Friday, July 27, 2012

How to do 1920s when you can't do 1920s

What with the imminent release of the much-vaunted Great Gatsby film, I can reliably forecast that 1920s inspired looks are going to be everywhere this winter. But the 1920s is one of the hardest fashion eras to pull off if you're anything but tall and willowy. It's that lowered waistline - for most women a horizontal line across the widest part of their body isn't exactly the most desirable look. So, what to do when you want to rock the 20s but it doesn't "fit" your body shape?

Choose your style carefully

If you feel a dropwaist flapper frock is just a step beyond but still want to work a 20s look, there are still styles from the era you can choose from. The "la garçonne" look in a tailored shirt and tie with glossy trousers or slim skirt can work on a variety of figure types. Beach or lounging pyjamas are both very 1920s and very forgiving. You could even opt for golfing tweeds!

La garçonne style of the 1920s (more photos from this collection)

Add a belt

Some garments can be worn belted to add waist definition where there would not otherwise be. Certain styles lend themselves better to belting than others - dropwaist frocks are probably a no, but feel free to get belty with sacque dresses or those long 20s cardigans and tunic sweaters.

Go for the details

If you admire the styles but are reluctant to stray into potentially unflattering territory, there are ways to incorporate elements into your ensembles. A modern bias-cut dress worn with a cloche hat or turban perfectly encapsulates twenties chic without having to resign oneself to a dropwaist sacque.

My mother channelled 1920s elegance for my sister's wedding, pairing a modern bias-cut dress with vintage pearls and a flapper style turban-tied scarf.

Gorgeous Margaret of Penny Dreadful Vintage at the Chap Olympiad in a jersey dropwaist dress with a fab Chinoiserie kimono and 1920s style shoes.

Embroidery patterns from the 20s can be used to embellish modern clothing.

Mitigate the circumstances

When you really just want to be a flapper for a day and hips be damned, careful planning can still minimise the unflattering aspects. Dresses in fabrics with a fluid drape (silk is the best) will flow over your curves rather than completely concealing them.

Note the figure-skimming bias seaming in the example on the right.

There were even styles back then which didn't completely obscure the waist - though the waist is de-accentuated, the gently shirred waistline detailing in this pattern adds figure definition.

If you can sew, it's possible to alter a pattern so that the waistline sits at the waist - though for a more authentic look, avoid making the top half too fitted. You can even create a dropwaist effect by adding a long peplum.

Wear it anyway!

If you love the dress, go ahead and wear it regardless of the "rules" - if you feel great and own the look, no-one will question it!

See also: 1960s with curves.


  1. The 1920s doesn't really appeal to me that much (possibly from once having to tour in a 3 hr show, in an original 20s dress and heavy 'control' undies, and told not to sweat in the vintage please! Ugh). Possibly because I find the daywear rather plain compared to the periods immediately before and after, and an era HAS to have more than just eveningwear (apparently we must 'work' and so forth).

    I tend to go for early 20s, dare I say a little earlier (1917 or so) with a 'Paul Poiret' type opera coat and drapery look - or, as you say, PJ trousers, a white blouse and tie.

    The one thing I do like is the hair, short and smart with dramatic make up.

  2. Spanish edition of Burda magazine included, in July issue, some updated-stunning-1920s designs. I am usually terrified when they "update" vintage patterns but I must say they really keep the 1920s elegance, and give it a colourful approach. I never thought that only a few more inches of leg (shortening the skirt length, obviously) the 1920 shapes seem more "feminine" and absolutely up-to-date. If you don't get to see the designs write to me and I'll scan the pics, I am a devote follower of you and would like to thank you back. Hugs,
    Francis from Novedades Francis (etsy), novedadesfrancis(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. I love the 1920s style. You are right about it not always being super flattering, but I love your ways to get round it. You know vintage so well! My must have item this Autumn is a cloche hat, I can't wait to find the perfect one =)

  4. Excellent tips! I have an hourglass figure with a HHH-cup when it comes to bras, so the 20's isn't the era for my figure. Still, at times it can be fun to play outside the comfort zones!

  5. Ooh thank you for including me! Like any era, you just need to play around until you find the styles that suit you best. One thing about 20s frocks is that they are often really great for disguising a round tummy, since the drop waist by-passes that area. If you are a bit curvier (like moi) you can also do lots of layering with loose jackets and shawls to get the up and down effect. And long beads aren't just a style of the period, they also help to break up your middle and again add to the willowy feel. Top article :) x

  6. Oh, I have a kimono jacket just like the one Penny is wearing, but in a different colour combination. I have been wondering how to wear it, and now I´m beginning to have an idea! I paired it with an art deco-style brooch the one time I wore it, it seemed fitting to me but I didn´t realize it´s because it´s all 1920´s era!

  7. Oh my, I just love the title and topic of this excellent post. The 20s and 30s are decades that, on the sartorial front, I shy away from something fierce, as looks from those decades almost never work on my short hourglass figure. Your tips and ideas are inspiring to say the least though, and you've now got me itching to do my best Zelda impression on of these day.

    ♥ Jessica

  8. I admit to being super excited about 20s inspired fashion! I'm not curvy, so it's great, no worrying that I'm not filling out the dresses properly. But I'm short, so my problem is always how to make sure I don't wind up looking 12.

  9. I love the 20s but looking for clothes to wear to work to "get the look" is difficult, so I look for wide legged pants and figuring skimming, billowy/floaty blouses. I have one in particular that I love that is pleated with billowy sleeves that button at the wrist. I do my hair in fingerwaves with a kiss curl on each cheek and call it a day. It's a great look!

  10. This is such a fantastic post!! Thank you. . .I have been on a bit of a 1920s kick for a few months but being a curvy girl I always thought I wouldnt be able to pull it off. . .No longer!!! 1920s Jess here I come:)

    Jess x

  11. Not only Gatsby has people's attention drawn to the 20s, Boardwalk Empire is a huge hit in America, and Downton is moving into the 20s, and it seems the whole world is wrapped up in Downton.

    I've always shied away from the 20s, not finding a whole lot that looks flattering. I do like the tie look, as well as that sweater belt look. Thanks for sharing!!


  12. I can't do that look but I have flirted with the earlier 20's before the drop waist came in and, like Perdita, the whole Poiret thing....I am crazy about him!....and the boyish look with the tie, waistcoat etc, worn with a fairly straight skirt. I like the idea of the wide trousers but being short and hourglass I've never felt they would look good on me, even if I could find them to fit, always far too long. Not so bad when I was a size 8 but not at a 16. I love the shoes from this era and I am big on shawls and the oriental look too.

  13. Great post! This is something I struggle with myself, I have a great collection of 20s dresses but never actually wear them because it's just not a flattering silhouette for me. But as you ended you post, I end up just "doing it anyway"!

  14. Excellent post!! I have always been charmed by silent film star fashions, and even have a few authentic '20s frocks in the ol' closet, but wearing them does make me feel very frumpy :( I love your tips, though.

    Another option is the robe de style... very much en vogue in the jazz age, but easier to wear for us amply-hipped girls ;)


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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