Once housework was done, 1920s women would put away their morning dress and apron and head out for the day. Running errands, visiting a neighbor, working in an office, or going to town for a White Castle burger and matinée movie all required you to dress well yet still enjoy the comforts and freedoms of semi casualness. The day errand dress was the one garment women wore the most often.
1920s Day Dress Style
Since these were not fancy parties, the colors were usually solid tones. In the fall and winter: black, mauve, purple, blue, sage green, and burnt orange. In the summer: Nile green (similar to jade), sunset orange, french blue (powder blue), and maize (light yellow) were the trends. Trimming was still minimal as well. As pictured on the left, contrasting trim colors lined skirts, sleeves, neck, and pocket edges. Rows of brass buttons down the center or off-center gave the dress a nautical look borrowed from men’s navy yachting jackets.
Some embroidery on the cuffs, collars or skirts heightened the sophistication of the day dress. A large flower made of fabric or ribbon on the shoulder or hip was another simple adornment. Ruffles of fabric were not used on the hem dress but down the bodice or skirt.
1920s fashion was all about elongating the body. Tall and thin was the “in” shape. Trim and accent were often placed in long vertical lines. Braid trim cascades down arms, bodices, and skirts. Box pleating was common on skirts in the mid to late ’20s. Paneled dresses formed a geometric pattern of tall rectangles. The only horizontal lines came in the form of the belt, ruching around the neck and shoulders, and trim on the bottom edge of the skirt.
The illusion of length was magnified by illustration artists of the day. The drawings were typically twice as tall as any real living women. This made it especially difficult for women to live up to — but they tried!
Although “thin and “tall” seem to be interchangeable terms in fashion you don’t have to be thin into order to create the illusion of height. The long vertical lines on ’20s dresses were very flattering to full figured women. This is the reason I am very adamant about 1920s clothing being the era that is flattering on most body types.
Day Dress Fabric
A fabric belt or sash in the same or contrasting color was worn low on the waist or on the hip. The position on the waist is something that is often associated with the year. For the most part, wide sashes on the middle or low waist were the most common in the early ’20s while thin and low hip lines were common in the later 1920s. While this was the general trend, it was really up to the woman to decide at which point was the most flattering on her regardless of the trend of the year.
While trimming remained simple, the fabric of day dresses were made of shiny silk crepe, satin, taffeta, batiste, light wool blends, knits, and some accents of organdy and lace.The richer fabrics raised her status from common housewife to charming socialite. These light, crispy, fabrics swished and swayed a little as she moved. Gathers at the waist in the early ’20s and pleating in skirts by the end of the ’20s allowed these otherwise tube dresses freedom of movement. It was only around 1924 and 1925 that long tube dresses were in fashion for day wear. They were simple too impractical to walk in for a “new woman” on the move. Side-pleats allowed some movement, but most women solved the problem by just shortening the dresses.
Day Dress Necklines
One of the defining characteristics of 1920s dresses from other decades is the necklines. Both dresses and blouses shared similar neck shapes. One shape very unique to the 1920s was the Beateau also called boat or scoop neckline. The very wide round opening made it possible for the dress to be slipped overhead eliminating the need for buttons or hooks. The leisureliness of the boat neck shape and ease of use went right in line with everything else about the casual ’20s.
There was quite a bit of other sea-faring influences besides the boat neck shape. Square sailor necks or deep V-necks with long bow ties were also borrowed from men’s sailing uniforms. The wide and long shawl collar was borrowed from the fisherman’s knit sweater. While the wide boat neck quickly faded from the early 1920s in favor of medium size round or pointed Chelsea collars, the sailor bow tie remained fashionable the entire decade.
The later 1920s didn’t see a change in collar shapes but in size. Deep V-necks shrunk up to narrow V’s, large round collars reduced to small peter pan collars, pointed collars became daintier, and even boat necks gathered in so that a single button at the back was necessary to pull over and fasten on.
Day Dress Sleeves
The other defining characteristic of day dresses were the shape of the sleeves. Except for evening wear, most day dresses were long sleeved. Short cap sleeves on house dresses were ok, but day time public appearances being more modest needed more coverage. Fitted sleeves had little extra room in the shoulder or arm and fit straight down to either a full length or an above the elbow or three quarter length.
Another common and unique sleeve was the bell shape. They gradually went from fitted at the shoulder down to triangle or bell shape at the forearm. Bell sleeves were quite open and comfortable compared to the fitted sleeves, although they had a tendency to hang off the arm and into food while out to tea with your friends.
The third most common day sleeve was called the bishop. It had small gathers are the shoulders for more ease and then ballooned down the arm and gathered again at the wrist cuff. It was a perfect combination between a sleeve that allowed freedom of movement and modest covering. It remained very common for at least the next two decades and can still be seen in clothing today.
These were not the only collar and sleeve styles of 1920s clothing but they were the most common on day dresses appropriate for public outings. In the next post we will see some more fancy trimmings and elaborate designs in party dresses.
Shop 1920s Day Dresses:
Here are some good choices for 1920s style day dresses that are more ideal for a daytime, afternoon, garden party or tea party event.