Think 20s and 30s fashion and you'll probably imagine a Prohibition-era speakeasy or maybe a Greta Garbo movie. There will be skirts below the knee, women who wouldn't dream of leaving the house without a hat, and some seriously inconvenient underwear, but despite all that, the leading lights of these decades had a kind of understated sexuality that leaves most modern pin-ups looking decidedly dull.
Back in the days when showing a lot of skin wasn't acceptable, those who wanted to smoulder had to be subtle. They had to work within (or close to) social norms and use cut, fabric, and accessories to suggest rather than expose. And they were good at it- you only have to look at a photo of Marlene Dietrich in her prime to see that less really can be more.
Thankfully, women's knees are no longer considered inflammatory and controversial, but the accessories from this golden age of clever, sexy fashion are making a comeback now. Here are just a few of the possibilities:
Fascinators. Picture a hat. Now take away the hat. What's left- the ribbons, the feathers, the bows, and the other attention grabbing details- are the fascinator. They're popping up all over the place, from pubs and clubs to the last British royal wedding, where the fascinators got almost as many newspaper column inches as the bride's dress.
Despite this royal connection, the Queen of England is a known fascinator-hater. She had them banned from her presence at the 2012 Royal Ascot race meet but don't let that stop you getting involved. There's no call to take fashion advice from a woman who has been wearing matching pastels for the last half-century. Fascinators are great fun and while their star is rising again, wearing one will still get you noticed in a crowd.
Old fashioned stockings. Nylon? No thanks. Vintage-style silk stockings are back with a vengeance. They're sleek, sophisticated and have their own special sheen. You do have to wear them with stocking suspenders or a garter belt but that's no downside. Sure it takes a little longer to get ready but undressing at the end of the night is a whole lot sexier.
As any leg man will tell you, silk stockings are devastating when combined with almost any outfit but for maximum effect, choose a tailored pencil skirt for a severe and sultry look.
Costume necklaces. While there was a huge variety of jewelry available to the women of the 20s and 30s, there is one go-to piece for every fashionable woman- a long beaded chain that could be artfully draped and looped around the neck. The way the beads fell was carefully calculated to ever so subtly emphasis the swell of the breasts and draw the eye to the neckline.
This trick still works just as well today and it's also an excellent way to add colour an interest to an otherwise plain outfit. The ladies of the 20s and 30s favored pearls and semi-precious stones like amber or turquoise for daywear, or even early plastics, but chunky glass beads are also fine.
Jess writes for Corsets-AU.com and Corset-Story.com, two good places to find fascinators and other accessories from outside the box.
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