Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 4: 1920-1930


What’s going on?  With the war to end all wars ended, the 1920s were a time of celebration.  Full and functional factories plus a climbing stock market meant that many people had money to burn and were looking for fun, which they found in Speak Easies, bathtub gin, the Model T Ford, and the first movies with sound.  Flappers abounded, suffragettes fought for women’s rights, and optimism soared:  it was a great time to be alive!

What were they wearing?  Thanks to Hollywood messing with your head again, you probably think flappers were found all throughout the roaring ‘20s.  Well, they weren’t.  In fact, they didn’t appear until 1926 and the phase only lasted for about two years.  Before the flappers, women’s fashion hadn’t changed much.  After the flappers, skirts were shorter – a daring knee length – and shoulders were broader.  Day-to-day women’s fashion reflected the androgynous trend the flappers started.  Shapeless dresses that flattened the bust and cinched below the waist so as to not emphasize any curves, coupled with a short haircut made women appear almost mannish, if it weren’t for their heels and makeup.  Remember, too, that an ongoing movement led by women for a woman’s right to vote was in full swing in the ‘20s, so fashion, as it does, followed popularity, and echoed the sounds of suffragette voices crying: We want equal rights with men.  Apparently that included dressing like them.

Are those some absolutely enormous pants,
or are you just happy to see me?
Men had two new options for pants:  knickerbockers and baggy pants (1925).  Knickerbockers came in four styles – plus-four, plus-six, plus-eight, and plus-ten – depending on how far below the knee you wanted them.  Many – saw these pants as frivolous – despite their popularity with society’s upper echelons – and Oxford University banned them in 1925, at which time they conveniently introduced the baggy pant. 

The baggy pant measured anywhere from 22-40 inches wide (big enough to hide a pair of knickerbockers comfortably underneath for those inevitable rule breakers).  Americans loved this British pant, particularly in Tweed or flannel.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Again, men had their fallback black patent leather shoes for the formal occasions.  Casual wear required two-tone shoes, either black and white or tan and white Oxfords.  Fringed tongues and lace-ups were the most popular variety.

Women had some outrageously cute shoes during the ‘20s.  Bar shoes (a.k.a. shoes with straps) were enormously popular during this decade of frivolity because one could party-hardy and their shoes wouldn’t fall off.  Ankle straps and t-straps were the most popular varieties and were for evening and afternoon respectively.


What’s going on?  Well…the fun is over.  As of 1929, the stock market – booming the decade before – crashed.  And many people are left without work and money.  To add insult to injury, there is very little water in the Midwest and torturous storms called dustbowls decimate property and kill civilians who can’t help breathing the stuff in. The United States battles The Great Depression while Adolph Hitler rallies for Aryan control of Germany.  Displaced farmers, bludgeoned by drought and poverty, press their luck and head out to California, the Promised Land. 

What were they wearing?  When your family’s farm has gone under, you can’t afford to put food on the table, and your life has otherwise turned into a country song, you start to put things into perspective, which is what had to happen in the 1930s when people realized that all the fun they’d had just a decade before was a distant dream.  Only the very, very well off could afford to continue buying into fashion; anyone else couldn’t even afford to look at a Chanel gown.  Thusly, the fashion industry had to create clothes that were inexpensive, classic, and durable.  Women, particularly those women who had once been able to afford the luxury of fashion, didn’t want to be draped in rags.  They wanted dresses that were above fashion (think the classic little black dress, or a straight-legged black, brown, grey, or navy trouser).  So, designers gave women a dress with a higher waistline, an option of mid-length or long – depending on day or evening – and zippers.  Enter the zipper, because nobody could afford buttons.  Fashion sang the most tragic country song of the decade, it would seem, with lyrics that went a little like:  I ain’t got no farm, I ain’t got no money, so I have to wear this crappy dress.  Yes, it’ll last me decades, and I bought it for a nickel, but I miss my furs, nonetheless.  I can’t afford the buttons, so I’ve gotta use this zipper, and I have to wear this clunky shoe, not my silken slipper.”  Actually, contrary to that made up country song, furs were still big in the 1930s; a rollover from the ‘20s, certainly, and one of those luxuries people fought hard for.

Bette Davis
It was during this decade that movies became a hallmark of entertainment.  Even though normal people couldn’t afford the fashions they saw movie stars wear, they could afford the low ticket prices, and gawk at the glamorous outfits worn by the stars of the day, like Bette Davis, Fay Wray, Katherine Hepburn, Mae West, and and Gretta Garbo.  Furs, of course, were a feature, accenting well their empire-waisted gowns with ties at the back.

I’ll give you two guesses as to what men were wearing in the 1930s.  You guessed it:  suits!  You’ll recall suits being popular as menswear since the Rococo fad of the 1700s, whose aftermath apparently robbed men of any fashion creativity.  But never you fear, suits of the 1930s came in a variety of colors:  black, basic grey, charcoal, navy, slate grey, steel grey, and brown.  My, my, what an exciting life of infinite choices!

In 1935, President Roosevelt created the New Deal, which, among many other (more important) things, ushered something new into men’s fashion:  a new suit!  The “London Cut” offered tapered sleeves, high pockets, wide pointed lapels and shoulder pads, pants, shirt, tie and hat, all in the color of the times – grey.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Again, contrary to the made up country song, there was a variety of shoes available during this time, include a style that we haven’t seen since antiquity:  the sandal!  Women had their pick of the cute shoes from the ‘20s, rounded toes with clunkier heels, pumps, flats, lace-ups, slip-ons, buckled, and, yes, sandals.  Sandals began their reinvention as beachwear, but gradually evolved into shoes that were evening and party appropriate.  Another evening shoe was the “plain court shoe” (a pump) with a flirty peep toe and sling back heels. 

Men’s shoes, on the other hand, were pretty darn sobering.  They came in all the colors suits came in (shockingly, except for grey) and retained their two-tones, made even more popular this decade by Fred Astaire.  The one new contribution to men’s shoes this decade was the loafer. 

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