The Jazz Age

The 1920s was a unique and exciting time in America. After WWI, American society began to adopt more liberal attitudes toward things where conventionally conservative positions were the norm. These new ideals were particularly popular among the youth culture. Thus, this decade in American history has been dubbed by some as, “The First Youth Rebellion.”

Many female members of this “First Youth Rebellion” were known as flappers. As flappers, these women rejected the social constraints forced upon them by their mother’s and grandmother’s generations. Coming across as “lady-like” was of little concern as there was a social agenda behind the emergence of this “new woman.” Adopting behaviors and styles more typical of males, while abandoning the feminine ideal known as the Gibson Girl allowed women to communicate their desire for equality with men; however, some of them just wanted to have fun. Flappers smoke, drank and danced with what seemed like a reckless abandon, cultivating an image that would help characterize “the greatest, gaudiest spree in history.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
[1] .


Before the beginning of World War I, the women were into a style called the Gibson Girl. This style consisted of a high collar, a long straight skirt below the knees, and long hair tied loosely on top of the head. This style took after the wildly popular drawings by Charles Dana Gibson. After the war, women were ready for the men to come home and everything to return to normal; however, this did not happen quite as planned. A lot of men had died in the war, leaving a lot of women without partners. The result of this: the women had decided they were not going to waste their life waiting for a man that will probably never come. They decided to live their lives to the fullest [2] .

Short hair, skirts, and collars, were just the beginning of this rebellion. These women were out on their own, smoking cigarettes in public, dancing till the sun came up, wearing clothes that most people considered “inappropriate and risky”, and having no shame in having fun. This fad became so popular that people gave these women a name; they were called “Flappers”. People may have thought flappers were risky and inappropriate but they gave the world our modern day style [3] .

A flapper in typical evening wear

Appearance and Attitude

When we imagine women’s fashion of the ‘20s, we most likely conjure up the image of a flapper. Flapper-style clothing was easy to construct and cheap to produce. Before, fashionable attire was only practical for the wealthy. Therefore, it’s no surprise that this modern style of dress became so popular.
Despite the fact that flapper-style clothing was popular for only a portion of the ‘20s, we’ve come to view it as the optimization of the collective free spirit of the decade.
The style is characterized by its attempt to make the female body appear boyish; therefore symbolically abandoning past traditional values.
It consisted of:

Flappers doing a drunken jig

  • Short hair (Eton crop, bobs, shingle cut, etc.)
  • Cloche hats
  • Shorter than average shapeless shift dress
  • A flat chest
  • Bare arms
  • Beige stockings
  • Wrap-over coats
  • Mary Jane high-heel shoes [4] .

Attitude was also an important part of the flapper lifestyle. You couldn’t just talk the talk, you also had to walk the walk to be a true flapper. Apart from the fact that these women abandoned all convention when it came to their new style of dress, they also threw all caution to the wind with their behavior; they acted in accordance with their new found liberation.

In the 1920s, gender roles found themselves in a state of flux. Women got the vote, started entering the workplace. But most importantly, they reacted with cynicism to the traditional values of their elders [5] . Flappers often smoke and drank - activities typically reserved for men. Those really dedicated to the lifestyle kept flasks secure in garter belts for on the go drinking. Women also became more sexually promiscuous as they treated sex in a more casual manner than earlier generations. They applied make-up in public and danced provocatively (for the time) in bars called speakeasies that served illegal alcohol.

The collective ideals of flappers were often reflected in their slang. For instance, "handcuff" meant engagement ring, "Father Time" was any man over 30 years old, "Hush Money" was allowance from your father, a "Police Dog" was a young woman’s fiancé and a "Fig Leaf" was a one-piece bathing suit [6] .

Flappers In History

Like the young age now, a lot of people did not like the way flappers were so, “Disrespectful and immodest.” Most of the older generation in the 1920’s did not like the way flappers dressed or acted; they thought they had gone crazy and were completely irresponsible. Only in some rare cases were the older men or women okay with the way flappers behaved. There was one older woman who put her opinion on her own recipe for an Old-time Flapper and a modern American Flapper:
“Take two bare knees, two rolled stockings, two flapping galoshes, one short skirt, one lipstick, one powder puff, 33 cigarettes, and a boy friend with flask. Season with a pinch of salt and dash of pep, and cover all with some spicy sauce, and you have the old-time flapper."
"Then you have the real modern American flapper: Two bare knees, two thinner stockings, one shorter skirt, two lipsticks,
Marie Pervost in flapper apparel
three powder puffs, 132 cigarettes, and three boy friends, with eight flasks between them." [7]

A famous flapper in history was one of the most famous movie stars during the 1920’s, Marie Prevost. An online article states, “With a mane of dark curls cropped into a pleasing bob, large eyes, pouting bee-stung lips, and wide oval face, the petite star was the picture of an ideal flapper, and the devil-may-care attitude that she reflected on screen reflected the flapper philosophy.” [8]

Prevost was very successful in the movie industry, starring in movies like
Moonlight Follies, the Married Flapper, the Marriage Circle, and The Beautiful and the Damned;// with all her success she had married another famous movie star, Kenneth Harlan. However, shortly after Prevost’s success, her mother died and her marriage fell apart.Because of that, following her flapper status, Prevost picked up bottle. She had gained weight from the alcohol and was not able to get any big roles, just enough to get by, so she started to not eat. Later on the police were called to her house because of a dog barking. They found Prevost dead on her bed. She had died from alcoholism and malnutrition; she had starved herself.

How the Trend Died Out
A flapper keeps her flask hidden in her stockings

The flapper trend came to an end when the Great Depression hit, no one was able to afford the clothes, cigarettes, or to go out and party every night. During the Great Depression, stock markets crashed, banks failed, one-third of the population was on unemployment, crop
prices fell, and people were hungry because food production became unprofitable [9] . With this going on it was hard for anyone to concentrate on anything but money and employment, never mind fashion trends.
The partying and drinking stopped and everyone went back to marriage and long hours with little pay. Things may have been bad but women still wore hemlines above the ankle, no corsets daily, unbuckled shoes, and we have been driving cars ever since. So, even in 2012 we take trends from the 1920’s, women still wear short dresses, have short hair, smoke cigarettes in public, and they still party [10] .

Historical Significance

Though it is very rare to see a woman of the 21st century dress and talk as the flappers did, the influence of flappers has carried over into the new generations. Women of the ‘20s set new precedents and expectations of how females are supposed to behave. It’s now commonplace to see a woman smoke or drink. It’s acceptable for woman to wear less restrictive, more revealing clothing or to go dancing. It’s also more acceptable across society for people to have a more liberal attitude toward sex. Flappers made it possible for future generations to be able to act in ways that weren’t in accordance with the typical feminine ideal of the day. This caused many people to change their views on how women should act and ultimately created a new place for women in society.

  1. ^ The Jazz Age: The 20s (Our American Century). N/A: Time-Life Books: 10/1998.
  2. ^ EHT, "13 Things About Flappers". History is Elementary. Access on Jan. 27, 2012.
  3. ^ Rosenburg, Jennifer. "Flappers in the Roaring Twenties". about.com. Access on Jan. 27, 2012.
  4. ^ Thomas, Pauline. "Flapper Fashion 1920s C20th Fashion History." www.fashion-Era.com. Access on Jan. 27, 2012. http://www.fashion-era.com/flapper_fashion_1920s.htm.
  5. ^ Henderson, Paula. "FLAPPERS." www.Vintageperiods.com. Access on Jan. 27, 2012. http://www.vintageperiods.com/flappers.php.
  6. ^ Hartung, Ella. "The Flapper's Dictionary." www.havemann.com. Access on Jan. 27, 2012. http://www.havemann.com/flappers_dictionary.html.
  7. ^

    "The Flapper- A 1920's Phenomenon". 1920-30.com. Access on Jan. 27, 2012.
  8. ^ Parker. "Fallen Star: The Story of Marie Prevost". Flapperjane .com. Access on Jan. 27, 2012.
  9. ^ Thorkelson, H. John. "The Great Depression". Access on Jan. 27, 2012.
  10. ^ Chavez, B. Frank. "Flapper Clothes of The 1920's". ehow.com. Access on Jan. 27, 2012.