The Jazz Age

Female Fashions 1925–1935

How did being one of the ‘superfluous women’ alter a woman’s life after the First World War? Although married women had to leave work and return to looking after their homes, unmarried women and widows needed to carry on being self-supporting unless they had family money to keep them.

1920s cloche hat and shoes.jpeg

Everyone in work at this time felt better off because although wages had decreased, the cost of living had decreased even more. On the continent the cost of living was much lower so trips ‘abroad’ or even going to live there became a way of economising for people on a low income such as artists and writers.

Single women also had to learn to socialise without, or with fewer men. This gave increased popularity to the cocktail party, the bridge or Mahjong evening, visits to the theatre, and particularly to the cinema, where ‘talkies’ replaced silent films from 1929.

The simplification of clothing styles (for practical purposes) aided the home sewing possibilities, and women who had knitted comforts for the troops during the war now had the skills to knit jumpers for themselves.

1920s black and gold evening dress.jpeg

These women also played sports together in increasing numbers. Tennis, golf, hiking, cycling, rowing, basketball, hockey, cricket and swimming were popular, and the Women’s League of Health and Beauty was formed. It was claimed that women’s feet had increased a full two sizes between 1920 and 1926 because of the impact of sport.

However, this is not the entire picture of the period, but it is the lifestyle which we can show in the exhibition. This is the story of the clothing that tends to be preserved in museum collections.

J.B. Priestley, after a tour of England, found that “There was the old, rural, almost feudal England which still existed in the south-west; there was the industrial north, much of which was now laid waste and derelict; and there was the new south. … This is the England of filling stations and factories that look like exhibition buildings, of giant cinemas and dance-halls, bungalows with tiny garages, cocktail bars, Woolworths, motor-coaches, wirelesses and factory girls looking like actresses.”

For married women and the poor, life was as hard as it had always been and, in many cases, getting harder.