leadSometimes vintage inspiration can be taken from other sources than photographs or film. Nell Darby has found the EF Benson’s series of Lucia novels a great insight into Twenties society and flapper fashion.

I’ve always been a big fan of Twenties fashions, especially the flapper look; in fact, I’m obsessed with Twenties culture full stop. So it might not come as a surprise that my favourite books are those in the Lucia series by EF Benson. Written between 1920 and 1939, the series deals with the daily life of arch-snob Lucia Lucas, as she tries to get to the top of society.

But as well as detailing life in pre-World War Two England, the books give a fascinating insight into the fashions of the day – and what ordinary people thought of them. Mapp & Lucia (1935) looks at the attitudes of the older generation – born in Queen Victoria’s reign – towards new fashions.

The character of the young, female artist Irene Coles is first spotted by the middle-aged snob Lucia, and described as a “hatless girl with hair closely cropped, dressed in a fisherman’s jersey and knickerbockers”. In another book in the series, Lucia’s Progress, Irene is described as “quaint” for wearing trousers.

It’s interesting that, just as older members of society continued to wear ankle-length dresses and formal wear that was Edwardian in style well into the inter-war period, a woman not wearing a hat was still worthy of note to these characters in the Thirties.

Likewise, short hair and masculine attire was also seen as noteworthy. Irene is described as “odd-looking” and having a “touch of unconventionality”. This is despite the fact that Irene has an Eton crop that, by the time Mapp & Lucia was being written, was already old-fashioned.

Irene’s hairstyle, although old-fashioned by the standards of Thirties London, was seen as forward-looking in the small-town Sussex setting of Mapp & Lucia, showing how fashions took time to spread across the country.

In Lucia’s Progress, the middle-aged spinster Diva Plaistow later has her hair cropped, which also attracts differing views; Lucia “likes it immensely”, telling Diva it makes her look younger; but the acerbic Miss Mapp believes it to be “far kinder to say nothing about it.”

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