! I found a woman who was making them! I think she did a wonderful job, don't you? She makes replicas of jewelry from other shows too. 

Long, teardrop earrings were a staple of 1920s, Art Deco fashion, and, since my wedding dress was strongly influenced by Art Deco, I wore a similar pair in rose quartz at our wedding. 

Once I'd finally found the earrings, my next step was finding a dress to wear with them. This one from Value Village was already in my closet and, at least in my mind ...

Sunglasses: Aldo; Dress, headband, shoes, and bracelet: vintage; Earrings: D Baker Jewelry 
... was transformed by the addition of the earrings. 

Its most notable, 1920s features were its dropped waist (a mere accident of old elastic in the dress) and its colours.

There's a lot of my least favourite blue in the dress but it's redeemed for me by the pale green background colour, which was obviously a good match with the earrings.

Since I highlighted the green of my dress with the earrings, I did the same with these shoes. 

T-strap and mary-jane shoes were en vogue in the 1920s and I swoon for them on a regular basis. Before I became disabled, I had a few such shoes, but their heels now prevent me from wearing them. 

I searched forever before I found these, flat soled shoes for the wedding but I think they really fit the bill, as did Beau's. He adores his wedding shoes. I think he was more excited about them than about his bespoke suit. I love them too and would happily wear a pair just like them in my size.

These green shoes have an extremely low heel, so they did not hurt my back, but they have just enough heel that my feet made a wonderful "clack clack clack" sound as I walked. It was a nice change. I seldom get to sound like that anymore.

It made me feel all stylish and grown up. 

Beau said it was the sound of "uh oh, a grownup's coming!" 

Meanwhile, I brought out the burgundy in my dress with these burgundy sunglasses. Sunglasses didn't come into fashion until the 1930s but, if one were to wear them, they were round, always round. This didn't change much for about two decades.

At the last minute, I added this bracelet because its colour match the dress so well. It was not, however, a good match for the 1920s; I'm pretty sure this type of enamel was invented in the 1980s!

The 20s were actually a kind of odd time for women's fashion. As I mentioned above, one defining feature of 1920s dresses is their absurdly dropped waists.

It's a very difficult look to pull off and, with its obscuration of woman's curves, not very sexy at all. Many women today claim to be going for a "Gatsby" look at themed parties and weddings, but they're not. Their dresses are almost inevitably too form fitting; in other words, they're too flattering and/or too sexy. 

I read somewhere that, if the fashion illustrations from the period were to come to life, they would be 7 feet tall, with crazy broad shoulders, no hips, no waist, and no bosoms whatsoever. This is particularly evident in illustrations of the fashions tailored for "stout" and "mature" women. (Bless designers of the past for realizing that a mature woman isn't so much stout as she is just, you know, grown up.) In these illustrations, it seems that all a woman's heft is in her shoulders. Where are her breasts!? Where are her waist and hips? (I'm quite sure many men of the period were asking the same question.)

The look really didn't work all that well on real women.

Sometimes the results were a bit disastrous. My heart goes out to this young woman. She is wearing the latest fashions from head to toe -- and they simply don't suit her.

My outfit wasn't quite so disastrous but it wasn't my best look ever either. 

This was by no means the only time women wore the uniform of the day and felt ugly, without stopping to ask if the problem was with their own bodies or, in fact, the fashions themselves. Remember muffin tops? Such disasters come and go. We haven't seen the last of them, I'm sure.

Such things worked better in illustrations ... 

... than in real life.

In an effort to force their bodies to match the fashions, rather than the fashion to match their bodies, women of all sizes frequently bound their breasts in the 1920s. I love/hate how the centre brassiere here is touted as as being able to "restrain any fleshiness." Fleshiness like breasts? So sad.

Breasts, bellies, waists, and hips, were concealed to a greater ... 

... or lesser extent, depending on the "fleshiness" of the woman.

That is just not my thing!

It took me years of painful disability to go from a 36B to a 38DD, and I'm not about to conceal the one thing I'm enjoying about my weight gain. I've been known to show them off with pride ...

... including at our wedding!

But they just don't go well with a drop-waisted, shapeless dress. The whole thing pretty much hangs straight from the breasts and, at least from certain angles, that's not terribly flattering!

I think this woman looks pretty good but I also think she would look even better if the dress were nipped in at the waist, so the lovely delineation between bosom and hips were easier to make out.

I feel the same way about these two.

Originally, my 1920s inspired, Jenny Packham wedding dress also had a dropped waist. As much as I like accurate period details in my outfits, there was no way I was forsaking beauty in order to adhere to the dictates of a fashion trend nearly 100 years old. So I had the waist taken in and raised, and put darts in the loose underslip so it nipped in at the waist. The overall effect made it a moreflattering hybrid of Edwardian cut and Art Deco fashion. 

All that said, there were times that dropped-waisted dresses worked beautifully ...  

... and not just on the very thin and the very young. 

The dresses could indeed be very pretty, especially if they had this lovely, gauzy quality to them.

Louise Brooks
It was very feminine.

It was pretty ...

... almost ethereal.

It was a strange transitionary time for women's fashion. Even as the styles look very feminine to us today, they were often understood as quite masculine at the time. First, of course, there was the fact that they obscured women's curves. Thus, the fashions and the women who wore them were frequently referred to as "boyish." But, in fact the outfits also had features which mimicked men's fashion much more than any women's fashion in the last several decades and even centuries. 

Remember, this is the sort of thing women had been wearing a mere 20 years earlier

Next to that, you can indeed see the angularity and masculinity that others saw in 1920s clothes.

There were all those ties! 

I got Beau to tie mine. 

They were pretty ubiquitous and probably gave women a sense of power that they hadn't been allowed to feel in the Victorian and Edwardian periods.  

Even I felt it, all these years later, with my little fake tie flapping and becoming disarrayed in the wind. 

The more masculine fashions of the 20s were definitely seen by some as part of an early wave of feminism and women's freedom.

Then there were the bobs, the shortest women had worn their hair in ... I honestly don't know another period in western culture before this one when women wore their hair so short. Do you?

Louise Brooks' sleek black bob is the most iconic ...

Some of the cast of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
And was unmistakably the model for Miss Fisher's bob.

They looked wonderful, peeping out from beneath the close-fitting, cloche hats of the day.

But a sleek bob is never going to happen for a curly haired, Jewish woman for me.

That's really not a problem. I've shown you Clara Bow's wonderful, curly bob before. God knows how she managed bangs with naturally curly hair. I would never attempt it! (And while we're looking at this photo of Clara Bow, I realize that I haven't even addressed the ridiculous eyebrows of the 20s! I think I may save that for another post.)

Curly or sleek, bobs weren't for everyone. They were, for some, still seen as a bit rakish, the territory of morally questionable flappers and "loose women," (a term I loathe).

Short hair, combined with the more masculine aspects of 1920s styles, were sometimes quite overtly combined by some lesbians to create what might today be called a "butch" style. Racy indeed!

More conservative women often opted for faux bobs, which were very common and really aren't that difficult to achieve.

It looks like all the ladies here are sporting them. I think the only hard part for me would be getting that bit of hair on the forehead to stay in place.

They're just a very low bun, rolled up at the nape of the neck.

Ashleigh Cummings as Dot
The sweetly conservative Dot wears them in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

It's a curiosity that virtually everyone today who decides to go "Gatsby," wears some dreadful headband of this sort (and do note the awful wig too). Yet, when I try to find images of real women wearing such things in the real 1920s, I'm at a loss.

What you will find, though, is women wearing headbands pushed much further up on their heads. 

It is this look, therefore, that I went for with the freakishly short belt that came with my dress. There was no way that thing was going around my waist (or the waist of any woman wearing that dress), so I decided to go a little matchy-matchy and add it to my faux bob.

I thought the effect was quite nice, though that and the shoes bumped me up from vintage "influenced" to vintage costumed and I did get some perplexed stares while I was out. 

As if such a thing would bother me! Hardly.

Now a word about the settings for these photos. As usual, I tried to pose in and in front of settings that actually existed, or could have existed in the 1920s. This house, probably built around 1905-1910 was a no-brainer. For the most part, the owners have given it a nice, authentic look. Naturally, I also liked that it matched my dress.

I also really wanted to get some photos of me with my credenza in our living room. I'm pretty sure it was made in the 1920s and I think it's a work of art. I adore it. I spent quite a bit of money on it but I don't regret that at all. The lamp is of a Tiffany style (I could never afford the real thing!), which would date to about 1905. The radio, which works perfectly, is a replica of a style that would have been around at least by the 1930s or even earlier. (Radios up through the 1940s are themselves works of art.)

You'll notice that I've chosen to place our Shabbat candles and Kiddush cup on the credenza. They were both gifts from a good friend who lives in New York, where things are much more easily had.

I asked for a "classic" style cup so I'll bet such cups were around in the 20s, though I'm sure they were only owned by the wealthy.

You've seen our living room, including this chair and its matching sofa, in a few other posts, my favourite being this one. The chair and sofa are reupholstered but authentic, probably from the 1930s. The chair's rounded curves hug my always aching back. I got that sweet little footstool at second hand store and it really helps my back when I sit in the chair.

In my last post, I wrote a lot about my sorrow over the increasing loss of our city's houses and gardens ...

... which may be why I posed so much in our own thriving garden ...

... and in front of that glorious yellow house ...

... and a few once similar but now rundown or altered houses.

Even as I can recognize its aesthetic faults, I can glory in the beauties of the past.

Even those of the 1920s.



  1. Very informative and fun post! And I love your outfit! The earrings are fabulous! And those green shoes need to make their way over to my closet!


    1. Thanks. I got those shoes for $5 at a garage sale! I've seldom worn them because I assumed they'd hurt my back but they don't.

  2. Thanks for linking up to Top of the World Style. Wow, what a great post and great photos!

  3. As always, I appreciate the detail you go into when you write your posts. Love the shoes - and your wedding shoes as well!

    1. I like to go into detail, both about what I'm wearing and about fashion history. It's fun for me. Though I can't teach anymore because of my disability, my teacher-ly self just can't help but share information that I think is super interesting.

  4. I love the 20's silhouette - this dress is a great approximation and I also love an old fashioned floral. Wonderful shoes too, and a great retrospective of 20's style. Thanks so much for sharing, xo


    1. You could do 20s style really successfully, Patti. You're petite and you like looser clothing.

  5. Those earrings are so pretty! I love the green color!
    Jeans and a Teacup

    1. Aren't they nice? I'm really into emerald green lately.

  6. I really enjoyed this post and the thought that went into it! It's easy to watch Downton Abbey (I admit I have never seen Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries but I have heard about it and need to seek it out!); anyway it's one thing for waif like actresses to make the 20's look so fashionable, I have always doubted whether they would suit me though. The historical pictures are so interesting, at least we aren't strapping our boobs down anymore! Your wedding dress was beautiful, too! :-)

    1. You know, I haven't yet watched Downton Abbey! In terms of fashion, the 1920s were a great time to be a young woman. The new fashions were SO much less restrictive and, suddenly, it was okay to be sporty. But the fashions weren't so kind to the more mature figure. We're not strapping out breasts down anymore but we're harnessing them up in boned torture devices that I can't wait to yank off the minute I get home! I used to go bravest a lot, but my chest was significantly smaller back then.

  7. These earrings are so pretty with your floral dress.

    Thank you for being a part of TBT Fashion link up and hope to see you soon!


  8. I love the drop waist inspiration! I reminisce a lot about the old styles and the different eras. I sometimes wish I can go back in time just to get a glimpse. Would love if you can link up to

    1. Me too! I'd love to time travel for all kinds of reasons. I'd love to meet some Neanderthals. I'd love to see London into the 1500s to see Shakespeare's world. I'd love to check out fashion in ... any time period! But I can do the next best thing with all the photos and information in my blog.

      I'll check out your blog.

  9. I absolutely loved this post-the history and the honesty in your words. Your wedding dress is utterly beautiful-you look gorgeous ( I love that you altered it too), I think the floral 20's style number looks good on you but I am hourglass and I like dresses to come in at waist to give me shape too. I'm a D cup too so that style needs to go in otherwise it's too up and down. Fab piece, thanks for linking up x

    1. I too have an hourglass figure and I usually make sure my waist shows, but, every now and then, I'll try out something less figure-flattering. But there was no way I was doing that for my wedding!

      So glad you liked the historical aspects of the post. I need to share my blog on your link-up more often. I write about a LOT of topics, not "just" fashion, and I often use fashion as a springboard for other topics.

  10. The 20s are so hard for someone with a womanly figure to pull off. Thus my writing about that very topic.