Sometimes it seems like 1920’s hems began falling even before they had finished rising.
Nineteen twenties’ hems reached their shortest — in some cases above the knee — lengths near the end of the 20’s; some historians date their high water mark to 1927, but above-the-knee dresses can be seen in films released in 1929. Pauline Weston Thomas has written about “The Short Skirt Misconception of the Twenties” at Fashion-Era. Click here.
Two Hems for the Price of One
One of her points is that the mid to late twenties were years of change, reflected in the many dress styles that strove to be both long and short at the same time. Afternoon and evening dresses often had a style feature that dropped below the normal hemline. A side drape, flared godets or “handkerchief hem” panels, and dresses that were short in front and longer in back — all allowed a transitional “two hem” option.
In 1925, skirts were still below the knee, but the sheer dress on the left, above, with its “handkerchief hem” has a shorter opaque underskirt (or costume slip.)
This similar dress, left, from August of 1926, has a sheer lace or printed chiffon top layer:
It’s also much shorter than its 1925 counterpart. The scalloped hem on the right was also seen in late twenties’ styles.
These evening patterns, from December 1926, carry your eye below the hem with side drapes. The one on the left actually has two hemlines:
This dress, No. 1118 from November, 1926, also has a “tunic” [sometimes called an “apron] that hangs below the hem at the front sides.
The dress on the left, below, for “Larger Women,” has floating panels for sleeves and curving inserted panels that make the sides longer than the front or back.
Although these 1926 dresses are for mature women, the “dress and slip” on the center figure is not much below the knee.
This glittering dress, by French designer Renee, is also longer at the sides than it is in front.
“Pour troubler” is Renee’s name for a most disturbing frock of white faille silk with a design of trailing leaves, flowers, and dew drops crystallized in brilliants on the dress and fluttering draperies. A girdle of green chiffon does a half Nelson clutch at the side.”
This Paris gown from Cheruit — also 1926 — has longer panels of a different color:
“Panneaux evases [Literally, “panels widened at the top” — which does not seem to be what the picture shows] of gold gauze set in a white frock of the same material make a Summer dancing-frock that calls to mind pale flowers by moonlight. From Cheruit.”
One style that became very popular among young women — and which was adopted by older women by the end of the decade — was the afternoon or evening dress that was much longer in back than in front.
Paul Poiret made this early, sophisticated version of black velvet with a sequinned bodice in 1926.
“An evening frock from Paul Poiret is an uneven swirl of black velvet below a sequinned bodice on which multicolored flowers are worked in brilliant shades of blue and rose and green. Ends of Chartreuse velvet fall from the bows at the hip and the hem is faced with silver ribbon.” [Since the back is longer than the front, the inside of the hem is visible, so Poiret has decorated it with silver ribbon.]
Because the model is sitting (apparently on thin air), it’s hard to be sure that Poiret’s hem is longest at the back, rather than the side. But that’s definitely the case with this 1928 dress from Hattie Carnegie:
Among teens and very young women, the short front / long back dress, with a full skirt based upon the robe de style, must have been popular, because within a couple of years it was widely adopted by older women, too.
These are some 1926 patterns “for misses 15 to 20, and small women.”
Here, the same dress is trimmed with hand-beaded art deco flowers:
The bodice on a robe de style could fit quite snugly, and usually fastened with a line of snaps under the left arm. (Movie flapper Colleen Moore, wearing snug bodices, could be seen dressing and undressing several times in Why Be Good? from 1929.)
By 1929, these high-low hems had become acceptable for daytime wear.
“2395 — The scalloped frock. This is a dress that can only be worn by the very young and the very slender. The new molded body is seen in the basque to which a straight skirt is gathered. All the edges are scalloped and the hem rounds down slightly longer in back. The deep cape collar takes the place of sleeves and matches the background of the dress. Designed for 32 to 37 [bust] (15 to 20 years ) and 38.”
It appears that the same dress, with a darker bias-bound hem, was later featured in this ad for shoes:
The high/low hem appeared on older women in afternoon (dressy) dresses, too:
More about high/low hems and other transitional variations to come. . . .