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. 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 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 Budget 1920s Flapper Dress
If you’re not too concerned about full authenticity then you’re in luck. The classic design of the 1920s flapper dress is still widely made and has enjoyed a fair few past revivals – the 1980s being a particular revival from which many cheap vintage examples can be found on Ebay. Of course you can still be lucky and find original examples in their 1920s category if you have a bit more budget and can look after it – see our guide on how to care for antique clothing.
If you’re going down the 1920s fancy dress costume route then the internet is filled with options of varying quality. These are some important considerations to keep in mind, although the best thing about this period is its accessible to everyone today without lots of research and expense. Ultimately everything comes down to the nature of the event, but with most 1920s 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 tassles 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.
Images: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)