Flappers and Jazz During the Roaring 20's
Flappers were a generation of young women in the 1920s who wore short skirts (just at the knee was short for that time period), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered "acceptable behavior". Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes in public, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social norms. As automobiles became available, flappers gained freedom of movement and privacy. They became the definitive icons of the Roaring Twenties.
One cause of the change in young women's behavior was World War I which ended in November 1918. The death of large numbers of young men in the war, and the Spanish flu epidemic which struck in 1918 killing between 20-40 million people, inspired in young people a feeling that life is short and could end at any moment. Young women wanted to enjoy their life and freedom rather than stay at home and wait for a man to marry them.
Political changes were another cause of the flapper culture. Women finally won the right to vote in the United States on August 26, 1920. Women wanted to be men's social equals and were faced with the difficult realization of the larger goals of feminism: individuality, full political participation, and economic independence. In addition, many women had more opportunities in the workplace and had even taken traditionally male jobs such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and pilots. The rise of consumerism also promoted the ideals of "fulfilment and freedom", which encouraged women to think independently about their garments, careers, social activities.
The evolving image of flappers was of independent young women who went by night to jazz clubs such as those in Harlem, which were viewed as scandalous. Jazz music originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It gained in popularity during the during the 20's in the Black and White urban communities. Similar to flappers, jazz began to get a reputation as being immoral, and some older generations saw it as threatening their cultural values and promoting the new decadent values of the Roaring Twenties.
Ruth Gillettes, a 1920s singer, had a song called "Oh Say! Can I See You Tonight?" which expresses the new behavior of girls in the 1920s. Before the 1920s, for a woman to call a man to suggest a date would be impossible. But in the 1920s, many girls seemed to play a leading role in relationships, actively asking boys out or even coming to their homes.
The flapper stands as one of the most enduring images of youth and new women in the 20th century and is viewed by modern-day Americans as something of a cultural heroine. However, back in the 1920s, many Americans regarded flappers as threatening to conventional society, representing a new moral order. Although most of them were the daughters of the middle class, they flouted middle-class values. They shrugged off their chaperones, danced suggestively, and openly flirted with boys. They prized style over substance, novelty over tradition, and pleasure over virtue.