50 Style icons of the 1920s

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Prepare for wantonly exposed knees and an abundance of short bobs, with the 50 most stylish women of the 1920s.

As Baz Luhrmann's highly anticipated The Great Gatsby remake hits cinemas, we've gathered the real stars of the era, from the smouldering Greta Garbo to the extravagant Gloria Swanson.

Did we miss your favourite flapper? Let us know below or on Twitter.

Words: Anna Pollitt. Images: Rex Features, Getty Images

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Louise Brooks

    This stunning silent film star wasn't the first to cut her hair into a sleek Dutch bob, but she made it the defining look of the era.

    Her daring, individual style was mirrored in her career choices, with Brooks shunning the 'talkies' to remain one of the most enigmatic actresses of the 20th century.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Joan Crawford

    "Doubtless the best example of the flapper." F. Scott Fitgerald

    Before making strong shoulders trendy in the '40s, a fiercely ambitious young Joan Crawford danced her way around Hollywood in a blaze of self-promotion and was considered to be the ultimate flapper by The Great Gatsby writer himself.

    Her breakout role came in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and fans clamoured to recreate her mix of casual menswear-inspired daywear and fringed and sequinned Art Deco eveningwear.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Coco Chanel

    Chanel No. 5. The little black dress. The Chanel suit. Just three of the legendary French fashion designer's iconic creations during the '20s.

    We're eternally grateful, Coco.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Gloria Swanson

    Arguably the '20s biggest star and Hollywood's first true 'diva', Gloria Swanson was probably more famous for her trend-setting haute couture and astronomical studio riders, which included a gold-plated bathtub, than for her acting.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Zelda Sayre

    Joan Crawford may have been the best example of a flapper for F. Scott Fitzgerald, but the writer gave his novelist wife Zelda the honour of being called "the first American Flapper".

    Her wildly creative talents and devil-may-care attitude embodied the spirit of the time.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Anita Page

    At the height of her fame in the silent era, Anita Page received as much fan mail as Garbo and was pursued by a besotted Benito Mussolini. Page's blonde curls and haunting eyes were usually found under a fabulous hat.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Evelyn Brent

    This smouldering silent film star widely known for her part as the original moll in Hollywood's first gangster movie Underworld. Think cool cloche hat, liberal feather detailing and an aura of detachment.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Greta Garbo

    In the mid-20s, the world fell under the spell of a young Swedish actress named Greta Garbo. So captivating was MGM's silent star, the studio delayed its introduction of sound.

    Pairing her short finger wave haircut with a slouch fedora, Garbo's star style was imitated by women everywhere.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Marie Prevost

    With her huge, expressive eyes and curly crop, Canadian-born silent era superstar Marie Prevost typified the jazz age flapper.

    Her performance in The Beautiful and Damned established her in the industry, but personal tragedies led to her early death at 38.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Gilda Gray

    Known as queen of the shimmy dance, this Polish-American actress' structured blonde curls and stenciled eyebrows were entertaining silent film audiences long before Marlene Dietrich came along.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Claudette Colbert

    Parisian-born Claudette Colbert began acting in silent movies in 1923, but really came into her own later in the decade when she was able to put her trademark velvety voice to good use in the talkies.

    Her curly 'do, killer cheekbones and European elegance made her one of the most sought-after stars of the era.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Clara Bow

    The woman who put the roar into the '20s.

    A silent film star dubbed "The It Girl", Bow was pulling in 45,000 fan letters a month at the pinnacle of her fame and is widely viewed as Hollywood's first sex symbol. Bow was a fearless trend-setter, from shortening hems to wearing only one earring. Sales of henna reportedly tripled as women clamoured to try and recreate her trademark fiery red crop.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Loretta Young

    With a movie career that began in 1917 at the tender age of three, Loretta Young embraced silver screen glamour and by the time she was in her mid-teens she was a famous actress taking lead roles and adorning the covers of fashion magazines.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Jean Arthur

    A screwball comedy actress in the '20s, who later became known for her husky voice in the talkies, Jean Arthur excelled at portraying strong, confident women.

    Intensely private in real life, she said of being interviewed by reporters: "Quite frankly, I'd rather have my throat slit."

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Norma Shearer

    Turned away by numerous casting agents for not having the right look, Norma Shearer beat off her competition with charm, ambition and dedication and made 13 silent films for MGM by 1927. The versatile actress later paired up with Hollywood's favourite designer of the era, Adrian, who helped transform her from ingenue to vamp.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Anna May Wong

    Cinema's first Chinese-American star, Anna Mae Wong's mesmerising performances were coupled with an elegant and groundbreaking fusion of Eastern and Western flapper fashion that led to her being named "The World's best-dressed woman" by the Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Mae Murray

    Characterised by her exaggerated acting and extravagant clothes, popular silent film star Mae Murray was also known as "The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips". She eventually quit Universal to set up her own successful production company.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Fay Wray

    Best remembered as the wide-eyed blonde heroine of King Kong, a teenage Fay Wray signed up to Paramount Pictures in the '20s and at the time, personified the vibrant flapper style.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Edna Purviance

    One of Charlie Chaplin's leading ladies, Edna Purviance starred in more than 30 films with the silent comedy legend and their magical on-screen chemistry spilled over into a real-life affair.

    Her contribution is rarely acknowledged and a campaign is running to have Purviance's name added onto Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Colleen Moore

    "I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble." F. Scott Fitzgerald

    One of the most sought-after stars of the silent era, Colleen Moore caused a sensation when she became the first major star to bob her hair for 1923 film Flaming Youth. Her stylish character's drinking, smoking and flirting popularised the term "flapper" and forced audiences to shift their perception of modern young women.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Pola Negri

    Now you know where Lisa Stansfield got her inspiration.

    It wasn't just the kiss curls, Polish film star Pola Negri also pioneered red nail varnish, fur boots and turbans. Known as the Queen of Tragedy, Negri was one of the era's most entertaining femme fatales. In real life she had affairs with Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin and married twice - first a count, then a prince.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Eleanor Ambrose

    It's not only today's stars who insure their body parts for lottery jackpot sums - celebrated '20s ballroom star Eleanor Ambrose insured her legs for $250,000 at the height of her fame in the '20s.

    The statuesque American dancer was a fan of sought-after French designer Jean Patou and was regularly pictured wearing his designs.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Dorothy Mackaill

    From Hull runaway to Hollywood star via London and Paris - Dorothy Mackaill became one the silent era's leading ladies and thanks to adept American accent, made it as a talkies star.

    Also, check out the natty culottes/shirt combo (left).

    We love this fan page in her honour.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Josephine Baker

    American-born dancer Josephine Baker took her talents from the US to Paris and beguiled French audiences with her risque routines.

    She became the highest-paid entertainer in Europe and was a flapper fashion icon, pioneering the oft-imitated spit curl 'do. Her pet leopard, cheetah, snake and seven dogs did not put off potential suitors and she attracted around 1,500 marriage proposals in her career.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    The Queen Mother

    In 1923, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married Prince Albert in a trendy dropped-waist wedding gown that was in keeping with the Chanel-led fashion of the time - the late Queen Mother being quite a fashion plate in her youth. Then, as now, royal fashions made front page news.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Myrna Loy

    Remember Grease's high school statue, featured in the film's opening scenes? Myrna Loy was the muse for it in 1921. The dancer-turned-actress was known for playing smokey-eyed seductresses.

    We love her elaborately sequinned dress, pictured left, in 1926.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Dorothy Sebastian

    Like her contemporaries Joan Crawford and Anita Page, Dorothy Sebastian's every extravagant fashion move was followed slavishly by the media, including her monkey fur-trimmed satin winter coat and her co-ordinating her outfit with her sports car's alligator leather interiors.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Norma Talmadge

    Now a largely forgotten talent, actress Norma Talmadge dominated the silent movie scene in the '20s.

    She lived a modest life in comparison to many of her peers and retired one of the richest women in the business. Think furs, feathers and sad, haunting eyes.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Bessie Smith

    Known as the Empress of the Blues in the Vaudeville era, Bessie Smith influenced the work of future musicians from Janis Joplin to Mick Jagger. One of the best-selling artists of the era, Smith performed in lavish costumes and was known for her ornate hats.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Mary Astor

    Best known for her part in The Maltese Falcon, Mary Astor began acting in silent movies in her teens.

    While her early works show off a long, thick mane, Astor later chopped off her locks to keep up with the fashion of the time.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Tallulah Bankhead

    "Only good girls keep diaries. Bad girls don't have time."

    A wild woman of the West End, US actress Tallulah Bankhead moved to London in 1923 and became one of its leading lights and most notorious stars. A magazine featuring her picture famously sold out in two hours. She returned to America in 1931, leaving a trail of scandals in her wake.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Dolores del Rio

    “The two most beautiful things in the world are the Taj-Mahal and Dolores del Río.” - George Bernard Shaw

    Mexican actress Dolores del Rio's success in the mid '20s breathed a new life into the fashions of the time. Instead of emulating the severe hairstyles and exaggerated heart shaped lips of the time, she accentuated her finely sculptured features and almond eyes, lending an elegant air to women's beauty as the industry shifted from silent to sound.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Barbara La Marr

    A film star from 1920 until her death from tuberculosis in 1926, Barbara La Marr was known as "The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful" after a juvenile judge she was facing said she was too young and beautiful to be out on her own on the mean streets of LA and made her a ward of court.

    As well as being a pretty face, she wrote seven successful screenplays for United and Fox, produced films, as well as turning her hand to hat design. She also notched up five husbands before her untimely death aged 29.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Brigitte Helm

    This German silent movie star embraced the most daring of trends on and off-screen. Her portrayal of dangerous vamps secured her image as an elegant fashion icon.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Carole Lombard

    A teen star in the '20s, Carole Lombard was the fashion rebel who took to painting her full nail, rather than leaving the tip and half-moon bare as fashion dictated at the time. What a radical.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Lina Basquette

    Lina Basquette secured her first film contract at the age of nine and was dubbed "America's Prima Ballerina" by the Ziegfeld Follies in 1923. A commanding performer with a dark, sultry style, Basquette's most memorable film was in Cecil B. DeMille's 1929 drama The Godless Girl.

    Her real life was more dramatic than any film - she married nine times, survived a suicide attempt and rape and turned down the advances of an infatuated Hitler.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Helen Hayes

    The most important Broadway star of the '20s, Helen Hayes was one of only 11 people to receive all four US entertainment awards: a Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Marlene Dietrich

    While Marlene Dietrich really came into her own in the '30s, her break-out role came as cabaret singer Lola-Lola in 1929's The Blue Angel, which featured the legend's signature song "Falling in Love Again".

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Marion Davies

    A silent era actress with considerable comic talent, Marion Davies was known for her huge sad eyes and a seemingly endless supply of cloche hats (it wasn't considered rude to wear them inside the cinema in those days).

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Billie Dove

    Dubbed The American Beauty after one of her films, this popular silent era star popularised short crops, turban hats and fabulous drop earrings.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Greta Nissen

    Greta Nissen was a popular actress until the talkies came along and her strong Norweigan accent didn't fly. Up until that point she was seen as a true star and mesmerised audiences with her doll-like features and natural blonde locks.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Mary Minter

    The first actress to play the title character in Anne of Green Gables on the big screen, Mary Minter's doe-eyes and curly blonde hair secured her many parts until 1923, when the man she loved, William Taylor, was murdered.

    Minter's mother, a former child actress, was considered a suspect in the death of Taylor, a famous director who refused her daughter's advances, and the young starlet's wholesome and demure reputation was ruined.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Hazel Forbes

    One of the original 'showgirls', Hazel Forbes starred in the famous Ziegfeld Follies productions. The former beauty queen's multiple marriages and reputation as a wealthy toothpaste heiress brought her wider public attention as gossip column fodder.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Aileen Pringle

    Dubbed the Darling of the Intelligentsia, actress Aileen Pringle was a favourite among literary figures, but divided opinion in Hollywood, earning a reputation for being difficult on set.

    Her role in Three Weeks shot her to fame in the early '20s and she fell in with the It-crowd. She was among the party onboard The Oneida when actor Thomas Ince suddenly died and rumours abound that he had been murdered by another actress' husband. Pringle overcame the scandal but her volatile ways eventually led to fewer and fewer roles.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Lillian Gish

    Known as the First Lady of American Cinema, Lillian Gish's performances were among the most iconic of the silent era. She was a frequent cover star and despite the emergence of short hair styles, Gish is best remembered for her long, flowing locks.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Bebe Daniels

    Another child star who made the successful transition to leading lady in the '20s, Bebe Daniels assumed the most elegant fashions of the era from an early age. Her short black hair and thick smudged eyeliner emphasised her expressive face - an occupational necessity for silent movie stars.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Claire Windsor

    Silent film star Claire Windsor's regal looks led her to frequent castings as upscale society women. Her roles, coupled with elegant on and off-screen style, cemented her status as a fashion icon.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Peggy Hopkins Joyce

    Ziegfeld Follies dancer-turned-actress Peggy Hopkins Joyce regularly frequented the era's newspapers and magazines for her outrageous life, rather than her films. She ran away with a vaudeville trick bicyclist at 15 and went on to have six husbands and many more lovers. She splashed out $1 million on a week-long shopping spree and once owned one of the world's most expensive diamonds.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Mary Pickford

    The original Pollyanna who possessed as much star power as contemporary Charlie Chaplin.

    When Mary Pickford cut her long hair into a bob into 1928, it was front page news on The New York Times. However, her adoring public didn't respond well to the child star's mature new look.

  • Style icons of the 1920s

    Alice Terry

    A silent film star with a loud hat collection, Alice Terry famously starred as "Marguerite" opposite Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). As well as possessing an eye-catching wardrobe, she was happy to pass herself of as the love interest of her gay male friends at their convenience in a then-homophobic Hollywood.