Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern
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Blithely flinging aside the Victorian manners that kept her disapproving mother corseted, the New Woman of the 1920s puffed cigarettes, snuck gin, hiked her hemlines, danced the Charleston, and necked in roadsters. More important, she earned her own keep, controlled her own destiny, and secured liberties that modern women take for granted. Her newfound freedom heralded a radical change in American culture.
Whisking us from the Alabama country club where Zelda Sayre first caught the eye of F. Scott Fitzgerald to Muncie, Indiana, where would-be flappers begged their mothers for silk stockings, to the Manhattan speakeasies where patrons partied till daybreak, historian Joshua Zeitz brings the era to exhilarating life. This is the story of America’s first sexual revolution, its first merchants of cool, its first celebrities, and its most sparkling advertisement for the right to pursue happiness.
The men and women who made the flapper were a diverse lot.
There was Coco Chanel, the French orphan who redefined the feminine form and silhouette, helping to free women from the torturous corsets and crinolines that had served as tools of social control.
Three thousand miles away, Lois Long, the daughter of a Connecticut clergyman, christened herself “Lipstick” and gave New Yorker readers a thrilling entrée into Manhattan’s extravagant Jazz Age nightlife.
In California, where orange groves gave way to studio lots and fairytale mansions, three of America’s first celebrities—Clara Bow, Colleen Moore, and Louise Brooks, Hollywood’s great flapper triumvirate—fired the imaginations of millions of filmgoers.
Dallas-born fashion artist Gordon Conway and Utah-born cartoonist John Held crafted magazine covers that captured the electricity of the social revolution sweeping the United States.
Bruce Barton and Edward Bernays, pioneers of advertising and public relations, taught big business how to harness the dreams and anxieties of a newly industrial America—and a nation of consumers was born.
Towering above all were Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, whose swift ascent and spectacular fall embodied the glamour and excess of the era that would come to an abrupt end on Black Tuesday, when the stock market collapsed and rendered the age of abundance and frivolity instantly obsolete.
With its heady cocktail of storytelling and big ideas, Flapper is a dazzling look at the women who launched the first truly modern decade.
From the Hardcover edition.
reclaiming her place as the world’s leading designer of haute couture. Much as she had given the New Woman jersey and tweed, she now gave the New Woman’s granddaughter pea jackets and bell-bottoms. Coco was in her studio, hard at work, when she died in 1971. She never married. Shortly after World War I, Boy Capel—the great love of Coco’s life—wed another woman. Months later, he died in a car crash in southern France. Coco drove to the site of the accident and wept. In 1926, she introduced the
Arbuckle, the portly Hollywood impresario who was tried twice—and finally acquitted—for the brutal rape and murder of a young actress. It gave rise to sports legends like Babe Ruth, who was just as renowned for his voracious culinary and carnal appetites as for his home run record, and Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion who by the mid-1920s had appeared in almost as many films as he did title fights. In the decade following World War I, the average number of profiles that The Saturday
of chance than design. “One day I put on a man’s sweater,” she told an interviewer, “ … because I was cold. It was in Deauville. I tied it with a handkerchief at the waist.” The fellow vacationers she met socially on the beach and at the polo grounds accosted her for information. “Where did you find that dress,” they asked her. “If you like it,” she replied, “I’ll sell it to you.” Ten dresses later, the signature Chanel frock was born.15 If Paul Poiret had unloosed women from the tight grasp of
the flapper. When an irate bandleader from Harlem took exception to Long’s critique of black women—no white girl could dance “the REAL Charleston,” he announced—Lipstick conceded only that “negro men are supreme at this dance … but as for the girls—I will just have to be shown.11 The ones I have seen get a certain curious swing that the white ones don’t, but they are very self-conscious as regards the feet. And just for that I promise never to mention the name of Charleston again.” Lois Long’s
Restless as always, Louise quit the Scandals in 1924, spent a few weeks in London, where she danced in local cabaret performances, and returned, dead broke, to New York, where Florenz Ziegfeld was happy to hire her for the 1925 run of his Follies. Life was pretty good as a Follies girl.15 The pay wasn’t bad—normally between $250 and $300 per week (Louise would have been on the higher end of the scale), equivalent to an annual salary of about $150,000 in today’s money. There were also plenty of