La Garconne: A Tale of Feminism, Emancipation and The New Woman
“I don't know if I realized as soon as I began seeing them that they represented the wave of the future, but I do know I was drawn to them. I shared their restlessness, understood their determination to free themselves of the Victorian shackles of the pre-World War I era and find out for themselves what life was all about.” ― Colleen Moore, American actress, 1920s ‘flapper’.
In Paris, during the post-war twenties, a jaw-dropping movement was rapidly emerging. The First World War transformed previously suppressed women into self-sufficient, independent characters through a taste of life without the former patriarchal values, due to the absence of male figures. However, following the end of the war, this dazzling development ceased to retire, causing the creation of ‘La Garçonne’, a positively distorted version of the French term ‘le garçon’, meaning ‘boy’. ‘La Garçonne’ described the reduced femininity in fashion and the adoption of shapeless and ‘boyish’ silhouettes. The powerful movement symbolised the closing gender disparity and the birth of a strong, liberated woman. The ‘New Woman’.
Coco Calls for Change
One of the key pioneers in the construction of the movement was French fashion designer and iconic innovator, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, who paved the way for masculinity and practicality in female fashion during the twenties. Impactful introductions, such as her trouser designs and loose-fitting skirts, allowed for daily movement and activity, highlighting the increasing desire for practical women’s fashion that encouraged independence whilst removing elements of superficiality and restriction.
Chanel romanticised and glamorised trousers, garments which had previously been worn by women carrying out practical, and previously male dominated, roles and activities during the war. This expressed the powerful message that the newfound independence gained through desperation should not be lost, and instead, embraced and continued. Societal boundaries were pushed and traditionality overturned, whilst Chanel encouraged a ground-breaking mélange of masculinity, comfort, and movement. Coco Chanel herself would often adopt pieces such as trousers from her male lovers, which no doubt influenced her designs and fabric choices.
Despite the strong masculine energy radiating from the closets of the ‘New Women’, there was a sense of androgyny within the style. Feminine accessories, such as glorious strings of pearls and piercing red lipstick, often accompanied the ‘boyish’ and masculine designs, which preserved a juxtaposing sense of feminine elegance amongst the revolution.
Along with subtle bursts of masculinity in female fashion, head to toe masculine magnificence was embraced by women who were brave enough to exhibit a full suit. Accessories such as cravats and spectacular scarves complimented these stunning displays of power, strength, and emancipation.
The ‘La Garçonne’ influence remained strong in all its forms, with women cutting their hair into short bobs and indulging in a decadent ‘flapper’ lifestyle, all of which shocked the previous generation, as it seemed dainty femininity and modesty was truly discarded. Rebellion through sexual freedom, alcohol, and dancing, challenged social boundaries as these women desired to be set free from the shackles of heavy expectation. The lengths of flapper dresses were carefully considered, they were just short enough to show off legs, whilst practicality to allow dancing was key.
The nineteen-twenties witnessed one of the most astounding and liberating movements in fashion history, with the ‘La Garçonne’ style infiltrating nearly every aspect of female fashion and society. These monumental evolutions orchestrated a change powerful enough to shape the female future.
WRITTEN BY HANNAH MAE WEBSTER