Flapper style revisited

Flapper hat from San Diego Hat at Nordstrom Union Square

The spring fashion season is officially under way, and as Baz Luhrman’s modern interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby hits movie theaters next month, ladies of all ages will be stepping out in the latest Roaring Twenties-inspired looks.

Guaranteed in the months ahead are dropped waists, carefree shift dresses and the seductive embellishments from feathers and fringe to ruffles and lace, which marked Jazz Age fashion. Setting the standard for the newest Flapper styles are the extravagant costumes that Italian design maven Miuccia Prada and renowned Australian costume designer Catherine Martin dreamed up for the film adaptation. The creative duo churned out more than 40 outfits for the movie’s female stars, including Carey Mulligan, who portrays fickle Daisy Buchanan. Filmgoers will be dazzled by the jewel-colored gowns adorned with crystals and sequins, and the velvet, fur and other luxurious fabrics reflecting the European flair emerging among the aristocratic East Coast crowds in the 1920s. American brand Brooks Brothers designed costumes for the movie’s male actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays the mysterious Jay Gatsby, and Tobey Maguire, who stars as narrator Nick Carraway.

Interpreting some of these trends for ready-to-wear customers, designers were inspired by the carefree attitudes adopted by women during the postwar decade. Abandoning the more restrictive fashions of the past, women in the ’20s started to demand more comfortable and functional clothing, and clothing makers responded by introducing a new fashion category: women’s sportswear. Younger females adopted a particularly rebellious style, shortening their hair into boyish bobs and embracing liberating silhouettes, including shorter hemlines, less structured shift dresses, and details like pleats and slits, which allowed them more freedom to kick up their heels while dancing the Charleston.

San Francisco shoppers who want to dabble in flapper style have plenty of options. At De Novo on Chestnut Street, sheer lace overlay and breezy accordion pleats add a touch of Jazz Age romance to a black silk dress from Charlie Jade, while at Y&I boutique across the street, a preppy pleated day dress from Greylin, in mint, spring 2013’s hottest hue, is worthy of a country club outing in Fitzgerald’s East Egg. At Two Skirts, also on Chestnut, Yoana Baraschi’s speckled print Flora dress combines comfort with ruffles and shimmering black-and-sequin embellishment, and the fringe and tiered levels of Sachin + Babi’s Creme dress add up to a great night-on-the-town look.

On Fillmore Street, a softer interpretation of the flapper look is seen in the Fern drop-waist knit slip dress at Alice + Olivia. The soft metallic finish, beaded satin details and flounced hem give the dress a modern and sensuous appeal. And at BCBG, the Agnese Gradient Stripe Dress is something Daisy would wear to lunch, with its feminine pleated hemline and ladylike knee-length skirt.

Twenties’ looks are popping into the department stores too. At Nordstrom, an embellished silk-chiffon, tiered shift dress from Patria and a cloche-style feather hat by San Diego Hat Company resonate with period style. At Macy’s, a sleeveless V-neck fringe dress from Rachel by Rachel Roy is delightful when paired with colorful T-strap dancing shoes. And at Neiman Marcus, an Aidan Mattox white chiffon multitiered halter dress begs for a night of dancing the Baltimore Buzz.

Perhaps the most fun and functional item to come out of the Gatsby fashion files is a colorful T-shirt featuring the 1925 first-edition cover of the F. Scott Fitzgerald book, at BeGood on Union Street. With each purchase of this Out of Print brand shirt, Books For Africa will donate one book to a community in need in Africa. Not even Gatsby’s most materialistic partygoers could dispute the charms of giving back.

Send to a Friend Print
Maryann LoRusso is a San Francisco-based journalist who also writes a blog for women at