From Gibson Girl to Jazz Baby in 20 years

I was reading Mark Sullivan’s fabulous Our Times, a social history of the 1870s-1920s, and even though I used to work in a costume-history museum, I was gob-smacked by these fashion plates.

Here is what the fashionable Gibson Girl was wearing in 1905:[320x200].jpg

And here is what Jazz Babies were wearing only a short 20 years later:

Mind you, if Miss 1905 was 20 years old, that could be her at 40 in 1925! I cannot think of another period in history where women’s clothing changed so much in such a brief period. I could easily wear a dress or suit from 1992 and would not look at all out of place today. In fact, looking in my closet . . .

How old are the women in the pictures supposed to be? Let’s say 25 years old?

What would a 25-year-old be wearing in 1948 vs. 1968?



Pretty darn different, but not near to what Grandma experienced!

Is my memory correct, and did skirts hit their shortest (of the decade) in 1926? At the knee, or only just below or only just above…?

I dunno Eve, you can always find styles from different eras that look more similar to each other versus less similar. Try this greater-contrast pair:


And this lower-contrast pair for the earlier decades:


Fashion is notoriously fickle, but how much it changes over what period of time is pretty subject to interpretation.

You’ve got to look at ladies’ underwear too (puh-lease!), and hair, and makeup (or lack of same)–clothes changed much more decade by decade in the past than it has since the 1920s. I have dresses of my mother’s and grandmother’s from the 1920s-60s that could still be worn today w/o raising an eyebrow (well, except that I would be bursting out of them, as my mother and grandmother were the size of Barbie dolls).

Imagine the changes a woman born in, say, 1890 saw: at 16 she was in corset, petticoat, high-button shoes, pompadour hairdo, tea-tray hat, high starched collar. At age 40, she would wear modern heels and stocking, have short, bobbed hair, plucked brows, lipstick, a bra and elastic girdle, and a simple, slip-over dress or modern suit. Her 1906 self would have fainted dead away at the thought!

I took my then-ten-year-old daughter to see Apollo 13. She asked, upon watching the teenagers in 1969-era America, if the movie was set at Halloween. She wasn’t joking.

So, 1969 to 1995 is, what 26 years?

Holy crap, I think I had that pink paisley thing!

Nowadays, actually, we seem to be going backwards towards greater complexity in clothing, at least as far as underwear is concerned, with the so-called “shapewear” trend.

The late-20th-century minimal style of simple bra and panty, with some kind of pantyhose or even bare legs with sandals, is giving way to the “control pant”, “firming camisole”, “slip shaper”, you name it: even inflatable bras.

My gramma who was shocked when my teenage self ridiculed the notion of wearing a girdle because “nobody bothers with that anymore” is looking down from heaven and laughing herself sick. (Personally, I still won’t wear the damn things, but there’s no denying that the girdle is back with a vengeance.)