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1920s Flapper Culture and the Jazz Age

1920s FlappersThere seems to be a relationship between a major cultural revolution and war. The flapper era of the 1920s occurred after World War I. The hippie culture took place during the Vietnam war. It’s almost as though these major social upheavals are related to a realization of the frailty of life and lead to calls for a new social order.

The 1920s was The Jazz Age, and flapper costumes from this era are very popular. Two major writers emerged from this period – Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was Fitzgerald, more than anyone else, however, who embodied The Jazz Age. His wife Zelda Sayre was the inspiration of most of his books during that time. His books would include things she actually said during their marriage and the heroines embodied her persona.

For example, in Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby, the heroine Daisy Buchanan says of her newly born child, "I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." Those were Zelda’s words when she gave birth to Scottie, her child with Fitzgerald.

What an upheaval The Jazz Age was. Women began to wear short skirts, short hair, makeup, turned down hose, and they would powder their knees. Women were no longer content staying at home. They wanted to go to college and get a job.

Flappers were the women of The Jazz Age. They wore baggy dresses that vivaciously ended above the knee and exposed their arms and legs. Flappers were brazen, fast and wild.

And Flappers were getting high profile careers, such as Louise Brooks, a former Zeigfield Follies dancer and part of the George White Scandals. Brooks landed a Hollywood career which made her independently wealthy. She moved around in social circles with icons such as Fitzgerald, George Gershwin, photographer Edward Steichen and was the inspiration for a flapper cartoon by John H. Striebel called “Dixie Dugan.”

If you are going to a costume party, going as a flapper would be a fun idea. It’s girly and glamorous and has lots of character to it. To get an idea of how flappers were viewed by their generation, check out these 1920s articles:

• An attempt to bridge the generation gap: "A Flapper's Appeal to Parents" from Outlook magazine (December 6th, 1922)

• An article on "Flapper Jane" from The New Republic (September 9th, 1925)

• And this excellent page on 1920s fashion.

Fitzgerald was the first writer to document post World War I life in his novels. He wrote of petting parties and young love. He lent sophistication to the image of the flapper. He and wife Zelda were a celebrated culture that lived lavishly and engaged in exotic stunts like riding on top of taxis instead of inside of them, swimming in a public fountain, throwing lavish parties where liquor flowed despite the prohibition. Time tames all things, and when Zelda ended up in a mental institution, Fitzgerald lost much of the gusto and flamboyance that he and his wife were known for. For more information on Fitzgerald go to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The flappers were more than a fashion statement and party women. The 1920s was the start of the woman’s suffrage movement, preceded major cultural changes and eventually led to the Civil Rights Movement over time.


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