Friday, May 24, 2013

1920s Beaded Flapper Dress

Lately I’ve also been watching a lot of Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire as well as anticipating the release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, so I knew that I just had to make a dress. Luckily I had an event coming up that I could actually wear it to: The Gin Mill Social at Slide Bar in Darlinghurst. The event is basically a dinner accompanied by a Jazz band, cabaret/burlesque performers, magicians and actors all dressed up to create a prohibition style atmosphere. So, I decided to go all out with a beaded flapper dress and, as I couldn’t find any dress patterns that I liked, I decided to draft my own and make the dress completely from scratch.

The Dress

I took my design inspiration from a few different places. Firstly the shape of the top of the dress, with its plunging back, was taken from a 1930 dress that I had previously made (see here).

Inspiration for the skirt of the dress was taken from a few different places but mainly the exquisite reproduction dresses by Leluxe Clothing and extant dresses in museum collections and at auction houses.

The beading of the dress was inspired by this vintage dress. I can’t remember where I found the picture, I know it was off someone’s website or blog, but it was a vintage piece that they had inherited or bought.

As well as these examples:

From all these examples came this late night sketch on a scrap piece of paper:

I used the sizing of the 1930s dress pattern to help me with drafting the dress onto baking paper:

Initially I was going to go for a gold under dress, however I went to my local fabric store and ended up finding this beautiful crinkled silver-purple coloured satin fabric. I did also buy an olive-gold coloured satin as well, but decided to eventually go with the former as it suited my skin tone a bit better and looked more interesting. The over-dress is made from a soft polyester tulle netting.

After I cut out all the pieces it was just a matter of putting them together. I made the under-dress first and beaded most of the over-net before I sewed them together. To help guide me with the beading on the over dress I used the sewing machine to sew the basic pattern into the net. This is the great thing about using baking paper you can sew it onto the net using the sewing machine and then just rip it off, leaving the design in the net.

If you are ever going to bead anything I definitely recommend investing in an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut.

After the upper part of the dress was complete I still needed to add the bottom ‘flaps’. To do with I just sewed two pieces of net to the bottom and then cut them into 10 flaps. I used the zig-zag stitch on the sewing machine to finish off the edges which were then beaded over.

All up the project took me about a month to complete.The beading was definitely more arduous than I anticipated, however I just used to come home after work and do some beading every evening while watching the news and other TV so it wasn't too bad.

If I ever get around to it I might go back re-do the under dress as it ended up being a tad too short, and I would also add some more beading on the flaps of the skirt to make them 'pop' a bit more. That being said I don't think I'll do it again for a while! I'm happy to put away the beading needle and embroidery hoop for now.

The headdress

A couple of days before the event I quickly whipped up the headdress and I’m glad I did!

I based the design for the headdress off one that the character Rose wears in Downton Abbey. I also came across a vintage example on pinterest.


I quickly sketched the design on a piece of paper, then I got a bit of cardboard and cut out the design. 

After that I covered the cardboard in the same fabric from my under-dress and then placed the mesh net over the top.

Then I beaded it and attached a piece of black elastic. For the night I pin curled my hair the night before in a plain setting pattern with the curls facing toward the back of the head. I then sectioned off the hair so that the top layer of hair went over the black elastic band of the headpiece. Then I pinned my hair under to make it look short and styled the curls.

To finish off the outfit wore it with a pair of long black gloves and cheap Oxfords that I picked up from Rabens Shoes for $30 (score!):

I also wore my antique art deco silver, marcasite and green glass ring, plus a pair of matching earring that I bought when I was in Luxor in Egypt last year.

And here is the finished product and some pictures from The Gin Mill Social, the event that I wore it to.

 And to finish, I have to post the most amazing photo of my friend Michaela doing her version of a famous Lupe Velez pose. Enjoy!


  1. Incredibly beautiful! You look smashing in that creation!

  2. Wowsa! Clever channeling of the era! Who hosts The Gin Mill Social, and how does one score an invitation?

    1. Hi there!
      The Gin Mill Social is hosted by Slide Bar in Darlinghurst Sydney. The event is held once a month and tickets are available via their site:

  3. Absolutely stunning creation, you have really captured the 20s feel and style in your gown! Very impressed!

  4. Wow -! That is simply gorgeous. I love 1920s clothing and this has inspired me to have a go at designing and making my own too.

  5. Hi, I've just found your blog - it's wonderful. What a stunning dress, so much work has gone into all you do. I'm going to follow now by email.