Flapping Fashion

Do you know what ‘maidenhead’ meant in the Tudor era? Or that hanging, drawing, and quartering was not a method to make a quarter pounder? If you do, you are probably a Netflix junkie or—like me—a Netflix junkie. No, seriously, like Adriana croons in ‘Midnight in Paris’, the past has always had a great charisma for me. I enjoy watching period films and reading about their lives: what they thought, how they spoke, what they wore. Save for this irresistible curiosity, you couldn’t have paid me to watch the ‘porn’ucopia that is ‘The Tudors’. Well, maybe if you offered truckloads. But then again, why would you?

Don’t read me wrong. I am not a romantic. I don’t fancy living without internet and antibiotics, and after watching Breaking Bad, without having meth as a career option. But, if there is one thing about the ‘golden age’ that grabs me by the eyes after King Henry VIII’s colorfully decadent life, it’s the fashion of those times. It’s fascinating how the social and political climate—mutating at an accelerating pace then—subtly manipulated the way people dressed. I am not a big fan of the corsets and the ass-enhancing bustles of the 1500-1800s; sun-repellent-dress induced rickets was probably a major cause of death then. I am talking about the fashion that came right after the docile ‘Gibson Girl’, and permeated more like a lifestyle, and revolutionized the ethos of feminine style. I am talking about the snazzy, bold, impossible to miss ‘Flapper’.

Zelda Fitzgerald—”The First American Flapper”
Scott used to call her the ‘golden girl’. This was way before she drove him to death!

A flapper was a mid-teen girl in the 1920s. What she did as a flapper has multiple interpretations though: some believed she was a frivolous, self-indulgent young girl flitting away like the proverbial butterfly; some called her a young prostitute with her open galoshes making the onomatopoeic flapping sound. Some even thought she was an older woman simply being curious and open to experimentation. Frivolous or not, young or old, her flamboyant personality was hard to ignore. What made her special was not only an impeccable sense of style—their time saw the first little black dress—but also what it signified. The flapper lifestyle sprouted hot on the heels of the first world war, as an act of decrying feminine stereotypes. With the men away at war, women had begun to step out of the Küche and enter the workforce.  Also, the war wiped out a significant proportion of young men—men who were either of marriageable age or who were already married. This left scores of young women without partners and left to fend for their own. Could there have been a better time to rebel?

So it began: women dated, flirted, indulged in alcohol (it was the time of prohibition), smoked and danced Jazz. The flapper was the human equivalent of a one-shoulder dress—something about its asymmetry makes you take a second look. She was the textbook non-conformist (did I just use an epigram?), very much like an Alexander Mc Queen of the 1920s: flouting norms, making bizarre look fashionable.

Do you want to have some more carnal knowledge of me?

It was no coincidence that the flapper reign dovetailed perfectly with the first wave of the then nascent feminist movement, spawning a rebirth of clothing styles, as with any cultural upheaval. Women fiddled with different cuts and silhouettes—silhouettes that were comfortable, and cuts that did not shackle them literally or figuratively. They stepped out of their asphyxiating corsets, and chopped off their Goldilocks tresses. Hems rose; waistlines dropped. Sleeves became entirely optional. For the first time in history, they exposed their legs, which, coming at the tail of the gargantuan-gowns-and-flounces era, was a whirlwind of a change. It was a trend not only embraced by the elite—the ‘torchbearers of fashion’—but also by a huge chunk of the 99%.

What was striking, even contradictory about the flapper was the watering down of the feminine, voluptuous look of the Victorian times—tubular, flowing outlines, flatter chests for the garçon look—juxtaposed with the flamboyant makeup and flirtatious behavior clearly meant to attract male attention. However sexually dissonant this style was, it seemed to work for the men. The flapper was new, strong, confident, sexually assertive teetering on the edge of racy—basically, every man’s fantasy.

I know I could ramble on vacuously about cuts, drapes and silhouettes and probably get away with it. But, that wouldn’t be very rewarding to your patience thus far, would it? So I pause right here and give you my absolute favorite picks from the flapper wardrobe:


Marion Cotillard brings her Flapper A game, headband and all. Très magnifique!


These adorable hats could double up as protruding ear correctors


Flappers sure knew how to ace the sexy-librarian look with these lovelies

As a dewy-eyed enthusiast of all things fashion, I find it hard to imagine that the almost viral presence of the flapper lifestyle lost its zing by the turn of the decade. While I am an optimist, and truly believe that the world is only getting better to live in, I won’t deny naively wondering sometimes: Had the essence of flapper-feminism stayed on, would we still be bickering about shaving our legs for men?

Picture credits:






Flickr.com (@McArt)






Sunset colors

Sunset colors

$48 – movingcomfort.com

Billabong racerback tank top
$26 – jackssurfboards.com

Isabel Marant fringe skirt
€575 – shopmrsh.com

Versace summer skirt
€398 – jades24.com

Calypso St barth
$350 – calypsostbarth.com

Rocket Dog ballerina flat
$40 – macys.com

Oasis flat sandals
$35 – oasis-stores.com

Jimmy choo clutch
£495 – net-a-porter.com

Amrita singh jewelry
$100 – amritasingh.com

Plastic earrings
$13 – modcloth.com

Rubber jewelry
$4.50 – delias.com

Christian Dior retro sunglasses
$325 – nordstrom.com

Designers Remix straw hat
€55 – youheshe.com

Fashion through my Gucci shades…


One of the perils of being a grad student is the ease with which one slips into a state of being ‘not in touch’ with the goings-on of the world…..unless of course Bin laden gets himself killed. So, I guess I can be excused for reading about the royal wedding a couple of days ago. As I skimmed through the wordy editorials, like the brain of any self-respecting girl, mine too efficiently filtered off the inconsequential, to focus on the bottom line-the bride’s outfit. Automatically, the bride’s person dissolved into oblivion and all I could picture was the delicately designed angelic-white gown frozen in space for viewers to appraise. A lot had been written about the cut, the fabric and the intricate embroidery on the outfit. Some flak about it being simplistic and ‘too safe‘ for a royal attire. The technicalities did not pique my interest as much as what the garment seemed to symbolize in the grand scheme of things. It was simple, no doubt, but not simplistic,  mildly tempered with defiance, as though teasing the traditional and conservative pigeon hole associated with the royal family.

With this, my thoughts drifted off to the rotten pages of my secret book of outfit sketches I had earnestly designed in school, to the imaginary fashion labels that would’ve featured my creations to the world, to the look on my mom’s face when I announced my interest in fashion as a career-a look of pity reserved only for people who are mentally unstable, and then finally, to the jet airways flight that brought me here to the US of A to pursue my doctoral studies in pharmaceutical sciences. Although I do enjoy the problem solving stern rationality of the scientific field, I do occasionally feel the achingly familiar guilt of not giving fashion the benefit of my creativity.

Model wearing an outfit from Alexander McQueen...

Model wearing an outfit from Alexander McQueen’s Darwin inspired Spring 2010 collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fashion, to this day, evokes a feeling of boundless exhilaration and a child-like curiosity in me. I’ve always believed what one wears is one of the strongest non-verbal expressions of oneself. I imagine that each color, each pattern, each piece of clothing that co-ordinates and, also the one that doesn’t, speaks something about the person, his mood that day, the nature of his work, his personal image and, also the one he wishes to portray to the world. What is often subtly forgotten is that it is also the living image of the thought and the sweet smell of labor of the creative mind behind it. You might think that I am naively attempting to defend the works of a person who is probably swimming in the lavishness of the multi-million-if-not-billion dollar industry. That fashion occupies an enviable position in the commercial spectrum is an indisputable fact. What bothers me is that it ranks a shameful low in the art zeitgeist. Fashion as an art form still receives step-motherly treatment in common parlance. It has become convenient to either elevate it to a slippery dais of glamor-a superficial, incomprehensible, outlandish entity meant for a select-few or degrade it to a utility device meant to layer our skins. While it is true that the clothing and the accessories we wear today were originally, a designer’s brain-child, it is not the sole purpose of their creation.


Mlle Gabrielle Dorziat wearing one of Chanel's...

Mlle Gabrielle Dorziat wearing one of Chanel’s first hats. Photograph by Talbot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coco Chanel brought  the quintessential little black dress to the fashion circuit and then, to every wardrobe, to unfetter women from the tight-fitting corsets and bulky gowns of the early 1900s. However, for every Coco Chanel, there is an Alexander McQueen, who is notorious for his raw, even vulgar depiction of female sensuality in an attempt to empower them. His works have been described as dark, macabre, and sometimes having strong political undercurrents. Basically, his line of creations is the perfect example of what one would dismiss as ‘un-wearable’ and crazy. So be it. Maybe you can’t attend a business meeting wearing one of his faux-haired suits, or dance at a party wearing his animal-skeleton shoes. Should fashion always pander to our basic necessities for it to be taken seriously?  Doesn’t it deserve the same deliberative evaluation that any other art form   is subjected to? Modern art is a deeply discussed subject, although the purpose of the abstract painting is not the first thing that strikes you. Many great books would not have seen the light of the day, had they been written to achieve a definite goal. Could J.K. Rowling have afforded to worry that her work might get the ‘just another children’s book’ tag, while today, it is more than evident to us that some of life’s most sublime values have emerged from the greatness that is the Harry Potter series?

In all sincerity, a fashion designer is an artist too….his creations are a piece of him……an idea that weaves into a fabric, takes on the color of his imagination and the shape of his resolve to create and exhibit some of his innermost flows of thought for us to appreciate,  cherish, or even reject, but most of all, to respect.