Flapper Dress

The 1920s marked a significant change in many women’s lives. Some bobbed their hair, some took up smoking, some drank in public. There was a boom in women’s education and paid employment. And, almost everyone shortened their skirts to some degree. Some women even wore pants!

In the disillusionment with the old order following World War I, social norms changed. The peak of this period, the middle of the “Roaring ’20s”, saw the shortest skirts, the most extreme hairstyles, and the most elaborate accessories of the decade.

This dress is a wonderful example of the iconic beaded and fringed “flapper” dress – in a slightly scandalous flesh-colored chiffon. The design of the dress emphasized the wearer’s movement. The fringes of silver bugle beads shimmered and shifted as the wearer danced and moved. 

The 1920s were also a period of significant change in women’s accessories. Coco Chanel popularized the wearing of “costume jewelry”, such as the glass bead necklace, rhinestone tiara, and bracelet pictured here.

Women’s short hair, like short skirts, is also iconic of the era. A wide variety of “bobs” were popular, ranging from the straight Lulu bob to marcelled and finger-waved bobs. Much ink was spent in popular magazines where celebrities such as Mary Pickford and Irene Castle debated the merits of long hair versus short hair. Many women temporized with a “faux bob”, rolling up and pinning long hair to resemble short hair. Other women kept their long hair but dressed it in a chignon at the base of the neck. The “bobby pin” made its debut in the 1920s as a necessary article for invisibly holding the shorter hairstyles in place. 

The Evanston History Center has one of the largest local costume collections. Stop by the Dry Evanston and Spirited exhibits to see some more examples of the era from our collection.