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Everyone is familiar with the flapper look. However, if you’ve got a wedding to attend, a tea party, or some other event and you want a retro look, you should go looking for something other than the typical sequined flapper dresses.
What did women (and men) do for casual wear or doing daytime chores such as shopping? Were there other types of clothing for less formal events?
Casual Dresses Inspired by 1920s History
Let’s look at the casual dresses for women ( see 1920s mens casual fashion ) and accessories for less formal events so you can pull off that 1920s inspiration.
Retro is cool again, and if you’ve been wondering what women wore in the 1920s during their everyday lives, we’ve got some answers.
The look of the 1920s was a bit androgynous. Flapper dresses went with short hair, slim hips, and small breasts.
Simple and Elegant Dresses
Most dresses were the same basic shirt type of blouse with a fuller skirt that allowed for movement – simple yet elegant like this low-waist sleeveless dress with a flowing chiffon hem.
Or you can add a dash more femininity with this gorgeous all-white number and cloche, and off you go on a 1920s-inspired date or event.
If you mention 1920s fashion, the first thing that comes to mind are flapper dresses complete with beads and sequins. These are great as party dresses but would be considered too flashy, revealing, and inappropriate for most day-time events, such as a tea party or a 1920-themed gathering.
Let’s not forget that not everyone was a 20-something-year-old during this time frame. Women in their 30s and 40s wanted to look fashionable but wouldn’t dream of wearing flapper dresses.
Knitwear for That 1920s Casual Look
Knitwear was a very common choice among women for daywear, especially college students. Knitwear would mean skirts and sweaters or cardigans, such as this beautiful cardigan
You might also wear some brighter colors like this gorgeous sweater
Practical Clothes for Working Women and College Girls
Tweeds were also popular and tweed skirts paired with a cardigan and a simple white button-up blouse could take your anywhere during the day.
Wool was also popular, and during the winter months, it would serve double-duty keeping your legs warm. Remember that a truly vintage look would need to be below the knee and not skin-tight.
While Bonnie and Clyde were a few years after the 1920s, Bonnie’s clothing choices were still very much from that era.
You can ditch the gun and money bag, add a cloche hat, and you’ve got a perfect 1920s casual wear outfit!
By the way, although the fashion was for a pencil-thin body, this doesn’t mean that voluptuous women sat on the sidelines. You can even get the Bonnie Parker outfit in plus sizes!
What Should a Woman Wear to a 1920s Party?
This would depend on the type of party and what role you would like to play.
For example, a daytime event would call for a tea dress. These were more formal than your everyday dress but nothing like the beaded and sequined flapper dresses you would see at a night-time party.
Tea parties were extremely common in England, but they were also excuses for women in the USA to socialize under the guise of tea drinking. It was not uncommon in the US for tea parties to include some bootleg liquor.
Women love to impress one another, so these dresses would be more formal than the sweater and skirt mentioned above. A simple dress with the right accessories would be a perfect choice
Since dancing would not be required, these dresses could be a bit more snug around the waist or legs if you wish. Again, accessories make the outfit so start with a plain dress
Add a cloche hat, several strands of pearls, and a shawl for a perfect look.
Add a shawl and hat to complete your look.
Silk or very sheer dresses were also popular, especially among upper-class women. If you want to look classy, you might try this dress
This elegant number would also be perfect
Or even something like this
You will need to wear a coverup or bolero like the one shown below since showing too much skin was really only for evening wear.
What Accessories Were Popular in the 1920s?
During this time period, it was all about the accessories. It was quite common for the average woman to wear a simple dress and change the way it looked by adding or removing accessories.
Popular accessories that can make or break your outfit include:
Hats or Headpieces
No woman left the house without a hat or something on her head. Cloche hats, such as this one were popular and extremely common.
With shorter hair styles being the rage, these types of hats looked very good. Other hair pieces include headbands
For the average woman, costume jewelry was not only acceptable but essential. To dress well, it was vital to accessorize with the appropriate jewelry, such as
Necklaces, including fake pearls,
For daytime events, you might wear only one or two of these items at a time (such as a necklace and bracelet but not earrings) to avoid looking overdressed.
Less bling for a Kerry Wisby definitely doesn’t mean boring!
Even today, a well-dressed woman carries the perfect handbag, and 100 years ago, women felt the same. For more casual wear, you might choose a bag with a little less bling, such as this one
Or even this
Every woman knows that shoes make the outfit. In the 1920s, however, strappy little sandals were not yet made. The majority of women traded in their Victorian boots for sensible T-straps, sometimes called Mary Janes.
These 1920s style Great Gatsby shoes for women are not only perfect for daytime wear but also for dancing the Charleston.
However, if you’re looking for something with a bit more style, these cutouts are comfortable and stylish
Shawls and Shrugs
Today, we call those small jackets that mainly cover the shoulders shrugs, but back in the 1920s, they were typically called shawls or scarves. These could be as simple as this
Or you can opt for something more elaborate yet still casual such as this one
Don’t be afraid to experiment with some of your ideas. You can move beyond the typical flapper dress by adding or removing accessories to a tea dress.
Did Men Wear Suits All the Time?
Believe it or not, men wore suits nearly everywhere, all the time!
Unless you had a job doing manual labor (working in a steel mill or as a carpenter for example), most men of this era wore a complete 3-piece suit, along with long sleeves and a hat.
If you’re going to a costume party, you might want to wear something not as traditional and more fun, such as a newspaper boy attire
A vintage baseball player uniform or even a sailor’s costume
Gangster Outfits & Suits
Gangster outfits are fairly common, such as this one
Or practice your English accent and be one of the Peaky Blinders
Something Fun & Different
And if you’re looking for something different, consider playing the part of Jack from Titanic
We also like the vintage director’s costume
Or even a favorite of mine Charlie Chaplin,
If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a pool party, you can always wear a 1920s vintage swimsuit
If you wear any of the above for your costume party, you are sure to be a huge hit!
What about a Great Gatsby Party?
You can choose to be a character from the book or you can simply dress the part of one of Jay Gatsby’s many party goers.
Dress Like Daisy Buchanan
Remember that Daisy is a wealthy socialite, so she dresses the part. Think soft colors and flowing dresses such as this one
We love this dress and the color is perfect for Daisy (See more Great Gatsby Daisy Dresses ) – all it needs is a hat
Dress Like Tom Buchanan
Tom comes from, a long line of money and he dresses accordingly. Wear a three-piece suit and add these items to look authentic
You can also wear the classic plaid suit
Dress Like Myrtle Wilson
While Myrtle wasn’t a call girl, she was from a lower social standing, so you can really go all out for this character. She would wear a loud and sparkly dress
Along with lots of makeup and jewelry
Dress Like George Wilson
George was one of the few people in the book who didn’t wear a suit. He was a mechanic and gas station owner, so this coverall with a bit of grease and a couple of tools in the pocket will help to identify you
Don’t forget a hat! Even mechanics wore a hat
Dress Like Nick Carraway
Nick is also wealthy, but he’s much more demure and into classic styling, so he wears something like this outfit
Wear with a pair of pants that has a cuff on the bottom, and you’re set!
Dress Like Jay Gatsby
Gatsby was well-known for being a snappy dresser, and he didn’t mind wearing colors that most men today would never consider wearing. He wore a pink suit when his car killed Myrtle, and that look would be a classic for a Great Gatsby party. +
1920s Party Girl
Jay Gatsby threw outlandish parties every weekend, so this would be your chance to go as a flapper. 1920s casual flapper dresses are easy to find
There are thousands of dresses inspired by The Great Gatsby and Gatsby attire female costumes in this website. No matter which character you want to play, you’ll find them here!
Final Thoughts on 1920s Casual Wear
Women in the 1920s were brave and beautiful. They wanted to break free from their mother’s and grandmother’s Victorian clothing restrictions and live life to the fullest!
Unfortunately, these fashions all but disappeared into the halls of memory when the Great Depression hit. There was little money for food, let alone dresses, but the flappers and other style icons of the Jazz Age will live forever in our memories, if not in costume parties.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.