They were smart and sophisticated, with an air of independence about them, and so casual about their looks and clothes and manners as to be almost slapdash – Colleen Moore

1925, Louise Brooks.
1925, Louise Brooks.

The term ‘flapper’ derives from British slang and actually came into familiar usage in America during the 1910s. At first, the term was used to describe girls in the awkward years of adolescence. At its most innocuous it could be used in fashion magazines to describe clothing styles for “tweens” although from its earliest usage it usually hinted at looser morals. As these young girls grew up in the 1920s, the term followed them into young adulthood and referred to young women who were taking full advantage of their growing independence.

Silent movie stars including Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks and Clara Bow provided inspiration for young women who copied their short bobbed hair and heavy eye makeup. The art of John Held or writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the look and spirit of the generation. While beaded and fringed dresses are now seen as the defining styles of the flapper, the true essence of flapper style depended on a multitude of little details: rolled down stockings, a pack of cigarettes tucked into the garter, not to mention colorful language and of course drinking.

Boyish with undefined hips and flattened chests, flapper-style dresses lacked traditional femininity. Usually, the dress was a tube with a fuller skirt to allow for movement. Typically, there would be decoration on or around the hip, sometimes fake flowers, beads, belts and fringe also made an appearance. Movement is key for the flapper. Below, extensive beading shows itself in flapper fashion; excessive decoration was typical of the flapper dress. Notice also how each dress gets fuller at the hips, either with additional panels or pleats, to allow for movement.

Examples of the quintessential Flapper Dress in the exhibition Flapper Style at the KSU Museum:


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