The period between the two World Wars, often considered to be the Golden Age of French fashion, was one of great change and reformation. Carriages were replaced by cars, princes and princesses lost their crowns, and haute couture found new clients in the ranks of film actresses, American heiresses, and the wives and daughters of wealthy industrialists.
Soon after the First World War, a radical change came about in fashion. Bouffant coiffures gave way to short bobs, dresses with long trains gave way to above-the-knee pinafores. Corsets were abandoned and women borrowed their clothes from the male wardrobe and chose to dress like boys. Although, at first, many couturiers were reluctant to adopt the new androgynous style, they embraced them wholeheartedly from around 1925. A bustless, waistless silhouette emerged and aggressive dressing-down was mitigated by feather boas, embroidery, and showy accessories. The flapper style (known to the French as the ‚garçonne’ look) became very popular among young women. The cloche hat was widely-worn and sportswear became popular with both men and women during the decade, with designers like Jean Patou and Coco Chanel popularizing the sporty and athletic look.
The great couturière Coco Chanel was a major figure in fashion at the time, as much for her magnetic personality as for her chic and progressive designs. Chanel helped popularize the bob hairstyle, the little black dress, and the use of jersey knit for women’s clothing and also elevated the status of both costume jewelry and knitwear.
Two other prominent French designers of the 1920s were Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou. Jeanne Lanvin, who began her career in fashion as a milliner, made such beautiful outfits for her young daughter Marguerite that people started to ask for copies, and Lanvin was soon making dresses for their mothers. Lanvin’s name appears in the fashion yearbook from about 1901 onwards. However, it was in the 1920s that she reached the peak of her popularity and success. The Lanvin style embraced the look of the time, with its skillful use of complex trimmings, dazzling embroideries, and beaded decorations in light, clear, floral colors that eventually became a Lanvin trademark. By 1925 Lanvin produced many different products, including sportswear, furs, lingerie, men’s fashion, and interior designs. Her global approach to fashion foreshadowed the schemes that all the large contemporary fashion houses would later adopt in their efforts to diversify.
The style of Jean Patou was never mainstream, but full of originality and characterized by a studied simplicity which was to win him fame, particularly in the American markets. Many of his garments, with their clean lines, geometric and Cubist motifs, and mixture of luxury and practicality, were designed to satisfy the new vogue for the outdoor life, and bore a remarkable similarity to modern sportswear. The most famous advocate of his style was Suzanne Lenglen, the legendary tennis champion.
In menswear there was a growing mood of informality, among the Americans especially, which was mirrored in fashions that emphasized youthfulness and relaxation. In the past, there was a special outfit for every event in the well-dressed gentleman’s day, but young men in the 1920s, no longer afraid to show their youthfulness, began to wear the same soft wool suit all day long. Short suit jackets replaced the old long jackets of the past which were now only worn for formal occasions. Men had a variety of sport clothes available to them, including sweaters and short pants, commonly known as knickers. For evening wear a short tuxedo was more fashionable than the tail-coat, which was now seen as somewhat old-fashioned. The London cut, with its slim lines, loose-fitting sleeves, and padded shoulders, perfected by the English tailor Scholte, was very popular.
Fair Isle patterns became very popular for both sexes. Heels, at the time, were often over two inches high and helped popularize the two-tone shoe its one of her trademarks. Salvatore Ferragamo and André Perugia were two of the most influential and respected designers in footwear. Many stars of the [silent film]s had a significant impact on fashion during the 1920s, perhaps most notably Louise Brooks, Gloria Swanson, and Colleen Moore. The lighthearted, forward-looking fashions of the 1920s gradually came to halt after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and succumbed to a more conservative style. While the flapper look persisted into 1930, it quickly disappeared afterwards, although bell-shaped hats lasted through 1933.