See below the photos for a history of flappers.
Flappers were the fashionable girls of the Roaring Twenties, and their appearance scandalized the older generations, and intrigued the younger ones. They were emblematic of their era, and the way they dressed and lived their lives remains a burning image in our media and in the history books!
The 1920s were a time of great cultural and historical significance for America. The changes that the American landscape undertook were impressive and rather huge in their scope. One of the most notable figures from this decade was, of course, the flapper.
The flapper was a "new woman", something foreign and strange to what the people of America were used to. This woman dressed in fashion that was, while considered quite strange for the people of the time, signified class, sometimes wealth, and intelligence (although many critics of the time would disagree). Not only did the everyday woman start resembling a flapper, but actresses like Louise Brooks took on the new fashion as well, making it more accessible, and even trendy, for the everyday woman.
The flapper cut her hair into a short, angular bob. She listened to jazz (it may not be considered a strange genre now, but in the 1920s it was revolutionary and new). She was brash, wore tons of makeup, swore, and generally disregarded social customs. They had sex casually. They smoked and drove cars (unheard of for a woman at the time), and wore very short skirts. Some argue that flappers were the feminists of their time because of their behavior, style, and customs - they were a stark contrast to the customs of the women of the 1910s, an overturning of Victorian roles.
Flapper culture originated from a 1920 film appropriately titled "The Flapper", directed by Frances Marion. The leading lady, Olive Thomas, played a character that set the framework for what a flapper would turn into. After that movie was released, many actresses begin dressing and acting like flappers, and that caused women of all different classes to begin to act similarly.
Flapper fashion was iconic. The earliest flappers wore tight-fitting hats, a "hobble skirt" (a skirt with a narrow hem as opposed to a high one), and had a boyish physique. That was another change that this fashion statement brought about - previous to this fad, the women who were considered beautiful had a very voluptuous body. The fashion that most people associate with flappers (very short hair, high hemlines, and straight waited dresses) didn't come to be until about 1926.
Something that flappers did, probably a welcome favor for women, was get rid of the corset. They wore dresses with straight waists as opposed to corsets that caused many health problems and were extremely binding. Flappers were all about comfort, which was unheard of in this decade. It was a great step forward for feminists in America - they no longer felt out-of-place not wearing binding and uncomfortable clothing.
A typical flapper outfit would resemble the following: silk stockings held up by garter belts, a straight, knee-length dress, very short hair, bare arms (occasionally the dresses didn't have straps), and high heeled shoes. Under their dress, they wore a bodice that held their breasts still while dancing, as opposed to the corsets of the time. Some even wore a new, comfortable type of corset, which slimmed the body.
As for makeup, dark, kohl-rimmed eyes were popular. Blush and lipstick as well - a lot of new products made application of these products easy. Pale complexions were en vogue for a while - however, when Coco Chanel returned from a vacation sporting a tan, all women wanted to be tan as well. It made for a leisurely look.
Flappers were an important figure in history because they jump started a sort of feminism that was easy and very popular. They are an unforgettable aspect of feminism in American culture, stylistically and otherwise.
The classic flapper was a young girl in her teens or early twenties, and unlike the hourglass shape that was so fashionable in the era before, she should be as slender as possible. The ideal flapper shape was relatively narrow, and girls would bind their breasts to facilitate this fashion. Their clothing tended to be rather long and sleek, capped off with low-heeled shoes, fashionable dark stocking and a charming cloche to top off the look. Flapper makeup was fairly dramatic, with dark eyes, and lipstick used to create a small, rather pouting mouth. In an era when most women kept their hair long, the flapper chopped hers off into a sleep bob.
The flapper look was essentially one that embraced natural lines. This was also a period when Art Nouveau and Art Deco were so popular, and the craze was for a very simple look. Though there might be a band of lace here or there, most clothes, though exquisitely tailored, were still very simple. Sleeveless dresses were the order of the day, as were tunics that fell straight from the shoulders to the hips.
Flapper Social Behavior
Flappers represented a movement of young women towards the world outside of their home. A flapper was someone who loved going out to parties, who might be seen dating a new boy every week, and who might have a relatively free attitude about sex, even sex before marriage. The flapper might also engage in activities like drinking and smoking, activities which were once reserved for men and loose women.
One of the things that marked a great change from the time before was the prevalence of the automobile. Suddenly, the flapper and her boyfriend could step out and go on dates, something that was a marked difference from the period before. Previously, boys and girls met under the watchful eyes of their parents. With a car on hand, they could visit their favorite night spots and speakeasies, allowing significantly more freedom.
Dancing of Flappers
The flapper was always portrayed as a girl who loved to dance, and the dances of the Roaring Twenties were an impressive counterpoint to the partnered and relatively staid dances that came before. At her favorite jazz clubs and nightspots, a flapper might engage in the scandalous Charleston, where the knees are bent and spread in counterpoint to the music, or she might do the Bunny Hug, which a cheek to cheek dance that had polite society in an uproar. Unlike the dances from the previous decades, this type of dancing allowed the partners to get much closer to each other than they had previously. Most of the dances from the time period were decried as being indecent and leading to sexual perversion in youth.
There was a certain apolitical aspect to the flapper, after all, she was a girl who was all about fun and all about immediate gratification. On the other hand, due to the time period, flappers were typically in favor of women’s rights and suffrage. In many ways, they were socially and politically opposed to the Victorian views on women, which would have had them silent and significantly more obedient.
It is important to remember that flappers were young girls, and frequently, if they were girls who could afford the clothes and the lifestyle, they were from fairly wealthy families. This type of privilege often kept them quite apolitical until they were a bit older.
The flapper personified rebellion in her era. Physically, politically and socially, she was the antithesis of everything the Victorian girl stood for. With her short hair, she was throwing off the expected gender roles, and there are plenty of political cartoons from the time of the flapper walking out in all her finery, leaving her gaping parents staring after her.
End of Flappers
Though the flapper is an integral part of the way we see our history, and though their image is one that remains branded in our minds, the truth is that the era of the flapper lasted only about a decade. The Roaring Twenties crashed into the Great Depression in 1929, and that was the end of the flapper. The flapper was a product of a very wealthy, very careless time, and risks were significantly harder to take in the 1930s, when so many people were out of work and poorer than they had ever been. The conservatism of the thirties made flappers a memory, though they were a treasured memory that has been with us ever since.