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 outfits. 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, at cheaper stores, and Amazon) to use as well. When I started my 1920s costuming there were hardly any choices online, now there are plenty of daytime and party dresses, casual clothes, Halloween costumes, shoes, and accessories to make affordable or luxury 1920s outfits.
The following are some of the 20s outfits I either DIY ‘ed or purchased. I hope these give you ideas on creating your own outfits.
1920s Daytime Outfit
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 DIY 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 outfit, 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. Skinny scarves or wide sashes work great for belts, too. See more ideas on how to decorate a plain dress into a jazz age outfit.
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, florals, and white dresses. I found this charming peachy pink lace sheath dress at a local shop. It was 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 matched the extra long pearl necklace, beaded shawl and feather headband.
Shop 20s tea dresses.
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).
I found the above outfit on Amazon featuring the MaryCrafts godet dress. I paired it with a black cloche hat, round sunglasses, faceted bead necklace, chunky Deco bracelet, pink lace gloves, nude back seam stockings, and Mary Jane heels.
1920s Casual Separates
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 blue. In winter it could be a wool knit skirt, while summer might have a sheer chiffon skirt. Next, I found a white button-up blouse with large pointed collar. A round Peter Pan collar would have been 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 was embroidered with pretty little flowers, I thought it would look well enough (and it does!). Blouses in the ’20s were hip length, so leaving this one untucked is actually ok.
There are many other types of skirts and blouses you can combine into unique 1920s day outfits. Choose a straight, pleated, tiered, or layered skirt (below knee length) with a bow blouse, beaded or embroidered pullover tunic, pintucks or lace trim blouse. Learn more about the history of 1920s blouses and skirts.
Another multi-piece outfit that is on the casual or sporty side of 20s fashion is to a layer blouse, sweater or cardigan, skirt and pullover vests. It was a popular outfit with college kids and young women as daywear and sportswear (golfing? yes!). Knit sweaters and cardigans came in solid colors woven in a chunky knit or smooth V-neck sweaters with bold prints like argyle, chevron, Fair Isle, and stripes. Most cardigans were long with a tie belt. Adding a belt over a sweater and around the hips was a trendy accessory.
The first look (L) below I made into a casual 1920s day outfit by combining a pleated skirt, bow tie, Peter Pan collar blouse, long knit vest, thin belt, and a knit beret hat. The second look (R) combined an argyle sweater, a long wool skirt, and slouch/folded brim hat. Adding a pair of walking Oxfords for each outfit creates an easy ’20s casual look.
In addition to golf, women enjoyed playing sports or at least dressing like they were going to play a game of tennis or badminton on the weekends. A typical sporty look included a Middy top (sailor top) or bow-tie blouse with matching skirt, a straw sun hat, and low heel Oxford shoes (black and white or brown and white combinations were especially sporty).
The tennis uniform was similar except all white or ivory. See women’s and men’s tennis outfit ideas here.
While most women did not wear any sort of pants in the 1920s, there were a few exceptions.
If you were a “new woman” in the 1920s, you would embrace men’s clothing, men’s sports, and men’s country fabrics. Tweed knickers were adopted from menswear and worn as a woman’s sports outfit. When fishing, hiking, golf, or biking, women paired knee-length tweed knickers or jodhpurs (for riding) and belt with a button-down shirt or blouse, a men’s necktie, tall patterned socks, Oxford shoes, and sometimes a newsboy cap. The look was very daring for the times.
20s Gangster Girl
Gangster girls, gangster women, gangster molls, 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 (mostly dresses). To wear pants and vest and otherwise dress like a man would have made them stand out – which is not something a criminal wanted to do. However, since the cross-dressing 1920s gangster girl look is a popular one, why not give it a try.
(Left) 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 wide leg pinstripe pants I found at the thrift store and snap-on pinstripe suspenders. 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 hat. Add some no-sass attitude and you have yourself an easy 1920s gangster girl costume.
I made a second look (Right) 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.
For Peaky Blinders fans, you can replace pinstripes with tweed:
One other pant option for women emerged in the late 1920s. Inspired by Asian pajamas, Hollywood ladies began wearing silky pant/blouse/kimono jacket sets for lounging at home or hosting a house party. In the 1930s, they took to the seaside and were called Beach Pajamas.
Featuring very wide leg palazzo pants, a loose top, and a matching long flowing jacket, the outfit was extremely comfortable. You, too, can get the Beach Pajama look with a 3 piece pant set that fits loose and flowy. Or mix and match your own with palazzo pants (or satin pajamas), a silk or beaded top, fringe shawl/scarf, turban hat/headscarf, and satin pumps or slippers.
1920s Flapper Dress
A few years ago, it was impossible to find a good flapper dress, now there are plenty of sequin and fringe flapper dresses for sale ranging from cheap costumes to luxury gowns. The most popular flapper dress color is black followed by red, blue, and white. Most dresses are sleeveless, but you can find dresses with long sleeves and long hemlines too. Choosing a flapper dress will be easy, but picking out accessories will be the fun part. There are many choices for hair, jewelry, shawls, purses, gloves, shoes, and props.
- Hair Accessories: Crystal or beaded headband, Feather headband, turban hat, hair scarf, or cloche hat.
- Jewelry: Tassel necklace, bead necklace, long pearl(s), drop earrings, big rings, cuff bracelets. Learn more about 1920s jewelry here.
- Wraps: Capelet shawl, fur stole, fringe jacket, feather boa, sequin scarf, kimono coat. Learn more.
- Purses: Beaded kiss lock purses, embroidered frame bag, metal mesh bag, clutch or pouch purse. Learn more.
- Gloves: Long over the elbow opera gloves for evenings and shorter mid-arm leather, silk or mesh gloves for daytime.
- Stockings: Backseam stockings came in dark nude, white or pastel colors. Fishnets were for showgirls.
- Props: Long stem cigarette holder, fake e-cigarettes, hand fan, hip flask, leg garters.
- Makeup: A 20s face was painted with lipstick, eye shadow, and rouge. Learn about 20s makeup.
How to Dress Like a Flapper – An authentic look at real flappers and how to accurately dress like one.
1920s Evening Dresses
The dinner gowns worn by the ladies of Downton Abbey were not yet beaded flapper dresses like they were in the last season/movie. For most of the 1920s, evening gowns were long dresses made in rich materials with some embellishments. Attending a 1920s themed gala or formal party means it is time to dazzle in sophisticated elegance. The easiest long dress would be a fully beaded or sequin gown. Nothing says the ’20s like a lot of bling. However, that is not your only option. Consider a long tunic gown (no waistline) or a velvet gown with draping. Gowns with tiers of chiffon are romantic.
Evening accessories follow that of the flapper outfits above. Long elbow-length gloves were worn with sleeveless dresses. Jewelry was usually crystals and rhinestones. A velvet evening coat or fur shawl was useful while traveling to the party.
DIY Evening Dress – 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. Luckily for us, it is a perfect foundation for making a 1920s evening dress. The dress above 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!
Silent Film / Gypsy Outfit
Deviating from the stereotypical 1920s outfits, I recently dressed like an early 1920s Silent Film actress. Some of my inspiration came from Gypsy characters who layered on sequin scarves and jewelry and wore a headscarf or turban hat with their long curly hair. I thought about wearing greyscale makeup to go with my all-black outfit, but decided against it for this event. It would have added to the overall black and white movie effect. Next time, I will do this!
1920s Downton Abbey Costumes
Inspired by all later seasons of Downton Abbey, I put together 10 early 1920s costumes.