The Roaring Woman: Who Were the Flappers?

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Women’s fashion before the 1920’s was seen as anything but open and racy. Everything they wore in that time was considered to be conservative and ideal. Their clothing had to fit the roles they played in everyday life. A traditional housewife was viewed as a caretaker for men. They cooked, cleaned, and did motherly duties if applicable. Until, women known as “Flappers” came along and completely changed their mind on how they believe they wanted to live their life.

At Just-The-Swing, they talk about how the war greatly affected women’s fashion and how it forced them to branch out into what we know today. Men were sent out to war and women could not do what they were accustomed to, considering a housewife's job revolves around catering to men. Women ventured out to find something that can give them a sense of freedom. They started going out to parties, wearing racier attire, and enjoying what life could offer them as a free woman. An actress named Clara Bow perfectly embodied what it meant to be free-spirited and a lady in the 1920’s. The young actress grew up in poverty but never once let that dim her 2reckless behavior. She later became known as the “It” girl of her time. Her growing popularity sparked an interest in young women, who soon became classified as ‘flappers’. According to USHistory, Flappers were vibrant, young, middle-classed women who just wanted to have fun. They adapted a carefree attitude and broke the record for the decade of drinking, though it was illegal. Flappers, during the time, also took up smoking to completely eliminate the double standards. Flappers were also a friend to trying out new things that they were hesitant about before, as far as fashion choices. Flappers preferred their dresses cut to the knee rather than the traditional ankle length fit and cut their hair to perfectly fit the innermost crease between the upper cheekbone and lower eyelid. Cosmetics bloomed as women started to feel the need to look good for themselves rather than their husbands. They believed that the bold look of their attire had to be paired with the ideal face makeup.

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Emily Spivack of Smithsonianmag goes into detail about fashion designers playing the greatest role in getting women’s fashion to be what it was. Jean Patou made a line accentuating the appeal of a tan colored skin and single-handedly created the first suntan oil. Coco Chanel soon followed behind with the desirable sun kissed skin trend. Flappers also had a knack for the golden colored skin as well. Chanel also gave off an everlasting impression that still play a big part of fashion today: women in suits. The fashion designer grew obsessed with the way women looked in them and even once paired a model in a clean cut suit matched with a lit cigarette. That ordeal gave women a sense of masculinity that still plays a prominent role in society today.

In this day and age, women were beginning to get comfortable in their slim body types and Madeleine Vionnet knew knew exactly what she had to do to catch their eye. Vionnet made a thin cut fabric that flowed nicely over women’s hips, cutting them a nice ‘S’ shape to match their body type. She also pinned a handkerchief on alot of her items to give them more of a well-crafted touch. Pauline Weston Thomas of Fashion-Era gave her insight on how the years leading up to the 20’s greatly influenced how and why women wanted their clothing to lash out. In 1914, Mary Jacobs developed the first bra as other than a dress innovation. Designers such as Paul Poiret, Lucille, and Vionnet made the undergarments to only be paired with a dress and none other. In the years between 1910-1918, women’s comfort really didn’t matter. The hair craze began only after men were sent off to war. Women began working in the factory, making their long hair a nuisance and a distraction. Debbie Sessions on Vintagedancer gives great examples in her take on hair in the 20’s. A dancer known as Irene Castle was the first one to cut her hair in 1915. Immediately, she was seen as a boy and was picked on by popular critics. As she continued on proudly with her bob, famous women started to follow along her path. Mary Golden have her input on the matter, basically saying that women shedding their hair was only a minor thing in their fight for freedom, while actress Mary Pickford believed that if she were to cut her hair than she would have to face the pressure of her family and didn’t know whether or not she considered it okay. The article talks on how women with longer hair would pin up their hair on the sides to 4give the impression as if they had short hair. Women back in that time didn’t want to be seen in a traditional manner so they did everything in their power to not look the part.

Though women became more free in expressing their opinions and fashion choices, they still could not do a lot of things that we can do today. For example, they still could not wear anything they wanted. Nicole Garner of Mentalfloss tells us that even after the time of Flappers, Virginia tried to pass a bill that restricted women from wearing anything that shows more than three inches of her throat. That bill was luckily never passed. Also, in Carmel, California, women were denied the right of wearing heels taller than two inches, due to the states’ increase in falling related lawsuits. The site also speaks on women not being able to hate housework. There were even magazines dedicated to congratulating woman for giving up their occupations to go back to cooking and cleaning. Electric household tools helped in a small way but most work still had to be done by manual labor. Women had the right to vote in mid-year 1920, but they were not actually allowed voting until decades later when they decided women would be allowed to serve on a jury. Mississippi was the very last to permit it, leaving women out until 1968.

In conclusion, the 20’s crafted a time in which women can truly be themselves and could change in any way they find appropriate. Though they were still limited to certain things, they made the most of what they can do. Things like designers, war, and Flappers gave the women of the era a sense of freedom.

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