The Way We Were (1910-1920)March 1, 2007 By: American Salon Staff American Salon
Meanwhile, in the United States, a celebrity of epic proportions had bobbed her hair and is often credited with bringing the bob to America. Dancer Irene Castle lopped her locks in 1915 and claimed it was for convenience; her long hair had impeded her dancing. It's because of Castle that the term "bob" became popular, as the style was called the "Castle bob." It was also known as the "Dutch bob" and the "page bob." The word itself had been associated with cutting or bobbing the tails of horses.
Americans were much slower to hop on the bob bandwagon than their European sisters. Social convention turned the haircut into an issue of morality that pitted mother versus daughter and husband versus wife in a heated and public battle that lasted until the early 1920s. The controversy is best exemplified in F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," published in the Saturday Evening Post in May 1920. The tale tells of a previously unpopular girl who takes the town by storm with her provocative new hairstyle. Now that's a story for the ages.
Bye-bye bulky skirts and hats the size of house plants. Thanks to a long-forgotten couturier named Paul Poiret, the 1910s saw the rise of smaller, slimmer and chicer styles.
Women's bodies had been hidden under mounds of clothing since the early 1800s. With each passing decade, it seemed the skirts got wider, the hair got more elaborate and the accessories got larger. But beginning around 1910, women's wear deflated. At the center of this downsizing was a French couturier name Paul Poiret.
A Poiret design at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City.
Poiret had been trained in two of the biggest fashion houses in Paris—the House of Worth and the House of Doucet. In 1903, he set up his own shop and within a few years began making floor-length dresses with a tubular silhouette. The most noticeable features of these dresses were their filmy cap sleeves and high waistlines. Today, this waistline is known as an "Empire" waist, and its name is taken from the Napoleonic Empire (1804–1815) when these styles were last popular. These form-fitting garments required none of the elaborate petticoats that had been popular in past decades. Moreover, they could not be worn with the "S" curved corsets associated with the Gibson girl era. Instead, women wore corsets that elongated rather than distended the body. With time, Poiret became a strong proponent of the bra. The long and lean body shape that would become associated with the flapper was not born in the 1920s. Rather, it came into being nearly a decade earlier.
Poiret's Paris was alive with innovative art movements and boundary-pushing performances. At the center of it all was the Ballets Russes, a dance troupe that hailed from St. Petersburg, Russia, and made Paris its home in 1909. The ballet's creative genius was Serge Diaghilev, and it featured the artistic input of composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy and Eric Satie, dancers such as Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova, and artists such as Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and the legendary costume designer Léon Bakst. The Ballets Russes ruled Paris in the 1910s.
While Poiret vehemently denied their influence on his work, the Ballet's exotic and colorful costumes and sets had much in common with his "Orientalist" clothing that came into popularity around 1912. Full-bodied "harem" pants coupled with tunic dresses were donned not simply by the artistic elite but by socialites and royalty as well.
In 1913, Poiret and his model/wife made a lecture tour of the United States. Americans, who were unable to buy authentic Poiret designs for lack of distribution arrangements with American department stores, flocked to his talks. Within a year, Poiret had made arrangements to sell his clothing, textiles and accessories in the United States. Poiret was the first couturier to release a perfume and the first to branch into other forms of design, such as wallpaper and home décor. He was also the first to use a distinctive trademark—a rose.