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Shocking Fashion Trends in 1920 or The Adventures of Minnie Fewclothes

ImageThe fashions we take for granted were, about a century ago, quite shocking to the more traditional sensibilities. Here's an article from the Los Angeles Times, January 4th 1920.

Fashion or Health?
Bareback or Decency?

by Jane Dixon

The question of clothes is really becoming a serious matter.

Or perhaps it is better to say the matter of NO clothes is really becoming serious.

Whichever way you put it—the issue remains the same—it is better to pay the merchant a couple of hundreds for a few extra yards of material and keep in health or to pay the physician a couple of hundreds for few extra treatments to stay in fashion?

“One must make one’s choices” as they would say in dear old Mayfair.

There are any number of women who are frank to confess “they would rather be dead than out of fashion”

Well, it looks now as if they are going to be dead anyhow.

The woman is not extant whose physique can withstand the rigors of the North American climate with nothing between her and a snow storm but a wisp of material and dab or two of trimming.

The lady from the Rue de la Paix was swathed in black satin.

There was not very much to the satin. In fact, there was nothing to it below the knee—nothing except a row of fringe that flopped dismally along the silk sheathed limbs like the water soaked grass wardrobe of a native Hawaiian hula dancer.

Also, the lady wore sans sleeves,. There was a tissue trifle that began at the armpits and stopped abruptly half way to the elbow, as if ashamed of even this small concession to the conventions.

Here endeth the chapter, so far as the frock is concerned.

A word more of silk-sheathed limbs. The sheathing was of an extraordinary web known in the parlance of the trade as “fishnet”. This term is self-explanatory. At a distance of ten feet it would take a trained observer to distinguish anything but the holes in the net.

With this “striking outfit” which might more truthfully be called a “comedy makeup”, went a pair of those funny little snub-nosed slippers we once introduced in Paris and of which the Parisienne has never been able to cure herself. You know the kind I mean—with the ends describing a half circle, the vamp hitting the tops of the toes and the six-inch heels giving the wearer the continued appearance of a toe-dancer who had outlived her art.


Here is the peculiar twist to the tale of the knee-length skirt:

There were women, sensible enough citizenesses, who looked as if they might have kind, loving husbands and good clean homes, actually gazing with envy upon the cartoon-like creature, who might have borne a respectable name herself, but whom the man with me immediately christened Minne Fewclothes.

It did not take us the length of the corridor to discover the fringed freak had been adapted for and by the American trade.

We strolled up behind one short skirted gazelle who, from the length of her gown, should have been graduating from grammar school. As we brushed by she turned her head our way. The dear girl was not a day over 40.

“You sure must have a front view before you pick them these days” murmured the man, shaking his head negatively and sneaking a glance back over his shoulder at the caricature of youth.

I asked Miss Lillian Lorraine, well-known actress and eager exponent of startling styles, what she thought of the Eve revival.

“Well,” declaimed the darling Lillian, wriggling herself into the minus-quality gown she is wearing with so much sartorial success and so many pleasing press notices in “The Little Blue Devil,” “Well, why not? When will people stop being so squeamish about the human body? It’s beautiful isn’t it? Is it something to be ashamed of, to blush over this beauty of nature and the body?”

Personally, I believe in wearing just as few clothes as are consistent with health. Why hamper our movements? I suppose there are still a few antediluvians who thing they have to sleep with the windows closed and their heads under the blankest to keep from catching cold”

“If you own a beautiful painting you do not hang it up on the wall and then cover it with canvas so no one will see it do you? If you possess a beautiful back, I see no reason for concealing it beneath a layer of red flannel or of blue serge, even of pale pink chiffon. I thought we had gone beyond the place where men and women muddled up their minds with sex to the exclusion of art—of the natural and the beautiful.”

“But why bother with these evil-minded fossils? They’d find something wrong with the Madonna if you’d let them have long enough. Certainly, I’ll wear short skirts if I find them becoming, and I don’t think it is any one’s business whether I can draw both of my stockings through my pinkie ring at once or not.”

Miss Lorraine can afford to be defiant. She has the sort of a back that would convert the most solemn visaged carpers. She has even lengthened her waist line this season to conform to the downward trend in decollete fashions.

Which recalls an incident related to me by Mr. Charles Kurzman, one of our most distinguished metropolitan authorities on fashions, upon the occasion of his recent return from the style marts of Europe.

“The evening gowns at Deauville” confided Mr. Kurtzman, “were really shocking. In all my experiences as an observer of style, I have never seen such utter disregard of conventions.”

“One evening, during the supper dance at a hotel where were gathered the smartest dressed women in Europe, a man I knew came to where I was sitting and dropped into a chair. He was beet-red. Drops of perspiration stood out on his forehead”

“’ I’ve just had a most awkward experience’ he confided. ‘I dance with Mme X (naming a woman famous for the originality and daring of her gowns) and I could not find a place to put my hand that was not bare back. I had to use my kerchief’.”

“My friend seemed to think my explosion of laughter at his predicament very ill-chosen.”