1920s Fashion History - Sheiks & Shebas


For more information on this decade in fashion history, check out our list of books and reviews at Recommended Reading. Also please visit our Links page.

For bibliography referencing, the author of this page is April Ainsworth.


Women's Vintage Fashions of the 1920s

Silhouette     The body outline was a very straight, flat-chested figure, with streamlined, close-fitting hats and hairstyles. Skirts fell between the knee and mid-calf in different seasons, for both day and evening wear. One exception was a robe du soir that had a straight bodice and low-waisted flaring skirt with an uneven, ankle-length hem. In general, the 20s were an elongation and simplification of lines.

Common Designs in Vintage Clothing

  • Sleeveless or cap sleeved scoop-neck lightweight dresses with no waistline or a lowered waist seam
  • Layered suit-styled jacket, blouse, skirt sets in softer, sometimes knit materials
  • Evening wear in sleeveless barrel shape with great amounts of beading- also panels, unusual streamlined drapes, or emphasis of the lowered waistline by a wide band of shirring or smocking

Fabrics Available     Natural fibers (linen, cotton, wool, silk), acetate, and rayon (artificial silk). Most daywear was medium- to lightweight, in crepes, georgette, knits and light suitings. Evening meant silk, in both sheer chiffon and opaque fabrics.

Popular Colors and Prints     For day, neutral grays, browns, and blues were common, but pastels and more lively colors were worn. Night wear was a rainbow of color for a young flapper of the day; prints were common, but usually in small checks or figures, or a floral pattern.

Trims and Detailing     Daytime saw little trim, but nightwear overflowed with beading, furs, feathers, flowers, and lace. Worldly ethnic motifs were the rage, while the Art Deco movement stylized every type of design with its sleek, modern, geometric lines.

Hemlines Day and Night     The hemline rose from the end of the teens to reach the knee in 1925, and remained hovering near that position until the stock market crash of 1929, when they too fell to mid-calf and lower. Hemlines were approximately the same for day or night.

The Latest Fads

This decade is notorious for its scandalous changes in fashion:

  • Smoking in public
  • Obvious make-up
  • Extreme dieting
  • Bobbed hair
  • Showing your knees
  • Rolled stockings

Some less "radical" fads are:

  • Piano shawls worn around the shoulders
  • American Indian motifs
  • Egyptian style craze, inspired by discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1923
  • streamlined Art Deco lines and figures


  • Development of bias-cutting fabric by Madeleine Vionnet
  • Invention of acetate fabric in 1924  
  • Separation of "all-in-one" girdles into two-piece bras & panties