1920s fashion: meet 18 iconic women who changed our style forever

Caroline Leaper
Caroline Leaper

We chart the greatest influencers on the 1920s style scene...

From the super-glam flapper girls to the first waves of cool androgyny, 1920s fashion was all about liberation, trying new things and having a whole lot of fun in the process.

After World War One, women's style loosened up (literally) as the corsets came off, skirts got shorter (shin flashing, imagine!) and thanks to a certain Coco Chanel, trousers for women were in for the first time.

1940s fashion: a decade captured in 40 beautiful pictures

While comfort was king, the efforts were still pretty fabulous – think art deco motifs, rich velvet or satin dress fabrics and pearl embellishments - as showgirls like Josephine Baker, Clara Bow and Greta Garbo became the key trendsetters of the decade. 

1. Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, Late 1920s
Oh Chanel. We are eternally grateful to Mademoiselle Coco for so many of fashion's greatest inventions; the little black dress, costume jewellery, espadrilles... But her greatest overarching influence? The liberation of women's clothing and the concept of casual chic in the 1920s. Chanel led the trend for a flatter, corset-free bust, a streamlined silhouette with no hyper-waistline and she popularised trousers for women. Next time you let it all hang out after a huge dinner, you'll think of this woman, won't you?

2. Clara Bow, Late 1920s
Here's the original IT actress Clara, modelling an ideal 1920s ensemble. The ultimate flapper, she looks ready to break into a Charleston any moment, doesn't she? The slimming chevrons and dropped waist became style trademarks for all flapper girls by day, and were amped up in sequinned versions for the Gatsby glam parties at night.

3. Colleen Moore, 1929
Silent film actress Colleen basically invented the bob. Women around the world copied the black block cut that she and a few other early adopting actresses made popular, making her one of the greatest beauty influencers of all time.She loved it so much, in fact, that she kept that haircut until the day she died in 1988. Talk about a signature style...

4. Louise Brooks, 1927

Party girl Louise tried and tested all the trends the decade had to offer, we've got her down as an Alexa of the decade. She popularised the bob, got women to see how fab trousers can be and was one of the first actresses to speak openly about her experiments with her sexuality.

5. Josephine Baker, Late 1920s
Josephine Baker is the woman who inspired Beyonce's booty-shake. How cool is that? The original showgirl was famous for her 'banana dance', plus she was a spy and she owned a pet cheetah, which she used to walk in Paris. Amazing. A queen of accessorising, the Jazz Age beauty sometimes wore little else on stage and by day she worked an Art Deco print like no other. 

6. Greta Garbo, 1926
On the set of The Temptress, actress Greta was one of the decade's most alluring film stars. While many actresses sexed it up to appeal to male audiences, her sense of style meant that women, too, were fascinated with her beauty. Her favourite designer was Valentina Schlee and she went on to epitomise old Hollywood glamour.

7. Gloria Swanson, 1921
Just look at Gloria, dripping with glamour in her spliced gold dress and bejewelled headband. Never knowingly understated, her extravagant dress sense meant that she was one of the decade's stand-out style stars, a Lady Gaga for the Jazz Age, if you will.

8. Dorothy Sebastian And Joan Crawford, 1927
As women's style relaxed there was more emphasis than ever before on sportswear and swimwear. We were still a long way off from the bikini here (it wasn't invented until 1946) but for the first time women could move freely and actually be active in their activewear.

9. Pola Negri, Early 1920s
The first European actress to be invited to Hollywood, silent film star Pola was responsible for introducing all sorts of our favourite fashion and beauty trends to popular culture. She loved a turban, put fur boots on the fashion map and even introduced the world to the concept of red painted toenails. 

10. Mae Murray, 1925
The original superstar pout, Mae Murray was known as the girl with the bee-stung lips. After beginning her career on Broadway, the constant showgirl became a Hollywood millionaire. 

11. Doris Hill, Late 1920s
A cloche hat was essential to top off any slick 1920s silhouette, as demonstrated by silver screen starlet Doris Hill.

Love 1920s fashion? See our pick of the best online vintage stores to get the look for yourself.

12. Dorothy Mackaill, 1927
As trousers for women became the norm, the androgynous look was the coolest trend to be seen in. Brit actress Dorothy worked a full tuxedo on the set of The Crystal Cup, making a style statement that women everywhere wanted to buy into.

13. Mary Pickford, Late 1920s
The square cut was the neckline of the decade, flattening the bust line after years of ample cleavage in corsets. Co-founder of film studio United Arts, Mary Pickford was a 1920s heroine for women at work, and a power-dressing one at that. 

14. Anita Page, 1928
Queen of pearls Anita, pictured below right with actresses Joan Crawford and Dorothy Sebastian for the film Our Dancing Daughters, reportedly received 35,000 fan letters in a week during her heyday. Remember folks, these were the times when fan-girls didn't have Twitter or emojis to express their love for a star, so these were physical hand-written notes of adoration. Amazing, right?

15. Our Future Queen Mother, 1923
When Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married her Prince Albert back in 1923, she chose the trendiest dress of the times. With a dropped waist and flapper-style beading in a slimming design, our future Queen's mother set the tone for fashion brides for the rest of the decade and beyond.

16. Jean Arthur, 1928
Jean was the 1920s' too cool style icon and queen of screwball comedy. She was publicity shy 'I'd rather have slit my throat' than do an interview and worked an androgynous slick look - think crisp white shirts and relaxed tailored trousers.

17. Fay Wray
Before she became an international superstar in 1933's King Kong, Fay was a young flapper girl with a penchant for Art Deco jewellery like no other. Just look at that gorgeous choker and all those stencil-like bracelets.

18. Zelda Fitzgerald 1928

Mr Gatsby himself, author F. Scott Fitzgerald declared his novelist wife Zelda to be 'the first American Flapper.' Her creativity, independence and attitude were exactly what being a flapper girl was all about - you didn't think it was only about those glitzy dresses now, did you?

And now for the best bit - Marie Claire's top vintage shops to hunt down 1920s fashion gems for yourself.

1. Radio Days in London's Waterloo
Ever wanted to know where stars like Pixie Geldof seem to find all of their amazing vintage pieces? THIS IS THE PLACE. Tell all of your friends. Or we could just keep it between us, yeah?

2. Absolute Vintage online
Absolute Vintage's website has a dedicated search filter for 1920s fashion. Heaven.

3. Paper Dress Vintage in London's Hackney 
Paper Dress holds regular themed events in their cool Hackney vintage shop, attracting fun groups of fashion appreciators. Check their website first to see when events are on.

4. Rokit Vintage online
You can search the thousands of vintage fashion items on Rokit's website by era, occasion, style and more. Clever!

Love this? Swot up on your knowledge of fashion history with our guides to 1970s and 1940s fashion...



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