Way before I had ever read about Jay and Daisy, I was a little girl fascinated by flapper culture. I knew about those 1920s rebel-rousers from Saturday morning movies on TV—the grainy ones where nobody talked and the speed of the film seemed unnaturally fast. Those dark-lipped, gum-chewing gals wore old-fashioned dresses and danced the Charleston at light speed, making their swinging arms and legs impossible for me to mimic. (But that’s never stopped me from trying!) It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that the style of the flapper was actually very daring for the time, and their bubble gum chewing and flirting just wasn’t done by proper ladies. By the time I read The Great Gatsby in high school, my fascination with the era was complete.
I’ve always thought it would be fun to dress up as a flapper, but alas, I’ve never been invited to a 1920s party, and for Halloween, I was too busy being Mary Poppins or film noir characters to try out a flapper costume. But this year I finally did it! I found my inner Clara Bow and freaked out my husband when he thought I had chopped off all my hair. Check out how I did it below!
FLAPPER HEADBAND When I think of flapper accessories, I think of pearl beads. The more the merrier! You could also use a headscarf or turban for your flapper costume, but I decided on a simple pearl headband. I spent a few dollars on these supplies and assembled this headband in less than an hour.
Step One: I cut out two lengths of elastic cord—one about 1″ smaller than the circumference of my head, and the other 1/2 the circumference of my head. I knotted off 2/3 of the longer cord and strung the pearl beads onto it. Then I tied the ends together.
Step Two: I strung the smaller cord with more pearl beads and then tied the ends of it to the longer cord from the previous step. You may want to try on the headband to see where you want the pearl strands to be joined. You don’t want any slack in either of the strands, or you will have beads falling into your eyes.
FLAPPER DRESS 1920s dresses had dropped waists and straight silhouettes. Most “good girls” wore their skirts below their knees—but not the flapper! An authentic flapper dress would reveal knees and maybe even a portion of the thigh. I wanted fringe on my dress because that’s what I think of when I envision flappers. So I began searching for a simple black dress and bought some fringe to add some flapper flare to it.
Step One: Find a black dress suitable for stitching on fringe. I wanted something sleeveless with a scoop neck, because that’s what I usually saw in pictures of 1920s fashion, though more important than the neckline is the shape of the dress. Look for something loose fitting (like a shift or drop-waist style) for a period-specific shape. Woven material is better for stitching on the fringe, though I ended up using a knit dress and it worked out just fine. I found my black drop-waist dress on clearance this week at Old Navy for $12.
Step Two: Tweak the dress. I cut off length from this dress so that it covered my tush, but would allow the fringe to move about below the dress hem. Starting at the bottom of the dress, I pinned the fringe around the circumference of the dress, leaving about 2-4″ scrap at the end. Why did I leave scrap? Because I was working with a knit dress, I slightly stretched the material as I stitched, which meant I used more fringe than it looked like I would when pinning it.
Note: The dress took me about an hour from beginning to end, and I will warn you— fringe is rather expensive by the yard at Joann, and I used 7 yards! So you may want to buy it for less here on Amazon, use a store coupon, or else just do 2-3 rows of fringe at the bottom of the dress, instead of all over.
FLAPPER HAIR & MAKEUP Even if you couldn’t find the perfect dress, and your only accessories are pearl beads, you can pull off a flapper style with makeup and a hairdo worthy of a silent movie starlet.
–brows: Keep them long, thin and straight. I didn’t want to pluck my eyebrows thin, but I used a sharp pencil to draw a long line down the middle.
–eyes: Use very dark eyeshadow and smoky eyeliner above and below your eyes to give them the soft, romantic look of the day.
–cheeks: Skip the bronzer and go for a light, powdery finish on your face with a pinky blush right at the apples of your cheeks.
–lips: Cover your lips with foundation to disguise their natural shape. Use a dark lip pencil to redraw them in a heart shape, focusing on creating a dramatically sharp cupid’s bow (the “v” in the middle of your top lip), and a plump bottom lip only in the middle, then thinning their shape at the edges. Fill in the lips with the pencil then cover with lipstick and set with powder.
When considering what flapper ‘do to go for, just remember—there are more options than you might think! Louise Brooks, the quintessential flapper, had a sleek, straight bob with short blunt bangs, while other flappers had chin-length frizzy curls, or finger waves set close to the face, or even long hair pinned around the base of the neck to simulate a bob style. If you need easy tips for creating a period-accurate style, I’d say stick to chin length hair, deep parts, and for straight hair styles, a dramatic curl at each cheekbone.
My hair is fairly long, but I created a faux bob inspired by Clara Bow. Check out how I did it below.
Step Two: Wrap the braid in a circle at the base of your head, pinning it into place.
Step Three: Use thin curlers (or good ol’ Hot Sticks) on the top of your hair to create frizzy curls à la Clara Bow.
Step Five: Spray your hair generously with hair spray and fluff it up with a brush. Spray again.
Step Six: Pin the length of your hair in small sections into the braid bun at the base of your neck. Set with more hair spray.
Tips: To make the style last longer, use mousse or a setting cream before curling your hair. You may want to bring some bobby pins with you in case your style begins coming loose, as mine did in the wind.
I finished off my flapper look with black fishnet tights from Target, simple black pumps I already owned, and from the costume store, a long strand of pearl beads and white gloves.
Since Halloween is often pretty chilly here in the Midwest, I thought I’d wear this vintage faux fur coat I had bought a few years ago. I think it fits with the look, don’t you? It couldn’t be warmer!
If I had lived during prohibition, I’m quite certain I would have been a goody-two-shoes, and definitely not a flapper. But for one evening out of the year? It’s a character I can really get into. Now where’s my bottle of moonshine? –Mandi