Decorative Arts in the Art Deco: Women’s Fashion

Think of Art Deco fashion and you think of the ‘Flapper’. Glamorously dressed for a wild party, the ‘Flapper’ wore a beaded evening dress, a turban or a headband, a small beaded bag, a feather boa and, to top it off, a long cigarette holder. Yet, in the Art Deco, women’s clothing was far more complex than this image. The women that Loupot knew and that he depicted would have changed their clothing according to occasion; they also would have adapted their wardrobes as the era progressed, with styles constantly shifting.

The female silhouette, shaped through dress, underwent a number of transformations. At the beginning of the period, the Robe de Style was the fashion. Dresses were designed with nipped-in waists and skirts that flared out. Yet, in the 1920s, the garcon look emerged as dresses became looser and less fitted, with the waistline dropping lower and lower. The English art critic James Laver satirised such developments in his poem ‘Women of 1926’. He wrote: ‘we’re young and hungry, wild and free,/Our waists are round about the hips/Skirts well above the knee’. Yet, by the end of the Art Deco, longer skirts were back. The boom in the production of cheap fabrics meant that women could keep up with these fashion cycles.

Depending on need, women wore very different outfits. At home, a woman might wear a cotton dress, personalised with embroidery or trimming. Outside, she would wear either a tailored dress or a ‘walking suit’ of a skirt and jacket. New trends emphasised functionality as well as style. The Art Deco period saw women wearing sportswear (perceived as quite masculine) more often. This fed into high fashion. The designer Jean Patou produced clothing that was influenced by tennis outfits, for example, by creating pleated skirts. Writing into Tatler in 1928, the contributor M.E. Brooke wrote that ‘sports clothes have been developed to such an extent that they may go to lunch at the fashionable restaurants; as a matter of fact they are often worn until the hour of cocktail’. Encompassing both the ‘Flapper’, the housewife’s ‘walking suit’, and pleated tennis skirts, women’s dress in the Art Deco was complex and nuanced, reflecting the changes of the period.