Who were the 1920s flappers?

The term “flappers” refers to young ladies who partied, danced, smoked, and drank alcohol that was not allowed during the Roaring Twenties. They also bobbed their hair and wore short skirts. She was the rebellious, unruly girl who attracted ire everywhere she went. The flapper, known for her carefree demeanor and raucous conduct, stood for a new generation of women who helped define the Roaring Twenties in America. These women were frequently depicted negatively since they had given up the stereotypically attractive feminine traits.

A typical flapper favored straight-cut, sleeveless dresses that were frequently low-cut and short, around knee-length at the time, which was considered very scandalous. She had chin-length hair that was cut in a bob style, stockings that were frequently rolled to the bottom of the knee, and a strong makeup look. She typically wore a headband, a cloche hat that fit snugly, bangle bracelets, and long strands of beads. 

sitting Flapper girl

Flappers pushed the limits of social convention rather than abiding with it. They participated in behaviors that were considered unladylike at the time, like going to social gatherings alone, smoking and drinking in public, and being more forthcoming about discussing and engaging in sexual activity.

A little Flapper History

Flapper is not a term that dates back to the 1920s. In the late 1880s and 1890s, it initially arose in English to designate an immoral girl or a young prostitute. By 1900, the term “flapper” may also refer to a young woman who was foolish or still had long hair down in a time when “putting up” one’s hair denoted womanhood.

The late 1800s saw greater educational and employment opportunities for women due to economic and technological advancements. Girls were told by progressive specialists that they were just as intelligent as boys, that they could exercise and participate in sports just like males, and that they could work for themselves outside of the family. On the other hand, conservative voices argued that girls’ physical and mental health problems and their chances of becoming spouses and mothers were caused by exercise and excessive schooling. 

Early on in the 1900s, the Gibson Girl pioneered the modern girl movement. This was a few years before the flapper transformed femininity in the 1920s. The Gibson Girl, who represented the ideal appearance and fashions of American girls around the turn of the century, was the definition of the new woman. Gibson Girl had long hair that was pulled up in a bun and wore a long skirt, corset, and belt to define her waist.  She was the creation of renowned cartoonist Charles Dana Gibson and featured an S-shaped torso with wide hips and massive bosoms.

typical Gibson girl garb

Caption: Gibson Girl pioneered the modern girl movement before the Flappers roared through in the 1920s. had long hair that was pulled up in a bun and wore a long skirt, corset, and belt to define her waist

In Britain before the First World War (1914–1918), gawky teenage girls were connected with the name flapper in non-slang usage. It painted a picture of a young bird as a metaphor for girls who had not reached adulthood. Despite appearing to represent innocence, the phrase was commonly used to refer to teenage sex workers in the 17th century. 

However, the Great War (1914–18) ushered significant changes for women in the United States. While males were gone fighting in the war, civilian women filled the positions that they had previously occupied. As a result, the women were able to enjoy independence and social freedom. They had little desire to lose any of it after the war. By the beginning of the 20th century, the term “flapper” had become widely used in theater to describe young, flirty female characters. This was closer to the actual definition of the word as we understand it today in several ways. 

Moreover, after the 19th Amendment was enacted in 1920, women were granted the ability to vote. Since then, they have fought for equality in all spheres of life. Young women embraced the flapper lifestyle, relishing in the freedom to make daring choices in their look and behavior, as the Gibson Girl’s reputation as the ideal vanished.

Innovative Prospects for the Women

In the first 20 years of the 20th century, females had access to a wide range of new social opportunities where women were allowed to participate in the economy and politics. Between 1900 and 1910, more than 2,000,000 new positions for women as clerks, typists, telephone operators, and other occupations were created. Women now have more access to academic programs.

Silent films, including drama, action, crime, adventure, romances, and westerns, were shown in brand-new movie theaters. The protagonists were frequently brilliant, charming, bold, and sassy young women dressed in the newest fashions. Numerous fan publications and newspaper articles about Mary Pickford and other popular cinema actresses are read by young ladies. For a nominal price, public dancing halls welcomed people of all ages and all groups. Men and women interacted with one another, danced the most recent dances (like the turkey trot), and looked at the most recent styles.

The business world had fully realized by the 1920s that there was a chance to benefit from the changing options for women and the flapper craze. Flappers of diverse educational backgrounds featured in literature, motion pictures, publications, cartoons, and advertising, “selling” the flapper stereotype. All women were encouraged to spend money on the accessories required to dress like the perfect flapper. Long corsets, new diets, and treatments all claimed to make curvaceous women look small, flat-chested, and hipless. Cosmetic companies promoted cosmetics and other items required for a youthful appearance. Affordably priced factories manufactured flapper dresses, stockings, hats, and accessories, while sewing pattern firms provided templates for customers to make their own at-home flapper attire.

The Clothes

Violet Romer in flapper dress

The Garconne or little boy style marked the Flappers clothing as a means of emancipating themselves from conventional ideas of femininity. This fashion, made popular by Coco Chanel, diverted attention away from a woman’s body’s contours, which had previously been viewed as feminine and beautiful. Instead, it emphasized reduced hemlines, dropped the waist to the hips, and flattened the chests. The step-ins, which were handier on the dance floors, were also introduced by the flappers. She would wear stockings that were frequently rolled to the bottom of the knee, and a strong makeup look. The dancing flapper would also stand out thanks to the amazing detailing on her clothing.

A typical flapper favored straight-cut, sleeveless dresses that were frequently low-cut and short, around knee-length at the time, which was considered very scandalous. It had the tubular shape and loose fit of a flapper dress, as well as the striking sequins and beading of the Art Deco period. She typically wore a headband, a cloche hat that fit snugly, bangle bracelets, and long strands of beads. Flappers pushed the limits of social convention rather than abiding with it. They participated in behaviors that were considered unladylike at the time, like going to social gatherings alone, smoking and drinking in public, and being more forthcoming about discussing and engaging in sexual activity.

The Hair

flapper bob evening post cover

Although a flapper dress may be colorful and fashionable, nothing would complete the appearance more than bobbed hair. Irene Castle, a ballroom dancer, debuted the style in 1916, earning it the name “Castle bob.” The bobbed hairdo quickly spread among women in the 1920s and became a signature flapper look.

Contrary to the Gibson Girl’s long hair, the flapper wanted a straight round cut that was level with her ear lobes. This style was shockingly provocative by the standards then. But the disobedient flapper made it feel right to make a daring fashion statement in a time when cutting one’s hair may seriously hinder one’s chances of marriage. This not only reflected an intentional attempt at androgyny but also a fundamental change in how femininity was perceived.

The popularity of the Bob hairstyle also had favorable economic effects. According to reports, there were over 21,000 bobbing hair salons in operation by 1924, up from just 5,000 in 1920. Given the growing popularity of the Bob, accessories like headbands and bobby pins also appeared on the market and were a huge hit.

The Make Up

Flapper girl in Picture-Play cover April 1922

Contrary to the Gibson Girl’s understated, unforced appearance, makeup was expected to be visible in the 1920s. The world was most famously taken by the legendary flapper makeup, which featured velvet red lips, smoky black eyes, defined mascara, and vibrant nail colors. To make it easier for the flapper to maintain her appearance, little powder boxes, lipsticks, and rouge were created. As the market grew, celebrities and socialites were no longer the only ones who could afford cosmetics. As makeup became something that regular women could carry in their handbags, the flapper look gained popularity.

The Slang

The flappers created their own language that rivals today’s generation. Theirs was more of a  reflection of their disregard for conventions. The flappers’ fluency in language allowed them to develop a smart, frequently amusing lexicon that made references to the tedium of daily living. For instance, a chaperone who was viewed as a killjoy by the partying flapper was allegedly referred to as a fire extinguisher. The forward-thinking flapper, who obviously did not believe in traditional gender roles, referred to engagement rings, a symbol of the promise of marriage, as handcuffs.

Despite how absurd some of these terms may sound, a few of them have really entered our everyday language. For instance, the flapper idiom “bee’s knees” is still used today to describe something wonderful or of exceptionally high caliber. Similar to how we would today refer to someone we do not anticipate seeing at a social event, a party crasher was how the flappers referred to someone who turned up to a party without being invited.

The Slang

The Influence

A Flapper girl has existed in various regions of the world, far outside of the Western Hemisphere and Europe, while being best known as an American image of the Roaring Twenties. Modern women trying to break away from conventional ideas in the 1920s imitated the flapper style in Asian nations including Japan, China, and Singapore. A universal desire for independence, the ability to embrace one’s sexuality, and a modernized understanding of cultural and gender conventions all went hand in hand with progress.

The End

The stock market collapsed at the end of the 1920s, ushering in the Great Depression. Frivolity and carelessness abruptly came to an end. Millions of Americans lost their jobs almost immediately, and the country entered a gloomy period of economic decline, with impacts felt on other continents. The flashy and boisterous flapper lifestyle was finally put to rest in the 1930s against the backdrop of prevailing economic misery and the impending war. The extravagant party attire, striking bobbed haircuts, and carefree, cavalier attitudes toward life were all gone. They were replaced by clothing with reduced hemlines, commonplace synthetic fabrics, and a general air of propriety and solemnity.

Conclusion 

The blunt honesty, quick pace, and sexual behavior defined the Flapper attitude. Youth seemed to be something that Flappers clung to as if it would disappear at any second. They were careless and took risks. They desired to stand out and declare their break with the Gibson Girl’s values.

The classic Flapper of the 1920s, as portrayed by artists like John Held Jr. and authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, was only the most fearless of girls. Fitzgerald, Scott. The most outrageous excesses of flappers were primarily conjured up in popular culture and in the thoughts of those who resisted new freedoms for women. 

However, these young party girls have emerged as the decade’s most enduring icons. In another sense of the phrase, many actual women who turned away from the excesses of the flappers, such as partying, drinking, smoking, necking, and petting, were also flappers. These actual women were seizing new political and economic opportunities. Marriage and motherhood, which were once expected of women, did not go away. In actuality, plenty of women balanced both modern chances and new trends with old expectations.