May 8, 2014

Was your grandma a flapper?

I've been thinking about the Dutch lady I blogged about previously who has chosen to live as a lower-middle class housewife in 1938 Amsterdam. In that post, I had asked for readers to think of and share what time period in history they would choose to "live" in.

For myself, I at first thought of the Edwardian era, but then I considered that women were very restricted by both social regulations and by their own clothing. Yes, those dresses were gorgeous, but they were also very uncomfortable, especially with corsets. I remember in that social experiment show Manor House that the sister of the lady of the manor actually had a bit of a breakdown due to the rigidity and absolute boredom of upper-class Edwardian female life, and had to leave the project. She literally couldn't take it anymore.

So I decided on the 1920s instead. Regarding both social codes and clothing, the 20s were less restrictive. The standard of living rose meteorically, all kinds of new inventions were born, the economy was booming; the Great War had ended, and the Great Depression hadn't yet hit. Many homes now had electricity. Coco Chanel revolutionized women's fashion and perfume, while Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Paul Whiteman revolutionized music with their catchy jazz tunes.

So I've been downloading music from that decade. My best friend is the city clerk of a nearby town, and they're planning on doing a 1920s festival next year celebrating the area's history during that era, and I figure she can use the music for that.

While I've been doing this, I started thinking of any ancestors or relatives who might have been "flappers"-- women who bobbed their hair, wore shockingly (for that time) short skirts, smoked in public, drank, danced to jazz, and wore makeup. Their nickname came from their rejection of corsets... and other restrictive garments in the chest area.

My grandmothers were born in 1911 and 1918 respectively, so they were too young to have done the Charleston in speakeasies. Their mothers were born in 1886 and 1893, and my grandfathers' mothers were born in 1879 and 1854. They were all, by the 1920s, married with families, or widowed. No flappers there either.

However... my grandmother Clare (born in 1911) had an older sister, Alice, who was born in 1906. She was the right age, and from what I've heard about her, she was free-spirited and fun-- a bit wild, actually. I can definitely see her being a flapper.

Sadly, Alice died of tuberculosis in the 1940s.

Alice's daughter-- my father's cousin-- is in her mid- 80s now, but she does keep in touch once in awhile, and next time I talk to her, I'll ask her more about what she remembers of her mother.
A flapper

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