If you live in New York City, every time you pass by the Chrysler Building, it should serve as a reminder of what life was like in the Roaring 1920s. It represents the climax of what was a new architectural style, Art Deco. It is the pinnacle of an era that represents radical change in every aspect of life in North America.
The 1920s in North America was a period of bliss and boom. This post WW1 era was a time of great economic, cultural, and social advancement and was driven by a spirit to break away from tradition as everything seemed possible with new technology. The Roaring 20’s began in North America and spread across the globe to Paris, Berlin, and London.
Women in the US were liberated with the right to vote. With the invention of the automobile and radio, everyone could go places they had never been before and hear news and new jazz music on the radio every day. Hollywood was booming producing movies, resulting in the demise of old Vaudeville. Ballrooms across the US sponsored dance contests, where dancers invented, tried, and competed with new moves. Electric lighting made evening events more comfortable, giving rise to an era of dance halls and live music. The most popular dances were the Foxtrot, Waltz and Tango, the Charleston, and Lindy Hop.
There was a huge gap between women of the 1920s and the previous generation. Women broke away from the rigid Victorian way of life. There was a general consensus prior to the 1920s that women could have a husband and a family, or a career, but not both, as one would inhibit the development of the other. World War1 had temporarily allowed women to enter the industrial work force and when the war ended, women still wanted to work and earn their own money, and there was a substantial increase in women enrolling in state colleges and universities.
Women cast off their corsets, much like women burned their bras in the 1970s. They began wearing silky, sleeveless midi dresses, exposing their arms and their legs. They cut their hair off in short bob hair styles and glamoured themselves with cosmetics. How dare they cut their hair like men and dress like prostitutes!
These young, rebellious, middle-class women, were labeled as “flappers” by the older generation. Young women also began staking claim to their own bodies and took part in a sexual liberation of their generation. Ideas that fueled this change in sexual thought were floating around New York intellectual circles with the writings of Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, and Ellen Key. These thinkers touted that sex was not only central to the human experience, but that women were sexual beings with human impulses and desires just like men and restraining these impulses was self-destructive. By the 1920s, these ideas had permeated the mainstream.
The purpose of this article is not to teach the history of the 1920s, but to talk about one specific aspect of that era: the flapper necklaces women wore. When I think of flapper necklaces, I somehow always envision women twisting long strands of glass beads, crystals, or pearls, around their fingers, much like some women twist their hair around their fingers. I can see these ladies kicking up their heels on a dance floor and their necklaces flying through air and sending sparkles across the room like confetti on New Years Eve.
For many decades I wondered why women always fondled their necklaces and it wasn’t until I started wearing long flapper style necklaces that I realized the nature of this proclivity. It is not because women were trying to show off their long dazzling strands, or because they felt insecure and needed to hold on to something. The real reason they always had a hand on their necklace was to protect the necklace!
To a woman who treasures and admires her jewelry, there is nothing more horrifying than the act of a necklace breaking and watching the beads fly in a million different directions like they were shot out of a cannon. Any woman who has ever broken a precious strand knows that the instant you are aware that the necklace has come apart, there is no turning back. In that moment of impending doom, you know your necklace has been murdered. You can only watch in sheer terror as the beads take flight and bounce down the street or across the floor, a hundred feet in every direction, never to all be found again!
On one occasion, I was wearing a very treasured Art Deco flapper necklace made of large bright red faceted diamond crystals. I was getting out of my car and the necklace got hooked on the car door handle. When I went to stand up, I was suddenly aware that the necklace was caught but it was too late as my upward momentum ripped the necklace off. I tried to stop, knowing what was happening, which only threw my body weight downward, and face first on the asphalt pavement. I laid on the pavement for about a minute, not caring that my face and hands were burned by the asphalt, because I was looking across the parking lot underneath several cars and I could see the bright red beads scattered like dust in the wind. I had lost my precious red crystal flapper necklace forever.
On another occasion, I was wearing a long flapper necklace made of clear crystal and black bicone beads. It was a very rare necklace as the beads were very rare shapes. I was about to leave my home and went into the kitchen to get a glass of water to take with me. I reached into the cabinet to get a glass and as I turned away, the necklace was hooked on the lower cabinet door knob. I felt it pull me backwards when I tried to step away. Having done this before, I tried to go with the flow and let the necklace yank me back. This of course, again resulted in a serious fall, with my head and wrist hitting the tile countertop and suddenly, I was laying on the kitchen floor, looking at the crystal beads that had shot all the way into the living room. I did not care that I had bruised my head or nearly broken my wrist. I was in pain because I had just killed my most precious necklace. Three years later, I was still finding some of the beads in corners and under furniture.
Today, when I wear a long flapper necklace I have learned the hard way to always keep a hand on them when bending, or reaching, or moving near objects they could get hooked on. I don’t care if I fall and break my neck. Heaven forbid I ever repeat the same careless stunts as my necklaces can’t take my stupidity!
Now I know for certain why Flapper ladies were always fondling their necklaces. They wanted to make sure they were in good hands ! Of course, I could be totally wrong and the only reason they fondled them was to simply show them off!