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A Guide to 20th Century American Fashion (Part 1)


The beginning of the last century featured a lapse of Victorian rigidity, albeit gradually. Silhouettes became looser, skirts shortened (though not, God forbid, above the calf!), and hair less coiffed. We often focus on the excitement of later decades without noting the roots of it. To channel the 1900s, try a lacy top with a long skirt or a detailed event dress. Style your hair, but don’t feel too concerned about making it perfect. Visible makeup was also more socially-acceptable in the 1900s, so try pink or red lips with rosy cheeks. Or, you can go the Old Hollywood vamp route a la Theda Bara!


            America’s newfound opulence turned dour in the face of World War One. Clothes were more practical, with less adornments—for example, women widely began to wear pants in the 1910s. Further, Coco Chanel rose to prominence here with polished but easy-to-put-together ensembles. Also popular were Eastern-inspired looks, though these often reeked of orientalism. For a day in the 1910s, wear clothes of good quality and simple design perhaps monochromatic, with deceptively simple hair (buns, braids, etc.). Repeat the lips and cheeks of before, though maybe add eyeshadow!


     As The Great Gatsby has no doubt taught you, this was the age of the flapper. Girls wanted to look boyish, mostly because of the freedoms such an identifier connoted. They showed significantly more skin than ever before, and downplayed their curves. Bob haircuts were the rage. To emulate the flapper-girl, pair a straight dress that ends as high as you want with short hair (perhaps with a headband). Makeup-wise, do a dramatic eye and a red lip.


    With the thirties came the Depression. Few could afford many clothes, much less expensive ones. Simple floral dresses, natural hair, and modest coverage were common, with decoration generally limited to a frill or two. Or course, there were the Old Hollywood stars of the same time, who epitomized glamour, so you have two very different options. You can go with a rustic and respectable look, or you can break out the silks and velvets. Wavy hair was considered attractive, as was dark eye-makeup.

P.S. Another fun fact I learned while researching for this article: shoulder pads were in high demand in the 1930s to emphasize women’s upper bodies as opposed to their waists.


    World War Two brought with it obstacles to many material and resources, style-wise included. Women of the same time began to work traditionally male jobs, often related to preparing weaponry, etc, to compensate for men's absences on the home front. Thus, practicality became the central concern. Simple, breathable shapes and textures coupled with economic realization. For this decade, wear tailored, conservative outfits with your hair tied or pinned back. Makeup-wise, emphasize your natural features but don't go to any extremes! Or channel Rosie the Riveter with a denim shirt (sleeves rolled up), a white pin on the collar, a red bandana, and red lipstick.


    The 50s were all about embodying the idea of a "perfect" family in America. Therefore, girls and women cultivated (or were encouraged to cultivate) a domestic beauty. Modesty and attractiveness played off one another, giving rise to such trends as body-emphasizing dresses, pencil skirts, and button-up blouses. Hair was worn simply and to enhance volume, with makeup meant to catch eyes. Try a fitted shirt, a full skirt, a ponytail with a nice hair tie, and Mary Janes or saddle shoes. Put on a "kissable" lip color, like pink, and clear skin is a plus!


If you are interested in writing an article for Her Campus Davidson, contact us at davidson@hercampus.com or come to our weekly meeting Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Morcott Room.

Kathryn is a sophomore at Davidson College, coming from Virginia. She likes animals, hot chocolate, and Victorian British Literature.
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