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Under the Flapper’s Fringe: 1920s style


Editor’s note:  One of several articles published in the St. Lawrence EMC Newspaper, to publicize the upcoming Prohibition Days in Rockport, ON

A “flapper” was the new woman of the 1920’s. The First World War had just ended. The world had lost its innocence. Young women were beginning to challenge their traditional role in society. The word “flapper” may have derived from a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly.

You may very well ask…what exactly might be under a flapper’s fringe??

Well, you would probably find a glitzy garter, tied neatly to a shapely “gam” (leg). And that garter might very well be holding a small hip flask filled with alcohol. If the flapper was a gangster’s “moll”( girlfriend) she might even have a small “gat” (gun)under her garter. Some flappers donned high-topped boots in which they could conceal a small flask, which led to the term “bootlegging”.

The earliest flappers wore short, fringed skirts, “boy- bobbed” their hair, smoked “gaspers” (cigarettes)), drove cars, viewed sex as recreational, and defied Prohibition laws by openly drinking alcohol. Partly because of Prohibition a rebelliousness was fuelled. Contempt for Prohibition was a key factor in the rise of the flapper. The public openly consumed alcohol and loved the social life of the “speakeasy” or “speak” (any establishment selling illegal alcoholic beverages). Back-alley speaks were prolific and popular and all walks of society filled them. In order to gain entrance you had to speak in a low voice through a small opening in the back door and tell the person inside who had sent you to the place.

For our “Rockport Prohibition Days” festival the Cornwall’s Point “Speakeasy” will be named “Zelda’s”- in honour of our poster girl, Zelda Fitzgerald, a prototypical flapper and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby.

Hemlines of the 20’s were elusive and rising…both in skirt lengths and in the back seats of automobiles. By 1926 skirts were at their shortest and showed the knee until 1928. By 1929 uneven hems and asymmetric hemlines helped the transition to longer skirts of the 30’s. Some of the flappers were reported to rouge their knees in order to enhance the view of their knees when dancing as long, loose skirts flipped up to show their legs.

Flappers’ dresses were either shorter with a fringe, or longer with a flounce, but all were straight and loose with the waistline usually at the hips. This created a straight up and down appearance. Corsets had been tossed aside and clothing was no longer restrictive. Bare arms were the norm. Legs were often covered in beige stockings to the knee to give a more naked look than ever before. Flappers had the freedom to breathe and walk and move more easily.

The Roaring Twenties era was also the Jazz Age and with jazz came dancing…anything exciting and fun was labelled “jazz’”and a flapper’s popular pastime was dancing. Flappers dated freely and danced wildly. They wanted more from their lives and set out to experience ‘everything’.

Makeup had previously only been worn by ‘loose’ women, but flappers applied makeup with the same wild abandon as every other ‘pleasure’they adopted. Eyebrows were shaped, elongated and darkened, lips were bowed, “bee-stung” and reddened, beauty marks were accentuated, kiss curls came into vogue, and tanned skin surrounding huge, dark eyes became popular. It was fashionable to perform the rites of make up in public.

Rockport’s Roaring Relics Boutique

SO LADIES!! Deck yourself out in a forehead tiara or feather- adorned headband, a long feathery boa, and a few lengths of glittery pearls. Patterned silk stockings, garters,and strappy heels or high-topped leather boots were also stylish. Our onsite "Flappers' Finery" will carry some of these costume accessories to help you “jazz” yourself up.

GENTS!! Dress up as a gangster! Because of the illegal alcohol activity, there was a lucrative opportunity for organized crime to take over and build large criminal empires on illegal alcohol profits. Gangsters were ever-present in the Twenties…

Gents can jazz up with a fedora, a vest, suspenders, striped shirts, zoot suits, and stickpins. Slap on a moustache and slick back your hair. Or just come dressed as a rum-running “River Rat”…those local Rockport fellows who considered smuggling whiskey as more of a sport to make a few “clams” (dollars), and not a dishonourable profession at all.

Everyone can “strut their stuff” at our fashion show… you’ll feel like you’re the “bee’s knees”(terrific). Learn how to dance the Charleston with some of our local ‘flappers’ at our street dance on Friday night in Rockport or at our “Flappers’ Ball” on Saturday night at Caiger’s Riverside Resort  to the tunes of our live bands dressed in period costume. Check out the Internet Guide to Jazz Age Slang and try using it. Before you know it you’ll be making “whoopee” (having wild fun). Be sure to check out the website at www.rockportthousandislands.com.

By Geraldine Last

Geraldine (Gerry) Last and her partner moved to the rockport area ten years ago so they could live near the St. Lawrence River. When Gerry retired from her teaching career, she became a volunteer with the Rockport Development Group (RDG).  After gaining an appreciation for all that RDG does, she nominated the group for a "Keeper of the Islands Awards" from the Gananoque Chamber of Commerce.  RDG was happy to accept the award in 2012.  Gerry is the chairperson for the "Rockport Prohibition Days Festival Committee.  For over a year she has put heart and soul into planning for this Roaring-Twenties' festival.  It's the first of its kind in Rockport and the Thousand Islands. 


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