Flappers were a "new breed" of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.Flappers had their origins in the liberal period of the Roaring Twenties, the social, political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of World War I, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.
The slang word "flapper", describing a young woman, is sometimes supposed to refer to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly. However, it may derive from an earlier use in northern England to mean "teenage girl", referring to one whose hair is not yet put up and whose plaited pigtail "flapped" on her back; or from an older word meaning "prostitute"
The slang word "flap" was used for a young prostitute as early as 1631.By the 1890s, the word "flapper" was emerging in England as popular slang both for a very young prostitute, and in a more general – and less derogatory sense – of any lively mid-teenage girl.
The word appeared in print as early as 1903 in the United Kingdom and 1904 in the United States, when novelist Desmond Coke used it in his college story of Oxford life, Sandford of Merton: "There's a stunning flapper".
In 1907 English actor George Graves explained it to Americans as theatrical slang for acrobatic young female stage performers
By 1908, newspapers as serious as The Times used it, although with careful explanation: "A 'flapper', we may explain, is a young lady who has not yet been promoted to long frocks and the wearing of her hair 'up'
In April 1908, the fashion section of London's The Globe and Traveler contained a sketch entitled "The Dress of the Young Girl" with the following explanation:
Americans, and those fortunate English folk whose money and status permit them to go in freely for slang terms ... call the subject of these lines the 'flapper.' The appropriateness of this term does not move me to such whole-hearted admiration of the amazing powers of enriching our language which the Americans modestly acknowledge they possess ..., [and] in fact, would scarcely merit the honour of a moment of my attention, but for the fact that I seek in vain for any other expression that is understood to signify that important young person, the maiden of some sixteen years.
The sketch is of a girl in a frock with a long skirt,"which has the waistline quite high and semi-Empire, ... quite untrimmed, its plainness being relieved by a sash knotted carelessly around the skirt.