A few weeks ago, I wrote about High School Boys’/Young men’s fashion in the 1920s. Now I want to take a quick look an teen girls clothing from the 1920s.
It is a tricky subject to research, because the term teenager wasn’t used until the 1940s. In terms of buying clothing, high school age kids in the 1920s were either children/youth up to age 14 or small women. A few shops and catalogs created Juniors or Intermediate sized clothes- the first attempt at a teen department.
Since the ideal style was for women to look like young girls, there was very little difference between women’s fashion and teen clothing. Both liked loose, dropped waist dresses in bright colors and fun straw or cloche hats with all the rich trimmings women enjoyed too.
Clothing and textiles was a class taught to high school girls. I have several text books on the subject which are quite fascinating to read. They describe the history of clothing design, how to choose garments for your body type, what fabrics are good quality, how to clean your clothes, and what an appropriate budget would be. In one book, the suggested wardrobe for a high school girl is:
Essential wardrobe items: 1 wool skirt, 1 spring coat, 1 blouse, 1 party dress, 1 kid gloves, 6 handkerchiefs, 1 hiking shoes, 1 sport shoes, 1 rubber boots, 1 pair slippers, 2 pajamas, 2 winter pajamas, 2 combination suits, 2 bloomers, 4 stockings, 1 robe.
Optional clothing: Spring suit, winter coat, jersey dress, flannel dress, 2 blouses, slip- on sweater, winter silk dress, summer silk dress, evening dress, organdy dress, pongee dress, percale or gingham, felt hat, straw hat, gloves, rain slicker and hat, oxford(s), patent leather party shoes, white canvas summer shoes, canvas tennis shoes, bedroom slippers, galoshes, rubbers, slips/pongee, winter pajamas, 2 summer pajamas, combo suits, dark bloomers, light bloomers, undershirts, and ribbed stockings in cotton and wool silk.
Most items were homemade or mail-order catalog purchases. As a teen girl grew, her mother may have re-purposed some of her own dresses into ones for her daughter. Just like teens today, there was a great demand on mothers to dress their teenagers on trend and always have new things. Often, a mother would sacrifice her own wardrobe budget in favor of supplying her daughter with new silk hose instead of practical cotton or a store bought party dress for her graduation.
Teens loved the movies and copied every fashion they saw, scouring over movie magazines and looking up to older siblings who went off to college and came back as flappers! They were the first to adopt new styles, often against the wishes of parents and strict school policies. They rolled their stockings, bobbed their hair, wore brain-binders (tight ribbon headbands), wore makeup (after leaving the house), and played sports.
In winter they wore rubber overshoes (galoshes). Teens liked to undo the buckles and let them “flap” flap” flap” as they walked. Some history books think this may be an explanation for where the name “flapper” came from.
“Galoshes were exceedingly ugly overshoes that had about six metal buckles, but we didn’t close them. We spread them as wide as the tongue permitted, and the flaps slapping against each other made the most satisfying swish and jingle with every step!
In search of a more sophisticated look, we began fastening all but the top two buckles. The turned-down top made a cuff that fit neatly around the ankle, while the tongue left upright, made an artistic butterfly in front.” – Katherine Funck, From Flappers to Flivvers
Sports clothing in school was a long white middy blouse with rolled up sleeves, black sailor scarf, black bloomers, black stockings, and rubber sole tennis shoes. Bloomers worn for fashion were made of sateen in blue, red, green or purple. They fastened around the top knee with an elastic band with the extra fabric rolled down over the knee cap, and hung a few inches below. This sport uniform had been around for quite a few decades before and remained in use afterwards, too. The look was also adopted by women for sport and leisure wear.
Gymnasium was a common high school class of which several girls pursued careers in after high school. Other career aspirations were nursing, secretarial studies, teaching, and stenographer. Many girls were going off to college after high school. Some worked as retail “shop girls” to support their school expenses and also their extensive wardrobe.
Here are a few catalogs scans of clothing geared towards older girls and small women. These would have been clothing the teenagers would have selected.
School children carried school bags: a leather messenger type bag with a long shoulder strap attached to a rectangular shaped bag with flap over the top. It had a few compartments inside and sometimes outside to carry lunch or smaller items. Cheaper versions were made of sturdy cotton in plain or printed patterns and trimmed in leather binding.
The most poor children may have used an army surplus rucksack bag, left over form WWI. It was a canvas backpack with leather shoulder straps. Since children didn’t have much homework to do at home, the need to carry a school bag was optional and sometimes unnecessary.
Girls, especially, preferred to carry their book(s) home. Teens may have used a small leather purse and carried any book too big to fit in it.
Do you want to do your own research on 1920s fashion? Read the how to research fashion history article to get started.