The Hamilton Gardens have chosen to set the Mansfield Garden party in 1922, the year Mansfield’s story was published (it came out in early Feb, 1922 – and Mansfield had been living with Northern Hemisphere winters for the last 12+ years), rather than ca. 1907, which is when Mansfield was in Wellington, attending garden parties, and which is when I think the story is essentially set, based on the mentions of clothing.
Mansfield’s garden party may not have taken place in 1922, but the parties of The Great Gatsby did, and the early ’20s are certainly a fetching, and easy to wear, era for garden parties.
So what did people wear to garden parties in 1919-1922?
A hat and parasol are absolute must-haves. The fad for tanning wouldn’t happen until later in the 1920s, and the desired complexion in the ‘teens and early ’20s was still very pale – with defined rosy cheeks. To achieve pale, wide sunhats were worn. The modern cloche shape was just emerging, but always with a wide brim – it wouldn’t loose its brim until the mid 1920s.
1922 skirts were long – hemlines are still at the level they had been since 1916, skimming the lower calf. The mid-20s rise to just below the knee is still a few years away, and anything at or above the widest part of the calf was for girls under 13 only.
Fashion plates show slightly shorter lengths than most examples in photographs, indicating that most women, even the very fashionable, weren’t quite ready to show more than their ankles.
Garden parties frocks came in white, pastels, and white with touches of brighter shades, like the dress with cherries below. Favoured colours were coral, apricot, rose, citron, ‘a fascinating golden flame colour’, apple green, nile green, eu de nil, cerulean, and delicate shades of mauve & purple.
Frocks were always worn with stockings, either in delicate pastels to match the dress, skin tones, or white, in silk or liesl (for the young and sporty), and heeled shoes in light shades. A ca. 1920 silk stocking is much heavier than a modern nylon one – thicker tights give a closer period look.
The silhouette was very long, slightly rounder in a the lower half, rather than being a straight column, with a very slightly dropped waist (you can see how much the waist dropped between 1918 and 1921 by comparing the fashion plates above and below this one with the very first fashion plate). The dropped waist was often emphasised with a wide sash or narrow belt.
For women who didn’t find the slim silhouette flattering, one alternative was the robe de style inspired look, with full, romantic skirt:
“Circular skirts and irregular outlines are characteristic of the season” read a McCalls fashion pamphlet from May 1921, as the irregular hemline on this dress demonstrates.
As were frocks with hip emphasis:
And lots, and lots of lace, particularly in white and palest tans.
For accessories, long necklaces and gloves were popular up until 1919, but appear rarely in fashion plates and photographs showing garden party attire from 1920-1922.