Friday, December 28, 2012

How to Dress 1920s with a Rack from Gail Carriger

Someone asked me recently how I'd dress for a 1920s party. If there is one decade of vintage fashion I avoid like the plague it's the 1920s. (I'd take the 1980s over the 1920s, which, if you know me, is saying a LOT.) The 1920s just wasn't a good time for the Rack.

I blame Chanel. Don't get me wrong I love her as all us fashion addicts do. For changing the course of dress history. For being the first perfect example for French simplicity.


But Coco Chanel wouldn't know what to do with a pair of bosoms if they whistled up to her in the street and slapped her up side the head. Girl had game, but girl sure had no Rack to speak of. This made her highly unsympathetic to the boulder-schlepping cause. Never yet has the Chanel label really come around to the top side. Pioneering, as they did, the boxy suit jacket among other atrocities. (Thank goodness for Dior, that's all I have to say.)

 No: Madame Varda in a Chanel dress, 1924 Condè Nast Archive; Yes: Dior's New Look 1947

But, Miss Gail, this does not help those of use with the quandary of having a flapper New Years Party and huge tracks of land. The fact is there is nothing about 1920s fashion that works on the Rack.

So if I were invited to such a shindig? I'd wince and I'd winch and I'd go muttering on about why it couldn't at least be an Enchanted April picnic... But here's what I'd do: work around it. The 1920s isn't going to work with the Girls, so it has to be made to work around them.

 Cold Comfort Farm Movie still, easy hair option.

Here are some thoughts.

1. Try to find a fit & flare dress 

Afternoon Dress Wiener Werkstätte, 1922 The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Day dress, ca. 1924 Chanel Wool

Yes they did exist. Many for daytime, bonus day dresses often had sleeves a pretty handkerchief hemlines.

That second option above would be easy to do with a long fitted sweater over a fluttery skirt.

 Evening Joan Bennet; Evening White

And evening ensemble might be made by layering skirts and tops of opaque and see through material, base with dance wear, perhaps?

Alternatively, hunt for a fit and flare dress that has a pattern flattering to the larger bust (like above) is an option.

At Comic Con in a drop waist fit and flare style jumper from the 1970s.

If I had a 1920s day time event I'd wear this dress with a cloche, little heals, and lots of draped pearls for a 20's take.

2. Try to find a dress with lots of neck floof

  Joan Crawford in Westpoint; and Evening Ensemble 1926, American, Made of silk

Alternatively, you can add scarves and layers of beads yourself.

 Still from Cold Comfort Farm; and You Rang M'lord

3. Drape loose jackets, stoles, etc

Ascot, 1928, originally uploaded by Gatochy; Ensemble 1928, American, Made of silk and wool

 Flapper, originally uploaded by Gatochy; Ensemble 1928, American, Made of silk

 Clara Bow; Cold Comfort Farm movie still

4. If all else fails, move that hip sash to your natural waist

 Flapper, originally uploaded by Gatochy; Evening Dress 1925, French

So long as you use a long skinny scarf as a sash and leave it dangling it will have the right look. The point for a party is not necessarily to dress as authentic as possible, but to dress in a way that harkens to the right time period while still being flattering and comfortable. I approach events more like stage shows than reenactment.

If I had an evening 1920s theme event, I'd wear this dress with a fringed shawl and sash at the waist and lots of necklaces. I'd borrow from belly dancing costuming.

 Hard to see but that's a belted almost 20's style black dress with kick pleats.

Just don't use a proper belt, you'll mess with the feel.

Alternatively, a wide pair of silk pajama trousers or harem pants over a leotard with lots of necklaces, boa, fringed scarf, and the like does wonders.

(Corrected via comments.)

Skinny sash about the head or a cloche and the right makeup and you'd be surprised how authentic this looks.

One of the best things about this era? Low healed overly decorated shoes!

 Same as above.

 My best bet for shoes, I'd add bows and things.

Want to watch something to go with? I recommend the TV series You Rang M'Lord and Jeeves & Wooster, the movies Cold Comfort Farm, Enchanted April, and Gosford Park.

Something for Prudence in anticipation of this style?

  Tiara  Child & Child, 1895  Tadema Gallery


  1. I love your blog, although my endowments are actually far more appropriate for the 1920s than otherwise. However, just wanted to point out that the still attributed to Forsyte Saga Part 2 is actually Lady Sybil from the first season of Downton Abbey.

  2. Thoroughly Modern Millie is one of my favorite silly films about that time~

    1. I watched it and loved it! Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Wow that pink Chanel wool number is a beauty!

  4. Eighth row down, white dress on right (with Joan Bennet on the left): I believe that is Louise Brooks.
    Your post made me laugh, thanks so much!!


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