Flapper wasn’t a particularly fortunate cognomen. It is far too reminiscent of open galoshes and covered-up ears and all other proverbial flapper paraphernalia, which might have passed unnoticed save for the name. All these things are—or were—amusing externals of a large class of females who in no way deserve the distinction of being called flappers. The flappers that I am writing this article about are a very different and intriguing lot of young people who are perhaps unstable, but who are giving us the first evidence of youth asserting itself out of the cradle. They are not originating new ideas or new customs or new moral standards. They are simply endowing the old ones that we are used to with a vitality that we are not used to. We are not accustomed to having our daughters think our ideas for themselves, and it is distasteful to some of us that we are no longer able to fit the younger generation into our conceptions of what the younger generation was going to be like when we watched it in the nursery. I do not think that anything my daughter could possibly do eighteen years from now would surprise me. And yet I will probably be forbidding her in frigid tones to fly more than three thousand feet high or more than five hundred miles an hour with little Willie Jones, and bidding her never to go near that horrible Mars. I can imagine these things now, but if they should happen twenty years from now, I would certainly wonder what particular dog my child was going to. . . .
The flapper springs full-grown, like Minerva, from the head of her once-declasse father, Jazz, upon whom she lavishes affection and reverence, and deepest filial regard. She is not a “condition arisen from war unrest,” as I have so often read in the shower of recent praise and protest which she has evoked, and to which I am contributing. She is a direct result of the greater appreciation of beauty, youth, gaiety, and grace which is sweeping along in a carmagnole (I saw one in a movie once, and I use this word advisedly) with our young anti-puritans at the head. They have placed such a premium on the flapper creed—to give and get amusement—that even the dumbbells become Dulcies and convert stupidity into charm. Dulcy is infinitely preferable to the kind of girl who, ten years ago, quoted the Rubaiyat at you and told you how misunderstood she was; or the kind who straightened your tie as evidence that in her lay the spirit of the eternal mother; or the kind who spent long summer evenings telling you that it wasn’t the number of cigarettes you smoked that she minded but just the principle, to show off her nobility of character. These are some of the bores of yesterday. Now even bores must be original, so the more unfortunate members of the flapper sect have each culled an individual line from their daily rounds, which amuses or not according to whether you have seen the same plays, heard the same tunes, or read reviews of the same books.
The best flapper is reticent emotionally and courageous morally. You always know what she thinks, but she does all her feeling alone. These are two characteristics which will bring social intercourse to a more charming and more sophisticated level. I believe in the flapper as an involuntary and invaluable cupbearer to the arts. I believe in the flapper as an artist in her particular field, the art of being—being young, being lovely, being an object.
For almost the first time we are developing a class of pretty yet respectable young women, whose sole functions are to amuse and to make growing old a more enjoyable process for some men and staying young an easier one for others.
Even parents have ceased to look upon their children as permanent institutions. The fashionable mother no longer keeps her children young so that she will preserve the appearance of a debutante. She helps them to mature so that she will be mistaken for a stepmother. Once her girls are old enough to be out of finishing school a period of freedom and social activity sets in for her. The daughters are rushed home to make a chaotic debut and embark upon a feverish chase for a husband. It is no longer permissible to be single at twenty-five. The flapper makes haste to marry lest she be a leftover and be forced to annex herself to the crowd just younger. She hasn’t time to ascertain the degree of compatibility between herself and her fiance before the wedding, so she ascertains that they will be separated if the compatibility should be mutually rated zero after it.
The flapper! She is growing old. She forgets her flapper creed and is conscious only of her flapper self. She is married ’mid loud acclamation on the part of relatives and friends. She has come to none of the predicted “bad ends,” but has gone at last, where all good flappers go—into the young married set, into boredom and gathering conventions and the pleasure of having children, having lent a while a splendor and courageousness and brightness to life, as all good flappers should.
1 Dulcy, the title character in the 1921 play by Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman, is a featherbrained young wife.
Published in McCall’s magazine (October 1925); published with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Our Young Rich Boys” under the joint title “What Becomes of Our Flappers and Our Sheiks?” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.
Illustrations by John Held, Jr.