The Flapper image of the 1920's American history of cosmetics seems to transform the cultural image of the feminine. However, I cannot piece together exactly how this change came about. I read about the Gibson Girl and the new ideal of feminine beauty, but it doesn't quite explain how that fad became so immensely popular and widely adopted. Why was the mindset of the Flapper is so jarringly different from the women before that generation?

What is the history of Flappers and this new image of femininity?

  • 5
    Wikipedia has a pretty thorough breakdown of the evolution and origins of flappers, so I would recommend checking it out. As far as whether or not they were important or why, both questions invite opinion, which is not what we strive for at SE. The question needs to have a clear and concise answer, and I don't believe this one does. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flapper Feb 21, 2012 at 20:40
  • I'd recommend watching PBS's "Ken Burn's Prohibition" documentary. It addressed the issue of Flappers and the related movements.
    – user88
    Feb 23, 2012 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


Every so often in American history, we have a "girl power" movement. One appears to be happening right now, as we speak. That is, today's girls are graduating from college in greater numbers than boys, and getting better entry-level jobs. This appears to have no precedent in American or world history.

This "girl power" movement is an offshoot of their MOTHERS of the Baby Boom generation, which fought for EQUAL rights for women; access to a good education and high level jobs, including, in the case of Hillary Clinton, the chance to run for President of the United States.

Likewise, the Flappers was a "girl power" movement FOR ITS TIME. That is, fighting for the right for girls to wear "less restrictive" clothing, and otherwise act more like men. This, in turn, had been fueled by THEIR mothers of FDR's "Rendezvous With Destiny" generation (born 1861-82), who fought for, and got the right of women to VOTE, under the 19th Amendment.

Edit: A commenter below reasonably wondered why the 1861-1882 "incubator" generation is associated with FDR (born 1882) and not TR (born 1858). (Like Obama with the Boomers, FDR was born at the end of "his" generation.) The reason is that it was FDR, and not TR, who said, "This generation has a rendezvous with destiny."

  • 1
    Do you perhaps mean TR, of Bull Moose Party and San Juan Hill fame, rather than FDR? You are off by at least 30 years. Dec 1, 2013 at 22:02
  • @PieterGeerkens: Here is the source for the "generational" alignment: amazon.com/Generations-History-Americas-Future-1584/dp/…. FDR was a member of what the book calls the "Missionary" Generation (which I call the "Rendezvous" in my own book). Born 1861-1882, it is the idealistic post (Civil) War generation that is most analogous to the Baby Boomers born after World War II. (Obama is arguably the new FDR.) The 19th Amendment (women's suffrage) was passed in 1920, and the daughters of these "Missionary" (or Rendezvous) women were the Flappers.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 2, 2013 at 3:31
  • @PieterGeerkens: Here's why you THINK I'm off. In our time, the "Women's Lib" of the l960s led to the "girl power" of today. And you're referring to a women's rights movement from the 1890s that led to the 19th Amendment of 1920, and later the Flapper Movement of the 1920s. I'm alleging two pairs of mother-daughter phenomena 30-40 years in duration. BTW, TR's Bull Moose movement was in 1912, closer to 1920 than 1890s. See the addendum above.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 2, 2013 at 13:35

This question is quite old, but it's a subject dear to my heart, so I thought I'd provide my own take for you and anyone who happens to end up here.

The most important thing to remember is that there was no "flapper movement". The fashion of the 1920s grew organically out of the fashion of the 1910s, no emphatic rebellion against past dress necessary. The Gibson Girl was dated by 1920, more a part of the 1890s and 1900s. In the 1910s, the fashionable ideal was slim and delicate (rather than statuesque and haughty, like Gibson's drawings). Looking at fashion plates from, say, 1913 shows something that could easily become the stereotypical streamlined 1920s look (bearing in mind that full skirts were still fashionable well into the 1920s, so long as they were paired with a slender, waistless bodice). So understanding the era's dress as a jarring fad is a crucial roadblock to understanding it at all.

"Flapper" was used from about 1910 on as slang for a girl who was just a bit too young to be out (in terms of "coming out" as courtable). You have to read period references to flappers in the same way you would read about millennials today: the supposed bad behavior is common to a fraction of them and is stereotyped as being common to all of them. Much of what people generally believe to be true of flappers comes from later media depictions based on the broadest humorous or satirical depictions of the 1920s, and is not representative of an actual teenager's experience in the period.

  • Welcome to the site! The "flappers" were members of the so-called World War II generation, the one most like today's Millennials.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 18, 2015 at 20:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.