Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remember When . . . Women First Voted

One of the things I find most interesting about the shape (so to speak) of the Twenties is women's issues. Now, I am not a feminist--far from it. I baffled many a young woman in my college classes when I replied to their in-class rants on "Why should the men be in charge?" with "Why not? Someone needs to have the final say. They were more qualified." (Keeping in mind this was a conversation on Ancient Greece, lol.)

But when women gained the right to vote in 1920, it ushered in a new era for females around the nation. As the father of my heroine observes in Mafia Princess, the new legislation made women champion equality across the board--and that led to some interesting changes.

You know the 20s fashions we all find so charming? All those straight lines and curve-less silhouettes came straight from men's clothing. One fashion book I looked at for research referred to the 20s as the Tomboy Decade. Hair went short, corsets went out (though a more comfortable version quickly came back in), shape went straight, and now and then you'd even (gasp!) see a woman in trousers--though that was still very rare.

The Flappers we often equate with the decade (though they weren't as numerous as you might think) took things a step farther and flaunted the feminity they kept with a boldness unheard of before. Sure, most ladies powdered their noses--but never in public as they did. And applying lipstick in a restaurant where everyone could see? Shocking! They rolled their stockings down so you could see the tops below the hems of their dresses, and even wore frocks cut low enough up top to show their bandeaux!

And those things--they took undergarments to a level that Victorian mothers had to wonder about. After centuries of women accentuating their curves and padding them where lacking, these elastic contraptions' sole purpose was to flatten a woman's (ahem) assets. Otherwise those straight-lined dresses wouldn't hang as they should, and the tomboy-ish thing would have gone out the window.

Women put much of the roar into the Roaring Twenties by defying what had before been social norms, demanding freedom, and chucking the styles that men expected. And still . . . even those flappers would have been shocked by what we consider normal today. (We think their dresses were short, but "short" meant two inches below the knee.)

Makes for interesting characterization, let me tell you! There was a pretty big gap between the thinking of the mothers still in a Victorian mindset and the thinking of the daughters coming of age in the 20s. Stories just waiting to be written. =)


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