"Flappers" Origin Discussion/Nov 1997


Query From Gina Morantz-Sanchez
reginann@moonpatrol.rs.itd.umich.edu 10 Nov 1997

Does anyone know the origin of the word "flapper" applied to "with it" young women in the 1920s? A friend has asked and I remember only vaguely reading about it somewhere.

Responses:

From Maria Elena Raymond M_Raymond@compuserve.com 10 Nov 1997

Please check the H-Women site under "New Woman" Discussion, and "New Woman" Bibliography. The URL is http://h-net.msu.edu/~women. Best wishes.

From Joanna Ebenstein joanna@altamira.sagepub.com 11 Nov 1997

If I recall correctly, the word "flapper" derived from the un-fastened galoshes that were a big footwear among flappers. You can see this fad mocked in the cartoons of John Held, Jr., who made his career satirizing the flappers and their "sheiks."

From Gwen Kay 11 Nov 1997

One account for the name "Flappers" attributes it to the flap-flap sound of galoshes worn by these young women.

From Elisabeth Israels Perry eiperry@mindspring.com 11 Nov 1997

On the term flapper: as far as I've read, it came from a popular drawing of a girl with her boots open and flapping. As a contemporary observer explained, the flapper was "breezy, slangy, and informal in manner; slim and boyish in form; covered in silk and fur that clung to her as close as onion skin; with carmined lips, plucked eyebrows and close-fitting helmet of hair; gay, plucky and confident..." This is from Preston W. Slosson, _The Great Crusade and After, 1914-1928_(Macmillan,1929), 157, as quoted in Dorothy Brown, _Setting a Course_, 32.

From Kelly Allen KellyA1042@aol.com 12 Nov 1997

I've heard two things:
1)the first is that "flapper" came from the sound the young women made when they danced--the fringe, the beads, the jewelry-- when they danced the Charleston.

2) the second is that these girls "flapped" all their limbs clumsily as they walked and moved; sort of an independent swagger of the "new woman." This reflected the contrast between Victorian women and their reserve, and the women of the 1920s who wore no corsets, whose clothing was unfitted (no waist) and revealed legs, arms, etc.

From Janet Coryell coryell@wmich.edu 13 Nov 1997

According to Stuart Flexner's _I Hear America Talking_, the word may have come from 1770s Britain flappers: a duck too young to fly; 1880s England: a girl too young to put up her hair; 1880s U.S. meant a girl prostitute; 1910 a "pert headstrong woman, esp. one supporting women's rights and the new painless childbirth; 1919 the meaning today. (309)

From Lesley Hall Lesley_Hall@classic.msn.com 13 Nov 1997

All the definitions I've seen so far are far too late: the term was certainly in use in the UK well before the 1920s, certainly during and probably previous to WWI. Derivations I've seen are that a) it derived from the "flap" of hair of the style worn before it was properly 'up' (the sign of entry into adult womanhood), and b) that it referred to girls who rode on the 'flap' or pillion seat of motorcycles. The first sounds plausible, but I'm not sure there has to be a logical explanation for this kind of pervasive slang term.

Maybe it just meant (at least initially) young women in that liminal and awkward stage between the schoolroom and 'coming out', though of course later extended (e.g. usage of the term 'the flapper vote' for women getting the franchise on equal terms with men in GB in 1928) and doesn't relate to idiosyncrasies of dress or hair style or footwear at all.

From Debra O'Neal doneal@wingate.edu 14 Nov 1997

My understanding is the term "flappers" was in reference to young women's defiance of traditional fashions: they refused to button up their ankle-length shoes, thereby leaving them loose and "flapping" as the women walked.

From Kathleen A Jonak kajonak@acsu.buffalo.edu 18 Nov 1997

From _Back to Home and Duty_ by Deirdre Beddoe:

"The best known of these images is the flapper. She is associated with the swinging images of the roaring twenties but, in fact, the word dates from before the First World War. In the 1890s it had meant a young prostitute, but had come to mean, just before the war, any girl with a young boyish figure. The flapper craze for skinny, young, almost transsexual, women had fist caught on in Germany, where she was called a backfisch. It reached England about 1912 and the word 'flapper' at that point had jolly and friendly connotations; it was used to describe the comradely sort of girl who would ride pillion on the 'flapper bracket' of a motorcycle."(23)