Ladies’ fashions in the 1920s were quite varied, but the iconic style is that of the flapper. Common from 1926 to 1928, easy to sew flapper fashions allowed middle class women to dress fashionably for the first time. Along with short hair and an increase in social freedom, flapper clothing became an emblem of modern womanhood: feminine, yet fun. The style retains an aura of elegant fun even today, and recreations of of 1920s dresses grace stylish daytime weddings and other semiformal events. Flapper fashions have a number of recognizable characteristics.
The overall silhouette of the fashionable flapper was angular and masculine. Her curves, freed from the uncomfortable and unhealthy confines of the traditional corset, were concealed by straight loose fitting garments. Together with the short hair of the period, this resulted in a characteristic boyish look. The comfort and freedom of movement of her clothing make 1920s dresses perfect for today’s wearer.
Flat chests were part and parcel of flapper style. The brassieres of the 1920s merely strapped things in place to prevent the discomfort and embarrassment of jiggle. In the process the bosom was usually compressed enough not to interfere with the masculine impression flappers strove for. Twenty-first century flappers have the advantage of modern bras, making the look achievable even to those who wear larger cup sizes.
Flappers wore straight shifts with few darts or tucks to complicate construction. This made it possible for middle class women to make their own clothes and, for the first time, dress as fashionably as the very rich. Straight, loose dresses are the hallmark of the flapper era. If the dress had a waistline at all, it was dropped to the level of the hips. The loose fit and straight lines of these styles work even today to conceal minor figure flaws.
Skirts were short in the flapper era, often above the knee, although some women continued to wear them slightly longer. Like the rest of the flapper’s clothing, the silhouette of her skirt was loose and straight. Irregular hemlines became popular toward the end of the flapper period. Modern flappers can wear skirts just above or just below the knee with equal claim to historical accuracy, or even wear ankle or floor length skirts without sacrificing the look of 1920s dresses.
Straight skirts, particularly longer ones, make it difficult to walk. Flappers made their dresses and skirts with pleats, gathers, slits or godets to allow the comfort and freedom of movement that was so important to 1920s style. The more natural gait that such clothing allowed made it possible for young women to participate in society in ways never seen before, and it allows modern wearers to be stylish and comfortable at the same time.
Bare arms typified 1920s dresses where climate allowed. For the first time the fashion ideal was not the matriarch of a family but the daughter in her teens. Bare arms gave an ensemble a casual, youthful look that was perfectly appropriate far a flapper and is equally suitable to modern wearers.
Not all of 1920s fashion revolved around dresses, of course. In this period cotton stockings were replaced by silk or nylon hose. These were often patterned, and were worn with high heeled Mary Janes which sometimes featured T straps or decorative buckles. One of the most characteristic accessories was the cloche hat which fit tightly over the flapper’s close cropped hair. While such items might be necessary for a historical costume, nothing stops modern wearers from integrating 1920s dresses into charmingly eclectic costumes with shoes and accessories from another era.