What it Took to Be Fashionable in the 1920s

A few weeks ago, I came across an image on Pinterest (the first image in this post, if you’re curious). It was interesting but I was skeptical because sometimes things on the internet are not real. I know, it’s crazy.

But the image interested me so much that I did some digging and found out that it is, in fact, authentic! It’s from the March 1927 issue of a magazine called Motion Picture Classic (not to be confused with Motion Picture magazine). In my digging, I found out that this magazine ran a few of these infographic-esque images detailing what it cost to be a well-dressed ______. Instead of just sharing them, I thought it’d be fun to see how much these outfits cost in 2017, 90 years after their publication. For the items from 1926, we’re working with a 1283% cumulative inflation rate. For 1927, it’s 1306.8%.

Spoiler alert: to be well-dressed in the 1920s, you had to make it rain.


Clara Bow flaunting this “jaunty costume.” Note that this outfit costs the same as furnishings for a three-room flat/apartment.

So let’s look at a breakdown of the cost of each of these items in 1927 and 2017. The chart starts at the top left of the image and goes around counterclockwise.


Obviously, you could replicate this look for far less than $4,875 (probably for far less than the $346 it cost in 1927!) It’s worth noting that a few materials used in 1927, notably the furs and skins, would probably not be used today. Faux fur and faux animal skin will definitely bring the cost down!

Gentlemen, let’s take a look at what it would’ve cost you to be a well-dressed clubman. This is from the October 1926 issue of Motion Picture Classic.


Ramon Navarro, looking very dapper but missing cufflinks and studs. That’ll add at least $25 more to the cost of the outfit.

Let’s look at the breakdown here. The graph goes down the left column of the image and then to the right column.


I think it’s safe to say that Ramon Navarro would have spent more than $25 on his studs and links but I stuck with the minimum for the sake of imagined frugality.

And how would these two get out for a night on the town? A well-dressed car, of course.


The base model of this “sport roadster” would run you $4,000. With add-ons and insurance, the cost comes to $5,000.

I just want to take a moment to point out the phrase “Welsh rarebit nightmare”. I had to look up “rarebit” and it turns out it is savory cheese sauce poured over toast. First off, that sounds delicious. Second, the fact that the author is calling a souped-up car a “Welsh rarebit nightmare” is hilarious.

Anyway. Let’s look at the breakdown of some of these features (many of which I think are required by law or at least come standard.)


I think this comes closest to the cost of one of these items today as it would be very easy to spend nearly $59,000 on a nice car. The original figure of $5,000 includes insurance, which I didn’t figure in here because there are so many variables when it comes to insurance. Tax, tag, and title would add quite a bit more, though!

Did any of these surprise you? Would you have been able to hang with the well-dressed flappers and/or clubmen?

Like this post? Pin it!




Motion Picture Classic Magazine archives
US inflation calculator
American Cinema of the 1920s: Themes and Variations edited by Lucy Fischer (the book that confirmed that the Pinterest image was authentic!)

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