Elegant accessories provided a frisson of excitement. There were feathered fans for flirting, cigarette holders for smouldering. Optional extras include huge plumes, long strands of pearls, row upon of plain bracelets and enormous single pear-shaped stones. Evening scarves were a new sensation; at first draped diagonally across the body, later knotted around the neck, and made from silk, satin or a combination of leopard skin and monkey fur. (1)

Beautiful headpiece and feather fan.
Beautiful headpiece and feather fan.

HATS

As they had in previous decades, hats remained a standard component of American women’s wardrobes during the 1920s, and while hats were not worn in the home or with fancy evening gowns, they were required apparel for most social engagements. (2)

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Earlier in the century, enormous, wide hats were the rage, often adorned with long, dramatic feathers and pinned to a woman’s hair with dangerously sharp hatpins. In 1913, the Audubon Society succeeded in introducing a ban on importing the plumage of such rare birds as egrets and birds of paradise, whose feathers had customarily been used in millinery. (2)

Washington, D.C., circa 1920.
Washington, D.C., circa 1920. “Miss Helen LeSeure.” Granddaughter of “Uncle Joe” Cannon, a legendary Speaker of the House. junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery
Washington, D.C., circa 1928.
Washington, D.C., circa 1928. “Shelley, James, Mrs.” junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery

The lack of dramatic plumage, coupled with the popular short haircuts of the 1920s, signalled the end of oversized hat. Large, striking hats did endure for the first few years of the decade, but around 1923, when the cloche hat (cloche means “bell” in French) was imported to America from Paris, small, trim hats became de rigeur of stylish women. (2)

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The cloche hat’s deep crown and narrow brim fitted snugly over a woman’s head ad concealed her eyebrows and nearly all of her bobbed hair. Cloches were made of just about every material, including straw, felt, satin, velvet, rayon, and cotton, and could be worn at any time of the year. By 1928, some cloche hats had even been stripped of their small brim, making them look almost like a helmet. (2)

Doris Zinkeisen: New Idea portrait with leaf background (1929) by Harold Cazneaux
Doris Zinkeisen: New Idea portrait with leaf background (1929) by Harold Cazneaux

Cloches were often decorated with appliqué, ribbons, rhinestones, buckles, beads, small feathers, artificial flowers, or decorative clips, and most trimmings rested over the ear rather than on the front of the hat. Ornamental Art Deco hatpins, usually made of zinc, celluloid, or Bakelite, came into vogue late in the 1920s. Rather than attach the hat to a woman’s hair, these pins, often adorned with faux jewels, were intended merely to decorate an otherwise plain hat. (2)

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Dolores Del Rio, January 31, 1929
Dolores Del Rio, January 31, 1929

Although cloches were by far the dominant style of women’s hats during the 1920s, other styles also enjoyed a certain measure of popularity. The turban, which basically amounted to a length of material wrapped horizontally around the head, offered one fashionable alternative to the cloche. (2)

Fania Marinoff (circa 1923)
Fania Marinoff (circa 1923)

During the 1910s, dancer Irene Castle initiated the fashion of wearing decorative bandeaux – headbands that wrapped around the forehead and could be made of anything from ribbons to rhinestones. By the beginning of the 1920s, women were wearing these headpieces, also nicknamed “headache bands”, as a standard part of their evening dress. (2)

1920s evening turban.
1920s evening turban.

Women also found soft tams and berets appealing, and when Greta Garbo wore a man’s slouch hat in the popular film A Woman of Affairs (1928), she ignited another national craze among American women. Garbo soon became a synonym for this style of soft felt hat with a high crow and drooping brim.  (2)

Greta Garbo in ''A Woman of Affairs'' 1928
Greta Garbo in ”A Woman of Affairs” 1928

And women riding in open cars sometimes protected their hair by donning leather aviator helmets resembling those worn by World War I pilots. (2)

Young woman driving a sports car, 1928
Young woman driving a sports car, 1928

Sources:

(1) Vogues Fashion – Linda Watson, 2008

(2) The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

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