Ready-to-Wear: An Eye on 20s Fashion

First impressions of the exhibition Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties might suggest that the only important article of clothing during the Jazz Age was the bathing suit.

Self-Portrait with Rita by Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889–1975). Self-Portrait with Rita, 1922. Oil on canvas, 49 x 39 3/8 in. (124.5 x 100 cm). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack H. Mooney. © T. H. Benton and R. P. Benton Testamentary Trusts / UMB Bank Trustee / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / Art Resource, NY

Twenties artists were drawn to swimmers because the new, revealing swimsuits—made of stretchy, clinging wool—allowed them to celebrate the modern body more openly. The new styles designed for women in the Twenties were tightly aligned with liberalized attitudes toward the body. To explore these shifts in style, I recently moderated a panel discussion held at the Museum with a panel of experts that included  Lisa Padovani, costume designer for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire; Jan Reeder, Consulting Curator for the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and WWD photographer Kyle Ericksen. You can join in the discussion by taking a look at the video of the event.

What might surprise you? During the twenties, there were not yet any influential American designers, and most American dress-makers supplying the new, ready-to-wear market relied on reports from Paris in magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair. A revolution in underthings inspired and supported the essential re-design of dresses. The new, tubular dresses—with low waists and no darts at the bust—went hand-in-hand with the scrapping of the hourglass corset in favor of silky underthings and stretchy girdles. And hemlines, although newly short, had ups and downs over the course of the decade, and were cut in a variety of draped shapes. Who are the contemporary designers who are reviving 20s fashion ideas in their lines this spring? Take a look at the video and find out!!