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May 17, 2011

Whatever Happened to Twenties Style?



It's been a while since I've written about Twenties style.  Quite frankly, I'm worried about it.  I have always maintained that once a style has been relegated to Halloween costume status, it's gravely endangered. 

Sadly, we've come to remember Twenties fashion as a fringed sheath, long beads, and a headband.  Stir briskly.






Part of the problem, I think, is that the original source material is too distant -- not in time as much as in popular memory.  We remember Thirties fashion primarily through old movies, so many of which are still beloved.  Most Twenties films, however, were silent, and are forgotten.  Many are lost entirely.

How many people remember Colleen Moore, or have ever seen a Clara Bow film?





More recently (though not much) Twenties style was filtered through the Fifties and early Sixties, when there was renewed interest in the period.  They usually got the beads right, but the silhouette wrong.  It would have looked too dated.

The Twenties' female ideal was the boyish figure and the Fifties and early Sixties' ideal was curvy.






Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis looked more authentically Twenties in Some Like it Hot than Marilyn; androgynous looks were in.



Pattern companies' attempts to revive the Twenties were often unfortunate.




I own some original Twenties patterns myself and I've made one for Cathy.  They can be hard to find and expensive when you do.







The Twenties chemise and dropped waistline is revived on the runways from time to time, true, but why isn't Twenties style more popular?  Is it simply too costume-y for today's tastes?



I recently picked up a fabulous book on Twenties fashion (both male and female), Fashions of the Roaring Twenties, by Ellie Laubner (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1996).



It is full of gorgeous photographs of the wide variety of Twenties fashion, and does a great job establishing the historic context too.  It was a period of tremendous social change for American men and women, and for the latter especially, this was reflected in how they dressed.







More pics of Fashions of the Roaring Twenties and Twenties style here.

Friends, do you consider Twenties style too remote or do you incorporate it in your own style?  (If so, how?)

Is the Twenties just a boop boop de doop on your fashion radar?   Do tell!

PS - A wonderful article on Twenties fashion with some great videos over at Glamour Daze here.

58 comments:

  1. I love 20's style! I even keep my hair bobbed. But I don't often dress in it. I think it has become too costumey. Thirties through seventies styles blend in with today's fashions while 20's looks stand out as...20's styles. That said, I've been looking over 20's reproduction patterns with the idea of making one this summer.

    Coincidentally I was thinking of doing a post with some of my drop waist 80's patterns that were 20's influenced.

    As for the movies, I watched two Rudolf Valentino movies over the weekend and have a Gloria Swanson one still on my DVR waiting for this weekend.

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  2. Susan, you are exceptional -- in so many ways!

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  3. The twenties styles do tend to look a bit costumey for some reason, although they are very pretty. I love vintage and collect patterns from 1930-70 but am afraid to wear the styles because I'm in my mid forties and I think I will end up looking frumpy in them. That 20's dress looks great on Cathy, love the color!

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  4. Love, love, love the twenties style! The make up, too. I'm an old movie fanatic and the 20's and 30's are my favorites. I, too, bob my hair but I've yet to get it to look 20's. Oh well. I've tried dark eye make up and red lipstick but that, too, fails to look 20's. And I don't think women wore jeans, either. So it must be a style I have to admire from afar.

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  5. I LURVE 20s style and have desperately been trying to work out some ways to incorporate it into a more flattering silhouette - I think if you have hips (Cathy, bless her, is fortunate not to, but most of the rest of us do...), then a dropped waist is a disaster.

    If you don't have it already, the Pepin Press Art Deco fashion book has lots of original fashion illustrations from that era - there are about eleventy billion coats in there that I wanna make - it's this book. And it is massive.

    Also the two Roaring Twenties fashions books - I wonder if there's any crossover with the one you posted - are huge and stuffed with eye candy. This one, and this one.

    I want it ALL!

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  6. I think the problem is that style is only flattering on a very specific body type, such as Cathy or straight-as-a-board runway models. It's too bad it's become costumey though, some of the stuff Clara wore in that clip is amazing.

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  7. For me it's a look so bound up with body acceptance issues that I can't see it any other way. As a 14-15 year-old, the twenties were my look of choice. How I yearned for those flat chests and dropped waists... and how I railed at my body for developing not just hips and breasts, but far too much of both. When I realised I'd look like a cube if I dressed that way it only set me down a path of hating my new body even more...

    Fortunately by my early 20s I'd realised that nipped-in 50s waists were the thing for me, and I haven't looked back since!

    Cathy has the ideal body for twenties fashions but it's not an easy look to pull off for everyone...

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  8. 20s style is pretty, especially the fabrics and embellishments, but the silhouette is tough for most women to pull off. Especially if we are pleasantly plump or even just curvy. Loosing the waist doesn't do a lot of us any favours. That's why I avoid it anyway.

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  9. Some of it reminded me of "Pollyanna." Not necessarily a look I would want.

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  10. I think that part of the problem with '20's fashion in the modern world is that the lithe, "boyish" figure that looks really good in straight-cut dresses has become more and more rare. Most women now are "curvey", due to simple genetics or McDonald's or plastic surgery. That said, for women who can wear the style, I think that the '20's look CAN be done without being too costume-y, so long as it is done very simply or in combo w/ more modern elements. I would personally love to see a resurgence!

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  11. Hi Peter,
    I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now. This topic is near and dear to my heart because the main impetus of my learning how to make my own clothing (and eventually hopefully draft my own patterns) is a desire to create a functional wardrobe based on late 1920s daywear. I am slowly finding RTW pieces that contribute to the right look, but it's not easy to find anything by looking specifically for 1920s style as a keyword. It really is a shame that a whole era of what I consider classic style has been reduced to the fringed flapper dress costume in most people's minds. I love the menswear of that era as well.
    I'm really enjoying your blog not just for the sewing tips but because you're making clothes across gender lines. In my own 20s I dabbled in drag kingery, and have always had an ideal of myself in my head as being a cross between a dandy and a flapper. Now that I'm about to turn 36, I'm finally figuring out how to incorporate that style into my everyday wardrobe without being too costumey, but it's very easy to tip the scales in that direction if you add a cloche or the proper type of footwear, but frankly, that's not such a bad thing, really.
    <3 Eli

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  12. My friend and I were just talking about 20s style in reference to her 10yo daughter. We firmly agree that it's not suited to the modern (and much curvier) figure. Add breasts (even strapped down) to the straight sillhouette and what you end up with is 30 extra pounds.

    I think to bring it back, one might wish to evoke the art nouveau aesthetic or beaded hemlines?

    I'll stick with the edwardians... the clothes fit better. ;)

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  13. Yes, the 20s silhouette looks best on a tall and thin person, but look at Clara Bow--she would be considered "plump" by today's ideal (as opposed to REAL) standards.

    As for 'incorporating it in my style', I have no style, so I check this blog to see what I'm missing!

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  14. I like 20s style in the fact that I love the embellishments and the flapper look sort of reminds me of a sassy jazzy way of life...that being said, even though I have a straight figure, I really do not like the silhouette on myself. This is because I don't want to look even more flat and shapeless than usual. Maybe this is reflective of the current time period, but I don't really know anyone who wants to look completely shapeless. And since I have a long torso, the dropped waist would make it look like my torso was so long that i barely had any legs! I'd rather wear something nipped in at the waist, so it looks like my legs are longer and my figure has shape.

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  15. I think it was a transitional body shape, honestly, that looked daring at the time but is now so modest and sack-like that it's really hard to revive. I say this as someone who looks good in a dropped waist, which is rare. Twenties high-fashion also still depended on a quality of workmanship (bias cuts, hand beading) that is not going to be replicated today.

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  16. I love the style, but I'm more suited to the 50's bombshell look. My waist is 10" smaller than my breasts and hips. NOT fashionable for a 20's girl!

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  17. I'd "do" Twenties style, but I'm WAY too curvy for that to work. I'm a 30s girl at heart. My favorite period is really 1930-1935. There's something about the early 30s that just appeals to me.

    As for the Roaring 20s, I agree with Anon. who said it is "modest and sack-like" as part of the problem with a revival. Personally, I think the 70s does 20s look is probably more doable in today's day because there's a little bit of 70s resurgence.

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  18. When plastic boobs go out of style the 20s style lines may stand a chance of a resurgence. They look terrible on buxom women...

    I love 20s style, as it actually fits my figure style well, but I feel too conspicuous wearing it.
    I have a modern made, printed silk dress, that is 20s style, fits very well and is beautiful yet understated... I never wear it :( I guess if I was going some place extra special it would look nice, but the only time it came out of the closet was Halloween, a famous couples theme party- I went as Zelda Fitzgerald.

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  19. "... It's not insanity, says Vanity Fair. In fact, its stylish to raise your skirts and bob your hair..."

    Now I need to re-watch that movie to look at costumes. Sigh. Another Julie Andrews win.

    I think the problem with 20s style is that most adult women today can't pull it off. If you are very straight, then it looks good (Cathy totally rocks it). If you have a very hourglass figure, then it usually ends up looking like you are wearing an ill fitted sack. It is one of those things that I appreciate, but could never actually wear myself. Since relatively few people can pull the look off, I think that has forced it into costume territory. Ah, well.

    "Everything today is thoroughly modern..."

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  20. Looking at the Clara Bow clip, I can see that her style of dress predominately is what has been called "Collegiate". I <3 "Collegiate".

    Interestingly enough, the styles of the 20s were directly influenced by WWI. There is little difference other than hem length between dresses of 1918 and 1922.

    To quote the Duchess of Westminster, "Hems went down nearly to the ground in 1923 but were up to the knees by 1925, and the waistline wandered high and low, but throughout the 'twenties bosoms and hips were definitely out".

    I think that may be part of the reason that 20s style is so hard to incorporate. It didn't know itself what it was. How can we, nearly a century later, begin to define it?

    There's a lot that can point to the cause of the fashion and I could copy a large segment from "History of 20th Century Fashion" by Elizabeth Ewing. If you can get hold of that book, the relevant pages I'm looking at are 91-98 in the 1974 Edition. It's a VERY interesting read.

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  21. I wonder if the modern tunic-and-leggings look is the current incarnation of the 20s aesthetic? Technically I have the figure for it, but I have a hard time being attracted to most 20s styles, too---I love the detailing, but not the shape. That being said, I often like the photographs better than the drawings, so some of it may be the line drawing styling. I love a dropped waist, but I like it to have some shaping above...

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  22. For an extended look at 20's fashion, take a look at the 1990s series "The House of Eliott." (I found it at my local library.) The 4 seasons of the show follow 2 sisters (who found a fashion house in London) for 8 or 9 years beginning in 1920. The fashions are wonderful, and they change subtly over time, just as fashion does in real time. Notably, few if any of the actresses in this series are especially thin--there are fashion models and ballet dancers portrayed here, and they're positively chubby by today's standard--ie, they are normal-sized women.

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  23. I love twenties style as well and it is one of the vintage looks I can actually do. There hasn't been a real homage to elements of twenties style since the mid 80's trend for dropped waists - yes it was there in between the shoulder pads and the neon - and what really killed it, apart from the increasing tendency for women to be pear shaped - is the emergence of knitwear. Blame Coco, blame the great leaps in knitwear technology, blame the expense and time it takes to hand bead a dress. Never mind, it will slowly make the twenties more and more special to a select few and then the pendulum will undoubtedly swing back.

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  24. Peter I agree with your observation that the 20's are hard to know due being filtered (and distorted)through the two revivals you mention. Plus - that decade was almost a century ago now which is a long time. But you know, EvaDress.com sells authentic reproductions of 20's patterns, there is daywear as well as the iconic flapper party dresses we all know. there is even a pattern for a 20's garter belt! :D

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  25. ack! I'm drooling over your 20's patterns! I would definitely like to try my hand at making a 20's dress..I think it all depends on the accessories, hairstyling, shoes, etc. as to whether it can be pulled off. I think it really has to be styled otherwise it has the potential to look like a sack!

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  26. And what about the famous Delphos Dress by Fortuni? Those dresses are exquisite. I found a pdf about the authentication of one dress, it is long but full of details and photos
    http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ss/docs/dykes_amy_r_200312_ms.pdf

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  27. Hasn't Cathy also sported a cloche at times? Very 1920's!

    I love all the beading and lace of 20's dresses, but overall the styles are a disaster for my hourglass figure. C'est la vie!

    Nice to run into you today!
    Clio (aka Tricia)

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  28. I never realized how amazing '20s style was until I saw the "American Woman" exhibit at the Met's fashion wing last year. If you found the book for that exhibit you would find some lovely looks

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  29. I love love love the roaring twenties! And I absolutely love Clara Bow's hair!
    But I think that what makes it (twenties fashion) look so costumey is that when we wear it we are just wearing the clothes and not capturing the moment in time. There was a lot going on during that time that made the fashion so necessary and worth it. Take the flapper for example, she was a woman that was rebelling against the uptight culture and fashion of the Edwardian period (correct me if I'm wrong lol). She was a party gal, her dresses were considered short, she wore a short rebellious hair cut (the bob) and wore bobby pins and red polish. These things are so the norm now.

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  30. Here's a video of the American Woman exhibit...a little past halfway you can see some beautifully beaded 1920s evening wear:
    http://www.metmuseum.org/special/se_event.asp?OccurrenceId={CA088C8E-D618-4503-91E7-833569115BF2}

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  31. As a woman with a boyish figure (at least vertically), I'd love a resurgence of 20s styles. I have a dropped waist cotton summer dress that is very 20s inspired.

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  32. I'm not a fan of the 20's style, but then I have a much curvier body type. Also, the dropped waist dresses look like ones that were popular when I was in elementary school. I do not want to revisit age 9.

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  33. I agree with many of the other comments - 20s style is hard to pull off without looking dowdy, unless your figure has Cathy's gamine qualities. Women in the 20s wore crazy girdles to suppress hips and breasts and get that straight line look.

    Another explanation is perhaps that the 20s ideal is similar to the beauty ideal of the last two decades - a straight figure with slim hips and little bust. The low waist has also been fashionable for much of that period in the shape of low-cut jeans. I think many women are attracted to vintage because it is a different kind of feminity and is easier to work for a curvy figure.

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  34. 20s fashions are often misrepresented because when people think of them all they envision is the 20s rectangle silhouette. The thing is we have 50s foundation garments (boobs up) that are the cornerstone of todays fashion, but in the 20s, it was still corsets. Flat front corsets.

    The bust was not very pert, so to speak. It was quite flattened and smushed to the chest. When you do that at the top, any style at the bottom can wear a drop waist.

    Also, there were natural waistline fashions in the 20s. They can just be more difficult to find. Wanna wear 20s like styles everyday, shop at Chicos.

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  35. I have the flat board look that goes with the 20's fashion, but I'm short, so I always worry the drop waist will make me look shorter. But I have a strong identification with the 20's look these days. Love the spit curls!

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  36. I have to admit, I am not a fan of the 20's fashion era. Although,when I think of that era, I think of the flapper-type fashion. Maybe there is other types of 20's-era fashion that I haven't seen. Guess I'll have to check that out.

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  37. If you are interested in the look of the '20s but want to use modern patterns see the Folkwear site: http://www.folkwear.com. In the retro section they have 6 twenties era styles, including a smoking jacket. I don't see why these fashions would not look great on a variety of figures. I don't know why the twenties is not more inspirational, but you can find cloche hats, long beaded necklaces and shorter skirts, so perhaps some of the fashions still have influence.

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  38. I think the enhanced bosom is currently too popular, so the flat-chested silhouette is not yet ready for a comeback. The pendulum may swing back again soon! It's been a while.

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  39. You know, I never really thought about 20's fashions as being a flattering look but after reading today's post and its comments, I'm thinking I could rock this silhouette, having a rather board-like figure myself.
    So thank you for the food for thought. (burp)

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  40. I love the 20's - the whole look! In a lot of ways they are similar to the mod sixties, which is a look I also adore. No surprises I've spent half my life with bobbed hair...
    I think there was an 80's trend for dropped waist dresses (I made one!) and maybe a lot of people are still getting over that!

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  41. I like the jewelry, make-up and hair-style, but you're right - it does look a bit costume-y.

    I think one has to have a certain figure so it doesn't look dowdy (as everyone else has said!)

    I am off to paint my nails bright red!

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  42. Not for me. I've always liked the twenties, especially the garment handwork and the hats, in particular the cloche.

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  43. I'm with ShellyJ and Kate: breasts and waists are too popular for 20s fashions to work today.

    From the neck up, however, 20s looks are fabulous today! Cloches are cute and keep rain off my head, and bobs are almost universally attractive.

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  44. Love the twenties look for women (like Cathy) and I think with the popularity of the TV series Boardwalk Empire there may be a swing in that fashion direction.
    You may be interested in this link as they have patterns available from that era.....http://pastpatterns.com/1920.html

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  45. Don’t forget the fabrics! 1920s high end fashion as lovingly reproduced in ‘House of Elliot’ could be marvellous because of the materials regardless of the silhouette. Beaded silks, brocades, soft velvets...yum. Look at the image of the 1920s version of Fortuny’s Delphos gown at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ateliersol/2199052401/ It’s beautiful dusky carnation pink silk, weighted on shoulders and sides with Venetian glass bead strings.

    While such a gown would obviously work best on the slender, the note says “the pleats in the fabric allow the gown to expand to fit a range of sizes. It was photographed on a mannequin that measures 35" bust, 25" waist, and 36" hip”.

    BTW, fictional detective, 1920s Phryne Fisher, who is almost as fabulous a gal as Cathy, wears the most wonderful clothes. She’s the well-researched creation of Aussie author Kerry Greenwood and the books are published by Allen and Unwin.

    \

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  46. Check out the old film "The Great Gatsby" (Mia Farrow, Robert Redford, Bruce Dern, and a very young Sam Waterson) for a Hollywood version of the twenties.

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  47. Maybe the style is too old to be used in it's original form today. It's silhouette is not very pretty for most people, putting together a very low waist and medium skirts. I wouldn't consider flat bodies the issue, as sixties flat bodies can be a lot popular.
    I like to wear the twenties style sleeveless, or shorter, or with a deep V neckline.
    Cathy is looking great! I'd love to try sewing one of those original patterns!
    This is my first time commenting here on the blog, but i've been reading it for a couple of weeks. I loved the jeans so along, specially because I am teaching how to sew pants now! It came at the right time for me.
    Great blog!

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  48. I have old family photos. Civil War fashion up to today. I find that clothes didn't make any woman look particularly well. The children looked very cute in the 20's styles, and now I think of it, I assumed these were house dresses, but they are obvious 20's style. Yeah I guess I have to agree that on normal women, the look gets frumpy fast.

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  49. Thanks Hoosiermama for recommending "The House of Elliott." I was in love with the clothes in that series and have made myself many outfits with that dropped waist in mind. It's a really great look when the waist no longer curves in as much as it used to. Unfortunately, the series lost its funding before all the stories were resolved, very disappointing. But the clothes were heaven.

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  50. I have to agree with what a few other commenters have pointed out: most women today are fuller figured than they have been in times past, and the 20's silhouette just doesn't flatter that figure. I'm a plus sized woman myself, and while I look *fabulous* in an A line skirt and low V top, I would look like Humpty Dumpty in a 20's sheeth. A fairly glamorous, ready for the silent stage Humpty, mind you... but roughly potato shaped nonetheless.

    It's a fashion era I can look back at wistfully and with admiration, but I'll never craft myself something of that particular shape.

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  51. But the shoes ... the shoes .... mmmm. So cute, so practical!

    (Also, I have a feeling that if you put on a Coco Chanel jersey suit from the 1920s, you would look fashionable in any era.)

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  52. The last few weeks of my life have been all about the 1920's. Our high school's spring musical was The Drowsy Chaperone. I was asked to make a few pieces for the show. Here are some photos: http://mermaids103.blogspot.com/2011/05/finally.html

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  53. Great job -- wonderful costumes!

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  54. I'm just catching up on my blog reading so I've only just found this post and interestingly, it was posted on the same day that I got invited to a twenties themed birthday party! I think that probably just provides further evidence for your 'costumey' theory, though. Personally, I like twenties style, on a very particular body type. I think that maybe the reason that twenties style isn't more popular now is that it just isn't flattering to the majority of modern day bodies. One thing I have noticed is that it's one of the very few looks that doesn't get picked up by the high street even when it looks fantastic on the catwalk/runway. Obviously this isn't to say that everyone should dress in a way that 'flatters' their body type necessarily - just that they do. Maybe I'm just projecting my own hang ups onto other people though. EVen though I'm usually far too stubborn to stick to styles that are 'optimal' for my figure I still feel like a sack of potatoes in even the most beautiful twenties style dress (which does bring up the question of what to wear to this party - I'm tempted to take inspiration from Marilyn Monroe's interpretation but I'm not sure the perfectionist in me could handle the historical inaccuracy!)

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  55. When I think of 20's fashion, I think frumpy or flapper. But then, I'm basing that on what little I've seen in magazines or film clips. I don't recall seeing any 20's movies other than a few snips. I'd guess many people think only of flappers & gangsters and the start of the Depression when they think of the 1920s. Even though the Depression didn't start until 1929 and was worst in the 1930's. I'll have to keep any eye out for that book.

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  56. I just remembered why I don't think I'd do 20's based fashion - I'd probably end up looking like the matronly society women in the 3 Stooges, not the cute young ladies they were trying to impress.

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  57. Funny you mention the "it' girl, Clara Bow...it may interest you to know that it was Elinor Glyn who came up with "It", -she wrote the book! E. Glyn (or at least her mother was) from around here (Guelph, Ontario, Canada) and her sister Lucile was the couturier behind the fin-de-siecle House of Lucile...Lucile was also involved in a lawsuit involving an incident on the Titanic!

    Elinor Glyn was Hollywood's first female scriptwriter, and was the prototype for Danielle Steele and her ilk...she wrote a racy (for the times, anyway) novel called "Three Weeks". You may have heard the verse 'Would you like to sin/With Elinor Glyn/ On a tiger skin? That arose out of the kerfuffle that 'Three Weeks" raised! Elinor Glyn had a distinctive style that was the prototype for Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard"

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  58. I like your wit. Very funny, "relegated to a costume status" and very true.

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