If there ever was a “jazz age”, it was the 1920s. You can hardly imagine a 1920s speakeasy or watch a movie about that era and not hear the constant serenade of great period jazz music in the background. But music is not the only area of culture that jazz changed tremendously when it became the musical language of the 1920s era. The fashion industry was just as powerfully changed by the rise of jazz music. In fact, the massive changes in how people talked, walked, were entertained and saw themselves because of jazz overwhelmed the fashion industry of the day.
One reason fashion had to line up with what was happening in music is that what was happening in music influenced dance and how people wanted to move. The dances of the 1920s such as the Charleston are very active and call upon the dancer to be able to exercise a lot of freedom of movement of every limb. Not only did the dancers move from side to side, they moved up and down and even jumped to the air and fell to the ground in some of the more adventurous 1920s dance crazes. The clothing that these young partiers of the time needed had to give them that freedom and still look great when the dance floor quieted and it was time to socialize.
Hairstyles of the 1920s were also a combination of style and necessity. The bobbed styles for women and the use of a lot of hair additives so the hair was slicked back to the head was one of the most popular 1920s hairstyles for men and women. These styles also assured that the hair would behave itself and not suddenly begin to fly about in the middle of a very athletic 1920s dance step.
Similarly, to be discrete, 1920s styles for in dress for women were somewhat androdygous, which called for ladies to bind their bosoms so they would not appear too feminine. The Charleston and other very vigorous dances would have been impossible to do well had this approach to body management not been adopted. To be a great dancer, the styles of dress and behavior in the 1920s dictated how one looked and moved.
The “look” of a 1920s outfit had to be consummately stylish but it also had to be carefully designed so that the girl or guy heading out for a night of reveling in the jazz lifestyle would be able to get through the rigors of that evening with the outfit intact and without sustaining any wardrobe influenced injury. A popular look for a lady would be a mesh dress that was sleeveless so the outfit was able to “breathe” and keep that active woman comfortable. But that outfit would be decked out with sequins and accessories so it shouted for attention in a crowded nightclub. And even though they causes many injuries during a wild and highflying 1920s dance, a string of pearls for the ladies was a must.
Perhaps one of the biggest cultural impacts jazz caused to erupt in the 1920s was women’s liberation. The explosion of jazz clubs opened new ways for women to seek employment both in customer service and performance. Moreover, jazz encouraged women to feel empowered to rebel and begin to express their own identities in the way they dressed, danced and experienced their sexuality.
All of these new ways of thinking about themselves caused women’s fashion to change dramatically in the 1920s. And while many of the dances and fashion trends of the times were extreme and outlandish, the lasting impact on culture that jazz contributed in culture and in fashion has lasted on down to modern times as well.