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We’ve got clues in what we wore after the last (flu) pandemic. A stroll through fashion photography from Vogue in the 1920s.

For more than a year now, COVID 19 has dominated the news cycle, as well as people’s psyches, the world over. But with a vaccine rollout finally in full swing, people are ever-so-slowly starting to imagine a post-pandemic world. What will that look like? What will that feel like? Where will we go? What on earth will we wear once we’ve torched our friggin’ sweat suits? Turns out, we have a clue: This isn’t our first pandemic rodeo. 

The Spanish flu pandemic (1918-1920) created a world a lot like the one we’ve been living in this past year—people around the globe were shutting in and masking up. Businesses closed, productivity plummeted, and social distancing (that term is not new) was the MO of the day. As all sectors slowed to a standstill, the light went out on fashion. Fast forward to 2021? Check, check, check. 

Thanks to the photographic archives from Vogue, we can flip through images from the 1920s to get a peek at what our 2021 aprés-COVID world might look like. What will women gravitate towards when they crack open their closets for a post-pandemic life? Let’s take a look at the major fashion trends that dominated the 1920s.


Images via Shutterstock’s Conde Nast: The Twenties Collection.

Prior to the 1920s, the most important garment a woman owned was her corset; an impossibly tiny waist was considered the epitome of feminine dressing. And then, suddenly, women had had enough. Perhaps that was due to a change in lifestyle (it was more acceptable for women to be out and about in society). It’s possible that women gaining the right to vote (!) emboldened them with new-found power. Or maybe it was the reality that pandemic weight gain was for real. No one knows for sure, but what’s clear is that women were finished with the unrelenting waist prison of the past. The soft, “waist-less” shape was introduced by the world’s leading designers (paging Coco Chanel), and became an instant phenomenon.  


Images via Shutterstock’s Conde Nast: The Twenties Collection.

The combo of the pandemic and the devastation of the first world war had an undeniable effect on the way women approached dressing. Years of thrifty spending and limited resources thwarted newness, and women were left wearing the heavy, layered, encumbered clothes of yesteryear. With the relief of the end of the war and the pandemic, women emerged from their cocooned lives, eager for freedom. They wanted clothes that moved. That stood up to the elements. That could be easily cared for.

Designers delivered with a whole new look that prized simplicity over formality, showcasing relaxed “shapeless” jackets and loose, dropped waist dresses made of fabrics that breathed and moved with the body. The resulting new look of feminine dressing endures to this day.


Images via Shutterstock’s Conde Nast: The Twenties Collection.

Nothing makes you crave the outdoors like being cooped up inside for months on end, so it’s no wonder that fashion in the 1920s saw a flush of utilitarian styles meant for outdoor living. Clothes became less precious, more versatile. There was a real nod to military dressing, especially in outerwear—heartier fabrics, strong shoulders, brass buttons—that lent an air of androgyny to women’s clothing.

But, perhaps the most influential introduction of the era was the invention of sportswear. Literally, clothes that looked culled from a horseback riding ring or tennis court became a huge (and lasting) trend. Women may not have actually been saddled up or smashing a forehand, but they wanted to look the part, a rebranding of what feminism looked and felt like.


Images via Shutterstock’s Conde Nast: The Twenties Collection.

The 1920’s clearly saw women embrace comfort and utility in their clothes, but it didn’t mean they were averse to a few strategically-placed flourishes. And, after the dreary days (weeks, years) of a pandemic and a world war, who can blame them? Delicate details like floral appliqués, beading, decorative buttons, feathers, fur, fringe, and lace were seen for both day and night. Think wool wrap coats—paired with mink cuffs and gaberdine day dresses—with intricately embroidered collars. The iconic flapper dresses—with beading, feathers, fringe (and sometimes all of the above). 

Looking for more fashion tips, advice, and inspiration? Check out these articles:

Cover image via Shutterstock’s Conde Nast: The Twenties Collection.

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What Fashion Images Will Look Like Post-Pandemic