the perfect flapper

Phlapper

Today’s time waster: musing on the origins of the flapper look embodied by Phryne Fisher as played by Essie Davis. 

Googling for famous flappers upon whom her look is modeled, the thing that really hit me was an irony that may not have been evident back in the day, but jumps out at you today. It’s a look meant to convey freedom, high spirits, joyful abandon, and rebellion, but there’s also clearly an element of infantilization. As someone commented on an earlier post (sorry, I forget who it was), 1920s flapper fashion was the beginning of the glorification – and sexualization – of youthfulness that continues to play out today. It’s not just that the perfect flapper body is flat-chested and hipless. It’s also the styling of the face: bobbed hair emphasizing a round baby face, giant eyes, Cupid’s-bow lips. I think this uncomfortable undercurrent of cognitive dissonance in flapper style would be a really interesting theme for MFMM to take on in a future episode (and let’s hope we get some of those). 

Anyway, here are some fruits of my procrastination: images of famous flappers with that Phryne Fisher look.

First, the lady herself, Miss Fishah:

Louise Brooks:

Joan Crawford:

Alice White:

Clara Bow:

Colleen Moore:

Helen Kane:

And finally, the epitome of the hyper-sexualized infantilized flapper – Betty Boop:

Isn’t it striking how uniform the look is from one to the next? Is there another fashion style so sharply delineated and defined not just by clothing, but by facial features as well (other than all of Western fashion being defined by whiteness, of course)? Imagine if they had plastic surgery back then – would everyone have been a carbon copy of this look? 

Mind you, I don’t mean to pass some kind of simplistic judgment – in fact, I’m really drawn to this look – but I think it’s always good to bring an analytical eye to these things, so we can put them in context and be more conscious of the world we create.