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Review: Flapper, by Joshua Zeitz

Pages: 338 (with indices)

Original date of publication: 2006

My edition: 2006 (Three Rivers Press)

Why I decided to read: read and reviewed by another blogger; can’t remember who!

How I acquired my copy: Borders gift card from a Secret Santa exchange at work, January 2010

The subtitle of this book is A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. This book, a social and cultural history of the iconic flapper, is indeed just that. It explores the authors, actresses, illustrators, magazine columnists, advertising executives, and newspaper columnists that defined the flapper of the 1920s, a girl who “was always a caricature—one part fiction one part reality, with a splash of melodrama for good measure…she was a broad and sometimes overdrawn social category” (p. 123).

This is a highly readable and compelling work of nonfiction, and a broad introduction to the period. The author covers everything—literally, everything—to give his readers a broad picture of the period and what made the flapper who she was—more of an image that women aspired to than anything else. Zeitz discusses several of the people who helped define the flapper image, among them F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, whose antics were famous throughout America and Europe; the actresses Colleen Moore, Clara Bow, and Louise Brooks; and Coco Chanel, famous for setting trends and inventing the little black dress.

There are lots of really interesting bits about the rise of advertising as a major business and women’s fashion not just in the early 20th century but the 19th as well. I also was interested in what early feminists and suffragettes thought of the flapper—not what I would have thought! This book is well researched, and seems a little bit gossipy at times (especially with regards to Louise Brooks, who makes Zelda Fitzgerald look like Mary Sue in comparison), but that’s the whole fun of the book. There are black and white reproductions of photographs from the era of the major players mentioned in this book. This book is definitely recommended for anyone who wants a general introduction to the 1920s and its culture.


dolleygurl said…
Oh that sounds cool! I have always been interested in this period - I might have to check this out. Thanks!
Hannah Stoneham said…
Sounds great. i am going through a major social histor phase and am in the middle of "Austerity Britain" - a social history of Britain in the immediate post war period, It is very good but rather less glamourous than the book you describe....
Steph said…
I love this time period, so I'm definitely going to have to check this one out. Thanks for the heads up!

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