What Flappers Really Wore in the 1920’s

When you are pulling together a 1920’s costume for your next wedding shower or Gatsby dress party, know this – that the fringe flapper dress was rarely worn in the 1920’s

Francine Larrimore languishing in an afternoon dress in 1925—-George-Grantham-Bain-Collection

The 1920’s Fringe Flapper Dress – Truth or Myth

It’s so handy these days to grab an atypical 1920’s flapper dress on Amazon. There’s a huge array of flapper dresses, usually in black, with hemlines fringed to the hilt. While you’re at it, you’ll see links to feather boas, long cigarette holders, and flapper headbands. For no great cost, you can kit yourself out as a flirty flapper. The only thing is, for the most part, typical 1920’s evening dresses didn’t have fringes.

” You must like the Charleston Mr Greco. It wears out shoes !”

Racked Magazine declared in 2017 that flappers did NOT wear fringed dresses. An attention grabbing headline. But not true. They did wear them, but it was not the defining look of the flapper. How to dress in 1920’s fashion is not as simple as it may seem.

The typical flapper dress of 1922

The front page of the Arizona Weekly Journal on August 2nd, 1922 pretty much proves that the fringe flapper dress was for real.
They showed a picture of a 100% flapper and listed 13 qualifications, and one of them is a knee length fringed skirt. The photo to the right from 1925, shows two dancers in fringe dresses.

This skirt style appears to have been briefly popular for some early 1920’s skirts and dance dresses. But a 1920’s formal or party dress was quite different if you read on. For day wear, pleated skirts were the mainstay of most 1920’s women, flapper or otherwise.

Evening dress was much more fluid and imaginative. Sequined fringe dresses were indeed worn, but were more often probably worn as a costume by dancers.

Flapper wearing a Fringed Dress in 1922

Fringe Flapper Dress in 1922 – Julia-Farnham – George-Grantham-Bain

There is one stunning image from 1922, possibly of a Julia Farnham, step-daughter of sculptor Sally Farnham. It was found in the George Grantham Bain Collection in the Library of Congress. This girl has it all. The dress is a put together costume, but you can clearly see a fringe on that hem. This young lady had style.

Flapper Dresses Hollywood Style

What passes today as a 1920’s party dress, and what was actually worn in the 1920’s is rarely accurate.
From the hilarious depiction of flappers in Singin’ in the Rain 1952 to the Great Gatsby film 2013, the modern vision of the flapper dress has been reinvented over and over again to suit our retrospective imagination.

Real Flappers Model the Cloche Hat in 1927 Color Film

A 1927 Color film enhanced with AI of Hollywood actresses modeling the Cloche Hat

The Flapper look according to Costume Designers


The genius that was Hollywood costume designer Walter Plunkett. He made the flapper costume look such fun. The lush color of the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain helped cement a flapper look, which was not exactly true to the original flapper dresses of the 1920’s.

Marilyn Monroe models her sequined flapper dress by Orry-Kelly for Some Like it Hit 1929

Costume designer Orry-Kelly, decked Marilyn Monroe ( not to mention Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) out in some adorable 1920’s clothing. The jaw dropping fringed dress worn by Marilyn for the “I’m through with Love” scene in Some Like it Hot 1959 is dripping with fringes. She wore a fringed dress the previous year for a Life Magazine article when she impersonated Clara Bow.

These two designers may have taken some artistic licence with their designs, but they were historically accurate in most respects. So there were fringes on dresses in the 1920’s. But these tended to be highly decorative and sewn on by hand in sequins. Designers like Vionnet and Coco Chanel often created these styles. These were expensive and not exactly practical for dancing the Charleston !

What Women Really Wore in the 1920’s

1920’s Day Dress

Flapper Dress---H-Armstrong-Roberts-collection
Flapper dress —H-Armstrong-Roberts-collection

For the most part, women wore a combination of blouse, cardigan and pleated skirts for day wear. An afternoon dress in summer time was usually a basic shift dress which hung from the shoulders. The dropped waist was imperative of course and the skirt was always below the knee.

1920’s Formal dresses

Chanel-dress---1926-Marion Morehouse
Marion Morehouse models a beautiful sequined crepe romaine little black dress in 1926 by Coco Chanel. Photo by Edward Steichen

For an evening occasion, the dress was much more interesting. 1920’s formal dresses were heavily beaded and decorated affairs – not the flirty fringe dresses seen so often today. Only the most expensive had fringes sewn on by hand. Women for the most part wanted to be elegant. Evening dresses in the 1920’s were more shapely, with a bias cut to the figure. Again, the hem rested just below the knee.

What did flappers wear on their legs?

1920s Flapper-stockings---Holeproof-Hosiery-1922-Coles-Phillips
Beautiful advert for 1920’s stockings. Holeproof Hosiery. Artist Coles Phillips

As hems rose in the early 1920’s, by default, knees were exposed. Hosiery and shoe manufacturers were now in the big league for fashionable women swear. Major stocking brands like Holeproof Hosiery adopted the flapper look in advertising, beautifully drawn by artist Coles Phillips.

The Krazy Kat Club. Rolled flapper stockings

Rayon, or artificial silk was the most common fabric for stockings by 1924. But for evenings, silk stockings were the most sought after. A respectable girl would use a garter belt to keep her stocking tops out of sight beneath her dress. A vivacious flapper on the other hand, would roll them down to just above the knee and hold them there with knee garters. This was also briefly a swimwear trend, though not really practical for splashing about in the water.

Flapper Shoes

1920’shoes—-Francine Larrimore in 1925—-George-Grantham-Baim-Collection

A simple plain pump was the most commonly worn 1920’s shoe. They were comfortable and pretty. Dressy shoes for evenings had either chunky Cuban heels or slender Spanish heels. Shoe designers exposed more of a girls foot too. This was achieved with various T-strap design.

Straps could be buttoned to the side, often with very fashionable looking stones. Day shoes of the 1920’s came in the usual browns, tan or black, while evening shoes were decorative gold or silvers or emerald in color.

What accessories did the flapper wear?

Flapper models Gatsby 1920s Jewelry
Flapper models Gatsby 1920s Jewelry

The layering of necklaces was very popular during the 1920’s. You could never have too little. Jewelry was Art Deco in theme, from bracelets and headpieces to powder compacts and cigarette cases. 1920’s accessories were very much influenced by the Style Moderne theme of the Paris exposition in 1925.
Feather boas were popular however, though considered a tad common.

Marilyn Miller – 1920’s bobbed hairstyle

Contrary to popular belief, while the short cropped bob cut was the most enduring 1920’s hairstyle trend, only a few brave souls cropped their hair in the early 1920’s. Many women would adopt the look by pulling their hair back to the nape of their neck and wind it into a chignon knot.

But as the decade moved forward, many Hollywood stars like Colleen Moore adopted the 1920’s bob hairstyle. Even French designers like Coco Chanel, all reached for the scissors. Young women were more inclined to cut their hair short. Adopting the boyish bob, the shingle or even the drastic Eton Crop ( which cut hair right back behind the ears). The Dutch boy haircut being the most popular, if you had the right face.
But by 1929, women of all ages wore a bob of some kind. Marcel waves were a popular choice for a bobbed hairstyle among white women. Black women on the other hand went to great lengths to iron their hair as straight as possible.

The enduring image of the flapper, almost a century ago, still resonates.
You can read so much more about what women really wore and what styles they adopted in the 1920’s in our concise history of 1920’s fashion for women. Hopefully you’ll think twice before going for the modern flapper look next time. If you’re going to adopt a 1920’s style, then why not DO it with style !

That’s all
©Glamour Daze

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