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Irene Dispatch

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Girls Just Want to Have Fun


Movie star Louise Brooks was the iconic flapper girl. Her bobbed haircut was massively copied. The hat she wears is called a cloche.
The life of a young girl in the 1900s was very different from yours. There were no cars, no malls, and no phones. Girls and boys both obeyed many rules set by the community and church. There were lots of restrictions on what girls could do. This was reflected in their behavior and their style of clothing. Women wore painful hourglass corsets and full petticoats to make their skirts big. No one exposed her ankles. There was not anything you could call "youth culture."

Fast forward to the 1920s. America has survived World War I, and is now the richest country in the world. The telephone and the automobile are changing the way that people live and the way that families act. People now have the radio, movies, and national magazines. Women had gained the right to vote. All of these things had a huge effect on American life, but especially on the lives of women. In the 1920s, young people began to change the way they lived. Girls started to dress as they pleased. Girls and boys began to go to parties and out on dates, by themselves, and without adult supervision.

The Sears Catalog brought fashion trends into middle-class America.
In the 20s, the modern American girl was called the "flapper" girl. Flappers were young women who were staging their own revolution. Only this one was cultural, not political. Flappers shocked the older generation by changing their dress, behavior and lifestyle. Even though flappers were only a small minority and tended to be middle-class and white, their lives influenced ours.

Irene in her cloche hat and flapper dress, but without the bob. I did think about cutting my hair. Financial constraints led me not to.
The invention of movies and the popularity of magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar caused women to start focusing more and more on their appearance. Women wanted to be like the beautiful actresses on screen. Churches and families began having less influence on girls while mass media captured their imaginations.

Movies and magazines also influenced the way women dressed and did their hair. Girls cut their hair into the new short bob, symbolizing their carefree spirit. To go along with the new hair, girls plucked their eyebrows and wore red lipstick.

Clothes changed, too. Dresses got shorter. Girls started feeling pressure to look thin to fit into the new clothes.

Flappers would apply makeup in public and stare at themselves in the mirror. Such behavior in another generation would have been called vain, immoral and superficial.
With their fabulous wardrobes and hot makeup, the flappers loved to dance and drink the night away. Smoking, drinking, and staying out late at night, once things that only young men did, now became popular for young women too.

Clara Bow was a big star in the famous flapper movie
It's easy to look at the flappers as being silly, because of their lifestyle of carefree partying. Especially when compared to the feminists who had fought for women's right to vote. But in a real way, flappers were making their own statement by dressing and acting the way they wanted. They could drink and smoke and date, and not feel bad about it. Flappers helped form the idea of the American girl today- independent and free thinking.

Irene boogies like a flapper.
I have always been enchanted by the flappers and their glamorous lifestyles, even if I recognize how superficial their lives often were. To get a taste of flapperhood, I hunted for a flapper dress in Hollywood. After finding this red-hot vintage number, I headed to a blues club and attempted my best Charleston. But I in good conscience did not smoke!

Well, it's obvious that us girls are still causing controversy. But, just like the flappers, girls today are free tomake their choices about how to behave. Girls just wanna have fun anyway they can.


Please email me at: irene@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Nick - Batter up! How to make a quick $100,000
Jennifer - Hillbilly, foot stompin' good ol' time
Daphne - "Step right up and see it here first!"
Rebecca - Parties, limo, affairs, and tantrums: the birth of Hollywood