1920 Flappers Took the Country by Storm – But Did They Ever Truly Go Away

Women of the Roaring Twenties had a lot in common with today’s millennials

By Linda Simon Smithsonian Magazine September 2017

Flappers Atop Chicago Hotel

She was the sexy ingénue, spending evenings in jazz clubs hazy with her cigarette smoke. She cavorted, wild and willful, in the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who summed her up as “pretty, impudent, superbly assured, as worldly-wise, briefly-clad and ‘hard-berled’ as possible.”

The glamorous, shimmering flapper in her slinky dress and stylish bob seemed to emerge into American life out of nowhere after the First World War, but the term was already familiar by then. In 1890s Britain, in fact, “flapper” described a very young prostitute, and after the turn of the century, it was used on both sides of the Atlantic for cheeky, prepubescent girls whose long braids, the New York Times reported, “flapped in the wind.” Soon, a flapper was any girl or woman who defied convention—girls who balked at being chaperoned, suffragists, women aspiring to a career, and those, as the Boston Globe put it, “expert in the arts of allurement.”

Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, flappers tended to go to high school and even college, and they devoured new books featuring confident, fun-loving adolescent heroines who hiked and camped and solved mysteries. Flappers biked, played golf and tennis, and strove to emulate the flat-chested and hipless physiques of the adolescent boys whose freedom and lack of domestic responsibilities they envied.

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