Are you ready to do some time traveling back to the 1920s? For now, you may have to be content to travel by attending a 1920s party or special event. Someday, we may have the ability to travel back through time. You will want to start preparing for your trip now so that you can be one of the first onboard.
I will share with you what men’s fashions were hot in this post. While you may think that all women’s fashions revolved around the flapper dress, that is not the case. Therefore, I will show you what other styles women wore during the 1920s.
I will also share some thoughts about famous 1920s movies, like The Great Gatsby, and what they got right and wrong.
At the end of this post, you will find precise recommendations to help you put together 1920s fashions for your next themed event.
Let’s jump right in!
Be quick about getting dressed as you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Be thankful that you do not have to put on all the layers of the previous decades. If you do not know what to wear, keep reading as we explore fashion in the 1920s.
What was the fashion style in the 1920s?
Women won the right to vote in 1920, but they also voted in their own homes to ditch the formality of the many layers of clothes that they wore in their own homes and out in public. Styles became progressively shorter throughout the decade, and preferred fabrics also became lighter.
Coco Chanel and other designers led the way as waistlines began to drop in 1923. At the same time, hemlines started to rise in 1926. Two years later, waistlines began to rise again. Simplicity was vital throughout the decade for both eveningwear and daywear. Housewives sewed many clothes with seamstresses, often spending hours sewing beads, fancy embroidery, and sequins on dresses for special occasions.
While men had started wearing sportswear starting in the 1870s, women joined them after former tennis players Jane Régny, and Jean Patou opened fashion stores. Most designers created sportswear for very special sports, like tennis which was growing immensely in popularity. Chanel introduced sportswear that women could wear on more generic occasions.
Of course, people often remember the 1920s for the flapper dress. Instead of first applying to a dress, newscasters first used to a group of women who fought hard for women’s independence with many loving to party. Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Jean Patou popularized the dress loosely based on a man’s work shirt, but I will have more to say about this style later in this post. They did not use nearly as many decorations as often pictured. More decorated flapper dresses would not occur for another 40 years.
Changes also occurred in menswear. Prohibition officially started on January 17, 1920, so men wore casual suits, often with colorful accessories to jazz clubs, while watching elaborate floor shows.
Why was fashion important in the 1920s?
The 1920s saw a relaxation of many social rules as the world was still reeling from the aftereffects of World War I, which ended on December 5, 1918. Things that many thought were critical before the war no longer seemed as important. Almost everyone was happy during the era, and it was reflected in the clothes they chose to wear.
Along with women gaining the right to vote came a new sense of individualism. Particularly in America, people found it easy to make a good living with the economy growing by 42% throughout the decade. While many people still made the majority of their wardrobe at home, ready-to-wear clothes were widely available for the first time. With money from their jobs, people were willing to spend it freely to get themselves and their loved ones the latest fashion trends.
It became much easier to stay abreast of the latest fashion trends during the 1920s, and people had the disposable income to follow those trends. Especially after Sears published their first catalog in 1925, people everywhere could see and get the latest fashions.
It was a decade of worldwide peace that was not yet affected by the rise of Adolf Hitler. During most of the decade, no one foresaw the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and people were willing to spend money on looking great.
History of men’s fashion in the 1920s
While you will read more about women’s fashion, men’s fashion changed quickly during the 1920s. One invention that came from this decade that men still enjoy today is the zipper fly-on pants. Men looked sharp in wool suits during the winter and cotton seersucker suits during the summer.
As men took their dates to jazz clubs, they wanted to look sharp, so they wore suits made of wool, mohair, and corduroy. These suits were single-or-double-breasted with three or four buttons up the front. Suit lapels were high. When suitcoats were buttoned, only a tiny part of the white dress shirt and necktie were visible.
These suits almost always had two large flap pockets. They were muted colors in the winter, but never black as it was reserved only for funerals. Lighter-colored cotton seersucker suits were popular during warmer months.
Regardless of the season, men wore full tuxedos at weddings and other special occasions. Regardless of the suit or tuxedo, men wore top hats that they tipped when the flag passed by or met a woman.
Trousers had a flat front or a single inverted pleat. Pants’ legs were narrow during the first half of the decade, but they became wider before the Roaring 20s were over. At the start of the decade, button-up flies were normal, but that changed to zippers by the end of the decade.
While men wore suits to jazz clubs and the movies, many blue-collar laborers did not wear them to work. Those working in mines, construction, and mechanics often wore dark navy coveralls and overalls. Men’s work shirts buttoned down the front and had one or two pockets.
I will have lots more to say about men’s fashion in the next chapter, so be sure to keep reading.
History of women’s fashion in the 1920s
Women refused to hide their bodies any longer under many layers of clothing during the 1920s. Changes came quickly to women’s fashion, from chemise or shift dress to the first black cocktail dress. While not initially embraced by everyone, hemlines came up to reveal women’s knees.
Initially introduced as outerwear on Paris’ runways in 1916, women started wearing chemise or shift dresses as their daily wardrobe and dropped wearing them as outerwear. These dresses hung straight down from the shoulders. The look was not flattering on everyone, so designers introduced empire waistlines as hemlines rose.
By the mid-1920s, flapper dresses were normal wear for evenings out. Elaborate beadwork inspired by Art Deco designs often covered the dresses, and some designers incorporated exotic materials, such as ostrich feathers, into their creations. These sleeveless dresses often had open backs, but they were still knee length.
In 1926, the first black cocktail dress appeared on the pages of Vogue magazine, where the editors dubbed it the Ford dress after the automobile that was becoming extremely popular. Coco Chanel designed the black frock for daytime wear, but Chanel soon designed numerous black evening dresses. The designer described her first dress as a simple design of modest materials.
An important fashion accessory for women during the 1920s was the cloche hat, and ladies wore them with almost every outfit. Manufacturers paid milliners to create these bell-shaped hats from felt that precisely matched their ready-to-wear clothing. Often, women attached specific-colored ribbons or ribbons with designs on them to deliver messages to all who saw them. A trendy choice was a ribbon with an arrow to indicate that a young lady was in a serious relationship.
I hope you are starting to get an idea of what you should bring along on the time machine as we travel back to the 1920s. Do not worry, however, if you still have questions. In the next chapter, I will help you expand your knowledge of what men wore during the 1920s, followed by a deeper look into what women wore.
Before taking off in our time machine, let’s dive deeper into 1920s men’s fashion. That way, you will have a better idea of what you should pack.
What did men wear in the 1920s?
Just like modern men, guys had lots of different items in their wardrobes, so they could choose what to wear based on where they were going. While many people sewed their clothes at home, ready-wear clothing became more popular as the years went on. This was especially true after 1925 when most homes received catalogs from major companies filled with the latest fashion.
Gone were the fears caused by World War I and the Pandemic of 1918, so people were happy and enjoyed spending time on fancier occasions. Since there was an excellent economy in most sectors, people could easily order the clothes they wanted. Almost no one foresaw the Great Wall Street Crash of 1929, so very few bothered to save sizeable sums.
20s Men’s Suits
Most suits were made from sheep’s wool, and it was heavier than what is used in men’s suits 100 years later. Compared to today’s suits, these coats laid much closer to the man’s sides. These heavy coats in a muted color had a rough texture. Usually, cotton sleeves were attached to the suit’s main body because it was more durable than wool, and the coat needed to last for a long time. Affluent men wore suits lined with silk. These suits had two or three buttons on the front. Compared to suitcoats in the 1910s, the buttons were lower. They also had high lapels, which men often folded up.
Haberdasher Joseph Haspel of New Orleans created his first cotton seersucker fabric in 1908. Still, it was not a popular choice until Princeton University students started wearing suits made of it in the early 1920s. Students often wore only a seersucker blazer, while professors often wore seersucker blazers and pants with a red tie. By the middle of the decade, these suits were available in many mail-order catalogs and became a summer staple.
Following their introduction by Prince of Wales and Lord Mountbatten, waistcoats became a popular option for formal dinners. A white tub coat was the first style to gain popularity, and it featured high-waisted cuffs and no points. Men could find single-and-double-breasted options. A backless model, which had only two straps across the back to hold the front in place, replaced the tub.
20s Men’s Shirts
When men fought in World War I, they were issued shirts with soft collars. At that time, shirts had removable collars so that people only had to wash the collar regularly. When these men came home, they were reluctant to switch back to stiff collars, but many CEOs insisted that soft collars made men look sloppy.
At the start of the decade, men wore stiff collars made of celluloid, rubber, or latex that could stand up to 3 in., 7.6 cm., tall. Instead of messing with them, many men opted for throw-away paper collars that they wore one time before tossing in the trash.
By about 1923, the pointed collar became normal daytime wear. Buttons helped hold these collars in place, but many men chose to wear collar bars as a safety measure. The wingtip collar was the standard for more formal occasions as it easily accommodated a bow tie.
Designers started attaching shirt collars to shirts beginning in the mid-1920s. These collars and the cuffs on shirts were always white for formal occasions. Shirts worn by the upper class were always striped, usually blue, burgundy, or yellow with white stripes. Only working men wore solid-colored shirts. This trend changed at the end of the decade, with white-and-pastel-colored shirts becoming acceptable in all classes.
20s Men’s Coats
Men’s coats during the 1920s followed those worn by the British military during World War I. These coats were lined only with silk, unlike earlier fur-lined coats. Most coats were dark blue, but you could find coats in other muted colors.
The most common winter coat was the Ulster coat, made from mohair, wool, or gabardine. It featured a half belt in the back, a wide lapel, and was double-breasted. Men could fold the notched lapels on this coat over each other to completely fasten out the cold.
When men needed a raincoat, they usually wore a rubber or oilcloth slicker. These types of coats featured metal frog buttons, flip-up corduroy collars, and oversized flap pockets. Black, olive green, and yellow were popular choices.
Many men also owned a trench coat featuring a wide center belt and two hip pockets. This gaberdine coat ended just below the man’s knees. A unique process, called cravenette, was used on some options to repel light rain.
While not as popular, some men also owned a Chesterfield coat with a velvet collar. These black coats ended about the man’s knees and buttoned down the front.
20s Men’s Trousers
Trouser styles changed very quickly for men during the 1920s. The decade started with men wearing jazz trousers. These flat-front pants had a button-fly closure, and button suspenders held them in place. They had skinny legs and could be solid or pinstriped.
Men playing golf first popularized knickerbockers, but they quickly made their way into society after the Prince of Wales visited America. These baggy pants fit at the natural waist, and they ballooned out around the thighs. Early options ended right below the knee with a buckle. By 1924, the buckle became a knit cuff because it was easier to tuck into tall socks. Soon, men could find different lengths in these pants, which became known as knickers, with the number after the knickers indicating the inches below the knee that the pants would come.
Officials at Oxford University banned students from wearing knickerbockers. Therefore, students came up with pants they called Oxford bags as a sign of protest. These pants that were typically made from flannel soon became popular across society. They were about 22 in., 56 cm., at the knee and approximately 25 in., 63.5 cm., across at the bottom.
20s Men’s Sweaters
As with many trends during the Roaring 20s, the Prince of Wales is responsible for introducing men’s sweaters to popular society. Heavy knit sweaters fashioned after anglers wore in Norway became immensely popular, and many wore them under raincoats. These sweaters could be a solid color or have two broad stripes across the chest. Wearing the colors of your favorite college was a popular trend. These sweaters were some of the first to have turtlenecks, which were initially called rolled collars.
While these turtleneck sweaters were the most popular option, men could choose other choices. Cardigan sweaters that button down the front were one popular option. These sweaters usually had a Shaker collar and wide ribbing at the cuffs and across the bottom.
Another option was the tennis sweater. These wool sweaters became especially popular after Bill Tilden sported them before and after his matches. Tennis sweaters pulled on over the head, and they had a V-neck that always had a striped. Additionally, most sweaters had two vertical stripes surrounding their ribbed bottom. These sweaters came in different weights and were worn by the world’s elite year-round.
Yet, another popular option, especially among the working class, was the Fair Isle sweater. These sweaters, first made on Fair Isle, which is part of the Shetland Islands, always used only two colors to create their knitted designs, which included crosses, diamonds, and eight-point stars. Color choices were red, blue, orange, brown, and purple. They had a V-neck, and people usually wore them over a shirt and tie.
20s Men’s Vests
Men wore vests with three-piece suits during the 1920s. The upper class wore matching vests in the first half of the decade, but men experienced more freedom to wear plaid or herringbone vests in the second half of the decade. Manufacturers usually used the same material to make the suitcoat’s jacket, trousers, and vest. Vests almost always had four to five buttons down their front.
Men of lower means also wore vests under their suitcoats. Ideally, their vests also matched their suitcoats, but that was not always the case in rural areas as many farmers were finding it difficult to make a living. Therefore, these men often wore vests that matched their suitcoat or trousers, but all three pieces did not match.
Guys wore a few sweater vests at the end of the decade, usually to casual affairs on college campuses. These vests usually pulled on over the head and often had bright stripes at the collar. In even fewer cases, they wore the sweater under a suitcoat.
20s Men’s Footwear
At the start of the decade, every man wore cap-toe boots that laced up the front and were either brown, gray, or black. Like earlier decades, many men continued to wear shoe splats. These pieces of felt-covered the instep and ankle, and they buttoned around the ankle. By the end of the decades, spats had dropped in popularity as other shoe styles grew in popularity.
One choice that became popular was oxfords. Like boos worn for the previous 40 years, these shoes had a cap toe, and it was difficult to tell if men were wearing boots or oxfords. While shoe companies tried to convince buyers that they wanted dusty brown oxfords, most men tended to stick with dark brown and black. By the end of the decade, some men had started to give up the cap toe, opting instead for a wingtip. While made initially in brown and black, two-colored wingtips became stylish, with many men preferring brown and white.
Chuck Taylor All-Star Converse shoes were introduced in 1917, and the concept of wearing tennis shoes when doing athletics grew throughout the 1920s. These shoes were usually white high tops, had crepe gum soles, and the manufacturer was designated by a circle on the ankle. While white was popular with college and high school students, older people often stuck with brown tennis shoes.
20s Men’s Hats
Noone would go anywhere without wearing a hat. They chose to wear white hats in the summer and darker colors in the winter, with hat styles varying by the season. Options included:
- Flat caps – Manufacturers made these caps with a short brim from eight panels joined in the middle where they put a button covered by the same material as the hat. They had a short brim.
- Straw boater – Sometimes called skimmer hats, these hats tightly woven cylindrical hats had about a 2 in., 5 cm., around their lower edge.
- Panama Hat – These summer straw hats had a brim that men could roll-up. The entire hat could be rolled up and stuck in a suitcoat pocket, making them a trendy option.
- Bowler hat – Sometimes called a derby hat, these hard hats had an oval shape, and milliners usually decorated them with Petersham ribbon.
- Homburg – These hats looked like bowlers, but they had a long crease down their middles.
- Fedoras – The wide brim on these hats was shaped downward in the front and back.
- Carlsbad – These wide and tall hats were often worn by working men.
20s Men’s Accessories
Bowties were a popular choice with men. As suits became more colorful, so did bowties, with men choosing polka dots, stripes, and geometric patterns. Men also wore neckties. Until the middle part of the decade, these ties were simply a piece of fabric sewed onto a piece of flannel. In 1925, Jesse Langsdorf designed a necktie of three pieces of cloth that folded onto each other, and the modern necktie was born.
Men crisply folded silk pocket squares that matched their tie and wore them in their suitcoat pocket. Alternatively, white silk pocket squares were sometimes used to match the collar on the man’s shirt.
Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, Andy Warhol, and Gary Cooper wore Cartier Tank watches on the big screen, and every man wanted one of these watches. Another trendy option was the Rolex Oyster, and the Oyster was the first waterproof watch worn by the masses.
Men rejected gloves that they had seen as stylish only a decade before, during the 1920s. Instead, the upper class wore buckskin gloves while the working person wore pigskin gloves.
When needed for warmth, men wore knitted scarves throughout the decade. It became fashionable to forego the necktie and wear a silk tie looped around the neck at the very end of the decade.
Tips on how to dress like the 1920s for men
Let’s have a look at the tips below:
Rough textures were fundamental in the 1920s. Therefore, when you start to put together an outfit, look for pieces made from wool or thick tweed. This is especially important in three-piece suits. Remember that clothes did not often match for working-class men, so put texture near the top of your shopping requirements. When possible, choose coats with wide lapels. Men wore wide trouser legs throughout the decade, and they got extremely wide at the end of it. They also wore thick socks with all their clothes early in the decade.
Carry an Umbrella or Walking Cane
Early in the decade, men carried a rolled umbrella that could double as a walking cane regardless of the weather. These umbrellas were large enough to protect themselves and the woman they were escorting, and they almost always had a wooden handle. This tradition slowly gave way to carrying a walking cane regardless of whether they needed to use it or not. Most canes had brass or silver handles that were often elaborately designed, such as being shaped like a dog body, eagle, or horse’s heads.
Most men wore spats with their shoes, regardless of the shoe style. You can easily make a pair of spats at home with a bit of felt, some elastic, and buttons if you cannot find some at a vintage store. They are an excellent option for hiding your favorite converse-style or Oxford shoes if they do not match the 1920s style. While spats buckled at their top in the early 1920s, they were held up by elastic later so that you will be right in style.
Select the Right Dress Shirt
Men wore long-sleeve dress shirts that buttoned up the front throughout the decade. These shirts usually had a white collar and white French cuff sleeves. Men made sure that their sleeves had very crisp folds in them. Several different color choices were popular, with men often wearing plaid or pinstripe dress shirts by the end of the decade. Pair the dress shirt with a bow tie or necktie as both were worn. Cotton was a prevalent choice for dress shirt material. Complete the look with suspenders to hold up your trousers that rise at least to your natural waist.
Pick Out a Sweater
Many sweater styles in the 1920s are still popular today, so this is an easy look to pull off. Choose a pull-over sweater. When possible, choose one with a V-neck and stripes near the bottom and wear it over a cotton dress shirt. Another option would be to wear a college sweater with your stripes across the chest in your favorite team’s colors. Pair it with trousers that hit about your natural waist. Options with wide legs are best. Complete the look by carrying an umbrella or a walking stick and carrying a smoking pipe.
Opt for a Flat Cap
Flat caps are still a stylish choice for guys today. Pick out one that is in a color similar to your suit color. Be sure to pull the front down a little bit, as that was the style during the 1920s. You can also easily find straw boaters as many barbershop quartets use them. To stick strictly to the 1920s style, do not wear either of these choices to a winter event. If you are going to a winter occasion, choose a fedora as they are still in fashion and have changed very little.
You should have a much better idea of what men wore in the 1920s. It is incredible to me that many of these fashions are still in vogue. Therefore, you can easily recreate the look. In the next chapter, we will take a deeper dive into 1920s women’s fashion. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, so please keep reading.
I have already written about the flapper dress, but I will cover even more details in this chapter and other outstanding options that women wore in the 1920s.
What did women wear in the 1920s?
Encouraged by earning the right to vote and having their men home from World War I, women became fiercely independent in the 1920s. It was a decade when most families easily made a living.
By the middle of the decade, many women stopped wearing clothes they sewed at home. Instead, they poured over the pages of the mail-order catalogs to decide which outfits they should order for themselves.
As most families had an automobile, travel became more accessible. Therefore, women needed to look their best. Many regularly went to jazz clubs locally and around the country, and they wanted to be the best-dressed woman at these events.
Roaring 20s Dresses for Women
Women no longer hid their bodies under layers of garments in the 1920s. While your mind may instantly go to flapper dresses, they were only one style of dress women wore during the 1920s.
Almost every woman had a pullover house dress usually made of cotton, although some wool-and-linen-blended dresses options existed. Women avoided all wool dresses because they retained odors. Gingham was a prevalent choice. Women seldom wore day dresses away from home, but they wore them almost every day as they prepared meals, dusted, and took care of her home. There were several different styles, but most were tied around the waist with a cloth belt. Styles became progressively more elaborate as the decade wore on.
After finishing her housework, women would put on a daytime dress to work or run errands. A variety of materials, including jersey, wool, and linen, were used to make these dresses. Most were made in muted colors, especially in the winter, while summer colors were often brighter. Women wanted to be tall and thin, so horizontal lines were often created using decorative trim to make women look taller and leaner. Many day dresses had boat or scoop necklines. Other dresses featured long V-necks with ribbon ties at their bottoms. Most day dresses had long sleeves because only wealthy women with pretty arms wore short-sleeve options.
Affluent women often spent their summertime afternoons at tea parties, which required wearing a white dress. While women who were a little poorer had an afternoon tea dress, they were usually in a pastel color because of the challenge of keeping a white dress clean. Manufacturers offered various ready-to-wear options made from cotton voile, organdy, silk, linen, or women sewed their own. Most dresses had elaborate embroidery on them.
Roaring 20s Evening Gowns for Women
Every affluent woman had at least one sequined evening gown in her wardrobe. Tons of sequins in elaborate floral patterns were handsewn onto these long dresses using gold or silver thread.
Women celebrated a new sense of freedom by wearing bare dresses with shorter hemlines to dances and jazz clubs. These dresses usually had high necklines, and tailors made intricate cuts in the back to reveal the woman’s bare skin. Women usually wore these dresses with apricot or pastel peach stockings.
While women with slender silhouettes often wore flapper dresses, more prominent women often wore robe de style dresses. These dresses had a top that laid close to the women’s body and a full skirt. Usually made of velvet, organdy, satin, or silk taffeta, the waistline on these dresses lay about the middle of the hip. Most options were sleeveless. After about 1923, women adopted fewer robe de style dresses to daytime parties while still reserving their best option for evening wear.
By the end of the decade, some evening dresses were starting to have short sleeves again. Many of these dresses had a high-hemline ending at about the woman’s knees in the front. The hemline on these dresses dropped to mid-shin in the back. This started a trend that would continue into the 1930s as hemlines slowly started to come back down again.
Roaring 20s Sportswear for Women
Women wore a variety of sportswear in the 1920s. Knickers were a popular option for women’s golfers. In the early part of the decade, women wore gray or tan knickers made from denim, tweed, linen, or serge. Knickers gathered at the bottom below the woman’s knee. Most options had slash pockets near the crotch that were more for looks than usefulness, and most options button up the side. These pants were outlawed totally in some communities, while other towns limited their wear to the golf course. By the end of the decade, women also chose corduroy knickers.
Some women also wore riding britches or jodhpurs as they gave up their sidesaddles and rode astride for the first time. These pants fit tightly from the knee down and were very baggy above that point, and they ended about the woman’s natural waist.
While women often played tennis in day dresses during the 1920s, professional players wore white dresses. French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen created a considerable stir at Wimbledon when she wore a calf-length skirt during her 1921 game. She wore a white top with no sleeves and a flapper headband. Sports announcers went crazy, and Wimbledon had to move to a new venue two years later to accommodate growing crowds.
Roaring 20s Hats for Women
At the start of the 1920s, women did not leave their homes without a hat or a head covering. Until 1918, women had worn large hats decorations with many bird feathers, but United States Congress passed laws supported by the Audubon Society to stop that practice. Not to be deterred, women soon had several hat styles that they could wear, including:
- Picture hats – These large straw hats had a wide brim and were often decorated with artificial flowers.
- Sailor hats – Often called boaters hats, these flat hats often had ribbons and a bow.
- Muskateer hats – These were also called cavalier hats, were made of straw for summer and velvet for winter. Women usually wore them with the wide brim folded up.
- Bucket hats – These soft hats had a wide brim that circled the woman’s crown and were very similar to cloche hats.
- Tam O’Shatner hats – These hats similar to a beret were often homemade from yarn or felt.
- Berets – Usually made of felt or cloth, this hat was a favorite of many preteens and teens.
- Torque hats – These hats worn by affluent women sat high on the head.
- Cloche hats – This hat that looked like a bucket with a short brim was the favorite hat of the decade.
Roaring 20s Jewelry for Women
Costume jewelry became quite popular during the 1920s. Women’s jewelry worldwide drew inspiration from the Art Deco movement, widely promoted during the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925.
Many women wore layers of necklaces during the 1920s, with a 60 in., 152 cm., pearl necklaces being a prevalent choice. Some women opted for tassel necklaces, while others opted for filigree necklaces from Czechoslovakia.
Coral and onyx drop earrings, along with precious gemstone dangle earrings, were seen as the perfect earrings to wear with bob haircuts by many women. Pearl earrings became a hot trend that started during the 1920s and never disappeared.
Brooches were one of the most popular types of jewelry in the 1920s as women wore them on their lapels and pinned them to their cloche hats. Manufacturers made many from precious metals, crystals, and gemstones. These brooches were often very colorful.
Gold and silver bangles were trendy. You could find many other styles, including tennis bracelets, called flexible bracelets. Many women used bracelets when wearing dresses without sleeves to draw attention to their beautiful arms.
Roaring 20s Handbags for Women
Many women tend to carry everything with them all the time in their handbags, but that was not the case in the 1920s. Women seldom needed to bring any money, so all they needed to take was a pack of cigarettes and enough powder to touch up their faces. Therefore, handbags were kept very small.
Hand-knit flapper bags decorated with many tiny beads were one trendy choice. Flapper bags were usually lined inside with a soft material. While some had a drawstring closure, others were attached to a stiff oval frame that acted as a lid.
Another popular choice was the Dorothy purse. Women would buy these fabric purses with a metal frame and a drawstring closure in a color that would match their evening gown. Like flapper bags, many tiny seed beats or embroidery were used to decorate them. They usually had a short metal chain handle.
Pochettes hung from a string handle and had a tassel on their bottom. They were usually decorated with embroidered designs of cats, shells, and palm trees as people were excited by the opening of King Tut’s tomb.
Women who went to work usually had to take more things with them, so they often used Boulevard bags made of printed cloth material. They had a longer handle, which allowed women to easily carry it in the crook of their arms if they were walking alone.
Roaring 20s Coats for Women
At the start of the 1920s, women wore heavy winter overcoats that came to about her shins. As dress hemlines went up, coat lengths went down to help keep women warm. These winter coats often had removable fur collars, and they usually had huge buttons up the front. By the middle of the decade, women wore full fur coats. The type of fur was a sign of how wealthy they were as only affluent women could afford fox, possum, seal, beaver, or mink coat while working-class women wore weasel, dyed rabbit, skunk, and chinchilla coats. These coats ended about the woman’s shins.
In warmer weather, women often wore capes made from velvet. These capes were often heavily embroidered, particularly with geometric patterns or Japanese folk motifs. Capes made of fur were also a popular option for wintertime wear.
As more women began to drive, automobile dealerships sold special coats for driving. These coats were usually long and made of tweed or flannel and held shut by a thin leather belt. Most of these coats had raglan sleeves and a military-type collar that fastened just below the woman’s neck.
Roaring 20s Footwear for Women
Women could choose from a variety of footwear during the 1920s. Manufacturers made most shoes of leather, kid suede, alligator, or goat. Women could choose from lots of different shoe styles, including:
- Mary Jane shoes – Flappers and affluent women wore high-heel Mary Janes featuring a T-strap across the vamp. Working women wore this shoe with no or a very low heel.
- Lattice pumps – These shoes could be slip-on or lace-up, and they featured cutouts across the vamp.
- Colonial pumps – These shoes had a fancy decoration, often a shoe clip, in the center of the vamp.
- T-strap heels – These shoes featured a strap going from the toe box to the vamp and another across the vamp.
- Oxfords – Many women chose oxfords as their daily shoes.
- Hand-painted pumps – These pump-style shoes were hand-painted, usually with Japanese or Greek motifs.
- Tennis shoes – These high-top canvas shoes were trendy on college campuses.
- Lace-up boots – Particularly among mature women, lace-up boots with a cap toe and a low heel were still a popular option.
- Russian boots – These mid-calf boots were designed to be pulled on and had a Cuban heel.
- Galoshes – These boots buckled in the front, and they pulled on over other footwear.
Roaring 20s Skirts for Women
Part of the new freedom that women felt in the 1920s allowed them to wear skirts that moved freely. By the middle of the decade, many women did not wear skirts.
At the start of the Roaring 1920s, hobble skirts were a popular choice. These skirts were usually ankle-length and similar to today’s pencil skirts with a little more fullness through the thighs. They were typically made of wool and were in a dark color, with brown being especially a popular choice.
By 1922, skirt length had become shorter, with many options ending mid-calf. These skirts had a fuller design and a wide waistband. Most had patch pockets. Geometric designs made these look fashionable. Women would wear a dark-colored skirt in the winter and a lighter-colored option in the summer.
Just two years later, women returned to wearing straight skirts reaching their ankles. These skirts were typically attached to camisole tops, although some options were sold as separates and had a narrow waistband and a side button.
After 1925, women wore matching two-piece suits with the top and bottom having colorful designs. Additionally, suspender skirts worn over a blouse became a popular choice.
Roaring 20s Blouses for Women
Until the last couple of years of the 1910s, all women’s blouses were white, but that was no longer the case in the 1920s. Yet, most blouses continued to be tucked into skirts and pulled out a few inches at the waistline so that they would hang down over a skirt’s waistline.
While we might call it a wrap blouse today, they called it a jaquette, and it became immensely popular starting in about 1923. These blouses wrapped around the body and tied on one side of the hip. Women often wore them over day dresses to give them a fancier appearance.
Many women also opted for a man’s shirt with more feminine details. These blouses that buttoned up the front using six or eight buttons had ruffles, soft pointed collars, and modest V-neck openings. They often ended with a wide waistband that had buttons on one side.
Middy shirts were a trendy option. These shirts fashioned after navy sailors’ shirts usually had a large cloth scarf around the neck. They were prevalent for physical pursuits, like bowling and horseback riding.
Tips on how to dress like the 1920s for women
I have now discussed a lot of women’s fashion trends. You now know that women wore more than flapper dresses as they celebrated their newfound freedom. Thankfully, these outfits are fun to wear because a primary focus of the decade was making clothes that women could move in comfortably. Many trends that started in the 1920s are still popular today, so you can easily wear them and may even have some of them in your current wardrobe. The wide variety of styles makes this a fun decade to recreate, even if you cannot go back to this decade in real life.
If you need a 1920s outfit, then think about sports. High-top tennis shoes have not changed much. You can become a runner by putting some elastic in the bottom of a pair of shorts. Wear it with your favorite camisole and wear a button-up sweater. You can easily put together a riding outfit with a pair of jodhpurs and a button-down shirt, preferably with a pointed collar. Tennis outfits are also easy to recreate as you only need a sleeveless white dress with a low waist. Pair the dress with a sun hat and carry a wooden tennis racket.
Embrace Costume Jewelry
The 1920s was a decade for Art Deco costume jewelry. In most cases, the bigger and more colorful, the better. Women wore many bracelets to draw attention to their arms that they had to keep covered up to this point. Drop and dangle gemstone earrings pair beautifully with long necklaces. Think about necklace options that will wrap around your neck several times, or choose to wear multiple necklaces. Wearing big and bold cocktail rings is a great option. Especially for a night out, most women wore earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings to draw attention to themselves.
Pick Out Browns
Brown was a favorite color of the 1920s. Jodhpurs were almost always brown, but so were hobble skirts. Brown was also a favorite color for day dresses in the winter, but not summer. Most flapper dresses were brown trimmed with natural items or inspired by nature. Trim and embellishments on dresses were often brown. Many women’s winter wardrobes included many brown items, including brown shoes, sweaters, and coats. One of the reasons is that brown showed less dirt than white or pastel colors, so women could go longer without washing their clothes.
Consider Geometric Patterns
The use of geometric patterns was a hot trend in the 1920s, and women used it liberally in their clothing. Summertime day dresses often consisted of a geometric design printed on a drop waist dress. Jewelry usually was made in geometric patterns, with women selecting square or round earrings and necklaces. Brooches were popular on lapels and cloche hats. Manufacturers often made them by combining artificial and genuine gemstones cut into shapes and combined to reflect items in nature. Women concentrated on creating outfits as elongated as possible without any curves.
Opt for Practical Footwear
Women felt freer to move around in the 1920s than in previous decades, and they did not want their footwear to slow them down. Therefore, they chose very practical shoes with no or very low heels. Oxfords were a popular choice for men and women. Women no longer had to wear tall boots as they had in the past, so many chose slip-on boots made of soft materials. They also wore boots over their shoes that they could easily remove when they reached their destination. For the most part, sandals were not worn, but women chose to wear T-strap shoes with significant areas of the vamp and toe box cutaway in geometric patterns.
Almost all winter coats and shawls were made of fur. Women who could not afford an entire fur coat opted for coats made of velvet or tweed with removable fur collars. Manufacturers used many furs, including raccoons, foxes, wolves, and rabbits. The fur was dyed to make it a more uniform color in some cases. While women in large urban cities often went to stores to buy fur coats, those living in more secluded areas used mail-order catalogs to get their fur coats. As with other clothing items, very few items were sewed at home as people embraced an excellent economy.
You now have a great idea of the driving forces behind clothes worn by men and women in the 1920s. In the next section, we will see how those ideas have been reflected in many great movies. Then, we will finish by looking at specific clothes that you can wear that reflect the 1920s.
If you are a visual learner, then you may want to watch some movies based on the 1920s to get some inspiration. I have eight films that I will recommend for your viewing enjoyment. In addition to containing great stories, the costumes worn in these movies are outstanding. Therefore, you can easily draw inspiration from them.
When looking at a particular movie, I will point out some of the things they got right. Where I feel it is necessary, I will also point out places where the film does not match reality. This will allow you to put together outfits that are even more realistic than those you are watching on the big screen if you so desire. Since most people at a party will not have researched if people say you are wrong, then assume they have gathered their information about 1920s fashion from these and other movies, and share this post with them to learn about the reality of 1920s style.
The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrmann and his team captured the essence of 1920s fashion in The Great Gatsby, which premiered in 2013. Costume and set designer Catherine Martin says that they never intended the movie to be an accurate historical reenactment. Instead, they decided to go with a more idealized sketch of what the characters would have been wearing at the glitzy parties. When you look at Great Gatsby Roaring 20s fashion in this movie, one outfit that might stand out to you is the pink seersucker suit. Martin headed to Brooks Brothers to search their archive for suitable suit styles for the character to wear. She discovered a pink seersucker suit from the early 1930s and learned that the fabric and color had been made since at least 1900. Therefore, she was content with this fashion choice.
By contrast, Martin admits that they took more creative liberties with Daisy’s outfit. Particularly the hat, which they used to symbolize Daisy’s desire to live in a more elegant environment than found in her circumstances at the moment.
Monica Howe made her debut as a costume designer in Bugsy Malone, released in 1976. Many of the suits in this film are correct for the 1920s era, but some are worn a little wrong. Especially at the beginning of the 1920s, only the top of the tie or a bow tie would have been showing along with a white dress shirt collar. Many of the dress shirts worn in this film were white all over, which was rarely worn because it was too hard to keep the shirts clean. The fedoras worn by the gang in this movie are correct in the winter, but they should have been changed to a lighter color fedora or another style of hat during warmer months. You also catch glimpses of feather headpieces worn by the Grand Slam Girls. Feather headpieces were 1910 because of laws forbidding the use of bird feathers.
Some Like it Hot
Marilyn Monroe’s 1959 hit Some Like It Hot has a lot of fabulous 1920s fashions in it. Josephine and Daphne have the right dress style throughout the show so that you can steal ideas from their clothing. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about their shoes and purses as they are from the 1950s. The band and Daphine’s black dresses are correct. The major break in this film comes when the ladies put on their pajamas because ladies in the 1920s did not wear pajamas. Even though clothes were more revealing in the 1920s than in previous generations, Marilyn Monroe’s black dress was way too revealing. In fact, it is said that the crew had to lift Marilyn to the piano because she could not walk in the outfit, and the 1920s were all about freedom of movement.
The Roaring Twenties
Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney appear together for the last time in The Roaring Twenties, released in 1939. The gangsters’ outfits in this movie when they are successful are great. When Bogart fails to meet his money expectations, his outfit needs improvement. Working-class men never wore white shirts because they were too hard to keep clean. He should have been wearing a white collar and white cuffs on a colored shirt. The policeman in the closing scene does not have a uniform on like those worn by New York City cops at the time, although it is very close.
Released in 1929, Piccadilly is one of the last silent films made, and it is certainly worth watching. Like the choreographed dancing, the costumes in this film set in a jazz club are underwhelming. In particular, Mabel’s clothing is more reminiscent of pageant wear than jazz club clothing. Her use of feathers is at least a decade past its prime. While more seductive, Shosho’s dresses are very similar to the women’s bare dresses during this time. Shosho showing her midriff is something that even most showgirls would not have dared to do at that time. The original film was made at an authentic Paris jazz club called Café de Paris.
Midnight in Paris
The costume team for Midnight in Paris searched antique stores in Paris, London, Madrid, and Buenos Aires to get clothes for this film released in 2011. The white dress worn by Adriana in several scenes in this movie is structurally correct for a 1920s shift dress. It would be better if someone skipped adding the red trim and gave it a middy collar, but it is a film and not reality after all. The short sleeves on this dress are correct for the period when Adriana would have been seen as a woman of wealth with pretty arms. The off-white dress with the brown belt is a great design, but the top would have been worn pulled out to hide the belt more. Zelda’s lace dress is also a great example of geometric patterns on women’s clothing of the 1920s.
One of the most interesting costuming assignments was given to Mark Bridges in The Artist, released in 2012, and he should receive an A+ on the assignment. This film showcases the life of a movie star in the last days of silent films during the 1920s. To get the colors right, Bridges hired photographers to consider each of the fabrics he was considering in black and white. Then, he chose the material used in the garments based on their shades of gray. He did this because he knew that while the film would be released in black-and-white in most countries, he also knew that some nations would not show a black-and-white movie. Therefore, he wanted costumes that looked authentic if someone saw the colorized version. He did a great job designing outfits that people would have worn in the 1920s while still meeting the unique coloration demands.
If you want to see what a bob haircut should look like, then look at the Louise Brooks bobs in Pandora’s Box, released in 1929. This film, released in the closing months of 1929, also influenced fashion in the 1930s as everyone wanted Peyton’s white tank dress. This film also has excellent examples of the high-low hemline popular in the 1920s. You will also fall in love with the fur scarf worn by Lulu as she is falling in love with Always. This film gets the style right on so many levels that you need to watch this entertaining story before dressing in 1920s fashions.
In this chapter, I have shared my impression of 1920s fashion as shown in many films. Put these films on your much-watch list to see if you agree with me. While you can get some ideas from these films, I hope you will stay tuned for our next chapter, where I will discuss putting 1920s outfits together for men and women.
1920s outfit ideas for women
The great news is that many items from the 1920s made their way into society, and you can still find them in stores today. For example, you can still find high-top tennis shoes.
Others are easy to recreate using things you may already have in your closet. Jodhpurs have not changed much, so you may already have a pair in your closet or talk to your equestrian friend. You can also easily create knickerbockers by adding a band to the bottom of your favorite loose-fitting shorts. A little white dress may make the perfect tennis outfit.
You can easily recreate the look of a flapper dress. Start with a shift with a drop waist, and make sure that the dress is sleeveless. The flapper style is the exception to the rule about no high heels, so choose shoes with at least a 2-inch heel. T-straps are a perfect choice, but you can also choose soft high-heeled boots. You will want a cloche hat, but skip options with feathers that you cannot remove.
The next thing is to accessorize your flapper outfit. You will want to wear a long necklace that can wrap around your neck many times. Pearls are the best option. Alternatively, you can layer many gemstone necklaces around your neck. Then, add bangles to your wrist. Gold or silver options are the best choice. Complete the look with a cocktail ring in a geometric Art Deco style.
Afternoon Tea Dress
Another great option is an afternoon tea dress. If the event is in the summer, try to go with a white or pastel option, but if it is in the winter, try to find a brown option. These dresses hang straight down from the shoulders as women wanted to create a long and slender look. You can go with one that does not have a tie or choose one that ties around the waist with a cloth belt of matching fabric.
You will want to wear your favorite pair of oxfords or Mary Janes with the dress. These shoes were later called saddle shoes. Choose to layer many necklaces around your neck or choose one that will loop around your neck several times. Find a beautiful tennis bracelet, called a flexible bracelet in the 1920s that has geometric gemstones on it. Gold is ideal, but no one will say anything if you wear a silver option.
Black Cocktail Dress
You can easily recreate Coco Chanel’s little black dress that caused a big stir in the 1920s. One of the reasons this outfit is so easy to recreate is that you can do it as two separate pieces that you can pin together if you desire. Choose a long-sleeve black top that hangs from the shoulders. Then, add a black pencil skirt that comes at least to your knees.
Chanel intended women to wear this outfit without much jewelry. Therefore, a simple pearl necklace and bracelet set are all you need. You may also want to add pearl stud earrings. Get out your favorite black t-strap shoes. Try selecting those that do not let your toes show and with a very low or no heel. Wear the outfit with a pair of nude pantyhose. Of course, you may want to grab your cloche hat, which ideally will have a brooch on it.
Another look that you can easily recreate is a tennis player’s outfit. Start with a white sleeveless dress that has a drop waist. If you do not have one, choose a white blouse with no sleeves or a short-sleeve option. You should receive bonus points if it has a Peter Pan-style collar. Alternatively, take a piece of fabric and make a sailor’s tie to go around your neck. Then, choose a white skirt with a narrow waistband that you can hide under your top.
Decide if you want to be from the early 1920s or the late 1920s. In the early 1920s, you will need a pair of white pantyhose, while white bobbysocks will do for the late 1920s. Wear the look with white high-top tennis shoes. Complete the look with a white headband. Alternatively, you can skip the headband and wear a white bucket hat. They usually wore wide ones with the widest part in the back. If you can find one, carry a wooden tennis racket.
Breathe new life into a prom dress that has no back. The dress should come at least to your knees, and it can reach the floor. If the dress does not already have tiny beads or sequins, then be sure to add them. While you can make beautiful scenes from nature, geometric patterns are preferable. Then, wear matching gloves with sequins or beads on them. T-strap shoes or soft lace-up boots are an excellent choice for footwear. No woman would be caught with bare legs during the 1920s, so pick out a pair of nylon stockings.
Complete the look with a headband. You can easily fashion one from a white headband by adding beads and sequins to it. Avoid falling for those you see in movies that are tall and elaborate if you want an authentic look. Consider opting for silver drop or dangle earrings with diamond settings on them.
1920s House Dress
Most women did their housework in a dress that they did not wear out of the home, but you may want to let people know what this dress looked like by wearing it to a party. Cotton was the favorite fabric for making these dresses. They had a high waist at the beginning of the decade, but that gradually came down over the decade. These dresses almost always had at least one large pocket in the front. Most house dresses had long sleeves because only women of wealth dared to show their arms. These dresses came down to at least below the knee, and many came much lower.
Wear your house dress with a full apron. These aprons were also made from cotton tied around the neck and back. They covered most of the dress, except for a very short distance at the bottom. Complete the look by wearing your housedress with a pair of oxfords.
1920s outfit ideas for men
Men had the opportunity to follow several career paths during the 1920s. Some men worked as mechanics, farmers, or at other manual labor jobs. Others went to college, with Princeton and Oxford being trendy choices. Still, others chose to be gangsters or run booze illegally as prohibition was in full swing in the United States.
Each lifestyle choice led to a different type of wardrobe. Yet, almost all men had a three-piece suit that they could wear to worship and on special occasions. For men who were making good money, these suits matched, but others often wore suits that did not match.
A great look is a three-piece wool suit. Choose one in a dark color, but do not make it black as that was reserved only for funerals. Wear the suit buttoned high so that only your tie and the collar of your shirt show. Choose a shirt with a white collar and white cuffs while the main part of the shirt is colored when possible.
You can opt for a bow tie or a necktie. Suits of this decade had unique lapels, but you can come close by wearing one with a wide lapel. Complete the look with a pair of cap-toe oxfords or wingtips. You may also want to wear short lace-up boots. Wear a fedora or a Homburg on your head and carry an umbrella or a walking stick.
Select a double-breasted seersucker pinstripe suit with a matching vest. Pink-and-white, blue-and-white, and grey-and-white were all popular color choices. Then, choose a cotton button-down shirt darker than the suit’s primary color. You will also want a bow tie or a regular necktie that has your shirt’s color in it. Your necktie can be made of printed fabric, but avoid any patterns that are too bold.
Complete the look with your favorite pair of oxfords or wingtips. Wear a straw boater’s hat and carry a walking stick. When given a choice, choose a walking stick with a brass or silver handle with a patriotic or animal design.
Unless you went to pretend you are a student at Oxford University, you can easily pull off the college student look by wearing a pair of knickerbockers. These baggy pants that were often khaki came to just below the knee. Pair them with bright, colorful socks. You can choose to wear them with oxfords, wingtips or high-top tennis shoes.
Pair the khaki pants with a cotton button-down shirt and a pullover sweater. Alternatively, you can wear them with a button-down sweater, and no guy would be caught without his necktie. A flat cap is a great option to complete this look. Bring along a smoking pipe, even if you just carry it.
If you want to portray a working-class man in the 1920s, you need to put on a pair of overalls. These overalls were generally dark blue with sturdy buckles just below the shoulders. You will want to wear it with a long-sleeve button-down shirt made from cotton.
You will want to wear a pair of boots that lace up the front and have short heels. They were usually made of leather to protect the man’s feet. You can also choose to wear a button-up jacket that stops about your hips.
Special occasions called for wearing a tuxedo in the 1920s. The pants on these outfits would have been baggy through the top before becoming tighter below the knee. Wear the tuxedo coat with a white vest. You can choose between a white or black bowtie. The white vest needs to have a long V-cut before closing with four or five buttons. Stick a white silk pocket square in your suit’s pocket.
Luxury watches were a hot trend during the 1920s, but many men still carried pocket watches. Do not think about going out without a top hat and a walking stick or umbrella.
Put on a white pair of pants and a white long-sleeve cotton shirt, and you can easily be a 1920s tennis player. You will want to put on a pullover sweater with colorful bands on the bottom and a long V-neck. The neck can be surrounded by a colorful band too. Wear the outfit with rolled-up sleeves. White canvas high-top tennis shoes are a must for your feet. Look fresh off the court by carrying a wooden tennis racket and wearing a boater’s hat. You can also opt for a flat white cap pulled low over your eyes.
I have covered a lot of territory in this post and offered you ideas on what men and women wore during 1920s fashion. We have looked at what movie costume designers got right and where they missed the mark, even if it was to deliver a specific idea to the audience.
If you have questions, then please post them. Asking your questions now is a great way to be ready to travel back in time to the 1920s if that opportunity arises. It can also keep you from making fashion snafus at your next 1920s party.
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While you are waiting for the next opportunity to wear 1920s fashions, please read some of my other posts.