The Unapologetic Evolution of Jazz Couture

As one of the most popular and beloved genres of music – albeit not the most widely understood due to its fluidity and ability to adapt to its surroundings – jazz has always set the tone in terms of popular culture. Originating in African American communities of New Orleans, United States, in the late 19th and 20th centuries, jazz as we know it has always been considered a major form of expression.

While this expression centres heavily around the music, jazz has always had an influence, and continues to have an influence, on the fashion industry. This includes the way in which jazz lovers wish to express themselves through everything from their clothing and how they dance, to the way they cut their hair.

Probably the most pertinent fashion trend to arise from the jazz era in the 1920’s, is “the flapper”, which illustrated the importance and influence of jazz on the consumer market. Flappers wore signature short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered “acceptable behaviour”. This era, the “Roaring Twenties,” characteristic of post-war economic boom, had an enormous consumer market and the fashion industry naturally followed the cues of young, rising and jazz-loving Americans, paving the way for publications such as Vogue, The Queen and Harper’s Bazaar.

Like the evolution of jazz music, jazz or “flapper” fashions evolved sporadically. The first notable change in fashion came in 1921, when “drop-waist” dresses were introduced, and long strings of glass beads and pearls became high fashion (the Coco Chanel effect). When the first mass marketed jazz recordings were made in 1923, and women’s dresses became loosely fitted, waistlines dropped to the hips. Upper and lower body freedom was essential when dancing the Charleston, an incredibly fast dance, so dresses were cut to reflect the ability to move freely while dancing.

In 1925, dresses began to resemble “shifts,” which had been undergarments for hundreds of years. These dresses, which had no waistline and were loose, allowed complete freedom of movement. Arms were cut loosely and skirts approached knee length.

As jazz music evolved into Big Band music, which was slower paced and more refined, women’s fashions followed suit. In “1920s Haute Couture,” Silvren states, “By the end of the decade, feminine curves, lower hemlines, and uncovered foreheads – all to return uncompromisingly in the Thirties – had already begun to reappear,”(p.21).

While 21st Century jazz couture in South Africa has adopted a much more relaxed and mature approach, there are still signature pieces which jazz connoisseurs don with pride when the occasion presents itself. This includes delicate satin gloves, fur shawls and printed headgear for the ladies, and top hats, suspenders, or flat caps for the gents. All of this is reminiscent of the Sophiatown jazz era which had a monumental impact on South Africa’s jazz culture.

South African jazz-lovers will want to diarise June 17th when the second International Jazz Extravaganza (IJE) returns to Durban once more. Taking place

at the Durban International Convention Centre-Arena (Durban ICC-Arena), a star-studded line-up including award winning American classic, Monty Alexander, will take to the stage delighting audiences and inspiring the true jazz connoisseurs among us.

And yes, you most certainly can dress the part in order to look the part…and feel the part.

Tickets to the IJE are available at Computicket. For hospitality and corporate packages, please contact or visit for more information.



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