Now that we have delved into the fabulous world of 1920s dress history, it is time we let the real fun begin and buy (or make) our very own 1920s dress. There are tons of special events, themed parties, dances, history tours, Art Deco societies, theatrical performances and “just because” events to dress up for. NO EXCUSES! You will find a reason and if you can’t find one make one up and get some friends involved.
Buying Vintage 1920s Dresses & Clothing
Vintage 1920s clothing is the best and the worst to wear. Nothing compares to the delicate fabric against your skin, quality of craftsmanship, or the embellishment that went into real 1920s dresses. They are a delight to wear IF you treat them well. They are prone to tears and snags, stains, and disintegration. Wear them to low key events, make no sudden moves, and stay away from food and wine to make them last longer. Don’t refuse to wear them just because you want to preserve it. To quote a friend, “It will either die on a hanger or die on me. I rather it dies on me.”
There are far too many vintage online shops to recommend. These are just a few of my favorites:
- Etsy.com or eBay.com – The two largest websites for selling vintage clothing. The trick to bargain shopping is your keywords. Search for “flapper” “Gatsby” “twenties” “Downton Abbey” “boardwalk empire” to find more results. You can also source through just “vintage dress” or “antique dress” and maybe find a hidden gem. Be careful of anything with the words “style” or “inspired” in the title because it may not be genuine vintage.
- Vintage Textile – Very stunning mostly formal gowns from the ’20s and ’30s with price tags to match. Also, quality vintage at reasonable prices can be found at Past Perfect Vintage.
- Vintage Vixen Clothing – Antique clothing under $100. A diverse assortment of dresses and underpinnings.
- 1860-1960 – More beautiful vintage pieces sold on her website and eBay store.
- Facebook’s 20s marketplace – A new source to find 1920s and 1930s vintage clothing. Buy direct from the seller or their Etsy store. The 1920s-1930s Costume support group is a great place to ask questions and get help with your look, especially if you sew.
Buying vintage online can be tricky. Buying for the 1920s can be even trickier when it comes to sizing. Be sure to measure yourself (bust, mid waist, low waist, hips, thighs, center neck to tailbone) and then add a few inches. 1920s clothing was loose and straight. If you buy for your exact measurements the garment won’t fit like a 20s dress should (too form-fitting). Whatever your largest measurement is, be sure your dress will fit that and then some.
1920s Day Dresses
- 1920s daywear is the most tricky to find in person or online.
- Wardrobe Shop – Carries Nataya brand dresses that are loosely based on vintage originals that are sheer and romantic. They are excellent for 1910 to early ’20s dresses, especially for weddings and afternoon teas.
- LaVieDelight on Etsy.com – These simple dresses are ideal for day wear. No beading, no fringe, no embellishment just pretty, classy, authentic, and made to order. Ask if you need a plus size or modification (adding sleeves, longer hem, etc.)
- I enjoy making my own 1920s costume from thrift store finds. It is usually the best way to create a 1920s day look.
- I also shop for new/modern dresses with an overall 1920s look. Read how here.
- 1970s-1980s does 1920s dresses are another option if they have drop waists or soft layers of chiffon.
1920s Evening Dresses
Most reproduction dresses are not day dresses, but rather formal evening wear. Heavily beaded and fringed, there are only two countries that still have the equipment to manufacture beaded gowns.
- Unique-Vintage dresses have a flapper feel with fringe, beads, and embroidery. I link to many of these vintage reproduction dresses here.
- Evening wear sections of department stores, such as Nordstrom, are also excellent sources of beaded or chiffon gowns. Pisarro Nights is a favorite.
- In Canada try Hudson Bay for Papell, Alex Evenings and J Kara brands.
- Deco Haus – Formerly called Leluxe Clothing, they have exquisitely beaded dresses.
- Wardrobe Shop – Carries Nataya brand dresses that are loosely based on vintage originals that are sheer and romantic. They now have beaded and sequin flapper and evening gowns plus accessories.
- UK shoppers can find repro dresses at Revival-Retro or on my dedicated UK page.
- AU / NZ shoppers can find them at Vintage Now or on this page. Also in Australia, Bloomingdales has many designer brands that often have a ’20s style.
- Some 1950s vintage drop waist dresses and beaded dresses have a 1920s vibe. 1970s-1980s does 1920s dresses are another option (sequins, beading, drop waists.)
Where NOT to buy 1920s dresses
Almost just as important as where to buy good quality 20s dresses, is where NOT to buy them. There are a handful of Chinese manufacturing companies directly selling knock-off designs, using stolen imagery, and shipping low-quality costume dresses or worse- shipping something entirely different that what was ordered. I don’t want to link to them here but here are some hints of how to identify them:
- Very low prices. “Too good to be true” pricing is a red flag for a scam.
- Photos of varying qualities and styling, usually with the models head cut-off. A good brand will have their own photos with consistent styling.
- Ships from outside the USA/UK/AU If they offer DHL shipping that is a red flag. If shipping takes longer than 3-5 days, that is a red flag.
- Return shipping is not free or does not ship back to the USA/UK/AU addresses.
- No phone number and business address, only an email dresses or contact form. Beware some brands are now using a UK address and phone number to disguise their origins.
- Accepts only Paypal payments. Paypal will not protect you in the event you receive a wrong item. Only use your Credit Card to buy online.
- Facebook ads. Unfortunately most brands using Facebook to advertise are scam companies. Not all, but far too many.
- Glowing reviews that are worded badly, very generic, or are very similar to other reviews. Look for reviews off the brand’s website with photos of a full body and face shot. You can right click and “search google for this image” to see if its been stolen.
- Brands with “Chic” ” Rose” “Gal” “Stage” “Lily” and “She” “Zu” “Wish” in the name are usually scam sites.
Did you fall for one of these sites? While some people have good purchase experiences, most do not. Companies will not respond to your requests for return or refund, or make it very difficult and expensive to do so. If you paid by Credit Card, contact your bank to send a chargeback request.
What about Amazon?
Legit Chinese manufacturing companies will sell their designs on Amazon or eBay. The nice thing about Amazon is that if you choose a product with good reviews, available to ship via Prime, and has it’s own size chart-your chance of buying an affordable dress is very good. Amazon makes it easy to return items too.
Avoid any reseller that ships directly, especially with a long shipping window. Metme, VIVJ, PrettyGuide, Babeyond are the known reliable Amazon brands (only when purchased on Amazon, not their own websites.) Avoid anyone else with a funny name/random letters as a “Brand.”
If you have any doubt about a brand before buying, feel free to ask me to review it or find the same product on a good website. I only link to good, reliable brands online and Amazon.
Sewing a 1920s Dress
If you have sewing skills, then, by all means, make yourself a dress. Most vintage sewers are surprised by how easy ’20s dresses are to make. The only difficulty is in your pattern. If you choose a vintage original pattern you probably will not get any directions with it. You will have an assortment of pieces to stick together and you will have to hope they turn out right. It is a challenge, but well worth it in the end. You can also get 1920s reproduction dress patterns that have complete instructions (thank you!).
Personally, I am a lazy sewer (lacking time is more like it ever since the little dancers were born), so I prefer to either mock-up my own dresses or find a modern pattern at the fabric store and modify it. Look for the shape of your inspiration dress. The line drawings on the back of the envelope will tell you more about a dress pattern than the photo. Straight or shift dresses can work great. See the dress I made using a modern pattern. And all these One Hour dresses made by fans.
Vintage Inspired 1920s Style Dresses
When I first started out in costuming, I couldn’t afford vintage or reproduction dresses, nor did I have the time to dedicate to sewing dresses for myself. So I went shopping locally for vintage style dresses that looked ’20s as is or just needed a little modifying. Thrift stores and my local mall were my best friend (see eight dresses I made from new and thrift stores, and 12 more Downton Abbey inspired outfits). Years later, I still shop local, but I love the online selection even better. I have several shop pages dedicated to ’20s dresses. I handpick each item for their resemblance to the fashion, materials and appeal to our more modern sensibilities. Some are reproduction dresses while others are more “costume” like. If you look and don’t find what you like, feel free to contact me anytime and I will do a custom search for you.
- 1920s Dresses – For day or night. A mix of ’20s inspired dresses.
- 1920s Day dresses – No beads, just beautiful light fabrics for tea and garden parties.
- 1920s Flapper or Gatsby Dresses – Beading, fringe, feathers, and shorter length dresses.
- 1920s Plus Size Dresses – Beautiful dresses in a full range of sizes.
- 1920s Formal Dresses – History of 1920s formal gowns and more elegant dresses to choose from.
- 1920s Downton Abbey Dresses – Long and short gowns in the early 20s styles loved by fans of Downton Abbey.
- 1920s Costumes – Cheaper Halloween costumes in the 20s theme. Many fringe flapper dresses here.
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.