There are many different explanations for the origin of the word ‘flapper’: a young bird flapping its wings; a slang phrase used as early as the 1880s for a young prostitute: girls who wore unbuckled galoshes that made a flapping noise when they walked. Nobody really knows, but it became an expression used to describe a young, middle-class, strong and independent woman. She smoked and drank, had casual sex, drove automobiles, partied all night and danced to jazz music, and she was strongly driven by a desire to be different and to rebel against some of society’s strict expectations of females
The flapper loved going to the movies, not just to enjoy the film, but also to watch Hollywood stars like Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo, so she could copy their hairstyles, make-up and clothes. But it wasn’t just the movie stars who were admired and closely watched by the flappers: the appearance of the Royal Family would also have huge importance and in those days they would be considered fashion icons on the same level as Kate Middleton is today. The flapper would wear make-up, such as rouge and lipstick, previously worn only by prostitutes, and she would even pluck her eyebrows. She would be depicted as someone irresponsible and undisciplined who favoured the materialistic over the political, yet her existence was a political act in itself.
The flapper dress was a loose shift dress, shortened to just below the knee, allowing flesh to be exposed when walking or dancing, but always in an “accidental” way. Such dresses were much less intricate and lighter than their predecessors. This made them much easier to make and copy at home, giving people the chance to duplicate the fashions of the rich, and of their screen and royal idols.
The Closest Thing To Naked
Evening dresses had the same structure at the waist and hem as the daytime dresses. This, however, is where the rich people had the opportunity to show off their wealth. These dresses were made from lush fabrics such as velvet and silk, and trimmed with fur and beads. Cut neck lines and shorter sleeves allowed jewellery to be displayed in a different way around the neck and on the arms. As the hemlines rose there would be more emphasis on shoes, with heels reaching two or three inches high, and stockings being available in all colours and often with patterns. Beautiful, colourful beaded evening bags would be worn over the shoulder or fixed to a belt.
The wider cut on dresses and bras enhanced a woman’s lack of curves while also flattening the chest to give a more masculine look to 1920s fashion. A fine example of this was Coco Chanel’s designs – a looked known as “garçonne” (“boyish”). It has been said that Coco Chanel put on a man’s sweater one morning, wrapped a belt around it and the flapper look was born. The designer herself perhaps best sums up the era: “I wanted to give a woman comfortable clothes that would flow with her body. A woman is closest to being naked when she is well-dressed.”