That’s a tricky question, given that the term “flapper” only appeared in the popular imagination in the late 1940s, two decades after New Jersey’s first flappers — and perhaps a decade before that, in a post-World War II advertising guide by the American Psychological Association.
“It was the term [for] females who wore heels and danced around for the pleasure of men,” Haney-Brown said, “which was the most popular form of leisure entertainment in the late 1940s. It started in the U.K., but was popular in the U.S. pretty much right away — just as dance halls were popping up all over.”
The word “flaxen” was also part of this popular dance craze. “It’s a word from the 19th century that was used in the 1840s to describe someone who looked like a woman but wasn’t female,” Haney-Brown said.
But the word “flapper” had a darker history. It stemmed from the Spanish term for someone whose clothes were too revealing to be considered “girlish.” That’s a far cry from “flapper.”
“In the 1920s, flappers were people who wore dresses that revealed a lot of their body, whether it be their chest or their midriff,” Haney-Brown said. “So they were usually women who would wear a long dress or a veil over their gown. They would sometimes sport a gold chain around the waist and a very elaborate gold necklace that they’d wear in that particular dress.”
“But they also were called flappers,” she added. “They had a lot of fans. They were very, very different from the more traditional kind of ‘girly’ type dress that other people wore.”
The word “flapper” also became associated with the style’s new wave of girls in the 1950s. Flappers, they said, were often “very feminine, very flirty, and very much like their male counterparts.” It was a movement that seemed to catch on — especially through the 1960s in the U.K. and the U.S. — until women began protesting the term.
“By the 1960s — and this definitely comes out of the 1940s and ’50s — the people who were using the term [and] the people who were making movies, television shows and songs about a female-dominated world were also all calling themselves ‘flappers,'” Haney-Brown
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