Historical fiction works best when it gives the reader a taste of the lifestyle of the time. Writers need to pay attention to capturing what people were wearing, how they spent their leisure, their preoccupations and their desires. The real stuff (not the synthesised film and television versions which are how we think back on how they lived) because if we use contemporary sources then what we spin into our stories has the ring of truth about it.
So when I began researching for the May Keaps series I read a lot of novels written at the time, thumbed through mail-order shopping catalogues and fashion magazines, and unearthed old dressmaking patterns. Once I had a feel for what my main characters – May, Braxton, Jack, Alice, Sally – would wear in their everyday lives I branched out into the outfits and evening-wear a seamstress might make for her rich clients, and the clothes for sale in the up-market West End department stores.
I found myself totally absorbed and amassed a collection of books on the fashion and costume of the 1920’s. It should probably come as no surprise to learn that fashion has, well, never really gone out of fashion. Money was tighter then and most people couldn’t afford to dress like the Hollywood film-stars they so admired but they could buy material from the market and, with the help of a dressmaking pattern, run-up something with a nod to the styling.
Here are some of my favourite images from 1920’s dressmaking patterns and fashion plates. You can see a wider selection on my Pinterest boards.