If there is an iconic symbol of the 1920s, it is the flapper girl. Being a flapper girl in that tumultuous decade was about more than just knowing how to dress and do the popular dances of the day. There was an attitude and a “modern” outlook on life that any flapper girl naturally possessed.
That look that we now associate to the 1920s could never have existed without the arrival of Jazz, which became the musical language of the times. And just as Jazz was bold, urban, sinful and self indulgent, to be a flapper girl meant that you wore “outlandish” make up and outfits, smoked cigarettes and drank as well. The perfect flapper girl look was one of a very pale white girl wearing the brightest red lipstick and eyes made up so thick that these girls looked like they just came from the circus.
The classic flapper dress was made to enjoy while having a wonderful time on the town. The outfit was loose fitting and the waist of the dress was dropped. By 1920s standards, the flapper dress was bold because women’s fashions up until this time showed little skin and were fitted to mold to the body. The flapper dress had shorter sleeves and skirts and it was only right when wearing one to accessorize it to the hilt with lace, colorful beads and loud fringe that was sure to attract attention.
As often happened in post war social settings, these revealing outfits were intentionally sexy and when flapper girls did the highly energetic dances of the times, those short skirts gave the men who were socializing with them plenty of leg to look at. Coming out of an American social system before 1920 that was highly puritanical, this kind of dress and behavior must have seemed positively pornographic to those not caught up in the debauchery of the times.
It made sense that flapper girls were empowered to challenge conventional fashion ideas with their outrageous behavior and modes of dressing. The spirit of the time were similarly revolutionary. Jazz music was spreading like wildfire in ways that would be experienced in similar ways in generations to come when Rock and Roll music took over culture. And just as Rock music defined an attitude of change and to challenge the morals of the older generation, Jazz challenged social morality and even the strongly defined ethic lines that said that some races would not socialize together. When jazz clubs filled with music lovers including the famous flapper girls, those old-fashioned ideas went out the window.
Looking back on the times when the flapper girls were making waves in society, it seems quaint to us in modern times when conventional morality allows for girls to show much more skin while enjoying their social evenings out. But in many ways, flapper girls laid the groundwork for the movements to liberate women that came in decades down the line. Little did flapper girls know they were setting a woman’s liberation movement in motion. What they did know is they looked great in their 1920s flapper fashions and they were having the time of their lives.