1920s Jazz Age: Fashion and Photographs

A selection of 1920s evening dresses
The exhibition 1920s Jazz Age: Fashion and Photographs at the American Museum in Bath is nearly over, so I thought I'd better get round to going before it was over and I kicked myself. If you're planning to visit it, it closes at the end of the month, so GO NOW.

The 1920s was the first vintage era I fell in love with, and in many ways the one that still runs deepest. I listen to 1920s music at work (along with a good mix of all sorts of other stuff, from big band swing to 80s goth), and love silent films. As far as clothing goes, there's something about the prints and colour choices of the era that just grabs me. The way the clothing of the 1920s was cut really makes the most of a good fabric. It's not always simple in cut, though plenty of dresses were, but those long, flat, draping, fluid surfaces show off beautiful weaves and gorgeous prints to perfection.

I know lots of people swoon over the beaded evening gowns, but my favourite garments were some of the first I saw: beautiful, slinky pyjamas and kimono style robes in clear, zingy colours. I'd happily loaf around the house in that green set today.
1920s nightwear - pyjamas and robe
The clothing side of the exhibition was divided into themes, so there was lingerie/loungewear, cruisewear, evening dresses and so on. Another of my favourite outfits was a set of beach pyjamas for cruising in. (Don't worry, I'm not yet at the stage where I'll go to Tesco in my actual nightwear pyjamas… Bring back beach pyjamas!) Everything about the beach pyjamas was perfect, from the graphic print to the simple, elegant shape.
1920s beach pyjamas
The evening wear was, as you'd expect, beautiful. As well as the upright display, there were several heavily-beaded dresses lying flat in glass cases. My guess is that it's because the fabric has grown fragile with age and the beading is heavy. On the plus side, that meant I could see inside the dress where the front was lower than the back, so I could tell the beading was done on a tambour. Do you ever find yourself getting really close to vintage garments to see how they're constructed? I always do that with 1920s clothing. The fabrics are so beautiful, so luxurious, it's fascinating to see how they're finished. Because, y'know, one day I might actually learn to sew and I'd want to get the details right. The lace evening gowns had raw edges, of course, but the taffeta ones had rolled edges like you see on scarves.

Look at the pointed hem on this lace dress. So light! So slinky!
Late 1920s lace evening gown with pointed hem
I liked the way one of the dresses was sat on a giant moon (as you can see at the top of the page), though I don't know if that one was a stage costume as I couldn't see an information card for it. This brown velvet was particularly striking: the flow of the beads is so beautiful. It epitomises that 20s balance of simplicity of line with intricacy of embellishment for me.
1920s brown velvet evening dress, with beading designed to resemble a knotted sash
The only complaint I'd really have about the exhibition is that there wasn't MORE. I'd have liked to see a wider selection of… pretty much everything, actually, and some working-class-women's garments in among the aristocratic ones to give an idea of how such labour-intensive, luxurious items filtered down to the masses. It's never a bad thing when one leaves you hankering for more, though.

Photos weren't allowed in the room of photographs, for copyright reasons, so I shall leave you with a fabulous velvet coat. Luxe fabric, graphic print, simple lines… pure 1920s perfection!
1920s velvet coat, with bold pattern in black, grey, orange and green


  1. I'm so glad that you were able to see this exhibition before it ended! It's a wonderful collection, and I enjoyed seeing your pics and remembering all of those lovely clothes up close and in person (and yes, I do like to get up close and work out the construction too!) x

  2. I'd have loved to see that-oh how I adore beach pj's.
    I have some twenties pieces that turned to the inside reveal all sorts of alterations through the years. Sometimes, I've uncovered much earlier gowns being brought up-to-date. Sometimes the best part of the story is inside a dress.

  3. What a shame there won't be any time to visit this wonderful exhibition when we're in Bath at the end of the month. It looks utterly wonderful especially that velvet coat! xxx

  4. It would have been a shame to miss such a fabulous exhibition! I'm sure I'd be feeling the same as you, and would have wanted to see more. I'm quite taken with the idea of beach pyjamas, they are so utterly elegant. The brown velvet dress is such a fabulous piece, I'm amazed that the beading survived all these years. xxx

  5. I am swooning and dribbling...not a pretty sight!

    Absolutely beautiful clothes and yes bring back beach pyjamas!!

  6. I am also really glad that you got to go to this exhibition before it closes. I am viewing everything vicariously through your photographs and am wowed by all the gorgeous designs. I love the clothes from the 20's but I am the wrong shape for them all. Doesn't stop me wanting them all though. They were so elegant and "slinky" is such an apt descriptor. I think they have a lot of joy and frivolity about them too. Much needed I suppose after the Great War and the Spanish Flu epidemic. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely photos. Xx

  7. How lovely, I can imagine how much you enjoyed the whole experience. There's nothing worse than missing something you were desperate to see.

  8. I went to see an exhibition on Italian Couture at the V&A a couple of years back and they actually showed some items either fully or partially inside out so you could see how they were made. I also shamelessly followed a lady who was a professional seamstress with some students and was carefully describing techniques and how things were made to her young companions!

    Bah I knew I would miss this exhibition.

  9. I love Jazz Age style - from the clothing to the hairdos! So timeless & elegant. I wish we'd have a 20's revival in clothing. The brilliantly coloured chinoiserie pieces are my fave too!


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