Holiday parties, galas, dinners, and winter balls have begun and with it a plethora of questions about how to accessorize a vintage evening gown or party dress. What shoes should I wear? Does my jewelry need to match my accessories? What can I cover my arms with? All of these questions have crossed my inbox about various decades 1920s to the 1950s and beyond. Surprisingly the answer about how to accessorize for the 1920s isn’t too different than the 1970s, nor are the 1930s different than the 1950s. Classic vintage evening glamour is timeless yet the right accessories can transport you back in time.
Let me show you the history as well as how I would accessorize vintage evening dresses in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s using both vintage and new pieces from my collection.
1920s Evening Dress Accessories
The roaring 20s flapper look was an eveningwear style. Beaded dresses paired with strapped closed toes heels, long gloves, long pearl necklace, and a headband. It is an iconic look yet not exactly how most formal gowns looked. For a very elegant evening party the formal dress and accessories might look a little more like these:
As you can see the headband was an option but was not the most common. A long necklace was popular but so were arm bagels, drop earrings, and big feather fans. Accessories didn’t need to match the dress although they usually color coordinated with at least one other accessory. Here are some more authentic evening accessories to consider:
- Hairstyles: Short rolls on the sides, a chignon (bun) in the back with the front waved, all over marcel waves or slicked back and very short cropped hair.
- Hair Accessories: A headband across the forehead, tiara, hair comb or feather in a chignon. Shop hair accessories.
- Gloves: Long, over the elbow in white, matching the dress, or black for dark dresses. Notice the women in the pictures above were not wearing gloves. Gloves were removed at a party because eating would take place. Shop gloves.
- Shoes: Mary Jane, T-strap, and simple no-strap pumps with a 2-3 inch height. If you can’t wear heels a strappy flat or pointy toe ballet slipper is acceptable. Choose black for dark colors and silver, gold or matching pastels for light color dresses. Shop shoes.
- Stockings: Colored stockings to match the dress or white for lighter colors and black for dark dresses with back seams. Sheer nude was also an option in the later years. Never fishnets! Shop stockings.
- Wraps: A fluffy feather boa was one flirty accessory. So were fur shawls draped around the back and arms. Velvet and fringe trimmed scarf coats and wraps were the most elegant way to cover up arms for the evening. Shops wraps.
- Bags: 1920s evening bags were beaded pouches with a long drawstring handle. Beaded, metal mesh or embroidered frame top bags were other options. They were small, only big enough to hold some makeup and coins. For your bag be sure to pick something big enough to hold your keys, ID, lipstick and cell phone. Shop bags.
- Jewelry: Necklace: A long bead necklace in a contrasting color to the dress, long bead or gold tassel necklace, or short chunky bead or pearl necklace. Bracelet: Arm bangles around the mid-arm or a gold snake cuff around the bicep is a unique 20s style inspired by Egyptian queens. Bangels were thick cuffs- they did not jingle around the wrist- push them up! Earrings: Short hair exposed long drop earrings in rich jewel tones or black gems set in silver, bronze or gold. Shop jewelry.
- Other Accessories: Fan – Large ostrich feather fans were dramatic accessories. A small feather fan will be easier to find and still give the same 20s look. Cigarette holder– Jewel studded or long black cigarette holders were a fashionable way to do an un-ladylike thing- smoke cigarettes. A flask was another taboo accessory. Shop accessories.
1930s Evening Dress Accessories
The golden age of Hollywood turned up the evening glamour in the 1930s. Sleek bias cut evening gowns made of satin, lace, velvet or silk were accented with sparkling white paste jewelry and silver dancing shoes. They were topped with long fur coats or capes. In Hollywood, the look was an over the top dramatic show but at home, simplicity was affordably elegant. Look at these ’30s gowns:
For your 1930s evening attire consider just one or two accessories. Let the gown speak for itself with:
- Hairstyles: Marcel waves in the early 30s moved into full curly styles with hair brushed to the back or sides in the middle years and then gathered up to the crown in the late 30s. Keeping hair off the face but framed at the sides was the goal.
- Hair Accessories: A pretty rhinestone hair clip in a star, moon or sunburst shape was trendy for a few years. Hair combs or bobby pins held hair back on the sides.
- Gloves: Optional. Black, white or a color matching dresses that fit loose and came up to the mid-arm. Wear one or many bracelet over the glove if you expect to leave them on for a long time. Shop gloves.
- Shoes: Mary Jane, T-strap, silver sparkling heels with 2-3 inch height. Wide strap sandals in silver, white or black came in vogue at the end of the decades. Avoid open toe sandals. Shop shoes.
- Stockings: Sheer nude back seam stockings. Shop stockings.
- Wraps: For Old Hollywood glam bring out the huge white fur wraps. Short or long metallic, satin, or velvet capes will also keep your arms covered elegantly. Shop wraps.
- Bags: A rectangle flat clutch bag in smooth satin or velvet or small purses covered in beading adds a hint of richness and will hold your necessities with grace. Shop bags.
- Jewelry: Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle! Small white paste and rhinestone earrings. Thin sparkle, pearl or glass bead high necklace. Sparkle brooch on the shoulder or as a belt buckle. Bracelets were the most important. Big, chunky cuffs, multiple bead bracelets, and silver or gold thick bangles fit tightly around the wrist and low arm. Rhinestone tennis bracelets were a smaller yet elegant bracelet style. Shop jewelry.
1940s Formal Dress Accessories
The 1940s were a time when evening events were infrequent during and shortly after the war years. Cocktail attire was acceptable to dinner, dancing and house parties. For those that did attend fancy affairs, the slinky bias cut gown was replaced by either the modest column gown or full-skirted ballgown like these:
Accessories worn in the 1930s were still used well into the 1940s. New jewelry styles were bigger and bolder. Coats and capes were replaced by fur wraps and long gloves returned in jewel tone colors. Other accessories were:
- Hairstyles: Small Victory rolls or waving on top with a gathered chignon effect in the center back. The hair was kept away from the face with minimal height. Long hair could be gathered all back or half back and hung down in big dramatic curls/waves.
- Hair Accessories: None were needed. Hair combs under a chignon, big bows on top, or hair flowers clipped to one side were pretty embellishments. Consider gardenia, roses, and orchid flowers or a poinsettia at Christmas. Shop hair accessories.
- Gloves: Optional. Black, white or a bold color that matches another accessory. They should be long and ruched (gathers). Fingerless gloves made it possible to keep them on all night. Shop gloves.
- Shoes: Evening sandals, peep toe heels, ankle strap heels, or slingback heels in black. Lighter color gowns could also have matching shoes. Shop shoes.
- Stockings: Black back seam stockings were worn with most colors of dresses. Nude for lighter dress colors and light shoes. Shop stockings.
- Wraps: Wealthy women had a long fur wrap hung across the arms or shoulders. Grey, brown and natural fur colors were preferred over white or black dyed furs. Shop wraps.
- Bags: A rectangle flat envelope clutch remained a classic although bigger than the dainty 30s styles. The round pouch bag with short drawstring or fabric handle returned as well. Shop bags.
- Jewelry: Sparkle was still in and it was bigger, bolder, more dramatic and cheaper. Fake jewelry made it affordable to wear big bib necklaces, multi-strand pearl chokers (with a big brooch in the center) or large pendant necklaces. Colored gems were in style as well as classic clear/white stones. Gold settings became the preferred jewelry in the later years. Earrings were large clip-on that coordinated with the necklace. Big bracelets gradually were replaced by simple, single, tennis bracelets in gold. Big brooches could be clipped to dress straps or a large flower corsage instead. Shop 1940s Jewelry.
1950s Evening Dress Accessories
While the 40s favored big gaudy jewelry in miss match colors the 50s turned back to refined Parisian romanticism. The ballgown grew bigger with strapless tops. Tulle fabrics made them look like ballerinas. The column dress shaped the body more and had lowever V neck tops. The simple black velvet or satin long wiggle dress is back in style now for a sexy vixen 50s look:
1950s formal accessories turned to black and white as the base for every gown. Pearls returned as an elegant and sophisticated jewelry for even the simplest of gowns. Most gowns were not simple so accessories had to be as big as the gowns. They stood out on their own in both beauty and drama.
- Hairstyles: Short was in so hair had limited evening looks. Center parted, partially slicked back or full and fluffy for shorter hairstyles. Long hair was pulled in a sleek chignon at the nape.
- Hair Accessories: None were needed. A tiara made a brief comeback with big ballgowns. Small sparkly bobby pins accented some short styles. Shop hair accessories.
- Gloves: Over the elbow or just under the elbow long ruched or smooth satin gloves in black or white. Some gloves matched gown colors. The short wrist glove was an option with light spring dresses. Shop gloves.
- Shoes: Satin pumps in colors to match the dress with short thin kitten heels. Open toe mules or slingbacks with tall stiletto heels were for the brave woman. Shop shoes.
- Stockings: Black or nude stockings. Fancy heels designs are fun but not visible under a long dress. Shop stockings.
- Wraps: Large wraps/shawls made of the same fabric as the gown were slung around the shoulders or draped across the arms. Tulle wraps were pretty but impractical for warmth. The black velvet bolero jacket was briefly in style providing an opportunity to cover arms completely. Shop wraps.
- Bags: Beaded, embellished or rich fabric ruched envelope or clamshell frame bags. The box bag in silver or gold looked like simple jewelry boxes. They were small and delicate. Shop bags.
- Jewelry: Sparkle remained queen in the bib, drop or statement necklace style with matching button or drop earrings. Pearls, single or multi-stand, placed high on the neck with matching stud or small drop pearl earrings. Gold jewelry with ornate cravings came into vogue by the mid to late 50s. Chunky bracelets were worn only if gloves were not. Colored gems could be worn when they matched the dress perfectly. Shop jewelry.
- Other Accessories: A lace or paper fan gave a nod back to the Victorian era.
Gold jewelry, pearls and long white gloves maintained evening wear status in the 1960s. The late 60s and 70s returned to the roaring twenties with long bead necklaces and arm bangles. And that concludes this look at formal and evening wear accessories.