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Flappers’ After-Sixes

How to always look like a million bucks, especially when hemlines are going up, backs of gowns are going down, and those sequins!

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s-

I was at this fancy party at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel the other night. Now, that is one swanky place! All the who’s who of Philadelphia was there, which is why my editor sent me to cover the party for the women’s pages in the Inquirer.

I won’t bore you with who was there (although a certain wife of a certain bootlegger DID make an appearance), but I will tell you what they were wearing.

One of the exciting things about the Roaring Twenties is how glamorous the outfits are for stepping out at night. Lots of fringes and embroideries, feathers and rhinestones, ropes of pearls, and furs worn just so nonchalantly, draped over one shoulder and dragging on the ground.

If you’re a dame that is. The poor fellas are always in tuxedos with the big decision being a black one or a white one.

What to call the After-Six Dress?

There are many names for 1920s formal dress. All after-six dresses have the same look and feel and go by many different names. Party dresses, cocktail dresses, prom dresses, and evening dresses.

Of course, us workin’ gals just call ’em glad-rags and hit the dance floor!


The Look

The boyish shape that is so stylish for day wear is sought after for nighttime too, with a flattened bust, dropped waist and a loose-fitting straight cut – perfect for dancing!


Cocktail dresses are almost always sleeveless and daringly short (from below the knee to mid-calf), although women often lengthen their hems a little bit for very formal occasions.

Popular necklines for the evening include a low square cut, scoop or V shape. One style trend is with a very low V (down to the waist) with a contrasting fabric panel inset in it. This achieves a square finish to the overall neckline and when the inset is nude—well, it looks just naughty!

Having your back to someone in a crowded room is no excuse to skimp! The backs of dresses are often just as dramatic as the front, with a low-cut scoop or V shape. Shawl-like draping is also popular with low-cut backs too.

Now, I’m no seamstress, but I think one of the popular looks is when the fabric is cut on the bias. That’s when the fabric, usually silk or satin, is cut at a 45-degree angle to its major seam lines, allowing the fabric to hang and drape in sinuous folds and stretch over the contours of a woman’s figure. The beauty of the bias cut is that the dress can be pulled on and off with ease.

There’s always lots of discussion amongst the ladies at these kinds of events about hemlines. Up? How high? Down? How far? Handkerchief points if you can’t make up your mind.

And something us dames noticed about handkerchief hems was that they look long when you’re standing still, but boy do they fly up and show a lot of leg when you’re dancing!

Of course, a lot of it depends on what kind of gams ya’ got. The better the legs, the higher the skirt.

Color and Fabric

When choosing your 1920s evening dress, don’t skimp on the fancy! Fabrics are very luxurious – velvet, silk, satin, layers of chiffon and lamé. Gold and silver metallic are eye-catching color choices. Cream, pastels and jewel tones are also common to see. Really, the sky is the limit in terms of color.

Even black has become acceptable (and wanted) for evening wear – in my mother’s day and earlier it was only worn by ladies in mourning. Thanks to Coco Chanel, who introduced the now-famous ‘Little Black Dress’. It has become an extremely popular color for evening and remains so to this day. It is perfect to show off those gorgeous decorative elements and jewelry!

If you love the glamorous flapper evening look, check out Sherilyn’s Facebook page. She posts lots of great pictures and runs a regular Wednesday four-square of outfits and accessories where you can pick your favorite look.


  1. Vangy E Smith says:

    Wonderful – I love this time of history! Beautiful materials. My father dressed me in satin dresses for years. He was a Master Tailor so made them for me.

    1. How lucky! I’ve got long arms and legs and no butt to speak of so having something fit would be divine! I’s also a fan of women’s fashions in the 1920s. So accessible compared to the Edwardian dresses, and much more comfortable to wear- corsets… ugh. I always get a chuckle at the women tennis players from the turn of the century. I can’t imagine running around a tennis court on a sunny day laced into one of those wasp-waisted dressed.

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