2022 marks the centenary of a very specific social phenomenon–1920s flapper culture. That’s right, I’m saying “centenary,” because I propose that 1922 should be formally recognized as the “Birth Year of the Flapper.” I’ve spent, err, too much time exploring this fascinating era of the early 20th century (especially when I did Flapper Month here on Silent-ology a few years ago), and after awhile I started noticing a trend. While flapper culture had been brewing and evolving for quite some time, 1922 is truly the year when the quintessential bobbed-hair flapper burst into the public consciousness. Did she ever!
Two examples of what I mean: here’s the results you get when you search for “flapper flappers” (both words at the same time) in the years 1910-1929 on the Media History Digital Library:
And if you do the same search on Chronicling America, if you narrow the search results down to a single year at a time, you will see:
1919: 12 results 1920: 22 1921: 36 1922: 533 (!)
I dunno, that’s looking pretty clear cut to me!
(If you’re curious, on Chronicling America 1923 = 67 results, and 1924 = 64. After 1922, flappers seemed to be an accepted part of life–or maybe the public was tired of talking about them so much.)
While researching this month’s theme, I found a number of interesting or amusing newspaper clippings about “sheiks” that didn’t quite fit into my articles (or would’ve made them too long).
Or too weird. (Buffalo Courier, February 18, 1923.)
But since I like to share my joy, here’s a small collection covering various aspects of 1920s sheik culture. You might find these insights mighty similar to the public’s thoughts on flappers, too.
The use of “sheik” and “sheba” to describe hep teens seems to have grown in popularity very rapidly after the release of The Sheik in 1921 (as you know), and became a staple of contemporary slang until the early ’30s. Here’s an example from 1924–oh, those traffic-endangering young spooners! Continue reading →
We’re all familiar with stereotypical 1920s flapper–the fun-loving, trendy young woman who loved Jazz, dancing, and all things “modern.” But arm in arm with the flapper was the 1920s sheik, their male counterpart. There’s plenty of discussion about flappers nowadays, but there’s comparatively little discussion about sheiks, and the sort of factors that lead to their place in pop culture.
One of John Held Jr’s popular cartoons.
But “sheik culture” is an important piece of the Jazz Age puzzle. Its advent spurred numerous discussions about movie romance, masculinity and female desire. And its impact on American cinema was tremendous–in fact, you could easily categorize screen romance as B.V. (Before Valentino) and A.V. (After Valentino). Continue reading →
So you want to dress up as a flapper or a Prohibition-era gangster for Halloween!! (Don’t we all, at some point?) And you probably already have some visions in mind–a fringed dress paired with a feather boa, a pinstripe suit and white tie–something along those lines.
Don’t worry, even Hollywood with all its millions couldn’t get it right.
If you visit your nearest Halloween store, fringe and white ties are the only options you’ll find. Now, if that’s what you really want to wear, it’s your funer–I mean, it’s up to you. It’s okay, I will only judge you in the privacy of my mind (and only a little harshly). But if you want an authentic look that draws inspiration from the many real styles of the Jazz Age, then boy oh boy have I got some handy tips for you!! Continue reading →
This is the last post for Flapper Month. It’s been a great series, and I’m sad to see it end (maybe it’s no coincidence that today’s Good Friday!). Perhaps a Flapper Month 2 is in order one of these days. Until then, enjoy this look at one of history’s most famous and beloved flapper actresses!
“Clara Bow is the quintessence of what the term ‘flapper’ signifies…Pretty, impudent, superbly assured, as world wise, briefly clad and ‘hard-berled’ as possible. There were hundreds of them–her prototypes. Now, completing the circle, there are thousands more–patterning themselves after her.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1927.
In the 1920s, the influential Elinor Glyn–highly successful writer of “racy” novels such as Three Weeks, and matronly authority on simply all things fashionable–coined a new definition of the word “It” (which she always capitalized). “It,” she declared, was a rare magnetic quality, an innate self-confidence and ability to fascinate others. Sex appeal was part of it, sure, but it wasn’t the only part. Very few people had “It,” according to Glyn…and in 1927, she loftily declared that one actress, and one actress alone, not only had “It,” but was worthy of the title “The ‘It’ Girl.” And that actress was Clara Bow.
It was a long way to come for a young woman who had grown up in the shabby tenements of New York City, unwanted and unloved, often neglected by her father and living in fear of a mentally unstable mother. Continue reading →
Are you looking for some fun, frothy movies showing Jazz Age partying in fabulous Art Deco mansions? Are you in the mood for sparkling jewels, immaculate tuxes and flowing champagne? Do you want to see some of those swirling, kaleidoscope shots of musical instruments and dancing couples? Then Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and Our Modern Maidens (1929) are the films for you!
And if you’re among the multitudes who are familiar with Joan Crawford from her 1940s dramas and Whatever Happened to BabyJane?, then get ready to see the strong-featured, oft-shoulder-padded star as you’ve never seen her–as a sparkling flapper who can beat anyone in a Charleston contest. Continue reading →
So you want to host a 1920s-themed party. According to the wise source known as Pinterest, most of these parties nowadays tend to look like this:
Flappers always brought their tommy guns to parties while wearing thigh-high dresses, as you know.
Of course, there’s nothing really wrong with a Vaguely-Twenties-themed party–but what if you tried hosting one that was a little less Party City and a little more “weekend in West Egg”? Here are some handy tips! Continue reading →
While doing research for this month’s theme, I came across an unfamiliar name: Gladys Walton. Fairly popular in the early 1920s, she was intriguingly described as playing “flapper roles”–a few years before those roles would be associated with Colleen Moore and Clara Bow.
Motion Picture Magazine, July 1922.
Who was this young woman? Research revealed a pragmatic, outspoken star who quickly realized her true priorities in life…and it also revealed an intriguing mystery. (At least, I’m going to call it a mystery.) Continue reading →
It was one of the most culturally important films of the 1920s, the one that made Colleen Moore a star and made “flapper” part of every American’s vocabulary. Her delightful performance is arguably the highlight of the film…or so we can assume, because sadly only a fragment of the influential Flaming Youth (1923) still remains. But thank heavens for that fragment–not all lost films are as lucky.
And it did, my friends. Exhibitor’s Herald, Nov. 3, 1923.
One of the most famous quotes about the Jazz Age comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald himself–and no doubt you’ve heard of it: “I was the spark that lit up flaming youth, and Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.” But did you ever wonder where he wrote that quote?
According to one scholar, it was inscribed by Fitzgerald himself in a miniature volume of This Side of Paradise for the tiny library of Ms. Moore’s famed, beautiful, $500,000 “fairy castle” dollhouse. And that not only gives you a little taste of the success and popularity of this spirited actress, but also of her girlish, whimsical nature that so appealed to countless audiences back in the silent days.