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Chapter or excerpt please?
In the following excerpt, Helen Bullitt Lowry writes about “flappers,” women in the 1920s who broke convention by wearing short skirts, short hair, and listening to jazz music.
Human nature can be pushed just so far. Instead of reforming, the young things apparently decided one might as well lose a reputation for stealing a husband as for smoking a cigarette. The whole arsenal for combating poachers blew up.
To make matters worse, in the excitement of the virtue wave our Wild Young People had been attacked as a group instead of as individuals. That was the second mistake. The whole strength of gossip consists in selecting one member of the clan for calumny, to stand out disgraced and alone among her exemplary sisters. Because the flappers had been gossiped about en masse, the whole reason for not being gossiped about had ceased. The poacher of that half generation ago had been the kind of a girl who stalked her game alone.
But, when all the girls in town are seeking to steal your husband, what are you going to do about it, if you are a woman of forty-five with a heaviness around the hips and a disinclination to learn the camel walk? Nor can you get the poachers off the scent by crossing the trail with an eligible bachelor. Logically, the young things should have enough sense to ignore a preempted husband and attend to the serious business of getting themselves husbands. But they haven't. They seem to prefer the husbands of the other women. And curiously, the more they engage in this exotic sport of poaching, the less keen they become about owning a property for somebody else to poach on.
The real interstate joke on Puritanism is that the flapper, who flaps because Puritanism has driven her to it, will automatically bring about its cure. The whole vitality of Puritanism rests on the unswerving principle of letting not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth, if thy left hand is doing something it shouldn't. Puritanism could not last out a week-end without the able assistance of the standardized double life.
And that is just what the flappers refuse to respect. They are even insisting on being taken along on the parties, which, by all the rules of Rolf and Comstock should be confined to man's double life. Where the chorus lady was once the only brand that had the proper and improper equipment to jazz up an evening, now mankind has come to prefer the flapper, who drinks as much as the Broadwayite, is just as peppy and not quite so gold-diggish.
“It is so simple,” smiles Barbara nonchalantly blowing her smoke rings. “You old dears set man an impossible standard. As he had always to be pretending holy emotions whenever he was around you he just naturally had to get away half the time, to rest the muscles of his inhibitions. Why, you funny old things actually drove man into his double life, just as you made all of his best stories have two editions, one for a nice girl and one for—well say one not so nice. Our crowd has done more than all of your silly old social hygiene commissions to bring nearer the single standard—by going part way to meet him.”
The preachers are wasting their time when they rail that the flappers are painting their faces like “fallen women.” Of course they are painting them that way—for the very good reason that mankind has demonstrated too unmistakably that that kind of woman has “a way with her.”
Not so long ago cosmetics became a moral issue. The curl rag was the only beautifier that somehow never lost its odor of sanctity—and that was doubtless because curl rags were a perfectly logical part of the long-sleeved Canton flannel nightgown civilization. Curls couldn't be so very wrong when they were so frightfully unbecoming in the making. And so the “good woman” handed over intact to her weaker sister every beautifier that the world had been eight thousand years accumulating.
Slowly, timidly the allurements returned. The talcum powder bought for baby surreptitiously reached the nose. When the half generation ago was young, we had adopted a certain lip salve, just one shade darker than the way lips come, explaining, to save our reputations, that we were keeping our lips from chapping. Rouge too had come coyly, back—but—and here's the gist of the whole matter—in polite society paint was put on to imitate nature.
We were still doing our make-up as man conducted his double life—with intent to deceive the general public. We still belonged at heart to the Puritan era, in spite of our wicked fox-trot. All may have been artificial below the neck, from our Gossard corsets with their phalanx of garters on to our hobble skirts. But above the neck, we pretended it was natural.
The flapper has changed all that. She has turned the lady up side down, as well as the world. For the flapper is au naturale below the neck. Above the neck she is the most artificially and entertainingly painted creature that has graced society since Queen Elizabeth. With one bold stroke of a passionately red lip stick, she has painted out Elaine the Fair and the later-day noble Christie Girl and painted in an exotic young person, meet to compete alike with a Ziegfield show girl, with a heaven-born Egyptian princess or even a good Queen Bess, who could not move her face after it was dressed up for the morning. And Bess was the Virgin Queen. The American-Victorian is indeed the only era in history when cosmetics became a moral issue. Even in dour Cromwellian England, rouge registered the wrong politics but not immorality. We are merely getting back to normalcy in cosmetics —back behind the dun wall of the Victorian era.
And it is the flapper who has done it for us. What's more, she has done it frankly and purposefully—because the reformer, in his naive innocence, has explained to her that what she is doing is wicked and will get that kind of “results.” Similarly those of 'em who had not yet taken off their corsets at dances, promptly did so when shocked elders began repeating the corset checking story. Dear heart, the only reason that they had not done so before was because the little dears hadn't heard that the worst people were using ribs instead of whalebone that season.
Vice would die out from disuse, if the reformers did not advertise.