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What was the Flapper Era?

The flappers of the 1920's often danced and drank until they collapsed.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 June 2014
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Historically, post-war generations are often defined by their excesses, as in the case of the so-called Roaring Twenties following World War I and the Baby Boom era following World War II. In the case of the Roaring Twenties, otherwise known as the Lost Generation, the sudden influx of new consumer goods combined with a white-hot economy led many young Americans to indulge in a distinctly hedonistic lifestyle. Part of that lifestyle for stylish young women was the introduction of form-fitting short dresses with multiple layers called "flapper dresses." This image of an uninhibited young woman dancing with abandon at a speakeasy nightclub would further define the Roaring Twenties as the Flapper Era.

The Flapper Era grew out of a time of great uncertainty for the younger generation, which had seen the devastating effects of a "war to end all wars". Many felt disenchanted by the strict social norms which had shaped their early lives, while others felt rudderless and abandoned. In an effort to define their own generation, many young people coming of age during the 1920s decided to abandon the stifling moral codes of their predecessors and indulge in a far more self-absorbed, hedonistic way of life.

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The Roaring 20s really roared in illicit nightclubs which featured live jazz music, illegal bathtub gin, and young patrons who knew how to take full advantage of it all. The flappers would literally dance and drink until they collapsed, driven by the relentlessly upbeat rhythm of the jazz bands. Patrons of these nightclubs would often stay all night, or find other after-hours venues to continue their celebrations. The Flapper Era was largely about living in the present, since there was clearly no guarantee of a future in a world where large-scale deaths from war were now possible. In a sense, the Flapper Era was dancing as fast as it could as a type of social coping mechanism.

The idea of beautiful young actresses and socialites jetting from lavish party to lavish party did not start with Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. During the Flapper Era, notable starlets such as Clara Bow would routinely spend their free time in dance halls and nightclubs. Other famous silent film stars would also participate in or even sponsor their own hedonistic parties. The Flapper Era seemed to belong exclusively to those under the age of 30, but the devastating 1929 crash on Wall Street and the resulting Great Depression forced those of the Lost Generation to face a much more challenging reality during the 1930s.

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Discuss this Article

snickerish
Post 19

@bluespirit - The other 1920’s women’s fashion style had a lot to do with vibrant colors. Stockings and shoes became more fashionable since they were creating styles of dress where you could see a woman’s calf and shoes. Therefore, the stockings were made in all different designs and colors to go with their vibrant dresses’ and shoes. Different types of hat were a huge fashion statement in the 1920’s.

Another fashion change all of us women should be thankful for in the twenties - restrictive undergarments were replaced with bras and more comfortable underwear! Allowing women to have more movement and do most anything in their clothing. Because of this you can see an emphasis in function as you see women being able to wear clothing for more functions.

Doing away with restrictive undergarments gave designers a chance to design clothes that were not only fashionable, but comfortable too. For instance, Coco Chanel embraced this new freedom of expression by introducing clothing without corsets, altering men’s wear to fit and beautify women, and wearing a short bob.

Oh and then there is Elsa Shiaparelli. She was a key Italian designer who tried to incorporate the “beyond the real” art of this decade into her clothing line.

But I digress (I love fashion!) - no wonder the Flappers were flapping - they no longer had to wear corsets!

bluespirit
Post 18

Before this article I thought everyone was into the Flapper style, so that has me curious - what were the other 1920s women's fashion other than the specific Flapper style, since that was primarily those under the age of 30? And with that what designers were most influential and successful in the 1920's (I feel like we always hear about the authors of that era, but who was behind all this “Flappering”)?

amysamp
Post 17

I am a women in my late twenties myself, just as the article described those of the Flapper Era to be in. I can remember in my early twenties how natural it felt to experiment. When I talk experimentation I mean primarily with different clothing styles, different party venues, different people, different places. So I wonder if their age was a big part of the Flapper Era being created.

I think most people in their twenties during any decade can identify with experimentation of one type or another. When you are in your twenties, you are still figuring out who you are, what you like and dislike, etc.

I think there hasn't been a repeat of the "Roaring Twenties" because the social norm has shifted a lot over time. Back in the 1920's the social norm was to dress and act modestly and with the utmost moral code.

Now the social norm seems to be more of an anything goes, so there is no way to surprise anyone or do anything that has not already been done, so Flappers would just seem like part of mainstream in my opinion.

wavy58
Post 16

My great-grandmother came from a wealthy family, and she spent several years in the 1920s either attending or throwing all-night parties. She was very energetic, and she could dance for hours.

After a few years of this behavior, she began to wish for a more mature lifestyle and someone to have deep and meaningful conversations with. She still attended the parties, because that was just the way of life for her circle of friends, but she was having trouble meeting anyone who wasn’t so absorbed in superficial things and having fun.

She met my great-grandfather at one of these parties, but he attended because his brother had talked him into it. It wasn’t his scene at all. They really hit it off, and she was able to leave the flapper lifestyle behind, get married, and raise children.

shell4life
Post 15

My grandfather used to go on a rant about the 20s clothing that “those rebellious flappers” would wear. He remembered being out on the street at night and seeing them walking down the street in their party dresses and being shocked at what he viewed as a violation of the unspoken public dress code.

He has been straight laced all his life. He married a woman who only wore dresses with high necks, long sleeves, and ankle-length skirts. He spent a good bit of energy complaining about immodest dressers.

He doesn’t even own a television. If he did, he would be appalled at today’s fashion. If he thought the flappers’ clothing was revealing, he would surely faint at what passes for clothing today.

StarJo
Post 14

My great aunt still has some of her flapper dresses from that era. They are distinctly different yet stylish.

One dress was pink and was entirely composed of layers of fringe that extended a couple of inches down to the next layer. It was kind of short, though not as short as many of today’s dresses.

The other dress was more elegant. The top half was black and resembled a vest. It was secured in the middle by a large diamond-shaped piece of material. The attached skirt was a shiny gold material with an uneven cut. It draped about her legs with many folds.

Viktor13
Post 13

@Moldova - About the breast thing, I think to some extent the "trendy" people are always going to want to do the opposite of whatever is considered normal at the time, especially when the flappers were among the first people to get rid of all the rigid confining things that people normally wore underneath their clothes.

Veruca10
Post 12

I remind people about the flappers, "greasers", "hot rods", and other fads for young people when someone starts going on about how kids today are so out of of control.

If you think the way young people dress and act today is shocking or annoying, imagine the 1920s when everyone is walking around in a suit, the women in dresses, everything is very formal and straight laced, and then you have these young people staying out all night, drinking until they black out, wearing outrageous and revealing (for the time) clothes. They must have seemed like aliens to their parents and neighbors.

bigjim
Post 11

@backdraft - You're right. It's one thing to dress outlandishly now, when everyone's walking around with their own style, but the 1920s flapper was the ultimate nonconformist in a time where conformity was very important in "polite" society.

I suspect a lot of them were on the receiving end of pressure from family and community, but they just went ahead and did what they thought was best for them.

golf07
Post 10

I recently shopped at several vintage shops looking for an outfit for a costume party I was going to.

I saw a lot of 1920's clothing at several different shops I was at. These dresses and hats look like they would be a lot of fun to wear for the right occasion.

I was looking for a differnt style of costume, but found myself looking at several of these dresses and thinking how much fun it would be to wear one. They just kind of put you in the party spirit.

The next time I have a costume party to attend, I think I will re-create a look from the Flapper Era just for the fun of it.

andee
Post 9

When I took a fashion design class in college, the era of the Roaring Twenties always fascinated me. I think women's fashion of the 1920s was the beginning of women asserting themselves and defining themselves by their fashion choices.

When I look at pictures of the dresses that were worn during the Flapper Era many of them are very bright and colorful. There was a lot of creativity that went into the design and this carried forward to the woman who was wearing the dress.

I would love to sit down with someone who lived through this era and hear their stories. It makes me wonder what they would think of the clothing we wear today.

whiteplane
Post 8

Its really interesting to think that the flapper style and the spirit of the roaring 20s was directly influenced by a kind of nihilism that crept up after WWI. If the world is going to end we might as well go out with a bang.

It makes me wonder why there is not a similar sentiment now. If you really think about it, the 2000s have not been that great so far. We had 9/11 then 2 bloody wars, an economic collapse and a president who inspired people and then disappointed many of them. It doesn't seem like the mood now is drastically different than it was in the 20s and yet I don't feel like there is anywhere near the same energy. I don't know why exactly but I am disappointed regardless. We could have had the roaring 2000s.

ceilingcat
Post 7

@Monika - Well, any hard partying the post 9/11 generation might want to do will surely be dampened if this recession keeps up. It's kind of an interesting parallel to the way to Depression cut the Roaring 20s short, I think.

But in any event, flapper fashion is still alive and well, at least on Halloween. I think I see at least one or two ladies dressed up like flappers each and every year!

Monika
Post 6

I think it's interesting to think of an era in our nations past that was driven by excesses. A lot of people these days like to hearken back to "the good old days" when everything was better. But it seems like young people like to party, whatever generation they belong to.

I can also understand why they felt more driven to excess after a large scale war. I wonder if the post 9/11 generation will feel the same way when they get a little bit older.

tigers88
Post 5

I've never been completely positive, but I think that my grandmother went through a flapper phase in the 20s, when she herself was in her 20s.

She didn't talk about her youth very much but I remember her talking about dancing a lot, and having short hair and certain style of dress that she loved.

I also saw a picture of her back then and she looked a lot like what I would expect a flapper to look like. After reading this article its crazy to think of my grandmother like that. I mostly remember her as a sweet and small old lady but I guess back in the day she was one of the cool people.

backdraft
Post 4

In lots of ways the flappers were more subversive and progressive than any of the high fashion that we have today. We tend to think of people like Lady Ga Ga as the high point of fashion and art, but the flappers were charting a unique and individual course for themselves almost 100 years ago. The 20s seem so far away and so old fashion but they really were not drastically different than the life we live today.

SauteePan
Post 3

@Moldova- I noticed that flapper fashion also included very short hair with those bell shaped hats. I read that applying makeup in public was in vogue and red lipstick was a must.

The only other rules for makeup application involved the application of blush. Blush was supposed to be applied sparingly. I wonder why there was such a focus on short hair and flat- chested women.

It seemed like the fashion of the 1920’s really wanted to make women look a little more like men with the exception of the makeup application. I really did not find the look attractive at all. I know that I would personally not fit in during the 1920’s because I would not want to look like a 1920's flapper.

Moldova
Post 2

One thing that I find amazing as I read about the women’s fashion of the 1920’s is that flat chests were all the rage. In fact, I read that large busted women had to bandage their bosoms in order to have a flatter silhouette. That is amazing if you think about how many women today get breast augmentation surgeries or boob jobs to actually have bigger breasts.

I also read that many of the 1920’s flappers did not like to wear corsets because they were uncomfortable. They also liked to wear sheer underwear and usually adjusted their stockings in order to be able to dance more comfortably. Some flappers did wear a girdle and it was usually attached by suspender straps.

It makes sense especially if you were going to move around a lot. The dances of the 1920’s did require a lot of movement and I think that faster you could dance the better.

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