The 1920s ushered in a new sense of informality for the fashion world, but some occasions still warranted a considerable amount of formal attire. Women wore both knee-length and floor-length dresses, along with hats, jewelry, gloves and other accessories. Men wore long-tailed tuxedos throughout most of the decade, as well as top hats, gloves and ties.
Women's Formal Clothing
Flappers — trendy young women known for dating without chaperons and overall budding independence — popularized an easily accessible and affordable fashion, blurring the lines between high society "old money" and entrepreneurial "new money." Formal wear, as influenced by the flapper style, typically fell to the knee and exposed most of the arm, only covering the shoulder. These dresses, made of affordable materials like cotton, had halter style necklines and loosely defined waistlines.
The most formal gowns still swept floor-length but also sported the loosely defined waist and halter neckline. Dressmakers used more refined materials for these dresses, including silk, lace and chiffon.
Women's Formal Accessories
Formal accessories included long necklaces made of pearls or other noticeable stones. Women wore black or white hose, and popular shoe styles included peep toes and one-strapped "Mary Janes." Evening bags were flat envelope styles. Gloves, when worn, went above the elbow. Other accessories, like furs, fans and scarves, varied.
Headware accompanied most women's formal clothing. Women wrapped headdresses and headbands — adorned with jewels, feathers or medallions — around their heads or sported cloche hats (round, snug hats pulled down just above the eyes). Alternatively, they donned art deco combs.
Men's Formal Clothing
In general, men's fashion relaxed into informality during the 1920s, but styles for formal occasions hinted back at previous eras. In the earlier part of the decade, men preferred wearing tailcoats during the most important events, along with white waistcoats and ties. In the later 1920s, shorter tuxedos worn during the evening had rolled or notched collars, and most men preferred black, single-breasted styles. Matching black or dark blue straight legged pants remained popular throughout the entire decade.
Men's Formal Accessories
Two-toned shoes gained popularity during the 1920s, but black patent leather shoes remained most popular for formal evening wear, and both tone types demanded lace-up style shoes. Most men wore ties with their formal suits, but ties ranged in style from bow ties to long ties. Many men, but not all, wore gloves covering their hands during both formal and informal occasions. Men wore a range of hat styles during this decade, but the top hat remained the most popular for formal occasions, especially with the upper class.