What is a Flapper Dress?

Last Updated: October 17th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

1920s Flapper Dresses

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One of the biggest symbols of the changing times in the 1920s was the new surge of liberating women’s fashion trends and styles.

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Society was changing, and as women began to start their self-initiated liberation, clothing was a form of rebellion they could control.

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Clothing has always been a form of self-expression, for centuries before our time people showed their creativity, sex appeal, and strength through their clothing and this form of expression shows no signs of slowing down.

The fashion in the 1920s was taking a sharp turn from the conservative Victorian fashion that preceded the roaring twenties and showing more skin and style.

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Art and creativity were booming in the 20s, art deco became overwhelmingly popular in fashion, interior design, and the traditional arts. It was so powerful it spread around the world, captivating the artistic minds of the decade.

Flapper Girls Were Changing Times

Not only was modern art changing and taking root, but the music was beginning to morph. Jazz clubs and the styles that accompanied the freeing sounds were gripping the nation, particularly the young folks who grew tired of their parent’s old music and arts.

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Radio stations were playing for younger audiences and jazz clubs were becoming popularized by the younger generation. What accompanied the music and artistic revolution was a social change that spread like wildfire into the repressed youth was just as powerful.

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Besides the changing arts, the political atmosphere was changing very quickly. Women had recently gained the right to vote through the women’s suffrage movement, world war I had recently ended, and Marget Sanger was a force in pushing for birth control and reproductive rights for women, which helped women become sexual beings with a freedom that had never been allowed to the female gender.

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The 20s also brought about the era of prohibition, which only fueled the fire of rebellious youth.

Women were holding the reigns of revolution in their hands by what they wore. Young women rejected the old status quo of long dresses with simple designs and flocked towards the dresses and lifestyle of the flapper girl.

What Does a Flapper Wear?  A Flapper Dress Of Course!

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Flapper girls were taking ownership of a new society of risk and reward, and it showed through their clothing. They switched out-dated corsets and restricting clothing for bras and lingerie that allowed them to move more freely and have more autonomy.

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Make-up was a must, as it was a form of communicating how the female expression was becoming less conservative, and more open and creative. Before going out to speakeasies to drink (scandalous!) and dance the night away to jazz, flappers would paint their faces with blush, lipstick, and mascara to create their own form of appeal that (probably) shocked the petticoats off their mothers.

What Kind of Shoes Did Flappers Wear?


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The flapper shoes were high heels, another staple of the 1920s fashion. Gone were the functional lace-up boots of their parent’s Victorian-era closets and funky, fresh, and quite honestly, jazzy heels became the shoe of choice. The heels completed a flapper outfit and brought the energetic youth out of a repressed generation.

Many flappers had short hair, styled into bobs that were strikingly different from the long-haired up-dos of the dying Victorian era. The required less maintenance and more fun, and fun was a huge piece of their flapper style.


Fringe Flapper Dress 1920s Styles

Most Iconic Piece of 1920s Fashion was the Flapper Dress

The flapper’s dress was no ordinary dress for the time. Roaring 20s dresses promoted mobility, open sexuality, and high fashion. They were shorter than the dresses their mothers wore as young women and were more flashy and eye-catching.

Many 1920s dresses were bedazzled with beading and jewels to catch the light and bring attention. They created a looser silhouette that hid their figures to create an aura of mystery and attraction. The skirts of the dress usually fell just below the knee, sometimes shorter or longer, but typically above the ankle by a good margin. (once again, scandalous!)

20s Flapper Fashion

Art deco designs influenced the flapper dress powerfully, showing in strings of beads hanging from the waist, and asymmetrical headpieces with feather plumes, jewels, and low brimmed hats.

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The most critical piece of the flapper look was the attitude. Flapper girls embraced the roaring 20s and made the whole decade their own. They were energetic, dancers, sexual beings, and broke social norms. They smoked in public, debated, voted, and drank at the speakeasies. They existed to be the harbingers of a rebellious good time.

Flapper Dresses in the 1920s?

Just as powerful as the flapper dress was, it was not without its inspiration from major fashion icons, such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. They ruled the flapper fashion industry.

Alongside their work came Jean Patou’s knit swimwear and sportswear created for the female body. Direct lines and cutting against the grain created the building blocks for all 20s dresses.

Now, let’s talk more about the details of the Flapper Dresses


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Flapper style dresses were made to leave enough skin showing to spark the imagination, while still keeping the allure of mystery, hence the hemlines at knee-length, which was shockingly short for the time.

Flappers’ dress styles typically were sleeveless, in a tank-top or spaghetti strap to leave the women plenty of room to dance and party. Mobility was a huge factor, which was another reason why the flapper outfit kept a loose figure.

The stiff corsets and form-fitting Victorian-era styles were not comfortable and prevented movement. Those dresses were out-dated and a method of controlling the way women were perceived in society. Flapper dresses changed that and adopted freedom of movement alongside their freedom of lifestyle.

What Was a Flapper and What Did They Represent?

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A flapper was the epitome of the social revolution and taking back the female life from the men. They are the main image of what we think of when we think about the 20s, especially the iconic flapper dress.

Of course, we think of the Great Gatsby and Downton Abbey, but when you get invited to a 20s party, the most common style to show up in for women is a flapper costume. It has been 100 years since the rise of the flapper, but their dress and attitude has lasted through the decades.


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The represented sexuality, freedom, exploration, and energy. To dress flapper today is still common but in a different way. Just like our ancestors 100 years ago, women today are reclaiming their bodies and lives from a system designed to hold them down.

Women today might not wear a flapper costume to a club, but the outfits women who go out in, still have the same bodily autonomy and ownership. There may not be art deco involved, but the same energy and life of luxury are still sought after.

No one knew the effect that flappers would have on society and how long their lifestyle of fresh fun would last, but they have cemented their mark on the pavement of history, particularly in style and women’s liberation.

Flappers were much more than a style. They were a lifestyle.

They took the oppression that their mothers and grandmothers experienced and turned it into a sign that the times were changing. They held the reigns of revolution and rode that horse for decades.

What is a Flapper Dress?
What is a Flapper Dress?
What is a flapper dress, why are flapper girls the icons of a decade? Read all about how a social revolution was started by women in short skirts and lingerie!
Gatsby Flapper Girl