Art Deco


Art Deco design permeated all areas of design in the 1920s, from fashion to architecture.

The style that has come to be known as “Art Deco” came from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in 1925 in Paris. The purpose of the exposition was to forge a relationship between art and industrial design. The exhibits on display combined industrial technology with earlier design styles.

Interestingly, it was not until 1966 that the term “Art Deco” first appeared when British art critic and historian Bevis Hillier coined the phrase.

Before that, the style was called “Modernistic” or “Style Moderne.”


With so many changes making waves in all areas of life, modernism became the focus. No one was interested in anything “old fashioned.” Elements of this new kind of design began to appear in everything from architecture to fashion to household goods.

Art Deco is characterized by its simplicity, drastic geometry, and vibrant colors. Typical motifs include geometric, angular shapes, and those borrowed from nature, such as sunbursts, flowers, and stars. Exotic patterns from cultures like the Mayan, Aztecs, and Ancient Greeks are often used as well.

According to Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber in their book The 1920’s, “Art Deco became a fashionable style of design for the tiniest earrings, the tallest skyscrapers, and everything in between.”

The Chrysler Building

Perhaps the best known example of Art Deco architecture is the Chrysler Building in New York City. Built between 1928 and 1930 and designed by architect William van Alen, the Chrysler Building’s design is heralded around the world.

The Art Deco aesthetic allowed architects to “dress up” sky scrapers that had the potential to be plain, hideous towers jutting into the sky.

In the 1920s, new advancements in technology allowed skyscrapers to be built taller than ever before. The invention of the gearless electric elevator also contributed to the increase in number of skyscrapers.

By 1929, there were 377 buildings in the United States that were 20 stories or more. Over half of them were located in New York City.

King Tut

King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in 1922, creating a craze for all things Egyptian. His tomb was the most intact of an Egyptian ruler ever discovered. His famed burial mask became well known as its image was spread around the world.

One can easily see the influence of the Egyptian aesthetic in the Art Deco designs of the 1920s.

Beaded Jewelry Making Fad

In the 1920s, a fad appeared for making your own necklaces, woven with tiny seed beads. The lavaliere-length necklaces were often decorated with tassels or glass beads. Many designs were based on American Indian motifs, which dovetailed beautifully with the Art Deco movement of angular, geometric designs.


  1. Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940 by David E. Kyvig
  2. The 1920s by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber