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Flapper Makeup and Fashion: History & Tutorial (It Might Surprise You)!

flapper makeup

Want to try out the 1920s flapper makeup, hair, and style? Or just interested in learning about the history of this iconic look?

Look no further!

Keep reading for an easy flapper makeup, hair, and fashion tutorial (with both historically accurate, and more wearable modern options).

Plus, we discuss the in-depth, documented history of the iconic twenties flapper style from head to toe!

♥ Historical Context: The Flapper’s Image in the Roaring Twenties

Flapper makeup and style was very much a product of its time. The context surrounding the young flapper’s life in the roaring twenties was one of dramatic change.

Androgynous style

Flappers loved the androgynous “garconne” look2, and this was especially expressed through their daring short haircuts, and loose, straight-cut, dress styles. Women’s fashion was visibly influenced by men’s – with women’s tailored jackets, blouses, and pant designs drawing heavy inspiration from men’s fashion.3

Just after the devastation of World War 1, the world, and the role of women in particular, altered dramatically. Women in the US earned the right to vote in 1920 and took an active role in the workplace.

Dr. R. Murray Leslie (a physician) stated in a 1920 lecture that the devastation and loss of men following the First World War led the way for the flapper.4

‘The social butterfly type: the frivolous, scantily clad, jazzing flapper, irresponsible and undisciplined, to whom a dance, a new hat, or a man with a car, were of more importance than the fate of nations.” 

Dr. R Murray Leslie, lecture 1920.

Character portrayals in the silent film “The Flapper” (released in the 1920s) embodied the flapper’s carefree and rebellious attitude, and the flapper style slowly developed over the next few years to match.2

The flapper makeup and fashion era didn’t stretch for the full 1920s decade. It spanned from 1923 to 1928.6 It might surprise you that most women in the 1923-28 period were not flappers, but the style did influence the broader fashion somewhat, especially since it was such a practical look.7 Society viewed the flapper look as daring, but not as daring as another subculture style – the vamp.8

The mainstream makeup and style in the 1920s was actually heavily influenced by Ancient Egypt! The tomb of Tutankhamen was uncovered in 1922. This historic event sparked an obsession with all things Egyptian (known as ‘Tutmainia’) among the general public.9

flapper makeup
Advertisement for cigarettes, Gaspar Camps 1924

Iconic Egyptian Queen Nefertiti heavily inspired the makeup and style in the 1920s and 30s.9 This was especially evident with the widespread adoption of eyeliner and the Egypt-central silent films released during this era. Women also often donned a Nefertiti costume at fancy dress parties. 

A lot of 1920s women based their look around ‘Complexion Analysis’ cards, that set out the correct colors of lipstick, powder, rouge, to suit each hair, eye color, and face type.10

By the late 1920s, the flapper subculture was on the decline, and an elegant, sophisticated, and feminine style became the new trend.5

Although not the mainstream fashion of the time, when we look back with hindsight, flapper makeup and clothing became the iconic style symbol for the booming 1920s.11

Icons and Media Influence On Flapper Makeup & Style

From the 1920s onwards, media coverage of world famous actresses and other celebrities began to significantly impact the style, fashion, and makeup of the ordinary woman at the time and shaped the flapper look.12

Louise Brooks Flapper
Louise Brooks

Some of the most influential celebrities from the vamp and flapper era included Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, Theda Bara, Pola Negri, Josephine Baker, and Clara Bow.6

Sears, Roebuck, and Company used celebrity endorsements from Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, and Joan Crawford, to advertize their boots and hats, taking advantage of the huge influence that these icons had on the general public.3

The flapper look was heavily influenced by French ‘haute couture’ fashion and Coco Chanel in particular. US clothing manufacturers would travel to France for inspiration, and release more affordable versions of the haute couture garments when they arrived home.3

However, not all French designers embraced the flapper look. Flapper magazine criticized designer Paul Poiret for his old-fashioned, long skirt style in their November 1922 issue.7

“Why in the name of common sense do the manufactures of ladies’ clothing insist upon girls wearing long skirts, when we simply don’t want them? What do they think we are, a bunch of jellyfish with no minds of our own?”

Flapper’ magazine, November 1922.

The fear-based advertising strategy was dominant in the 1920s.13 Makeup and fashion brands capitalized on the conscious flapper’s concern over her looks. While the flapper was carefree in attitude, she was anxious about her appearance. Advertisements focused on worries about being too big, body odour, bad breath, or not being beautiful enough.

♥ Step By Step Tutorial: The Flapper Makeup and Fashion Look

flapper 1920s look
Tullulah Bankhead

Lips

Flappers were known for their unique ‘rose bud’ mouth look. The goal is to make your mouth appear as small as possible, but keeping your lips full, in a ‘bee stung’ manner.

Apply foundation to the lips’ edges, and the left and right side of your mouth. Define the cupid’s bow sharply, and apply lipstick to the middle of your mouth in a heart shape.

Stick to dark red or brown lipstick shades to keep the look authentic.

1920's makeup
Mary Pickford

This style of lip makeup is quite stark for the 21st century. For a more toned down, flapper-inspired look, just apply lipstick normally (don’t overline), stick to a dark red shade, and define the cupid’s bow slightly.

Eyes

While flappers used burned matchsticks or charcoal as kohl liner, and vaseline on the eyelid, we recommend something a little safer!

Start with an eye-safe glossy base (for the vaseline look) and apply your favorite kohl liner across the lash line. Eyeshadow was scarce, but the elite flappers wore a gray shade swept across the lid. Flappers loved the long, spidery lash look – be sure to curl your lashes, add lashings of mascara, and finish with a fluttery pair of false eyelashes.

Eyebrows

1920s flappers had extremely thin, dark brows that sat quite low on the face. For an authentic fancy dress look, cover your brows in foundation and pencil in two small lines in their place to emulate very thin brows. To keep the look more wearable, lightly fill in your natural brows without adding to their thickness.

Face and Skin

Nearly every woman in the 1920s used powder, and over half wore rouge (blush). Apply your favorite matte foundation and concealer, and keep your skin oil-free with a face powder. Flappers wore quite a lot of rouge considering the heavy lip and eye makeup, but not so much that their skin looked cakey.

The ‘Eternal Flapper‘ Edna Wallace Hopper (1925) advised using a blush that suits your complexion and flatters your face shape. Opt for a red or pink blush on pale skin, and stick to a peach shade for tanned skin. She recommended a brighter shade for the evenings. For a completely authentic look, add rouge and powder to your knees.

“The intoxication of rouge is an insidious vintage known to more girls than mere man can ever believe.” 

Dancers in the Dark1 by Dorothy Speare (1922)

Tanned skin rose in popularity throughout the 1920s. While most flappers had pale skin, tanning gradually became more and more common. Stick to your natural skin tone or feel free to add some fake tan if you prefer that look.

twenties makeup
Louise Brooks

Hair

If you have short hair, try out finger waves or keep it in the bob style. For longer hair, pin it up with bobby pins to create a fake bob. A cloche hat is a great accessory option if you can get your hands on one. Alternatively, apply a scarf or a ribbon across your forehead for the authentic ‘headache band’ look.

Outfit – Dress, Coat, Shoes, Bag and Accessories

It might surprise you that the ultra mini, sparkly, stereotypical “flapper” dresses we see today would have been considered quite daring even for the 1920s flapper!

Although dresses eventually did come slightly above the knee, hemlines never reached so short. But evening dresses did feature a lot of the beaded and metallic embroidery that probably comes to mind.

The cut of the dress was pretty shapeless, the straight-up-and-down figure was very much the coveted look. Necklines did often plunge either at the front or the back of the dress.

flapper makeup and costume
Flapper Inspired Look

A stereotypical flapper dress today, in a slightly longer length (even just above the knee) and loose fitting style, is quite historically accurate.

Wear a calf-length coat (with faux-fur trimming along the shawl) on a cold evening. Flappers wore Mary Jane style shoes at night, and often carried a pearl purse that matched their dress to hold powder and lipstick for touch ups.

To accessorize your look, add a long beaded necklace, and some long earrings if you want to balance out the bob look.

♥ Flapper Makeup

The Basic Flapper Makeup look

The heavy makeup look became popular during this era. The biggest flapper makeup trends included red lipstick, red nail varnish, rouge, and dark heavy kohl eye liner.2

Beyond the Flapper: 1920s’ Attitudes Towards Makeup

Innovations in makeup in the early 1900s and 1910s helped to shape public opinion around the use of cosmetics.2

Wearing makeup was widely frowned upon up until the First World War. While commercial, mass produced beauty products became more and more common during this era, most women stuck to a natural look using homemade cosmetics.14

This rapidly changed throughout the roaring twenties and the flapper period.

The historian Richard Corson notes advertising agencies at the end of the 1920s estimated women in America were using 3750,000,000 boxes of powder, 3,000 miles worth of lipstick, and 240,000,000 cakes of rouge per year.14 Cosmetics sales ballooned from just 17 million in 1914, to 141 million dollars in 1925!3 

However, there was still significant opposition to makeup during the 1920s. Historian Richard Corson notes in 1925 there was an attempt to ban the use of cosmetics in New Hampshire. This opposition was, for the most part, unsuccessful.14

Makeup was considered empowering in some circles and was heavily linked to women’s rights movements in the early 1920s.6 By 1928 it was the complete norm to wear makeup.

Beauty treatment parlours began popping up everywhere to provide facials, help tackle aging skin, and shape eyebrows.1 The new ‘face lift’ procedure was also quite popular. In 1917, there were only 2 registered beauticians in the US. By 1927, there were 18,000 companies and people in the beautician business according to tax records.1

Thanks to new packaging innovations and their carefree attitude, flappers touched up their makeup in public for the first time ever.4 This was despite the fact (or perhaps because) it was frowned upon in polite society.

Wondering if makeup really makes a difference to the way we look and how others perceive us? Check out our full review of the research on the way we look before and after makeup.

1920s Muses: Flapper, Vamp, and Mainstream Makeup Icons

Greta Garbo

A Swedish native, Garbo moved to Hollywood to make it as an actress in 1925. While Greta frequently played the vamp character in her films, she was more of a mainstream makeup icon as flapper fashion fell out of style (in the late 1920s) and in the 1930s.

Garbo in A Woman of Affairs (1928)

Her eye makeup routine involved coating the eyelid with petroleum jelly (Vaseline), then adding a neutral powder shade on top, and blending a dark shade right into the crease of her eyelid. She then applied an eyeliner made from charcoal and petroleum jelly on top.8

The eye look was considered quite harsh in the late 1920s – even for the vamp & flapper generation – and it eventually influenced the heavy eyeliner look of the 1960s.8

 In contrast to the matte skinned flapper look, Garbo used ‘Silver Stone 2’ by Max Factor, (a highlighter-like product that contained silver) to give a glow to her skin on set. She wore very little makeup when she wasn’t acting.8

Clara Bow

The term “It girl” was coined for the flapper sensation Clara Bow.8

Bow largely created her own look after being tasked with providing her own makeup and wardrobe for her first film. Her iconic flapper makeup look composed of red bob hair, thin, downward pointing eyebrows, kohl on rounded eyes, and small, rosebud-shaped lips with emphasis on the cupid’s bow.8

Makeup legend Max Factor was the mastermind behind Clara Bow’s deep red, defined, statement ‘bee stung lips’ look.15

The look was achieved with a technique Max used before the invention of the lipstick tube. He dipped his own thumbs into the lip pomade (an early version of lip gloss), and pressed 2 thumbprints on the upper lip.16

He then turned his thumb upside down and again left a thumbprint in the middle of the lower lip. To finish the look, he contoured the edges of the lip with a lip brush.

The exposure significantly boosted Max Factor’s sales4 – making it clear just how influential Clara Bow was for the flapper generation.

Many believe Catherine in the novel The Great Gatsby is inspired by Bow – particularly because of the character’s flapper makeup style and signature red hair.8

Some of Bow’s favorite products included false lashes, red lips, a brown eyebrow pencil, and Helena Rubinstein’s ‘Color Lift’ in bright auburn.8

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker epitomized the flapper look with her dark eyes, lips, and slicked down bob.

josephine baker flapper

A dancer, singer, and actress, she travelled the world performing and rocked the flapper makeup and style on stage, including the iconic flapper feather skirt. A huge success in France, and Paris in particular, where she now has a place named in her honor.8

Her fame and beauty drew the attention of cosmetic brands, who were keen to collaborate in order to promote their products. 

Helena Rubinstein referenced Baker’s iconic look in one of her advertisements – claiming that her ‘Water Lily‘ body cream would give you ‘a body like Josephine‘. She also appeared on billboard commercials for a hair pomade.8

‘The Eternal Flapper’ – Edna Wallace Hopper

Edna Wallace Hopper was a silent film actress throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. Very concerned with her looks, she was known for having one of the world’s first face lifts, and especially for video recording and releasing the footage of the procedure.18

Through her influential makeup and style, she released her own cosmetics range and earned the title “the eternal flapper”. Her product range included a ‘youth cream’, ‘no-shine’ to remove oil from the t-zone, a lipstick, and a ‘youth clay’.19

Hopper shared her beauty secrets in a novel released in 1925, titled “My Secrets of Youth and Beauty”.20 The makeup tips from her book give a huge insight into the flapper’s preferred method of makeup application.19

“The woman who plasters a lot of rouge on her face, covers it with a thick layer of powder, regardless of whether the shade blends with the tint of her skin or not, and who, as a crowning touch, paints a pair of bright red lips over her own with out regard to line, makes a character of her self.”

Edna Wallace Hopper, 1925

Although the flapper makeup look was intense, she emphasized blending, and keeping the look relatively natural, so that layers upon layers of powder and rouge weren’t visible on the face. She advised using rouge to enhance the face – orange shades were for certain brunettes or blondes only, and in the evenings she recommended a brighter shade.

Edna had a good grasp on the importance of adapting your makeup style to suit your face. For round faces, she advised women to apply rouge in an up and down stroke, with an emphasis on the cheekbones. She suggested that thinner faces apply their rouge in a circular stroke on the hollow area of the cheek. For oval shapes, a triangle application was advised. 

Theda Bara, starring in ‘Cleopatra’ (1917)

The Flapper Vs. The Vamp

Another style subculture that persisted throughout the 1920s, the vamp (from vampire) was more sensual and daring than the flapper. The vamp character was completely irresistible to men – an early version of the femme fatale.

Theda Bara

Theda Bara was the original vamp. She was known for her signature vampy, heavily-lined-with-kohl eyes. Bara reportedly even asked Helena Rubinstein (makeup artist) to create a special kohl liner to increase the expressiveness of her eyes on the big screen!8

flapper makeup anna may wong
Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong

Another famous vamp actress, Anna May Wong was known for her blunt bangs, dramatic brows, makeup, and flapper-esque short hair do. Her influence lives on today – Anna Sui based her 2014 A/W runway makeup and hair on Wong’s look.8 

Anna May Wong

Flapper Lipstick – Bold and Innovative

The dark, dramatic shades of lipstick worn by the flapper became a symbol of the wider makeup look’s “sophisticated rebelliousness”.21

“If it’s naughty to rouge your lips, shake your shoulders and shake your hips, then the answer is ‘I wanna be bad!'”

Ray Henderson, Lew Bown, Buddy DeSylva – “I Want to Be Bad”4

The famous rose bud flapper mouth

flapper makeup
Lillian Gish

The perfect mouth in the flapper era was small but full, the lipstick was vampy & dramatic, and women applied it sharply in a heart shape around the cupid’s bow area.

Lip colors were predominantly dark red, or a red-toned brown to suit the black and white silver screen.22

Applying lipstick to the natural line of the lips was practically unheard of. In 1926, Helena Rubinstein released her “Cupid’s Bow” lipstick that professed to perfectly define the cupid’s bow on application.17

Specially created makeup lip tools for the era (metal tracers and uniquely shaped lipsticks) reflected the flapper’s obsession with achieving the perfect rose bud mouth shape.17 The addition of mirrors on lipstick packaging further emphasised the importance of tracing the perfect shape on the lips.17

Huge Innovations In Lip Products

Before the metal tube, French cosmetic companies sold lip pomade in messy cardboard tubes and glass jars.23 Lipstick rose in popularity when it became available in cylindrical24 metal tubes7 for the first time in 191517 thanks to inventor Maurice Levy.24

But it took until 1923 for James Bruce Mason Jr.24 to create the wind-up lipstick tube. This made it much easier for flappers to apply their lipstick, and they began to carry it around in their purse for makeup touch ups.4 

‘Kissproof’ lipstick, and its matching rouge, was one of the best selling lipstick brands of the early 1920s. Kissproof promised to “stay on no matter what one does”.24

In 1927, Paul Baudecroux (a French chemist) created the ‘Rouge Baiser’, one of (if not the first ever) indelible lipstick.23

Rouge Baiser later became a firm favourite of Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s.23

However, not all lip products were quite so advanced. Common in the twenties, we would not recognise Fracy’s ‘Allumettes for thy lips’ makeup product today. This product contained just a small matchbook of disposable lip pomade-covered sticks and a mirror.23

“It’s comforting to know that the alluring note of scarlet will stay with you for hours.”

An advertisement for lipstick featured in Ladies’ Home Journal, 19291

Want to learn more about the full history of lipstick? Check out our deep dive into the past, present and future of lipstick innovations and ingredients.

Dark & Dramatic Eye Makeup For The Flapper

Dark Kohl And Vaseline

Flapper eye makeup was dark and dramatic.

For a rounded, intense look, flappers drew thick back lines around their eyes, often using the black burned end of a matchstick.25

In addition to the kohl, flappers often added vaseline to the eyelids4, and sometimes a grease eyeshadow to the brow bone for a glossier look.26 It was difficult to get your hands on a proper eyeshadow and it only came in a gray shade for some time.10 

Cake Mascara

The compact mascara (a Maybelline invention) was popular with the flapper.

Composed of a mix of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) and coal dust, the Maybelline mascara was created by chemist T.L Williams in 1913 for his sister Mabel.23

Williams named his brand Maybelline by combining ‘Mabel’ and ‘Vaseline’.

The Maybelline mascara was sold through mail order throughout the 1920s. Maybelline’s cake formula mascara also came with a small bristle brush. Flappers would spit into the mirrored box packaging to liquify the cake mascara – this became one of the only acceptable times for a lady to spit.23 They would then apply generous coats to both upper and lower lashes.

Popular in the 1920s, Rimmel’s ‘Cosmétique’ comprised of the cake form mascara with a bristle brush for application. Rimmel marketed the product as ‘the superior eyelash beautifier’. A blue mascara, it promised to encourage long lash growth and beautify at the same time.23 

Before the advent of the cake mascara, women just used petroleum jelly through their lashes.27 

The First Eyelash Curler

Flappers loved the long lash look.

While the cake mascara helped to darken the lashes, it did not provide the desired length or volume. Eyelash curlers helped solve this problem. The first eyelash curling tongs were introduced in 1923, under the name ‘Kurlash’.23 It was not the most effective curler though – it sometimes took up to 10 minutes to curl one set of lashes!27

False Lashes Mass Produced For The First Time in 1923

The liquid mascara didn’t appear until the mid 1930s. But the first false lashes appeared much earlier in 1916, and were made from real human hair. In 1923, Max Factor and Charles Nessler (of Nestle) patented a new machine to mass produce false lashes – both for Hollywood stars and the everyday woman.23

Common eye makeup products from the 1920s and 1930s included Nesto false lashes; eye pencils by Dorin, Paris; the Innoxa eye shadow compact; and the Kurlash eyelash curler.23

Eyebrows

From the Edwardian era onwards, women plucked their brows, kept them ultra thin, and liked the arched brow shape.27 The thin eyebrow trend very much continued into the flapper era, with low and thin brows the must-have look.28 While flappers kept their brows ultra thin, they still liked to fill in sparse areas with an eyebrow pencil.26

(This was a huge departure from the Georgians, who liked their eyebrows thick, dark, and jet black. They sometimes combed their brows with a lead comb for added thickness and darkness! They also often shaved their brows off and wore fake brows made from mouse skin).27

Flapper Face Makeup: Breaking Taboos

Rouge and Powder

Rouge (blush) became more popular in the flapper years thanks to the significant improvements and innovations in rouge packaging.17 The spill-proof rouge compact was introduced in the 1920s.

By 1928, 90% of women wore face powder, and 55% wore rouge.6

“The woman who has experimented knows just the shade of rouge and hue of powder best harmonizing with her colouring.”

Edna Wallace Hopper, known as “the eternal flapper”, 1925 20 (more makeup quotes here)

Even with all the heavy eye and lip makeup, flappers did not skimp on the rouge. They went bold with a generous amount of (but not too much) color on their cheeks.25 This was in stark contrast to the 1910s. One commercial for rouge, just a few years before the flapper era, reflected the rouge taboo with the line “imperceptible if properly applied” (Ladies’ Home Journal, 1919).1

Wanting to perfect their look from head-to-toe, flappers also added rouge and powder on the knees – just in case their knees were revealed while dancing!7

The carefree flapper, sometimes too busy dancing to carry a purse, often hid her powder compact in her shoe-buckle.13

Youthful Skin & The Rise of The Sun Tan

The flapper’s skincare routine reflected her desire to keep a youthful appearance. And sometimes it went to extremes! In 1923, beauty specialist Eleanor Adair advised women to smooth their wrinkles by sleeping in a Ganesh chin and forehead strap with moisturiser underneath.23

Pale Skin In Vogue For The Last Time In The Flapper Era

Pale skin was a symbol of wealth for centuries. It signalled to others that you had a leisurely lifestyle and could afford to stay indoors all day.

The 1920s was a key period in the history of the tan. The suntanned look became quite popular for the first time in the late 1800s/early 1900s. However, it took until the 1920s for the tan to establish itself as the dominant fashion. 15

From the late 1920s onwards, a vacation suntan was desirable to show off your rich, leisurely lifestyle. A winter tan was especially impressive for this reason – the only way a tan was possible at winter was through a sunny vacation.3

Magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar slowly began to encourage sun tanning in the 1920s.29

“Peach is a good powder color for the outdoor girl with sun tanned skin.”

Edna Wallace Hopper, known as “the eternal flapper”, 192520

However, it wasn’t until 1928 and 1929 (just at the end of the flapper era) that these publications really began to push sun tanning and a tanned appearance.

This was a stark contrast to the early 1920s, when these magazines encouraged skin lightening and even bleaching. The skin bleaching endorsements significantly reduced by 1927 – right as the flapper trend declined.29

Ideal for tanning on the beach, swimming costume trends moved from the covered design of the 1910s to a more revealing one piece style by the late 1920s.4

This set the scene for L’Oreal to develop a lotion that produced an even tan without burning your skin in the late twenties, eventually released in 1935.15

Another iconic product was developed in the 1920s – Chanel No. 5 was released for the first time in 1921 – a perfume that is sold once every 30 seconds today.15

Smooth Skin With Legs And Arms On Show

Even before the dominant popularity of the sun tan, with 1920s dresses revealing legs and arms, hair removal brands seized the opportunity to sell hair removal to the flappers.

 With skin now on show, advertisers began to market razors towards women. Gillette launched their first razor for women in 1916, and by the 1920s, cream and powder depilatories were widespread.23 Marketing campaigns preyed on women’s fear of not looking good enough, and portrayed unshaven skin as repulsive.

“Nothing is so repellent and disillusioning as hair growth on the arms of a woman.” 

Advertisement for Veet hair removal cream, 1924.23

♥ Androgynous & Daring Hair Styles

Finger Waves

Flappers wore their hair in a practical, short boyish style.2 Some of the most common looks included finger waves, the Eton crop (one of the shortest bobs), plus the shingle and graduated bob.6 Some women wore bangs with their bob, and the hairstyle was often paired with side curls or just one curl down the forehead.3 

Women created finger waves by applying a special lotion to damp hair, and using their fingers to style sections of hair in the shape of a wave.3

Although the short cut was easy to manage, women took pride in their hair and invested time and money into styling it. The straight hair look was hugely popular with African American women during this period. A hair de-kinker, developed by Madame C.J Walker (the first ever female African American millionaire in the US), was a staple for African American women.13

Not all women chopped their long hair off. Those with longer hair pulled it up into small curls using the recently invented bobby pin.25

The Bob

Coco Chanel and Louise Brooks were hugely influential in the widespread adoption of the short bob throughout the US.3

The ‘page boy’ and short bob looks, with hair reaching just below the ear, were huge trends. The short bob was another rebellion against the status quo – long hair was widely considered much more ladylike until the 1920s.7 25

Celebrity dancer and fashionista Irene Castle popularized the Castle bob in 1915, and heavily inspired the flappers of the 1920s with this ‘do.30

“I wear bobbed hair, the badge of flapperhood. I powder my nose. I wear fringed skirts and bright-coloured sweaters, and scarfs, and waists with Peter Pan collars, and low-heeled “finale hopper” shoes.”

‘A Flapper’s Appeal To Parents‘ by Ellen Welles Page in ‘Outlook’ Magazine on December 6th, 192231

The Shingle bob tapered in at the neck and often had curls or waves at either side of the head.3 The Eton crop (popular in 1926) was particularly androgynous, it came above the ears with shaved hair in the back, and was often balanced with long earrings to add a touch of femininity.32 3

Flappers loved the Shingle bob and Eton crop hairstyles because they worked particularly well with the must have accessory – the cloche hat. 

Hats and Headgear

Hat fashion changed to suit the short bob hairdo. Women in the 1920s sometimes wrapped long scarves around their head (often low on the forehead).7 Headpieces like turbans and headbands (pieces of material wrapped around the head, often ribbon or rhinestones) were known as ‘headache bands’, and helped finish off an evening outfit nicely.3  But the cloche hat became the most popular head accessory both day and night.7

Cloche Hats

In 1923 the cloche hat was imported to the US from France and became a fashion sensation.3 This style sits close to the head, low on the forehead, and low on the back of the neck.  The brim of the hat varied in its shape. By 1928, the cloche hat no longer had any brim, and it looked almost helmet-like.3

Many assume that the cloche style was available only in black and white because of the monochrome cinema and photography from the time. But that’s not the case. Cloche hats came in many different shades and often provided a splash of color to an outfit. Accessorizing your hat was a way to express individuality. Some had ribbons or fur attached, and others were decorated with feathers or buckles.7 

♥ Flapper Style: Changing Shapes & Hemlines

The Context Surrounding Flapper Style

New fabrics and innovations in fashion provided more flexible and breathable clothing for women.7 Rayon fabric became a less expensive alternative to silk. This looser style suited the flapper era woman – a woman who played sports, danced, and moved more freely.7 

Flapper women expressed their new found feeling of independence through daring short hair styles and hemlines. The look represented rebellion from the norms of the past and symbolised freedom. Women revealed their ankles for the first time, and their knees while dancing.7

Daring Dresses (But Not Quite The Stereotype)

Straight Lines For A ‘Boyish’ Figure

Flappers rocked loose, straight, and low cut dresses that hung on the body with no emphasis on the waist – completely different from the tight-clinging bodycon style popular today.7

The straight line shape of flapper dresses intentionally avoided emphisizing a woman’s curves. This style of dress mimicked the ‘boyish’ body shape that was very much in vogue at the time.2

Betty Compson flapper
Betty Compson

This was a huge departure from the Edwardian era, where the tight corset and petticoat look intended to exaggerate the curves that dominated beauty standards in the past.2

Instead of accentuating their bust line or hips, flappers had their legs and arms on show.7 Short sleeves were popular during the day, while flappers wore sleeveless dresses at night.7 

For the daytime, women wore ‘tea gowns’, with long flowly sleeves in the early 1920s, and short fitted sleeves with a knee length by 1925. Evening dresses featured dropped low backs, plunging necklines, and bustier styles with added feathers.2 

The cut of the dress usually featured a plunging U or V neckline, or a wide boat style neckline. From 1926 onwards, the plunge no longer featured on the front – and instead on the back. Women began to drape their necklaces down their back. 

Dresses were shorter than before, and gradually became slightly more revealing (especially in 1927– towards the end of the flapper era).2 At one point dresses even came above the knee.7 However, the dress length was never quite as short as the stereotypical ‘flapper dress’ costume we see today.

Evening dresses were heavily embellished with metallic embroidery, rhinestones, beads, and fringe.3 Hollywood embraced the beaded and fringe dress flapper look, particularly because these styles caught the light well on the big screen.2 The cocktail dress was made from a variety of luxurious fabrics like silver or gold lame, crepe de chine, velvet, or satin, with shimmering layers of (often bright) colorful silk.3 32 

Coco Chanel’s style was influential for the flapper, and she helped popularize the Little Black Dress (LBD) in 1926.2 3 Chanel also ditched the tight corset and became known for her beaded dresses and more androgynous jersey suits and knitwear – including her now world-famous chic cardigan jacket.33

Undergarments For Shaping and Comfort

1920's flapper makeup and style

A non-restrictive, elasticated corset replaced the uncomfortable Edwardian bone corsets.7 This new style shaped the body in a completely different way. Instead of wearing a corset to pull in the waist and accentuate the bust and hips, the flapper applied her corset to the hips. This smoothed the hip area for a straight up and down silhouette.

Carefree flappers often checked in their corsets at the cloak room in the dance hall or restaurant for maximum comfort, and because they feared men wouldn’t dance with them otherwise.11 1

A lot of flappers flattened their chest with uncomfortable bust bodices.2 The Symington Side Lacer bra was designed to achieve a more comfortable flat chested look.7 Underneath their dress, women also wore slips, especially if the dress was sheer. 7

Women with a naturally boyish figure didn’t take these extra steps. Women with fuller figures sometimes made some adjustments to the look to flatter their shape. The low waistband style of dress when adjusted across the hips of curvier women was most flattering.7

Flappers wore knee length silk and rayon stockings held in place with a suspender belt (invented just in 1912) and long girdle.7 34 These stockings were usually in a skintone color to give the impression of a smoother bare leg. For a more conservative look, women wore more opaque tights with patterns or ribbing.7

The One Hour Dress

The straight line, simple design made it really easy for everyday women to make their own dresses.7 The “one hour dress” was created by the Women’s Fashion Institute in 1926, in order to make it easy for women to create their own quick and affordable outfit at home.35

 One Sears catalog of 1927 included 11 pages solely advertizing women’s hats and dozens and dozens of sewing pattens for homemade clothing.

Bold Jewelry and Other Accessories

Flappers loved to accessorize with lots of jewelry.

flapper makeup and dress

Long pearl or glass necklaces were a common accessory for dancing. Women would wrap the necklace around their neck twice if it was ultra long.7

Pins, broaches, rings, and horn-rimmed glasses were also in style.7 Long earrings weren’t as common, but some women liked to wear ones that matched their necklaces.7 The popular bob hairstyle showcased the earrings nicely. 


Flappers carried lipstick, eyeshadow, and powder in their beaded purse (often handmade Chinese silk purses – easily made at home) to match their beaded dress.7 With cosmetics rising in public acceptance, many women also wore hanging lipstick holders around their necks.7

Strappy Shoes

Low heels with T bar straps and rounded toes were the flapper’s preferred shoe style.7 The strap style was both stylish and practical – it prevented flappers from accidentally kicking their shoes off while dancing the Charleston!3

Mary Janes were popular at night. Lace up oxfords were worn during the day for a more casual look.7 At the start of the decade, shoes were available only in a neutral brown, black, or white color. By the end of the decade, shoes came in more colorful shades like silver, gold, red, or green.

Glamorous Outerwear

Flappers wore straight up and down style coats that usually hit at the calf when it was cold.

The wrap coat with fur attached to the shawl-style collar (and sometimes the cuff of the sleeve) was really fashionable. In contrast to the faux fur movement today, flappers did not have any qualms about wearing real fur.  Monkey or possum fur was most popular for coats.7

♥ The End Of An Era

The booming economy of the roaring twenties came to an abrupt end with the US stock market crash, and the emergence of The Great Depression in 1929. The era of consumption and hedonism, and the iconic flapper look, went crashing down with it.

The end of the 1920s, and the flapper era, paved the way for a more feminine, traditionally ‘ladylike’ style in the 1930s.5

Not feeling the flapper makeup, hair, and style for a Halloween costume or a fancy dress party? Check out our Greek Goddess look instead!

♥ Sources

1. ‘Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s’ By Frederick Lewis Allen

2. ‘Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe’ By José Blanco F., Patricia Kay Hunt-Hurst, Heather Vaughan Lee, and Mary Doering

3. ‘The 1920’s‘ By Kathleen Morgan Drowne and Patrick Huber 

4. ‘Bright Young Things: Life in the Roaring Twenties‘ By Alison Maloney

5. ‘In Vogue: North American and British Representations of Women Smokers in Vogue, 1920s–1960s‘ By Cheryl Krasnick Warsh and Penny Tinkler 

6. ‘Costume, Makeup, and Hair‘ edited by Adrienne L. McLean

7. ‘Flappers In Fashion‘ By Ilianthe Kalloniatis

8. ‘Face Paint: The Story of Makeup‘ By Lisa Eldridge 

9.’Cleopatra: A Sphinx Revisited‘ edited by Margaret M. Miles

10. ‘Turning The Century: Essays In Media And Cultural Studies‘ edited by Carol Stabile

11. ‘The Roaring Twenties‘ by Phillip Margulies 

12. ‘Images of the Modern Girl: From the Flapper to the Joven Moderna (Buenos Aires, 1920- 1940)‘ by Cecilia Tossounian (Freie Universität Berlin)

13. ‘Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties‘ By Lucy Moore

14.  ‘The Flapper, the housewife and the making of modernity‘ by Martin Pumphrey

15. ‘Branded Beauty: How Marketing Changed the Way We Look‘ By Mark Tungate 

16. ‘Our Heritage‘ – Official Max Factor website

17.  ‘The Face of the Century: 100 Years of Makeup and Style’ by Kate De Castelbajac

18. ‘Alton‘ By Cheryl Eichar Jett 

19. ‘American Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Business Visionaries‘ By Charles W. Carey 

20. ‘The Eternal Flapper: The Many Lives of Edna Wallace Hopper‘ By Jim Alessio 

21. ‘Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism‘ by Linda Scott  

22. ‘Vintage Hairstyles: Simple Steps for Retro Hair with a Modern Twist‘ By Emma Sundh and Sarah Wing

23. ‘Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day‘ By Madeleine Marsh 

24.  ‘The A to Z of Lipstick‘ By Poppy King 

25. ‘Woman In Flapper Era Portrayed In The Great Gatsby: A Film Culture Studies By Osa Handayani

26. ‘The Art and Science of Professional Makeup‘ By Stan Place and Bobbi Ray Madry

27.Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body (Volume 1 and 2)‘  Edited by Victoria Pitts-Taylor

28. ‘The Missouri Review, Volume 29‘ originally released by University of Missouri

29. ‘Changes In Skin Tanning Attitudes: Fashion Articles and Advertisements in the Early 20th Century‘ by J. M. Martin et. al 

30. “Vogue of Bobbed Hair” The New York Times article published June 27, 1920

31. ‘A Flapper’s Appeal To Parents‘ by Ellen Welles, 1922

32. ‘Fashion, the mirror of history‘ by Michael Batterberry and Ariane Ruskin Batterberry 

33. ‘Form, Fit, Fashion: All the Details Fashion Designers Need to Know But Can Never Find‘ By Jay Calderin

34. ‘Pantyhose and Tights: A History of Hosiery‘ by Vienne Milano

35. ‘Generation T: Beyond Fashion: 120 New Ways to Transform a T-shirt‘ By Megan Nicolay

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22 thoughts on “Flapper Makeup and Fashion: History & Tutorial (It Might Surprise You)!”

  1. What a fun history of makeup and the evolution of women too. We were so controlled back in the day…. I’ll hang onto this if I ever get invited to a Roaring Twenties party (and now I hope I do…dying to try that rosebud lip look out). Thank you for sharing this!

    Ruth
    http://www.VogueFauxReal.com

    • Thanks so much, Ruth! A Roaring Twenties party sounds like so much fun… what a great idea for Halloween celebrations! Hope I get invited to one too hah! 🙂

  2. Laura, that was a super fun post! I have always loved flapper style and cloche hats are one of my favorite style of hats (I have about 8 different ones myself). I never really thought about how makeup trends have evolved throughout time because I focus more on the clothing, so that was so fun to learn the history of the makeup and hairstyles as well!

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

  3. This was such a fun and informative post, Laura! When I think of flapper style, my mind always goes to Greta Garbo and Josephine Baker. Thank you so much for shedding light on the history behind this look. Bookmarking this post because I hope to recreate this style one day soon!

    xo, Dre

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