By Kate Betts
When the pint-sized English actress Carey Mulligan appears on screen playing Daisy Buchanan to Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay
Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming adaptation of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic jazz age romance she will be resplendent in the decade’s signature flapper dresses and cloche hats. And if Luhrmann’s talented wife Catherine Martin is responsible for the costumes, Mulligan’s wardrobe will be perfectly turned out in period detail— the soft-focus pastel palette, Art Deco prints, and diamond baguettes galore. Chances are Mulligan’s costumes will also be right in step with fashion.
Call it synchronicity, but the best looks at recent runway shows and society parties have been suffused with1920s style. Fashion is always a reflection of the larger cultural mood and this latest reincarnation of jazz age style might owe something to the uncertain global financial situation or the strange imbalance of a wobbly stock market and soaring financial gains on Wall Street. Whatever the similarities between 1925 and 2011, it’s fair to say that the look of the moment has a muse in the footloose flapper.
Kate Moss dubbed her recent wedding to The Kills rocker Jamie Hince as “rock and roll 1920s.” Her gauzy beaded chiffon dress—designed by John Galliano—evoked the fragile costumes of Mia Farrow in the 1974 film interpretation of Fitzgerald’s homage to the era. And for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire series, set in 1920s Atlantic City, costume designer John Dunn meticulously reproduces the clothing styles of the roaring twenties. Actress Paz de La Huerta, who plays the former Ziegfield Follies dancer Lucy Danziger, exhibits flapper style best through her character’s fur stoles, beaded cloche hats, shimmering dresses and bright red lips.
What makes the 1920s so ripe for revival is the cultural and political transformation of the time. After all, it was a moment of great liberation, especially for women who could finally vote, smoke in public, and get an education. It was a turning point in fashion, too. Women bobbed their hair and wore boyish clothes instead of corsets. Coco Chanel had changed everything, pairing down the silhouette with her inventive use of jersey fabrics, eliminating fussy layers and drawing on the geometric simplicity of Art Deco style. She also introduced the suntanned look and tapped into the 1920s more athletic, career-minded generation of women who were determined to have fun. Their clothes reflected a determination to bounce back from the horrors of World War I—to live life with a sense of abandon.
Role models like Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, and Louise Brooks appeared in Hollywood with their blood red lips and ankle-revealing hemlines. Grace Coolidge arrived at the White House in 1923, the first truly athletic and socially engaged political wife to live there. She volunteered for the Red Cross, went hiking in the Black Hills of North Dakota, and wore flapper dresses and cloche hats.
Where politics, movies and models go, fashion almost always follows. And the flapper has been endlessly revived in fashion, most famously in Christian Dior’s 1954 collection where he reinvented the “Debutante slouch” of the 1920s by dropping the waistline to the hips and flattening the bust. Time magazine declared that Dior had “abolished the bosom” with a look that would “delight dress merchants and throw husbands into mumbling despondency.”
More recently, in 2008, designers like Miuccia Prada, Alexander McQueen and Raf Simons for Jil Sander revived fringed flapper-style dresses. For his spring 2011 Louis Vuitton show, Marc Jacobs drew on the decadence of the 1920s, citing that era as the inspiration for his richly beaded fringe dresses, bobbed hairstyles, and Art Deco-inspired Chinoiserie details. Last fall, Prada brought the flapper back yet again with paillette-covered dresses and fur-collared cocoon coats. Similarly, Karl Lagerfeld, who showed his resort collection for Chanel at the jazz-era Hotel du Cap in Antibes, caught the 1920s trend with drop-waist tweed dresses and Art Deco-inspired black and white graphic swimwear.
And come spring 2012, when Luhrmann’s Gatsby is due to hit screens, it’s likely that many more designers will be looking to that proverbial green light at the end of the dock for style inspiration.