1920’s Formal Dresses- Cocktail, Party and Evening Dress

1920s formal dresses

Th best place to find 1920’s dresses and accessories is Unique-Vintage.com

The 1920s was a decade filled with all-night partying! Jazz music exploded and people danced the night away in clubs around the globe, doing the Charleston, the Shimmy and the Tango. Money seemed plentiful, and electrifying parties at mansions and ballrooms were always in the mix. Women in the 1920s went all-out for evening entertainment  Opulence, decadence, glamour – whichever way you want to say it, 1920s formal dresses had it! (Scroll down to skip the history and start shopping.)

History of 1920’s Formal Dresses

1920s evening dresses

1920 Delineator Evening Gowns- both Straight and Full Skirts

There are many names for 1920’s formal dress. Party dresses, cocktail dresses, prom dresses, and evening dresses. In the 1920’s all after six dresses had the same look and feel and went by many different names.

The boyish shape that was so stylish during the decade for day wear, was sought after for nighttime too, with a flattened bust, dropped waist and a loose-fitting straight cut – perfect for dancing! Cocktail  dresses were almost always sleeveless and daringly short (from below the knee to mid-calf), although women often lengthened their hems a little bit for very formal occasions.

1920s formal dress styles

Necklines of Formal Dresses- Deep Square, Wide Scoop, Curved V

Popular necklines for evening included a low square cut, scoop or V shape. One style trend was with a very low V (down to the waist) with a contrasting fabric panel inset in it. This achieved a square finish to the overall neckline and when the inset was nude it nodded to the naughty side of fashion.

Having your back to someone in a crowded room was no excuse to skimp! The backs of dresses were often just as dramatic as the front, with a low-cut scoop or V shape. Shawl-like draping was popular with low-cut backs too. See the pink dress above for a V shawl.

1290s evening gown

1922 Frances Alda in an Egyptian Inspired Gown

Fabric was sometimes draped and gathered in interesting shapes at the dropped waistline (waist around the mid hip or lower), which was also often decorated with a big sash and bow at the front or on the side. Decorative jewelery such as large clips and pins carried a very Egyption look and feel on the dresses. The recent discovery of King Tuts tomb made anything ancient Egypt very fashionable. Asian art decorations were also fashionable. The entire art movement of this time was called Art Deco and it played a large roll in geometric shape on  fashion.

Even the hems of dresses were not neglected on 1920’s formal dresses.  Contrasting beading or embroidery around the hem made them something special in and of themselves. Scalloped or uneven handkerchief hems made dresses unique and fringe trim along the bottom gave them some swing! The all fringe, very short “flapper” dresses most people identify with the 1920’s were NOT worn in good company. These dresses appeared on show girls and other ladies of the night in the mid 1920’s. The design and the length was simply to risqué for the average woman.

1920s flapper dresses

When choosing a 1920s evening dress, don’t skimp on the fancy! Fabrics were very luxurious – velvet, silk, satin, layers of chiffon and lamé. Gold and silver metallic were eye-catching color choices. Cream, pastels and jewel tones were also common to see. Really, the sky was the limit in terms of color. Even black became acceptable (and wanted) for evening wear – before the 1920s it was only worn by ladies in mourning. Thanks to Coco Chanel, who introduced the now-famous ‘Little Black Dress’ during the ‘20s, it became an extremely popular color for evening and remains so to this day. It was perfect to show off those gorgeous decorative elements and jewelry!

 1920’s Formal Dress Accessories

Women wore layers of long necklaces over their evening dresses, usually strands of fake pearls and beads. Cuff bracelets in gold or silver were often worn with several going up the arm and around the bicep. Motifs of gold snakes, Egyptian cats, butterfly’s and dragonflies were especially in demand.  Even beaded or feather headbands or turban hats made it into formal wear.

1920s shoes for women

1920s Style T Strap Shoes

Silk stockings were a must with those short hems, and shoes had to both look good and be comfortable for dancing. Stockings for day were usually solid tan or dark nudes while evening hues matched dresses. Metallic gold or patent leather black Mary Jane’s were the shoe of choice, and were sometimes decorated with sparkly buckles for added evening appeal. Learn more about and shop for 1920’s Shoes.

1920s headband

Evening Bandeau with Gem

Hair jewelry replaced hats for evening wear. Beautiful beaded headbands or all rhinestone hair combs and tiaras accented ladies short hair styles. They were many different styles of headbands and placement on them on the head. Across the forehead gave them an Egyptian queen look while others wrapped around the head for a youthful “girlish” look. Read more about and shop for 1920’s headbands.

1920s handbag

Mesh Flapper Purse

The final accessory is an evening bag. Women didn’t have much to carry so bags were small, lightweight, and beautifully beaded or designed in metal mesh. The new fad, makeup, was carried in the evenings bags along with a few cigarettes and a jeweled cigarette holder. Evenings purses complimented but did not necessarily match the dress. They were a work of art in of themselves.

Buying 1920s Formal Dresses

Vintage dresses are very hard to find as well as very fragile to wear. Reproduction 1920’s dress patterns to sew your own dress are a great alternative.

vintage prom dress

1920’s Style Evening Dress

Buying 1920’s evening dresses has been a challenge. In the past very few clothing designers had introduced 20’s style dresses to their line. The exception was Sue Wong who’s signature style incorporates 20’s and 30s style beading in her formal gowns. All of this has changed recently as more and more TV shows and movies set in the 20’s have influenced popular fashion.

Downton Abbey has created a wave of interest in the early 20’s long bead and chiffon gowns while Boardwalk Empire features shorter flapper dresses. I have found many formal 1920s style dresses online that are modern but with enough 1920’s style to make them great choices for proms and other formal occasions (see below). My absolute favorite site is Unique-Vintage for 1920s reproduction beaded dresses and twenties inspired prom dresses. More day or party dresses can be found in the 1920’s Dresses shop and in plus size 1920’s plus dresses shop.

NOTE: The beautiful paintings in this article were taken aboard the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship. Artist is unknown.

Shop 1920’s Evening Dresses

See more 1920’s inspired prom dresses here. 

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Beaded Sequin Long Sleeve Dress
 

Beaded Sequin Long Sleeve Dress

$213.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Frock and Frill FRANCESCA Maxi dress black
 

Frock and Frill FRANCESCA Maxi dress black

£145.00

Buy at: Zalando SE

Diagonal Beaded Flower Dress
 

Diagonal Beaded Flower Dress

$149.99

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Heavily Beaded Chiffon Short Dress
 

Heavily Beaded Chiffon Short Dress

$233.00

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Vintage Inspired Short Beaded Dress
 

Vintage Inspired Short Beaded Dress

$290.00

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Beaded Bodice Prom Gown
 

Beaded Bodice Prom Gown

$578.00

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Sue Wong Tiered Skirt Embroidered Dress in Black
 

Sue Wong Tiered Skirt Embroidered Dress in Black

$219.00

Buy at: CoutureCandy.com

Short Nude Illusion Beaded Prom Dress
 

Short Nude Illusion Beaded Prom Dress

$450.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

One Shoulder Sequin Art Deco Gown
 

One Shoulder Sequin Art Deco Gown

$338.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Chiffon Dress With Bead Tiers
 

Chiffon Dress With Bead Tiers

$163.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Sequin Beaded Gown
 

Sequin Beaded Gown

$357.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Floral And Vines Beaded Dress
 

Floral And Vines Beaded Dress

$238.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Tiered Beaded Dress
 

Tiered Beaded Dress

$318.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Sue Wong Back Cowl Long Column Dress in Platinum
 

Sue Wong Back Cowl Long Column Dress in Platinum

$304.00

Buy at: CoutureCandy.com

I Now Pronounce You Dress
 

I Now Pronounce You Dress

$174.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Frock and Frill ATHENA Cocktail dress / Party dress grey
 

Frock and Frill ATHENA Cocktail dress / Party dress grey

£130.00

Buy at: Zalando SE

Socorro Sequinned Maxi Dress
 

Socorro Sequinned Maxi Dress

£125.00

Buy at: French Connection UK

Sean Collection Beaded Silk Georgette Gown
 

Sean Collection Beaded Silk Georgette Gown

$388.00

Buy at: NORDSTROM.com

Beaded Gown With Sweeping Skirt
 

Beaded Gown With Sweeping Skirt

$598.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Ruched Strapless Prom Gown With Elaborate Beading
 

Ruched Strapless Prom Gown With Elaborate Beading

$798.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Glamorous Sheer Beaded Prom Dress
 

Glamorous Sheer Beaded Prom Dress

$578.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Pisarro Nights Embellished Contrast-Lace Gown
 

Pisarro Nights Embellished Contrast-Lace Gown

$189.00

Buy at: macys.com

Vintage Sheer Prom Gown With Jeweled Necklace
 

Vintage Sheer Prom Gown With Jeweled Necklace

$578.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Alex Evenings Sequin Mesh Yoke Tiered Shift Dress
 

Alex Evenings Sequin Mesh Yoke Tiered Shift Dress

$140.00

Buy at: NORDSTROM.com

Adrianna Papell Beaded Mesh Sheath Dress
 

Adrianna Papell Beaded Mesh Sheath Dress

$258.00

Buy at: NORDSTROM.com

Beautiful Full Length Fring Dress
 

Beautiful Full Length Fring Dress

$498.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Veritable Vixen Dress
 

Veritable Vixen Dress

$229.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Sue Wong Column Beaded Fringe Dress in Platinum
 

Sue Wong Column Beaded Fringe Dress in Platinum

$419.00

Buy at: CoutureCandy.com

Issue New York Women's Bead/ Sequin Pleated Halter Evening Dress
 

Issue New York Women's Bead/ Sequin Pleated Halter Evening Dress

$74.99

Buy at: Overstock.com

J Laxmi Women's Beaded V-neck Flutter Sleeve Midi Dress
 

J Laxmi Women's Beaded V-neck Flutter Sleeve Midi Dress

$136.99

Buy at: Overstock.com

Patra Sleeveless Tiered Cocktail Dress
 

Patra Sleeveless Tiered Cocktail Dress

$119.00

Buy at: macys.com

Patra Plus Size Kimono-Sleeve Beaded Dress
 

Patra Plus Size Kimono-Sleeve Beaded Dress

$229.00

Buy at: macys.com

Patra Cap-Sleeve Sequin Embroidered Gown
 

Patra Cap-Sleeve Sequin Embroidered Gown

$219.00

Buy at: macys.com

Frock and Frill Embellished Skater Dress - Berry multi
 

Frock and Frill Embellished Skater Dress - Berry multi

$125.07

Buy at: ASOS.com USA

Frock and Frill Embellished Skater Dress - Navy/silver
 

Frock and Frill Embellished Skater Dress - Navy/silver

$125.07

Buy at: ASOS.com USA

Frock and Frill Heavy Embellished Sparkle Shift Dress - Black/silver
 

Frock and Frill Heavy Embellished Sparkle Shift Dress - Black/silver

$164.87

Buy at: ASOS.com USA

Frock and Frill Maxi dress black
 

Frock and Frill Maxi dress black

£185.00

Buy at: Zalando SE

Frock and Frill Cocktail dress / Party dress blue
 

Frock and Frill Cocktail dress / Party dress blue

£100.00

Buy at: Zalando SE

Women's Pisarro Nights Sleeveless Embellished Mesh Gown
 

Women's Pisarro Nights Sleeveless Embellished Mesh Gown

$208.00

Buy at: NORDSTROM.com

Women's Pisarro Nights Embellished Mesh Cocktail Dress
 

Women's Pisarro Nights Embellished Mesh Cocktail Dress

$148.00

Buy at: NORDSTROM.com

UV EXCLUSIVE Black & Silver Sequined Gatsby Flapper Dress
 

UV EXCLUSIVE Black & Silver Sequined Gatsby Flapper Dress

$180.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Sue Wong Fall 2014 Black & Nude Embroidered Cap Sleeve Column Dress
 

Sue Wong Fall 2014 Black & Nude Embroidered Cap Sleeve Column Dress

$598.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Sue Wong Fall 2014 Champagne Sleeveless Embroidered Netted Deco Short Dress
 

Sue Wong Fall 2014 Champagne Sleeveless Embroidered Netted Deco Short Dress

$498.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Sue Wong Fall 2014 Platinum Sleeveless Embroidered & Fringe Column Dress
 

Sue Wong Fall 2014 Platinum Sleeveless Embroidered & Fringe Column Dress

$658.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Sue Wong Magenta & Black Floral Embroidered Gown Prom 2015
 

Sue Wong Magenta & Black Floral Embroidered Gown Prom 2015

$528.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Extravagant Evening Dress
 

Extravagant Evening Dress

$219.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Plus Size Black Beaded Cocktail Dress
 

Plus Size Black Beaded Cocktail Dress

$328.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Plus Size Fully Beaded Cocktail Dress
 

Plus Size Fully Beaded Cocktail Dress

$328.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Long Prom Gown With Sheet Skirt And All Over Metallic Beading
 

Long Prom Gown With Sheet Skirt And All Over Metallic Beading

$1,700.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

Fully Beaded Cocktail Dress
 

Fully Beaded Cocktail Dress

$278.00

Buy at: Bluegala.com and alight.com

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About Debbie Sessions

Debbie Sessions is passionate about wearing history through fashion. She and her husband, Oscar, have turned their hobby into a career by teaching others how to re-create vintage style with affordable new vintage inspired clothing and accessories. We connect shoppers to the best vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories and teach fashion history as it was worn by everyday people. Need more help? Contact us anytime.

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