“The Modern Young Girl Is A Delight”: Flapper Fashion Of The Jazz Age
The etymology of the word "flapper" in reference to an audacious and fashionable lady of the 1920s is unclear. Flapper meant "young wild-duck or partridge" in the mid-16th century, and one could conceivably draw comparisons between wild young fowl and green-but-game girls flapping their limbs and flaunting their fashion as they flirted and danced the Charleston.
But while we aren't clear where the word "flapper," in its 1920s context, came from, we do know that those who wore the epithet proudly made a clear impact on pop culture -- particularly when it came to flapper fashion.
Flappers embraced their fleeting post-World War I freedom from existential dread and their liberating post-Victorian freedom from constrictive corsetry and flaunted the luxurious designs of the day.
The reaction to this new type of woman was mixed, according to Margaret O'Leary, writing in the New York Times in 1922:
"Roughly, the world is divided into those who delight in her, those who fear her, and those who try pathetically to take her as a matter of course. Optimists have called her the hope of a new era, pessimists point to her as ultimate evidence of the decadence of the old."
Among those optimists was Virginia Potter, President of the New York League of Girls Clubs, Inc., who saw flappers as revolutionaries:
"I think the modern young girl is a delight. She dresses simply and sensibly, and she looks life right in the eye; she knows just what she wants and goes after it, whether it is a man, a career, a job, or a new hat."
To Potter, flappers replaced the typical "mid-Victorian clinging vine" debutantes sheltered by their mothers with a new era wielding "more sense than [their] grandmother[s] had when they were young" — particularly when it came to fashion.
The photos above don't address the mores or politics of the flapper, but they do serve as a splendid portfolio of flapper fashion, where masculine cuts mingled with feminine furs, fresh bobs ("the badge of flapperhood") framed powdered and painted faces and exposed necks and necklines while silhouettes widened to accommodate life in an energetic age of emancipation.