Get the 1920s flapper look
If you really want to get that authentic 1920s flapper look, you could start by absorbing a little of the style and spirit of the age. Then you can achieve the look from what’s in your wardrobe or what you can get your hands on from modern retailers, charity shops, vintage stores and fairs, or even friends and family. All you need is a bit of imagination and you could turn what you have into the definitive 1920s flapper style.
The 1920s spirit of the age
The 1920s was a time of great social change for women. They truly entered the modern era with a bang, brought on by the social and political changes following World War 1 and the fast-paced age of technology: the motorcar; aviation; radio; electricity and water in the home; modern architecture. Women got the vote, were becoming financially independent, went out to work, went on unchaperoned dates with men they barely new (oh my!), wore excessive make-up, smoked, got drunk and went to parties and the movies….the list is endless. Women aspired to look and act like their icons Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Josephine Baker and flapper diva Zelda Fitzgerald. This engaging video sums it up in 6 minutes.
Now it’s time to get the look.
The dress shape that defined a decade can be summed up as knee-length, dropped waist-line, sleeveless or v-shaped front and back. Showing skin top and bottom but keeping the torso covered.
Common defining features of 1920s flapper dresses include: beads, sequins, lace, fringes, chiffon, satin, flowers, shiny and shimmery fabric, uneven hemlines, peter pan collars. Take your pick.
If you already have a dress that has no defined waist, it might be a good shape to start the look. Check out your lingerie as sometimes an under-slip will get the look you want. Get your petticoats out ladies and give it a try. You can create a dropped waist by tying a scarf around your hips.
1920s dresses were purposely shaped to hide womanly curves. So, then, it doesn’t matter what body shape you are. The right straight-waisted dress will give you the 1920s boyish figure you need to pull off the look. Throw away your pushup bra for this look, you want a flat chest or uni-bust look, no cleavage, no lifting or separating the boobies here. Let your decolletage be the star of the show instead.
This is perhaps the hardest thing to get right but, if you do, it will complete the look for you. Ladies, I’m sorry to say that stilettos had not yet been invented in the 1920s. Wearing them will spoil the look. But if that’s all you have then try to wear heels that have a round closed toe and a t-bar strap or buckle.
If you are wearing heels, try to wear a medium heel that is chunky. 1920s flapper shoes were made for dancing and you simply cannot do the Charleston dance in a pair of slingback peep-toe stilettos. If you want to get the look, find some Mary Jane shoes with a t-bar buckle. Anything that looks like a tap shoe will be great. You’ll be the ‘cat’s pyjamas’ as the flapper girls say.
If you are really stuck go for a two-tone shoe with a round toe and medium heel.
Hats and headbands
If you’re going to recreate the 1920s flapper look, you need to get a hat or headband. The cloche hat is the one to get the detail right. However, a wide-brimmed hat that comes down over your brow-line should look the part.
A close-fitting beaded/crocheted skullcap will also look authentic. It kind of fits like a swimming cap and will cover your skull down to the nape of the neck. The great thing about finding a hat or cap that works is that you don’t have to worry about getting the right hairstyle, just pin your hair back or hide it all under all that hat.
Headbands are also a great and easy way to recreate the look. If you have a thin scarf or satin belt, tie it around your head just above your brow-line and knot it at the back or tuck in. Add a feather if you like, and you’re done. Also there are many beaded and sparkly headbands around today that you can slip over your hair that would look good with a 1920s outfit. Speaking of hair…
1920s flapper hairstyle
If you have a bob hairstyle already, congratulations, you are halfway towards creating the 1920s flapper look without even trying. However most of us don’t have that classic bob look to define the era.
It’s good to remember that many women were actually afraid to bob their hair in the 1920s. It was deemed a very drastic and unladylike look of the time despite being the height of fashion. To bob or not to bob was the big fashion dilemma of the decade. So, it is not too difficult to create a 1920s look without having your hair cut.
You could go for a bob wig. You can get one cheap at Amazon.
If your hair is long, try a chignon. This means creating a low ponytail at the nape of your neck and twisting the hair around into a bun shape that you can pin in place. You can wear a headband with this look as long as the bun is low enough on the head.
Alternatively, you can slick back your hair to recreate the look of Josephine Baker (see pic below) and push the hair into waves or kiss-curls around the hairline using gel or hairspray and your fingers. This is also possible if your hair is short. This short style was known as the ‘Eton crop’. Find more photos of 1920s bob style here.
Another easy way to style it is to gather your hair back into a low ponytail with your hands. Roll and tuck the hair under itself or over itself and pin or clasp it into place. The hair will fall into the general shape of a bob and the pinned hair will blend into the shape you have created. Some hairspray will help to keep it from falling out.
If you’re not sure, wear a hat and hide your hair altogether:
Authentic finishing touches to 1920s dress style
Stockings: roll down your stockings to just-below-the-knee. This is a defining look for the true flapper girl of the 1920s. You could find over-the-knee socks that will have a similar effect if you roll them down a little.
Scarf: long and skinny with some fringing or a long feather boa to wrap around you. Either is quintessential 1920s flapper style.
Gloves: long satin or velvet well-fitting gloves will complete an authentic flapper look.
String of pearls: the longer, the better – or wear several beaded strings of different lengths at once. If not pearls then a simple long string of beads will create a similar look. No dainty necklaces here. If you don’t have beads, try a chunky diamanté necklace or a long skinny scarf wrapped once around your neck and left to hang down.
Make-up: define your eyebrows dramatically with a dark eyebrow pencil, lots of kohl eyeliner around the eyes and steely grey eyeshadow. Lipstick is a must, draw rosebud lips emphasising the cupid’s bow (two peaks on your top lip and the bow of your bottom lip) to create the silent movie star look. Go for dramatic red or a dark shade, this is not a time for glossy peachy-coloured lipstick.
But what about the men?
And for the men?
It’s easy. Think Great Gatsby, slim suits with jazzy silk bow-tie. Think Jimmy Cagney Prohibition gangster-style suits with pinstripe, fedora hat or slicked-back hair, spats or two-tone shoes, waistcoat, watch chain in the pocket. For for a more casual look, think light linen suit or trousers, cricket jumper or tank top, Argyle diamond-patterned jumper or white vest and braces. Try an Art Deco style wide silk tie. This Great Gatsby (2012) trailer might help.
For a daytime look: hip length jumpers and cardigans with a box-pleated skirt. Think Debbie Reynolds in Singing In The Rain.
Androgenous: men’s tailoring, trousers, suit with a slick Eton crop and dramatic lipstick.
Exotic: art deco shawl with geometric design or quirky illustration, Egyptian or Eastern designs with harem pants or long flowing chiffon dress.