Dangerous Girls, 1920s

About 1920s

About 1920s

Courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, around 1905–1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Girls took the styles they saw on movie screens and made them their own.

Girls' fashion choices upset many cultural authorities. Journalists, religious leaders, and others warned of the dangers posed by modern girls.

They made new gender-bending ideas—such as bobbing their hair—popular. Americans have forgotten that cutting one's hair was a radical move; short hair upended ideas about female respectability.

Evening Dress, around 1925

Gift of Mrs. Hebert Campbell

This dress was made to party. The loose fit made dancing easy and more energetic.

View object record


See Girlhood in 3D! Explore a model of the evening dress.

 

Movie Icons

Movies provided style icons that girls copied, adapted, and used to refashion themselves. Some stars bobbed their hair and wore pants. Girls copied and spread their boyish fashions, upsetting parents and authorities.

Irene Castle, 1919

Irene Castle, 1919

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Clara Bow, 1927

Clara Bow, 1927

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Dolores Del Río, 1927

Dolores Del Río, 1927

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquired through the generosity of the Honorable Anthony Beilenson in honor of his wife, Dolores

Anna May Wong, 1932

Anna May Wong, 1932

Carl Van Vechten Photograph/ SI Carl Van Vechten Trust, Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Remaking Style

When it came to remixing, girls in the 1920s borrowed ideas from magazines, advertising, and music. In turn, the fashion industry watched girls for new styles.

Designing and Planning Clothes

Designing and Planning Clothes

Woman's World Dressmaking Manual

Woman's World Dressmaking Manual

 

Paper dolls allowed girls to play with fashion.

Master McCall and Sister Nell The Fashion Doll Cut Outs, about 1923

Master McCall and Sister Nell The Fashion Doll Cut Outs, about 1923

Advertising set a new standard for girls, telling them that smoking and a thin shape were sexy.

Lucky Strike Ad, around 1928

Lucky Strike Ad, around 1928

Courtesy of Marilyn E. Jackler Memorial Collection of Tobacco Advertisements, around 1890–2017, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Lucky Strike Cigarette Case, around 1928

Fashionista Louise Brooks merged commerce and style by endorsing products.

Courtesy of Sandra and Gary Baden Collection of Celebrity Endorsements in Advertising, around 1897–1979, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Sleek flapper fashions emphasized bare arms and legs. Many young women began shaving.

Gillette Ladies Razor, around 1920

Gift of Dadie and Norman P. Perlov

View object record

Summer dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.

Harper's Bazaar, May 1915

 

Less hair = girlish body

San Antonio Express, 26 Nov. 1915

May 1922

May 1922

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Poem, 1914

Modern girls wrote to local newspapers explaining why they changed modest clothing for bold designs, demure ideas for more adventurous personas.

The Modern Girl

The Modern Girl

Courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign via Proquest Historical Newspapers

The Modern Girl

The Modern Girl

Courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign via Proquest Historical Newspapers

Some girls weren't so daring. Modest girls coiled their hair to give the appearance of a bob without actually going that far.

Carmen Celia Beltrán, 1925

Carmen Celia Beltrán, 1925

Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society, Division of Library and Archives, obtained from azmemory.azlibrary.gov

I must say that first snip of the scissors gave me a shock, like a cold bath.

—Woman who cut her hair, 1920s

About 1920–1930

About 1920–1930

Courtesy of Archives Center, National Museum of American History