What Was It Like in the Roaring Twenties in Art and Fashion?

Pola Otterstein 9 July 2022 min Read

The Roaring Twenties was a period when many things changed – both socially and politically. The dramatic economic growth of the decade led many Americans to adopt a totally different, more affluent lifestyle unknown to most people before this age. It was also the first time many people could live in cities rather than on farms or in small towns. The promise of the Golden Twenties was not, however, limited to the United States. Much of Western Europe, including Germany, England, and France took part in its glory. And it also totally overturned existing art and culture.

Hugo Boettinger, V kavárně, 1926, Art Gallery, Praha, Czech Republic.
Hugo Boettinger, V kavárně, 1926, Art Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic.

The 1920s were a time during which many of the artistic greats of modern history found their inspiration, thanks in part to the liberation of their artistic spirits. Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald – who wrote The Great Gatsby about the moral decline, prohibition, and life during the 1920s – were only some of them. When it came to art, many, many exciting things happened during this period. Shall we look at a few examples?

Women and Fashion

The Roaring Twenties was a period when the symbol of a woman was – at least in pop culture – characterized by short, bobbed hair, cigarette smoking, drinking, and fighting for women’s voting rights. The image was certainly that of a new kind of a woman. Another source of novelty was, for example, the trend to place pictures of women driving automobiles into women’s magazines, even though the vast majority of car-buyers and drivers were men. A great example of that is the autoportrait Tamara de Łempicka painted of herself in a green Bugatti. One of her most recognizable pieces is a great example of the femme fatale of the Roaring Twenties. 

Tamara de Lempicka, Autoportrait in a green Bugatti, 1929, Roaring Twenties in Art
Tamara de Lempicka, Self-portrait in a green Bugatti, 1929, private collection. Culture.

When it came to fashion, floor-length dresses were exchanged for knee-length ones, as women were finally allowed to show some skin. Coco Chanel was the most recognizable fashion icon of the times, known and loved for her avant-garde designs made for the modern woman, who really came to life during the Roaring Twenties. 

Street fashion in the 1920s. Roaring Twenties
Street fashion in the 1920s. Pinterest.

Together with the first trousers, flapper dresses, and bobbed hair came high-heeled shoes, hats, and fancy jewelry. Various shoes were fashionable such as the low-heeled “finale hopper” shoes and the high overshoes, as well as galoshes.

Woman's evening dress, first quarter 20th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA.
Woman’s evening dress, first quarter of the 20th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA.

Woman's evening dress, American, about 1928, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA.
Woman’s evening dress, ca. 1928, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA.

A simple cut and a golden silk pattern, often worn with long gloves and wavy hair, make a really good 1920s look.

Portrait of Tamara Lempicka, 1929, Paris. Photographed by Dora Kallmus of d'Ora Studio. Roaring Twenties in Art
Portrait of Tamara Lempicka, Paris, France. Photographed by Dora Kallmus of d’Ora Studio. Pinterest.

We can also admire the Roaring Twenties fashion in photographs taken by Dora Kallmus – aka Madame d’Ora. She was an Austrian photographer who captured fashion and portraits. Kallmus opened a studio in Vienna, Austria where she took pictures not only of Tamara de Lempicka, but also of other famous women like Josephine Baker and Coco Chanel.

The Roaring Twenties in Art and Culture

The 1920s were a time for new and captivating art to be created. New styles, namely Surrealism and Art Deco, were the leading techniques during the 1920s.

Chop Suey, Edward Hopper, 1929, The Roaring Twenties
Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929. Wikipedia.

Amongst the most famous artists of the period were the painter Edward Hopper and his scenes of solitude in America, the famous fashion illustrator and creator of witty portraits Georges Lepape, and the great Tamara de Łempicka featured above.

Georges Lepape – L’Entracte (Left) / Vogue Cover, July 20, 1929 (Right), The Roaring Twenties
Left: Georges Lepape, L’Entracte. Pinterest; Right: Georges Lepape, Vogue Cover, July 1929 issue. Vogue Archive.

The image above, on the right, is an example of what fashion looked like in the 1920s. A young woman is playing golf and looking quite fashionable in her knee-length skirt. Vogue was first released in the United States in 1892 as a newspaper and, only 24 years later, published as a monthly magazine about fashion and lifestyle.

The Roaring Twenties were also known as the times of the Harlem Renaissance. African-American art and the literary culture movement developed in New York’s Harlem district.

Winold Reiss, Interpretation of Harlem Jazz I, 1915-1920, collection of the Art Fund, Inc., Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL, USA.
Winold Reiss, Interpretation of Harlem Jazz I, 1915-1920, collection of the Art Fund, Inc., Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL, USA.

These creative times left a rich output of color, impressions, and new ideas that changed not only people’s thinking and their perception of the world but also played a huge role in art, music, fashion as well as history. What would the world be like nowadays without the elegance of Art Deco, the first fashion icon Coco Chanel, or The Great Gatsby?



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