Did the Flapper Really Empower?

flapperempower copyIn 1922, a magazine called Flapper published the “Flapper Dictionary” and included Cosmo Hamilton’s definition of a flapper as having “a jitney body and a limousine mind.” A jitney was a cheap five cent ride, and limousines, we all know what those represent! Flapper magazine would at least be the most outspoken supporter for the flapper lifestyle at the time, but even they were aware of the reality—that flappers sold their bodies. It could be argued that the ability to sell your own body is part of a woman’s power, but at the same time it cheapens sex and your body as something you can put a number on.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

I’ve heard the argument that killing oneself should be every individual’s right. It’s a statement I fall prey to during my darkest of days. It is true, albeit somewhat, that your body is in fact your own. It’s not so easy to defend that when you’re under a marital covenant like me, having taken an oath in front of witnesses, swearing that you are one with your spouse and that your body is not just your own. When you’re single however, most people believe that you can do whatever you want with your body in the name of liberty. The legal system, working together to protect your civil liberties, also prohibits you to enjoy certain freedoms if they have somehow proven that what you do is harmful to yourself and others. Examples of such are the usage of marijuana and steroids, drinking while driving, and prostitution.

How does selling your body for sex harm yourself and others? Unlike marijuana, prostitution is frowned upon by the majority of people, mostly because of its relation to slave trade and sex trafficking. A lot of feminists I know frown upon the act as well and for basically the same reasons why I don’t espouse to it—being harmful to your own body and demeaning to the worth of women. It is a mystery to me why it is legal to be a sex worker via pornography but not in the streets (another topic for another time). So, why did the flapper sell herself? Perhaps because it was frowned upon, and it was her goal to do what was unconventional. Mind you, not all of them involved themselves in this business, but it was the general idea that came with the culture. It could’ve been a stereotype, but all stereotypes are derived from having something happen enough.

Everything else about flapperdom it seems is a delight to feminists. It is ironic however that the corset (which I am much a fan of) was representation of structure and was abandoned by forward-thinking women including the flappers; but now, corsets are attributed to promiscuity. All I know is that it makes me feel better with my posture, my shape, and my back!

I put the below outfit together for my idealized modern day flapper, with the elements of gold, feathers, tiered skirts, layered necklaces, and a fascinator—all of which a flapper in the 1920s would’ve incorporated in her dressing. The difference with my ideal flapper is that this woman would have had a limousine body and a limousine mind. She would, as I do now, enjoy her voting rights and her position as a boss of a business, without having to resort to using her own body as sign of power.


Bag: Minsstyle | Dress: Belonda | Locket/Pendant: Fashion Junkie 4 Life | Shoes: Pamplemousse Vintage | Fascinator: These Woods | Pearls: Chanel

Bag’s name is Coco by designer Lily Vasaelini and can be purchased through Minsstyle. I’m very much into black and white contrasts, striped or not, and this purse looks very pleasing. It’s also a good size and made from quality Italian leather. The dress is from Belonda who makes silk printed dresses, and this somehow made me a think of a tamer flapper Bjork with its resemblance to a dress I’ve seen her wear!

The heart locket you see up there is actually a replica of a rare Victorian vinaigrette necklace. Back in the Victorian time, women didn’t have the luxury of bathing daily, so to cover up the evidence of that fact, they would dip the pad that you see up there in scented oil and place it in the locket. They’d wear it around their necks and replace the pad as needed!

 What do you like or dislike about the flapper culture?


Great Gatsby (2013)


15 thoughts on “Did the Flapper Really Empower?

  1. i think prostitution should be legalised everywhere. i think every intelligent adult knows some people just need to do it. and some choose to i guess. your body your deal. as you said some flappers may have been prostitutes but then again some humans are prostitutes, they are not so by the virtue of being a flapper or human. it is an individuals’ choice. you know suffragettes were all called sluts and prostitutes because they fought for women’s right to vote? i am sure that doesn’t make them all so. the smoke without a fire theory does not really apply to everything. i found your post via ifb and thought it was an interesting topic.

    1. Part 1:

      Thank you for your reponse, Debiparna.

      I wasn’t debating over whether or not prostitution should be legalized. That is why I was relating it to suicide. Obviously, we do not imprison someone who attempts to commit suicide. I do not honor, at least in my highest of spirits, that suicide should be a free choice made by all individuals. I would, to the best of my ability stop any occurrence of it if I could. Not only because I believe that a human life is precious but also because the person who is committing suicide is not in their right state of mind. Individuals who are in this state of mind are institutionalized or at least counseled (not arrested).

      Prostitution was made illegal by the US government at least because of its contribution to sex trafficking and slave trade, subhuman or demeaning conditions where the sex workers work, as well as mistreatment by the pimps. I’m sure not all of it is like this, and some sex workers are even their own boss. However, it does involve the government’s control, and making the whole act illegal makes it easier to oversee the entire thing without having to hunt down those that do NOT have proper conditions. I have not stated my stance on this, at least not in this article.
      What I did write about in this particular post is my disdain on its value to a person. I should’ve written that feminists vary about 50-50 on this one, because of free choice vs its being demeaning to women.

      1. i actually enjoyed reading your post. i am from India and i don’t know much about the situation in the us regarding prostitution. but what you said about trafficking – it is a really bad condition here, mostly poor families being duped with promises of a better life. so from that point of view i feel prostitution should be legal and well regulated with proper protection of the women who have to sell their bodies. because making it illegal doesn’t make it go away. if anything it pushes it under covers and somehow makes it more dangerous.
        and yes feminists also do vary on these topics. again after all we are not individuals with personal preferences with the same idea that we are all equal. in certain situations prostitution is indeed a demeaning act. in fact what a woman does and chooses to restrict other women in her life to do (say her daughter, little sister, etc) has an impact.
        i will be looking through our other posts too :D

    2. Part 2 (read part 1 first):

      In response to what you said, “you know suffragettes were all called sluts and prostitutes because they fought for women’s right to vote?” In my article, I said that I enjoyed my right to vote and being my own boss. Being called a prostitute is different from actually being one, as your profession. If I thought those women were rightfully called prostitutes, then I would be calling myself one.

      Again, I want to clarify that I have not stated my stance eating.that prostitution should be made legal (neither did I say anything about that with marijuana), but I did talk about its being an unwise decision for your body. That, I have a strong belief on, as much as I have a strong belief on what we shouldn’t be eating. Whether I think those foods should be illegal or not is irrelevant. Food choices—a lot of people can sometimes find what I think about that slightly offensive, believe it or not.

      I, as everyone else, however, have the freedom to say what I want about what we all shouldn’t be eating or doing to our bodies.

  2. This is a gutsy post! I really like it because it opens up the floor for debate and dialogue! I may not totally agree with all of your points here, but what I definitely agree with is that clothing and lifestyles are always a sign of the times. It’s funny how the corset has come full circle. Back then women were shedding them as a symbol of shedding restraints. Now women who wear corsets are considered assertive, sexually domineering, and empowered.
    I also believe that the flapper (possibly through prostitution and debauchery) proved that women have the ability to be strong and assertive. This happened then for possibly the first time in American history. We finally stood up and said “We can choose what we do for ourselves, and we don’t need the constant guidance, permission, and restraint of men!” This is a very important assertion. Whether you use your independence for construction or destruction is sometimes secondary. Sometimes the act of independence by one is enough to inspire a movement and a negative start to a positive movement may be worth the sacrifice.
    I love this post and the duality of it! Very thought provoking!

  3. Very interesting article.
    You know my thoughts on prostitution. I actually want to go to India as a missionary especially to help the Devadasi/Dalit women who were/are dedicated to the gods at birth or early childhood by their parents, against her own will, where she has to one day sell her body and make money for the gods as a duty to them. Many barely reach the age of 40 and are the most mistreated women of India. My heart is for them. So while they are prositutes, they certainly never chose the life at all and have no way out and in their older age once their duty is done they become the beggars of the street, making a bowl of rice per day. Prostitution is different everywhere, but I definitely don’t agree with the lifestyle and have seen far too many documentaries about human trafficking and read far too many books on it. . .
    I don’t know much about flappers really, to be honest with you. I thought it was just a thing rebellious teens were involved in, but I didn’t really know that it was a form of prostitution.

  4. I think Flapper culture was empowering indeed, and this idea of it being linked to prostitution is mostly due to it being associated to a subversive culture, nightlife, wild dancing, jazz music and all those things we consider demure. The fact that these women really did whatever they wanted with their life, at a time when wearing a bathing suit to the beach could get you arrested, would easily have them labeled as prostitutes, floozies and whatnot. But in 2013 we’re knowledgeable enough to see past that & enjoy their excess for all the doors its open to women throughout the following decades.

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