We dance on the ledge of a roof. In heels.
The quintessential Twenties
(American, Western European or simply sophisticated) woman. A young lady even more spirited than the Spirited Young Lady
, where Victorian morals were loosened the same time restrictive corsets
were, thanks to newfound liberty, rising feminist movements, and, in the US, the 19th Amendmentnote
. She listened to jazz, danced dances like the Foxtrot, the Tango, the Shimmy, the Black Bottom, the Baltimore Buzz, and the Charleston
, wore make-up for the first time since the 18th century, drank with the boys (in America, she was about as big an opponent of the 18th Amendmentnote
as she was a fan of the 19th), spoke in slang
, and enjoyed various other delights The Roaring Twenties
had to offer. Short hair
, short skirts
, short, loose & low-waisted evening gowns
, turned-up silk stockings
, boyish figures
, and swanky cloche hats
were a must.
Their sexual liberty was a result of the feminist movements like women entering the workforce and women's rights to vote, and of women's growing hatred of the classic Double Standard
; that promiscuous men were "studs," while promiscuous women were "whores." In their eyes, "sheiks" and "shebas" were equal, so they could be just as sexually free. Another factor was the then popular view of women as house wives
and mothers who should be subordinate to their men and preferably not leave the house.
The popular image of the flapper we know of dates back to the late 1920s. In fact, the concept dates way back at least in the 1910s
. While the word flapper
stuck in every dictionary as early as The Gay Nineties
, the flapper girl started to evolve during World War One
and the Prohibition era. Contrary to popular imagery, flappers did not always wore sleek bobs, fringed dresses and feathered headbands. Earlier flappers had that loose silhouette, yet wore wide-brimmed hats and longer, narrower skirts. But as the decade progressed, and with the help of prominent women like Coco Chanel
, hats became tighter and narrower, and skirts became shorter, and the silhouette more streamlined, like the image you see above.
The concept also spread east to Japan and China, where it spawned the "modern girl" (モダンガール modan gaaru
, or モガ moga
for short) and "modern Miss" (摩登小姐 modeng xiaojie
) cultures respectively.
The flapper lifestyle and look disappeared after the Wall Street Crash and the following Great Depression
. The high-spirited attitude and hedonism were less acceptable during the economic hardships of the 1930s.
Compare and contrast The Lad-ette
- Gina in Porco Rosso, as befits the early depression setting. Especially apparent in comparison to the Edwardian dress she wears in her flashback.
- Olive Oyl from Popeye
- Blondie started out as this until she married Dagwood Bumpstead. Her maiden name was even "Boopadoop", a play on the then popular expression "Boop-oop-a-doop".
- Our Dancing Daughters (1928) could have been called Flapper: The Movie, as it offers archetypal examples of the trope. All the women in the movie are stereotypical flappers—hard-drinking, sexually liberated young party girls with short haircuts.
- The Great Gatsby, naturally.
- Evie in High Road To China.
- Almost all the women in The Cats Meow. As a bonus all the costumes are black, white, and gray so they look like Edward Gorey characters.
- Peppy Miller in The Artist.
- Most of the women in Singin' in the Rain, with the notable exception of Lina.
- Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
- Pandora's Box is a fairly dark take on The Flapper. Lulu definitely qualifies, with the slinky dresses, short bob haircut (which became quite famous for a while thanks to this film), dancing, and sexual liberation. But when The Flapper gets involved in prostitution and murder, it's not so fun.
- The Princess and the Frog: Tiana in her white dress and Lottie at the beginning of the movie.
- Girl Shy features Harold Lloyd imagining seducing a flapper. She is smoking and dancing to jazz, of course.
- The Great Gatsby: Most of the females in the novel, both played straight or played with.
- Jordan Baker, a fashionable and gorgeous golf player who dates Nick Carraway.
- Mrs Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan's lively mistress.
- Subverted by Daisy, who isn't spirited and actually dislikes Gatsby's lavish, chaotic parties, and would prefer to stay in her calm world of Old Money.
- Isobel "Izzie" Todd, from Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, is Ursula's non-conforming aunt who wears short dresses, makeup, and Chanel No. 5.
- The Sun Also Rises: Brett.
- In another F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, Gloria in The Beautiful And Damned. Since the novel is set in the 1910s, she is explicitly said to be an early proponent of the fashion.
- Naomi in Tanizaki Jun'ichiro's novel Naomi.
- Sadie, from Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl.
- Agatha Christie's Tuppence was a flapper in her first appearance (then she marries Tommy and becomes more respectable but no less adventurous) as was Bundle in The Secret of Chimneys and The Seven Dials Mystery.
- The Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "Ode to Joy" by Jonathan Clements in Short Trips: The History of Christmas, features a Kitsune in the Emperor's Gardens who takes the form of a moga. The Doctor has to break it to her that it's 1990, and "modern girls" in Tokyo are wearing tracksuits.
- Boardwalk Empire premieres with the onset of Prohibition, but it isn't until the third season (when the show's timeline has advanced to the early 1920's) that we get an honest-to-gosh flapper in the character of Broadway chorine Billie Kent.
- Lady Rose MacClare, the Crawley sisters' rebellious younger cousin, on Downton Abbey. After Rose begs Robert to let her go out to a club or some such, Lady Mary says:
Lady Mary: Your niece is a flapper—accept it.
- Lady Edith is arguably a subversion: she adopts a flapperish hairstyle, is more than a bit of a tomboy, and fully embraces women's rights—but being who she is (very much a country girl), it's hard to call her a true flapper.
- Betty Boop: None other than the Boop herself.
- In The Simpsons, we once see a photo of Marge's mother in her flapper days.
- This was the original characterization for Minnie Mouse. However, times faded and she lost her flapper look.
- Vexus used this in order to blend in with teenagers, only for Jenny to find out because her apparel was obviously outdated for about a century or so.
- Earthworm Jim does this as a gag in one of the animated series episodes.
- Not an actual flapper, Korra from The Legend of Korra wears the hat of a flapper with her disguise.
- Harley Quinn is depicted as a flapper in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
- Coco Chanel, the Trope Codifier who adapted the loose silhouette, wearing jersey cardigans and tweed pants, donning tan skin, creating the No.5 and the Little Black Dress, engaging in affairs with several men, and everything little detail about her.
- When Joan Crawford came to Hollywood in 1925, she promoted herself by entering and winning dance contests doing the Charleston and other routines of that era. Her early roles often featured her dancing skills.
- Clara Bow, the original IT girl, was Hollywood's foremost flapper in the 20's. She may have inspired the creation of Betty Boop along with Helen Kane.
- Louise Brooks and her iconic bobbed hair.
- Anna May Wong in the 1920's deliberately cultivated a flapper image in that hope she would be less typecast as a Dragon Lady or a demure Proper Lady. Unfortunately, it did not work.