(see also Women's Fashion in the 1920s)

When people talk about flappers, they're talking about the mid-to-late 1920s. The style was a slim, unconstructed dress with a skirt that was more or less knee length, and straight. Instead of being fitted at the waist and curvy at the hips and bust, it was straight-up-and-down, as if the wearer's figure were 20-20-20. Flapper style of dress was best suited to young, thin women with the measurements of pre-adolescent girls. The new physical ideal was the flapper with no waistline, and as minimal a bust and bum as you could manage. In Hollywood, flapper style was embodied by actress Clara Bow, aka "The It Girl." She got jobs and was on her own.

In addition to their flat chests and bare legs, flappers tended to have short hair. Before, women prided themselves on having long hair that they would put up in elaborate coiffures. But flappers scandalized their parents by cutting their hair as high as their ears, in very short hairdos called bobs, often dyed and marcel-waved into flat, head-hugging curls and accessorized with wide, soft headbands. And flappers wore makeup, which was also scandalous, because, previously, cosmetics had been reserved for whores and actresses. The lipstick was often applied to achieve the fashionable beestung look -- also called a rosebud pout. Flappers would even put on their lipstick in public!

Flappers danced, executing the steps of the vigorous dance called the Charleston. Complementing the flapper's state of perpetual motion was the decoration on her short, straight dress: It was covered with beads and beaded fringe that moved and made noise as she shimmied about on the dance floor to the sounds of the Jazz Age.

It was the first youth revolution, long before the '60s and the miniskirt. Young people were very indignant after World War I, and felt the older generation had just murdered millions of young boys. So they stopped obeying conventional rules and invented their own liberated culture: driving their own cars, and drinking, and petting with people they weren't married to. And, for the first time in history, older women started copying younger women. Before then, younger women wanted to look like grownups. Now, for the first time, everyone wanted the thinness and relative bosomlessness of early adolescence. It was much more radical than women burning their bras in the '60s.

As with most styles aimed directly at the young and thin, women endowed with less-than-perfect legs had a hard time keeping up. If you had a good figure, you didn't mind the short skirts. But if you didn't have good legs, you were really out. In an ironic twist, more heavy women wore corsets to achieve the fashionably "natural," uncorseted look. Women who had bigger bosoms tended to wear flattener brassieres to achieve the fashionable straight-up-and-down look.

In our age of super-young, super-thin supermodels, it's arguable that flappers made possible Kate Moss and her peers by ushering in fashion's enduring fascination with youth and a thin physique that is still difficult for most women to achieve.

Read the article "Janes a Flapper."

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