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Actress Louise Brooks (1927)
A flapper on board a ship (1929)

Flappers were a subculture of young Western women prominent after the First World War and through the 1920s who wore short skirts (knee height was considered short during that period), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for prevailing codes of decent behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes in public, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.[1] As automobiles became more available, flappers gained freedom of movement and privacy.[2]

Flappers are icons of the Roaring Twenties, a period of postwar social and political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange, as well as of the export of American jazz culture to Europe. More conservative people, who belonged mostly to older generations, reacted with claims that the flappers' dresses were "near nakedness" and that flappers were "flippant", "reckless", and unintelligent.[citation needed]

While primarily associated with the United States, this "modern girl" archetype was a worldwide phenomenon that had other names depending on the country, such as joven moderna in Argentina[3] or garçonne in France or moga in Japan, although the American term "flapper" was the most widespread internationally.[4]



The slang term "flapper" may derive from an earlier use in northern England to mean "teenage girl", referring to one whose hair is not yet put up and whose plaited pigtail "flapped" on her back,[5] or from an older word meaning "prostitute".[6] The slang word "flap" was used for a young prostitute as early as 1631.[7] By the 1890s, the word "flapper" was used in some localities as slang both for a very young prostitute,[8][page needed][9] and, in a more general and less derogatory sense, of any lively mid-teenage girl.[10]

Violet Romer in a flapper dress c. 1915

The standard non-slang usage appeared in print as early as 1903 in England and 1904 in the United States, when novelist Desmond Coke used it in his college story of Oxford life, Sandford of Merton: "There's a stunning flapper".[11] In 1907, English actor George Graves explained it to Americans as theatrical slang for acrobatic young female stage performers.[12] The flapper was also known as a dancer, who danced like a bird—flapping her arms while doing the Charleston move. This move became quite a competitive dance during this era.[13]

By 1908, newspapers as serious as The Times used the term, although with careful explanation: "A 'flapper', we may explain, is a young lady who has not yet been promoted to long frocks and the wearing of her hair 'up'".[14] In April 1908, the fashion section of London's The Globe and Traveller contained a sketch entitled "The Dress of the Young Girl" with the following explanation:

Americans, and those fortunate English folk whose money and status permit them to go in freely for slang terms ... call the subject of these lines the 'flapper.' The appropriateness of this term does not move me to such whole-hearted admiration of the amazing powers of enriching our language which the Americans modestly acknowledge they possess ..., [and] in fact, would scarcely merit the honour of a moment of my attention, but for the fact that I seek in vain for any other expression that is understood to signify that important young person, the maiden of some sixteen years.

The sketch is of a girl in a frock with a long skirt, "which has the waistline quite high and semi-Empire, ... quite untrimmed, its plainness being relieved by a sash knotted carelessly around the skirt."[15]

An advertisement for the 1920 silent film comedy The Flapper, with Olive Thomas, before the look of the flapper had started to coalesce.

By November 1910, the word was popular enough for A. E. James to begin a series of stories in the London Magazine featuring the misadventures of a pretty fifteen-year-old girl and titled "Her Majesty the Flapper".[16] By 1911, a newspaper review indicates the mischievous and flirtatious "flapper" was an established stage-type.[17]

By 1912, the London theatrical impresario John Tiller, defining the word in an interview he gave to The New York Times, described a "flapper" as belonging to a slightly older age group, a girl who has "just come out".[18] Tiller's use of the phrase "come out" means "to make a formal entry into 'society' on reaching womanhood".[19] In polite society at the time, a teenage girl who had not come out would still be classed as a child. She would be expected to keep a low profile on social occasions and ought not to be the object of male attention. Although the word was still largely understood as referring to high-spirited teenagers,[20] gradually in Britain it was being extended to describe any impetuous immature woman.[a] By late 1914, the British magazine Vanity Fair was reporting that the Flapper was beginning to disappear in England, being replaced by the so-called "Little Creatures."[22]

A Times article on the problem of finding jobs for women made unemployed by the return of the male workforce, following the end of World War One, was titled "The Flapper's Future".[23] Under this influence, the meaning of the term changed somewhat, to apply to "independent, pleasure-seeking, khaki-crazy young women".[9]

In his lecture in February 1920 on Britain's surplus of young women caused by the loss of young men in war, Dr. R. Murray-Leslie criticized "the social butterfly type... the frivolous, scantily-clad, jazzing flapper, irresponsible and undisciplined, to whom a dance, a new hat, or a man with a car, were of more importance than the fate of nations".[24] In May of that year, Selznick Pictures released The Flapper, a silent comedy film starring Olive Thomas. It was the first film in the United States to portray the "flapper" lifestyle. By that time, the term had taken on the full meaning of the flapper generation style and attitudes.

The use of the term coincided with a fashion among teenage girls in the United States in the early 1920s for wearing unbuckled galoshes,[25] and a widespread false etymology held that they were called "flappers" because they flapped when they walked, as they wore their overshoes or galoshes unfastened, showing that they defied convention in a manner similar to the 21st century fad for untied shoelaces.[26][page needed][27][page needed] Another suggestion to the origin of the term, in relation to fashion, comes from a 1920s fashion trend in which young women left their overcoat unbuttoned to allow it to flap back and forth as they walked, appearing more independent and freed from the tight, Victorian Era style clothing.[28]

By the mid-1930s in Britain, although still occasionally used, the word "flapper" had become associated with the past. In 1936, a Times journalist grouped it with terms such as "blotto" as outdated slang: "[blotto] evokes a distant echo of glad rags and flappers ... It recalls a past which is not yet 'period'."[29]



"In all countries, the First World War weakened old orthodoxies and authorities, and, when it was over, neither government nor church nor school nor family had the power to regulate the lives of human beings as it had once done. One result of this was a profound change in manners and morals that made a freer and less restrained society. Women benefited from this as much as anyone else. Time-worn prescriptions concerning what was or was not proper behavior for them no longer possessed much credibility, and taboos about unaccompanied appearances in public places, or the use of liquor or tobacco, or even pre-marital sexual relationships had lost their force. ... [W]omen were no longer as vulnerable to the tyranny of society as they had been [before]."

Historian Gordon A. Craig[30]

One cause of the change in young women's behavior was World War I, which ended in November 1918. The death of large numbers of young men in the war, and the Spanish flu pandemic which struck in 1918 killing between 20–40 million people,[31] inspired in young people a feeling that life is short and could end at any moment. Therefore, young women wanted to spend their youth enjoying their life and freedom rather than just staying at home and waiting for a man to marry them.[32]

Political changes were another cause of the flapper culture. World War I reduced the grip of the class system on both sides of the Atlantic, encouraging different classes to mingle and share their sense of freedom.[33] Women finally won the right to vote in the United States on August 26, 1920.[34] Women wanted to be men's social equals and were faced with the difficult realization of the larger goals of feminism: individuality, full political participation, economic independence, and 'sex rights'.[35] They wanted to have freedoms like men and go smoking and drinking.[36] In addition, many women had more opportunities in the workplace and had even taken traditionally male jobs such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and pilots.[37] The rise of consumerism also promoted the ideals of "fulfilment and freedom",[33] which encouraged women to think independently about their garments, careers, social activities.[37]

Society changed quickly after World War I. For example, customs, technology, and manufacturing all moved quickly into the 20th century after the interruption of the war.[38] The rise of the automobile was an important factor in flapper culture, as cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasies and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.[39] Also, the economic boom allowed more people the time and money to play golf and tennis and to take vacations,[40] which required clothing adapted to these activities; the flapper's slender silhouette was very suitable for movement.[41]

Evolution of the image

Actress Alice Joyce, 1926
Clara Bow in 1921, before she became a star

The first appearance of the flapper style[b] in the United States came from the popular 1920 Frances Marion film The Flapper, starring Olive Thomas.[43] Thomas starred in a similar role in 1917, though it was not until The Flapper that the term was used. In her final movies, she was seen as the flapper image.[44] Other actresses, such as Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Colleen Moore and Joan Crawford would soon build their careers on the same image, achieving great popularity.[43]

In the United States, popular contempt for Prohibition was a factor in the rise of the flapper. With legal saloons and cabarets closed, back alley speakeasies became prolific and popular. This discrepancy between the law-abiding, religion-based temperance movement and the actual ubiquitous consumption of alcohol led to widespread disdain for authority. Flapper independence was also a response to the Gibson Girls of the 1890s.[45][46] Although that pre-war look does not resemble the flapper style, their independence may have led to the flapper wisecracking tenacity 30 years later.

Writers in the United States such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anita Loos and illustrators such as Russell Patterson, John Held, Jr., Ethel Hays and Faith Burrows popularized the flapper look and lifestyle through their works, and flappers came to be seen as attractive, reckless, and independent. Among those who criticized the flapper craze was writer-critic Dorothy Parker, who penned "Flappers: A Hate Song" to poke fun at the fad. In 1922, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis denounced the "flippancy of the cigarette smoking, cocktail-drinking flapper".[47] A Harvard psychologist reported that flappers had "the lowest degree of intelligence" and constituted "a hopeless problem for educators".[47]

Another writer, Lynne Frame, said in her book that a large number of scientists and health professionals have analyzed and reviewed the degree of femininity of flappers' appearance and behavior, given the "boyishness" of the flapper look and behavior. Some gynecologists gave the opinion that women were less "marriageable" if they were less "feminine", as the husband would be unhappy in his marriage. In Frame's book, she also wrote that the appearance of flappers, like the short hair and short dress, distracted attention from feminine curves to the legs and body. These attributes were not only a fashion trend but also the expression of a blurring of gender roles.[48]

Image of youth


The flapper stands as one of the more enduring images of youth and new women in the 20th century and is viewed by modern-day Americans as something of a cultural heroine. However, back in the 1920s, many Americans regarded flappers as threatening to conventional society, representing a new moral order. Although most of them were the daughters of the middle class, they flouted middle-class values. Lots of women in the United States were drawn to the idea of being a flapper. There were rival organizations of flappers – the National Flapper Flock and the Royal Order of the Flapper.[49] Flappers shrugged off their chaperones, danced suggestively, and openly flirted with boys. "Flappers prized style over substance, novelty over tradition, and pleasure over virtue."[50] Ruth Gillettes, a 1920s singer, had a song titled "Oh Say! Can I See You Tonight?" which expresses the new behavior of girls in the 1920s. Before the 1920s, for a woman to call a man to suggest a date would be impossible. However, in the 1920s, many girls seemed to play a leading role in relationships, actively asking boys out or even coming to their homes.[51]


Woman depicted in typical flapper outfit in the cover art for The Plastic Age, 1924

In 1922, a small-circulation magazine – The Flapper, located in Chicago – celebrated the flapper's appeal. On the opening page of its first issue, it proudly declared flappers' break with traditional values. Also, flappers defended them by contrasting themselves with earlier generations of women whom they called "clinging vines". They mocked the confining fashions and demure passivity of older women and reveled in their own freedom. They did not even acknowledge that the previous generation of female activists had made the flappers' freedom possible.[50]

In 1923, the flapper magazine Experience included an article on police reform, possibly indicating a concern for societal issues.[52]

In the 1920s, new magazines appealed to young German women with a sensuous image and advertisements for the appropriate clothes and accessories they would want to purchase. The glossy pages of Die Dame and Das Blatt der Hausfrau displayed the "Girl"—the flapper. She was young and fashionable, financially independent, and was an eager consumer of the latest fashions. The magazines kept her up to date on fashion, arts, sports, and modern technology such as automobiles and telephones.[53]

Billie Dove on "Not for Old Fogies". The Flapper (cover). November 1922.
Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle "The Flapper" Saturday Evening Post (February 4, 1922)

Although many young women in the 1920s saw flappers as the symbol of a brighter future, some also questioned the flappers' more extreme behavior. Therefore, in 1923, the magazine began asking for true stories from its readers for a new column called "Confessions of a Flapper". Some of these were lighthearted stories of girls getting the better of those who underestimated them, but others described girls betraying their own standards of behavior in order to live up to the image of flappers. There were several examples: a newlywed confessed to having cheated on her husband, a college student described being told by a boyfriend that she was not "the marrying kind" because of the sexual liberties she had permitted him, and a minister's daughter recounted the humiliation of being caught in the lie of pretending she was older and more sophisticated than she was. Many readers thought that flappers had gone too far in their quest for adventure. One 23-year-old "ex-vamp" declared: "In my opinion, the average flappers from 15 to 19 were brainless, inconsiderate of others, and easy to get into serious trouble."[50]

So, among the readers of The Flapper, parts of them were celebrated for flappers' spirit and appropriation of male privilege, while parts of them acknowledged the dangers of emulating flappers too faithfully, with some even confessing to violating their own codes of ethics so as to live up to all the hype.[50]


Advertisement for Prodigal Daughters, 1923

Flappers' behavior was considered outlandish at the time and redefined women's roles. In the English media, they were stereotyped as pleasure-loving, reckless and prone to defying convention by initiating sexual relationships.[54] Some[55] have suggested that the flapper concept as a stage of life particular to young women was imported to England from Germany, where it originated "as a sexual reaction against the over-fed, under-exercised monumental woman, and as a compromise between pederasty and normal sex".[55] In Germany, teenage girls were called "Backfisch", which meant a young fish not yet big enough to be sold in the market.[56][57] Although the concept of "Backfisch" was known in England by the late 1880s, the term was understood to mean a very demure social type[58] unlike the flapper, who was typically rebellious and defiant of convention. The evolving image of flappers was of independent young women who went by night to jazz clubs such as those in Harlem, which were viewed as erotic and dangerous, where they danced provocatively, smoked cigarettes and dated freely, perhaps indiscriminately. They were active, sporting, rode bicycles, drove cars, and openly drank alcohol, a defiant act in the American period of Prohibition.[59] With time, came the development of dance styles such as the Charleston, the Shimmy, the Bunny Hug, and the Black Bottom, which were considered shocking, but were a symbolic badge of the flapper's rejection of traditional standards.[60]

Overturning of Victorian roles


Flappers also began working outside the home and challenging women's traditional societal roles and the monolithic historical idea of women being powerless throughout social history.[61]

They were considered a significant challenge to traditional Victorian gender roles, devotion to plain-living, hard work and religion. Increasingly, women discarded old, rigid ideas about roles and embraced consumerism and personal choice, and were often described in terms of representing a "culture war" of old versus new. Flappers also advocated voting and women's rights.

In this manner, flappers were a result of larger social changes – women were able to vote in the United States in 1920, and religious society had been rocked by the Scopes trial.[62]

For all the concern about women stepping out of their traditional roles, however, many flappers were not engaged in politics. In fact, older suffragettes, who fought for the right for women to vote, viewed flappers as vapid and in some ways unworthy of the enfranchisement they had worked so hard to win.[63] Dorothy Dunbar Bromley, a noted liberal writer at the time, summed up this dichotomy by describing flappers as "truly modern", "New Style" feminists who "admit that a full life calls for marriage and children" and also "are moved by an inescapable inner compulsion to be individuals in their own right".[64]

Petting parties


"Petting" ("making out" or foreplay or non-penetrative sex) became more common than in the Victorian era, for example, with the rise in popularity of "petting parties".[65][66] At these parties, promiscuity became more commonplace, breaking from the traditions of monogamy or courtship with their expectations of eventual marriage.[67] This was typical on college campuses, where young people "spent a great deal of unsupervised time in mixed company".[68][69][70]

A flapper is featured on the poster for the 1924 film The Enemy Sex

Carolyn Van Wyck wrote a column for Photoplay, an upmarket magazine that featured articles on pop culture, advice on fashion, and even articles on helping readers channel their inner celebrity. In March 1926, an anonymous young woman wrote in describing petting as a problem, explaining, "The boys all seem to do it and don't seem to come back if you don't do it also. We girls are at our wits' end to know what to do. ... I'm sure that I don't want to marry anyone who is too slow to want to pet. But I want to discover what is right. Please help me." Van Wyck sympathized with the problem the writer faced and added, "It seems to me much better to be known as a flat tire and keep romance in one's mind than to be called a hot date and have fear in one's heart."[71]

In the 1950s, Life magazine depicted petting parties as "that famed and shocking institution of the '20s", and, commenting on the Kinsey Report, said that they have been "very much with us ever since".[72] In the Kinsey Report of 1950, there was an indicated increase in premarital intercourse for the generation of the 1920s. Kinsey found that of women born before 1900, 14 percent acknowledged premarital sex before the age of 25, while those born after 1900 were two and a half times more likely (36 percent) to have premarital intercourse and experience an orgasm.[73]



Flappers were associated with the use of a number of slang words, including "junk", "necker", "heavy petting", and "necking parties",[74] although these words existed before the 1920s.[75] Flappers also used the word "jazz" in the sense of anything exciting or fun. Their language sometimes reflected their feelings about dating, marriage and drinking habits: "I have to see a man about a dog" at this period often meant going to buy whiskey, and a "handcuff" or "manacle" was an engagement or wedding ring. Moreover, flappers invented slang terms like "hush money", which meant the allowance from a father or "dropping the pilot", which meant getting a divorce.[76] Also reflective of their preoccupations were phrases to express approval, such as "That's so Jake"[c] (okay), "She/he's the bee's knees" (a superb person), "Cake-eater" (a ladies' man), and the popular "the cat's meow" (anything wonderful).[78]

There were two more slang terms that reflected flappers' behaviors or lifestyles, which were "treating" and "charity girls". In the social context of dating, treating was the practice of providing companionship and intimate activity in exchange for entertainment outings, gifts, and other items of monetary value.[79] The activity was prevalent in the large urban areas of the United States from the 1890s to the 1940s and was most commonly engaged in by young working-class women. As treating became more widespread, the activity acquired the label "charity," and the young women who engaged in the more risqué aspects of the practice were often called charity girls.[80]


"Where there's smoke there's fire" by Russell Patterson, showing a fashionably dressed flapper in the 1920s.

In addition to their irreverent behavior, flappers were known for their style, which largely emerged as a result of French fashions,[81] especially those pioneered by Coco Chanel, the effect on dress of the rapid spread of American jazz, and the popularization of dancing that accompanied it.[82] Called garçonne in French ("boy" with a feminine suffix), flapper style made girls look young and boyish: short hair, flattened breasts, and straight waists accentuated it. By at least 1913, the association between slim adolescence and a certain characteristic look became fixed in the public's mind. Lillian Nordica, commenting on New York fashions that year, referred to

a thin little flapper of a girl donning a skirt in which she can hardly take a step, extinguishing all but her little white teeth with a dumpy bucket of a hat, and tripping down Fifth Avenue.[83]

Norma Shearer in 1927

At this early date, it seems that the style associated with a flapper already included the boyish physique[84] and close-fitting hat, but a hobble skirt rather than one with a high hemline.[81]

Although the appearance typically associated now with flappers (straight waists, short hair and a hemline above or around the knee) did not fully emerge until 1925,[85] there was an early association in the public mind between unconventional appearance, outrageous behavior, and the word "flapper". A report in The Times of a 1915 Christmas entertainment for troops stationed in France described a soldier in drag burlesquing feminine flirtatiousness while wearing "short skirts, a hat of Parisian type[86] and flapper-like hair".[87]

Despite the scandal flappers generated, their look became fashionable in a toned-down form among respectable older women.[88] Significantly, the flappers removed the corset from female fashion, raised skirt and gown hemlines, and popularized short hair for women. Among actresses closely identified with the style were Tallulah Bankhead,[89] Olive Borden, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Joan Crawford, Bebe Daniels, Billie Dove, Leatrice Joy, Helen Kane, Laura La Plante, Dorothy Mackaill, Colleen Moore, Norma Shearer, Norma Talmadge, Olive Thomas, and Alice White.

Beginning in the early 1920s, flappers began appearing in newspaper comic strips; Blondie Boopadoop and Fritzi Ritz – later depicted more domestically, as the wife of Dagwood Bumstead and aunt of Nancy, respectively – were introduced as flappers.[90]


Actress Norma Talmadge

Flapper dresses were straight and loose, leaving the arms bare (sometimes no straps at all) and dropping the waistline to the hips. Silk or rayon stockings were held up by garters. Skirts rose to just below the knee by 1927, allowing flashes of leg to be seen when a girl danced or walked through a breeze, although the way they danced made any long loose skirt flap up to show their legs. To enhance the view, some flappers applied rouge to their knees.[91][92] Popular dress styles included the robe de style. High heels also came into vogue at the time, reaching 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) high.[81] Favored shoe styles were Mary Janes and T-straps in classic black, gold, silver, or nude shades.[93]



Flappers did away with corsets and pantaloons in favor of "step-in" panties. Without the old restrictive corsets, flappers wore simple bust bodices to restrain their chest when dancing. They also wore new, softer and suppler corsets that reached to their hips, smoothing the whole frame, giving women a straight up and down appearance as opposed to the old corsets that slenderized the waist and accented the hips and bust.[81]

The lack of curves of a corset promoted a boyish look. Adding an even more boyish look, the Symington Side Lacer was invented and became a popular essential as an everyday bra. This type of bra was made to pull in the back to flatten the chest.[81] Other women envied flappers for their flat chests and bought the Symington Side Lacer to enhance the same look; large breasts were commonly regarded as a trait of unsophistication. Hence, flat chests became appealing to women, although flappers were the most common to wear such bras.

Hair and accessories

French actress Polaire in 1899

Boyish cuts were in vogue and released the weight of the tradition of women being required to grow their hair long, through popular cuts such as the bob cut, Eton crop, and shingle bob. Finger waving was used as a means of styling. Hats were still required wear, and popular styles included the newsboy cap and cloche hat.

Jewelry usually consisted of art deco pieces, especially many layers of beaded necklaces. Pins, rings, and brooches came into style. Horn-rimmed glasses were also popular.



As far back as the 1890s, French actress Polaire pioneered a look which included short, disheveled hair, emphatic mouth and huge eyes heavily outlined in kohl.[94][95] The evolving flapper look required "heavy makeup" in comparison to what had previously been acceptable outside of professional usage in the theater. With the invention of the metal lipstick container as well as compact mirrors, bee-stung lips came into vogue. Dark eyes, especially kohl-rimmed, were the style. Blush came into vogue now that it was no longer a messy application process. Women shaped their eyebrows needle-thin and penciled them in dark, emulating such actresses as Clara Bow.[96][97]

Originally, pale skin was considered most attractive. However, tanned skin became increasingly popular after Coco Chanel showed off a tan after a holiday – it suggested a life of leisure, without the onerous need to work. Women wanted to look fit, sporty, and, above all, healthy.

American banks and "flapper" employees


According to a report in 1922, some banks across the United States started to regulate the dress and deportment of young female employees who were considered to be "flappers". It began with a complaint of a mother in New Jersey who felt dissatisfied because her son did business only with a young female employee, whom she considered illegally attractive. The incident was duly reported to the officials of the bank, and rules adopted regarding requirements in dress for female employees. Those rules included that the dress should not have a pattern, it should be bought from a specific store, it must be worn in either black, blue or brown, its sleeves must not be shortened above the elbow, and its hem must not be worn higher than 12 inches from the ground. After that, the anti-flapper code soon spread to the Federal Reserve, where female employees were firmly told that there was no time for them to beautify themselves during office hours.[33]

Semiotics of the flapper

Life Magazine cover "The Flapper" by Frank Xavier Leyendecker, 2 February 1922

Being liberated from restrictive dress, from laces that interfered with breathing, and from hoops that needed managing suggested liberation of another sort. The new-found freedom to breathe and walk encouraged movement out of the house, and the flapper took full advantage.[98] The flapper was an extreme manifestation of changes in the lifestyles of American women made visible through dress.[99]

Changes in fashion were interpreted as signs of deeper changes in the American feminine ideal.[100] The short skirt and bobbed hair were likely to be used as a symbol of emancipation.[101] Signs of the moral revolution consisted of premarital sex, birth control, drinking, and contempt for older values. Before the War, a lady did not set foot in a saloon; after the War, a woman, though no more "a lady", entered a speakeasy as casually as she would go into a railroad station. Women had started swearing and smoking publicly, using contraceptives, raising their skirts above the knee and rolling their hose below it. Women were now competing with men in the business world and obtaining financial independence and, therefore, other kinds of independence from men.[99]

The New Woman was pushing the boundaries of gender roles, representing sexual and economic freedom. She cut her hair short and took to loose-fitting clothing and low cut dresses. No longer restrained by a tight waist and long trailing skirts, the modern woman of the 1920s was an independent thinker, who no longer followed the conventions of those before her.[98] The flapper was an example of the prevailing conceptions of women and their roles during the Roaring 1920s. The flappers' ideal was motion with characteristics of intensity, energy, and volatility. She refused the traditional moral code. Modesty, chastity, morality, and traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity were seemingly ignored. The flapper was making an appeal to authority and was being attached to the impending "demoralization" of the country.[99]

The Victorian American conception of sexuality and other roles of men and women in society and to one another were being challenged. Modern clothing was lighter and more flexible, better suiting the modern woman such as the flapper who wanted to engage in active sport. Women were now becoming more assertive and less willing to keep the home fires burning. The flappers' costume was seen as sexual and raised deeper questions of the behavior and values it symbolized.[99]

End of the flapper era


An obituary for the "Flapper" ran on the front page of The New York Times at the end of 1928, suggesting that she was being replaced by the "Siren", a mysterious, stylish, "vaguely European" ideal woman.[102] The flapper lifestyle and look disappeared and the roaring '20s era of glitz and glamour came to an end in America after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.[103] Unable to afford the latest trends and lifestyle, the once-vibrant flapper women returned to their dropped hemlines, and the flapper dress disappeared. A sudden serious tone washed over the public with the appearance of the Great Depression. The high-spirited attitude and hedonism were less acceptable during the economic hardships of the 1930s. When hemlines began to rise again, numerous states took action, making laws that restricted women to wear skirts with hemlines no shorter than three inches (7.5 centimeters) above the ankle. The ever-popular bobbed haircut was the cause for some women being fired from their jobs.[104][better source needed]

Transitioning into the 1930s was no easy task. Campaigns such as the "Make Do and Mend" slogan were becoming prevalent to ensure there was no overconsumption throughout society.[105] Fabric choices were among the many items to be cut back during this poverty-stricken time. Artificial fabrics were used instead of elegant fabrics such as silk, which were so popular in the early 1900s. No longer were party dresses adorned with decorative embellishments or made brightly colored. Instead, women headed to work to take over roles of men at war. The physically demanding jobs called for the creation and social acceptance of women's pants in society.

See also



  1. ^ In a 1913 letter a man addressed his 21-year-old girlfriend as his "flapper".[21]
  2. ^ The word itself was introduced earlier.[12][42]
  3. ^ First occurring as American criminal slang before 1914.[77]


  1. ^ Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Flappers in the Roaring Twenties". About.com. Archived from the original on August 25, 2004. Retrieved April 4, 2010.
  2. ^ "Flappers". HISTORY. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  3. ^ Tossounian 2020, p. 33.
  4. ^ Tossounian 2020, p. 36.
  5. ^ Evans, Ivan H. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (rev. ed.) New York: Harper & Row, 1981 ISBN 0-06-014903-5
  6. ^ "flapper". Online Etymology Dictionary. April 26, 2007..
  7. ^ Mabbe, James. Celestina IX. 110 "Fall to your flap, my Masters, kisse and clip"; 112 "Come hither, you foule flappes."
  8. ^ Barrere; Leland (1889). Dictionary of Slang. Flippers, flappers, very young girls trained to vice.
  9. ^ a b Savage, Jon. Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture. New York: Viking, 2007. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-670-03837-4
  10. ^ Lowsley, Barzillai. A glossary of Berkshire words and phrases 1888 (E.D.S.): "Vlapper, .. applied in joke to a girl of the bread-and-butter age."
  11. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. {{cite encyclopedia}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  12. ^ a b "The Comedy Old Man and His Troubles". The New York Times (interview with English comedy actor George Graves). February 3, 1907. What are 'flappers'? Why, they are the young girls with their hair still hanging down their backs. They are the sort that can climb up ropes hand over hand and pose at the top.
  13. ^ The Jazz Age. The 20s. Alexandria, Virginia.: Editors of the Time-Life Books. 1997. p. 38.
  14. ^ The Times. No. 38574. February 20, 1908. page 15, col F. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  15. ^ "The Dress of the Young Girl". The Globe and Traveller. April 11, 1908.
  16. ^ James, A. E. "Her Majesty the Flapper" Archived December 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. London Magazine (November, 1910)
  17. ^ "Review of the 1911 comedy Lady Patricia". The Times. No. 39540. March 23, 1911. p 10, col C. Now the 'flapper' is Miss Clare Lesley, the Dean's tomboy daughter... In the play a mature married couple, Patricia and Michael, vainly pursue slang-talking teenagers Billy and Clare, and so "Clare, out of the charity of youth for enamoured maturity, indulges Michael with a little mild flirtation" before at the end finding real love with Billy, who is her own age. The actress playing the flapper is characterized as "full of youth and 'go'".
  18. ^ "Some facts about the ballet". The New York Times. March 31, 1912. Mr. Tiller explained the difference between a "pony" and a "flapper". A pony, he said, is a small dancer who may be of any age. A flapper is a girl who has just "come out". She is at an awkward age, neither a child nor a woman, and she is just as likely to develop into a show girl as a pony.
  19. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  20. ^ The Times. No. 40576. July 15, 1914. page 1, col B. The father of a young lady, aged 15 – a typical "FLAPPER" – with all the self assurance of a woman of 30 would be grateful for the recommendation of a seminary (not a convent) where she might be placed for a year or two with the object of taming her. It is not EDUCATION she requires, she has too much of that already... {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  21. ^ "£600 Damages For Breach of Promise". The Times. No. 40344. October 16, 1913. p 15, col D. I cannot bear to think of my flapper without an engagement ring.
  22. ^ Anonymous (December 1914) "The Melancholy Passing of the Flapper" Vanity Fair
  23. ^ "Training demobilized women: the flapper's future". The Times. No. 42232. October 16, 1919. page 7, col B.
  24. ^ The Times. No. 42326. February 5, 1920. page 9, col A. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  25. ^ "Flappers flaunt fads in footwear" (PDF). The New York Times. January 29, 1922. Retrieved July 18, 2021. But you have perhaps heard that there is a movie play, The Three Musketeers, in which Douglas Fairbanks is the D'Artagnan. You may remember having seen, in the long ago, illustrated editions of Mr. Dumas's novel showing D'Artagnan in his musketeer costume. And you may possibly remember that he wore boots, with turned down tops, which flopped as he walked. It is merely that we girls are following the style set by D'Artagnan.
  26. ^ Basinger, Jeanne (2000). Silent Stars. Wesleyan..
  27. ^ Strong, Marion in Brady, Kathleen (2001). Lucille: The life of Lucille Ball. Billboard. The more noise the buckles made, the better they flapped, that's why we were called flappers.
  28. ^ Corrigan, Jim. The 1920s Decade in photos: The Roaring Twenties. Berkeley Heights, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc, 2009, p. 19
  29. ^ The Times (London, England): "Delivering Drunkards", December 2, 1936, p. 15
  30. ^ Craig, Gordon A. (1991) The Germans New York: Merdian. p.161. ISBN 9780452010857
  31. ^ Sagert, Kelly Boyer (2010). Flappers: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara CA: Greenwood Press. pp. 1. ISBN 978-0-313-37690-0.
  32. ^ Cellania, M. (2013, March 25). The Rise of the Flapper - Sociological Images. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/03/25/guest-post-the-rise-of-the-flapper/
  33. ^ a b c McGlinchey, S. (2014) "History of Women's Fashion: 1920 to 1929" Glamour Daze Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  34. ^ Langley, S. (2005) "Jazz" in Roaring '20s Fashions. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. p.16 ISBN 0764323199
  35. ^ Latham, Angela J. (2000). Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s. Hanover NH: University Press of New England. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8195-6401-6.
  36. ^ Langley, S. (2005) "Jazz" in Roaring '20s Fashions. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. p.18 ISBN 0764323199
  37. ^ a b Langley, S. (2005) "Jazz" in Roaring '20s Fashions. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. p.17 ISBN 0764323199
  38. ^ Boland, J. (April 15, 2012) "1920s Fashion & Music". Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  39. ^ Cellania, M. (March 25, 2013) 6, "The Rise of the Flapper - Sociological Images". Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  40. ^ Bramlett, L. A. (2010) "Vintage Sportswear" Archived April 22, 2021, at the Wayback Machine Fuzzylizzie Vintage Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  41. ^ Stevenson, N. J. (2012) Fashion: A visual history from regency & romance to retro & revolution: A complete illustrated chronology of fashion from the 1800s to the present day (1st ed.). New York: The Ivy Press Limited. p.92-93
  42. ^ New Brunswick Times. February 24, 1910. And over in England, as I learned, they call a girl of about fifteen a "flapper."... {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  43. ^ a b "Olive Thomas". Memories of Olive. Assumption. Archived from the original on April 12, 2013..
  44. ^ Long, Bruce (ed.). "Taylorology: A Continuing Exploration of the Life and Death of William Desmond Taylor". Arizona State University..
  45. ^ De Castelbajac 1995, p. 35.
  46. ^ Conor, Liz. The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in The 1920s 2004. p. 301
  47. ^ a b Zeitz 2007, p. 6.
  48. ^ Reinsch, O. (2013). "Gender and Consumerism"[permanent dead link] Gender Forum Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  49. ^ Dalzell, Tom (2010). Flappers 2 Rappers. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-486-47587-5.
  50. ^ a b c d Ferentinos, S. (n.d.). Not for Old Fogies: The Flapper. Retrieved May 18, 2016, from http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/flapper.html
  51. ^ Langley, S. (2006). Roaring '20s fashions: Deco. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, p. 16
  52. ^ Jason Ulysses Rose (August 7, 2022). A Primary Source Shows the Connection Between 1920s Flappers and Social Media Youth Organizers Today. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183623
  53. ^ Nina Sylvester, "Before Cosmopolitan: The Girl in German women's magazines in the 1920s". Journalism Studies 8#4 (2007): 550–54.
  54. ^ Praga, Mrs. Alfred (July 29, 1917). ""Sporting" girls and the risks they run. An open letter to "The Flappers" of England". The Weekly Dispatch. p. 7. My dear "Flappers" – I wonder if any of you in your gay youthfulness ever realise what a lot of harm you are doing to your future happiness by the way you sometimes cheapen yourselves in the eyes of your men "pals", as you love to call them ... The article goes on to describe flappers haunting public venues in order to "get off" with men.
  55. ^ a b Graves, Robert; Hodge, Alan (1994). The Long Week End: a Social History of Great Britain, 1918–1939. pp. 33–34..
  56. ^ Backfisch. In: Sigi Kube: Wie kommt die Katze in den Sack und was weiß der Kuckuck davon?: Tierische Redewendungen und ihre Bedeutung. Heyne, 2011, ISBN 978-3-641-05361-1 (German)
  57. ^ New Brunswick Times. February 24, 1910. ... a typical German girl of the well to do class between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. Before she gets to be fifteen she is simply a 'kid' as we say in this country. But for those two years she is a backfisch pure and simple. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed] The article implies the girl is so designated to prevent someone no longer a child attempting to assume the airs of an adult woman: "These German frauleins dare not do so, because they know they are mere backfisches." The article concludes "And over in England, as I learned, they call a girl of about fifteen a 'flapper'. If I were still but fifteen I am sure I would prefer being a backfisch."
  58. ^ Pall Mall Gazette. Vol. 3, no. 2. August 29, 1891. Let us introduce the word 'Backfisch', for we have the Backfisch always with us. She ranges from fifteen to eighteen years of age, keeps a diary, climbs trees secretly, blushes on the smallest provocation, and has no conversation. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help), in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). 1989.[full citation needed]
  59. ^ Mrs William Atherton du Puy (October 15, 1921). "Let Girls Smoke, Mrs Dupuy's Plea". The New York Times. Yes, girls do smoke, and there is no harm if they don't go to excess. It is not like the rush of girls to the cafés to drink which happened twenty years ago. It was that which brought about prohibition..
  60. ^ Dumenil (1995)
  61. ^ Latham, Angela J. (2000). Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-8195-6401-6.
  62. ^ Zeitz, 2007. "Here was where the modern culture could prove threatening to the Victorians. The ethos of the consumer market glorified not only self-indulgence and satisfaction, but also personal liberty and choice. It invited relativism in all matters ranging from color schemes and bath soap to religion, politics, sex and morality."
  63. ^ Zeitz, 2007. "Others argued, though, that flappers' laissez-faire attitude was simply a natural progression of feminine liberation, the right having already been won."; p.107: "T[he Jazz Age flapper ... [was] [d]isengaged from politics..."
  64. ^ Zeitz 2007, p. 117.
  65. ^ Weeks, Linton (June 26, 2015). "When 'Petting Parties' Scandalized The Nation". NPR. Retrieved December 18, 2020.
  66. ^ "Mothers Complain that Modern Girls 'Vamp' Their Sons at Petting Parties". The New York Times. February 17, 1922..
    An earlier article in the same newspaper rebutted an attack on the behaviour of American girls made recently in the Cosmopolitan by Elinor Glyn. It admitted the existence of petting parties but considered the activities were no worse than those which had gone on in earlier times under the guise of "kissing games", adding that tales of what occurred at such events were likely to be exaggerated by an older generation influenced by traditional misogyny
    Dupuy, Mrs William Atherton (October 15, 1921). "Let Girls Smoke, Mrs. Dupuy's Plea; Penwomen's President Rises in Defense of Young Thing Who 'Parks Corsets' Before Dance. MRS.GLYN WRONG, SHE SAYS Declares Short-Skirt Girl of Today Who Goes to "Petting Parties" Is All She Should Be". The New York Times..
  67. ^ McArthur, Judith N; Smith, Harold L (2010). Texas Through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience. University of Texas Press. pp. 104–05. ISBN 978-0-292-77835-1. The spirit of the petting party is light and frivolous. Its object is not marriage – only a momentary thrill. It completely gives the lie to those sweet, old phrases, "the only man" and "the only girl". For where there used to be only one girl there may be a score of them now.
  68. ^ Drowne, Kathleen Morgan; Huber, Patrick (2004). The 1920s. Greenwood Publishing. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-313-32013-2.
  69. ^ Nelson, Lawrence J (2003). Rumors of Indiscretion. University of Missouri Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-8262-6290-5..
  70. ^ Bragdon, Claude (2007). Delphic Woman. Cosimo. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-1-59605-430-1..
  71. ^ Dubois, Ellen Carol; Dumenil, Lynn (2012). Through Women's Eyes (Third ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 561.
  72. ^ Havemann, Ernest. "The Kinsey Report on Women" Life magazine (August 24, 1953)
  73. ^ Duenil, Lynn (1995). The Modern Temper:American Culture and Society in the 1920s. New York, NY: Hill and Wang. p. 136.
  74. ^ "Shifters No Longer Appeal to Slackers". The New York Times. March 26, 1922. The epithets she has evolved from her own lexicon are "junk", "necker" and "heavy necker". "Junk" is anything she considers unimportant or unworthy of consideration. A "necker" is a "petter" who puts her arms around a boy's neck. A "heavy necker" is a "petter" who hangs heavily on said neck. "Necking parties" have superseded "petting parties..
  75. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, online ed., March 2012.
  76. ^ "Flapper Slang: Talk the 1920s talk". KCTS 9. November 5, 2019. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
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  83. ^ "Mme Nordica Buys No Paris Gowns". The New York Times. January 1, 1913..
  84. ^ "Mme Nordica Buys No Paris Gowns". The New York Times. January 1, 1913. ...when a lady of uncertain age and very certain development attempts the same little costume because it looks well on the thin little girl, well – " And Mme. Nordica left the result to the interviewer's imagination.
  85. ^ McEvoy, Anna (2009). The 1920s And 1930s. Facts On File. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-60413-383-7.
  86. ^ The Times. December 23, 1915. p. 11. ...the jaunty little toque {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  87. ^ "Pantomime At The Front, Soldier "Heroines"". The Times. No. 41050. December 30, 1915. p 7, col E. There was, for instance, a Maid Marian in the cast, who was described as a "dainty dam'sell" because she was a sergeant. There was something ridiculously fascinating about that sergeant, for he was in blue short skirts, a hat of Parisian type and flapper-like hair; and when she was instructing Ferdinand, a Bad Lad... in the use of the "glad eye", the great audience shouted with laughter.
  88. ^ Smith, Merril D. (2014). Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-7591-2332-8.
  89. ^ Hughes, Kathryn. "Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell – review" The Guardian (June 1, 2013)
  90. ^ "Fritzi Ritz Before Bushmiller: She's Come a Long Way, Baby!". Hogan's Alley. September 22, 2017. Archived from the original on May 23, 2013. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
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  94. ^ Jean Lorrain (1936). La Ville Empoisonnée. Paris: Jean Cres. p. 279. ...the great voracious mouth, the immense black eyes, ringed, bruised, discolored, the incandescence of her pupils, the bewildered nocturnal hair...
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Further reading