Willoughby: Flapper hats and other advances for women
Legends & Legacies
BBC set an episode of Downton Abbey during 1925. The producers put a special effort toward the use of authentic costumes. The same styles, worn by my mother’s friends, show up in her scrapbook. Mother’s photos were mostly from the period from 1925 to 1926, her junior and senior years at Aspen High School.
The flapper generation topped off their look with a signature accessory, the cloche. Those felted, bell-shaped hats served the whims of fashion and offered practical protection in snow country. The cloches’ popularity extended over a decade and introduced a courtship clue more visible than a wedding ring. A ribbon wrapped into a colorful bow on the cloche broadcast the wearer’s receptivity to male attention. An arrow-shaped ribbon signified a woman was dating a particular person. A firmly knotted ribbon announced a wearer’s married state.
Just after high school, Mother started work at Kobey’s, Aspen’s major retailer for women’s clothing during that time. In 1926, Kobey’s featured felt hats, “styles of the hour!” Women paid between $50 and $100 for those hat styles in today’s dollars.
The Aspen Times ran a daily column that alerted readers to fashion trends. Hedda Hoyt wrote the column, distributed by United Press. She wrote short sentences right to the point, for instance: “Flowers made of feathers trim some of he smartest imported hats for spring, Short skirts demand short hair and long skirts demand long hair, The smart woman even matches her beads and handkerchief to her costume.”
Furs and bulky coats marked the decade, another great fit for Aspen’s weather. Stylishly short hemlines, shorter hairstyles and smoking challenged the sensibilities of older generations. But these new fashions bumped against more than the outward signs of orthodoxy. They also challenged overall expectations for women. In one major change, women entered the workforce in large numbers and in previously inappropriate occupations and settings.
As happened with every cultural revolution, role models led the way during the 1920s. First lady Florence Harding, whom many considered the real intellectual force of the Harding administration, modeled how to engage in public issues. The first first lady to fly in an airplane (incidentally with a woman pilot), Harding also held her own press conferences and included female reporters. She shocked the old guard when she invited divorcees and African Americans to the White House.
We admire Rosie the Riveter and other women who labored outside the home during World War II. In many cases, these women had entered their teens and adulthood during the mid-1920s. By wartime they had already broken into the workforce, where government valued their contributions and sponsored child care at many war production plants. Whatever the cause — for fashion, cultural transformation or patriotism — when they walked through the production plant door, women exchanged cloche hats for hard hats.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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