The 1920 name for these gowns, bare-shouldered and supported only by straps, was “camisole top.”
Actresses and couturiers introduced these very bare evening looks before 1920, but I am surprised by how many 1920 examples I found when I started looking — and in just one source, Butterick’s Delineator magazine. [I did find a Standard pattern from 1919 with a straight top, simple straps, and optional sheer, cape-like sleeves at the Commercial Pattern Archive: Standard 391, archive No. 1919.65 BWS]
There aren’t even visible straps holding this bodice up, just the beaded hem of the sheer drape:
Digression: Serendipity — here is a surprising discovery I made while reading the text of a 1924 corset ad:
The earliest strapless brassiere I found in the Sears catalog was Fall, 1939.
The text for this photo concerned the “coils over the ears hairstyle,” and didn’t even mention that very revealing dress. Nor did this photo of a messy “houpette” hairdo have much to say about the beaded straps of this young woman’s gown:
“We only meant to show her ‘houpette’ coiffure, but from the braces over her shoulders to the ribbons on her feet she is so utterly engaging that we could find no place to draw the line.”Delineator, March 1920.
While I recover from that admiring description, perhaps I should mention that the 1920s’ “camisole” was sometimes an undergarment for the top of the body, but also referred to the simple bodice that many 1920s’ skirts hung from.
One thing “camisole” seems to mean is “a bodice/undergarment suspended from [narrow] straps.” (In 1920, the word “chemise” might also describe an undergarment with narrow straps.)
The narrow straps of these French couture gowns are really minimal: just a strand or two of beads:
Butterick patterns followed suit:
This camisole topped dress came in sizes 32 to 46 bust, and the skirt, embroidered with a spiderweb pattern, seems “vamp”-ish to me.
[Lanvin showed a lacy spiderweb design like this in 1922 (French Vogue, January 1.) ]
The same 1920 issue of Delineator showed a more modest alternate version: sleeveless, with V-neck.
Yes, this is the same dress as the black, very bare version at the top of this post; that illustration was from December 1920.
Delineator showed women how to make “Paris” trims for evening dresses:These very bare dresses for misses have beaded straps:
The “conservative” dress pattern (2702-A) also included a camisole top version (B); what’s more, No. 2702 is the “size 16 to 20 years” version of Butterick 2690! Butterick was really committed to these styles.
Straps didn’t have to be beaded:
The contrast between the covered-up and very bare dress is striking, and reminds me that young men returning from war were more accustomed to the #2151 kind of party dress (above left) than the “nothing under this dress but me!” #2181 (center.)
The sheer-over-camisole-top versions were probably chosen by girls (or their mothers) who were not ready to show off so much bare skin. All these alternate views include a sheer sleeve.
The dress at left has a gathered sheer layer over a camisole top. Most 1920 evening dresses were not bare, camisole topped fashions. This pattern is another from February 1920.
However, the popularity of camisole-topped dresses — bare, revealing dresses — is shown by their appearance in these ads:
The initial shock of dancing with young women in scanty, revealing clothing didn’t happen in the “Roaring Twenties.” It began with the “lost generation” right after World War I. ” …Members of The Lost Generation had survived World War I but had lost their brothers, their youth, and their idealism.” They didn’t “discover” sex, but they certainly discussed it more frankly than their grandparents had.