I make a lot of headdresses for clients to wear to 1920’s parties – the Great Gatsby, Peaky Blinders or Speak Easy theme is always popular for dressing up in style!
As original vintage clothing from this era is hard to come by and very collectible, it makes sense to just get an outfit together which ticks all the style boxes but is still affordable, practical, and you can wear again.
First up we are going to look at the iconic Flapper Girl. A bright young thing, with bobbed hair, she wore make-up, which she wasn’t afraid to apply in public, drank and smoked and danced energetically to the new jazz music. Fashions changed dramatically in the 1920’s as women were exploring new, post war freedoms, including the right to vote.
As clothing evolved the restrictive corset was cast aside and women were able to enjoy more activities which were previously impractical or difficult to participate in; sports such as tennis, golf, swimming and cycling were popular.
Young women were gaining more independence, the world was changing, with the evolution of new technologies came new jobs, typists, bank clerks, telephone exchange operators, as well as factory production line work.
These young women had more disposable income and they looked to movie stars and magazines for their style inspiration; public figures such as actress and original ‘It Girl’ Clara Bow, singer, dancer and entertainer Josephine Baker, actress Tallulah Bankhead with her brash personality and acerbic wit, and socialite, novelist and painter Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F Scott Fitzgerald who captured the highs and lows of the roaring 20’s in his novels the Great Gatsby and The Beautiful and the Damned.
This era has been referenced time and time again through the decades, most notably in the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford, and Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film version with Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The iconic flapper dress is essentially a simple, loose-fitting, straight up and down sleeveless dress. It had no zipper or fastenings and was simply pulled on over the head. The ideal physique was slim and boyish, so minimal curves here – the ideal look was ‘le garconne’, short hair and flat as a board! These dresses initially had a dropped waist, which then evolved so that by 1927 waistlines had gone altogether and hemlines rose to just below the knee. Covered in beads, or sequins, usually in a geometric, Art Deco pattern, they would shimmy and glisten in the light, tiers of fringing moving with the wearer as they danced. They were usually made with embellished silk, but with the advent of new materials, such as rayon – a cellulose based fibre usually made from wood pulp – more affordable versions were available for those who couldn’t afford couture.
Nowadays many high street fashion stores have a 20’s inspired look for their party dresses, look to labels like Kate Moss for Topshop, Reiss, Hobbs, Phase Eight and Karen Millen.
If you don’t mind wearing second hand then you can pick up preloved dresses from dress agencies or online from eBay, better to buy a well made dress in good quality fabrics which will look good and last a long time, rather than a fancy dress costume which is designed to be worn once then thrown away.
Finish off the look with a headband with feathers and a beaded or diamante motif, a string of long beads or a tassel necklace, long gloves, and mary jane or t-bar shoes with a small heel. Cigratte holder is optional!