May 13, 2009
Those of you who have seen Chicago musical by Rob Marshall would surely remember the song “All That Jazz”.
“…I’m gonna rouge my knees
And roll my stockings down
And All That Jazz…”
The term flapper in the 1920s referred to a “new breed” of young women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to the new jazz music, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.
Flappers had their origins in the period of liberalism, social and political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of the First World War, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.
Flappers’ behavior was unheard of at the time and redefined women’s roles forever. Flappers went to jazz clubs at night where they dance provocatively, smoked cigarettes through long holders, sniffed cocaine (which was legal at the time) and dated freely. They rode bicycles and drove cars and drank alcohol openly, a defiant act in the American period of Prohibition. Petting became more common than in the Victorian era. Petting Parties, where petting (“making out” and/or foreplay) was the main attraction, became popular.
Flappers also began taking work outside the home and challenging women’s traditional societal roles. They also advocated voting and women’s rights. With time came the development of dance styles then considered shocking, such as the Charleston, the Shimmy, the Bunny Hug and the Black Bottom.
In addition to their irreverent behavior, flappers were known for their style, which largely emerged as a result of jazz and the popularization of dancing that accompanied it. Called garçonne in French (“boy” with a feminine suffix), flapper style made them look young and boyish. Short hair, flattened breasts, and straight waists accentuated the look.
Despite all the scandal flappers generated, their look became fashionable in a toned-down form among even respectable older women. Most significantly, the flappers removed the corset from female fashion, raised skirt and gown hemlines and popularized short hair for women.
Flapper dresses were straight and loose, leaving the arms bare and dropping the waistline to the hips. Silk or rayon stockings were held up by garters. Skirts rose to just below the knee by 1927, allowing flashes of knee to be seen when a girl danced or walked into a breeze, although the way they danced made any long loose skirt flap up to show their knees. Flappers powdered or put rouge on their knees to show them off when dancing.