Florrie Was a Flapper, in 1914

The Vintage Traveler, writing   “Why Were They Called Flappers?” , supplied more evidence that young women were called “flappers” well before the 1920’s.

I once mentioned the oft-repeated theory that 1920’s “flappers” got that name from the unbuckled galoshes they wore, when I was writing about rubber rain boots called “Zippers.” (click here.) Yesterday I found this illustration in a lovely book that was new to me:

Illustration by John Held from Roaring '20s Fashions: Jazz, by Susan Langley.

Illustration by John Held from Roaring ’20s Fashions: Jazz, by Susan Langley.

At the library, I discovered two well-illustrated books by Susan Langley, published by Schiffer publishing: The first, Roaring ’20s Fashions: Jazz, covers 1920 to 1924; the second, Roaring ’20s Fashions: Deco, covers 1925 to 1929. In addition to period illustrations, many vintage fashions  — presumably in private collections, since Schiffer books are aimed at collectors — are beautifully photographed in color, and with close-ups, by John Dowling. Published a few years ago, the prices given may have changed, but these books are packed with illustrations that I have never seen before, like that John Held flapper-in-galoshes, above. Langley has done a wonderful job of connecting vintage fashion plates with real garments. The plates are not the ones I have seen in other fashion histories, and she also includes images from less familiar mass market store catalogs, not just Sears. The real garments tend to be glamorous, since evening dress is more likely to survive, but there are some day dresses and suits, in addition to some designer labels. And she shows men’s fashions and vintage examples, too! Both volumes are definitely worth a look if you love the Twenties.

But — in spite of that drawing by John Held — there are plenty of  pre-nineteen twenties uses of the word “flapper.”

I just heard this vaudeville/music hall song from 1914:  “Florrie Was A Flapper,” sung by Elsie Janis. Elsie Janis dressed in men’s clothing (like Vesta Tilley) when she sang this vaudeville song in London in 1914.

Here are a few of the lyrics — plainly proving that Florrie the Flapper (1914) was a precursor of, not only the flappers of the twenties, but the Gold Diggers of the 1930’s!

Florrie was a flapper who would gad about the town
She’d lunch with you, she’d dine with you, she’d sup
She often said she didn’t feel the need to settle down
She had so many friends to settle up
She’d let you take her shopping at the most expensive place
She’d say, ‘You mustn’t buy me things,’ but still
As soon as ever you began to bill and coo
She simply cooed and left you with the bill.

It’s an old recording, so you may want to refer to the full lyrics by clicking here, as well as listening to Elsie Janis sing the song, by clicking here.

Colleen Moore was one of the leading “flappers” on screen in the 1920’s. In Why Be Good, she manages to hang on to her chastity while routinely getting men to buy her dinners and drinks and dresses…. Just like Florrie (whose virtue is less certain.)

P.S. If you love the Thirties:

For a brief article from TCM explaining why Gold Diggers of 1933 is “the ultimate thirties film,” click here. For “10 Little Things I Love About Gold Diggers of 1933,” click here. (Who wouldn’t love Joan Blondell?)

Click here for the full lyrics of “Florrie Was a Flapper,” written in 1914.

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8 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

8 responses to “Florrie Was a Flapper, in 1914

  1. Very interesting. I’ve always believed that the term did originate in the UK, and that their meaning was different from the way it was used in the US, at least until the 1920s. I recently found a 1915 ad advertising clothes for the flapper – in this case girls ages 12 through 16.

    Susan Langley’s books are so much fun for the reasons you brought up. Most of the clothes are from her own collection and the vintage illustrations are not the some old tired ones that are seen over and over in books and on the net.

  2. I had read The Vintage Travelers post, but the “flappy galoshes” origin was new to me, so reading your post today got me thinking exactly how this nickname came about.

    and oh, the interesting things I found when searching for “flapper” in the Google book archives! Looking at records from 1895 to 1920, I found that flippers used to be called flappers — animals like seals & turtles had “flappers” as they called them, and if you put on your swim fins, you were wearing your “flappers”. Flapper was also used as a slang word for “hand”…”putting out your flapper” meant extending your hand for a handshake, and calling someone your flapper was another way of saying they were your “right-hand man”, so to speak. A 1909 book referring to adolescent ducks said, “They are “flappers,” as the boys call them. That is, they can make good speed along the surface by half running and flapping vigorously, but they cannot yet fly enough”.

    So, knowing this, I can see how a father perhaps, might have come up with the affectionate nickname “flapper” for his pre-teen daughter, his “right-hand gal” who was in that awkward stage of life, with gangly arms and legs (flappers) that she hadn’t yet grown into, and who, in the style of the day, commonly wore a giant ‘flappy’ bow in her hair, something only young girls wore since proper decorum decreed that ladies of a certain age wear their hair up and covered with a hat. Searching through the 19-teens turned up books which spoke of girls being “in the ‘flapper’ stage”, such as this excerpt from a 1913 book…”At that moment Flo, then in the acute “flapper” stage, her large feet showing aggressively under her skimpy ball frock, and her big hair bow of blue ribbon flapping wildly, came flying up to us.”

    After reading that excerpt and the lyrics to “Florrie the Flapper”, I can see how by 1913-14, flapper had essentially evolved into a generational term, like Millenials, X-Gen, and so forth…a “flapper” then, was a certain type of girl, one who embodied the more exuberant, independent mind-set of that generation, young women soon to be given the right to vote and who were culturally far more daring and outgoing than ladies of previous generations. And by the 1920s, even though they were too old to wear those flappy bows, the flapper term just stuck, surely helped along by the stylish flappy galoshes they wore, as well as the popular flappy dances of the day, the Charleston and Black Bottom.

    So, thank you very much, for yet another thought-provoking post! It was fun for me to ponder, and I learned something new:)

  3. Astral Marc

    I read a lot of Edwardian books, and I see a lot of use of the word flapper for teen girls; especially kind of fashionable, silly teen girls. Similar to teenybopper later on. But it’s used from really early on, early in the teens I’d say. There are quite a few movies focused on silly teen girl exploits called something involving flapper in the early teens.

    I haven’t found an origin for it, though. Anyway, I’m so used to it being used in this way that I’m really taken aback with the way it’s used for everything 20s now. That isn’t a dress for a teen girl, seller.

  4. Christina

    What we can be certain of is that “flapper” is an English word and did not originate in America. The early 17th century reference to a fledgling duck is the strongest contender and the word flapper was used to describe women. This following article to me, is the most credible explanation;

    *Radio 4 refers to a BBC radio station.
    Taken from;
    http://virtuallinguist.typepad.com/the_virtual_linguist/words/page/15/

    “Originally a teenage girl with her hair in a pigtail, flapper came, in the 1920s, to mean a flighty, reckless, immoral girl. Judith Mackrell, author of Flappers: Women of a Dangerous Generation, appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (scroll through to 1h 45m – available for another week), talking about her book, the word and the women.
    Ideas for the origin of the word flapper include that it developed from a word flapper meaning ‘young wild duck or partridge’, or that it is from the old Northumbrian and Durham dialect word flap, meaning ‘woman or girl of light or loose character’.
    The word caught on and soon there were ‘flapper seats’ on bicycles and motorbikes to accommodate young women, and Britain’s House of Commons talked contemptuously of the ‘flapper vote’.

    And from a 1922 New York Times Article quoted in The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances by Mark Knowles;
    “In 1910 American visitors to England Heard of the flapper. …..it designated a girl, varying in age From 14 to 17, who had “not yet come out” who rode in the side car of a motorcycle, and because she had not reached the debutante age of doing her hair on the top of her head wore it hanging down her back braided or loose so that it flapped in the wind.”

    You can see the wide connotations of the word after WW1 once the expression of women’s emancipation began to take shape.

    • Thank you –very informative, as always. The “young duck” reference keeps showing up. It seems to me that is was a name for teenaged girls before “teenagers” officially became a market, and that Americans adopted it for a certain type of young woman who rejected Edwardian ideas of proper behavior — cutting their hair, smoking, going out unchaperoned, etc. Like so many fashion terms, a word may mean something slightly different every decade or so!

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