The Roaring Twenties decade saw jazz and women’s liberation in education, behavior, dress and makeup. Pancake makeup was invented in 1914, women got the vote in 1920, and as far as many conservative folk were concerned, the world fell apart. Women were dating without chaperones, necking unreservedly at parties, dancing lewdly and drinking hard liquor in nightclubs and dives.
The Flapper era began with the look called “comme le garcon” (or, “like the boy”), straightening and shortening skirts and dresses, slimming figures and—most shocking of all—cutting the hair of the nation’s fashionable young women. Short hair was a big deal: nice girls kept their hair long, as a metaphor for maidenhood. For a woman to chop her hair short was to practically admit she was no longer a virgin. But women went more than a step further than a boyish haircut and tendency to party; they began smoking in public—something no “lady” did. They outfit themselves with silk robes embroidered with vintage inspired floral motifs. They discarded the restrictive girdles and corsets and bound their breasts flat to achieve an even more “masculine” appearance in their costumes. And they wore lots and lots of makeup.
Before the ‘20’s, women wore cosmetics, but nice women hid their rouge pots and powder puffs away from fathers and husbands, who heartily disapproved. Discretion was imperative. But when the ‘20’s hit, young women went for makeup in a big way: stars like Theda Bara and Clara Bow made paper-white skin, blood red lips and insanely made-up eyes into must-haves for every fashionable woman who ever rolled a stocking below the knee.
Makeup was in its rawest form, because the market was just beginning to grow. Early mascara was a cake of wax that was melted and applied in a gluey mass to the lashes with an orange stick. The trend in lipstick was the reddest red—no other color options were available—and smudgeproof lipstick was mandatory for would-be vamps who wanted to neck without leaving a trail.
Eyebrows were painfully thin; in a fad, women plucked out the entire eyebrow and penciled it back on higher than it had been in the first place. Eye makeup consisted of kohl, which might be made of ingredients as strange as soot, lead and goose grease. Kohl went all the way around the eyes, turning the whole orbital area into a deep-stained smudge reminiscent of vampires. For a dramatic touch, some ‘vamps’ drew a line of kohl from the corner of the eye outward, simulating a slightly Asiatic look that was deemed sexy and bad. (Even today, imported kohl may contain lead: substitute black eyeliner instead). Powder (usually rice powder) was vital to the Flapper look: skin looked white to the point of near-death; one author called it, “the pallor usually associated with innate vice”. Themes in makeup as in dresses were based on the Orient.
Along with other ‘unfeminine’ behaviors, Flappers didn’t hide their makeup any more than they did their legs; lipstick was applied at the dinner table and powder compacts made public appearances at parties and speakeasies. Portable makeup containers—compacts and lipstick tubes made of precious metals and encrusted with jewels—became ideal accessories when cosmetics left the boudoir for the banquette.
The bobbed haircut made the nineteen twenties Flapper movement what it was, and sent many young women to their rooms in disgrace “until it grows back!”. The Bob hairstyle was a blunt cut worn halfway between cheekbone and chin. Bangs could be worn cut straight across or swept to one side. Like the made up face, hair didn’t look “natural”; it was slicked down, glistening with brilliantine. The Shingle, which followed the Bob, cut the hair at the nape in a V-shape, exposing the neck. Shingles were accompanied by marcelled finger waves or spit curls at the temples. The most drastic version of the Flapper hairdo was the Eton crop, cut very short and close to the head, with a curl plastered tightly above either ear.