At the turn of the twentieth century tailored suits for women, consisting of a matching or coordinated jacket and skirt, were popular outfits for office work, afternoon social visits, travel, and leisure activities such as walking. For the first few decades of the 1900s, tailored suits were made up of loose-fitting waist-length or hip-length jackets and ankle-length or floor-length flared skirts. Jackets often were adorned with buttons, fabric belts, and sailor collars, collars resembling those worn by sailors in the United States Navy, with narrow front folds and a large rectangle at the back of the neck. They were worn with shirtwaists, tailored blouses. The suits of this era often were made of many yards of heavy material. The skirts were so long and full that they picked up dirt from floors and outdoor paths.
After World War I (1914–18), as women moved more freely in society, tailored suits remained a fashionable outfit. However, in order to allow for more movement, the tailored suit of the 1920s was tapered in its cut. The new, less bulky look weighed less and was less burdensome for movement.
By the early 1920s the French-inspired boyish look was fashionable. This style, which de-emphasized the curves of the female form, was popular among young American women who lived liberated lifestyles and were called flappers. Jackets still frequently featured buttons and sailor collars, but the cut was plain and straight or tubular, with no emphasis on a woman's bust or waistline. Jacket waistlines were dropped from the natural waist, with the belt of the suit loosely hugging the hips. Skirts had lost their flare but were slightly gathered at the back. Instead of hemlines that hugged the ankle or the ground, skirts ended at mid calf. By 1925 skirts hung perfectly straight and hemlines ended at the knee or just below the knee. These outfits often were worn with tailored blouses and cloches, bell-shaped, deep-crowned hats.
French fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883–1971) had the greatest influence on the styling of the tailored suit for women in the 1920s. Her suits featured short, straight skirts or skirts with soft pleats. The Chanel jacket ended at the hip and had a square or boxy look. The neckline was collarless, and the fabric around the neckline and front of the jacket was trimmed discreetly with narrow braiding or ribbon. The jacket occasionally had buttons or fasteners but was worn open. Tailored blouses often were worn untucked with a fabric or leather belt at the hipline.
Gaines, Ann. Coco Chanel. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House, 2003.
Peacock, John. 20th Century Fashion. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1993.
Wallis, Jeremy. Creative Lives: Coco Chanel. Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library, 2002.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women's Clothes. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1994.