In the 20s, costume jewelry became wildly popular. WWI was over and Edwardian styles were replaced by shorter dress hems and simpler concepts introduced to the U.S. from Europe by Coco Chanel, who created jewelry to adorn specific seasonal “costumes.” Women bobbed their hair, took up smoking and the term flapper was coined during the Jazz era when dancing and going to night clubs was embraced with abandon. Long strands of glass beads and white metal jewelry with glitzy rhinestones in geometric designs were the adornment of choice. Egyptian jewelry was a popular theme due to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, incorporating scarabs, snakes and other Egyptian symbols in bright enameling.
The Great depression arrived with the 1930s and with little money to spend on a lavish wardrobe, accessories like versatile dress and shoe clips made of inexpensive materials, provided variety to a limited wardrobe. The introduction of the “duette” a clip that enabled wearing two dress clips as one piece was yet another innovation related to the ever-popular dress clips.
Costume jewelry copied fine jewelry designs using colored glass cabs and rhinestones termed “fruit salad” to imitate real gemstones like rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Other less expensive materials like celluloid plastic was used to make fanciful jewelry as designer were influenced by the Surrealism art movement.
At the arrival of the ‘40s, WWII had just begun and outfits were plain due to manufacturing restrictions and shortages put into place by the U.S. government. Directives were put into place that dictated clothing construction down to the number of pleats and buttons allowable. Jewelry designs in general, became quite a bit larger to compensate for the plainness of clothing design and limited wardrobes. What we often refer to today as “altered couture” was a standard in the ‘40s as many women became adept at “mending and making do” by transforming clothing to extend its usefulness. The Eisenhower jacket also known as the Victory suit was an “altered couture” man’s suit with wide padded shoulders, a tightly belted waist and sometimes the letter “V” incorporated into the altered fabric with cuts and pleats. Accessories included large brooches worn at the shoulder or “V” neckline, decorative belt buckles and changeable shoe clips. Trench art or sweetheart jewelry made popular during WWI was again a popular pastime of soldiers who were either hunkered down during action or urged to do hand crafts as therapy while recuperating from injuries.
Sterling silver oftentimes replaced the formerly used white or pot metal of the higher end costume jewelry (think Coro Craft) while wood, shell, celluloid, bakelite, fabric and leather were some of the other necessary and popular materials used by jewelry designers who had to become more creative. European skilled fine jewelry trades workers who had been forced into simple labor workers during the depression were now able to to apply their talents to the costume jewelry industry, which boomed in the 1940s. Costume jewelry designs improved greatly and were easily affordable by all.
Even after 1945 when WWII ended, plastics and other innovative materials were still in high demand. Necklaces were in the shorter range than the 1930s, often not longer than 16” and many were made of chunky beads. Nature or whimsical motifs were incorporated into necklace and brooch designs; acorns, leaves, cherries, and mixed fruits were often suspended from entire chains made of plastic. Chunky, dimensional bracelets complimented necklace designs and it was popular to wear several stacked together.