1920s Flapper Dress Pattern

1920s Flapper Style Dress

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Flatteners appeared on the fashion scene during the late 1910s and 1920s, around the same time as brassieres. However, while brassieres were designed to lift and support the breasts, flatteners had a different purpose: to press the breasts tightly against the body

in order to give the wearer the flat-chested look that was popular at the time. Flatteners were made of cotton and elastic. Some laced up the sides to pull the breasts flat, while others had wide elastic bands at the breasts, stomach, and hips to hold the entire body in a fashionable slim shape. The latter type combined the features of the flat-tener with the corset.

During World War I (1914-18) women had worked in important jobs during the war, replacing men who had gone to fight. These newly independent women were reluctant to return to their former places in the home, or in poorly paid work. They began to demand more independence, and this included fighting for the right to vote and dressing in fashions that gave them more freedom of movement. While during the late 1800s and early 1900s, women had laced themselves into corsets that emphasized large breasts and hips, the ideal young woman of the Roaring Twenties was tall and thin and boyish. The silhouette was called "tubular" because dresses were meant to be one straight tube hanging loose from shoulders to knees. Women who did not naturally have the popular boyish figure were still required to strap themselves into restrictive undergarments. Because small breasts and hips were fashionable, many large-breasted women could only achieve the fashionable look by wearing flatteners that bound their breasts tightly against their bodies. In 1927 Sears sold a typical flattening corset called the Abdo-belt for $1.98. The corset reached from just above the breasts to just below the hips, had garters at the bottom for attaching stockings, and had wide elastic bands that slipped tightly over the bust and hips.


All the Rage. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1992.

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Blackman, Cally. The 20s & 30s: Flappers &Vamps. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Incorporated, 2000.

Herald, Jacqueline. Fashions of a Decade: The 1920s. New York: Facts on File, 1991.

[See also Volume 4, 1900-18: Brassiere]

Formal Gowns

Ginger Rogers Breasts
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. The most glamorous evening gowns had flowing lines and elaborate ornamentation and swept the floor. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

A s the economies of Western countries began to recover after the end of World War I (1914-18), people began to be able to afford more luxurious clothes. The wealthiest women began to show off their riches through their clothes. Formal gowns, worn mostly for evening events, were their most elaborate outfits. Women's formal gowns during the first half of the 1920s were characterized by ornamentation. The most glamorous evening gowns were covered in jewels or intricate beadwork and swept the floor.

The taste for luxury spread from evening events to afternoon parties. As a result afternoon fashions made of expensive silk, brocade, satin, velvet, taffeta, and gold lamé, a shiny golden fabric, were soon as formal as evening wear. Dresses were embellished with lace, embroidery, ropes of pearls, and fur trimmings. Sashes, bows, ruffles, and drapes of sheer chiffon also added to the glamour of the gowns. As afternoon gowns became more formal, the hemline of the formal gowns could be anywhere from knee to floor length.

Gowns featured the long straight silhouette of an uncorseted thin figure, softened with occasional flounces, or strips of decorative cloth, gathers, or trailing panels made of long pieces of fabric that hung lower than the hem of the gown in back. By the mid-1920s gowns had developed flowing lines to show off and flatter the female figure. One feature of these gowns was a deep V-neck in the front and a deeper V in the back. Although the front was covered with an inset of contrasting fabric, the back showed off women's bare skin from shoulder to waist. By the late 1920s the gowns of the wealthiest women were spectacular, but women of more modest means could also wear beautiful, ready-made dresses from the retail stores that were scattered across the United States and Europe.


Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

[See also Volume 4, 1919-29: Hemlines]

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