I’m going to a 1920s party

Tonight. Quick – what to wear?

I get a lot of people coming to see me because they are looking for help for a ’20s themed event. The real 1920s authentic fashions are wonderful but a little problematic: firstly, they’re not that easy to get. Circa is one of only a handful of shops in Australia that stock original ’20s. Secondly: we might not have the style you’re looking for – or in your size or preferred colour.

This is the downside of authentic fashions – we’re limited to what people wore, and how well it was preserved and how well we can restore it now. Fashions from this decade are almost a century old – we wouldn’t expect to find a Model T in our local car yard and so it is the same with ’20s fashions. Even if you find that Model T, it may not be up for a night hooning around with your mates. Fashion is the same: they’re often fragile or easily damaged and deserving of gentle treatment. You can wear them (and I do my best to make my ’20s wearable) but it’s not the same as wearing modern clothes.

For this reason I generally recommend two things for parties:
1 – Costume Hire.
2 – Creating the look with ’20s style items from other eras, especially accessories.

I love dress up events and I have a little advantage that most people don’t have: a vintage shop to dip into – here are some ways you can create a ’20s look without investing a lot in an outfit that might be in shreds by the end of the evening, and enjoy yourself at the same time.

Firstly, there are two things to consider:
1 – What does the event call for? Where will it be held? Inside or outside? Is there a theme? Day or evening? Will you be sitting, standing, dancing?
2 – What would you feel good wearing? There’s no point dressing up in something you feel terrible or uncomfortable in – the whole purpose of these events is to enjoy yourself, so you still need to preserve an aspect of yourself, even if it’s only a little one.

For my event tonight, it’s a Murder Mystery hosted by Secret Squirrel Productions set in 1927 Chicago. Yes, there will be gangsters! It’s held in a Fitzroy cocktail bar and there will be drinks and canapes – I imagine there will be places to sit but we’re probably going to stand for a lot of the evening, so I need to consider my shoes and how comfortable I will be in them.

My character, Marjorie, is a brothel Madam – so she’ll probably be wearing something dark, something sexy but business-like. Her style will be mature and glamourous. Being the ’20s, her dress will be fairly shapeless, with no cleavage or waist and the emphasis on the hips and legs.

The character suits me, but the ’20s style does not suit my figure – I like to emphasis my curves, not downplay them. I’ll create this look by using a dark but glitzy colour palette.

Firstly – research: I reached for my convenient copy of “Jazz Age Beauties” with many beautiful photos by Alfred Cheney Johnston, and I posted a few nice ones to Instagram.

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Then I bobbed my hair. Don’t worry, I wanted to cut it short anyway, so this was a good excuse.

Generally I dress from the shoes up, especially if I’m likely to be standing a lot – I love Mary Jane style shoes and have lots, so it was easy to pick out a couple of pairs.

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But these are the ones I’d really like to wear: Edwardian style lace up boots. Custom made when we were in Paris last.

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Perfect for a contrast stocking underneath, so you can see all the lacing – ideally I’d like an Edwardian style stocking with vertical stripes but alas, not in fashion currently so I bought a selection.

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Now that I had my shoes and stockings sorted, I added some headwear: this piece was made by Louise Black who has a wonderful sense of dark ’20s style.

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Lots of beads are needed too…..

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I’m going to wear a simple black dress and the accessories will do the work, but I need something to go on top – perhaps one of these jackets, now available from the salon, and coming soon to the webshop.

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Or a silk knit ’20s cardigan.

If you need a dress, you could wear a ’20s revival dress from the ’60s or the ’80s – here’s one available now from the webshop.

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Lastly, here’s what I wore to the NGV Deco exhibition opening – can you believe this was more than five years ago? I’m wearing a black silk ’20s dress, ’30s silk velvet jacket and Deco dress clips…and blonde hair! Sometimes I forget that pink isn’t my natural colour.

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The important thing with your ’20s party is to look fabulous and have a wonderful time! If I can be of service in helping create your look, come and see me.

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7 comments

  1. I almost cry when people come to me asking if they can borrow something from my collection to wear to a party. Parties are dangerous places for non-vintage educated people wearing my things. Sticky drinks, sweat, sauce, kids, weather, mud, grass, lipstick, perfumes….. Nope. I just can’t do it!

  2. We met a lovely lady who worked in a vintage shop in the Saint Ouen flea markets – she also made the top pair in the photo above. It’s about eight years ago though, so I doubt the contact details will work.

    I should take some pics of them on, so you can see how the lacing works. They’re gorgeous! Thanks for the Leg Ave link too: sadly I couldn’t get them at short notice.

  3. The floral shift dress is beautiful. So very 1920s but not tacky – very pretty and authentic looking. Perfect for a sunny afternoon! did you know that the drop waist belt look came from the American Jumper that Coco Chanel loved so much in the 1910s? She adapted the look with her jersey cardigans and jumpers and was seen wearing it as early as 1917. Its difficult to tell exactly who came up with the one-piece drop waist dress, but its a toss between Chanel and Paquin!

  4. Thanks Glamourdaze; that’s really interesting. I had wondered where the innovation came from – the ’20s drop waist is so distinctive, the decade would have looked very differently without it.

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