The influence of Jazz on fashion

28 December 2015 Articles Fashion Lifestyle

The influence of Jazz in fashion

Fashion and music go hand in hand because it gives you the visual and auditory experience of an era which you can relive over and over again. The Jazz Age happens to be one of the most influential fashion eras of our time, with its remnants still resonating our runways and sidewalks.

The Roaring 20’s, where it all began

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The end of World War 1 saw the beginning of fashion culture as we know it today, especially for women; in the Jazz Age the movement of the Flappers was born. They were usually young women who wanted to break free from tradition by being independent and contributing the economy.

At the start of the 1920s, women dropped the restrictive corsets and wore unfitted, hip level waistline dresses. Everything was about simplicity and of course, movement.

Fabrics became lighter with the use of Chiffons, light silks, soft velvets, lightweight wools and soft cottons. There was a lot of focus on the detail like the embroidery and beading.

As the Jazz Age, also known as the flapper era, became established, women loved to express themselves on the dance floor, which meant clothes looser and hemlines were controversially short.

One of the most famous flappers is Josephine Baker known as the Charleston Queen, a popular dance of that time.

The Charleston is full of movement which required the women to feel free in whatever they wore.


jazz fashion 2The 1920’s were women who chose what they wanted to do, as opposed to being married at a young age. Many women found the era of the flappers as time to celebrate a woman’s independence. It was a feeling of liberation, moving from being the socially silenced woman to the more active and outspoken type.

Though she is not a jazz artist, the biggest style icon of that era was Coco Chanel.

She revolutionised fashion by introducing pants for women, the LBD, loose jersey fabrics and her iconic strings of pearls.

Jazz Era – the real revolution
As the roaring 20’s were gaining traction, jazz became the music which many of the then new age liberals began to relate with. Shifting from the Victorian violins and harps, jazz was what we call the pop music of the time.

Young women and men would gather at exclusive ‘underground’ clubs, like the Cotton Club, to enjoy live music and dance to the tune of their new found freedom.



Popular jazz musicians icons include:

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Duke Ellington who was a style icon and was known for popularising the Houndstooth jacket.


Josephine Baker, entertainer and singer, who was a style icon

Josephine Baker, entertainer and singer, who was a style icon

Jazz gained mainstream popularity during a period of racial segregation and gender inequality. Most the artists used the music and fashion as a tool to voice their defiance against societal construct and thus fashion and jazz became the signal/symbol of camaraderie.

Black Then

The 1950’s – The era of the Empire Line
jazz fashion 5Again, after World War 2, the fashion world made a statement with new cuts for both men and women, which have stood the test of time, as seen within the current Hipster trends.

In South Africa, the same was happening post World War Two where fashion was shifting according to global trends and those moving to the city from the rural areas were eager to embrace the culture around jazz, including the fashion.

Because of this collective thinking, many young adults started moving to a place which embodied the spirit of jazz – Sophiatown – and there was the beginning of a cultural movement.

Both men and women wore loose fitting clothes also because they wanted to dance freely and express themselves as and how they feel.

Fashion staples included Fadora’s and brogues for men and ladies wore Empire Line dresses and short heels so that dance easily. Dance was an important part of the culture and these include the Tsaba Tsaba, Marabi Jive and the popular Kofifi dance, also known as the Kwela Kwela. The Kofifi dance had similarities to the Charleston and required a lot of movement from both parties and thus the clothes had to allow it.

Style icons of the time include:

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Miriam Makeba, Singer and social activist

Bra Hugh Masekela who still wears the distinct Sophiatown style

Bra Hugh Masekela who still wears the distinct Sophiatown style

The styles of the 1920s and the 1950s have really stood the test time with many artists replicating the looks and using their art forms to also share a message of protest.

These artists include:

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Mos Def

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae

Nhlanhla and Theo of Mafikizolo.

Nhlanhla and Theo of Mafikizolo.

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