Fashion History: The Early 1920s

So I recently discovered The House of Elliot and I can’t believe I’d never watched it before! Slightly in my defense is was originally on TV 1991-1994 but the channel London Live was advertising that they were about to start showing it. I couldn’t remember when it was on, though, and then discovered it’s all on youtube – score! It was created by Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, the same brains behind Upstairs Downstairs and is about 2 sisters who start a sewing business, taking commissions from the posh set in 1920s London, and they eventually start a Houte Couture fashion house – the eponymous House of Elliot.

There aren’t many photos on google from the show, other than the publicity stills which don’t really show off the clothes, which let’s face it, is at least 70% of why I like the show. I managed to grab some blurry screen shots to give you an idea of what Beatrice (in the first photo) and Evangeline (on the right in the second photo) Elliot wear.

House of Elliot 1

The silhouettes are mostly long skirts and long jackets/ coats/ cardigans.

House of Elliot 2

House of Elliot 3

Here they are sitting around sewing of an evening 🙂

House of Elliot 4

As well as sewing clothes for themselves, and others, from scratch, they also do some refashioning! Below Beatrice is wearing a dress shirt and waistcoat that used to belong to her father, which she has remade to be suitable for herself.

House of Elliot 5

There’s lots of excellent hats too!

House of Elliot 6

I like these complimentary blue outfits with the matching white tights and mary janes! And the shopping baskets!

House of Elliot 7

There’s, pleasingly, quite often a tape measure around their necks.

House of Elliot 8

Here the 2 people on the right, who are rather privileged and wealthy, have given Tilly, the girls’ helper, a sewing machine which their mother never uses. It’s the best present for her! It also made me miss my Singer from 1920 which I found in a charity shop in Norwich for £20 but sold a few years ago because I didn’t have the space to store it 😦

House of Elliot 9

This is one of my favourite outfits from the season so far (i’m on episode 8 of season 1). I love the colours on her, with her newly bobbed hair, and the kimono-style jacket looks so elegant!

House of Elliot 10

It’s easy to think of the 20s just as the roaring 20s and the era of the flapper – as I did before I watched The House of Elliot, which starts in 1920. You can see from the picture below, however,  how the silhouette changed over the decade:

1920s silhouettes(image source)

After World War 1 and with women’s (limited) suffrage being granted in 1918, women were entering the workforce in record numbers and the fashions equally evolved – women no longer wore corsets for the first time. And their clothes became more practical and more masculine in style. There were also technological advances like the invention of Rayon (in 1910), which became a substitute for silk stockings for the less rich. Also metal hooks and eyes and the invention of the zip (the modern zip as we know it today was designed in 1913) made getting in and out of clothes a lot easier. Also mass manufacturing methods made it possible for women of all social levels to be able to emulate the styles of the richer members of society at a fraction of the cost.

1920 day wear 2(image source)

1920 day wear 1920 evening wear

(image source)

I love the cocoon-shaped coat in the first picture above, and I do like the general silhouette of the day wear (maybe slightly less so with the evening wear!) but unlike later decades of the 20th century, I don’t think you could get away with it without it looking like a costume. Maybe as long as you don’t have a bob and wear a cloche hat, you could get away with some of the individual garments? Like I think you could wear the below jumpers/ cardigans, maybe with trousers instead of a calf-length skirt and not look too much like you want to be in a period film! What do you think?

1920 hip length cardigans(image source)

Chanel 1
(image source)

I was about to finish the post, but then I remembered Coco Chanel! Although her classic suit is more associated with the 50s, she started designing during the First World War, using jersey to make more comfortable, more sporty clothes. “By 1920, Chanel had designed and presented a woman’s suit of clothes — composed either of two garments or of three garments — which allowed a woman to have a modern, feminine appearance, whilst being comfortable and practical to maintain; advocated as the “new uniform for afternoon and evening”, it became known as the Chanel Suit.”1

Chanel 2
(image source)

I’ll do another post on the full-on roaring twenties, maybe when I get through more series of The House of Elliot! Do you like 20s fashions?

7 thoughts on “Fashion History: The Early 1920s

  1. sarah

    Great post thanks!! I love that 20s fashions were shaped by exciting and substantial things like entering the work force and new technologies! I also love House of Elliot!


    1. Amelia Wray Post author

      I also think it’s cool how social change directly influences fashion – maybe that’s why I find the history of fashion so interesting, as half my degree was in history. Thanks for reading!


  2. PESidaway

    House of Elliot is amazing. Little known fact: it is a favourite of ex President George W Bush and his wife. I kid you not.


    1. Amelia Wray Post author

      Wow, of all the people in the world to like House of Elliot, I think George W Bush would have been the last I would have guessed! Always good to learn a new random fact, thank you!


  3. Pingback: Book: Vintage Fashion – Thrift Make Sew

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