Sunday, January 21, 2018

Modern Dance: Flappers did the Charleston and Rumba

Despite the unsettling effects of the First World War the 1920s stood out as a bright, youth orientated period with great enthusiasm for its own time. People had confidence in the future. Woman's fashions included more leg on show and the impacting fashion was immense. According to Bond (1992) the sight of young women confidently wearing clothing which showed their knees and thighs as they got in and out of cars, or sat on trains and buses represented the allure of glamour dressing in its most potent form.

After the First World War the Charleston and its spin offs i.e. The Shimmy, Black Bottom, and Varsity Rag were the dances of the trendy non-prohibitionists. They drank giggle-water and danced in the speakeasy to jazz. Flappers flicked their knees open and closed with what was called ' peekaboo indifference". The dance required swiveling on the balls of the feet, balancing pigeon toed, swaying the body side to side, and knocking the knees with their hands in a maddening frenzy.

The Charleston was enormous and spread throughout the western world but had its critics and was condemned by clergy and other moral guardians of society. After a tragic accident in a dancehall where a roof fell on revelers many buildings displayed notices like "The Building cannot withstand the Charleston" to deter young people from dancing the new dances.

Daytime shoes were neat and feminine looking, with oval toes and straight, high heels. The classic court shoe was an everyday basic but the new look, slender high heeled sandals with ankle and "T straps" in reptile skins, soft kid, suede and satin were very much the desire of most.

Shoe styles of the mid-twenties reflected contemporary events such as the sensational opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen, which saw a flurry of fashion for all things Egyptian. Glamorous dance shoes sported designs and trapping of the rich and exotic culture. Gold and silver 'Charleston' sandals were very popular and a ready accessory for eveningwear.

Shoe designs of the 20s reflected art deco style with mixtures of leather and suede. Many styles boasted of cushioned heels for dancing. Shoes had pointed toes with low heels many with button straps shoes and pierced hole design over the toe box (brogue style). Evening shoes were immaculately presented, matt fabrics were always well brushed and leather buffed to a high gloss. Strappy designs were a popular feature in elegant evening shoes. The straps were sometimes plaited or made of satin ribbon and crossed over like ballet pumps.

Other styles were dotted with glitter and fastened with fancy gold, silver or diamante buckles. The sides and heels of the shoes were sometimes decorated with tiny gold flecks or diamante tips. Other shoes were covered with fabric to match a particular dress. Alternatively dresses in plain velvet satin or chiffon were worn with patterned shoes. High heeled sandals covered in eye-catching, glittering brocade became the focus of leg watching.

Men followed fashion in a more clandestine way and style was shown in subtle forms and imagery displayed within the bounds of long established conventions. During the 20s, the English style was at its most classic with emphasis on being dressed in high quality, perfectly fitting clothing which flattered rather than promoting a strong designer look. The more extreme image of men's fashion included the two-tone shoes, which at the time were thought to be very brash. These styles, according to Bond (1992) were popular among a few male groups including students, celebrities and artists. Changes for men were slow and conservative whereas radical fashion changes had taken place for women during this period.

The main shift in fashion for men was also on the legs. Unlike women's preoccupation with how much of the leg should be shown off with fit and up and down hemlines, the controversy for men was how much fabric should be used to cover them up. At the beginning of the twentieth century men wore tailored trousers which were both slim and tapered. Sportswear was also conservative with modestly wide knickerbockers. The name came from the Dutch living in New York at the turn of the century and continued to wear traditional knee pants.

By the 1920s these ballooned out into baggy plus fours. The number depicted the length in inches, the trousers hung below the knee. During a very hot summer Oxford students were banned from wearing them and defiantly continued to wear them under loosely fitting wide, legged trousers. Called Oxford bags. These measured as much as 66cm (26") round the trouser bottoms and would hide the forbidden knickerbockers. Later oarsmen wore the style of trouser over their shorts. Only those who could afford it wore these styles and the fashion soon caught on in the US. By the end of the decade, men's trousers were cut fuller.

Towards the thirties the Rumba from Cuba came like the Tango with festering senseless as Caribbean and African rhythms and movements increasingly influenced social dancing.

Reviewed 30/01/2016

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