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A History of 1920s Hollywood Fashion

A look back at the style that punctuated the movies of the Roaring Twenties

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I was originally going to start this series off at the 1940 mark, but then I realized there’s unfortunately a lot of similarities between previous decades, and what we have gone through these past couple of years. The 1920s were an interesting period because it was directly after the 1918 Flu Pandemic, but right before The Great Depression which started in 1929.

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Back then especially, the state of the world was heavily reflected in the types of films being made, and you could even say it had an impact on fashion as well. As we go through the decades with this series, you’ll begin to see the correlation of how storytelling and fashion changed based on what was occurring in the world.

That’s why it’s important to start with the 1920s. This period is when film really began to blossom, and because the pandemic had just come to a close, people were ready to dress up, party, and have a good time. The 20s were also the official start of the silent film era (which in my opinion has some of the best acting performances ever because you had to act solely with body language and facial expressions), and the early beginnings of the rise of major film studios.

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As far as the fashion goes, there’s a reason why the decade is called “The Roaring Twenties.” The 20s were a mixture of glamour and laidback styles, expensive and lesser fabrics, and extravagance that was both rich and simple. The women donned dresses 24/7, but saved their best and most fancy for cocktail hours (which occurred between 6pm and 8pm).

If creative enough, they could even wear their cocktail dresses during the day if they could find a way to tone them down so to speak. The Cloche Hat was also a major staple in womenswear during this time, along with stockings, pearl necklaces, and T-strap heels. Jazz music also had a heavy influence in fashion during this time.

As for the men, they mostly wore suit jackets complete with single or double-vested breasts, bow ties, top hats, and tailored coats for the cooler days and nights.

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So now that we’ve gone into the history of film and fashion, let’s jump into some of the best movies of that era. We’ve got eight to get you started.

1. 7th Heaven

Released in 1927, 7th Heaven stars Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor as Parisian Sewer and an abused prostitute who start off faking a romance for image purposes, and then ultimately end up falling in love. 

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2. The Taming of the Shrew

We think you’ll recognize who this was written by originally.

William Shakespeare. Sound familiar? The Taming of the Shrew is about a young man by the name of Hortensio who falls in love with a young woman named Baptista. Unfortunately Baptista has a very demanding/headstrong father, who won’t allow her to get married until her eldest sister lands a husband. This is William Shakespeare, so you’ll have to watch and find out if the movie ends in tragedy or triumph.

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3. Don Juan

Starring John Barrymore (yes the Barrymore legacy has been around for about a century), as the ultimate playboy Don Juan, this film is about a player trying to find his next chess piece to conquer. What happens next? Does he get what he wants? And how does it ultimately lead to murder? Plot twist right? One of the most interesting movies of the 1920s decade.

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4. The Prisoner of Zenda

What happens when a family member visits your coronation, but bears an uncanny resemblance towards you so they have to essentially pretend to be you when you get kidnapped (there’s a whole lot going on)? The Prisoner of Zenda is about love, crime, jealousy, and everything in between.

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5. The Cock-Eyed World

Sticking with the musical category for a little bit longer, The Cock-Eyed World is about two Marine Sergeants who leave Vladivostok for Nicaragua by way of Coney Island. It should be noted that this movie literally came out at the end of 1929, leading to that change we mentioned earlier that The Great Depression caused.

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6. Chicago

There isn’t the 2002 version of Chicago without the 1927 film. When a previously fun-loving Jazz enthusiast goes on trial for the murder of her husband, there’s a lot of twists, turns, and shock that follows.

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7. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Good Cop, bad cop. Angel, devil. If you want to know where this whole phrase/persona originates from, be sure to check this film out.

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8. The Iron Horse

No decade is complete without an epic Western. While there were plenty of them in this decade, we decided to go with The Iron Horse, which is essentially a wild (no pun intended) story about the Pony Express.

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Don’t just watch these movies we selected! There’s so many more 1920s era films that are captivating. Be on the lookout for the next installment of our series which will chronicle the 1930s.

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