When it comes to vintage clothing the 1920s flapper dress stands out as an icon.
The 1920s was a golden age for fashion and that legacy lasts to this day in popular culture from the opulence of The Great Gatsby‘s dresses to the gritty realism of BBC’s Peaky Blinders suits.
Our favourite 1920s flapper dress shops:
Looking The Part
The structured forms and corseting of Victorian and Edwardian fashion were cast aside by sleek designs of the Art Deco period, and while populations mourned the loss of a generation in the First World War a new order of Bright Young Things emerged to reject antiquated values.
Of course before we go any further it is worth tackling the issue of historical accuracy vs costume. The chances are you probably found this site in search of the iconic 1920s flapper dress, and there’s no shame in that!
Nevertheless we’ll still give you some inspiration for some of the other looks that were popular in 1920s dress. Remember that what we think of as 1920s dress was the high fashion of the young elite, while most regular and slightly older people simply wore much the same styles as had adorned the past two decades.
Also those fabulous Great Gatsby dresses we think of are glitzy eveningwear rather than more sombre everyday wear. However, you came for glitz and glamour so that’s where we’ll start!
The 1920s Flapper Dress
If you’re going down the 1920s fancy dress flapper costume route then the internet is filled with options of varying quality.
Even the cheapest costume can be made to look good and more historical if you keep in mind a few basic principles.
These are some important considerations to keep in mind, although the best thing about this period is it’s accessible to everyone today without lots of research and expense.
Ultimately everything comes down to the nature of the event, but with most 1920s costume parties the aim is more to dress up and have fun than be 100% historically-accurate.
- 1920s dress aimed to be more androgynous and so you should aim for a looser cut with no waist rather than many curvy examples on the market.
- Many examples will be full of beads and tassels when in reality less is more. Concentrate on finding quality to really stand out.
- If you’re going to a Great Gatsby or similarly 1920s fancy dress party then most people will wear black when actually vibrant pastel colours were popular in women’s 1920s fashion.
- While 1920s dresses were short for their time they were still longer than we have grown used to today and generally fell below the knees.
How to Buy a Reproduction 1920s Flapper Dress
Surprisingly there are some great 1920s flapper dress styles on Amazon. We love this one from PrettyGuide – especially their bold red flapper dress.
With plenty of choice you just need to know your size to get the right fit, so it’s worth checking the returns policy of whichever shop you go with.
This complete package below includes flapper jewelry, gloves and headpiece for a great price. Plus it has great reviews with lots of happy customers posting photos showing off their outfit. Even better – it’s available in plus sizes!
Any men in your party may want to see our guide to 1920s men’s fashion.
Warobe Shop 1920s Dresses
Wardrobe Shop is a leading online vintage shop with a generous range of 1920s style dresses.
Many of these again are more subdued without as much beading and tassles and so will both stand out while also not looking quite so extravagant as many of these examples.
We particularly like this example, Alexa by Nataya, because of its bright colour and the layering around the skirt that will look great when dancing the Charleston.
Finding a more historically-accurate 1920s flapper dress like this is very difficult.
However, another one of our favourite sources has been La Vie Delight.
They offer much more subdued designs that would look just right as a Downton Abbey costume on set.
The Plus Size Flapper Dress
The great thing about reproduction 1920s flapper dresses is they don’t have to come in 1920s dress sizes!
As one Amazon reviewer wrote about the PrettyGuide flapper dress “I love 1920s fashion, but as a curvy 21st century girl it doesn’t always work so well for me. I’m 5’8″ and about 190 pounds, so I bought the XXL and it fits like a glove.”
This example of Unique Vintage’s plus size flapper dress demonstrates how the flapper dress style looks great on curvier women.
Finding a Flapper Wedding Dress
Again finding the right flapper wedding dress is easy if you want pure glitz and glamour in which case Babeyond has you covered – quite literally.
You could also pair up the flapper wedding dress with a shoulder cape for a more modest look.
However, if you want a slightly more subdued look for your flapper wedding dress then La Vie Delight has a range of great options.
This definitely seems more appropriate for the ceremony itself so you can keep the sparkles for the reception!
Finding original vintage 1920s dresses is perfectly possible but be warned. These rare items can be expensive and need looking after as they are delicate. Examples with lots of beading are especially likely to shed.
Obviously these also cannot be washed like normal clothes and even specialist dry-cleaning should be avoided for as long as possible. If you do decide to go down this luxurious route then these examples on Ebay and Etsy could be for you. See our guide on how to care for vintage clothing.
As this design was quite iconic it can be possible to find vintage dresses that resemble 1920s dresses that are actually from the 1970s and 1980s. These synthetic dresses will be cheaper and much more durable. Plus any damage done won’t feel like harming a precious artefact.
What The Flapper Dress Represented
The flapper dress was a statement of rebellion. From the carnage of the First World War the old world order was rejected by youth. That meant the manners and customs that had been held so rigidly through the Victorian and Edwardian periods.
The 1920s therefore have come to represent an era of excess and indulgence, at least in urban metropolitan circles. In fact, don’t forget to see our guide to 1920s makeup.
As we frequently mention in our historical costume articles, we tend to remember the trend-setters in London, New York and Paris when we think of fashionable eras, not the rest of the rural population who largely carried on much the same as before.
Of course the flapper dress was the very garment of that decadence. It was revealing and figure-hugging as a new wave of sexuality became more socially acceptable.
It was also very androgynous as women chose to ignore the social norms of femininity and embrace a more independent lifestyle.
Images: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)