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The flapper subculture of the 1920s originated after World War I when women had more opportunities and income to have more fun than in previous years (Reinsch 28). The postwar era introduced a healthier economy, enabling women to work in jobs such as clerks, which became more affordable. Thus, America was defined by consumerism and personal preference, as more people, especially single women, had more money to spend on entertainment and trendy clothing trends (Reinsch 35). Furthermore, women attained voting rights, which created a sense of equality in American society, a factor that played a great role in encouraging women to take up roles initially considered as those belonging to men.
"The subculture was characterized by a rebellion against traditional role of women whereby women were expected to take care of homes and children, sew clothes, and do secretary jobs. However, the post-war booming economy and the scarcity of male workers necessitated the hiring of women for sales, clerking, and telephone operator jobs (National Humanities Center). The beginning of the flapper sub-culture was considered as a culture war between traditional values and emerging values that sought to redefine the role of women (Rubio et al. 19). However, later on, the flapper sub-culture was considered as a symbol of women empowerment, whereby more women acquired education and employment in formal sectors, which were previously dominated by men.
The 1920’s flappers refer to a generation of women that was characterized by an increased love for jazz music, short skirts and drop-waist dresses, enjoyment of casual sex, smoking and drinking, use of excessive make-up, riding bicycles, and driving cars – in other words, elements that have not been accepted before (National Humanities Center). Moreover, the subculture is considered as a women’s movement that promoted feminism since women also impacted the workplace to a great extent by increasingly getting employment outside the home, an element that went against the traditional roles of women in the United States of America.
The 1920’s flapper subculture has changed a lot since its beginnings, whereby there was a steady increase of women embracing the subculture between 1920 and 1930. More women were joining colleges to pursue a higher education and joining the formal employment sector, whereby by 1928, more women had enrolled at Columbia University than men – a situation that has never happened before (Kalagher 26). Moreover, at the beginning of subculture, fewer people attended cinemas. However, with increased interest among young women to attend cinemas for entertainment, the number of people going to the cinemas increased tremendously. For instance, in 1927, the number of people going to the cinema was estimated at 60 million. By 1929, the number of people going to the cinema grew up to 110 million.
The key factors associated with the shifts in the subculture included alcohol prohibition policies, which sought to stop domestic violence, lower alcohol consumption, and prostitution. However, the prohibition policies encouraged more consumption of alcohol among women which resulted in the emergence of speakeasies, which facilitated the smuggling of alcohol from Mexico and Canada. Speakeasies became common for young women, since they treated the prohibition with a similar care-free attitude as their male counterparts. Moreover, the passing of the 19th Amendment, which allowed women suffrage, also played a great role in contributing to the shift, since the suffrage encouraged pursuing personal choice and education, facilitating greater participation of women in workforce and economy (Kalagher 30). Additionally, the birth control movement, led by Margaret Sanger, encouraged more women to delay marriages and pursue education instead, explaining the increased entry of women into formal employment.
Further, following the growing interest for cinemas, movie stars played a great role in influencing the growth of the subculture. One of them is Clara Bow, the most popular actress between 1928 and 1929, who portrayed a flapper in a number of films. Movie stars also introduced such element as dating, whereby boys started taking girls for long drives, movies, and restaurants and ensured that catered for all the bills.
Jazz music also played a great role in promoting the 1920’s flappers subculture – it encouraged more women to participate in the nightlife, i.e. in the emerging dancing moves that defined the young woman at the time (National Humanities Center). The music also influenced the women’s fashion and style – women preferred short hair and shorter and loose clothing.
Moreover, the Great Depression in 1930 caused a major shift in the flapper subculture, whereby the larger population experienced a decline in their disposable income. The majority of flappers could not afford entertainment, including going to clubs and cinemas. The low incomes contributed to a reduced consumption of alcohol and smoking. The flapper lifestyle ended with the emergence of the Great Depression, since the challenges made it difficult to maintain the lifestyle (Hoover). However, some of the freedoms were not given up despite the challenges, and they are still practiced today.
The elements of the flapper subculture that have remained intact include dressing – women still wear dresses and above-knee skirts; the corset was eliminated. Although the Great Depression and other economic and social factors pushed women back to working long hours at a low pay and into marriages, women continued driving cars, and the number of women who drive cars has constantly been increasing since the beginning of the flapper subculture (Hoover). Additionally, women have continued fighting for equality and enjoying same rights as men possess in the different aspects of the society, including employment and voting.
In conclusion, the preservation of the key elements of the flapper subculture is useful since it has enhanced equality in the treatment of women as well as enabling women to embrace personal choice rather than being led by the traditional values that defined the role of women. Further, the preservation has helped in redefining the role of women in the society, which has played a crucial in facilitating the participation of women in the economy through participating in the formal employment sectors.
Hoover, Herbert. “Herbert Hoover’s Inaugural Address, 1929 | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History”. Gilderlehrman.Org, 2017. Retrieved on March 10, 2017 from https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/roaring-twenties/resources/herbert-hoover%E2%80%99s-inaugural-address-1929
Kalagher, Katherine D. (2014). The Invasion of the Flapper: How the College Women of the 1920s Transformed the American College Experience. Print
National Humanities Center. “Becoming Modern: America in the 1920s”. 2012, Retrieved on March 10, 2017 from http://americainclass.org/sources/becomingmodern/modernity/text2/colcommentarymodernwoman.pdf
Reinsch, Ole. “Flapper Girls-Feminism and Consumer Society in the 1920s”. Gender Forum. No. 40. Prof. Dr. Beate Neumeier, 2012. Print
Rubio, Juan, Antonio Daniel, and Isabel María García Conesa. “The role of women in the roaring twenties”. (2012). Print
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