Not every occasion in the 1920s required women to wear dresses. Separates (skirt and blouse) had been popular for a few decades before the ’20s. They were a comfortable and fashionable option for daywear as well as economical since they could be mixed and matched creating several outfits from only a few items. The low waistline that was so popular in dresses that it appeared on blouse too, which were often worn loose and untucked to hide women’s natural curves.
1920s blouses or shirts were pullovers that buttoned down the front and had another set of buttons on either side of the waist band. Shirtwaists or just ‘waists’ were loose pullover tops with a single button at the back of the neck. Ties on the side or a bow on the back waist pulled in at the hips just a little.
Sleeves came in mostly long sleeves with wide cuffs at the wrist. Some were bell shaped and 3/4 length and still others were shorter summer sleeves. Eventually, blouses, shirts, and waists became interchangeable terms for any women’s top.
Decorative 1920s Blouses
A crisp white or tan broadcloth blouse was a staple of many wardrobes. These lightweight, long-sleeved tops featured either rounded large Peter Pan collars or the over-sized pointed collar, perhaps with cute thin bows that either tied at the neck or hung down over the neckline. At the turn of the century, blouses were rather plain, coming in white and black, but in the 1920s there was an explosion of color. Interesting patterns and geometric shapes were embroidered into the designs, too. Remember, this was the beginning of the art deco era, and the modern styling showed up in more than furniture and buildings. Clothing designers took advantage of the trend with blouse designs inspired by geometry, folk art, Egyptian art, and the far east.
Peasant tops based on the Puerto Rican peasant dress were also popular in summer. They featured colorful embroidery on light cotton fabrics. Some had lace-up ties at the neck. They could be long or short sleeves. This style is one of my favorites to thift because many boho 70s blouses are similar to 20s peasant blouse.
The soft styling of sheer blouses made from crepe-de-chine was in vogue, and they ranged in colors from cream to pale green or bold blue. The delicate fabrics were adorned with intricate beadwork, embroidery or lace collars and trim to add to both the femininity and the visual interest. Short sleeve summer shirts called pixie blouses were made of cotton, broderie anglais or crocheted, and they typically had a scooped neckline with an opening at the back. Blouses were worn with separate skirts. Mixing colorful blouses and skirts was more common in the early to mid 1920s. In the later years, blouses lost their favor for a few years but returned again in the 1930s when personal economy was required.
The mid 20s saw the details of the early years disappear in favor of the man-inspired button up blouse. Ruffles and pintucks down the center created long lines. Button up blouses usually had soft pointed collars and a modest V neck opening with 6 to 8 buttons down the front. Some hung open but most had a wide waistband that circled around the hips. The band often fasted with buttons on one side. This created a slight blousing effect continuing the “show no bust” silhouette. They could be pullover styles as well, some with large round collars or scoop necks like the earlier years. Blouse colors favored white or neutral tans, peach, blue and black. Silk blouses with a moderate shine were favored over sheer fabrics.
The mid to late 20s fashion favored knit tops too. In fall/winter they looked like pullover sweater blouses in big patterns like plaid, checks, argyle and wide stripes. Read more about those here.
For casual sportswear, the men’s button-down shirt was tailored for a woman’s body with a narrower fit in the torso and arms. Designers put in deeper V necks, round collars, bloused sleeves and small pockets to make them more feminine. They had a men’s style pointed collars and wide cuffs. They were usually worn with a skinny necktie too. Some young women choose to wear men’s or boys shirts instead of the more feminine blouses.
As the decade moved close to the 1930s, blouses design returned to the delicate is prettiest roots. Silk blouses now had no collars, buttons or fussy trim. Instead, they had soft draping bows and ties at the waist and cuffs. It was a lighter, daintier fashion that fit in well with the shift to acting like “ladies” again.
Some blouses from recent TV shows set in the 1920s:
1920s Sailor Shirts
With so many other rules being tossed aside, there was no time like the Roaring Twenties to dig again into the man’s closet and see what could be adapted for women. There was a shift toward more masculine design for blouses in the middle of the decade. The midshipman’s white and navy top led to the creation of the “middy,” which is really just a sailor’s shirt that has been given a feminine touch.
Middies were more popular with girls 14 and under, although women could find sizes that fit, too. Adults tended to favor the middy for sportswear, wearing it with summer skirts or knickers. Many women’s sports team adopted the middy as part of their uniform. The fabric was typically heavy twill cloth or wool flannel with the standard 1920s hip band and a single shirt pocket. Blue cuffs matched the sailor flap and neck tie. Navy and Red middy tops were equally common as their white sisters. The necktie scarf was usually black, navy or red too.
Buying 1920s Style Blouses
Oh, how I would love for ’20s style blouses to come back in fashion.The amount of hand embroidery that went into each tunic shirts would make them extremely expensive if remade today. While it is unlikely we can find fully embroidered blouses, we do have some other options that will give us the right look. Shop here for new 1920s style blouses.
Peasant Blouses – Are in fashion again. The style tends to lean towards the peasant tops of the 1960s and 1970s with a drawstring tied neck and elastic waistband. If you find a good sheer peasant top with a slit and necktie simple remove the tie and sew up the slit- presto back to the 1920s. I prefer the look of long sleeve peasant blouses with even a little embroidery. I have had good luck with some tops that button up the back at Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and Asian import stores on Amazon (a hidden goldmine of vintage style anything just watch the sizing!). Blouses with pin tucks or lace insets are very teens/1920s. I have to restrain myself from buying every one of them that I come across. Blouses like these work well when matched with a 1920s style skirt.
Sailor Tops- Another in style item is the sailor top. Sailor blouses remained popular till the late 1950s, so they are still easily found among retro or vintage style clothing. Sailor neckties over white blouses are also in style in the mainstream fashion world. Pretty much any sleeved sailor inspired top will work for a ’20s middy look. Match these with a skirt or pair of tweed knickers for a very sporty ’20s style.
Peter Pan Blouses– Like those I found at Forever 21 are very vintage and not too difficult to find. Many come with a bow tie which ads to the 20s/30s charm. A straight collar with a bow tie sometimes called a Pussy Bow blouse would also be period correct.