1920s-40s Style Accessories to Wear Now

Accessorizing with genuine or inspired vintage pieces are a great way to begin to dress vintage or fun way of styling modern clothes. Being a female and not knowing any men who dress vintage, this post is about women’s accessories. While a lot of women love the 50s/60s, I’m personally inspired by the 20s-40s for accessories which is what this post will focus on. (However for clothing styles I tend to shift to other decades and am planning a post for that later.) 98% of the jewelry I own is modern by the way but has the look of another era–to me anyway. I also want to add for anyone who may have asked themselves or been asked by others: I do believe that you can still hold modern values/views and dress vintage. Define for yourself what “dressing vintage” means to you..maybe you only like a certain decade or wear certain accessories/garments individually or all together from head to toe. It’s about what you feel your best in and suits your personality!


Coco Chanel advised in the 1920s, “If you want to start a [jewelry] collection, start with a brooch because you will find most use for it. It can be pinned on a suit lapel, collar or pocket, on a hat, belt or evening gown.” With that said, brooches are the perfect place to begin!

1930s-50s Brooches


This is a collage I made on my phone a few years ago for a personal project that I recently found on my computer. From top left going clockwise: Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Carole Lombard, Joan Bennett and Elizabeth Taylor.

Above are some different placement ideas for a brooch. Although the photos show glimmering diamond brooches, they come in all kinds of styles from gems or animals to plastic or solid metal depending on the era they’re from. Vintage and second hand shops are great places to look for originals, especially in small towns I’ve found for the most part–but depending on the shop/location/era of item it may be expensive. In my small collection of brooches, one is a large pink cameo with rhinestones that was originally on a bracelet too large for my wrist so I cut the strings, saved the beads and glued a pin the back of the cameo. Repurposing jewelry is a great way to start a brooch collection.



Left is Mildred Davis, top right is Gloria Swanson, and bottom right is Mary Nolan

Jewelry of the roaring twenties extended beyond long pearl necklaces. It was becoming in fashion to wear costume jewelry. Round plastic and glass beads were also in style in various colors, sometimes contrasting with an outfit for a more colorful look. (I’m pretty sure Mildred Davis is wearing pearls but those were also the size of beads too.) Geometric gemstones in citrine, emerald and amethyst were among the popular choices. The 1923 discovery of King Tut’s tomb brought a trend of Egyptian jewelry for the first part of the decade. Earrings of the decade were delicate. Some women only wore earrings at night but those who wore them in the daytime might have chosen a pair of drop earrings with a single bead such as Gloria Swanson’s or stones including coral, jade and turquoise. For evening, Mary Nolan’s dangling earring with diamonds is the style we tend to think of for earrings of the decade with Art Deco influence. Pearls in teardrop and round shapes were also worn. Not pictured are bangles, which were popular with the introductory of Bakelite though shell, wood and metal were other materials used. Worn stacked or alone, the bangle could have a design inspired by the art movement of Cubism, Egyptian revival, or have a gem in the center.



Clara Bow (left) and Louise Brooks (right)

The main style of purses tended to be a clutch purse such as Louise Brooks’s. For daywear, purses were made of materials of leather, snakeskin and cotton (for those who lived in rural areas and made their own clothes from feed sack prints). Not pictured is the drawstring purse, which could be beaded or have fringe/tassel at the bottom. Evening wear included materials such as mesh, beaded designs were popular but often expensive, and silk. Evening wear purses had metal kiss lock closures and often a thin chain or fabric/plastic handle sometimes in a round shape to be worn like a bangle on the wrist. I noticed that evening wear purses were the most colorful and daywear purses were more neutral, indicating that the average woman probably had one or two day purses and maybe one evening bag.



Top left Ida Lupino, bottom left Fay Wray and right is Gloria Stuart

By the 1930s it was easier for women of all budgets to attain costume jewelry with art deco still being a source of inspiration for the early part of the decade. But it was the escape Hollywood films gave that prompted the desirable look of glamour. Jewelry was becoming slightly thicker and the shapes were more rectangle and square. For earrings, Ida Lupino’s angel wing are an example of the transition to the style of post earrings for not only day but also evening. Styles ranged from the glimmering rhinestones like Lupino’s to materials of Bakelite in bright novelty shapes of nature and patterned metals such as Gloria Stuart’s necklace. Stuart’s earrings are an example of how dangling earrings were still worn in the evenings but notice the cut of the stones and how the cluster isn’t as streamline as the decade before. These may have been diamonds but glass was used to mimic the look of gemstones. Gemstones of the 30s were moonstone and amber. As for bracelets, the photo of Fay Wray shows the trend of bangles carried into the 1930s. Other bracelets were large beads such as an Amber colored bead bracelet or metal bracelets with an engraved design topped with glass gems. Fay Wray’s plastic stone ring is another style. Diamond rings of this era are beautiful and were still worn for engagement/marriage and evening wear but plastic colored stones were also worn as rings. (See Dietrich’s below for another variation.)


Marlene Dietrich (left) and Carole Lombard (right)

Clutch purses were still popular like in the 1920s but the shapes and styles were changing. Above Dietrich’s bag is an example of one of the evening styles, which showed that the tiny beaded purses of the twenties were phased out. Evening purses were still made with mesh and beads favoring shell or fan shapes with the size of the purse narrow at the top but growing a little wider at the bottom. Other materials for purses were suede and satin. Some evening bags had clasps encrusted with jewels too! Lombard’s white handbag is another example of the sizes of purses growing wider gradually through the decade. Her purse has a handle, showing there were alternatives to the clutch, though she’s grasping the sides. Materials for purses during the day were leather, alligator, crochet, wooden beads (often painted), and straw.



Top left is Maureen O’Hara, bottom left is Bette Davis and right is Olivia de Havilland

Similar to the 1930s, accessories in the 1940s played a big role in keeping an outfit appear fresh and new. World War II brought a halt to jewelry made from metals so alloys such as sterling silver and rose gold were used instead. Bakelite continued to be popular. Maureen O’Hara’s stud earrings are probably a colored pearl or bead and were versatile for day or evening. Bette Davis’s charm bracelet is an alternative to the plastic bangles still worn (although they became thinner in the 1940s). Charms could be purchased or made at home with found treasures. Olivia de Havilland’s short necklace of leaves is an example of nature’s influence in jewelry as well as the standard length for necklaces of the era. Colored beads were still popular but were bigger. Often clusters of beads resting on the collar bone on a thin chain or cord were popular. Not pictured are cocktail rings with oversized colored glass to mimic a gem, often for evening wear. Evening wear was still about sparkle but jewels became a bit larger and more rounded. Regardless of the material, jewelry had an emphasis on colors in fun designs like bows, flowers, hearts, airplanes, fruit, insects including butterflies and dragonflies, sunbursts and even ballerina silhouettes. Similar to the 30s, jewelry could create an escape from hardship except it wasn’t about trying to emulate a dreamy crystalline world like the 1930s but more about expressing one’s individual personality/interests further with novelty jewelry.


Left: Joan Fontaine, right: Lauren Bacall

By the 1940s, the shape of purses became wider and more square with the desire of versatility. Evening bags still existed (and came in the same materials as the past including velvet) but more women were wanting practicality in their purses. Joan Fontaine’s purse is an example of the round shaped purses that were becoming popular. Notice the bottom to see  how the overall shape is a little wider and roomier than the constraint’s of a clutch from the 20s and 30s. The handle is thicker too, more sturdier. Lauren Bacall’s box purse is an example of the style that could carry into night wear and the shape is one of the defining structures in handbags during the decade. Other styles of handbags not pictured include the shoulder bag and the clutch purse that was taller and wider now.

Hair Accessories


Left to right: Claire Trevor, Olivia de Havilland,and  Jean Darling–best known for work appearing in Hal Roach’s The Little Rascals in the late 20s/early 30s.

Hair flowers seemed to have reached their height in popularity during the 1940s, which is when the above photos were taken. They were the finishing touches to up-dos and could dress up a simple hairstyle such as Jean Darling’s. As you can see, one single flower, a couple or a whole cluster could be added. Placement varied from above the ear, top of head, side and so on. I would also like to add that though the photos feature white flowers, they came in all colors and species. Women would mix and match hair flowers too, Esther Williams is an example of an actress who pulled off that look.

Left to right: Gloria Swanson in the 1920s, Claire Trevor in the 1930s and Barbara Stanwyck in the 1940s

Sparkly hairpins were another way to dress up a hairstyle. It was frustrating to find photos of them on actresses because they seemed to wear hats and jewelry more. Daywear tended to focus more on the actual hairstyle with any hair pins/combs blending into the hair color with the idea of functionality than decorative.  That’s why the above photos are more evening and feature sparkle but I think are fine for during the day in 2016-especially Claire Trevor’s style. Swanson’s hairpin is large and looks like it has beads or gems, a bit different than 1930s and 40s hairpins that came in metal and plastic. (Plastic hairpins in the novelty shapes of the 30s/40s may be difficult to find if you want an original.)


Left to right: Myrna Loy in the 1930s, Catherine Denevue in the 1960s, and Rita Hayworth in the 1940s

Hairbows aren’t as juvenile as they may seem if you haven’t worn one since you were a little kid. Myrna Loy’s is an example of the way an everyday woman could have made a bow by repurposing a strand of ribbon. Keeping bows thin make it more subtle for those new to them. Catherine Deneuve’s look is a classic 60s look, with a large bow that lays flat which keeps the look from straying too kiddy. Bows in the 60s were also in velvet which were appropriate for evening wear. Rita Hayworth’s bow rests flat on the side, an example of the 40s way of wearing hair bows. During this decade it was common for a bow to be on each side or you could have only one on the side such as Hayworth’s. Bows were in solid colors and with prints including plaid.

I hope these ideas show that you don’t have to necessarily buy authentic vintage items to achieve a vintage look. (But if you happen to come across something you like at an affordable price, yay!) Many of these accessories are still in stores today, I personally only have one genuine vintage purse. There are many different variations of evoking a certain decade, even if you’re more into the 50s-60s, you’re probably not as limited as you may think whether you’re just starting out or in a rut looking for new ways to portray your favorite decade(s) in fashion.

On a final note: I am trying harder to update more and have a film review underway.


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