Flappers: Girl Power In The 1920s

March 26, 2022

The origins of the term “flapper” are a bit uncertain; it may have come from a term for a teenage girl or it may have arisen from “flap,” a term for prostitutes which was used as early as 1631. It was used as slang for a young prostitute as well as for a lively teenage girl by the 1890s. In 1903 in England, the non-slang usage appeared in print in England. It had other meanings, including a young acrobatic female performer, a dancer who flapped her arms while doing the Charleston, and a young woman who was not yet wearing long dresses with her hair up.

Source: (HistoryCollection.com/colorized).

The popularity of the term continued to spread, and in November 1910, A.E. James started a series of stories called “Her Majesty the Flapper” for the London Magazine. The stories were about a pretty fifteen-year-old. A few years later, it came to refer to any immature, impulsive woman. Interestingly, in the early 1920s, teenage girls wore unbuckled galoshes to show they defied convention, which led to a false etymology arising from the idea that their shoes flapped when they walked; others claimed it arose from the way that young women left their overcoat unbuttoned.

World War I And The Spanish Flu Helped To Give Rise To The Flappers

Source: (fashiongonerogue.com/colorized).

After World War One, the term changed once again, when, according to an article in the Times, it applied to “independent, pleasure-seeking, khaki-crazy young women.” There are a number of reasons for the rise in what came to be called flapper culture. World War I ended in 1918, leaving many young men dead, and concurrently, the Spanish flu pandemic struck, in 1918, killing 20-40 million people. As a result, many young people recognized that life is fleeting and wanted to enjoy their life and freedom. Political changes during this time also influenced the rise of flapper culture. Women won the right to vote in 1920, and they were trying to reach the goals of feminism, including individuality, full political participation, and economic independence. Consumerism was on the rise, and it promoted the ideals of “fulfillment and freedom,” and the rise of the automobile meant that women could travel as they pleased, including to speakeasies. They had more work opportunities and were able to take more traditionally male jobs. With the economic boom, people had more time for leisure activities which required clothing suited for activities like golf and tennis; the flapper’s clothing allowed for the movement required of these activities. The rise of the flapper was also in reaction to other forces. There was a reaction against the temperance movement and contempt for Prohibition as well as a disdain for authority.