Flapper Fabulosity! Researching 1920s Fashion with Online Resources

By Rhonda Evans, Assistant Chief Librarian
July 24, 2018

Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council. Available in the Berg Fashion Library Database.

Each decade exhibits its own distinct style. The fashion of the "Roaring Twenties" is often associated with the "flapper"—loose fitting dresses, close cropped hair, and elaborate accessories. As is often the case with fashion, there are links with the political and social changes of the time. The flapper style of the 1920s symbolized the newfound freedoms that certain women in the United States were beginning to experience. In fact, the term flapper was first utilized by satirist Henry L. Mencken in a 1915 article in the magazine, The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness.  Mencken described the flapper as a woman that, "denotes strength coupled with a touch of youthful defiance ...a neophyte waiting to flap her wings as she embarks upon her maiden flight of discovery."  If you are interested in learning more about 1920s' fashion take advantage of some of the electronic resources available from the New York Public Library, many accessible from home with a valid library card and PIN.

Day Wear

The iconic 1920s ;style came into fashion not long after the end of WWI. If you look at photographs of early 19th century women's clothing you will find high collars, cinched waists from tight corsets, and dresses with sleeves to the wrists and hems past the ankles. After the end of the first World War, more women were driving cars and going out to work, and the restrictive clothing was no longer practical nor comfortable. Women stopped wearing the corsets and moved to loose-fitting dresses. Also, hems were shortened to show ankles and calves and women were going sleeveless. In the Berg Fashion Library database you can find beautiful sketches of 1920s dresses, research specific designers, learn about what fabrics and patterns were popular, and even explore international influences.

Active Wear


Vogue, April 1st, 1924. Available in the Vogue Archive Database. Below  Vogue, June 1, 1924

In the 1920s, especially among the upper classes, there was a sharp increase in women's participation in sports, which called for more comfortable clothing, with lighter weight fabrics and more freedom of movement. Perhaps the greatest change was seen in the swimsuit, where only a few years prior women entered the water wearing wool stockings and corsets. The 1920s bathing suits not only got rid of the stockings, sleeves, and heavy material, but added bright patterns and even introduced the two-piece. An excellent e-resource to research activewear in the 1920s is the Vogue Archive database. The New York Public Library provides access to the full run of Vogue, from 1892 to present day, all digitized in color and with full text. Also, if you are particularly interested in the history of the swimsuit, check out the blog post Exploring the History of the Swimsuit with NYPL's Electronic Resources.

Evening Wear

Harper's Bazar

Harper's Bazaar, October 1924. Available in the Harper's Bazaar Archive Database. 

The iconic image of the 1920s are Gatsby-style parties, with women fitted out in their most elaborate evening wear. Compared to the stiff, restrictive evening wear of the late 1800s and very early 1900s, the 1920s evening gown included low necklines with beaded and shining fabrics. Accessories also became an important part of evening wear, including elaborate capes, headdresses, and jewelry. To find the most glamorous evening gowns and accessories explore the Harper's Bazaar Archive database. Just like the Vogue Archive database, with your New York Public Library card, you can access online the entire run of Harper's Bazaar, from 1867 to the most recent issue, in full color and text.  Not only will you find fabulous evening wear from all over the world, but interviews and profiles of the most popular and iconic fashion designers of the day.


Women's Wear Daily, March 1924. Available in the Women's Wear Daily Archive Database. 

Women's Wear Daily, Feb. 1922. Available in the Women's Wear Daily Archive Database.

Every great flapper design—whether on the set of a film or a Halloween party—is not complete without a long, wrapping necklace and a headdress. Accessories were key in the 1920s and the best place to wrap your head around the hundreds of styles of necklaces, headdresses, wraps, and dangling earrings is the Women's Wear Daily Archive (WWD) database. Women's Wear Daily has long since been the place to learn about the latest fashion trends, and the New York Public Library provides access to fully digitized issues of WWD from 1910 to 2015. In each issue from the 1920s WWD includes special sections on accessories and millinery—so you can learn the difference between a Palm Beach Headdress and a Paris Headdress.


Bobbed Styles

Good Housekeeping, September 1923. Available in the Women's Magazine Archive Database.

"Women have tried, but hardly wisely. The new line for bobbed hair is shown above.  It follows the outline of the head at the back, is slightly puffed at the sides, and to be quite new should be parted in the center instead of on the side."  This advice on how to wear the perfect bobbed style comes from a September 1923 article in Good Housekeeping  magazine's "This and That" column. Good Housekeeping  is just one of the magazines that you will find in the Women's Magazine Archive database. In this database you can access beautifully digitized issues of Better Homes & Gardens (1922 to 2005); Chatelaine (1928 to 2005); Good Housekeeping (1885 to 2005); Ladies' Home Journal (1883 to 2005); Parents (1926 to 2005); Redbook (1903 to 2005); Cosmopolitan (1886 to 2005); Essence (1970 to 2005); Seventeen (1944 to 2005); Town and Country (1846 to 2005); and Woman's Day (1937 to 2005). Eight of these magazines covered daily life in the 1920s, and not only will you find articles on how to wear the bobbed hairstyle (the most popular style of the day), but articles on all aspects of 1920 life—perfect for anyone researching the roaring twenties. All you need is your New York Public Library card!

This blog post was researched entirely using NYPL's electronic resources. With more than 500 online research options available, many accessible from home with a library card, we challenge you to go beyond the search engine and dig deeper online with NYPL.


"BARON DE MEYER REPORTS THE NEW MODE." Harper's Bazaar 10 1924: 88,93, 184, 186, 188. ProQuest. 23 July 2018.

"Fashion: Beach Wraps and Bathing-Suits make Gay Prints on the Summer Sands." Vogue Jun 01 1924: 74,74, 75. ProQuest. 23 July 2018.

"Fashion: Smart Golf Clothes to the Fore!" Vogue Jun 01 1924: 66,66, 67, 68, 69, 100. ProQuest. 20 July 2018.

"The Flapper." American Decades Primary Sources, edited by Cynthia Rose, vol. 2: 1910-1919, Gale, 2004, pp. 357-359. Gale Virtual Reference Library database. 20 July 2018.

"A Palm Beach Headdress." Women’s Wear Feb 20 1922: 15. ProQuest. 23 July 2018.

Paquin. Fashion drawing: Paquin coat. 1925- 1926. Fashion Museum (Bath), Bath. Bloomsbury Fashion Central (Berg Fashion Library). 23 Jul. 2018. 

Paquin. Fashion Drawing: Paquin coat. 1928- 1929. Fashion Museum (Bath), Bath. Bloomsbury Fashion Central (Berg Fashion Library). 23 Jul. 2018. 

Paris, Bureau Women. "Accessories: Opalescent Pearls in French Slipper Buckles." Women’s Wear Mar 21 1924: 22. ProQuest. 23 July 2018 .

"Society Snap-Shots: Smart Women Who Champion the Cause of Tennis/Crowded Hours on the Golden Sands at Palm Beach." Vogue Apr 01 1924: 76,76, 77. ProQuest. 20 July 2018.

"This and that." Good Housekeeping 09 1923: 57. ProQuest. 23 July 2018.

"Women's Fashion." American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman, et al., vol. 3: 1920-1929, Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library database. 20 July 2018.