Serial costume history 3 – The Gatsby style and trousered divas

In the third part of our fashion historical review, girls of the twenties and thirties were already working and having fun carefreely. Both activities required comfortable clothes. Flapper girls with bob haircut danced Charleston on dance-parties. Masculine characteristics appeared on women’s clothes; Marlene Dietrich proved that even trousers could be feminine. Gentlemen already without beards wore suits, bow-ties and varied hats.

By the twenties, working women living on their own earnings was not a novelty anymore. The clothes trade started mass production at the beginning of the 20th century. The meeting of these two factors and the fungating advertisements and stores resulted that the garment trade gathered ground – so women did not wear only unique clothes.

Art décoratif


The clothes of the 1920s were defined by art déco that mixed art nouveau and avant-garde trends, and which has become popular again recently. Originally, it was an architectural and artistic stream, but it appeared in fashion as well. Geometrical patterns typify it; in contrast with the waves and snaky tendrils of art nouveau, it uses straight lines. The art déco fashion was the tube dress, which was about knee-length and did not emphasize shapes – in addition, even breasts were usually pressed down. This style also included the bob, with feathered or lacy and tulle headpieces, headbands or hats pulled on the forehead, but the largeness of the latter was no longer in fashion. A French hairdresser Marcel Grateau invented the so-called Marcel-wave in 1872, which became really popular during the twenties and thirties.

Flapper girls and the Charleston


After WW I, people felt liberated; as the stress from the war footing ceased to exist, they looked for inexhaustible sources of joy. What else could be this form of hedonism than music and dance? Jazz started conquering the world (swing followed it in the next decade), as well as dances like Charleston, One-Step and foxtrot. Girls wore flapper dresses on dance-parties: cosy knee-length decollete dresses with fringes and sequins allowing them to move freely. You can see in our image gallery how much of these trends affected our country.

In this decade, Coco Chanel created the obligatory occasion dress for almost a hundred years of a modern woman’s wardrobe: the little black dress with the mock pearl necklace accessory. The tweed suit was also born – the idea of a dress made of tweed that had been worn by men until then came during a trip in Scotland.

This period did not bring any changes in men’s fashion: gentlemen wore dark suits with ties or bow-ties. A hat was inevitable: either the elegant homburg, the light Panama hat or the informal newsboy cap. This latter was known as ‘coppola’ in Southern Italy and Sicily. For example, members of the mafia also loved wearing it. The most salient change on men was probably the lack of a beard.


Divas and fashion

Hollywood that developed in the 1910s also had an increasing impact on fashion. Great Garbo was an icon of the twenties; the Swedish-born actress conquered the American film industry with her cold northern beauty. Besides being a femme fatale wearing extraordinary dress creations, she daringly mixed feminine elegance with the comfortable masculine style and often wore flat shoes. The deservedly famous turtleneck sweater that she brought into fashion preserved her name.

During the thirties, Marlene Dietrich’s attraction to masculine appearance (similarly to Garbo) canonized further the manly-tailored clothes. For example, the trouser-suit and the Oxford bags (loose-fitting baggy trousers). At the same time, she also loved feminine creations, hats and fur coats. The cigarette was a part of her outfit – just like the Hungarian diva Katalin Karády’s, who was active as of the end of the thirties, the smouldering cigarette became her ‘trade-mark’, too.



Streamlined ‘30s

During the thirties, women liked skimped, below the knee length dresses and the blouse and skirt sets, which showed the natural lines of the body. Usually they were not natural maximally, because they also liked ‘secret’ shapewear. After the tube dresses, the slim waist became the ideal of beauty again. To decorate blouses and dresses, they liked lacy or bow collars and bag-sleeves. Hairdressing was a bit longer than the bob, but waves were still very popular; hats and gloves were still beloved accessories too.


National Movement for Hungarian Clothing

After the war defeat and the Trianon Treaty, Hungarian-style fashion took wings again: in forms, use of materials and application of folk art motifs. Ferenc Ferenczy was one of the spokespersons of the trend; he founded the National Movement for Hungarian Clothing. This gave a new impulse to the Hungarian fashion design, the tailorage and the traditionalist applied arts and made the Hungarian folk costumes popular across Europe as well. At the fashion show of Paris in 1934-35, braided clothes were also introduced, inspired by the Hungarian folk art. As of the end of the thirties, the clothing movement that honoured the folklore originally received political shade and wore the seal of extreme right-wingism for a long time.

In the forties, the war brought about distressed circumstances. On the other hand, Christian Dior’s ‘new look’ fashion trend with slender-waisted loose skirts started developing during this period. In the next chapter of our fashion history exhibition, we are going to peep into the wardrobes of the forties and fifties.


Translated by Zita Aknai



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