Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

The Modern/Postmodern Silhouette


La Cendre De La Cigarette., Digital ID 826015, New York Public LibraryThe 1920s saw the final triumph of the slender silhouette for women in fashion, forever banishing the voluminous undergarments of previous centuries. Poiret, Worth, Vionnet, and other couturiers devised a straight and tall line, meant for slim hips and small busts. Look in any costume survey textbook, and the pictures of changing dress silhouettes over time reveal much about the periods in which they were created. Yet when I looked in Wikipedia the other day, I saw that their definition for silhouette lacked mention of its clothing context. Can someone out there repair this omission?

Twenties fashions celebrated the slender, youthful feminine form. Previously, womanly curves had their own vogue. What I find interesting is how the 1920s aesthetic has been fiercely retained by the fashion industry, to the point that it has become embedded in the postmodern psyche. Check with all the girls who suffer from eating disorders, or have figures fuller that what’s in fashion. Tim Gunn is aware of the importance of the silhouette. He has a chapter in his A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style called “The Fit Conundrum,” in which silhouette and proportion are the measuring sticks for dressing around one’s body type.

The craze for slimness in the 1920s also crept into pop culture representations of women in general. A book from 1988 looks at Women and the Popular Imagination in the Twenties: Flappers and Nymphs. Read how the “liberated woman” started to take off in this period, with implications for today… 

Men have always had it easier. Although, checking into last week’s Milan Fashion Week, where menswear fashions are previewed, Miuccia Prada was doing her best to diss today’s man. When the runway guffaws over back buttons, flyless trousers, and silly belts ceased, it was just another case of a prominent fashion designer mocking the uncertain times we live in. The rest of the offerings looked like the usual dreamy sportswear trends we’ve seen all along…


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Post new comment