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Review: 1920s JAZZ AGE: Fashion & Photographs


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Against a backdrop of glitz and glamour, the 1920s JAZZ AGE: Fashion & Photographs exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum presents the dazzling clothes and dizzying lifestyles of women in the Roaring Twenties.

In an era known for modernity, excess and dance, the 1920s "Great Gatsby" lifestyle led to dramatic changes in fashion.

Jazz Age

Sleeveless sequinned beaded rose dress
Photograph ©Tessa Hallman. Collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield

Major developments in the women’s rights movement in the early twentieth century are reflected in the exhibition’s progression.

Focusing on 1920s fashion, the exhibition follows a “day-in-the-life” of a fun-loving woman, from lounging in delicate silk pyjamas in the morning to smoking opium in dark, sultry evening-wear at night.

The clothes are strikingly diverse, existing far beyond the flapper-style dresses generally associated with the period.

Exhibition curator Dennis Nothdruft says: “The dizzying array of choices, and not just the tubular drop-waist dress immediately associated with the era, allowed modern woman unprecedented opportunities to express herself.”

Once society had recovered from the shock of seeing women’s ankles in public, dresses continued to shorten throughout the decade. In the 1920s women became more active, no longer willing to simply sit still and look pretty, and fashion changed accordingly.

Sportswear for both men and women became hugely popular in the 1920s; the “athletic” look was particularly fashionable for young women.

A slim, straight silhouette was considered the ideal and fashion design mirrored this trend. After a long history of women modifying their bodies with painfully tight corsets, 1920s fashion favoured waistless silhouettes and flattened busts.

James Abbe, the Dolly Sisters

'Dolly Sisters', James Abbe, 1923
Courtesy Private Collection © James Abbe Archive

The final room of the exhibition is dedicated to photographs by the iconic fashion and celebrity photographer James Abbe.

James Abbe: Photographer of the Jazz Age, displayed alongside the main exhibition, gives an insight into the lives of the decade’s elite. It includes images of famous figures such as Fred and Adele Astaire, as well as the Dolly Sisters and Dolores.

With the exhibition’s “irresistible pairing of stars of the 1920s”, Jenny Abbe, Executive Director of the James Abbe Archive, says it “provides a broader understanding of Abbe’s influence on the meshing of entertainment and fashion.”

Stars from the 1920s fashion and entertainment industries are featured in Abbe’s charming photographs. His works capture the personalities behind some of the decade’s most recognisable celebrities.

1920s JAZZ AGE is an immersive and visually spectacular exhibition. Exploring how historical influences impacted women's lifestyles and fashions in the 1920s, the exhibition reflects the excitement of modernity and empowerment of women in the age.


1920s JAZZ AGE: Fashion & Photographs is on at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 15 January 2017

To find out more visit the Fashion and Textile Museum’s website here

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