A roaring twenties themed event is one of my favorite decades to dress up for. It is both incredibly glamorous and not too difficult to find something to wear. This wasn’t always the case. When I began researching and writing about 1920s fashion there was little to choose from. Now thanks to several movies and TV series set in the 1920s, twenties fashion, clothing and costumes are everywhere! For gentlemen, the pinstripe gangster is a classic but so is the more casual vintage 20s working man or sophisticated Jay Gatsby or Peaky Blinders gang. Although the flapper dress or gangster costume is still the most popular roaring 20s outfits to re-create there are many 1920s costume that are not flapper outfits you can make or buy. All of these 1920s fashion are explored below with links to help you create your unique 20s costume.
1920s Fashion History
In a nutshell, 1920s fashion for women was all about getting loose, which applied to morals, too. Women wore dresses all day, every day, rain or shine. Day dresses had a drop waist, which was a sash or belt around the low waist or hip and a skirt that hung anywhere from ankle on up to the knee but never above. Daywear had sleeves (long to mid-bicep) and a skirt that was straight, pleated, hank hem, or tired. Daywear accessories included cloche hats, seamed stockings, a purse, gloves and maybe jewelry. Daytime shoes were 1-2.5 inch T-straps, single or double strap mary janes, and walking Oxfords.
For most men, suits were the day to day attire. Striped, plaid or windowpane suits came in dark grey, blue and brown in winter and ivory, white, tan and pastels in summer. All suits had matching lapel collar vests with a pocket watch and chain dangling from inside. The dress shirt was unique with a white round or pointed collar on a colored body of stripes or light pastel solids. Men also wore hats such as the felt fedora, classy Homburg or round bowler. In summer, it was the straw boater or Panama that topped most men’s heads. For men’s ’20s shoes, two-tone Oxfords were the latest and greatest fashion, although solid black or brown cap toes were equally common.
On the weekends, women’s clothing didn’t change. A long skirt, blouse and cardigan sweater was a common casual outfit. She might have worn beach pajamas on vacation or knicker pants, blouse, tie and a sweater vest to play golf. Men’s sporty clothes consisted of a similar look with plus four pants, tall argyle socks, sweater vest, dress shirt and newsboy cap. If he played summer sports, he might have worn white trousers with a white sweater vest like most tennis stars did.
Working class men didn’t have the luxury of custom suits. Instead, they wore overalls or blue jeans with a cotton button-down shirt and canvas coat. His hat of choice was the newsboy cap or a used felt hat. Learn more about mens vintage workwear.
Casual women’s clothing turned to menswear for inspiration. Ladies could wear tall argyle socks, knickers, button-down shirt and tie and newsboy cap just like the men. Although pants were uncommon by the end of the decade Beach Pajamas were made of wide-leg palazzo style pants and matching top. Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries uses beach pajamas quite often in the show’s costumes. Take a look at these 20s casual outfit ideas and these non-flapper outfit ideas.
20s Party Clothes
Fancy 1920s dresses were sleeveless, shapeless, ankle to knee length slip gowns accented with beading, sequins, fringe, and some feathers. Rich jewel tones and soft pastels made the simplest of gowns look expensive. Add to that some lavish accessories, such as a diamond tiara or headband, silk shawl, feather fan, long pearl necklace, and gold arm bangles, and women looked like silent movie stars!
While ladies lavished in fancy frocks, men found relief in slightly more comfortable dinner jackets (tuxedos) instead of stuffy tailcoats. Many men cast off formal attire all-together and embraced the colorful life of striped suits, flashy neckties, Homburg hats, and gold capped walking sticks.
For a formal affair, getting a dose of fashion history (and a lot of pictures) will help you get in the right mindset for the night. Ladies be sure to read about creating the iconic flapper costume look or getting really fancy with 1920s formal dresses. Gentlemen should read about 1920s tuxedos.
If you would rather look semi-formal, try 1920s party dresses for the ladies and 1920s suits for the gents. Knowing how popular the Great Gatsby is, men might also like to dress in all white like Jay Gatsby did or perhaps as a bootlegger like the characters in Boardwalk Empire or Peaky Blinders. Speaking of popular TV shows, ladies might enjoy the casual styles of Miss Fisher or the sophisticated looks of Downton Abbey and gents too.
Where to Shop- Ladies
I am an avid window shopper and thrift store addict. Whatever your style and budget, there is something that can work found locally or online. Let’s start with the cheapest and move up in luxury. The stores I include here are local to me (Reno, Nevada), but regardless of where you live, you can probably find these or similar stores to shop at.
Finding a 1920s style dress in a thrift store is fairly easy. Look for a long to knee length straight cut dress. A drop waist will also work (where the line is around your hips or below, nothing above your navel). Any color will do and even small pattern prints. Anything with beading, sequins, metallic thread, velvet, ruffled skirts, tiered layers, crochet, and even lace will be best for the party clothes. If it has sleeves, remove them for an evening affair, or match with a shawl or light weight evening jacket if you want to cover your arms. Many ’80s bead/sequin dresses can and do look fairly ’20s. Just remove any shoulder pads if you can. I recently put together ten thrift store 20s outfits and 10 Downton Abbey inspired clothes here for some inspiration. For you non-dress wearing gals, I have these ideas for casual/menswear ’20s and ’30s ladies outfits.
Sew a Dress
Sewing a 1920s outfit is an affordable option for many, although I usually end up spending more on a pattern, fabric and trim than I could buy ready made. Sewing from a 1920s vintage reproduction pattern will give you the most accurate look. Choosing fabrics in popular ’20s colors is the next step. If you need inspiration, look at a few of my sewing projects. The One Hour Dress, the day/house dress, and easy hat decorating.
New Dresses (mid price)
Right now ’20s drop waist dresses have been in fashion with the younger women’s fashion set. Mature women also have some great choices in the women’s dress areas, usually in waist-less (sheath), not drop waist styles. Many mature styles have sleeves, a longer hem length, matching the jacket and are overall more accurate to the time period. Evening dresses are easier to find then day time clothing.
There are also cheap Halloween flapper costume dresses available year-round online or in Halloween costume stores in October. Cheap costumes are terribly inaccurate (too much fringe, too short) but the accessories are usually nice enough. Splurge on the dress, save on the accessories!
Cheap $30-150 dresses
Unique Vintage sale section has bargains on beautiful flapper dresses for under $100. Long and short flapper dresses, elegant evening gowns and some day time/ simple 20s dresses.
Amazon – Hit or miss on authenticity, Amazon now has a number of day and evening style dresses. Watch the sizing and shipping time. When in doubt select only items available for Prime shipping and order one dress size up. 1920s clothes fit loose, not curve hugging. You might also want to order a longer slip.
Nicer brands are also on Amazon. I like the tiered dresses with an optional jacket from S.L. Fashions and the hanky hem dresses by J. Kara. Both brands have several other dresses like feel like the 20s without a literal interpretation. They also come in plus sizes.
Daytime dresses without all the sparkle and fringe are usually more affordable. Simple drop waist cotton dresses or white tea party dresses are ideal for casual, summer and outdoor events. They usually have sleeves and longer hems which make them more comfortable for mature women. Prices range from $20 to $400 depending on the brand. Shop daytime dresses here.
Etsy.com is a wonderful marketplace to find vintage 20s dresses as well as handmade 20s inspired dresses and even some upcycled modern dresses. We like LaVieDelight’s authentic 20s designs priced around $130. French designer Folded Roses also makes interesting 20s dresses with a European flair. Don’t forget about 1980s drop waist vintage dresses when they were inspired by the ’20s.
eBay is another possible source of pre-owned 20s style dresses. My sister has good luck buying used Sue Wong evening dresses for a fraction of the original cost.
Luxury Dresses ($200 and up)
Macys, Dillards or Nordstrom – In the formal section they have brands Patra, Papell, and Pisarro Nights that all have the most beautiful beaded and sequin gowns in a wide range of sizes. I usually shop their online selection, but you can find them locally, too. Komarov is a great brand for those that don’t want a beaded dress.
Nataya Brand via Wardrobe Shop – I LOVE Nataya brand dresses for a romantic 1920s look without all the bling. You probably won’t find these locally but it is safe to order a few online and return any that don’t work for you. The website now carries other brands of beautiful beaded dresses.
Plus Size shoppers look here for many beaded or daytime dresses in sizes up to 4XL.
1920s Style Jewelry
Besides the classic long pearl necklace, long faceted bead necklaces, tassel necklaces, short bib necklaces, and drop earrings to match are all jewelry styles to consider. I prefer cheap costume jewelry to pricey antique pieces. Some of the best jewelry I find is at the grocery store, Target, etc
Read more about 1920s jewelry styles here.
A headband or other hair decoration is a must-have piece of jewelry for a 1920s evening affair. They were made of beads or crystals and even strings of pearls wrapped around the head. They were often worn around the forehead, too. Some women went as far as to wear a tiara. Shop here for 1920s style hair accessories.
For day wear, consider a cloche hat or similar 1920s hat style.
1920s Style Shoes
Shoes- Right here in Reno we have our very own historical shoe designer, Lauren Elizabeth at Royal Vintage shoes with plenty of 1920s style shoes to buy for less than $200. These are very high-quality reproduction shoes with modern sizing and comfort.
Pretty much any shoe store in your town will have something that can work as a 1920s shoe- even Payless, Footwear etc, DSW Shoes and Target. Look for T-strap or Mary Jane shoes in black, gold or silver with or without some bling on them. Avoid open-toe sandals if you want to be authentic. 1920s shoes had a mid heel that was sturdy, not too thin and came with straps — one, two or many. Basic heeled pumps were also in style, so if you already have some in your closet, by all means, wear them. For daywear, look at walking oxfords with a low heel.
Zappos – I enjoy the online selection of 1920s style shoe at Zappos. Some best sellers are Rockport Cobb Hill Shayla (Oxford) which are great for daywear.
Amazon – In a pinch, Amazon has some cheap 1920s style shoes. Give yourself plenty of time to wear them in before dancing all night.
Dance Shoes– T-strap and Mary Jane “Character” shoes are made for dancing. Your feet will thank you.
More online shoes –
More Ladies Outfit Ideas
- Read 8 easy 1920s costume ideas that are easy to put together from things you already own. Day and evening dresses, casual clothing, gangster girls, garden party, DIY, thrifted and more.
- How to dress like a 1920s flapper. Love the iconic flapper girl costume? Read this article for tips on staying authentic yet fun!
- Ten Downton Abbey costume ideas – Looks inspired by the 1920s costumes in the Downton Abbey TV series. Day, sporty, summer and winter looks.
- One Hour Dress Tips and Reviews- Sew a simple dress in just 2 hours. See many examples of how to adapt this vintage 1924 pattern into day and evening looks. This article on accessorizing a plain dress will help too.
- 1920s casual outfits– When you don’t want to be a flapper, choose a casual look instead. This guide will give you ideas.
- Non-Flapper outfit ideas– Even more non-flapper dressy to casual outfit ideas
- 20s costumes – cheaper Halloween costumes are affordable and fun!
- More articles on 1920s fashion history
1920s Men’s Clothing
A tuxedo will be your best formal choice for a classy event. Choose a standard notch lapel black tuxedo jacket with flat front tuxedo pants. A white button-down shirt (not a pleated tuxedo shirt) will look good underneath. A white or black vest is optional and a good choice if you want to take off your jacket. Add a white or black bow tie and a snazzy pair of cufflinks. A top hat will take you to new heights but isn’t necessary (and proper etiquette says it is to be removed inside). Read this guide to 1920s formalwear.
You can rent a tux from almost any department store, wedding shop or men’s clothing store (they all come from the same source). Better yet, buy a good tuxedo at Jos. A Bank. They have them in stock and will make the necessary alterations.
For a more casual look, you could just wear high rise classic fit pants with a vest and shirt. Jos A. Bank pants are a true mid rise, not a modern low fit. Great for vintage clothing. When you have them hemmed make sure they put in a 2-3 inch pant cuff. For an early 20s or casual high rise pants look at Historical Emporium.
Oscar has lucked out a few times with suits by Perry Ellis. They tend to be more trendy and slim fitting, which is good for an early ’20s look. Modern vintage inspired suits to focus on patterns such as stripes, plaid and tweed along with matching vests! Complete the outfit with two tone lace up shoes, bow ties, vests, pocket squares, and suspenders for that extra 1920s dapper style.
Online Paul Fredrick and Men’s USA have a large selection of mid-priced suits in big patterns. You can make an entire look from the suits, vests, shirts, shoes, ties, and sometimes hats that Paul Fredrick carries. Men’s USA features all kinds of suits. I like their wide fit fashion suits with big stripes for a late ’20s Gangster look.
1920s Style Men’s Suits
Thrift Stores- Sometimes you can find tuxedos, but usually, the thrift stores will have some good used suits. Look for stripes, checks, plaids with a definite pattern– subtle was not in style. Grey, brown and dark blue are the best colors, although if you want a summer look try white, ivory or pastel colors. 1920s suits were fitted and usually three pieces with a matching or similar shade of vest. Add a bow tie or necktie in diagonal stripes, paisley or small repeating pattern and a pocket square that matches at least one color in the tie.
A men’s dress shirt had a detachable white collar on a striped, colored shirt. You won’t find detachable collars anymore, but a white collared shirt is trendy right now. A white dress shirt or solid color is fine, too, but the striped shirts with white cuffs and collar really look vintage! Shop 1920s style men’s shirts here.
Here are some more 1920s costume ideas for men:
1920s Men’s Hats
Besides the formal top hat, most men went for felt hats in winter and straw hats in summer. Consider the center dent fedora, the round bowler or derby or the unique Homburg for felt hats. The classy straw Panama or round crown Boater or Skimmer are great for summer. The casual flat cap, aka newsboy cap, is versatile year round. Fedoras are classic, too, although most modern Fedoras have very narrow brims. 1920s fedoras had wide brims and tall crowns. Your best bet is to buy a hat online. Read more about 1920s men’s hats styles and shop here for some good hats:
1920s Style Men’s Shoes
DSW Shoes, Footwear Etc, Off Broadway Shoes, Any men’s shoe department store — they all have some basic lace up Oxfords and wingtips (what you would wear to the office). 1920s shoes were either black or rusty brown leather Oxfords with a cap toe or wingtip design. Brown and white, and grey and white were also common but less formal. Wear these with a brown or grey striped suits, not with a tuxedo. Formal shoes were shiny black slip on or lace up shoes. Lace up boots were the most casual or working class shoe. Here are some online shoe options you can also find locally:
1920s Style Men’s Accessories
A necktie or bow tie is needed for all but casual looks. Paisley, small patterns and wide stripes were all common in the 1920s. They were quite colorful– never bland choices. Mustard yellow, burnt orange, red, gas flame blue, pink, etc. Shop 1920s style neckties here.
A pocket square was neatly folded into the suit coat. It did not usually match the necktie but coordinated with at least one color in it. For example, a gold, navy and maroon paisley tie may have a gold pocket square with it. It’s a little detail that makes a big difference.
Gloves are a nice accessory as well-although hard to find in warm weather. White gloves are needed with formal suits, brown or grey leather gloves with semi-formal business suits.
More 1920s men’s accessories:
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