Shop the Looks from the 1920s That Continue to Inspire Today (2024)

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Everyone said the years that would follow 2020 would be much like the 1920s. And it certainly feels partially true. Not because there are bootleggers or flappers everywhere, but because there is a general sense of opulence that is returning—at least in the way people dress.

The Art Deco style of the time was defined by bold, geometric, and, often, extremely sparkly and sequined looks. Women were celebrating entering the workforce by hitting the dance floor at clubs and spending their paychecks at Chanel, purchasing garments that allowed them to move freely. The shifting status quo was easily seen in the designs of leading fashion designers at the time. In their ateliers, couturiers like Coco Chanel, Paul Poiret, Jean Patou, and Jeanne Lanvin created looks that took elements from menswear and refined them into frocks with far more razzle-dazzle. Think blazer dresses and skirt suits.

And right now, that exact aesthetic is trending. People want a reason to dress all the way up after living in sweatpants for nearly three years. Every time we're able to step outside and do something in person feels like enough of a reason to dress like a character from The Great Gatsby, the Ziegfeld Follies, or Metropolis. Ahead, we outline our favorite photographs and trends that characterized the Roaring Twenties, along with pieces you can buy now to re-create the look today.

Flapper Dress

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Of the many fashion trends that came out of the 1920s, it is the flapper dress that continues to reign supreme. The style, named after the women who wore it, is characterized by a straight and loose silhouette with a drop waist that falls right below the knee. It was popularized by designers Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret, both of whom sought to bring a masculine sensibility to womenswear. To wit: The flapper is also known as la garçonne, or “boy” in French.

For daywear, the flapper often featured sleeves and a pleated or tiered skirt made out of cotton jersey. In the evening, the dress was covered in rhinestones, layers of fringe, or rich embroideries with Art Deco patterns. Poiret’s designs are a great example of the latter, while Chanel's collections typified the former. Either way, the silhouette enabled women to move freely and shimmy on the dance floor, instantly attracting the starlets of the era.

“Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see at smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes,” novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. “Young things with a talent for living.”

Loewe Sleeveless Asymmetric Fringe Dres

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Maison Margiela Cut-Out Silk Dress

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Taller Marmo Merengue Halterneck Fringed Silk-Blend Dress

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Chemise

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With the loose-fitting silhouette and short hemlines of the flapper dress, women needed undergarments to match. Gone were the constrictive corsets, excessive petticoats, and long bloomers. “The men won't dance with you if you wear a corset,” a collective of flappers said to The New York Times in a 1920 report. Something no-fuss was preferred, and that is what the chemise provided.

The undergarment consisted of an unfitted short slip, often made out of satin or silk crepe de chine, which was easy to, well, slip on. Its shape, however, was the only thing simple about it. A chemise in the 1920s featured Chantilly lace, tulle overlays, picot edging, floral embroideries, and ribbons. The style piled on all the delicate and fancy trimmings we now expect of the best lingerie.

Rodarte Silk Satin and Lace Maxi Slip Dress

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Kiki de Montparnasse Lace Inset Slip Dress

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Mirror Palais Yellow Bandana Slip Minidress

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Cardigan

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Though named after James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan, the modern-day cardigan owes its prominence to the pioneering efforts of Coco Chanel. The designer was taken by the simplicity of the knitted waistcoat aristocratic men wore, seeking to bring that sense of ease to the women she dressed.

According to legend, Chanel cut an old sweater herself and sewed a ribbon to the collar. She was simultaneously promoting sportswear and the flapper dress, and her prototype followed the same relaxed vibe. Her mission was to focus on styles that allowed her clients to move without restrictions, eschewing the cumbersome excesses that characterized women’s fashion prior. As French critic Lucien François wrote, “When Mademoiselle Chanel gets to heaven, she will surely impose her cardigans and little jersey shifts on the Princesse de Clèves and Marie Antoinette.”

DÔEN Fostine Belted Pointelle-Knit Alpaca and Silk-Blend Cardigan

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AERON Beige Mount Cardigan

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Prada Cropped Lurex Cardigan

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Cocoon Coat

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It was a wrap for coats in the 1920s—literally. The choice topper for women in the Jazz Age enveloped the body in crushed velvet or sumptuous sable, civet, or mink furs, acting like a cocoon (hence the name). Paul Poiret, in particular, showcased pieces that really brought the drama. The designer may have spearheaded streamlined dresses, but his coats were all about volume and featured pronounced pelts on the collars, hems, and sleeves.

The size and material of these toppers are perhaps direct results of what was underneath. If the dresses were short and made of lightweight fabrics, the coats needed to be heavy-duty so as to withstand the bitter cold come winter. But in the era of razzle-dazzle, utility simply didn't cut it. Outfits needed to make a statement, and cocoon coats packed the heat in more ways than one.

Bottega Veneta Studded Genuine Shearling Wrap Coat in Camomile

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Helmut Lang Shearling Coat

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Joseph Britanny Reversible Shearling Coat

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Long Pearl Necklace

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Pearls have long been associated with royalty and nobility. Indeed, it was only the extremely rich who could afford strands made with the rare and precious gems. But in the 1920s, jewelers were able to re-create pearls artificially, allowing the masses to imbue a sense of regality without breaking the bank.

“The place of jewelry changed because women’s lives radically changed,” Evelyne Possémé, chief curator of the Art Deco and jewelry department at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, told The New York Times in 2012. “Precious jewelry was no longer suited for a life where women could drive, smoke, shop alone.”

Jeweler Augustine Gripoix, for one, was able to fashion pearl replicas out of glass. She opened her store in the late 1800s and swiftly started receiving orders from socialites and actress Sarah Bernhardt. By the ’20s, her daughter took control of the brand and began collaborating with leading fashion designers, including Jeanne Lanvin, Paul Poiret, and Coco Chanel.

Jil Sander White Grainy Pearl Necklace

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Eliou Chiara Choker

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Barry Samaha

Barry Samaha is the former style commerce editor at Esquire, where he covered all things fashion and grooming. Previously, he was an editor at Harper’s Bazaar, Surface, and WWD, along with overseeing editorial content at Tod’s Group. He has also written for The Daily Beast, Coveteur, Departures, Paper, Bustle Group, Forbes, and many more. He is based in New York City and can't seem to find enough closet space for all his shoes.

Shop the Looks from the 1920s That Continue to Inspire Today (2024)
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