The 1920s were a brief respite from the horrors of World War One before the austerity of the Great Depression. It was a time of great advancement from civil rights to a social revolution. Likewise, it was a great era for watching the changing fashions of wedding dresses.
The Edwardian period saw boned corsets and highly restrictive clothing for women. However, many women worked for most of the war, and didn’t like the idea of returning to less comfortable clothing. As such, fashions changed swiftly. This worked hand-in-hand with the arts. For example, the United States’ Jazz Age encouraged a casual attitude, especially when paired with the apathy of prohibition laws. Yes, this truly was the Roaring Twenties.
Money that had been going to the war effort could now be used for inventing new technologies. Women needed more time to work, and so inventions such as washing machines, refrigerators and cars became necessary. Also, consumers didn’t need to save up for years as buying on credit was now an option. This meant that the decade sped forwards as everyone had time to relax and party.
The term vintage originated from vineyards. If a grape crop had a particularly good year, it was considered vintage. While that definition persists, we are now familiar with it in terms of age. For example, you might have a vintage car, a vintage dining table or, of course, a vintage dress.
There are different opinions out there as to how old a thing has to be before it can be called vintage. It has to be at least 20 years old, some say, while others quote 50 years. On the other hand, at the opposite end of the spectrum, something is considered antique if it is 100 years old. We must now point out that the above does not apply to people!
Therefore, it is important to keep your eyes open when shopping. If you want to find a genuine 1920s dress then it might be better to check the fashion designer’s label than to trust anyone calling it “vintage”.
We are perhaps most aware of flapper dresses when we think of this era. These were drop-waist, shapeless, mid-calf length gowns often worn by dancers of the Charleston. These weren’t the super short fringed pieces that we often assume they are, and in fact fringing was very expensive.
The origin of the name flapper is not known for certain. Some believe it came from the sound the women made when they walked (they wore open galoshes that “flapped”). Or, some say, it’s because young flapper girls were “little birds” trying to leave the nest. On the other hand, others believe the word originates from the wartime word for prostitute. This is in reference to the fact that flappers were often seen to have looser morals than conservative women.
You don’t have to look hard in 1920s’ culture to find a flapper. Actresses such as optimised the style onscreen and F Scott Fitzgerald wrote frequently about women wearing the style.
However, this wasn’t the only fashion of the time. In fact, the exact opposite of the shapeless flapper was also popular. Jeanne Lanvin brought the robes de style look back to the height of fashion. These were originally made for evening gowns, but slowly the fashion seeped into dresses for other times of the day. The style was based on a full skirt, often with side petticoats underneath to give the distinctive shape. On top, the bodice was either tightly fitted or a little more forgiving and straight-cut.
While nowadays bridal fashion emulates the bride’s personal style, back in the 1920s it was a lot more about making a fashion statement. Therefore, we saw a lot of flapper style dresses at weddings, or at least ones that were not tight fitting. A lot of this could be related to the political climate.
Women in the UK received the right to vote in 1918 (provided they met certain requirements). Later the same year they were allowed to sit in Parliament, and a decade later they received equal voting rights. However, with years of fighting it makes sense that women wanted to hide their shapely form and be treated more like their male counterparts.
Real-Life 1920s Weddings
Even before the advent of having a television in every home, there were various weddings that had the country in a tizz. Beatrice Beckett, daughter of a Conservative MP, married future Prime Minister Anthony Eden in 1923. She wore an ankle-length white dress with a long rope belt forming the stereotypical drop-waist flapper style. Meanwhile, Eden wore a black suit with a top hat. The marriage was not to last as Beckett had no interest in politics and disliked her husband working long hours. They separated in the 1930s and divorced in 1950, leaving Eden to marry Clarissa Churchill, niece of Winston.
Also in 1923, the Duke of Kent married sweetheart Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. The future King George and Queen Mother married at Westminster Abbey. She wore an ivory chiffon moire dress that was medieval in style with silver lamé stitched through it. In another royal wedding four years later, Princess Anne of Orléans (France) married Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta (Italy). She wore a Juliet headdress and a long, cascading train.
Finding Your Dress
If you want to wear the 1920s’ style to your wedding, you can start by looking for previously used dresses. Look at your local vintage and charity shops or use online marketplaces to source some vintage dresses. Or, see if there is one already in your family from the wedding of a great-grandparent.
Remember that it is a lot easier to adjust a dress when it already fits reasonably well. Especially if you are going to borrow a gown, you won’t be able to resize it very much. So, make sure it fits before you commit.
Above all, work out if you want a genuine 1920s wedding dress or just the style of one. Genuine vintage dresses can be pricey and moth-eaten, so it may be cheaper to find one that emulates the style. Besides, popular vintage designs are forever being recreated by modern designers.
Look out for a shift dress, as you will be able to add a belt for the drop-waist flapper look. On the other hand, embrace Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby and go for the exaggerated flapper look. Or, you might choose to embrace the robes de style and find a dress with big hips.
Hair and Makeup
Finally, don’t forget to finish off your look! The right hair and makeup will make a great impact on your finished 1920s style.
Having short, bobbed hair in the 1920s was considered very unfeminine and greatly discouraged. However, even long hair was tightly tamed into bobs that could look short without the permanence of having it chopped. For women who did bob their hair, they had to do it at home or at a men’s barber. The American Hairdresser from the National Hairdressers’ Association published “If You Must Do It Show This to Your Barber” in 1924. White women wanted this new, short ’do to be as curly and frizzy as possible. Meanwhile, African American women were still desperately trying to straighten their hair.
Have a look at various ways of making long hair look short if you don’t already have short hair. Accessorise with a headband or a cloche hat.
Before the advent of the silver screen, makeup (or, paint) was associated solely with prostitutes. But by the 1920s there were a load of ways for women to enhance their natural beauty. Makeup was designed to even out skin tone rather than change a woman’s look. However, as these products were brand new, everything looked a little unnatural.
Later, as demand caught up with the industry, products such as rouge (blush) and red lipstick became popular. Apply these liberally to your cheeks and lips to get the 1920s’ look. Furthermore, you could even add a cheeky beauty spot near your lips with an eyeliner pencil. For your eyes, go dark or try to match your eye colour, like women of the day would have.
Well, good luck on your venture of recreating a 1920s’ style wedding. Let us know any tips you may have below!