By Greg Clark, June 16, 1922
“I don’t understand all this business about flappers,” said Aunt Melinda. “What is a flapper? I thought it was one of those absurd girls who wear their galoshes unbuckled and flapping about their calves.”
“Flappers! Flappers?” exclaimed Aunt Agg, who sets herself up as an authority on everything modern and effete. “Why, my dear, isn’t a flapper a girl”- (she pronounced it gyerl) – “whose skirts flap about her knees? I’m sure that is the derivation of the word.”
Grandma, who was listening with unconcealed astonishment to this conversation, I dropped her knitting and her hands into her lap and gasped:
“Why, I thought a flapper was one of these deaf and dumb persons who converse by means of flapping their hands!”
“Mother!” said Aunt Agg with scorn. “If you aren’t the old-fashionedest–“
“Well,” continued Aunt ‘Linda, who was one of those persevering conversationalists, “I can’t see what there is to make such a fuss over these innocent little girls. We scandalized you, didn’t we, mother, when we were girls…”
“Not you, my dears,” replied Grandma, “but some of our neighbors children…”
“I think we should pay less attention to these pretty, harmless children, and try to do something for these bold, golfing, motoring, horseracing women of mature years,” said Aunt ‘Linda. “They are the ones who are undermining the foundations of society, to use the minister’s words. Look at these photographs of the fashionable crowds at the races. Not a female there under forty.”
“No,” interrupted Aunt Agg, pointing to the picture, “there are several flappers.”
Aunt ‘Linda examined the picture.
“You are wrong. Agg. All the flappers have their backs turned to the camera, and all the women of forty are facing it. It simply means that they look like flappers from behind, but are all over forty.”
“Tee, hee!” giggled Grandma. “That’s what we used to say about crinolines, that they made all women the same age from the back.”
“What is the sense,” went on Aunt ‘Linda. “of criticizing the youngsters when the gaudiest women we see downtown on our shopping trips are dowagers of near fifty? Who was it we saw smoking cigaret in the dining room of the Prince Edward last New Year’s but a fat woman on the verge of sixty? Think of our neighbor who goes off dragging her golf implements with her two friends every afternoon, all women of mature years, and I doubt not that out at the golf club they indulge in cigarets between every bout.”
“Indeed, I am told,” said Aunt Agg, “that the women have bottles full of cocktails in their cupboards out at these golf clubs.”
“I recall,” remarked Grandma in an absent manner, “when cocktails were first invented.”
Grandma started guiltily and dropped a stitch. Her face flushed a little, and the shiny look that came into her eyes when she was about to become difficult now appeared. She hitched her rocking chair to face her two daughters.
“Girls” said she, “I have no patience with you middle-aged people. Young folk and old people have some redeeming qualities; youth has the charm of innocence, age the charm of sophistication.”
“I have just invented a new classification of the unfair sex: flappers, floppers and fleepers. The flappers are the young girls, whose skirts flap, whose galoshes flap, whose brains flap airily, bless them, in the lightest breeze that blows. The floppers are the middle-aged girls who flop about the lawns of society like large, sleek seals, who flop about the golf courses, flop about hotels and tea rooms, or whose tongues flop continually about the follies and frailties of their sisters old and young. We old ones are the fleepers, who fleep and cheep und wheeze our last few paces down the easy slope.”
“And of the three, the most disagreeable are the floppers.”
As usual when Grandma has one of her difficult spells, her knitting got into an awful tangle.
Now Aunt ‘Linda silently moved over and commenced unravelling the mess. Aunt Agg rose coldly and said-
“I think I’ll go and make a tray of tea.”
“Then, Agnes,” said Grandma, “would you bring up off the mantel that big box of candled cherries that grandson Eddie sent me?”
Editor’s Notes: This is another article from the early 1920s, that shows society’s confusion over the transformation of women’s roles. The characters focus scorn on flappers, young women who smoke, drink, and publicly enjoy themselves, the complete opposite of Victorian or Edwardian manners. Even in this article, it is unsure where the term “Flapper” came from.
“Grandma” mentions crinolines, the hoop-skirt type of fashion popular in the 1860s, presumably when she was young.