"Can't repeat the past? Why, of course, you can…." The Great Gatsby
Why Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby' and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, are underappreciated fashion icons and why the roaring twenties should make a comeback.
Most of us have seen The Great Gatsby, the movie starting Tobey Maguire as the Midwest native Nick Carraway who arrives in New York in 1922 in hot pursuit of the American dream. Nick, a would-be writer, moves next-door to millionaire Jay Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and becomes drawn into the roaring twenties' captivating world. Wealthy humans flock to fabulous parties, which sets the scene for Nick's writing of impossible love, dreams, and tragedy. If you have seen this movie, you have witnessed the beautiful fashion adorned by both women and men.
Now let me introduce you to an Australian drama television series masterpiece, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Which is the tale of a beautiful female sleuth, The Honorable Phryne Fisher, a glamorous, fiercely independent private detective who, glides through back lanes and jazz clubs of Melbourne in the late 1920s. Determined to solve any crime, fighting injustice with her pearl-handled pistol and her super sharp wit.
These two masterpieces highlight the roaring twenties as a fashion scene like no other. Filled with everything beautiful. It was the turn of the century for women and breaking into the world, more than the old traditional styles. The Roaring Twenties are a favorite of mine and many other people, for decades to dress up for. Why because the twenties have the most magnificent mix of incredibly glamorous outfits with tailored design elements for practicality, depending on the purpose of the fashion.
Thanks to movies and TV series like I have referenced above, the twenties fashion is easily referenced. So, there is no lacking of inspiration for the perfect roaring look. But these fashion trends and items need to make a serious comeback.
I have always loved the world of fashion in the twenties, for both men and women. I loved how they took everything as simple as a summer dress and made it a work of art. Or the stereotypical flapper dress that just stands for everything fun and extravagant. As for the gentlemen, let's be honest, those pinstripe gangster-like classic suits, make any man look so delicious.
But outside of the typical ideas around the twenties, fashion stood for far more than raving parties and tassels. For me, and historically, the whole twenties fashion movement symbolized freedom, that life was too short; so enjoy it while you can and, it pushed outdated notations and preconceptions for women and men. It also was the start of fashion "safety," which allowed fashion to be designed with a specific task in mind; for whatever occupation you would do. Clothing items went to being safe, opposed to just pretty and super dangerous, outside of sitting on a chair getting your portrait painted, as the case many years prior.
It also brought a new, less restrictive style. For women, they could now feel comfortable adorning a set of pants or a suit, which was now allowed. which was far from the case for the shake of the highly restive ideas that had to plague them from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It allowed women to enjoy looser clothing which revealed a little more of the arms and legs, which had followed from the least decade of the rising of hemlines. It was the era of "choice." They could now decide if they wanted to wear the S-bend corset and stockings to conform to the columnar silhouette of the 1910s.
The twenties fashion brought about choices and better opportunities to look better and be healthier. It allowed women to choose not to endure horrific injuries, or many death options associated with the world of fashion prior. Such as toxic dyes; arsenic-dyed fabrics used to get colors in the material, which contributed to many health problems and death overtime. then there was the Pestilential Fabrics which often carried disease via the fabric, because it was so hard to properly launder . Some of the blends of these fabrics were so harsh they caused skin irritation and could encourage infection. Women and men both often could contract typhus after wearing the garments, not cleaned properly, as the fabric would allow for germs to live and cultivate. This was particularly common in wealthy women and soldier uniforms.
The fashionable unpractical flowing skirts that were worn were not designed for the workforce. Now don't get me wrong-a flowing skirt is very stunning. But while women were not allowed to work in anything else unless they were super-wealthy and could pay some to do work, these things, as general dress code standards, were the cause of death and serious injury for many women. The twenties brought about being one able to wear pants. It was considered acceptable to adorned these to better suit women's workplace health and safety, especially within the industrial machinery industry.
The twenties brought nearly the end of highly flammable fabrics. The ever-popular flowing white cotton garments, which had been so popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries, sported many dangers to the wearer and the maker. It was fashioned within often-brutal slave labor plantations and was also more flammable than the heavy silks or wool. One cotton lace was so volatile when exposed to heat. It would catch on fire. This made many undergarments nightshirts made from this specific cotton highly combustible, if they came in contact with a wandering spark or the flame of a household candle. One example of just how flammable this fabric was; when famous British ballerina Clara Webster died in 1844. She died after her dress caught fire at London's Drury Lane theatre, when her skirt came too close to recessed lights onstage, setting her on fire in front of the audience. So while the twenties, saw the demise of these fabric's, it also severely impacted the safety of the entertainment industry, with costumes, being able to be created so they would not catch fire.
Fashion in the twenties saw a steep decline in toxic chemicals used in women's fashion decline. Due to the war using these chemicals in the fight against the emery, the chemicals were unviable. In particular, Arsenic, Lead, and Mercury had been used for centuries in garments and hats. However, for men, this would prove to be a Godsend as no upper-class man prior to this era was complete without his hat, but many of those hats were made with mercury. This caused both the wearer and the hat maker significant sickness and often resulted in a shorter life span due to poisoning.
The twenties also brought the balance of still traditional dress for men and the acceptance of being able to wear less formal daily attire. It pioneered better athletic clothing, and safer options in workplace fashion and apparel, preventing workplace injuries and death, associated with long tail coats and other unrealistic items, from the past generations.
The fashion scene in the twenties also pioneered the fashion industry as we know it with the development of metal hooks and eyes, zippers that were a much easier means of fastening clothing, and saw the inventing of safe synthetic fabrics. This also saw the end to dead birds and animals being used for ladies and gentlemen's hats. It created a new movement of "fashion that now had a conscious." Although furs were still sort after, provided they were sourced "ethically," it saw the complete demise of the concept of killing birds and animals to use as fashion hat accessories. Before this, millinery killed millions of small songbirds and small creatures and used arsenic and other products to preserve, the birds and other creatures to be sewn onto hats and other fashion items. For the first time, the general public and the rich and famous were coming together to not only consume fashion items that were not killing vast amounts of animals, but now that was considered horrid.
So, what's not love about the twenties.
I love everything about it; it was more than fashion. It was the turn of fashion being more than looking pretty and now clothing with a purpose. It pioneered the right to work safely, and fashion was a form of celebration and a, statement to the world about how to cherish your life. It was the start of many firsts.
The first invention of the drop waist should be used more today, as it is super flattering, but back then it pioneered, women to freedom. For the first time in history, combined with a belt around the low waist or hip, a skirt could hang anywhere from the ankle to the knee, which was unheard of before this time. Daywear, for example, allowed for the first time the appearance of any sleeve, from long to even mid- bicep or less. For the first time, Clothing fashions changed with women's changing roles in society. It saw the first origination of single or double strap Mary Janes shoes, which combined statement shoes that were comfortable and suitable for most kinds of work. It was really the first time fashion was allowed to be worn to truly reflect your personality and show the world who you really were. Not just something that everyone else was, it was really the birth of individually in style and fashion, to tell everyone around you, who you were, and it was the first time this was socially and culturally acceptable.
A prime example of this was Amelia Earhart, sporting her famous pants and leather jacket. Creating history for every woman, where she would have been jailed once upon a time, or depending on how far back you go, even killed for such a "terribly outrageousness" thing. There are so many more first's, but other than costume parties, the twenties attire should be brought back. To inject some old-school style and some more practicality into the current fashion industry.
Honestly, the amount of dresses, pants, shirts, blouses, and coats that I own in my cupboard that does not have pockets is ridiculous. Pockets were a must in the twenties, and outside of glamorous evening wear, they featured on everything. I so want that to be a standard again. We live in the generation, where people carry at least two mobile phones for work and private life on average. Pockets come in so handy. Fashion now sure looks pretty, but it lacks the practicality of the twenties fashion. Even Men's clothing lacks pockets. The amount of times my beloved has to give me his phone, wallet, keys, and other goodies, to put into my handbag to carry around, because he has no pockets to keep his stuff in completely frustrates me. Don't get me wrong, I love him, but I kind of feel like a pack mule, because my stuff is in there, too, because there no freaking pockets.
I would love to see the fantastic design concepts of the twenties come back, like making practical fashion into wearable art. Hats, in particular, excelled in this field. It was all about sun safety before sun safety was a thing, but always stylish. The other thing about the twenties, is everyone dressed in their best to suit the occasion. That might was everything from working in the field, or gala dinners; everything looked pretty good. Even dust and whatever else on, the photographs of my great, great grandparents, the clothing was tailored and tough and still looked pretty good after a hard day's work. Which by contrast my office and farm work attire now look like a creased sack of potatoes, and don't last.
The quality of the clothing was excellent and made to last, and thanks to our throwaway society, the fabric nowadays barely lasts a season. I know people like new things, but the amount of money I have wasted on clothing that has not stood up to sitting at a desk, and a bit of sweat, is crazy. I probably could have brought a new car if you added up the money spent on not sustainable clothing.
I love the Great Gatsby and Miss Fisher, and their wardrobe attire is dressed for the occasion, but fashion and clothing items were often created to serve more than one purpose. Outside of the beautiful events like formal ware and maybe beach attire, most items could be interchangeable, for different purposes. Designers produced 'ready to wear collections, which meant that fashion was becoming more readily available to a broader audience, and I wish we could embrace that again. Although there are lovely cheaper pieces out there, they don't last, and the outstanding quality clothing is still a bit on the expensive side, compared to the average wage. The fashion, too, was super flattering for both men and women. It made you look really good, and suited your shape. I find that there are many items out there that don't fit my shape, or my beloved Tim's shape, and he's a fit and very handsome guy. But these items nowadays, they make us look like we are wearing a sack or highlights every bit of your body that you might not love.
I love that it was fashionable for both men and women due to the clothing, to look effortless while still making an effort. When you went to work, the items, because they were so flattering, made you look good by just putting them on. But when an event was on, everyone put the effort in from manners to fashion. People knew how to navigate the world and knew where to place themselves. I have thrown a few events in my time, fundraisers, private art exhibitions, and have cringed when some turned up looking good, but proceed to attack someone verbally. Speaking terribly to others making people feel uncomfortable, in almost a bullying-type way. These circumstances frustrate me immensely as it does not matter how good you look; you don't have the right to pick on people. Back in the twenties, it was not just about looking the part. It was also about learning and knowing what not to say to people. It was a whole package deal, and I think people would be less offended and hurt these days, if it was fashionable to bring back some consideration for other people, like in the twenties, and have some manners.
Back then it was acceptable to dress up if you wanted, but it was not expected as well, and I love that. You weren't picked on for being overdressed. I love dressing up, but man, have I coped many a tongue lashing for showing up too "overdressed." Like really, why is that acceptable behavior to go after people based on what they are wearing, regardless if it's overdressed or underdressed? What people wear is their business, no one else's, this was not fashionable behavior back in the twenties. The twenties fashion also embraced different body shapes. Because of it coming off the back of the war, that small mined stuff like really judging another person based on what they wore, faded out for a while because people were so focused on living for now, and life was not to be taken for granted. They could not really be bothered with petty stuff like judging people, outside of the lifestyle of "the rich and famous" because life was so short, they were more likely to embrace people as they were. They were more focused on getting together, making the world better, and having fun. I would love to see this come back, the negative body image our society has is so awful. Although it is a lot more accepting of somethings, it is somehow going back to this notion of the Victorian era of judging the hell out of people. I am told daily, that I am too something. To tall, to fat, to skinny, to pale, the list goes on. Why are we reverting back to these prehistoric notions, and why is it acceptable to think that's ok to say to someone. It leads to tremendous mental health in women and men, instead channel the twenties and love people for who they are.
These are observably my opinions, but I think I would love to see the return of fashion from the twenties and what came with it, like embracing and enjoying life more. I want clothing with pockets and for it to be acceptable that if I get dressed up for date night with my beloved, that's it ok to wear tassels, glitter, sparkles, feather headbands, and practical shoes all at once. I want people to collectively stop worrying so much, and instead be passionate about quality of life, and enjoying what little time we have here. So, I want to end with some wisdom from Coco Chanel, one of the greats of the fashion world from the twenties and an icon to this day…. "In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."
Let's revive the Roaring twenties, and not just for costume parties, but as a way life and endless style, where we do life a little different, then what is just accepted currently.
Written by Emma White
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