An iconic image of the 1920s is the flapper — a young woman with bobbed hair and a short, sequined or fringed flashy dress, who drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes. This was a radical change from the proper image of a young woman from the previous decade, not to mention the previous century.
What led to the flappers? After a 70-year fight, women had finally been granted political equality with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The right to vote introduced a new woman.
Contrary to the Victorian era, women no longer remained silent — they held jobs and wanted to have fun at night. They traded their long locks for easier to manage shorter, hip, hairdos. Young women said goodbye to archaic corsets and long dresses that restricted their motion. They began dressing in racy outfits with hemlines that were above the knee that were easier to move around in.
How else could you dance the Charleston?
Women also began smoking, which was formerly an activity that was strictly reserved for men. Even though the 1920s was the time of Prohibition, women consumed more alcoholic beverages than ever before.
The flappers are more than young rebels changing social norms and appearances. These young women ushered in a new age in which women held jobs outside the home, could earn a college degree and could drive. They were adapting to an environment that was completely different from that of their parents and grandparents.
The La Crosse Historical Society has quite a few flapper and 1920s-era dresses, but this one stands out. It’s made of a fine-net fabric, entirely covered with creamy, iridescent sequins. It would have been worn over a slip of almost any color due to its iridescent glow. This flashy dress would have glowed and shimmered on the dance floor, drawing attention to whoever wore it.
The dress does have a deed of gift, but we are unsure of when the dress was worn or who may have worn it. Nevertheless, this dress represents an era of freedom and change for women that began in the 1920s.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 14, 2017.