This week we are wrapping up the fashion part of the 1920s style guide with a look at men’s and women’s accessories: Gloves, watches, handkerchiefs, cigarette holders, flasks, glasses, umbrellas, and canes.
Traveling from place to place, gloves kept hands warm and clean. For men, formal occasions called for white gloves while day colors came in brown and grey leather. The fit snugly and closed with a button at the wrist. They were removed indoors along with hats for lengthy visits and entertaining parties. Leather driving gloves became requisite items for all car owners.
Many women of the 1920s would no sooner leave the house without gloves than they would leave without a hat. Gloves were either wrist-length or the longer gauntlet length. Very long white button up leather or silk gloves were worn during formal evenings. Thick leather gloves with wool lining were worn in the winter, while summer and spring called for silk, cotton, and lace. Colors were dyed to match either a dress or accessories for the upper class, or were a plain neutral color for the lower classes. Gloves often had ornate decorations on the cuffs. When not worn, it was considered tacky to carry gloves or wave them through the air. They were to be put in a coat pocket or handbag. Gloves remained on at all times unless a woman was doing something that could dirty her gloves, such as eating, smoking, or applying makeup. : )
Wristwatches grew in popularity throughout the ’20s. In the beginning of the decade, wristwatches were basically pocket watches on straps. Over time, watchmakers used smaller works specifically made for watches, which allowed for a change in shape of the watch. Rectangular watches with rounded corners became available. Regardless of shape, almost all women’s wristwatches were on silk ribbon bands and men’s on leather straps. Fancy ones had filigree or inset diamond casings. White gold was the most popular, with yellow gold being another option.
Many men still carried fob watches aka pocket watches. They dangled from a watch chain, which attached to the vest on one end and the watch on the other. The watch sat in another pocket on the opposite side of the vest. But what about a man who wasn’t wearing a vest? A belt clip with chain was the solution. Belt clips were usually yellow gold with a monogram in the center to match the monogram on the back of the pocket watch. For traditional men and extra stylish gangsters, a wrist watch was still too sporty and casual. The pocket watch was a slow fad to die.
I have a few 1920s inspired men’s watches on the accessories page.
Ladies pretty cotton, linen and lace handkerchiefs were still very common although their use dropped off a bit in the ’20s when disposable tissues became available. These small pieces of cloth were a blank canvas before hand-embroidery was applied resulting in endless designs. Ladies took patterns and ideas from home arts magazines. Many hankies featured the art deco designs that were very popular at the time and also had floral prints. Usually just the edges or corners were embroidered leaving the center pure. Monogramming was still very trendy, too. With an increase in wealth and travel many women collected souvenir handkerchiefs from the ships they sailed on or hotels they slept in. Even department stores gave away free handkerchiefs to faithful customers. These mass produced hankies feature printed designs rather than embroidery. It was the latest and greatest technique resulting in vivid colors and very art deco designs. Full color hankies didn’t become trendy till the 1930s.
There are two reason for men to carry a handkerchief. The first is for decoration as a pocket square in the suit coat. The pocket square was of a hue that coordinated with the necktie. It was a relatively new trend in the 1920s to wear a colorful pocket square with a suit.
The second type was a plain white cotton or linen handkerchief that was for practical purposes not decoration. Wiping sweat off a hat band, dabbing food off a chin, or clearing a nose, the white handkerchief was frequently in use. It was kept in the pants or an inside coat pocket at all times. The handkerchief was often monogrammed with the owner’s initials- a common handmade gift from family members.
Cigarette Holders for the Ladies
In an era before the health dangers of smoking were established, it seemed as if almost everyone smoked cigarettes. Initially, smoking women were seen as hussies. Advertisers had to work hard to change the perception to a classy affair that even housewives would want to partake in. This was also about 40 years before filtered cigarettes came on the market, making a cigarette holder both a practical accessory as well as a fashion statement. Women’s cigarette holders came in varying lengths, depending on the occasion. The longest was the 20-inch opera length while four to six inches was standard for dinnertime. Some were made from silver or jade but most were made from the new sturdy plastic, Bakelite. They were jeweled for fancy evenings or hand painted with Asian, Deco or flapper images for day time.
Shop for costume cigarette holders here.
And, of course, the Jazz Age was the era of Prohibition — the government’s failed experiment in outlawing alcohol. It made little difference to Americans, who drank more liquor during Prohibition than before it. The discrete woman carried her forbidden alcohol in a metal flask. Men generally carried a hip flask in the pocket of their trousers. However, with no pockets, women chose the smaller garter flask. At about 4 ½ inches tall and 2 ½ inches wide, they were just big enough to carry a shot or two of a woman’s favorite beverage but small enough to stay tucked into the garter. Really resourceful women carried flasks that looked like cigarette cases and some even hid their flasks in fake books. So much for Prohibition. Cheers!
Men and women wore the same eyeglasses, with most people opting for round frames, although some favored oval and octagon. Rimless or pinch nose frames were still common from early decades although they looked dated. Round horn or shell-rimmed frames were worn throughout the decade, but sturdier white gold frames gradually replaced them. Sunglasses followed the same trends but they didn’t catch on until the late ’20s.
Umbrellas and Canes
Part of men’s dress in the 1900s was to carry a rolled umbrella at all times. It was a fashion accessory, a cane, walking stick, rain covering and occasionally a weapon. It was more popular in Britain and with American men who followed the traditional way of dressing. Some men continued the tradition of carrying the rolled umbrellas regardless of the weather but most men turned to canes instead. All wood umbrellas or silver top stick or handle canes were in style.
Women also walked with canes. They preferred walking sticks with a rope loop hooked around the wrist. Instead of these being fashion accessories for the young, they were a necessary tool for the less able bodied.
Shop more men’s accessories here.