As a fashion historian, one of the questions I find repeatedly asking myself has to do with the truthfulness of representations of costume in Latin America before the invention of photography. Although, until relatively recently, posing for a photo included a very delicate selection of the outfit—and it continues to be the case for some occasions—we can assert that the clothes that appear in a photograph are real: they are much more than the idealized product of an artist’s imagination, which, quite undoubtedly, is trained to show the power of the sitter through a series of visual codes, or a perfected copy of the European model, to which the American character is added.
In art, as in fashion, it comes quite unsurprisingly that the ideal model is European. Despite having gained independence over 200 years ago, Colombians continue to be the most faithful children of Spain, the Motherland… Without even mentioning the overly structured fashion hierarchy, in which Paris, and New York since the early 20th Century, are the reigning center of the fashion world, and every other place is nothing but peripheral. Within this system, fashions are seen as emerging exclusively in the hegemonic centers and they are barely copied, later in time, in the rest of the world. But in a world less globalized than our own, in which communication was slower and transportation more difficult, it is worth asking ourselves whether tendencies did travel around the world, and to what extent. Today, I study the case of the garçonne, based on a group of beautiful photographs, published online by the Biblioteca Pública Piloto.
The decade of 1920 brought to Colombia an immense indemnification, paid in 1922 by the US government, in return for Panama’s independence from the country and the construction of the Canal that came thereafter. This unexpected income of money resulted in the Danza de los Millones (something like “Millionaire Dance”), in which both the economy and national expenditure boosted, although only briefly. The phenomenon, although unique to Colombia, coincided with the economic boom in the USA known as the Roaring Twenties, in which luxury and extravaganza became the everyday aspects of fashion, architecture, design, and lifestyle.
After finally having earned the right to vote with the presidential elections of 1920, and likely helped by the party atmosphere of the decade, the North American woman was inspired to adopt a lifestyle outside of the family sphere. This new woman was most comprehensibly represented in Victor Margueritte’s novel, La garçonne, from where she receives her name. With her slender, childish figure, somewhat masculine with her short hair, wearing short dresses and lavish accessories, and always ready to dance, the flapper became, simultaneously, a sensation and a nightmare during the Roaring Twenties.
Although I doubt that the flapper, as known in the nightlife of New York, could have possibly stepped her foot in Colombia, her style did manage to make an appearance during the decade. The skirt, whose hemline had begun rising since the start of the century, and partially thanks to Mademoiselle Chanel and Madame Paquin, and whose fullness had slowly decreased with Poiret’s innovations in style, adopted its shortest, slimmest version on the body of the garçonne. The waistline came down to the waist, and the corset that had previously halved the woman’s body disappeared. The hair was cut, covered with round, playful hats, sometimes decorated with floral details or lavish fine jewelry brooches. And the shoes, always indispensable, became the soundtrack of the cheerful lifestyle of the new woman with their flap, flap, flap.
The thought might make more than one daydream about the wonderful fashion illustrations by Doucet or the pages of the Gazette du Bon Ton, which have managed to inspire women for almost a century now. Perhaps, it will make the movie lovers think—unsurprisingly—of The Great Gatsby. But this view was also the image of Colombian women during the 1920s. Of some, at least. And the pictures taken by Horacio Marino and Luis Melitón Rodríguez Márquez during the 20s and 30s, and that today belong to the collection of the Biblioteca Pública Piloto, attest to the presence of this irreverent woman, with her small, round hat, her short hair, and her boy/girl mischief, in a Colombia already unknown to us. The garçonne, the flapper, the new, liberated woman of the Roaring Twenties, no doubt, made an appearance in the country. But, as with anything else in fashion, it was adopted, reinterpreted, and adapted to the more traditional society of the country, to the more demure ideal of femininity that it requires: longer skirts, more subtle design motifs, less luxurious accessories.
* Este artículo fue escrito para ser publicado en vanessarosales.com
* Fotos de la Biblioteca Pública Piloto.