Flappers were a “new breed” of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms. Flappers had their origins in the liberal period of the Roaring Twenties, the social, political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of World War I, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.
The slang word flapper, describing a young woman, is sometimes supposed to refer to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly. However, it may derive from an earlier use in northern England to mean teenage girl, referring to one whose hair is not yet put up and whose plaited pigtail flapped on her back; or from an older word meaning prostitute.
The slang word “flap” is known to have been used for a young prostitute as early as 1631. By the 1890s the word “flapper” was emerging in England as popular slang both for a very young prostitute, and in a more general – and less derogatory sense – of any lively mid-teenage girl.
In the 1920s, however, many Americans found the flapper incredibly threatening. Flappers represented a new moral order. Although they were the daughters of the middle class, they flouted middle-class values. They shrugged off their chaperones. Worse still, they danced suggestively and openly flirted with boys. Flappers prized style over substance, novelty over tradition, and pleasure over virtue.