Historical Background of Fashion Costume in the 1920–1947
Ayvi Hossain Bonna
Dept. of Fashion Design
KCC Women’s College (Affiliated by Khulna University)
In the wake of World War Ι, imperial monarchies in Austria –Hungary and Russia collapsed. Germany reduced in size, became a republic; Austria –Hungary spit asunder into small, weak states. In Russia following the fall of the Czar and the demise of a weak democratic government, the Communists led by Vladimir Lenin seized power in 1917 and established a centralized government with the Communists as the only legal party. To enforce its will, the Communist government established a secret police to persecute political opponents and maintain the tyranny of the party.
In Italy parliamentary government succumbed in 1922 when the Fascist party, led by Benito Mussolini, came into power. In the meantime in the early 1920s the United States settled down to a period of unequaled prosperity. From 1923 to 1927 business was booming. A survey of the consumer goods that sold most activity provides a key to the interests and lifestyle that developed over the period. Leading the sales charts were automobiles. Radios (commercial broadcasting to the public began in 1922), rayon, cigarettes, refrigerators, telephones, cosmetics, and electrical devices of all kinds were sold in huge quantities. The purchasing power of the dollar increased twofold for most Americans. There was a boom in higher education, self-improvement books sold briskly, and travel abroad increased . In 1928, 437,000 people left the United States by ship to visit some distant place. This prosperity, however, had a dark side. While business was thriving and most people were increasingly affluent, the American farmer was agricultural products was fairly stable and the export market dropped off, creating surpluses. Cotton went into decline as rayon , a manufacture fabric became more popular.
Changes in the Social Life of the Twenties:
“…… the sensitivity of fashion to social problems provides a visible index of agitation and unrest. Drastic changes in clothing patterns are evidence of changes in clothing patterns are evidence of changes elsewhere (Horn 1975)”. Women’s costume of the 1920s provides the visible evidence of agitation and unrest which Horn speaks. Never before in the history of costume in the civilized West had women worn skirts that revealed their legs. Except for a brief period after the French Revolution women’s hair had never been cut so short nor had flesh-colored stockings been worn. Trousers as an outer garment had heretofore been strictly a man’s garment . (The earlier attempts to introduce bifurcated garments for women had utilized bloomers which were cut differently than a man’s trousers.) Rouge and lip color had not been used by “nice” girls . But during the 1920s all of these things became commonplace. These were visible changes in fashion costume for women that paralleled changes in the social roles of women. During the 1920–1947 changes fashion costume remarkably.
Toward the end of the decade the bubble of the 1920s prosperity burst . Business had been faltering after about 1927, but the stock market continued to rise to what astute financial observers felt were dangerous heights. On October 29,1929, the stock market collapsed , the last of several drops which had each been followed by recovery , but this time the recovery never came . The United States and Europe sank into the period now known as “The Great Depress. At the same time not everyone was poor . Many individuals and families retained their wealth . These were the group to which fashion magazines such as Vogue and Bazaar for women and Esquire for men turned for fashion news . They vacationed on the Riviera and in Plam Springs or at Newport, Rhode Island. They made headlines in the gossip columns and socialized with movie stars.
International Political Developments:
In Germany democracy fell victim to the depression when a government headed by Austrian –born Adolf Hitler , leaded of the Nazi party , came into in power in 1933 and established a one party dictatorship . Soon Hitler began to re-arm Germany, evading the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles. Meanwhile Japanese leaders, convinced that the United States blocked their path to an empire in Asia, ordered the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor . The United States became fully involved in the war in Europe following declarations of war by Germany and Italy. Wartime industrial production brought the United States out of the Depression. In the late 1930s recovery had begun, but this recovery was not complete as the war began.
World War ΙΙ:
Few clothing items were actually rationed except for shoes made of leather, which was in short supply. Guidelines called the “L-85 Regulations “were passed that restricted the quantity of cloth that could be used in clothing. Savings in fabric were made by eliminating trouser cuffs, extra pockets, vests with double breasted suits, and by regulating the width of skirt hems and the length of men’s trousers and suit jackets. Some garments such as wedding dresses and burial gowns were exempt from restrictions on women’s styles .Many fabrics available the war were in short supply. Nylon, invented in the late 1930s, had just begun to come onto the market when the war caused its diversion to military use. Wool was scarce. Silk supplies were disrupted because of the war in the Pacific. Natural rubber was unavailable for civilian use. Since most able –bodied men enlisted or were drafted into the armed services; women entered factories and took on jobs that were formerly held by men. In the factories, women required specialized kinds of clothing, and coveralls, slacks and turbans were generally adopted for jobs requiring for civilian use.
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