The Fabu Flappers

May, 2017
Dina Watson

Glitz; furs; diamonds; coiffured hair; slinky - barely there dresses; plumes and feathers, and powder, lots of powder is the imagery I conjure when someone talks about the ‘flapper’.  Some of these associations have been substantiated by old movies as well as new movies trying to recreate that interesting period of temperance and prohibition.  There was an augur of change in the air and women played a momentous role in all aspects and it reflected in the attitude and determination of women to pursue what made them happy.  For some, it was finally being part of the drinking scene that they had been excluded from.  This group has famously been captured in books and movies for their adventrous sexual attitude, their glamourous and enviable closet and their desire and ability to party as passionately as their male counterparts. 

The ‘flapper’ was no shrinking violet and while the suffragettes - made up of older women - were marching for equality, the flapper was asserting her right in a different way.  While men’s acceptance of women in drinking spaces was still a novelty, they did not see the shift of power that was happening and were to some extent charmed by their delicate presence.  At least, this is how F. Scott Fitzgerald described his female characters in his short story anthology ‘The Last Flappers’.  His most descriptive account of a Flapper is in his short story ‘May Day’ where through his character Edith we get a glimpse into this world:

“She thought of her own appearance. Her bare arms and shoulders were powdered to a creamy white. She knew they looked very soft and would gleam like milk against the black backs that were to silhouette them to-night. The hairdressing had been a success; her reddish mass of hair was piled and crushed and creased to an arrogant marvel of mobile curves. Her lips were finely made of deep carmine; the irises of her eyes were delicate, breakable blue, like china eyes. She was a complete, infinitely delicate, quite perfect thing of beauty, flowing in an even line from a complex coiffure to two small slim feet…….She dropped her arms to her side until they were faintly touching the sleek sheath that covered and suggested her figure.”

Lois Long (right), early 1920s. (Edward Steichen photo)

In sharp contrast to the fictional Edith, was the real-life, ambitious and talented writer - Lois Long. She wrote about the ‘Speakeasy’ scene for the New Yorker, under the pseudonym ‘Lipstick’.  She was fashionable and fabulous and celebrated her liberty by critiquing both the speakeasies for their choice of entertainment as well as the inconvenience of the police raids.  She was the only woman, during that period, chronicling the night scene with its cocktail culture, riotous dancing and glamorous wardrobe and according to the historian Joshua Zeitz, she was the epitome of a flapper:

"Lois Long's columns were laced with a wicked sort of sexual sense of humor. She openly flouted sexual and social conventions. She would come into the office at four in the morning, usually inebriated, still in an evening dress and she would, having forgotten the key to her cubicle, she would normally prop herself up on a chair and try to, you know, in stocking feet, jump over the cubicle usually in a dress that was too immodest for Harold Ross’ liking. She was in every sense of the word, both in public and private, the embodiment of the 1920s flapper. And her readers really loved her."

Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lois Long were contemporaries during the roaring 20’s and provide a literary glimpse into a period of fashion that aroused a lot of passion.  Society was divided between social mores of the Victorian era and a younger generation who was pursuing freedom from it.  What the flappers wore and the attitude that inspired it made a distinct mark in history because their sprit of independence captured the true essence of style. Through self-expression, the flappers created a glamorous and undeniable signature style that still thrills and delights the senses.

Fabulous Flapper, circa 1920


PBS, Ken Burns' Prohibition

Tales of the Jazz Age - F. Scott Fitzgerald


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