Living Fashion: 1926 Robe de Style

Living Fashion is a series in which I draw historical clothing on active people, inspired by Draw This Dress by artists Emily Carroll and Vera Brosgol.
This lady, Misao, is dancing the Charleston while wearing a dress from 1926 designed by Jeanne Lanvin. It’s currently in the collection of Indianapolis Museum of Art. She’s also wearing a bicorne cloche hat, which was trendy in the 1910s and 1920s.

The original
The original

The dress is a robe de style, with a distinct waist and full skirt recalling the panniers of the 1700s; it was distinct from the rectangular, tube-like style that is representative of the 1920s.

Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) was a French designer who popularized the robe de style and loved to embellish her dresses with detailed embroidery and beads. She began her career as a milliner (hat-maker) at age 16. She hand-sewed clothes for her daughter, Marguerite, and these dresses caught the eye of high-society women who soon asked her to make clothes for them. Lanvin designed mother-daughter dresses, elegant evening gowns, menswear, and lingerie. Like Chanel, she also had a perfume line. Lanvin’s fashion house is still around today, and the cornflower blue color she favored is now named after her.

Misao is a modan garu (modern girl) – the Japanese version of a flapper. As The Many Faces of the Modern Girl explains, modan garu emerged as a result of several factors: the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and the restructuring of the city when it was rebuilt, new employment opportunities for women, an economic boom in Tokyo, new shopping locations in the city, and an influx of Western silent movies. There weren’t very many of these modern girls, but they garnered a lot of attention for their behavior.

As in America, Britain, and other places, modan garu challenged social mores regarding clothes, music, economic independence, and sex; but in Japan, these things were viewed negatively as Westernization, and these young women were especially reviled. It was an unfair double standard, since men had been steadily cutting their hair and wearing Western clothes since the 1870s – and encouraged by the government to do so.

Man in Western clothes and woman in kimono judge a modan garu
Man in Western clothes and woman in kimono judge a modan garu

With the rise of Japan as a military power in the 1930s, modan garu were under immense pressure to become good wives and wise mothers, and disappeared.


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