Flappers The Modern Women of the 20th century

In the 1920s, a new woman was born. She smoked, drank, danced, and voted. She cut her hair, wore make-up, and went to petting parties. She was giddy and took risks. She was a flapper.


FLAPPERS were northern, urban, single, young, middle-class women. Many held steady jobs in the changing American economy. The clerking jobs that blossomed in the Gilded Age were more numerous than ever. Increasing phone usage required more and more operators. The consumer-oriented economy of the 1920s saw a burgeoning number of department stores. Women were needed on the sales floor to relate to the most precious customers — other women. But the flapper was not all work and no play.

Ironically, more young women consumed alcohol in the decade it was illegal than ever before. Smoking, another activity previously reserved for men, became popular among flappers. With the political field leveled by the Nineteenth Amendment, women sought to eliminate social double standards.

FLAPPERS had an unmistakable look. The long locks of Victorian women lay on the floors of beauty parlors as young women cut their hair to shoulder length. Hemlines of dresses rose dramatically to the knee. The cosmetics industry flowered as women used make-up in large numbers. Flappers bound their chests and wore high heels.

Flappers 1920th

The term "flapper" first appeared in Great Britain after World War I. It was there used to describe young girls, still somewhat awkward in movement who had not yet entered womanhood. Authors such F. Scott Fitzgerald and artists such as John Held Jr. first used the term to the U.S., half reflecting and half creating the image and style of the flapper. Fitzgerald described the ideal flapper as "lovely, expensive, and about nineteen." Held accentuated the flapper image by drawing young girls wearing unbuckled galoshes that would make a "flapping" noise when walking.


The Flappers' image consisted of drastic - to some, shocking - changes in women's clothing and hair. Nearly every article of clothing was trimmed down and lightened in order to make movement easier.

It is said that girls "parked" their corsets when they were to go dancing. The new, energetic dances of the Jazz Age, required women to be able to move freely, something the "ironsides" didn't allow. Replacing the pantaloons and corsets were underwear called "step-ins."

The Gibson Girl, who prided herself on her long, beautiful, lush hair, was shocked when the flapper cut her's off. The short haircut was called the "bob" which was later replaced by an even shorter haircut, the "shingle" or "Eton" cut. Flappers also started wearing make-up, something that had previously been only worn by loose women. Rouge, powder, eye-liner, and lipstick became extremely popular.

The 1920s was the Jazz Age and one of the most popular past-times for flappers was dancing. Dances such as the Charleston, Black Bottom, and the Shimmy were considered "wild" by older generations.

As described in the May 1920 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, flappers "trot like foxes, limp like lame ducks, one-step like cripples, and all to the barbaric yawp of strange instruments which transform the whole scene into a moving-picture of a fancy ball in bedlam."

Famous Flappers included movie stars, actresses and other celebrities. The names of Famous Flappers included Clara Bow, Coco Chanel, Joan Crawford, Colleen Moore, Barbara Stanwyck, Bebe Daniels, Norma Talmadge, Theda Bara, Norma Shearer, Louise Brooks, Anita Loos and Gilda Gray "the Shimmy Queen".

Coco Chanel, Clara Bow and Gilda Gray

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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Andrist, Ralph K., ed. The American Heritage: History of the 20's & 30's. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1970.

Baughman, Judith S., ed. American Decades: 1920-1929. New York: Manly, Inc., 1996.

Bliven, Bruce. "Flapper Jane." The New Republic 44 (Sept. 9, 1925): 65-67.

Douglas, George H. Women of the 20s. Saybrook Publishers, 1986.

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

Hall, G. Stanley. "Flapper Americana Novissima." Atlantic Monthly 129 (June 1922): 771-780.

Hatton, Jackie. "Flappers." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 2000.

Page, Ellen Welles. "A Flapper's Appeal to Parents." Outlook 132 (Dec. 6, 1922): 607.

Saunders, W. O. "Me and My Flapper Daughters." The American Magazine 104 (Aug. 1927): 27, 121.



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