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  • Jonathan Walford

A Century Ago - The World and Fashion in 1922

Updated: Feb 3


1922 was a year that straddled two eras. Before the twenties could ‘roar’, the post-war era needed to finish winding down. The fallout from reparations, disintegrating empires, new borders and shifting power was evolving into a new era with different players and politics.

After 600 years, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and the last sultan, Mehmed VI, abdicated. A revolution in Greece ousted its royal family, including its youngest member, the future Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Britain’s protectorate of Egypt came to an end in all but military matters, and closer to home a civil war erupted in Ireland between Nationalists and Republicans after the creation of the Irish Free State (Northern Ireland).


Mussolini march on Rome, 1922

The union of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia resulted in the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) At the Vatican, Pope Pius XI became the head of the Catholic Church; for the rest of Italy the Fascist party came to power with Mussolini becoming the country’s premier. Meanwhile in Germany, hyperinflation saw the German mark plummet in value. In April 1919, 12 marks bought one American dollar but by July 1922, 563 marks were needed, and by December 1922, 7000 marks bought one American dollar.


Dress made from German Marks, 1922


As the Lincoln Memorial was being completed in Washington D.C., American president Warren G. Harding was signing a tariff act into law that supported ‘made in America’ by heavily taxing imported goods. One of those ‘made in America’ items was the first radio installed at the White House. Harding embraced the new medium, and became the first president to have a speech broadcast over the radio.


President Harding making radio speech, 1922


Radio was the technological rage of its day. From the first commercial broadcasting station in Philadelphia starting up in November 1920 until the end of 1922, over 500 commercial radio stations were created across the U.S. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was created as a private company in 1922, with funding coming from the owners of receivers who paid a radio license of 10 shillings. The company became a national corporation five years later.


The public’s favourite radio broadcasts were music that featured popular songs and jazzy dance tunes. Top songs of 1922 include: My Man, Second Hand Rose, Do it Again, Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye, Three O’clock in the Morning, My Buddy, Sheik of Araby, and I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise. The most popular band was Paul Whiteman, and the top singing stars were Fanny Brice and Al Jolson. The year also marked the forming of Duke Ellington's band.


Reader’s Digest magazine debuted, as did a short story in Collier’s magazine called ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who also had his book ‘The Beautiful and the Damned ‘published. Other top selling publications of 1922 include: ‘The Waste Land’ by T.S. Eliot; ‘Jacob’s Room’ by Virginia Woolf; ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce; ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams; ‘Babbitt’ by Sinclair Lewis; ‘England, My England’ by D.H. Lawrence; ‘Siddhartha’ by Hermann Hesse; ‘Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth von Arnim; and ‘The Voyages of Doctor Doolitte’ by Hugh Lofting.


Antigone, 1922


The theatrical event of 1922 had to be the play ‘Antigone’ by Jean Cocteau - staged in Paris with settings by Pablo Picasso, music by Arthur Honegger, and costumes by Gabrielle Chanel. However, theatre was being eclipsed by the growing interest and following for films that in 1922 included: ‘Blood and Sand’ starring heartthrob Rudolph Valentino; the first commercially successful feature-length documentary film ‘Nanook of the North’; the debut of ‘Our Gang’ comedy shorts that were produced from 1922 until 1944; and the German film ‘Nosferatu’ - the unauthorized re-telling of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. Stoker’s widow sued the film’s producers to have the film destroyed. She won, but fortunately, some copies of this classic silent horror film survived in the United States.


Our Gang, 1922


The biggest news story of the year was the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Other top stories included the first successful insulin treatment of diabetes by Frederick Banting in Toronto, and the first mid-air collision near Amiens, France. The accident lead to the creation of air lanes and a requirement for the installation of radios in cockpits.


Howard Carter with King Tutankhamun sarcophagus, 1922


On August 20, 77 women from five nations competed in track and field events at the Women's Olympic Games. The games were organized as a response to not allowing women to compete in track and field events at the upcoming 1924 Olympic games -- 18 world records were beaten during the one day event!


A new centre court was built at Wimbledon, and the Hollywood bowl opened. Daybreak, the most popular art print of the 20th century, was created by Maxfield Parrish. The pit-bull dog breed was introduced, and there was a mania for the game mah-jongg. New foods for 1922 included fettuccine, Asiago cheese, Vegemite (vegetarian version of marmite invented in, and popular in, Australia), Girl Scout cookies, chiffon pies (mousse fillings fortified with gelatin), frappes (drinks with crushed ice), and despite prohibition, new terms for alcoholic orders included ‘a double’, with ‘a splash’ of mixer.


Daybreak by Maxfield Parrish


New words for 1922 include ‘teenager’, and the terms ‘Jazz Age’, and ‘Café Society’. From radio came the terms ‘broadcast’ and ‘band’ and the fashion and beauty world created the terms; tux, face-lift, mascara, ‘run’ (in a stocking), and ‘beauty-queen’. General slang included the new words and idioms; hooey, baloney (nonsense), jeez, tizzy, steamed (angry), goof (waste time), riffle (through papers), dynamite (something dangerous), lonely-heart, blower (telephone), boobs (breast), crash (a party), throne (toilet), ‘in the black’ (financially solvent), ‘in the bag’ (a certainty) and rock (cause to move rhythmically, often implying a sexual overtone. New put-downs were coined; dimwit, dumb-bunny, queer (gay man), Uncle Tom (a servile black man), tramp (promiscuous woman), and from the world of psychology came the terms; penis envy, Gestalt, and transvestite.



Fashion in 1922 was moving towards the classic 1920s shapeless silhouette with a dropped waistline. The rising hemlines of 1921 that had created a stir, stalled and even dropped back down to mid-calf. The use of diaphanous materials that coyly exposed arms in 1921 also disappeared in all but evening wear. Boots had fallen from fashion, requiring women to don gaiters that emulated boot styles for warmth in winter.


Casual, sporty styles were gaining popularity for men with caps, sweater vests, and plus fours for all but business and formal attire. Otherwise, menswear still followed slim cut styles best suited for a younger man's physique that had been in fashion since the mid 1910s, but over the next couple of years fashions were going to change radically for men, and women.


Tweedie gaiters, 1922

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