The roaring twenties will forever be remembered as the decade of flappers. “Bright Young Things” dressed up for a night on the town at a dance hall or in an illegal speakeasy. What did flappers wear? Free of the moral and physical constraints of the previous decades, flapper costumes were loose but glamorous. During the day flappers dressed in drop-waist dresses with a small belt or wide sash to accent the hip line instead of the waist. Flat chests further enhanced the boyish flapper outfit. The evening brought out knee-length and longer fringe, beading, and sequin flapper dresses with rhinestone and feather headbands creating a fun and feminine flapper outfit.
The short fringe flapper dress costume as we know it today is not accurate to the decade. It was a style developed in the late ’50s early ’60s that used the short shift dress of the decade as its base. The first The Great Gatsby movie premiered in 1974, influencing some dazzling disco fashions of the decade. The flapper style revived again in the 1980s with long fringe dresses and sequin-covered gowns. It is back today, thanks in part to the 2013 The Great Gatsby movie. Flapper outfits from movies, TV series, and recent history are hardly accurate, although great for flapper outfit ideas.
Follow this roaring twenties flapper costume guide to create an authentic 1920s flapper outfit or costume for your next event!
1. Flapper Style Dress
How did flappers dress in the 1920s? The flapper revolution started in the early twenties when dresses were still long. The short, slinky, flapper look was in full style by 1925. Flapper dresses were loose fitting slip-overs with short or long sleeves. A belt often accented the low waist (called a drop waist). Long pleats, pintucks, collars, and neckties exaggerated the long and lean fashion. The flapper costume (the term costume meant outfit in the ’20s) was meant for the young and thin, although mature women could also wear the style with ease with the help of some slimming lingerie. Look here for daytime flapper costumes.
Flapper evening dresses were designed to show as much skin as was morally acceptable. Exposing cleavage was still taboo, and for that matter even having a sizable chest was not in fashion (tape ’em down, girls). Bare backs were popular along with uneven “hanky” hemlines that exposed thighs while sitting down. Many flapper dresses were covered in beads or beaded fringe. The movement of fringe or tiers of fabric made dresses swish and jingle while dancing the Charleston. Dresses that made a sound as they moved attracted the attention that a flapper desired.
For your authentic flapper costume, choose a dress made of a light material like chiffon, silk/satin, or crepe. Be sure to wear a matching slip if the dress is sheer. Elaborate beading will make the dress stand out but also expensive, so if budget is a concern, find a plain dress and jazz it up with sparkling accessories. Your dress should be knee-length or longer for authenticity (but can be shorter for a 1920s inspired look). It should fit loose, meaning you may need to buy a size up. It should not hug your curves.
- Shop for new 1920s flapper dresses here. For plus sizes, go here. And for customers in the UK, here. If you need a cheap flapper dress (most under $100), look at these flapper costumes.
- Learn how to make a 1920s style costume from new or thrift store clothing.
- Sew a 1920s dress starting with one of these patterns.
- If you don’t want to wear a dress, consider one of the non-flapper outfits.
The next most important part of dressing like a flapper is the shoes. While you can pair a plain set of black heeled pumps and be accurate to the decade, you will look even more smashing if you wear a pair of Mary Janes (one center strap) or T-strap heels. Dainty T-strap shoes in gold, silver or black were all the rage for eveningwear. Sometimes, black shoes had gold heels and crystals on the buckles.
Other styles of shoes to consider are multi-strap low heel shoes. Avoid ultra thin heels (no stilettos) and shoes with an open toe (like dress sandals). It is very important to be comfortable all night, so always break in a new pair of flapper shoes well before your event.
You can take a basic pair of pumps and jazz them up a little with paint and peel and stick rhinestones, or buy a new pair of 1920s style shoes (UK shoppers look here). Shop here for shoes in wide sizes and here for flat or low heel options.
Stockings are also very important to wear with your flapper costume. Women did not go out in bare legs, although their stockings made them look like they were. Black stockings were common for day wear, but for evenings, nude stockings that were one shade darker than natural color was standard. When pastel color dresses (pink, jade green, powder blue, peach, violet, yellow) became common in the mid ’20s, stockings were made to match.
All stockings were thigh high and held up with garters or rolled down with the help of a garter roll (an elastic band). They also had light seams down the back and reinforced heels. These are not easy to find today nor necessary, since your thighs will be covered up. Any modern pair of nude, pastel, or seamed nylons or tights will work fine with your costumes. Fishnet tights were only worn by showgirls, so unless that is the character you want to portray, don’t wear them.
Flapper Outfit: Hair Accessories
One of the most fun accessories a flapper outfit needs is a headband. Headbands that wrap around the head, forehead bands that wrap around the forehead, ornate hair combs, tiara crowns, and tight-fitting skull caps were all beautiful hair accessories. They could be a simple ribbon or much fancier crystal and rhinestone band or comb. Feathers were popular springing up from a clip or headband either to one side or smack dab in the center of the forehead. One very simple decoration is to wrap strands of white peals or gold beads around the hair. The variations are endless, so be adventurous and pick an accessory that you love.
Flapper Costume Jewelry
1920s flapper jewelry was minimal and simple compared to earlier decades. It wasn’t necessary to wear any if a dress or other accessories were already elaborate. Choosing to add some bling to a simple dress (such as the black dress in the infographic above) is a good idea. The iconic necklace of the 1920s is the long pearl necklace. Women wore it as one strand, multiple strands of various lengths and even cascaded down the back instead of the front. A beaded tassel necklace or short Art Deco style bib necklace are other styles to consider.
For bracelets, look for thick bangles in gold or colored plastic. If you can fit one up around your bicep then you will be really in fashion! Any design with snakes, pharaohs, cats, and other Egyptian icons were very popular.
Earrings were long dangling drop styles with gems in very Art Deco colors such as green, black, red, and crystal clear. Gem shapes were geometric square, rectangle, triangle, and square edge ovals. Dainty was out, BOLD was in. The long length drew attention to a woman’s face and ears. Studs were worn, too, although they were big and colorful gems — not little ones like we wear today.
I find the best jewelry at the cheapest jewelry stores, like Claire’s, ICING, Forever 21, and my grocery store. Right now, ’20s styles are hot fashion, so they are easy to find.
Your costume can be completed now, or you can have a little more fun and add some more accessories.
- A large fluffy feather fan is both sexy and a portable air conditioner for hot nights.
- Long back or white gloves were almost always worn to and from events but removed before eating, drinking and smoking. For faux smokers, the long cigarette holder is a glamorous accessory.
- A small bead or mesh purse is all you need to carry a little cash and some makeup.
- An elaborately embroidered shawl or warm faux fur wrap will keep your arms covered and add that extra bit of wow! A feather boa is a popular and fun accessory, too, albeit historically inaccurate. Learn about how to wear a shawl or scarf in a 1920s style.
- Carrying a flask tucked into a garter belt will make a great conversation starter.
Flapper Hair and Makeup
Learning to style your hair into a bob or faux bob will take your look back to the roaring twenties. Take a look at the history of 1920s hairstyles for ideas. If styling hair isn’t your thing, consider wearing a flapper wig.
For makeup, you can learn some history or replicate an authentic 1920s look with this tutorial. There are plenty of YouTube hair and makeup tutorials to learn from. Most are 1920s inspired, not authentic looks. Go with whatever you like best. After all, it is your event, your costume, and your chance to recreate your ’20s flapper costume!
Best wishes on your flapper costuming. If you need costuming help feel free to contact me anytime!