When anyone utters “1920s,” people automatically think of extravagant parties and luxurious, exotic jewelry. As the Great War came to an end, flappers flooded the streets to celebrate the United States decade of prosperity. As the middle class rose and dominated the American population, so did the demand to create luxurious looking objects without the hefty price tag. Costume jewelry began to rise in popularity, as it was more fashionable to wear jewelry that expressed one’s self rather than one’s status.
Note: All photos used in this blog post are not 1920’s jewelry, but are used to show how contemporary jewelry still incorporate influences from the Roaring 20s.
Roaring 20s Jewelry Markers
When you think of the Great Gatsby, you are probably thinking of a prominent example of the Art Deco movement. Named after Art Décoratifs, the trend took over the grand designs ranging from buildings to jewelry. The best way to describe the movement is a marriage between various other art movements (such as Cubism, Fauvism, and Ballet Russes). The main motifs of the movement included geometric lines, bold colors, sun rays, nude figures, and foliage. In jewelry history, Art Deco was also special for merging modern styles with artisanship, leading to the creation and development of iconic buildings such as the Empire State Building.
Use of Bright Colors
Inspired by stones imported from exotic locales, bright stones instantly became a hit in the United States. Artisans were falling in love with Cubism, abstract thought, and bright colors. Moreover, the invention of plastic made it easier to create affordable yet exotic looking jewelry.
Blending of Cultures
After the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, people became interested in Ancient Egyptian fashion choices. From sharp, opaque eyeliner to dressing themselves with flashy jewelry, people everywhere were eager to transform themselves with high couture looks inspired by Cleopatra.
Western cultures began to mix in Eastern influences to produce different jewelry. This is further cemented by Hollywood, as A-list actors and actresses began to dictate fashion trends.
The longer, the better
Layering necklaces was the biggest trend at the time. Nothing was more fashionable than wrapping a 60-inch pearl necklace around a woman’s neck and creating a bold statement. Akoya pearls begin to rise in popularity, as every flapper rocked the long pearl necklace. If a woman could not afford real pearls, we did not have to sweat it. In fact, it was fashionable to wear plastic pearls as they were more lightweight, making it easier for a flapper to dance her night away.
Other popular long necklaces included the beaded necklace, where the beads were made with light pastel hues. Clashing colors was considered fashionable so it would be natural to see flappers wearing dark outfits paired with a bright, blue beaded necklace.
If a girl wanted more dimensions with her necklace, she could wear one with a tassel at the end. Tassels and fringes were used to elongate the body, especially the neck and the torso. To create a more fashionable look, a girl could wear the tassel necklace at the back too.
Tassel necklaces would often be bright and bold, as it was the statement piece that women were desperate to get their hands on at the time.
Dog Collar Necklace (AKA the Bib Necklace)
Young women loved to sport on an exaggerated statement necklace to accentuate their collar bones and necks. Artisans loved experimenting with dog collar necklaces as they could incorporate uniquely cut stones, such as large squares, triangles, and even pointed oval stones. The necklaces are typically in heavy casings too, which is still a trend today but in the form of the chunky necklace.
Thanks to A-list celebrities sporting short hair on the silver screen, American women began rocking the bob-haircut as a sign of freedom. Drop earrings showcased a woman’s neck without being too flashy, as the design peeked through the short hair. However, these drop earrings were made from either semi-precious gemstone such as jade, coral, and onyx, or plastic. In fact, wearing diamonds during the day was seen as tacky and tasteless at the time. Therefore, diamonds were reserved for formal evenings only.
The basic rule of drop earrings is that it should match with the hair clip, headband, or hat.
Hats are the new Dress
For centuries, brooches were worn as a symbol of status on a woman’s outfit. The brooch would be stiffly pinned onto a dress, and socialites would walk down the street to show off their luxury. During the Roaring 20s, middle-class fashion gurus transformed outdated, luxurious brooches into an accessory to dress up a hat. In fact, the flashier the brooch was, the better!
Flash of the Past
The Art Nouveau era that preceded Jazz Age jewelry focused on the artistry that goes behind the jewelry. In fact, that era started as a protest against the mass production of art.
Ironically, the working class was uninterested in purchasing high-end 1920s jewelry – except for rings. Classy rings with artfully cut stones were seen as subtle ways to personalize and upgrade a look without being too flashy. Dramatic rings were popular as it elongated a woman’s finger effortlessly, without restricting as she partied away. Birthstones were popular replacements for diamonds and seen as a way to further personalize jewelry.
Overall – the overlying trend was to wear affordable jewelry that showed off the outfit. After all, it’s the girl that makes the jewelry, not the jewelry that makes the girl! Today, we still see influences from the Roaring 20s as jewelry is still worn to elevate an outfit, not elevate your status.
For your next 20s-themed party, which jewelry would you rock?