As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, this afternoon my husband and I are attending a “Roaring 20s” party with some friends. So I thought I would share my own personal process of transforming myself into a 20s flapper. I’m pretty good with costumes, but I make no claims to being any kind of an expert on hair or makeup, so this is intended to be more of an “if I can fake it, you can fake it, too” kind of DIY rather than any kind of professional guidance.
In an ideal world, I’d love to make my hair look like Lady Mary Crawley’s (from Downton Abbey) after she had it bobbed.
However, I have a LOT of hair, and it’s not very straight. So I broke out a few tools in the hopes of forcing my hair into submission: a blow dryer, a large round brush, a straightening iron, and some anti-frizz serum. I could give you a lot of details (and photos) of how I did it, but it was just too thick and a little too long to look appropriately Lady Mary, even with a headband.
Hmm, let's move on to makeup and I'll take a crack at a curly look later. So who else to base 1920s makeup on than the “It Girl” of the era, Clara Bow?
1920s makeup featured pale porcelain skin; heavily lined eyes; straight, thin, dark, far apart brows; and red Kewpie-doll lips. So my flapper makeup kit includes light foundation with a foam wedge applicator, concealer, black eyeliner, a curling wand, black mascara, red lipstick, and light blush with a big fluffy brush. If I had some handy, I’d also include sheer powder and sheer (or red) lipgloss.
Any makeup regimen should start with a clean, dry face, then dab on and slightly blend concealer, and apply a light coat of foundation. I have dry skin, so I prefer liquid foundation, but whatever you prefer will do. You can add a hint of blush and sheer powder at this point, if you like.
Once you have a smooth, even palette to work on, you can add your brows. My brows are naturally somewhat straight, so I didn’t attempt to straighten them further. However, they definitely needed to be filled in and darkened for a true 20s look. Using black pencil, I drew in feathered lines along my natural browline, then carefully smudged them with my finger. I started the liner well back from the start of my natural brows, to emphasize the separation.
Next comes eyeliner. I prefer to line first, then curl my lashes and apply mascara, but this can get messy if you don’t curl your lashes regularly, so it might be neater to curl them first. I just find it difficult to line neatly with my lashes all curled! Liner in the 20s was applied with a heavy hand, so if you can manage it, line the inner rim of your eyes as well as under your lash line. Make the line heavier as you get to the outside corner of your eye – not quite a cat’s eye, but don’t be afraid to angle up a bit at the outer edge, especially if your eyes are heavy-lidded, like mine.
To curl your lashes, place the wand as close to the base of your lashes as you can, being careful not to pinch your skin. Use a finger to gently stretch your lid at the corner if you need to. Squeeze tightly for 5-10 seconds. If your lashes are especially long, you may want to add a second bit of curl in the middle of the lash (holding for just a few seconds is plenty). Apply mascara immediately to “freeze” the lashes in place. Gently wiggle the brush back and forth as you pull it along the length of your lashes to avoid clumps. When doing your lower lashes, avoid getting mascara under your eyes by just barely touching the lashes and pulling upward slightly. The mascara will cause the lashes to stick to the brush and as you pull, the brush will slide along the length without getting near your skin. If you do get mascara under your lash line, fold a square of toilet paper or tissue and run it back and forth under your lashes.
If you're good at eyeshadow, you can add a charcoal smoky eye to look very period. Check out the Clara Bow picture above for a perfect example.
And lastly, we have lips! Since I have auburn hair, true red lips aren’t terribly flattering on me, so I went with a red that was closer to a bright coral, but if you can get away with it, go for scarlet!! Bow-shaped lips were the vogue in the 1920s, so apply the lipstick heavily at the center of your lips and apply very little at the corners. You can even “erase” the corners of your lips with foundation and create an artificially small mouth with lipstick if you prefer. Blot carefully when you’re done (you can see on my blotting paper that the lipstick is lighter at the corners), and apply sheer gloss if you like.
Next it’s time to move onto clothes!! Let’s start with undergarments: The 1920s emphasized flat chests and slim, boyish figures, so if you already have a small chest, take advantage of it to go braless, or if you’re more well-endowed, try a minimizing bra, even a sports bra if your dress allows for it. Throw on some Spanx if they make you more comfortable in a slim-fitting dress. Stockings of the day were seamed, so if you can find seamed stockings or seamed pantyhose, wear them! If not, you (or a friend - having used this technique, I recommend asking a very CLOSE friend, especially if your dress is short) can draw on seams with eyeliner and wear sheer hose. (If you don’t wear hose, you’ll have trouble with smudged lines.) For shoes, T-straps were big, as were mary janes, both with a low, sturdy heel.
If you have access to a local community theater that rents or lends costumes, see if you can find a straight-cut dress with a dropped waist and ruffles and fringe trim. Other period details include embroidered or lace panels, handkerchief hems, and draped necklines and shoulders. If you’re willing to invest in a vintage dress, check out ebay (although it’s not easy to find vintage 20s dresses in larger sizes, or in wearable condition), or look for a reproduction or vintage-inspired dress on websites like modcloth.com, unique-vintage.com (which is where I got this one), pinupgirlclothing.com, or rosegal.com. But don’t forget to also look at stores like JC Penney and Macys, both of which often carry retro-style dresses, and often at a much lower price.
Finally, the devil is in the details: let’s add a few accessories. A long pearl or bead necklace, knotted at the bottom, large chandelier earrings (rhinestones or pearls are great), and of course, a fancy headband (feathers optional). Headbands can either be worn over your hair, or you can tuck the back part underneath your hair. If you’re wearing a more casual dress, a great little cloche is also a perfect topper.
Okay, back to the hair. It's too late to do overnight rag curls, so let's try hot rollers instead. The set I have is small enough for decent, Clara Bow-ish curls. I started with the long sections at my crown and rolled under and downward from my part, excluding my bangs, then did the bangs and the back sections of my hair, also curling both underneath. 1920s curls were messy curls, so I didn't bother to comb through each section before I rolled it, and I twisted the ends and tucked them under as I rolled.
I made sure to let the curls get thoroughly cool (about an hour) before I took the rollers out. The immediate post-curl look is never a good one. I checked the back to make sure there were no escaped straight sections (which can easily be touched up with a curling iron).
I fluffed out the curls with my fingers, but it was still not a good look.
Luckily, several "how to" websites that I consulted before this attempt reassured me that brushing out the curls would shape them without losing the curl that I wanted. Phew, that was much better. Especially once I added my headband. I gave the curls a good spritz with hairspray before I put on the headband - don't forget underneath, too, to keep the volume.
Add a few more accessories, like long gloves and a parasol, and you'll be the bee's knees, ready to dance the Lindy and drink bathtub gin like it's 1929! 23 skidoo!!