What gave the modern style its name? As an academic study suggests, they also symbolized wealth and status. But not just any wealth and status for these flappers: they could wear anything from a sash with a bird, for instance, to a bejeweled brooch, as was the custom in New York City at the time. And the modern style is all about individuality and self-expression—but it is about more than just the clothes, according to the historian Paul Wexler in his book, The New Class. It is also an expression of the freedom of American society in the twentieth century. It is an expression of the individualism and individuality that emerged after World War II and took hold after the 1960s as a counter to the stultifying conformity of society in the ’20s and ’30s—and it is also a reflection of the postwar economic boom in which American society was transformed, Wexler argues in the book. A man, a wife, a car, and a lot of money. With that comes an ever-larger circle of people—the flapper. “The modern style,” Wexler says, “is all about individuality and self-expression—but it is also an expression of the postwar economic boom in which American society was transformed, and that has given rise to the new style,” he says. This trend was reflected in the fashion scene in the 1960s and ’70s as young people flocked to New York, but it also continued as women flocked abroad. So “flappers” gave the American contemporary style its name—and the history that came with it.
The term “flapper” actually originated in Europe in the early 1600s. The word, meaning “one of several”, did not come into English until about a century later when the French phrase “vraie flotte” was used to describe women’s clothing. The word originally referred not to the clothes but the way the women wore them. The French have also made their own version of the word. Flappers are characterized by the “flared” legs, a hairstyle commonly referred to as the bohemian style in Britain, which has also been said to be responsible for its popularity in New York city. But in the American context, as the historian David R. Shipp writes in his book, Flappers and Fashion, the term flapper was more about the clothes than the women. The modern style, Shipp argues, was something akin to a “new class
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