Flappers, Fashion and Freedom

The year 1920 marked a watershed in the ongoing struggle for American women’s equality, as women secured the right to vote and claimed full citizenship alongside men. As they moved increasingly into colleges, workplaces, and public life, a new generation sought further social freedoms to move, dress, and behave as they pleased.

The "New Woman" of the 1920s rejected the earlier generation's rules and conventions. For guidance, she looked beyond her mother and grandmothers - to the rising stars of Hollywood, magazines, and advertisements - to define what it meant to be a modern woman.

The flapper was her name.

She embraced the new styles of shorter skirts and bobbed hair, frequented dance halls and speakeasies, and flouted earlier standards of social behaviors. Driving cars, smoking, and dancing, she represented the "New Woman's" search for freedom.

The flapper was as much cultural style as a reality, and not all women took on her glamorous and rebellious identity. However, women across social lines embraced the fashions of flappers and in doing so, embodied the new ideals of modern womanhood. 

Nearly a hundred years later, we are drawn to the fashion and carefree spirit of the 1920s flapper. We also inherit the internal contradictions that she faced as we continue to seek and advance American women's equality.

This exhibition was presented from August 2018 through January 2019, with generous support from Connecticut Humanities


Curated by Laurie Lamarre, Diane Lee, and Elizabeth Rose. Design by Chris Molinsky, Vertical Design. Online exhibit by Catie White.