After years of sewing my costumes from scratch I discovered the joy of thrift store costuming. Now I buy up anything and everything I can that resembles a fashion inspired by the past and make my own vintage inspired 1920s costumes. I love the hunt, the deals, the creativity and the speed at which I can throw together a costume for a themed party. I also find new clothing (on sale, or at cheaper stores) to use as well. If you don’t have a thrift store near you I bet your can find a costume in your local clothing stores or online.
Today I pulled out all my 1920s inspired costume pieces and made 10 outfits suitable as costumes for day wear, sports wear, and evening wear for a variety of ages and body types. I hope these looks inspire you try your hand at making your own vintage inspired costume!
Try these 7 mens costumes ideas too.
The 1920s Day Costume
A simple no waist sheath dress in a solid color or in a summer print like this yellow and blue dress is the perfect start to an easy 1920s day dress. It can even work as an evening dress with a plain color dress and accessories (more on that in a bit.) For this 1920s costume I started with the dress and then added a strip of blue chiffon fabric, about 8 inches wide, and tied it around the hips securing it with a pretty brooch. I let it drape down on the left side, which was common in the mid 20’s. Be sure to sneak some safety pins all around the hip sash to keep it in place. For an early 20’s style just raise the sash up to your natural waist and cut off the tail to make a sash belt. Sheer scarves work great for belts too.
For the accessories I added a pretty peach colored long bead necklace from Forever 21, a straw cloche hat with white and peach trim, a pair of ivory wrist length vintage gloves and white T strap shoes.
I can’t help but love this costume! It makes me smile from ear to ear. I think I must find a twenties event to wear it to this year : )
The 1920s Garden or Tea Party Dress Costume
While the above dress is good for any kind of day outing, a special Gatsby garden party or a semi formal tea party in summer would bring out light pastels and white dresses. At H & M I found this charming peachy pink lace sheath dress. It is too short to wear alone so I layered it over two white slips, the outer one having pretty pleats all around making it look more like a skirt than a slip. Next I added a beaded belt and pinned it around the hips. It also matches the extra long pearl necklace.
The white beaded shawl is new, not thrift store, but I found it really took this costume to the next level. Adding a white feather pinned to a headband, hat or bobbed hair ads a bit of a flapper flair to it too. (Tip: A great place to find bird feathers is in the fly fishing section of a sporting goods store.)
Shoes were again my white T-straps. A pair of black or brown 1920s style shoes would work just as well for this look. White gloves add that final touch (just remember to take them off while sipping your tea.)
1920s Style Day and Tea Dresses for Sale:
The 1920s Casual Dress or School Girl Uniform
The least formal 1920’s day dress was not a dress but a skirt and blouse. It was also standard uniform for school girls during Gymnasium classes (P.E. in the USA.) Women loved the easy going sporty nature of the style so they wore them too. It is a very easy look to pull off.
Start with an ankle length to mid calf pleated skirt. Mine here is navy. In winter it could be a wool skirt while summer might have a sheer chiffon skirt. I then found a white button up blouse with large pointed collar. A round collar would be nice too. Usually 1920s blouses were slip overs with a button at the back but because this blouse had a flap to cover the button and its was embroidered with pretty little flowers I thought it would look well enough (and its does!) Blouses in the 20’s were hip length so leaving this one untucked is actually ok.
I accessorized the look with a simple bead necklace and a two tone cloche hat with feather accent. Shoes could have been white for summer or black for all other seasons. A sensible pair of oxfords would be even more casual and sporty (pictured right.)
This is a look that would work well on all ages of women and all shapes. To make it a style popular with college kids add a knit V neck cardigan with stripes. Worn buttoned or better yet unbuttoned, you will fit right in at a college football game!
1920s Style Blouses:
The 1920s Sports Woman
If you were a “new woman” in the 1920s you would embrace menswear, men’s sports, and men’s fabrics. Tweed knickers were adopted from men and worn as a woman’s sports attire too. Fishing, hiking, golf, or biking a sporty costume will set you apart from a sea of dresses.
For the knickers I lucked out when I found a pair of baggy tweed shorts. For the picture I just pinned them back but one day I will take a piece of elastic and cuff the legs so they gather just below the knee. Feel free to just safety pin yours if sewing is not your thing. If you can’t find shorts, look for pants you can cut off (menswear sections may have wool or tweed pants from the 70’s.)
With the knickers in place I added a new knit top with a navy blue neck tie. What a find! Now to figure out how to tie the darn tie! Some women tied them like a men’s four in hand tie, while others with a sailor’s knot or square knot like on US Navy uniforms. I think my preferred method is to use a brooch to pin the two ends together at mid sternum (not shown) and forget tying knots entirely : )
Not shown but very important are a pair of thick stockings or knee high socks in a bold argyle, check or herringbone pattern. Be wild with your stockings!
1920s Style Shoes:
1920s Flapper Dress for Day or Night
Thanks to the 20’s inspired trend happening now, a lot of new clothing stores have great flapper inspired dresses for sale. This cute black and white drop waist dress came from Urban Outfitters. It is a little too short and a little too low cut in the front. I solved the low cut problem by using a white half slip as a tube top. 1920’s slips were rarely V neck, always square neck, so the horizontal line across the bust is historically accurate. I love when that happens!
I used my extra long pearl necklace and wrapped it to create a layered necklaces style (also historically accurate.) Then I paired it with a black cloche hat, black gloves, and black mary jane shoes from my favorite brand, Aerosoles. The white bunch of feathers on the hip are pinned on with a sparkling rhinestone brooch. This outfit is ready for a fancy afternoon or evening party!
When I bought this dress I didn’t realize it had two personalities. When worn backwards the high neck and buttons down the front makes this a perfect late 1920s day costume. With just a change of the accessories it becomes a sporty outfit for a young flapper. The necklace is a 20s vintage plastic chain link (yes several forms of plastic existed in the 20s.) The hat is also vintage from the 1960s when another 1920s revival was happening. I changed out the shoes for another pair of Aerosoles, this time black and grey lace up oxfords.
This look is very versatile and trendy now. I would wear this almost anywhere without looking like I am wearing a “costume.”
Adding a beaded or silk fringe shawl, scarf or evening coat would make this look ready for cool nights too.
Wroth reading is “How to Dress Like a 1920’s Flapper” article and infographic.
1920s Style Hats:
1920s Downton Abbey Costume
In the early 1920s dress styles were still long and often in dark drab colors. The current season of Downton Abbey begins with Lady Mary in morning. Wearing black or violet mourning colors she is simple, understated, yet very elegant.
To create a style in the early 1920s silhouette I started with a double layer long black slip with ribbon and lace trim. A chiffon skirt would also have the same effect. I paired the slip with a long sleeve black lace inset blouse I found recently at H & M. With the lace it looks more Victorian or Edwardian which is perfect for the early 20’s as well as for mature women like the Dowager who disliked modern fashions. The shoes are also Edwardian in style with the multiple straps (common since the 1910’s) yet still in style by 1922. I bought them from America-Duchess (Astoria’s.)
To accessorize I used a long gold and pearl necklace as a belt, pinned on around the natural waist but let it hang a little lower for a slightly more mid 20’s look. I also don’t have a black hat that would be a better choice for the early 20’s so here I used the black cloche hat again. Mixing up different parts of the 1920s decade for your costume is a fun way to create something very unique to you.
For an even more mature women’s look I took the same skirt and blouse and added a lace sash around the natural waist. This immediately takes it out of “flapper style” and back to late teens/early 20s. Its also a preferred waist line for women whose curves are centered on the body. I moved the necklace off the waist and back around the neck where it should be. It is a bit on the youthful side. A more mature necklace style would still be ornate filigree jewelry, if you were wealthy, none if you were poor.
The final bit is a wool cape with faux fur trim. The fringe on the cape makes it especially perfect for the 1920’s.
1920s Style Jewelry:
Easy 1920s Evening Dresses
If there is one type of formal dress all of my local thrift stores are swimming in it would be the long black velvet sheath dress. Lucky for us it is a perfect foundation for making a 1920s evening dress costume.
The dress on the left has the gold pearl necklace again. Gold and silver were popular evening colors. I also reused the blue sash from the first outfit to create a shoulder drape. I topped it with a few sprigs of feathers and a brooch. The long line that the drape creates is idea for full figured women as it will help elongate the body. Wearing a tall feather in your hair also helps adds height and vertical line. Plus wearing feathers are pretty and fun!
Another decorating idea using the same dress is to add a long bead belt simply accented on one hip (A). Its simple, elegant and as about as easy as costuming can be. Or take that same belt, or in this case a sequin sash, and drape it around the neckline (B.) The long dangling tail is what makes it 1920s instead of 1950s (or 1990’s which is the decade this velvet dress is from.) Finally you can make any dress look 1920s with a big feather boa draped around your shoulders. Talk about really easy!
1920s Kimono Costume
For the last costume I still used the same black dress from above but this time I borrowed a satin robe I previously use to make a Titanic dress. The fascination with the orient and anything Japanese started in the teens and continued into the mid 1920s. The Kimono robe was used as a dress style initially but by the 20s was back to being a robe or cape. Sometimes they are called scarf coats when worn over a dress like this costume.
I find a lot of costume pieces in the lingerie sections. Slips and robes are perfect for 20’s dresses. The only thing I did to this robe was curve the edges for a 1912 Titanic dress style but for the 1920s the original square edges would have been fine. Adding a robe over a sleeveless dresses is perfect for women who get cold easily (that’s me) or who don’t want to reveal their bare arms.
1920s Party Dress
A beaded flapper dress is the most iconic of all 1920s dresses. Fringe flapper dresses are also iconic but they are not terribly accurate to the 1920s. I have collected several beaded dresses from new and thrift stores. The 80s were full of them and now they are back in fashion again. Finding one wont be too difficult for you.
For this party look I wore a fully beaded dress (its heavy), white T-strap shoes, tassel necklace, beaded headband and feather. For evening wear headbands and hair clips were always worn, even a tiara was an option. The only evening hat was the turban. I have used necklaces, ribbon, and scarves to DIY a headband. Look here for headband inspiration.
1920s Party Dresses:
Even more costumes- oh my!
Here are a few more costumes I have made and written about in previous articles. Follow the links to read more.