How to recreate a 1920s look – part one: day wear

I have to admit I’m rather disappointed that so many Twenties or Prohibition events I go to are full of people dressed in cheap joke shop flapper costumes, paper mache gangster hats and such voluminous feather head pieces they look more Pocahontas than Clara Bow. I’m not quite sure where this mis-representation of Twenties fashion comes from but I guess with Boardwalk Empire (which I love by the way) propelling the look into the mainstream, things are only set to get worse.

So here’s my guide to doing the Twenties – Part 1: Day Wear

There is a real misconception that in the Twenties dresses were ridiculously short. They were in comparison to the previous Edwardian fashion where the mere sight of a woman’s ankle was considered positively scandalous. For most of the Twenties however, hem lines were just below the knee, apart from a brief period in the mid-Twenties when some skirts and dresses came in just above the knee.

During the Twenties the preferred silhouette was boyish and straight up and down without emphasising the female shape. This made corsets redundant and women were, for the first time, able to not wear very restricting shape wear. Instead, simple, taylored dresses or a combination of skirts with matching blouses or knitted tops – often in a drop-waist cut – were worn during the day. The colour palette was simple: black, grey, navy, white and  art deco prints inspired by geometrical shapes or flower patterns were in fashion.

Dressing during the Twenties was relatively formal compared to today’s standard and women would wear hats whenever leaving the house, as well as a matching coat and gloves during winter. Cloche hats and turbans were very popular, so were elaborate fur stoles and coat trimmings.

Shoes were kept simple and most women would wear brown or black T-bars or low-heels.

Hair was kept fairly simple during the day with many women opting for the easy to maintain bob cut, revolutionary for its time. Otherwise women would set their hair in finger or Marcel waves or would have tight curls that would peep out below their hats.

Make-up was strong, even during the day, with visibly painted on, thin eye brows, black kohled eyes and deep red lips. During the day jewellery and accessories would be kept to a minimum and women would rarely wear any accessories at all apart from the popular string of white pearls or a simple clutch bag.

Recreating the Twenties look with vintage is do-able but good condition clothing is both expensive and hard to find. A good starting point is Etsy.com.
These online vintage shops also all stock Twenties fashion:

Dorothea’s Vintage Fashion
Posh Girl Vintage
Past Perfect Vintage

It’s far cheaper however to recreate the Twenties style with highstreet or reproduction clothing. Clarks for example do a great range of T-bar shoes, Heyday Vintage has some fantastic art deco inspired blouses (pictured) and The Vintage Dressmaker offers a collection of bespoke Twenties day dresses.

Next time: evening wear

12 responses to “How to recreate a 1920s look – part one: day wear

  1. Nice post with some great photos! I know what you mean about the “fancy dress” element – I see it sometimes at the 1920s events I sing at – but maybe it’s just a lack of resources for reference? I’m sure this article will help! Look forward to the next instalment.

  2. ich finde die zwanziger auch total faszinierend. ich glaube, in der mode gefallen mir die topfhüte am besten, weil sie so ein ganz spezielles aussehen geben.

  3. Lena…incredible words! I’ll share across the pond! Thank you!

  4. I must say I am wary of 20s daywear because my figure is simply WRONG for it (I’ve worn vintage 20s for performance work: anything fitting at the bust, hips and bum was much to big elsewhere)- torment, as the solution would be a girdle (and you can’t dance or stage-fight in a girdle making it impossible for the tour).
    I cheat the look now with seperates, typically a pencilskirt with a tunic top, gathered (ties or elastic) under the bum. Add a hat and a long necklace (avoid cheap beads and feathers to dodge the fancy-dress factor) and it kinda works!
    But if at all possible, I copy a slightly empire-line Poiret evening style as it’s easier to style and can be cheated with a Monsoon gown!

    • Hey Perdita, I know exactly what you mean, I’m far too curvacious for the boyish 20s cuts too, which is why I tend to mostly avoid the decade.
      I totally agree with you, separates are a really good way around it and the empire-line works wonders. I’ve borrowed a 20s dress from a friend of mine to wear to fashion week today (images to follow!) and it has an interesting cut which fits very loose on top – perfect for me and my, er boobs. Again as you said, throwing on a hat really makes the outfit!

  5. I’ve had great luck finding 20s patterns, both original & reproduction, which means less worry about how frgile the outift may be. EBAY & ESTY are great sources for these, too!

  6. This is just one of my favourite eras for fashion. Loved reading this post!

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