08 Apr Pearl Clutching Temperance Supporters Birthed the Flappers — and They’re Still Here
Have you ever seen a woman with short hair, wearing a dress cut above the knee, holding a cocktail in public? Literally, right now in Chicago no matter what time you’re reading this, yes, women are having a drink in public. Had the Temperance movement not told women it was illegal to do so, perhaps it wouldn’t have been quite so alluring. History.com provides the actual date of the end of the flapper movement, listing it as October 29, 1929 when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.
Bullshit. The flapper movement was born in Prohibition, forever changed the landscape of Chicago nightlife and never died. If it had died, women would have retreated to their kitchens and given up all their new fun. Have you never seen a bachelorette party winding its way through Chicago nightclubs? Flappers.
What’s troubling about most reporting on the flapper movement is that it tends to center on their dresses, painted lips, and short hair and miss the entire point. Flappers dressed the way they wanted to dress because they were busy busting social norms. It wasn’t about their knees, it was about their freedoms. Take a freedom like public intoxication away from the masses and just watch how wild it gets.
It was the perfect storm for a social uprising. Women had only recently won the right to vote in this country. Shortly after, Prohibition became the law of the land and enterprising mobsters brought jazz musicians into the now underground speakeasies. Women weren’t done fighting for their freedoms, and while arguably the right to vote is perhaps less important than the right to gin, freedom is a slippery slope. It’s a great flaw in American history that we talk about these women and this movement through the lens of fashion.
They were, in addition to those that wore short dresses, literally the great-grandmothers of today’s Feminist Movement. They did not give a fuck about what you thought or what you expected, but they changed the narrative. While the gangsters get all the credit for making Chicago a fascinating city in the 1920’s, where would we be without the artists, poets, writers (thank you Zelda Fitzgerald) that gave future generations of women everything and contributed to Chicago’s art, music, and cultural foundations.
While American men were off fighting in World War I, women took over the workforce to keep the country running. It wasn’t going to be so easy to take away their gin and their jobs when the war ended. Zelda Fitzgerald said it best, the flapper movement was about not going back. Women had seen real freedom and they weren’t going home. Of the flapper movement, Zelda said, “she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring.”
While it feels audacious to disagree with History.com, literally experts in history, on behalf of the flappers that are walking across the intersection at State and Rush Streets right now, Prohibition may have ended, but the flappers never went home.
Written by Amy Williams