The Flapper: Changing Roles for Women in the Roaring Twenties

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Women in the Roaring Twenties experienced more freedom than ever before, but for most of them, the Flapper lifestyle was only temporary.

The image of the “Flapper” is almost synonymous with the Roaring Twenties. Short skirts, bobbed hair, and “bee stung lips” immediately come to mind.

The Flapper was young, independent, smoking cigarettes and drinking illegal liquor. Indeed, the younger generation was embracing a lifestyle that was completely foreign to their parents and grandparents.

Being “modern” was a catchphrase that was often thrown around in the Roaring Twenties. In his book Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s, written in 1931, Frederick Lewis Allen writes, “It was better to be modern — and everybody wanted to be modern — and sophisticated, and smart, to smash the conventions and to be devastatingly frank. And with a cocktail glass in one’s hand it was at least easy to be frank.”

Changing Roles for Women

Women’s experiences in World War I were one catalyst for change. Prior to the war, in some communities women could be arrested for swearing in public, driving a car without a man beside them, smoking cigarettes openly, appearing on public beaches without stockings, or for wearing pants or shorts.

Just like during World War II (but to a lesser extent) women stepped in to fill positions vacated by men heading off to war. Women found themselves working in places they never expected, wearing clothing they had never worn before. All of the moral rules and regulations were put on hold as society focused on a single goal: winning the war.

After enduring the hardships of war, it seemed silly to go back to old fashioned conventions. Winning the right to vote empowered women, as well as the general relaxing of manners. All of these factors combined to create the perfect stage for the Flapper to emerge.

Not Every Woman Was a Flapper

It is easy to look at a historical time period and assume that everyone was doing the same thing. The Flapper may personify the 1920s, but that does not mean that every woman was a Flapper.

In fact, the Flapper was often only a temporary lifestyle for young women who still expected to settle down, get married, and have a family. The Flapper represented youth and freedom, but most women understood that their footloose and fancy free lifestyle was only a phase of their lives.

More women than ever before were going to college, but most of them did not plan on having a career. Many would find a job after graduation, but would only work until marriage.

Because of the boom in consumerism, more married women worked outside of the home in the 1920s. But the majority of women adhered to traditional gender roles, despite the iconic image of the 1920s Flapper.