Keeping Up with the Roaring Twenties: Fashion and Art Deco

Pochoir illustration of a silver brocade Doeuillet dress

fig. 1 Pochoir illustration of a silver brocade Doeuillet dress. Art, Gout, Bon ton, May 1921. Courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives – Author’s Photo

As an independent-minded woman of the 1920s you know that one of the ways to show your knowledge and independence is through your appearance, and that it is important to stay up to date on the latest styles and fashions. Armed with this knowledge you flip through the pages of the latest issue of Les succès d’art, goût, bon ton – which translates in English to “The success of art, taste and good manners.” Independent, daring women such as yourself, know to wear rouge on their cheeks, that shorter hemlines are in season, and the latest ways to wear and style your hair (Reinsch,“Flapper Girls – Feminism and Consumer Society in the 1920s”). You also know that all of this can be learned through reading Art, goût, bon ton, which is known as “the finest of all fashion publications” (Morris, 2), epitomizing the art deco fashions (Morris, 2). Armed with this magazine, you will remain fashionable through the changing seasons.
The Art Deco movement gained popularity in 1906 (Lussier, 77), and has maintained its popularity into the 1920s. This movement encompasses architecture, decorative arts, and most importantly, textiles and fashion (Lussier, 6). Art Deco has followed the lead of other art movements, such as Fauvism and Cubism. It used to be much more lush and floral, incorporating oriental designs, but has become much more angular in its designs and motifs in the post-war years (Bowman and Molinare, 14). Art Deco is wonderfully suited to textiles and fashion, allowing dresses to be extravagantly ornamented, and fabrics to be covered in fantastical designs.
While perusing the articles and advertisements in the May issue, you come across an illustration of a Georges Doeuillet design. It is a dress made out of a gorgeous silver brocade fabric, typical of eveningwear (Olian, v), which is shown in the illustration through the pochoir technique (Ballmer, 26; Morris, 4) used to render the likeness of the dress. Keeping with the style of the early 1920s, the dress is long and sleeveless, with a raised hemline, and various accents and points of visual interest throughout (Lussier, 26 & 69). The simple shape of this dress, made out of luxurious fabrics, is the height of fashion right now (Olian, iv), which makes it a very appealing potential addition to your wardrobe. The raised hemline allows you to show off your shoes, which have become a whole new fascination in fashion since they will be seen, and no longer hidden under long skirts (Lussier, 69). The shoes shown in the illustration are in a silver that matches the dress, with a pointed toe and square block heel that is very “of the moment.” With the rise of quicker, more vigorous dances, such as the Charleston or the Shimmy (Lussier, 26; Reinsch,“Flapper Girls – Feminism and Consumer Society in the 1920s”) women’s shoes – which are predominantly high heeled — need to accommodate these lively dances, with sturdy heels, as well as varying styles of straps (Lussier, 69). The hemline of the dress, between the gathering around the hip, and long train of the skirt, raises as high up as the mid-calf, with the train extending beyond the feet, with the ankles exposed beneath a white underskirt. Since the end of the war, there has been sense of confusion around where hemlines should rest on the body, with some designers seeking inspiration from the past, while others are looking forward (Olian, v) – frankly people need to make up their minds and pick a hemline height already. The gathering of the skirt at the hip, which is currently the height of fashion, is accentuated by the model’s pose of slightly hunched shoulders and thrust-forward hips, known as the “debutante slouch”, which is a popular pose that keeps popping up in all of the latest fashion magazines, and conveys an air of sophistication, though some would call the attitude haughty or jaded (Danielson, 37). On top of the gathering at the hip are two flowers made from jade coloured-ostrich feathers, which add drama and visual interest to the dress. Accents like feathers, or beading, or fringe are fashionable trimmings right now. Lastly, the dress ends in a two-point train, with both ends trimmed with a single tassel. The gathering in the skirt, plumes, and tassels will accentuate your movements when taking part in the latest dances.

fig. 2 Detail of silver pigment used in illustration. Courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives – Author’s photo

fig. 2 Detail of silver pigment used in illustration. Art, Gout, Bon ton, May 1921. Courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives – Author’s photo


The colours of the dress – silver and jade – as well as the model’s makeup are captured exquisitely through the illustration technique of pochoir. Pochoir is the French word for stencil, and gained popularity in the late nineteenth century, and has maintained popularity into the early twentieth century, being used in Art Nouveau and Art Deco illustrations for high-end publications (Ballmer, 26; Morris, 4). You know that you can trust this method of illustration to depict something like a fashion garment because the artisans take the time to match the colours of the gouache or watercolour pigments to the colours of the original garment (Ballmer, 26-7). This is clearly important when considering whether you want to purchase that new dress – or hat, or shoes – or not. Imagine that you fell in love with a certain garment, and upon visiting the department store or your dressmaker (Morris, 96), and seeing the garment realized that the colours of the garment were not what had been shown in the magazine illustration? Heartbreak and disappointment would surely occur, and you would be left to continue the search, or worse, be left in last season’s fashions for that certain upcoming event – how embarrassing! You can tell that an illustration is made using the pochoir technique by the build-up and overlapping of the pigments throughout the illustration. This is caused through the multi-layer process, where a stencil will be cut for each colour, and each colour is applied by a different person, or artisan, creating an assembly line-style mode of production (Ballmer, 26-7). The use of this technique in this specific illustration captures the opulent shimmer of the silver material used for the dress (see fig. 2). Also, you can see the buildup and overlapping of colours best in the folds and shadows in the gathering of the skirt. Since the colouring is done in this multi-layer process, it is difficult to properly line up, or register, the layers, causing the pigments to overlap and build upon one another. Due to the assembly line-style of the pochoir process, the artisans are not typically credited, and instead the creator of the original piece is credited (Ballmer, 28). This information, along with a description of the dress, and even the model sometimes, can be found beneath the illustration. The information about the garment will be in an italicized font, with the name of the original designer in a plainer, bolder font (Morris, 6). In the case of the dress it says that it was made by Doeuillet – which can only mean the French haute couture designer Georges Doeuillet (“Doeuillet”).

Caption of dress description and designer credit

fig. 3 Caption of dress description and designer credit. “Evening neckline, in silver brocade. Flat, sleeveless bodice. Skirt is beautifully draped in flowers from jade ostrich feathers, which continues in a pointed train.” Art, Gout, Bon ton, May 1921. Courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives – Author’s Photo.

Maison Doeuillet is known for its use of luxurious materials to create wonderful haute couture pieces (“Doeuillet”). This is most likely because Georges Doeuillet, the fashion house’s founder and namesake, began as a silk merchant (“Georges Doeuillet, Evening Dress”), so he knows a thing or two about quality fabrics. His designs are always so detailed and elaborate, which makes them so fresh and appealing. All those details, like beadwork and accents of fringe or feathers, epitomize 1920s fashion. Doeuillet is known for his intricate, yet subtle design elements as well as beautiful construction (“Georges Doeuillet, Evening Dress”), so you know that you’re getting the best quality in fashion, and that you will stand out in your Doeuillet dress at your next formal event.
The makeup on the model is very much in style for this season. It is soft and pale, with an emphasis on eyes, due to the low brims on the hats that women are wearing nowadays (Lussier, 70). Eyes are being lined in black or blue pencils, which is exemplified in this illustration. Other makeup trends include lipsticks that range from soft shades all the way to deep burgundy (Lussier, 70). Also, with the rise of women’s sports, a youthful fresh look has become popular in makeup, and is mimicked using rouge on the cheeks (Lussier, 70), which is also seen on this model, making her a fashionable woman of the time. The hair of the model is worn in a bun, which is reminiscent of the chignons that are very popular right now (Lussier, 74).
Now that you’re finished reading through the magazine, and have taken in all of the wonderful illustrations and articles on the latest fashions, you turn back to the page with that lovely silver brocade Doeuillet dress. Taking in all of the details – the print, the gathering, the ostrich plumes, the gorgeous silver of the fabric – you’ve made up your mind. It’s such a distinct dress, yet keeps up with the latest cuts and fabrics of the time:  you must have it. You immediately start planning your trip to the couturier’s, to ensure that you will have that dress at your next formal event.


Works Cited

Ballmer, Amy. “Pochoir in Art Nouveau and Art Deco Book Illustration.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 34.2 (2008): 26-93. Web.

Bowman, Sara, and Michel Molinare. A Fashion for Extravagance: Art Deco Fabrics and Fashions. E.P. Dutton, 1985. Print.

Danielson, Donna R. “The Changing Figure Ideal in Fashion Illustration. “Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 8.1 (1989): 35-48. Web.

Doeuillet. Doeuillet Paris. Web. April 2016.

Georges Doeuillet, Evening Dress. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. Web. April 2016.!/search?artist=Doeuillet,%20Georges$Georges%20Doeuillet 

Lussier, Suzanne. Art Deco Fashion. V&A, 2003. Print.

Morris, M. Patricia. “Art, Taste, and Beauty Come to the State Library”. California State Library Foundation Bulletin 2010: 2-9. Web.

Olian, JoAnne. Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties: 413 Costume Designs from “L’Art et la Mode”. Dover Publications, 1990. Print.

Reinsch, Ole. “Flapper Girls – Feminism and Consumer Society in the 1920s”. Gender Forum, An Internet Journal for Gender Studies 40 (2013): n. pag. Web. 15 April 2016.

About gtrach

Gabrielle is still navigating this "being a grown-up" business, which involves being a fashion scholar, as well as a multi-disciplinary artist. The ultimate goal is to combine fashion into her art practice, which might just happen in the next couple of years.