Stepping Out in the Jazz Age ~ 1920 - 1929

When F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the term “Jazz Age” he was probably referring to many aspects of it. He meant prosperity, a booming stock market, Prohibition and bootlegging. He meant new freedom for women in the workforce, replacing young men who fought in World War I. He also probably meant new technologies, like the automobile and radio, which were propelling Americans into the modern age. Most of all he was referring to the Flapper, the young woman who threw off the buttoned-up morals of her elders, determined to banish thoughts of World War I - and have fun!

Drinking, dancing, smoking, having sex and wearing make-up … all described the Flapper. The 1927 introduction of the talkies (movies with sound), featuring stars like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson, strengthened the Flapper’s enthusiastic quest for ‘the new’. 

Fashion swept into the modern age offering designs for the flat, boyish silhouette: bare arms, low waists, short skirts, without the bonds of corsets. In 1927, skirts were shortest – just below the knee. Then fashion, ever changing with the times, began to look for ways to bring the skirt length down! The cosmetic industry was also flourishing. Elizabeth Arden and others supplied make-up for stylish red “cupid bow” lips and kohl-blackened eyes. 

Darien residents were not exempt from the good times. At clubs, like Tokeneke and Ballast Reef, there were regular beachside Saturday night dances and costume parties - all for fun!


Several new art styles were developing in the twenties. In 1922, the British archaeologist, Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of the ancient King Tutankhamen. The treasures found in the tomb, such as jewelry, murals and hieroglyphics, greatly influenced designers of decorative arts, textiles, architecture – even hairstyles and beauty products. There was a rage for “Egyptomania”! In 1925, Paris presented an exposition of modern industrial and decorative arts and fashion. It was to display and celebrate designs influenced by avant-garde movements, such as Cubism, Futurism and the Bauhaus. Geometric shapes, zig zags and sunbursts developed to characterize this distinctive modern style called “Art Deco”. 

Victorians were required to wear black while in mourning, with rules determining the type of fabric, kinds of trim and the length of term. In the early 1900s, designers, such as Paul Poiret, were inspired by “Orientalism” which favored exotic colors and fabrics. Although that style continued in the “Jazz Age”, black became a new symbol of chic and sophistication.

Chanel was the outstanding revolutionary talent of the age. She created new fashion concepts. In 1926, Chanel introduced “the Little Black Dress” with simple lines in silks for evening, and in wool for daytime. In 1925, she designed the famous Chanel suit. It was trimmed with braid and worn with large quantities of costume jewelry to complete the elegant Chanel look which has endured up to today.

When we hear Jazz music, we start tapping to its syncopated, happy beat. Uniquely American, Jazz began with informal groups in New Orleans. By the 1920s, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, as well as George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Paul Whiteman, were stars. In cabarets, underground clubs, on Broadway, also in Paris, Jazz music became a symbol of the twenties. The phonograph and the newly popular radio played the songs and everyone learned to dance “the Charleston” and “the Black Bottom”.

Enthusiastic applause was led by (of course) the Flapper and her Joe College boyfriend. It reflected their carefree attitude: nothing was too daring as long as it was new, young and fun! So they cropped their hair, rouged their lips and danced with reckless abandon as if there was no tomorrow … and then tomorrow came …. and the party was over. 



Jazz Age Costume Exhibition and Gallery Talk

"Darien Historical Society Salutes Downton Abbey" hosted by curator Babs White
January 30; 9:30-11:00 am

Coffee and Gallery Talk
Darien Historical Society
45 Old Kings Highway North, Darien, CT 06820
$5.00
RSVP 203-655-9233