The earliest reference that I have come across is in a book by Charles H. Hays, who wrote for the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1862. He states that many women, particularly, went to the dance with their skirts rolled up to around their knees. He also says that when the ball was over, the men would take the women to the saloon and have a drink, and he adds that in this case, the women were very attractive. Hays concludes that the names were “naturally accented by their close resemblance to the feminine form of the word flapper and with the feminine emphasis on this part of the dance.” As Hays continued writing about flappers, in 1870, his term became the term used by others.
How American were they? When flapper culture was formed in the 19th century, flapper fashion was still a very feminine, somewhat exotic, style of beauty; however, it was quickly adopted by men who found the look attractive. For example, in 1870, the New York World ran a piece about women in flapper dresses with “the flapper” word in it:
“Some of the most delightful dresses on display are the ones worn by female dancers, who have found that it pays to add their name to the dance in the most suggestive manner, and the most suggestive manner could not be more beautiful than in the flapper dress. This is the manner in which it was first invented, and the first and only one to which this form of the dance is adapted by the dancers, to be worn upon the occasion, is the flapper dress.”
It is worth noting that the dress was originally in the form of a long gown, not the more fashionable blouse that we still see today.
What does the flapper dress tell us about them? According to the New York World, this dress looks “naturally accented by their close resemblance to the feminine form of the word flapper and with the feminine emphasis on this part of the dance.”
Did their names get the best of them? In a word, no. The author of the New York Times story, Charles Hays, says that people just used the word because it was used by other flappers and because, “No one in the business of selling dresses had ever heard of flappers, and consequently the words were not used in advertising.” Even in the 19th century, though, in the United States, the term was still commonly used to describe women in flapper
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