Flapper fashion: 1920s dress-up in Berlin
After blogging about dressing up for Bohème Sauvage in Berlin a few weeks ago, I thought I’d share the outfit that I wore to that very 1920s party, which had the period’s sensibility without any real efforts at authenticity. All were picked up cheaply at vintage stores or had been hiding in my wardrobe just waiting to go to the ball…
When we think of 1920s style, it’s all about the flapper. Zelda Fitzgerald, dubbed the first by her husband, writes in a “Eulogy to the Flapper”:
“The Flapper awoke from her shoes of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure … she was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart…”
The flapper sticks in our imagination starting with film of the same name in 1920 starring Olive Thomas, and then through the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anita Loos via Louise Brooks, Clara Bow and Josephine Baker. Although many of the women in the 1920s wore flapper attire, they did not necessarily have the attitude – it was just fashion. However, part of its appeal for us now are those glamorous, wild connotations. These young women were taking a more active role, living for the moment after the insecurities of war (and won the ‘flapper’ vote in 1928 in the UK). The archetypal image of a flapper is heavily made-up, doing the Charleston, cigarette or cocktail in hand – stepping out in domains where women were not supposed to tread, let alone kick up their heels.
As fashion and cultural change are intertwined, women’s more active role during the First World War was reflected in post-war trends. Women took on men’s roles in factories and wore loose full knickers – slack girls, while Coco Chanel introduced less restrictive fashions, pauvre chic, in jersey. And of course women needed looser, shorter dresses for dancing the tango – just in vogue from Buenos Aires. Nonetheless, I was really interested to read that when Paul Poiret’s neo-classical empire line dresses came into sale pre-war, the Edwardian corset did not completely disappear. The boyish dresses still necessitated a corset, which was straight up and down rather than an S shape, for those with the figure of a less lithe boy.
The flapper dress was certainly what I had in mind when I went on a mission to Glasgow’s vintage treasure troves. In Circa Vintage, I tried on a flapper style dress with tassels but it just looked awful and shapeless (I don’t have a boyish flapper figure). Then my fellow vintage shopper spotted this dress below. It’s 1980s /early 1990s but the characteristic drop waist is there, it’s got a low neckline and back, and the diamontes are in keeping.
Headgear is key to the 1920s look – whether a turban, cloche, birdcage hairpiece or feather headdress. It’s in this area that your dress-up can become costume, but it’s also what makes you feel most of that period and out of time. That’s why the Bohème Sauvage website encourages us to wear our hair vintage style:
“We especially want to encourage the ladies to creative use of headdresses and hats, as well as exciting modelling of hair (keyword: water wave) and the use of various make-up techniques (keyword: smoky eyes and pale complexion).”
The headband (pictured above) picked up at a vintage fair here in Bristol, helped me get in the mood. The girl whose birthday took us on this trip to Berlin, was treated to a bob, and another of our party had a go at water waves (see the flyer below). If you want to read more about 1920s hair and make-up, pay a visit to Come Back in Time.
I imagine a flapper wearing long pearls as in this iconic photo (by Eugene Robert Richee, 1928) of queen of the bob, Louise Brooks. A long string of black beads which I bought in a charity shop years ago, were flung on (needless to say not really anywhere near Ms Brooks).
The 1920s style of coat that appeals to me the most has long lapels, perhaps with (fake) fur, and one large button to fasten it. However there weren’t any coming my way so I chose this cape. It’s not of the period but it’s in keeping and worked with the dress. Although in a ‘Style Me Vintage’ guide I read, they advise eschewing the cliché of long gloves, I added them for extra sophistication and again to pull me out of the present time.
I have a rather shameful love of handbags of all shapes and sizes so I thought this part would be easy, but when I looked in my wardrobe the right thing did not jump out. So I opted for this simple purse.
I must confess I did look in high street shops for a new pair of Mary Jane T-bar shoes as I thought they were a staple that I’d wear again and again. However, luckily I remembered a pair of Red or Dead shoes that I’d bought around 10 years ago in my wardrobe. Although the heel is perhaps too high and not rounded enough, they were the style of the decade – the T-bar and the suede element felt right. So they got to dance the night away. (And I am very pleased about this after reading WRAP’s report that there is £30 billion unused clothes in our collective wardrobes.)
And for the boys… or girls
Vintage style is not just for the flappers. Gangsters, cads and artistic bohemians also need to look the part and Bohème Sauvage welcomed a mix ‘n match style for men too. We had the upper class toffs in top hat and tails, the middle class professionals in pinstripes with trilbies or twisting it to a gangster look, and the workers or starving artists in baggy Oxfords with braces and flat caps. Flapper frenzy was avoided by some women too taking on male attire but it was notable that the worker look outlined above was chosen by women, over the others, so there were no Marlene Dietrich look-alikes. Monocles were optional for men and women…
Over to you flappers …
Do you like to dress as a flapper? What style would you choose? Who are the ‘flappers’ of 2013?
If you want to find out more about 1920s fashion (and look at lovely illustrations and photos of the period) check out the ‘Fashion Sourcebook – 1920s‘ by Charlotte Fiell and Emanuelle Dirix (Fiell Publishing Limited,2012).
There are lots of vintage style books on the market at the moment, and one of my lovely friends treated me to ‘Style Me Vintage’ by Naomi Thompson, Katie Reynolds, Belinda Hay (Pavillion Books, 2012).