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 20s fashion and make my own vintage inspired 1920s costumes. I love the hunt, the deals, the creativity, and the speed at which I can DIY a flapper costume or non-flapper 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 you can find a costume in your local clothing stores or online.
Today I pulled out all my 1920s inspired costume pieces and made ten 1920s outfits suitable for costumes for day wear, sportswear and eveningwear for a variety of ages and body types. I hope these looks inspire you to try your hand at making your own vintage inspired 20s costume!
Need a 1920s couples costume? Try one of these 7 men’s costume ideas to match.
1920s Daytime 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 ’20s. Be sure to sneak some safety pins all around the hip sash to keep it in place. For an early ’20s 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 ’20s event to wear it to this year. : )
1920s 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. Shop 20s tea dresses.
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 Casual Costume
The least formal 1920s 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 ’20s 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.
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 or sweater vest with stripes. Worn buttoned or better yet unbuttoned, you will fit right in at a college football game!
The above look I made into a casual 1920s day outfit by combining a pleated skirt, bow tie blouse, long knit vest, thin belt, and a knit beret hat. Add a pair of walking oxfords for an easy 20s outfit.
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. When 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 ’70s).
With the knickers in place, I added a new knit top with a navy blue necktie. 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!
Here are three more ’20s menswear for women ideas:
20s Gangster Girl
Gangster girls, gangster women, gangster mols, are all names for women who participated in underground bootlegging and mobster life. They didn’t wear clothing that was any different than other ’20s women. To wear pants and vest and otherwise dress like men would have made them stand-out- which is not something a criminal wanted to do. However, since I had had requests for gangster girl costume ideas I will provide one here. This look turns menswear into womenswear but with a touch of the feminine.
(Right) I started with a white peter pan collar blouse with a black thin bow tie. This gives it a softer, more 20s look. You could wear a white button-down men’s shirt and black thin necktie for a more masculine edge. Next a pair of pinstripe, wide leg, pants I found at the thrift store and snap on pinstripe suspenders. A button on suspenders would be more authentic but I’m going for easy here!
I included basic T-Strap shoes although oxfords would be a good choice too. For the hat, I chose a round crown bowler hat with satin band and large flower. The bowler was a men’s style hat but the flower makes it feel like a women’s cloche. Add some no-sass attitude and you have yourself an easy 1920s gangster girl costume.
I made a second look (Left) using grey herringbone dress trousers from a two-piece suit and paired it with, T-strap shoes, a white button-down shirt, black necktie, pinstripe vest and grey fedora hat. Both looks are perfectly styled for a 1920s gangster party. Click here to see another version of this costume.
1920s Flapper Dress for Day or Night
Thanks to the ’20s inspired trend happening now, a lot of new clothing stores have great beaded flapper 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. 1920s 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.
Worth reading is “How to Dress Like a 1920s Flapper” article and infographic.
1920s Downton Abbey Costume
In the early 1920s, dress styles were still long and often in dark drab colors. One season of Downton Abbey begins with Lady Mary in mourning. 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 ’20s 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 1910s) 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 ’20s look. I also don’t have a black hat that would be a better choice for the early ’20s, 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. It’s also a preferred waistline 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’s 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 1920s.
Easy 1920s Evening Dresses
If there is one type of formal dress all of my local thrift stores are swimming in, it is 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 ideal 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 is pretty and fun!
Another decorating idea using the same dress is to add a long bead belt simply accented on one hip (A). It’s simple, elegant and 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 1990s, which was 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 used 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 it was back to being a robe or cape. Sometimes they are called scarf coats when worn over a dress like this costume. Most 20s scarf coats had long fringe hanging down from the sleeves and hem.
I find a lot of costume pieces in the lingerie section. Slips and robes are perfect for ’20s 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 better. Adding a robe or shawl over a sleeveless dress 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 won’t be too difficult for you.
For this party look, I wore a fully beaded dress (it’s 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.
With so many beaded, sequin, velvet and chiffon dresses on the market now you can easily purchase a dress online or instore. Brands Patra, Papell, Komarov and Pisarro Nights are my favorites. Nataya Brand via Wardrobe Shop is another excellent brand of non-flapper 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.