The roaring twenties will forever be remember as the decade of flappers. “Bright Young Things” dressed up for a night on the town at a dance hall or illegal speakeasy. Free of the moral and physical constraint of the previous decades the clothing was loose but glamorous. Follow this guide to create an authentic 1920’s flapper costume for your next event!
The flapper revolution started in the early twenties when dresses were still long. The short, slinky, flapper look was in full style by 1925. Dresses were loose fitting slip overs usually without sleeves although many had flutter sleeves or draping over the shoulders to give some coverage. Evening dresses were designed to show as much skin as was morally acceptable. Exposing cleavage was still taboo and for that matter even having a sizable chest was not in fashion (tape ’em down girls.) Bare backs were popular along with uneven “hanky” hemlines that exposed thighs while sitting down. Many flapper dresses were covered in beads or beaded fringe. The movement of some fringe or tiers of chiffon made dresses swish and jingle while dancing the Charleston. Dresses that made sound as they moved attracted the attention a flapper desired.
For your authentic flapper costume dress choose a dress made of a light material like chiffon, silk/satin, or crepe. Be sure to wear a matching slip if the dress in sheer. Elaborate beading will make the dress standout but also expensive so if budget is a concern find a plain dress and jazz it up with sparkling accessories. Your dress should be knee length or longer for authenticity (but can be shorter for a 1920s inspired look.) It should fit loose, meaning you may need to buy a size up. It should not hug your curves.
- Shop for new 1920s style flapper dresses here. For plus sizes here. And for customers in the UK here.
- Learn how to make a 1920s style costume from new or thrift store clothing
- Sew a 1920s dress starting with one of these patterns
The next most important part of dressing like a flapper is the shoes. While you can pair a plain set of black heeled pumps and be accurate to the decade you will look even more smashing if you wear a pair of T-strap heels. Dainty t-strap shoes in gold, silver or black were all the rage for evening wear. Sometimes black shoes had gold heels and crystals on the buckles. You can take a basic pair of pumps and jazz them up a little with paint and peel and stick rhinestones or buy a new pair of 1920s style shoes (UK shoppers look here.) Other styles of shoes to consider are Mary Jane shoes (single strap) or multi strap low heel shoes. Avoid ultra thin heels (no stilettos) and shoes with an open toe (like dress sandals.) It is very important you will be comfortable all night so always break in new pair of shoes well before your event.
Stockings are also very important to wear with your flapper costume. Women did not go out in bare legs although their stockings made them look like they were. Black stockings were common for day wear but for evenings nude stockings that were one shade darker than your natural color were standard. When pastel color dresses (pink, jade green, powder blue, peach, violet, yellow) became common in the mid 20’s stockings were made to match.
All stockings were thigh high and held up with garters or rolled down with the help of a garter roll (an elastic band.) They also had light seams down the back and reinforced heels. These are not easy to find today nor necessary since your thighs will be covered up. Any modern pair of nude, pastel, or seamed nylons will work fine with your costumes. Fishnet tights were only worn by showgirls so unless that is the character you want to portray don’t wear them.
One of the funnest accessories a flapper costume needs is a headband. Headbands that wrap around the head, forehead bands that wrap around the forehead, ornate hair combs, tiara crowns and tight fitting skull caps were all beautiful hair accessories. They could be a simple ribbon or much fancier crystal and rhinestone band or comb. Feathers were popular springing up from a clip or headband either to one side or smack dab in the center of the forehead. One very simple decoration is to wrap strands of white peals or gold beads around the hair. The variations are endless so be adventurous and pick an accessorie that you love.
1920’s jewelry was minimal and simple compared to earlier decades. It wasn’t necessary to wear any if a dress or other accessories were already elaborate. Choosing to add some bling to a simple dress (such as the black dress in the infographic above) is a good idea. The inconic necklace of the 1920s is the long pearl necklace. Women wore it as one strand, multiple strands of various lengths, and even cascaded down the back instead of the front. A beaded tassel necklace or short Art Deco style bib necklace are other styles to consider.
For bracelets look for thick bangles in gold or colored plastic. If you can fit one up around your bicep then you will be really in fashion! Any design with snakes, pharaohs, cats and other Egyptian icons were very popular.
Earrings were long dangling drop styles with gems in very Art Deco colors such as green, black, red, and crystal clear. Gem shapes were geometric square, rectangle, triangle, and square edge ovals. Dainty was out, BOLD was in. The long length drew attention to a woman’s face and ears. Studs were worn too although they were big and colorful gems not little ones like we wear today.
I find the best jewelry at the cheapest jewelry stores, like Claires, Icing, Forever 21, and my grocery store. Right now 20’s styles are hot fashion so they are easy to find.
Your costume can be complete now or you can have a little more fun and add some more accessories.
A large fluffy feather fan is both sexy and a portable air conditioner for hot nights.
- Long back or white gloves were almost always worn to and front events but removed before eating, drinking and smoking.
- A small bead or mesh purse is all you need to carry a little cash and some makeup.
- An elaborate embroidered shawl or warm faux fur wrap will keep your arms covered and add that extra bit of wow! A feather boa is a popular and fun accessory too. Learn about how to wear a shawl or scarf in a 1920s style.
- Carrying a flask tucked into a garter belt will make a great conversation starter as will holding a long bejeweled cigarette holder.
Flapper Hair and Makeup
Learning to style your hair into a bob or faux bob will take your look back to the roaring twenties. I have some tutorials coming up soon but in the mean time take a look at the history of 1920s hair styles for ideas.
For makeup you can learn some history or replicate an authentic 1920s look with this tutorial. There are plenty of YouTube hair and makeup tutorials to learn from. Most are 1920s inspired, not authentic looks. Go with whatever you like best. After all it is your event, your costume, your chance to recreate your 20’s look!
Best wishes on your costuming. If you need help feel free to contact me anytime!
P.S. After your event, post your pictures to this group Pinterest board so we can all admire your costume!