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Flappers

FLAPPERS

No decade in recent history has seen as much change in the status and style of women as the 1920s, sometimes called the Roaring Twenties or the Era of Wonderful Nonsense. Trendy young women of the 1920s were nicknamed flappers, and the flapper became the image that represented the tremendous change in women's lives and attitudes during that period.

During the early part of the twentieth century women in countries from Australia to Norway were gaining the right to vote, and more and more women were able to support themselves by working at jobs. In addition to women's new freedoms, by the 1920s there were automobiles to drive, films to see, and jazz music to dance to, and modern young women wanted to join in the fun. Young women were no longer content to spend hours binding themselves into burdensome layers of clothing or styling long masses of hair.

The term flapper originated in Great Britain, where there was a short fad among young women to wear rubber galoshes (an overshoe worn in the rain or snow) left open to flap when they walked. The name stuck, and throughout the United States and Europe flapper was the name given to liberated young women. Flappers were bold, confident, and sexy. They tried new fad diets in an effort to achieve a fashionable thinness, because new fashions required slim figures, flat chests, and slim hips. The flapper dress was boxy and hung straight from shoulder to knee, with no waistline, allowing much more freedom of movement than women's fashions before the 1920s. While it did not show breasts or hips, it did show a lot of leg, and the just-below-the-knee length horrified many of the older generation. French fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (18831971) did much to popularize the new freedom of the flapper look.

Flappers also shocked conservatives by cutting their hair short and wearing makeup. Before the 1920s long hair was the mark of a respectable lady, but flappers had no time for elaborate hairdos. They cut, or bobbed, their hair just below the ears and curled it in dozens of tiny spit curls with a new invention called a bobby pin. Some also used electric curling irons to create small waves called "marcels," named after Marcel Grateau (18521936), the French hair stylist who invented them. Cosmetics had long been associated with prostitutes and actresses, but flappers considered it glamorous to wear dark red lipstick, lots of rouge, and thick black lines around their eyes, sometimes made with the burned end of a matchstick. New cosmetics companies including Maybelline and Coty began manufacturing products to help women achieve the new look. For the first time, women began to carry cosmetics with them in handbags wherever they went.

One of the most famous flappers was silent film star Clara Bow (19051965). Sometimes called the "It" girl, Bow was thought to have "it," a quality of open sexuality, innocence, and fun that was the very definition of the flapper. Many women imitated Bow's look by drawing a bow shape on their lips, rimming their eyes in black, and curling their hair onto their cheeks.

Despite the youthful enthusiasm for flapper style, some people felt threatened by it. When hemlines began to rise, several states made laws charging fines to women wearing skirts with hemlines more than three inches above the ankle, and many employers fired women who bobbed their hair. However, in the excitement and gaiety that followed the end of World War I in 1918, the movement toward a freer fashion could not be stopped by those who valued the old ways. It took the stock market crash of 1929 to bring the era of the flapper to a sudden end. Almost overnight, the arrival of an economic depression brought a serious tone to society. Women's hemlines dropped again, and the carefree age of the flapper was over.

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Flappers

Flappers


Flappers were modern adolescent girls and young women whose fashion and lifestyle personified the changing attitudes and mores of America and its youths in the 1920s. Magazines, books, and movies depicted the flapper with short, bobbed hair, powdered face, and painted puckered lips, and they dressed her in rolled stockings and scanty, low-waist dresses that emphasized a boyish figure. The flapper drank and smoked like men, and played and worked with men. She exuded an overt sexuality not only with her provocative clothing, but also in her actions: dancing to jazz, flirting with men, and attending petting parties unchaperoned.

The flapper was the subject of a great deal of controversy in public discussion. Many critics found her departure from the fashions and manners of the corseted women who came before her representative of a lapse in morality among the young and of an emerging generation gap. Indeed, the open sexuality and the sexual practices of the flapper generation were divergent from earlier generations: women coming of age in the 1920s were twice as likely to have had premarital sex as their predecessors. At a time when dating, the use of birth control, and frank discussion about sex was on the rise, the flapper became the symbol for the new sexual liberation of women. Portrayed as predominantly urban, independent, career-oriented, and sexually expressive, the flapper was hailed as an example of the New Woman.

Despite these stereotyped images, the flapper was not a revolutionary figure; rather she was an updated version of the traditional model of womanhood. Although she was freer in her sexuality and public conduct among men than her mother, the flapper had no intention of challenging the role of women in society or abandoning the path towards marriage and motherhood. On the contrary, like the rest of the middle-class younger generation that she exemplified, the flapper was conservative in her ultimate values and behavior. As contemporary suffragists and feminists complained, the flapper took up the superficial accoutrements of the emancipated woman, but she did not take up the ballot or the political pursuit for equal rights under the law.

In fact, the flapper and her lifestyle were reflective of mainstream American values and the emerging cult of youth that began to characterize popular culture in the 1920s. She represented the new vitality of a modern era. Advertisers used her image, combining youth and sex, to sell an array of goods, including automobiles, cigarettes, and mouthwash. In addition, although flapper fashion flourished to its fullest extent among the privileged and bohemian few, new innovations in the mass production of clothing made it possible for the fashion to have a wider influence in all of women's dress. Young teenagers could afford to follow fashion and made the style into a trademark among their peers. Even older women exposed to certain elements of flapper style in Sears Roebuck catalogs sported some of that look. While movie actresses like Clara Bow and personalities like Zelda Fitzgerald epitomized the flapper persona and philosophy, the flapper fad prevailed among middle-class youth, infusing its style and manner into mainstream American culture.

See also: Adolescence and Youth; Bobby Soxers; Manners; Teenagers; Youth Culture.

bibliography

Chafe, William H. 1991. The Paradox of Change: American Women in the 20th Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fass, Paula S. 1977. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. New York: Oxford University Press.

Yellis, Kenneth A. 1969. "Prosperity's Child: Some Thoughts on the Flapper." American Quarterly 21: 4464.

Laura Mihailoff

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Flapper

FLAPPER

FLAPPER. The nickname of the new female urbanites in America during the 1920s, "flapper" literally made reference to the unstrapped buckles of their shoes. While society appealed for "normalcy," the flapper practiced anything but as she sported makeup, a bob hairdo, and a tight-fitting dress to frequent the nightlife offered in the speakeasies of the big cities. Her behavior drew as much attention as her taboo attire, and a defining element of her womanhood became drinking, smoking, and a forward demeanor that included premarital intercourse, as the flapper strove to reshape gender roles in the Roaring Twenties. This entailed an assault on the Gibson Girl, the ideal of femininity in the Gilded Age. Measuring the flapper's success at overturning this convention depends on recognizing that leaders of the burgeoning woman's movement, such as Carrie Chapman Catt and Margaret Sanger, did not consider themselves flappers. This fact highlights the "new woman's" upper-class status more than her pervasiveness in society, and a penchant for comfortable living more than a desire to make a social statement. No matter, the flapper's symbolism outlasted her flare.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Latham, Angela J. Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2000.

Matthew J.Flynn

See alsoClothing and Fashion ; and picture (overleaf) .

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flapper

flap·per / ˈflapər/ • n. 1. inf. (in the 1920s) a fashionable young woman intent on enjoying herself and flouting conventional standards of behavior. 2. a thing that flaps, esp. a movable seal inside a toilet tank: flush the tank to make sure that the flapper is not dropping.

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flapper

flapper in the 1920s, a fashionable young woman intent on enjoying herself and flouting conventional standards of behaviour.
Flapper vote a derogatory term for the parliamentary vote granted to women of 21 and over in 1928.

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flapper

flapperclapper, crapper, dapper, flapper, grappa, kappa, knapper, mapper, nappa, napper, rapper, sapper, scrapper, snapper, strapper, tapper, trapper, wrapper, yapper, Zappa •catalpa, scalper •camper, damper, hamper, pamper, scamper, stamper, Tampa, tamper, tramper •Caspar, jasper •handicapper • kidnapper •whippersnapper •carper, harper, scarper, sharper •clasper, gasper, grasper, rasper •leper, pepper, salt-and-pepper •helper, yelper •temper •Vespa, vesper •Culpeper • sidestepper •caper, draper, escaper, gaper, paper, raper, scraper, shaper, taper, vapour (US vapor) •sandpaper • endpaper • flypaper •wallpaper • notepaper • newspaper •skyscraper •Arequipa, beeper, bleeper, creeper, Dnieper, keeper, leaper, peeper, reaper, sleeper, sweeper, weeper •gamekeeper • gatekeeper •greenkeeper (US greenskeeper) •peacekeeper • innkeeper •wicketkeeper • timekeeper •shopkeeper • storekeeper •housekeeper • goalkeeper •zookeeper • bookkeeper • treecreeper •minesweeper

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Flappers

Flappers

In the 1920s a new and popular model of modern womanhood dominated the American cultural scene. Although not all American women of the early twentieth century would emulate the flapper model, that model quickly came to represent the youthful exuberance of the post-World War I period. According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author whose novels set a tone for the 1920s, the ideal flapper, representing the ideal modern woman, was "lovely, expensive, and about nineteen." Originally merely a symbol of young and daring female chic, the flapper came to embody the radically modern spirit of the 1920s. Not merely a fashion trend, "flapperhood" came to represent an entire new set of American values.

The term "flapper" originated in England, where it was used simply to describe girls of an awkward age. American authors like Fitzgerald transformed the term into an iconic phrase that glorified the fun-loving youthful spirit of the post-war decade. The flapper ideal, along with the look, became popular, first with chic young moderns, then with a larger body of American women. The flapper was remarkably identifiable. With her bobbed hair, short skirts, and penchant for lipstick, the starlet who had "it," Clara Bow, embodied the look. Other celebrity women, from the film star Louise Brook to the author Dorothy Parker, cultivated and popularized the devil-may-care attitude and fashion of the flapper. America's young women rushed to emulate the flapper aesthetic. They flattened their chests with tight bands of cloth in order to look as young and boyish as possible. They shortened the skirts on their increasingly plain frocks, and they bought more cosmetics than American women ever had before.

But flapperhood was more than mere fashion. To an older generation of Americans the flapper symbolized a "revolution in manners and morals." Flappers did not just look daring, they were daring. In the 1920s growing numbers of young American women began to smoke, drink, and talk slang. And they danced. Not in the old style, but in the new mode inspired by jazz music. The popularity of jazz and dancing hinted at new attitudes toward sexuality. The image of the "giddy flapper, rouged and clipped, careening in a drunken stupor to the lewd strains of a jazz quartet," gave license to new ideas about female sexuality. As F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed, "none of the Victorian mothers … had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to being kissed." Flappers presented themselves as sexual creatures, radically different to the stable maternal women who epitomized the ideal of the previous generation.

And yet the popularity of the flapper did not, as one might suppose, signal the triumph of feminism in the early twentieth century. For the flapper, for all her sexual sophistication and her rejection of her mother's Victorian values, did not pose any real threat to the gender status quo. Although the flapper presented a positive image for modern women, with her athleticism and her adventurous spirit, the flapper remained a soft creature who demurred to men. Indeed, it was precisely the flapper's "combination of daring spirit and youthful innocence that made her attractive to men." The flapper was a highly sexualized creature, but that sexuality retained an innocent, youthful, romantic quality. Ultimately, flappers married and became the mothers of the 1930s.

Although flappers presented a new model of single womanhood that would have positive ramifications because it gave license to women to work and play alongside men, that model had its limits. The transformative cultural promise of the flapper moment would recede just like the fashion for short skirts and short hair. In the long years of the Depression the desire to emulate reckless rich girls faded along with the working girl's ability to afford even the cheapest imitation of flapper chic. Remnants of the flapper lifestyle, however, remained popular—a youthful taste for music and dancing, smoking and swearing, sex and sexiness. And the market for goods that had emerged to meet the consuming passions of flapper women gained in strength and power. Even after the flapper disappeared from the American scene the feminine ideal that she had popularized lingered—along with a culture of consumption designed to help women pursue that impossibly impermanent idea. For the ideal modern woman of America's imagination, although no longer officially a "flapper," was to remain infuriatingly "lovely … and about nineteen."

—Jackie Hatton

Further Reading:

Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s. New York and London, Harper Brothers, 1931.

Coben, Stanley. Revolt Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1991.

Fass, Paula. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. New York, 1977.

Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity 1920-1940. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.

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Flappers

Flappers


Flappers became the ideal for young women in the 1920s. From the clothes they wore to their attitudes, flappers were youthful, chic, and above all, modern. In the 1920s, American society rejected the Victorian attitudes of the pre–World War I (1914–18) generation. Flappers and their happy-go-lucky lifestyle set the tone for American popular culture. They partied, drank, smoked cigarettes (see entry under 1920s—Commerce in volume 2), and danced to wild jazz (see entry under 1900s—Music in volume 1) music. F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), whose writings chronicle the "Jazz Age," described flappers as "the generation that corrupted its elders and eventually over-reached itself—through lack of taste." The fun ended with the Great Depression (1929–41; see entry under 1930s—The Way We Lived in volume 2). But many of the freedoms gained by flapper women in the 1920s are taken for granted in the twenty-first century.

Flapper fashion was very distinctive. Women "bobbed" their hair; that is, they cut off their long hair and sported a cheek-length haircut called a bob. Flappers wore simple, straight dresses with knee-length skirts, and they used brightly colored lipstick (see entry under 1920s—Fashion in volume 2). Unlike the generation before, flappers rejected the stable, careful life of a wife and mother. Celebrities from starlet Clara Bow (1905–1965; see entry under 1920s—Film and Theater in volume 2) to writer Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) adopted the fashions and the reckless attitude of the flapper. Flappers shortened their skirts and became more honestly sexual than women had ever been before. The wildest excesses of flapperdom were available only to the very rich, but many American women adopted the clothes, and some of the liberties, of the flapper ideal. They flattened their chests with cloth bindings to make themselves look young and innocent. (Flappers have even been blamed for the popularity of skinny models in the late twentieth century.)

For all their sense of adventure and freedom, flappers were not seeking equality with men. In fact, the fashion for short skirts and girlish innocence were actually a way of attracting men. Most flappers were married with children, just like their mothers before them, by the 1930s. What did change was women's freedom to go out and enjoy themselves alongside men. After the 1920s, it became much more common for single women to enjoy drinking, dancing, and even active sex lives. Within a couple of decades, the freedom to play would grow into the freedom for women to work alongside men as well.


—Chris Routledge

For More Information

Blackman, Cally. The '20s and '30s: Flappers and Vamps (20th CenturyFashion). Milwaukee: Gareth Stephens, 2000.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Volume 2: "TheCrack-Up" with Other Bits and Pieces. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1990.

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Flappers

FLAPPERS

The flapper was an important figure in the popular culture of the 1920s and helped to define the new, modern woman of the twentieth century. She was the embodiment of the youthful exuberance of the jazz age. Although she defied many of society's taboos, she was also seen by many as the ideal young woman and was described by author F. Scott Fitzgerald as "lovely, expensive and about nineteen."

It is commonly assumed that the term "flapper" originated in the 1920s and refers to the fashion trend for unfastened rubber galoshes that "flapped" when walking, an attribution reinforced by the image of the free-wheeling flapper in popular culture. Despite this potent imagery, the word has its origins in sixteenth-century British slang. Deriving from the colloquial "flap," the word indicated a young female prostitute and likely referred to the awkward flapping of a young bird's wings when learning to fly. By the nineteenth century the term had lost most of its lewd connotations and instead was used to describe a flighty or hoydenish adolescent girl. In the years following World War I, the word was increasingly used to describe a fashionably dressed, impulsive young woman and by the 1920s, it was used to describe "modern" young women who broke traditional rules of both appearance and behavior.

The "fast living" ethos of the 1920s was widely perceived to be a direct consequence of World War I. During wartime, many young women experienced freedoms previously unheard of, such as taking jobs, shortening skirts, driving cars, and cutting their hair. Competition for male attention was paramount since the pool of eligible men had been depleted during the war, and this probably contributed to the flashier fashions and aggressive behavior of many young women. Outrageous behavior and dress was seen as an investment against spinsterhood or, at the very least, boredom.

The Flapper Image

The common perception of the flapper had as much to do with behavior as it did with appearance. Flappers displayed a carefree disregard for authority and morality. They drank heavily in defiance of Prohibition, smoked, embraced new shocking dances like the Charleston, the Shimmy, and the Black Bottom, used slang, drove fast, and freely took lovers and jobs. Posture and motion were important elements of the flapper persona. The fast, jerky motions characterized by these popular dances emphasized bare arms, backs, and legs. The posture of the flapper was an affected "debutante slouch," often with hand on hip. This limp, listless pose was not possible on a traditionally corseted body and was meant to imply the aftereffects of the previous night's debauchery.

Accordingly, flapper styles blatantly disregarded established fashions in exchange for the new and daring. Popular styles of the 1920s focused on the display of the slim, youthful body through the use of short skirts and dropped waists. Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and Jean Patou were particularly known for this youthful, sporty style. The flapper took this fashionable ideal to the extreme and wore the shortest skirts possible, low cloches, and negligible underwear. Evening dresses were sleeveless, flashy, and frequently featured slit skirts meant to enable active dancing. She bobbed her hair, wore obvious makeup, and sunbathed in skimpy, one-piece bathing suits.

A common element of the flapper style was the tendency to misuse clothing and accessories—a way of thumbing noses at high fashion and polite society. Examples of this phenomenon were the rolling of stockings below the knees, the wearing of unhooked rubber galoshes that "flapped" when walking, evening shoes worn with daywear, and occasionally even the natural waist worn in defiance of the dictates of high fashion. Flappers were also rumored to rouge their knees, and this is a part of the greater emphasis on legs crucial to the flapper persona. Besides the previously mentioned galoshes and rolled stockings, flappers were associated with elaborate garters and anklets. A daring minority rejected stockings altogether when the weather was warm, but many opted for stockings in fashionable "suntan" shades. Accessories that flaunted outrageous behavior, like the jeweled cigarette holder and ornate compact, were also popular.

The Rise and Fall of the Flapper

The creation of the flapper image is largely credited to the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the drawings of John Held Jr., which frequently featured skinny, stylized flappers in comical situations. Fitzgerald's writings focused on the fast pace of modern life, but when he was given the credit for popularizing the movement, he responded, "I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth and Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused that trouble."

Fitzgerald shrewdly understood the power of the motion picture to spread the flapper image to a mass audience. Colleen Moore, Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Clara Bow were some of the many actresses who specialized in flapper roles during this period. The flapper had been a popular screen type since the 1910s, and by the mid-1920s, films featured titles like Flapper Fever, The Painted Flapper, Flapper Wives, The Perfect Flapper, and The Flapper and the Cowboy.

Although viewers were unlikely to adopt the fast living and flamboyant dress seen on screen, it is quite likely that they incorporated elements into their lives. The 1928 film Our Dancing Daughters, which starred Joan Crawford and Anita Page, was particularly influential. The film was mentioned repeatedly in the Payne Fund Studies commissioned to determine the effects of film on the youth of the United States. One respondent claimed that after seeing Our Dancing Daughters, "I wanted a dress exactly like one she had worn in a certain scene. It was a very 'flapper' type of dress, and I don't usually go in for that sort of thing" (Massey, p. 30).

As early as 1922, it was suggested that the term "flapper" be divided into three levels: the semi-flapper, the flapper, the superflapper. By the end of the decade, most young women could easily be classed as a semi-flapper since flapper styles and behaviors were gradually being adopted into mainstream life. Bobbed hair, lipstick, and short skirts no longer were the sign of a flapper, just that of a modern fashionable woman.

With the stock market crash of 1929, the frivolity and excess characterized by the flapper and the jazz age


were replaced with frugality and a return to a more traditional view of feminine behavior and dress. Although the stock market crash signaled the flapper's demise, she remains a potent symbol of flaming youth.

See alsoChanel, Gabrielle (Coco); Patou, Jean; Subcultures .

bibliography

Evans, Mike, ed. Decades of Beauty. New York: Reed Consumer Books Limited, 1998.

Hall, Lee. Common Threads: A Parade of American Clothing. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992.

Hatton, Jackie. "Flappers" In St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture Vol. 2: E–J. Edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.

Latham, Angela J. Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s. Hanover, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

Massey, Anne. Hollywood Beyond the Screen: Design and Material Culture. Oxford: Berg, 2000.

Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies and the American Dream. New York: Avon Books, 1974.

Clare Sauro

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"Flappers." Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. . Retrieved December 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/flappers-0

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