In this post, we will look at how to update your look with key pieces to get that retro vibe from head to toe. So let’s dive in.
First off… what’s a flapper anyway?
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If you’re into retro fashion - or for that matter have ever gone out on Halloween - you likely have encountered the flapper look. The flapper of the 1920s was a liberated woman. The short skirt, the eye-catching fringe, and jewelry were all part of a rejection of the stuffy traditions of the early 1900s.
America had just gotten done with World War I, and that led to some changes in women’s roles. Women stepped in for men at work during the war, and they weren’t ready to go back into the kitchens. European sensibilities were brought back to the States when the GI’s returned, leading to more ideas of free expression and glamour. These two factors helped shape the “flapper girl” into more than just a style - it was about the attitude!
For flappers, going out on the town became a top pastime. Dancing, drinking, parties - these were all now open to the liberated young people for the first time. Cars let couples plan their nights out alone, and led to a big change in dating and socializing.
In terms of fashion, the flapper’s quest for freedom - and attention - defined their tastes. Fringe moved on the dancefloor, the jewelry sparkled and the shorter skirts meant easier time kicking around for the Charleston. Even the boy-ish silhouette of the flapper was meant to be liberating - it meant no corset!
Celebrity Inspiration for Your Retro Style
Celebrities of the screen and stage were essential to shaping the flapper trend, and the other fashion trends of the 1920s. Looking at these stars' wardrobe and personal style can be a great inspiration for your look!
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Born in 1906, Louis Brooks epitomized the wild and free 1920’s woman. She hailed from the midwest but became a Broadway dancer in Manhattan at age fifteen. She took the stage by storm with her amazing dance moves - but her personality was the real draw. Brooks' famous line: "I like to drink and fu*k," was the rallying cry for many flappers and celebrities during the 1920s and beyond.
Her style followed her wild ways. She sported a bob haircut with severe straight lines and dressed in the most modern styles of 1920. She was often seen in a cloche hat (a 1920s staple) pulled down over her bob. Her style was more masculine than girly, featuring wide trousers, velvet blazers, deep cut evening dresses worn without a bra, furs, and silk blouses.
To get her to look, rock a pair of super-wide trousers in a chic material, paired with a light blouse tucked halfway in. Or mix an oversized fur coat with a minimal dress. If you are looking to recreate a bob, tuck your hair up into a hat and voila - you’ve got the look!
Josephine Baker was a showgirl and dancer famous for the “banana dance” which involved a lot of booty-shaking - especially for the 1920s! She made the super close razor cut hairstyle famous, and often paired the look with a lot of dramatic eye makeup - and of course peals
Her look was bright prints and lots of jewelry, paired with her short razor cut to give herself a feminine look. To get her to look, try pairing a geometric printed blouse with a fringe dress, or a blazer over a short skirt. Baker was all about mixing blocky, masculine lines on top while still showing off her famous legs. And don’t forget the pearls!
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Pola Negri was a famous silent film star in Europe who went on to become the first European leading lady to make it big in Hollywood. Her exotic appeal meant she brought a lot of new styles with her.
She famously loved headgear, including turbans and headwraps. She made fur boots popular and introduced the world to the concept of red-painted toenails - very racy at the time!
To get her to look, try a headscarf paired with multiple bangle bracelets and a long, flowing dress - worn braless if you dare!
Essential pieces for a 1920’s look
To get the retro-glam vibe of the 1920’s you will need some key items. But don’t worry - you can find many of these looks in stores as many of them never went out of style! With the right combinations, you can easily bring some glam to your everyday wardrobe.
Fringe, beads and dangly details
The most iconic style accent of the 1920s is a love of texture and movement in dresses, tops, and skirts. The iconic “flapper dress” is usually fringe, designed to move along with the dancer on the dance floor.
Beads and other sewn on items - such as rhinestones - were also used. The 1920s is a time of “more is more” so many 1920’s fashionistas rocked fully beaded or fringe outfit. But for your look, feel free to mix and match, blending simple pieces with more statement items to add movement.
Drop waist dresses
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The boyish silhouette of the 1920s meant the flapper woman could move freely without restrictive corsets - thank God! The drop waist dress was a favorite of the time to look at a lean line. This style isn’t as popular today, but a drop-waist dress can give a retro feel to any outfit.
If you can’t find a vintage dress in the right style, you can recreate the look by pairing a loose blouse with a pencil skirt. Just leave the blouse untucked and voila - you create a similar effect! To add more 1920’s flair, try to mix in a geometric or art deco print on the blouse.
Headbands and armbands
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Cloche hats may not be practical today, but headbands and other cute details can add vintage glamour to any outfit. Headbands can also be used to tuck up your hair to recreate a bob if you want to get into the 1920’s spirit.
Armbands are another 1920’s accessory that’s easy to find - you can also use an old necklace or oversized bracelet. Just move it up to your arm for a sassy look. The idea is the armband draws attention to the sexy upper arm area, so be sure to pair it with an equally sexy outfit.
Pearls… and more pearls!
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Nothing is more iconic of the 1920s than pearls. Made popular by Coco Chanel, pearls were the ultimate status symbol. And keeping with the 1920’s “more is more” theme, layering pearls of different sizes and strand lengths were very popular.
You don’t need real pearls to make this work - it’s all about the look! The most vintage style of wearing peals is to take a long strand and knot it close to the end, creating a dangly rope. This is perfect to wear with a drop waist dress or long gown since it elongates the figure and draws attention to the waist.
Oriental and Egyptian Revival
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The 1920s were a big time for all things “Eastern” coming into the US-style. Broadly described as “Oriental” this style included everything from Japanese gardens, to silk kimonos to Egyptian snake bracelets to turbans. Movies like Lawrence of Arabia made this look all the rage, combined with the new influencer of Eastern Europe and Asia into the US after World War 1.
Getting this look is easy but don’t overdo it! While the turban is likely best left to the Sikhs, incorporating Egyptian accents like snakes or scarabs adds a nice retro touch. Kimonos are another look to try. Wear a silk robe over a baby dolls dress, or even a tank top and jeans. It can add a classy, casual touch without going overboard!
The Timeless Flapper Attitude
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The most important piece of all to create a 1920’s look is the right attitude! Like vibrant stars Josephine Baker and Louis Brooks, the ladies of the 1920s were all about being wild and free, breaking the rules and having fun!
With the right retro touches, you can become the ultimate 1920’s fashionista, updated for today. A little fringe, a couple of pearls and a fur and you’re ready to go. Just be sure you’re ready to dance and have some fun to complete the look!
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