How to Make a Charleston Flapper Costume

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Back in the 1920s, an interesting thing began to happen to women. They set aside their long, demure dresses and docile ways. A new breed of woman emerged, and she smoked, drank gin, visited speakeasies and danced the Charleston. She was the flapper, and she was the original "It Girl." The image of the flapper shocked older generations, and led to some innovative--and occasionally risqué--changes in fashion. Pantaloons were set aside in favor of the more flexible "step in" underpants, and no self-respecting flapper would ever wear anything as stodgy or stiff as a corset. The flapper costume is a lot of fun to make and wear, because it represents a time when women were finally able to find their freedom. You can make a flapper costume for a party or just for fun, and get ready to go out and dance the Charleston yourself.

Things You'll Need

  • A sleeveless silky black nightgown
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • A length of 1/2-inch elastic
  • Several yards of beaded fringe or sequins
  • Several long pearl necklaces
  • A feather boa
  • Stockings with a garter belt
  • High-heeled black pumps or Mary Janes
  • A cigarette holder, long gloves, martini glass (optional)
  • Beaded or sequined clutch purse

Make the base of the dress. Cut the nightgown off so that it falls around mid-thigh. Hem the edge so that it is even. This sheath forms the dress base, which you will attach accessories to.

Attach the fringe. You can buy fringe by the yard at any craft store, either with a simple cotton fringe or a beaded version. Choose which kind you like best, and sew it in strips onto the base. If you want to keep your dress more lightweight and simple, just do a couple of strips across the top at the bust, and then a strip along the bottom hem. Otherwise, you can cover the entire thing for a fancier look.

Make a headband. Flappers set new styles and trends in hair and accessories, and one of the most popular looks was a headband worn over a short bob. To make the headband, cut a piece of elastic that will fit around your head. Sew the two ends together using a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Hand-sew a length of fringe to the elastic, matching the fringe on the dress.

Add accessories. Put on your dress and headband, and add the stockings with garter belts and the high heels. The best sort of stocking to use is a fishnet version, but if you don't have a pair on hand, just use regular stockings. Put on the pearl necklaces (faux is fine), and add the feather boa. If you like, you can also add a pair of elbow-length gloves, and carry a martini glass and a cigarette in a holder (if you don't smoke, that's OK; just roll a piece of paper into a tube and stick it in the end of the holder). Put your car keys in your clutch purse, jump into your Roadster, and go out for a night at the local speakeasy.

Tips & Warnings

  • Flappers wore very dramatic makeup, with extra attention paid around the eyes and on the lips. Flappers typically bound their breasts to make themselves look flatter. While this may not be an option for you, a true flapper never showed a lot of cleavage.
  • If you're going to be doing a lot of jumping, dancing or bending in your flapper costume, make sure that you wear something underneath it.

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