Holiday Parties or How to Make Period Costumes Look Authentic

Not one of the better photos of me--in terrible lighting...
Not one of the better photos of me–in terrible lighting…

Paul’s holiday office party had a 1920s theme–a wonderful excuse to get gussied up and have a night on the town. Many of his coworkers dressed up, and it made for a wonderful experience, but dressing up in period attire can be stressful. So here I’ve given ten tips to make period attire a breeze.

1. Do your research.

You don’t have to spend lots of time on this (though I’ll bet there’ll be something you’re absolutely fascinated by and before you know it, hours have passed), but getting to know the time period will not only help you look the part, it’ll give you something to say at the party. Research something related to your interests as it was in that time period, and you’ll wow everyone with your knowledge.

2. Don’t spend a lot of money.

Frankly, unless you’re going to wear a dress more than once, spending hundreds of dollars on a party dress just doesn’t make sense. There are better ways to spend your money and you can achieve a period look for much less money if you thrift, garage sale, or go to a vintage store (though it depends on the period and the store). I bought my dress for seven dollars at a thrift store, and I already owned the beads and scarf I wore in my hair. I spent another seven dollars on my bag, and I already owned the shoes (which you can’t see, but they’re fabulous t-straps with cutouts) though I could easily have thrifted them too.

3. Model your look off a specific person.

While not a requirement, Paul and I have found that the best costumes are modeled off of specific looks and people. My look was loosely inspired by Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie (which, though not a film set in the era, is stylized in a very helpful way with bold graphic details) as well as Clara Bow (for makeup and hair). Giving yourself specific guidelines can help you focus the direction of your look and gives you the opportunity to further interpret the time period.

4. Focus on silhouette.

The most important thing to get right about a decade’s clothing is the popular silhouette. Use your research to verify the most popular silhouettes and stick within those guidelines. Fashion is all about reinvention, so you don’t have to buy a costume or actual vintage (though if your period is 50s-80s, often times you can find affordable vintage). Focus on drop waists or sheaths for the 1920s and full skirts for the 1950s–for a couple examples.

5. All about accessories.

There are some items that make a time period. In the 1920s, it was long strands of pearls or beads, cloche hats, red lipstick, elbow length gloves, strapped low heels, and cigarettes, especially with long lorgnettes (as it was just becoming acceptable–though still daring–for women to smoke in public). If you’re spot on with your accessories, you can afford to cheat a little, or a lot, on your clothing.

6. Hair and makeup.

This may well be the most important aspect of pulling off an authentic look. Clothing and even accessories can be forgiven if you can pull off a faux (or real) bob for the 1920s, finger waves for the 30s, victory rolls for the 40s, and so on. You need not be or become a makeup expert, but you can rely instead on others who are gifted in that area. These are the videos I used for hair (which was so simple even I could pull it off–she has lots of early 20th century looks) and makeup (which required practice, but was well worth the effort. She has an entire series of well researched period looks that are worth watching, even if you’re just interested in period makeup and have no intention of wearing it).

7. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Someone, somewhere has done this before and has probably written a blog post on the subject. This is the one I found most helpful for recreating 1920s looks from thrift store finds. You’re trying to recreate a time period, not do something totally unique. There’s no need to go to0 far outside the box. That said, there can be bonus points for creativity, you just shouldn’t get stressed about it.

8. Be comfortable.

This goes for all party attire, but if you’re not going to be comfortable sitting, standing, eating, or walking in an outfit–just don’t wear it. I don’t care how authentic/adorable/drop-dead gorgeous the look is. This is supposed to be fun; please don’t torture yourself.

9. Cheat a little.

Yes you want to look like you just stepped out of the period, but it’s okay to cheat a little. You don’t have to use the exact kinds of makeup, underwear, hair tools, and so on that women would have used back in the day. If it makes you feel more confident to wear a push up bra, do that. I chose a dress that flattered my curves more instead of providing the exact period look. It’s about having fun, not looking like you stepped out of a time machine.

10. Have a great time.

In the end, it’s just a party. As long as you’re feeling confident, everyone will say you look great.

If you need more specific advice on period outfits, leave a comment for me and I’ll do my best to help you. This is the sort of thing I live for, people! Please don’t be shy.

Ever worn a period look to a party? What was your favorite part of the look you created?

3 thoughts on “Holiday Parties or How to Make Period Costumes Look Authentic

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