Dress and Humanity Portfolio

1920's Flapper

I found pictures of 1920’s flappers that portrayed the way flappers behaved, looked and doing the things they enjoyed. In the 1920’s women became the main consumers stepping out of the Great Depression, the women were able to spend money and enjoy themselves. The usual flapper outfit was a straight fitting dress that hit down around the knee. The dresses had extra room for movement to help show off their awesome dance skills and they wore flesh colored hosiery to give the appearance of skin. Their dancing shoes were heeled with a strap for support and a long string of pearls was added to draw attention to their flat chests. The flapper fashion was all about looking like a young boy, to the point where flappers would even strap down their breasts to have a flat chest. To top off the outfit they wore a cloche (a fitted bell-shaped hat) that helped show of their short boy-like haircuts.

The flappers dress was body dominant. They wanted to be equals with men so they thought they ought to look more masculine. The goal became to look like a young boy; they cut their hair short, and used underwear to form their bodies into a straighter, flatter and more rectangular-like body type. They thought power and confidence was beautiful and dressing more masculine gave the flappers a sense of being more on the man’s level. Having this newfound power gave them the confidence to do other things that men did such as drinking, having a wild nightlife and premarital relations. Individuality was also very important to a flapper they liked shocking people and being noticed, which ironically made them conformist because they all thrived in being different together (which made for a lot of individualist conformists).

When the flapper style first appeared it was something completely new and caused a lot of talk amongst older generations at the time. Before the flappers, women were wearing more material with their dresses and weren’t trying to hide or change the characteristics of the female body. Many older generations thought it was quiet the immodest scandal (although in comparison to the way some dress now it is not all that immodest).

The flapper style has become a staple and the base of the flapper outfit will always be in style as long as it is accessorized with the time it is worn in. It has become a little black dress in that it is classic, timeless and anyone can wear it and make it their own.

What I learned:
Flappers were major trendsetters. Not only did they push the limits with what they wore they pushed the limits on what women were capable of doing. Now women could wear less confined clothing and they liked to go out and show it off. Flappers redefined women’s roles in society. They were more independent than the women before them, and had freedom to do things like openly drink (despite prohibition), smoke and sleep around.

It was the culture of the time to be morally loose. They enjoyed smoking, drinking, night life, dancing, shocking some of society with the way they dressing more immodestly than previous decades

The dress of the flappers is a constellation of 1920’s cultural traits because women of the time shifted to become the main consumers of society. With affluence building and morality slipping away their expensive jewelry and sparse clothing (compared to clothing of the previous generations) became icons of high class and culture. Their dress reflected their bold sexuality, as well as their strong and independent personalities.

The style of the flappers was an example of zeitgeist, because Americans were gaining wealth, leisure time, exploring their sexuality, buying whatever they fancied and in general living it up. This symbolized the mindset of mainstream culture at the time. The expensive pearls about the neck, the wild dancing, listening to unruly jazz music, pricey dresses and hats, bobbed hair, smoking, drinking, sex, and dancing the night away at cotton clubs gives an idea of the cultural values of the time.

These dress practices were body-dominant. There was a lot of skin showing for the era with short skirts and relatively low cut tops for emphasis on legs and cleavage, long strands of pearls draped around the breasts to draw attention to them and bobbed hair with small hats (which was somewhat unladylike at the time) which drew attention to the face. Although displaying great sexuality the flappers would style their hair almost as short as men, and sometimes even bind their breasts to keep them smaller, with dresses that would not hug their womanly curves in an attempt to somewhat reflect men. This was all drawn together to make them seem less feminine (but still women) along with uncharacteristically strong behavior, again to make themselves less the subordinate woman and more synonymous with dominant males.

The aesthetic is . the hair is meant to be short (bobbed), with loose dresses that do not emphasize curves, head-bands or beanie type hats are typically worn with a long necklace that surrounds the chest. High heals often worn as well. When adhering to the prescribed form a woman is seen to be free from inhibition, somewhat wild and fun-loving as well as high-class. When deviating from the prescribed form ladies look as if they are only attempting to fit into the main stream culture and without having the affluence to do so.

This approaches the cultural ideal of what is attractive because men wanted fancy looking women with low moral standards (which flappers generally were). The habit of smoking and drinking meant the ladies were out for a good time of fast living. The pearls and cloches, as well as high heels and dresses were a sign of social affluence. The immodest dress and wild music and dancing were an indication of loose sexuality.

Individuality in the overall outfit was not too important. The real emphasis was on not conforming to previous societal standards of what a woman should do, dress and be like. the uniqueness of the outfit was of the things that made the attire so non-conformist. The other aspect was that this type of dress was considered to be very immodest at the time.

The flapper dress will be globalized by not so much the flapper's actual materials and dress, but what looks good in the flapper design. Women will not want to strap their breasts down to be flat chested in this day and age. And in 20 years the flapper dress will still be extremely wearable as long as it is accessorized with current fashionable additions such as hand bags, scarves, etc.

Rosenberg, Jennifer. Flappers in the Roaring Twenties. 11 Sept. 2009.

Mowry, E. George. The Twenties: Fords, Flappers and Fanatics. New Jersey: Prentice-
Hall, Inc. 1963.

Mihailoff, Laura. "Flappers." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in
History and Society. The Gale Group Inc. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 11 Sep. 2009 .

Koritz, Amy. Culture Makers. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 2009.

Andrist, K. Ralph. The American Heritage: History of the 20’s & 30’s. New York:
American Heritage Publishing Co. 1970.