Fashion & the Class-Divide

The 1920s is often epitomized in flapper girls, rich adventurous folks, symbolized by The Great Depression and the roaring riches that led to the ruin of the glittering American societies that dominated the landscape, with the privileges that new money brought them. Although this society did influence Great Britain substantially, it was nothing much in comparison to the Industrial Revolution that was brewing in the Soviet Union. Industrialization of the most prominent cities here actually took place before any city, way back in the 1800s, so this wasn’t the same sort of industrialization – think favoring consumerism, knowledge of countries far-and-wide, trade, building of great and important machinery, architectural firsts, cultural breakthroughs. No, this particular revolution was about giving a much more precise shape to the class system in Great Britain. It was about discovering more than the bourgeoisie, or holding prejudice against the new rich, it was about the working class and their impoverished lives, as their country recovered from the ashes of the First World War.

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Some interesting aspects of society leisure now was jazz music, Parisian couture, Oriental cuts, like the beautiful kimono, vintage dressmakers, films, rare objects from the East, while life was still tough for the working class because the textile business was booming – all of a sudden there were commercial sewing girls, Canadian film star and Hollywood pioneer, Mary Pickford, became a fashion icon, a wide array of knitting patterns influenced by the colourful world outside of the United Kingdom, which meant good money for the country, fancy living for the upper class, but hard work for the proletariat. Because fashion was simply moving on from being influenced primarily by social hierarchy, it gave more leeway to exotic additions in the wardrobe for many – harem pants became cool, can you imagine? Speaking of discovering exotic lands, sea-faring adventures now took on a new name in the onset of a life recovering under the shadow of a damaging war, not to mention the repercussions that being ill-prepared, poor, an ineffective or much-weaker-than-expected royal lineage on the throne could have on Europe, and indeed the world. So nautical fashion did start to emerge with the arrival of sailors back home and all the festivities that it brought to the lands every now and again, but it was still too-early-days.

Titled as the Roaring twenties, this was an era when simple opulence was preferred because it was important to have common sense around – none of those frills and bows, anymore. Freedom to dress in any manner desired, such as the rise of swimming costumes, utility fashion while helping out with War efforts, meant that corsetry took a back seat to convenience. Men’s tailoring began to appear in society gatherings in parties, lent out to women’s fashion, and this was big news in Great Britain because trips to Paris for the fashionable elite were becoming a regular thing for ladies, year after year. Paris was the fashion capital of the world during the twenties, perhaps cemented by its status as a powerful figure in the world post the Great War. Even the tide of profligate living couldn’t stop New Yorkers from joining them in the capital of France, much like all of the darkest days of the Tsar’s rule., and the resounding poverty across the Soviet Union landscape, did not prevent visitors from St. Petersburg to come and try out haute-couture.

Seamstresses, the wealthier, learned class of tailors tending to all these shoppers numerous demands, would still work in a less than ideal environment in overcrowded backrooms of prominent boutiques, but none of it came to any of the shoppers knowledge or care, because they were far too busy listening to their personal stylists, advising them on the latest purchases for their very in-season wardrobes. Busy chattering away over cups of tea, these women would pick well-tailored, morning gowns in fawn and a much-more figure-flattering shape, afternoon gowns in rose, apricot and blues, fancy umbrellas, fur, warm jackets for colder months ahead, aviator-style headgear, prints, lush Ascot clothes – their purse-strings were just as wide as their ambitions!

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The couture houses of the time were pioneers of the craft and knew a thing or two about holding onto customers. So gossip over tea and extravagant purchases immersed in strict conversation about the society, meant that they would go onto retain their wealthy fans – a surefire way to get ahead, during intellectually challenging times! Gossips would centre mostly around the secrets of the fashion designers and how they made it so successfully in an age where revolutionary ideas were still very difficult for most of the elite to grapple with. And revolutionary it was because the Gulf propped up out of the history books and onto our streets in the form of the rising love for very ethnically designed harem pants, while all of this talk about rich wallets cannot be talked about without the mention of old money and where all of it was stashed – inside the wardrobes of the rich from the Soviet Union! From the super-cold atmosphere up there, we got more than just mink fur trimming our coats, and rabbit fur adorning our hats, we also got very pricey embroidered silk stockings, elaborate and soft-as-a-feather satin gowns, and seductive silk dresses.

The afternoon dresses became growingly less conservative as the age progressed: you had summer shift dresses, the chemise worn as outerwear – such stylistic dresses were growingly popular, and because more women were now working than ever before, cotton dresses for the summer, wool dresses for the winter took over from corsets for women with waif figures. Women from this decade began to be characterised by their boyish figures instead of the more busty/curvy figures of the decades previously. Their hairstyles were shorter, for example, the bob emerged as a favourite with the upstate tennis societies, just to make hats look all the more pretty and have them stand-out. Women with boyish figures needed a column-look for their dresses, hence the shift-dress minus the waistline and plus the fanfare.

Workwear for women took on a new approach with straight and stiff shirts, that had protruding collars, and were paired-up over knife-pleats skirts that sat just below the knee. For the working-class girls, who could not afford car rides and the crazy avant-garde living of the rich, the clothes the rich wore still captivated their imagination. Professionalism was the key word for women of all social classes, particularly the proletariat, in getting ahead, so they sort-of contributed a lot to workwear of the times, with simplistic, cheap clothes put together with the help of ideas borrowed from the rich. Most of these women worked as telephone operators or typists during the time, so it was important to adapt the morning dress concept into their lives, while keeping the odd luxury item, such as the very expensive silk purchases for the rare eveningwear when out with friends.

The class-divide in Great Britain at the time was starkly noticeable in how society chose to dress. Not only that, but it also gave new meaning to the aspirations these women had, and how different their lives were from their more glamorous cousins from across the Atlantic. Every day was divided into three separate categories: morning, afternoon and evening, and all three of them would dictate the choices of clothes for women. It defined how the fashionable from all classes dressed because morning gowns were, you guessed it – workwear, afternoon gowns might be more familiar with the term used to describe them now – “tea dresses” or “tea gowns”, mostly embroidered, and sometimes with long, billowing translucent sleeves, while evening gowns were long, in satin, velvet, silk, and sometimes adorned with embellishments, such as beads and rhinestones.

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About Osmi Anannya

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