In the not too distant future a new interpretation of The Great Gatsby will grace our cinema screens, and with it will come a renewed interest in 1920s fashion. With the new film, TV series from the same era, and society’s attempts to move away from the austerity of recent years, there could be something of the perfect storm. As such, is looking at a revival of all things 1920s not just for the potential interpretation of the ‘modern-flapper’ but also for the potential for the influence of 1920s fashion to dominate part of 2012’s fashion trends in the latter half of the year. But which elements will we be looking to in the coming seasons?

When you look back at the bygone decades, you either remember the political liberation, the historical restructure or the fashion. The way society’s men and women dressed, the shoes they wore, the parties they attended and the wine they drank.

The 1920s brought with it a ring of independence, sexual emancipation and life. People realised they want to live life to the fullest. The decade is remembered, perhaps even romanticised, for being all about sex, alcohol and jazz. After the horror of the First World War, people intended to make up for all the time lost. This overwhelming desire to bounce back brought about transformations that awestruck the world. Architecture became more aerodynamic, modern technology took over households and the female wardrobe underwent a momentous alteration. Even though books may argue that ‘youth culture’ gained popularity in the 1960s, Hollywood movies and TV shows set in the 1920s seem to argue otherwise. People lived a fast paced lifestyle, secretly consumed excessive amount of alcohol and danced the night away to live jazz at the bar.

But the real excitement was the birth of a flapper girl. And we’re now looking for her return.

the great gatsby film 1974
1974’s film interpretation of The Great Gatsby

The flapper girl of old

It was in the Twenties when the female sex was induced with an injection of self-confidence. She didn’t just free herself from the constriction of crinolines and corsets, but adapted a frivolous lifestyle. She was a bobbed-cut, career-minded woman, who took pride in wearing boyish clothes. The world saw the rise of a modern and new woman, who now had rights to vote and smoke a cigarette in public. Breasts and butts, which were once accentuated, were now flattened with stretch girdles. Even though hemlines didn’t brush the ground anymore, the loose silhouette gained popularity.

“The world saw the rise of a modern and new woman, who now had rights to vote and smoke a cigarette in public.”

The flapper girl eventually got lost over the years, but mainstream designers brought her back in several runway collections. Prada, Alexander McQueen and Jil Sander stirred up the fringed clothing trend in 2008. Even Kate Moss popularised the sleek, drop-waist look with her Topshop collection, but it didn’t take long for the trend to disappear. One of the reason being, women wanted to celebrate their body by showing it off and not hiding it under figureless gowns. Hence, the accentuated breasts, waist, and derriere – all of it saw a revival.

The screen’s influence

It was only last year when American period drama, Boardwalk Empire, made its debut on television. Set in the Prohibition period, this show exemplified what the era was really about – fashion and societal changes. It engulfed the pop culture addicts in a cloud of nostalgia, something that no magazine editorial or campaign image could do. It showcased a woman who started wearing bras and knickers under their beaded silk gowns. The silhouette had transformed into rectangular and vertical lines. Even though light and thin fabrics skimmed the body, they still managed to show off the subtle embroidered art on every piece. Just like Mad Men complimented Sixties vintage glamour, this show revived the Twenties for everyone.

And then there’s the much awaited film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which promises to relive the 1920s magic. Director Baz Luhrmann is helming a lavish 3D remake of the classic, set to be released in 2012. First published in 1925, the novel cleverly encapsulates the opulence behind every character. Fitzgerald used colours and styles of outfits to describe the glamourous lifestyle of the roaring Twenties. But it was actually Coco Chanel who really brought out the ‘glamour’ aspect in a woman’s wardrobe. With the release of the infamous Chanel No 5 perfume in 1921, Coco spelled out the true meaning of elegance and poise. She heightened the idea of dressing down by pioneering practical clothing for her sisterhood. She rebelled against what other costume designers were embarking. She started her own legacy, which still echoes in every fashionista’s wardrobe with a ‘little black dress’. A Chanel woman knew how to stand out from the crowd in her LBD – which was theoretically a ‘uniform’ for women back in the day.

“This ‘New Woman’ donned the idea of androgyny and endured a cultural reversal of attitude towards sexuality. “

In the late twenties a new type of woman had come into existence, one who wanted to sample marriage and a career. This ‘New Woman‘ donned the idea of androgyny and endured a cultural reversal of attitude towards sexuality. The promiscuous and less hypocrite kind were alive until the Great Depression. The ascents of the New Woman were curtailed by the Depression as the hemlines were lowered (again) and the waistlines went back to their original place. And thus, 1930s heralded with it the Art Deco period – traces of which are still alive today. The fashion can be summed in two words – geometric shapes. A streamlined style gained popularity, which was the brainchild of the new industrial design movement. As New York City celebrated the birth of skyscrapers and San Francisco marvelled over the Golden Gate Bridge, clothing took a whole new turn. The fabric sheet was more experimental, the colours were bold and the silhouettes were just sexy. This obvious and dramatic consumerism was guided by the sumptuousness of Hollywood glamour during the Thirties. Costume Designer Edith Head once said, “Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady”. And rightly so, the 1930s epitomised that. Stirrup pants, V-shaped back decolletage and shoulder pads gained popularity. Hollywood scarlets like Marlene Dietrich wore made-to-measure collared shirts with cufflinks and Joan Crawford swanked her sophisticated and sensual image in broad-shouldered tailored suit. The impeccable style of these fashion icons still resonates today.

Into 2012 and 2013

All of this is something of a perfect storm. Society’s fortunes are currently moving in much the same way that they did through that first part of the 20th century (save for a World War). Society’s tastes are moving the same way. The cinema and TV is rekindling our interest in the period. Fashion is currently in love with the romanticised revival. The list of similarities goes on, which makes us wonder what aspects of 1920s and 1930s fashion will we see incorporated in the 21st century?

Come 2012 it’s clear to see what ‘obvious’ elements from both periods will be trends: colour blocking, square-cut silhouettes and an inundation of fur are already popular. Incorporate into that the fact that maxi dresses have gained momentum, as have hats (blame the Royal Wedding), and that we’re currently living through a reincarnation of 70s fashion that is highly compatible with the 20s and 30s, and you’ll see it’s not hard for men’s and women’s fashion to go the way of the Roaring Twenties in 2012 and 2013. But how much of it is actually worth reincarnating?

With cheap rip-offs floating in the market, the ‘glamour’ factor of these trends that was once celebrated is now dissolving. Whether it’s Marc Jacobs’ Deco-inspired autumn / fall 2007 collection or tassel-laden silhouettes by Alberta Ferretti in her spring 2009 collection, these trends sunk relatively quickly. But the trend that still spurs, almost every season, is a well-structured tailored suit. We’ve seen it reform itself in almost every shape, form, colour and fabric; but it’s yet to reach its potential. Call it dress of success, an androgynous look or a close call towards the women’s homosexuality that Fitzgerald alluded to when he penned the character of Jordan Baker in Gatsby; this suited female is here to stay. The fabrics used by designers today are similar to what was used back in the day, with soft chiffon, silk crepe and georgette gaining popularity. But the only revolutionary aspect is how they are combining modern fabrics with computer-generated geometric prints to give this 21st-century style a third dimension. Intense craftsmanship is not just a ‘couture’ scene anymore, but a ready-to-wear concept.

“But the trend that still spurs, almost every season, is a well-structured tailored suit. We’ve seen it reform itself in almost every shape, form, colour and fabric; but it’s yet to reach its potential.”

With the new The Great Gatsby movie being the talk of the town, it’s noteworthy to see how the fashion in the film prevents itself from looking too ‘costumey’. The clothes must be easy to adapt into a modern wardrobe, without being too verbatim of the bygone era. They must satisfy the appetite for luxury as well as correlate with the mass market without saturating its existence. It will be a very close call between resuscitating the fashion of the 1920s and 1930s as a trend to completely dwindling its trace. We expect there’s a good chance of the former outcome; though the real question will be, how the trend takes hold and to what degree. As we do with all trends, we’ll of course be keeping a close watch.

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