Flaming Youth

Flappers and Feminism at the Museum of the City of New York

Law wasn't the only one doing commercials. Colleen Moore, who starred in a silent called The Perfect Flapper, had her own line of perfume; Follies girl Marilyn Miller put her calves in the service of a lingerie company. If there was sufficient disposable income around for colognes and stockings, some women were even earning enough to break the taboo against buying themselves jewelry. Seaman Schepps, a company that still has a store on Park Avenue (Schepps was born on Delancey Street; family legend has it that he was named after the corner bank), began offering bold, reasonably priced pieces—the exhibit has his carved rock crystal rings—completely unlike the conservative solitaires and strands of pearls that had theretofore dominated the baubles market.

In the end, it is the legacy of the flapper as working woman—embracing the liberation of easy clothes and the thrill of paying for them with her own paycheck—that makes "Roaring Into the Twenties" so touching. Unlike her predecessors, who may have waltzed till dawn but then had the luxury of sleeping in, the '20s woman, with a job to do, was no doubt relying on an early version of the disco nap. In her 1946 memoir, Talking Through My Hats, Lilly Daché, whose cloches are in the exhibit, summed up her feelings about being a hardworking Manhattan milliner in the years between the First World War and the Depression: "In the 1920s, New York was a hoyden. She was gay and daring and sometimes even dangerous . . . hardly ever did I get to bed before three, and always I was up again at eight, ready to start another hysterical day."

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