What is a Flapper Girl?

Last Updated: October 18th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

what is a flapper

1920 Flapper Girl

Flapper girls are the images we see or think of when someone mentions the 1920s, but who were they, why are they so iconic, and what were the ideologies behind the flapper girl lifestyle and fashion?

To begin to understand the cultural and societal impact of the flapper girls, we first have to talk about the 1920s and why they became the images of the decade.

1920s Fashion – The Time For Change For Women

The 1920s were a time of change, both politically and in the society where flappers first began. The times were rapidly changing and women, in particular, were feeling the effects of this rapid state of change. As is seen throughout history, young people are the ones who spark social change and bring about new trends.

what were flappers

The flappers were no exception to this rule and rebelled against the Victorian values of their parents and society through their clothing, lifestyles, and habits. For the first time, women were able to vote, thanks to the women’s suffrage movement (read more on famous women from the 1920s ). Birth control was becoming accessible, gender roles were becoming more open, and alcohol was illegal.

Jazz Clubs, Speakeasies and the Right to Vote

What more could a woman do but take these changes and run with them? Years of oppression and the end of world war I created an atmosphere of hard times, which was most certainly true, but as these oppressive factors of life became more intense, the flapper lifestyle blossomed in the hidden society of jazz clubs, speakeasies, and the right to vote.

What Does Flapper Girl Mean

what was a flapper in the 1920s

Flappers were teenage girls and young women who rejected the structured society they were raised in and took control of their own lives and sexualities, had jobs, and utilized their right to vote. They frequented jazz clubs, petting parties, (petting meaning making-out or foreplay), and speakeasies.

They had been the women who took over the jobs left behind by the men who went to fight in world war I, but by the time the soldiers came back, the women had realized that they did not just have to jump into marriages. They didn’t have to be automatic homemakers. Besides, so many men had died in the war there were less prospective husbands.

Women had the freedom to live their lives for the first time in centuries

They took gender roles and tipped them onto their heads, binding their chests with a cloth so they were flat, cutting their hair to a bob, having career goals, and taking up sports. Flappers saw that the world was full of possibilities and things to do before they settled down.

what's a flapper

Sexual liberation was another factor of the flapper lifestyle. Petting parties and non-commital relationships were common. Birth control was accessible and women saw that they did not have to wait until they wanted to have children to experience sex. Young women were finding out how to dress in a sensual manner for themselves, not for society’s acceptance.

The Flapper Dress

what does a flapper look like

The iconic flappers dress is still the image of an early woman’s right fight. The dresses had higher hemlines, up to the knee, beads, lower collars, and thin straps with no sleeves. The older generations were in a rage at the sight of a young woman with her legs exposed. Several states tried to have legislation passed banning the style.

Beyond the criticism from many people, it was still the roaring twenties, and it would not have been the same without flappers. Flappers were modern women and teenage girls, they drank illegal alcohol and fought for women’s rights (not overtly,) but became an iconic piece of the liberation of the eager young woman for decades, nay centuries, to come.

what were flappers in the 1920s

Was the Flapper a Feminist?

They probably would not be considered as feministic as the older suffragettes, the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, or the current new (or second) wave feminism of today, but yes, flappers had their own brand of feminism.

The roaring twenties, pre great Depression, were a time of exploration and that is what these women did. They were drinking alcohol, which was A) illegal, and B) a man’s thing to do. They were starting to push for sports and new gender roles that were more inclusive and allowed a modern woman to have a life before having a husband and family.

what did a flapper look like

For the first time, we can see women taking ownership and control over their bodies and lives. They were not living to be objects for men. They were living to experience all the world could give them.

To be a flapper in the 1920s was to be a sexually liberated woman who didn’t care what the world had to say.

What Were Flappers Trying to Prove?

Personally, I don’t think that all the flappers had a secret meeting and discussed the goal they wanted to prove concerning high hemlines, but they did have a point to their existence.

what's a flapper girl

They were trying to prove that women were not one-sided, that there was more to the life of a woman than marrying the first man who asked, popping out 10 babies in a row, and dying having only had sex with one person and only had a glass of champagne at her wedding.

The goal was to be more than what society wanted them to be. To be louder than the old men telling them to cover up, to work hard, and play just as hard as the men did. If the men could, why not the women?

The lifestyle was carefree, energetic, and defiant.

Where Did the Term Flapper Come From?

Well, this is a bit complex.

Some say that the term flapper originated in England, where the word flapper meant a young prostitute. Other sources say that the word came from wearing unbuckled galoshes that would flap around as young women would walk, crediting to their carefree behavior.

african american flappers in the 1920's

Another source says that the term flapper was popularized in the early 1910s when young girls had long braids or pigtails that would flap. These young women later grew up to be the flappers of the 1920s.

The word flapper also has origins in big floppy bows that young girls would wear in their hair. These same girls became the same wild child women of the 1920s.

They Left as Fast as They Started

Flappers came quickly and left just as fast. After the stock market crash and the start of the great depression in 1929, the luxurious and extravagant lifestyle of the flappers became too much money and too impractical.

Yet still, the iconic look and lifestyle of the flappers still resonate today.

What is a Flapper Girl?
What is a Flapper Girl?
Wondering what a flapper girl is? Why these rebellious women are so important to history? Read on to find out how skirt lengths & booze changed the 1920s & the future!
Gatsby Flapper Girl