How many of them were women? And how many were men?
These questions have long been a source of controversy among some feminists. The flapper dress, for example, was believed to be a men’s business, designed to attract business men — that is, men who dressed to present themselves as professional businessmen. But while that might sound like an odd thing to say about what had long been associated with women in some societies around the world, in 1876 when the flappers first began to take to the streets in New York’s fashionable Village Green, the theory was hardly new.
That’s because the idea has been around pretty much since the beginning of civilization. As the French writer and historian Émile Zola wrote in “Vomiting with the Flappers,” a book about the subject, early Europeans believed that flappers’ clothing was appropriate for men only because it was too revealing for their women. “They have not understood women, and as a result, women make out that their nature is unnatural, immoral and depraved,” Zola wrote. “They put men off by displaying their bodies in all their nakedness, they do not have time nor the inclination to do it.” So, by the late 18th century, men and women in most regions of the world were believed to wear dresses and skirts, and this was even more the case in the United States.
But the idea wasn’t as widely accepted in the United States until after the Civil War — and, for the most part, the clothes and fashion styles it encouraged in early workers and settlers was quite different from ones the American public would wear a generation later.
That isn’t to say that all the dresses and skirts favored at the time of the 1866 flappers’ walk were intended for men, though. In New York, a woman’s hat, often a bonnet, covered her head above her ear, while the flapper dress could do the same. The most common skirt styles were narrow skirts and dresses worn close together that had the bottom half of one piece, or the back of another. The skirts that were most often worn by women were called half-petticoats, which are named for the way they split into two halves in the back and sides.
As a teenager, Mabel M. Moxie, the wife of a railroad executive who had traveled to France with his mother in search of adventure to help start a new business, was introduced to the French fashion in London during the Great Exhibition of 18
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