Art Deco Preservation Ball
Lingerie of the 1920s
Let's start with the skin and work our way out. It may seem a little odd to include lingerie as accessories, but in some cases the proper under garments are the most important part of the outfit. They not only give the gown the right shape but help us move a little more like they did back then. Nothing ruins the look of a gorgeous gown like tromping as though you are still in jeans and sneakers.
It is vital that you try on your gown with all the lingerie at least a week before the event. This is the best way to avoid a panic the day of when the garters fail or the tummy tucker overcorrects and leaves you with a misshapen derriere.
Evening gowns from the 1920s are pretty straight forward foundation-wise. The boyish look doesn't require the same level of commitment as some other periods do. The bra, as we know it, hadn't been invented until the later 20s. Well endowed women took to wrapping their chest in bandages to achieve the fashionable flat-chested look. They did wear "corsets" that smoothed down the hips, these were usually made out of the new elastic fabrics and were the ancestors of the girdle. A few die hards still wore full body corsets, that flattened the bust, but they defeated the purpose of the free and liberated style.
If you are comfortable going braless, feel free to do so - they did. If not, you can wrap your breasts down or try an older bra that is a bit out of shape or a leisure/sleep bra, this well give less support but a more appropriate look.
There are many hip slimmers on the market today that will feel remarkably like the hip corsets of the time.
The body conscious 30s require a bit more work. The famous bias cut dresses move beautifully, but will show every bump and wrinkle. Modern gals have the advantage of undergarments in amazing high tech fabrics to help us look Hollywood perfect.
Whatever style of gown you choose, slips (or petticoats) are mandatory. It is also important that the slip match the cut of the skirt. Without a floor length slip the gown is likely to sag inward toward your ankles and destroy the lovely line of the period (not to mention trip you up). A properly supported gown should not require the wearer to pick up her hem except when going up stairs.
"Don't you know there's a war on?" The most often heard cry of the early 40s. Fabric was rationed; silk, cotton, and wool were often commandeered for the war effort. The War created all kinds of fashion issues and designers stepped up. The skirt of the gowns were fairly straight and of a heavier fabric than we see in the 20s and 30s.
A lady of the 30s would never step outside without stockings and full ensemble of the proper lingerie; the fashionista at war had to make do with what she had. Stockings were scarce so she went without or painted a line up the back of her legs to create the illusion of stockings. A lady invited to the rare formal balls of this time would save one pair of stockings for the occasion. Even so a new special lingerie set just for that event was sometimes unavailable at any price. So everyday undergarments are occasionally worn. This may explain why 40s dresses cover up more flesh making it easier to wear with everyday underwear.
This isn't the 40s and while there is a war (or two) on we haven't had to make so many sacrifices. Treat yourself to some pretty lingerie.
Hosiery ad from the 1920s
Don't forget stockings, women did not appear in public with bare legs. There are times you may have to wing it, if you can't find seamed hose, you can draw a seam on your leg with eyebrow pencil.
For evening ladies wore stockings made of silk or rayon. These fabrics had a light sheen and a tendency to bag a bit at the ankles. All stockings had seams. Stockings of silk or rayon are pretty hard to find these days so nylon will have to do.
Warning! There is a trend these days for contrasting seams - this is not period at all. Women of the Jazz Age longed for stockings without seams, but had to wait until after World War II for technology to deliver them. They would not want stockings that accentuated the seams.
Please, no fishnet stockings. These were worn on the stage only and would've been considered bizarre with regular dress.
Women wore stockings held up by garter belts or girdles. Some women, during the 20s, did roll their stockings down below the knee to feel more free (and shock the older generation). Pantyhose did not exist. They do make seamed pantyhose now and unless you make a practice of pulling your skirt up over your head, no one will be the wiser.
Best online resources:
Art Deco is one of greatest eras for jewelry. New technology and economic systems created not just new designs but a whole new clientele. While royalty and the super wealthy used to have a lock on jeweler's business many newly wealthy were wading into the diamond pool. Designers found the newly liberated woman a devoted and demanding customer. Houses like Tiffany, Lalique, Cartier, House of Mauboussin, and Van Cleef & Arpels flourished.
Art Deco jewelry, like everything Art Deco, is easy to recognize: bold geometric pieces that glitter with precious stones and platinum. Jewelers did not stick with just earrings, necklaces and rings, but ventured into: purses, cigarette cases, compacts, opera glasses, cigarette holders, etc.
Most of us don't have the real thing, like these fabulous diamond clips on the left, but don't let this stop you. Fabulous, and vintage, fakes are available and welcome as they enhance the best ball gowns.
We won't pretend to try to cover all the jewelry of the period, it's too big a task, but we will provide an overview and some galleries so you can begin to know what to look for.
One of the biggest trends in jewelry from this period that is most likely to stump the new collector is dress clips. These clips attach to the dress and in the 30s fashion designers started to design gowns with these darling items in mind. Dress, fur, and shoe clips appear in the 20s and go on through the 50s. Illusion Jewels Vintage Jewelry has pages of clips to look at and enjoy (and buy). Morning Glory Antiques has a great gallery as well.
More jewelry galleries:
Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry (San Francisco and well researched)
M. Schon Art Deco Gallery
Art Deco Diamonds
Milky Way Jewelry
A mix of 1920s Jewelry, note how the color is matched on the shoes and feathers.
Unusual and exotic are the watch words for the first decade of Art Deco. The economy was on fire and money was flowing. Showing off your money through lavish jewelry was the norm for the wealthy. This does not mean you must wear tons of jewelry, it just means you may.
Necklaces were either chokers to very long, often past the waist, and everything in between. Earrings are long for both day and evening. Bracelets are a huge fashion statement in the 20s from cuffs to battalions of bangles, slave bracelets that were worn on the upper arm (all that naked flesh had to be covered in something). Rings - all types are seen.
Hair jewelry was popular, particularly tiaras and jeweled headbands that sat across the eyebrows were all the rage.
What is fun about this decade is that all the jewelry does not have to match each other. You can mix it up, but do so with care, just be sure the jewelry compliments you and your dress.
The market crashed and much of the jewelry fun went with it. Jewelry becomes a tad more restrained and flaunting your wealth while so many are out of work becomes déclassé.
The traditional jewelry that we are most familiar with becomes the norm. Design is still geometric, but more natural "feminine" forms become popular. Necklaces hit more familiar lengths with the "choker" moving from around the neck to sitting delicately on the collarbone. Long earrings of the 20s become button earrings. Bracelets, still popular, but just one (maybe two) extravagant cuffs will do for a lady.
The 30s also sees the re-popularisation of the jewelry "suite" or parure in real or costume markets. These are pieces designed to go together and can include: bracelets, necklace, earrings, dress clips, belt buckles, and/or a brooch. A demi parure is a set of two or three matching pieces of jewelry, usually a necklace, pin, bracelet, or earrings.
"Don't you know there's a war on?" Yep. The second World War had a disastrous effect on jewelry. While the very wealthy are still buying, much of the metals were caught up in the war effort. So the focus became one of reworking older pieces in new ways. Attaching a dress or fur clip to a velvet ribbon and worn as a necklace is one example.
The production of precious and non-precious metal jewelry was minimal and, as their weren't that many occasions to wear them, largely unnecessary. Fashion loving women made do, as they must, with plastic and ceramic pieces for day.
Evening gloves are not a huge issue during the art deco period. Daytime gloves are important accessories; for evening they aren't that big a deal.
1930 Evening ensemble with gloves.
During the 20s gloves during the day were quite the fashion statement, but at night they are rarely seen. The evening look of this time shows more skin and covering that skin up defeats the purpose. When a flapper did wear gloves in the evening they were designed for that particular dress matching the fabric and trim. Other than this the fashion maven slathers herself in gems rather than cloth.
The evening glove returns in a simple way, reaching the mid-forearm to above the elbow. Gloves are simple and unadorned, made of cotton, silk or kid (leather) for evening. Colors are usually white, ivory or black, but can match the dress.
Like everything else during this period, gloves are a luxury, but if you had them you would wear them. Evening gloves can be wrist length or opera length or somewhere in between.
What the heck does 18 button mean?
A button is the glovemakers form of measurement and equals one inch. An 18 button glove meant that there was 18 inches from wrist to top hem, a six button is six inches from the wrist. 18 button used to mean the glove went past the elbow. Taller women know that 18 inches often doesn't make it to the elbow and the term has fallen out of use. These days over the elbow gloves are called opera gloves.
Opera Gloves Gallery
To Top It All Off
Hats in the evening aren't that popular during these decades. The 20s had the beaded skull cap and the 30s dabbled in some evening hats. This is not to say that head went unadorned.
Beads, feathers and jewelry top the coifs of the 20s lady. The more exotic the better. Headpieces were often worn low, just above the eyebrow to draw focus to the eyes.
1930s and 1940s
Jewelry and elaborate hair styles crown the deco darling of this period. We'll discuss this in more detail in hair and makeup. Tiaras during this time are worn only by royalty and beauty queens. They made a huge comeback in 1955 when Grace Kelly became Princess Grace.