You’ve read the headline before: The Roaring Twenties Are Back! The topic of the 1920s versus the 2020s has felt fairly ubiquitous since the world began creeping out of lockdown, with comparisons made by analysts, historians, and writers alike. Meanwhile, literal 1920s fashion trends trickled down to runway collections by way of opulent embellishments and nostalgic dress silhouettes. But beaded fringe and fluffy feathers aren’t the whole of it. “Clothing springs from the culture, and both the ‘20s and present day [are times of] recovering from trauma,” historian and curator Deirdre Clemente tells TZR. She’s a self-proclaimed “crazy Fitzgerald fan" and even served as a historical consultant for costume in Baz Luhrmann's 2013 remake of The Great Gatsby. “I think the parallel is a cultural one. You can’t overstate the role of the war on the 1920s and right now, the country is also in a state of trauma [while] trying to recover from the pandemic.”
Of course, the comparisons between the two eras don’t all have heavy overtones. “After trauma there’s always a sort of flurry of interesting things that happen in fashion and in culture,” Clemente adds. And what a post-Covid ‘flurry’ looks like, exactly? It remains to be seen, but if the onslaught of expressive dressing and the new class of pioneering designers have anything to do with it, history is in the making.
“Clothes are how we wear the culture outwardly,” says Clemente. “In the ‘1920s, technologically speaking, there was an incredible new rush of two historically important things — fabric dyes and and synthetic fibers like rayon — coming to market. Those two things defined and democratized what people could get their hands on.” One result of this newfound accessibility to fashion was flapper style. “This look introduced new ideas of gender and new ideas of dance culture. You can’t talk about these stereotypical 1920s evening gowns without talking about that,” Clemente continues. “Those clothes came from the places where music came from. People came up with the ideas for them [the pieces] while they were out dancing at those places, and wore early versions [of flapper style] before the look decimated to the masses.”
Outside of the speakeasy and in everyday life, there was another burst of newness on the womenswear front: athletic-inspired silhouettes. “Sports totally shifted how women dressed,” Clemente says. As women increasingly participated in activities such as golf and tennis, sportswear followed suit with lightweight dresses and higher hemlines that allowed for legs to move around more freely. Practicality also saw an uptick, with Coco Chanel’s womenswear featuring the most liberating design detail yet: the pocket.
“All of these clothes mirrored, embodied, and constituted the times,” Clemente explains, noting that the 1920s were defined by seismic moments in American politics, including a newly passed 19th amendment, the early days of birth control access, and prohibition. Now, that same sense of uncertainty and excitement is fueling a revival of party and occasion dressing — but, after nearly two years in sweatpants, with ease — so it’s fitting that go-tos of the OG roaring twenties would resonate. “Given the sense of nostalgia in the air and the reignited desire of dressing up with a nod of an extravagance, it only makes sense that the 1920s is a natural fit,” Trendalytics Fashion & Beauty Trends Editor Kendall Becker states.
Ahead, TZR has gathered a few tangible examples of ways this ineffable era of fashion is connecting with the present — and some splashy shopping picks to help you translate Gatsby-esque style into your everyday wardrobe, but with a contemporary twist.
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Like Clemente mentioned earlier, popular 1920s styles were born out of glitzy, speakeasy nightlife. “[These dresses] were made for dancing. They were made to shimmer and they were made to move your legs,” she says. “It was also a new way of showing skin — a total shift in how women dressed.” On the Fall/Winter 2022 runways, designers echoed this sentiment in spades, with interpretations of dance-floor-ready pieces ranging from a cocktail dress at Givenchy featuring strings of pearls falling from the hemline to the cascading bead gown at Schiaparelli that could have easily have been worn by Josephine Baker onstage at Le Casino de Paris.
All of the shimmering, shiny pieces that walked down the runways for fall felt like an homage to the Roaring Twenties, as did other forms of grandiosity. At Miu Miu, the sheer dresses delicately encrusted with teeny crystals were a highlight, as was the hand-beaded detailing at PatBo that reflected in the light like a disco ball. “Embellishment has been seeing a revival,” Becker says in reference to Trendalytics data points. “The search term ‘embellishment’ is currently found most in the luxury market with a high search volume, which indicates we’ll continue to see this evolve.”
As you know by now, 1920s fashion has many complicated facets — but that doesn’t mean you can’t still appreciate flamboyant trimmings. “The term ‘Feather Trim Dress’ has been seeing steady growth, and although it has received much social media attention, it's still most prevalent in the luxury market,” Becker says. “Currently, it's seeing a 237% increase in average weekly searches to last year. I'm expecting this to spike in the market come this holiday season.” Fringe is also showing up for Becker in a robust way, with an average of 143 thousand weekly searches, up 37% from last year. On the runways, brands like Khaite and Prada gave feathers their stamp of approval and fringe shimmied its way into collections at Christopher Kane and Bottega Veneta.
Beyond the glimmer and glamour, a notable silhouette of the ‘20s is the dropped waistline and lifted hem. The relaxed cut made it easier to dance and play sports, yes, but it also shifted womenswear toward simpler shapes, away from the confined attire of the Edwardian era. There were dropped waists on the Fall/Winter 2022 catwalks, too, as seen above at Simone Rocha and Maggie Marilyn, but you could also draw less-literal parallels to current trends like suiting and gender-fluid clothing that prioritize a similar sort of freedom and comfort. “The search term ‘Drop Waist Dress’ is seeing accelerated growth at a high volume,” Becker adds. “Searches are up 25% compared to last year.”