1920’s: The Flappers
Updated: May 21
Let’s go 100 years back.
Although it may seem like it was not that long ago, it has been a century since the Jazz age. The Great Gatsby (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) perfectly showcased the 20’s from Fitzgerald’s novel: the glitz and the glam, the money, the parties, the corruption and finally, the flappers. The flappers were a big part of 1920's culture, born out of the modernisation that the world was going through after the first World War. Increased education opportunities, the invention and popularisation of the radio and the automobile gave way to women gaining a bit more freedom which resulted in shorter hair, shorter heels, smoking and partying.
Along with less moral rigidness within society, came less rigidness in clothes. The hemlines underwent a massive reconstruction as they were risen and loosened. Long gone were the days of long unpractical dresses and tight corsets. The change in dress silhouettes for women helped to get rid of the last traces of the frumpy Edwardian styles, as the flappers opted for looser and shorter dresses that gave them boyish figures. Since women started wearing looser dresses, tailoring went out of fashion: the corset was no longer needed. Old, rigid and stiff corsets were replaced by new elasticated corsets that gave a nice figure without breathing problems. Due to the popularisation of the boyish figure, women tended to flatten their breasts with fabric bands to give the illusion of a flat chest. Whether at home or at the beach, women could finally wear loose, sailor style trousers which later gave way to the pants suit.
When it came to makeup, the subdued Victorian attitude towards it has been abandoned. Flappers began applying makeup that was meant to be noticed as new innovations made it easier to experiment. Due to the increasing popularity of movies, Joan Crawford became the muse to many women. Rouge, or blush as we’d call it, became socially acceptable and transportable due to the innovation of the compact case. The most popular shades were red or orange and were applied in circles on the cheeks. After the invention of the retractable tube, lipstick became massively popularised. It was usually red and sometimes cherry flavoured. To get the flapper look, stencils were introduced to achieve the perfect heart-shaped cupid’s bow. The eyes were bold by lining them with kohl and eyebrows were thinly plucked and then drawn on in a thin line. Mascara was also used to achieve a bolder look.
Although flappers were famous for their bobbed hair, cutting it was serious business as actress Mary Pickford said after being pressurised to keep her long hair, “I could give a lengthy and, I think, convincing discourse about long hair making a woman more feminine, but there is some doubt in my mind as to whether it does or not. Of one thing I am sure: she looks smarter with a bob, and smartness rather than beauty seems to be the goal of every woman these days.” Although initially women restyled their long hair to look short by arranging it around the base of the neck or by pulling it back into a bun, long hair did leave fashion in the 20’s after all, much to the disappointment of husbands. Curls were in big time, and flappers embraced the messy, large and frizzy Bohemian look.
The behaviour of the flappers reflected the things that were happening around them at the time. The decade began with women finally being granted the right to vote which resulted in women joining the workforce in increasing numbers. Flappers also enjoyed the freedom in their personal lives as they were fast-moving and unfazed by previous social conventions. They smoked, drank, partied, drove cars and dated many men: women finally got to live a bit like men always have. Birth control became available to some which allowed women to control their family size and explore their sexuality without the consequence of an unwanted pregnancy. The attitudes towards family, children and religion were still very similar, but the slight rebellion that the flappers illustrated in their younger years was a sign of better days to come for women's freedom.