the “it” girls

In 1920 the 19th amendment was finally passed in the United States and women won the right to vote. And following right on the heels of that legislation, women forged an analogous and complimentary cultural movement in the heat of the roaring twenties popularly known as the “flappers”. Although the entomology of the term still remains vague, suffice it to say it’s meaning falls somewhere between being a young  woman (with low hanging hair flapping on their back), to any number of slang  phrases denoting “prostitute”. Or to put it another way would be, the unlikely union of innocence  and intrigue, or the combination of ingenue and femme fatale. The flapper name was eventually conjoined with another popular term of the twenties, “it”, or in this case “the it girl”. “It” was originally coined by English writer Elinor Glyn who described the effect as such;

In Glyn’s story, It, a character explains what “It” really is: “It…that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes… [e]ntirely unself-conscious…full of self-confidence… [i]ndifferent to the effect… [s]he is producing and uninfluenced by others.”

The notion of “IT” eventually became synonymous with flappers through its personification in popular silent films, culminating in the movie of the same name, “IT”, that featured Clara Bow as the “IT” girl. These were movies where the subject itself was self referential to the flapper movement itself or the new fangeld notion of “it” as a way to explain the appeal of the movement and the special quality of it’s headliners.  Clara Bow, along with Louise Brooks, and Colleen Moore became the pivotal film stars that helped popularize the flappers and the notion of it, as a sort of power potion, that laid out both the texture, attitudes, risks, and rewards of the movement itself. Interestingly enough, both Bow and Brooks not only played “it girls” but were actually  “it girls” in real life, having come from poverty ridden lower class backgrounds (Bow) or regular middle class backgrounds (Brooks & Moore), who somehow through their own personal tenacity, charisma, natural talent, and stunning good looks,  got themselves in front of the Hollywood cameras and wildly succeeded without the benefit of either education or training. These three women, through the new medium of film  laid out much of the aesthetics of the newly liberated woman, not so much through playing one in the movies, but by simultaneously being that new woman in real life as well.  Louise Brooks and Clara Bow, went well beyond a simple anti-establishment aesthetic of dress, choice of art preferences in music and dance, or sexual titillations, but went on to established notorious reputations within the film industry of being independent to the point of openly if not colorfully challenging the authority of the very studios that employed them. Clara Bow was especially troublesome with her “unpredictable” Brooklyn street language and mannerisms, and as a consequence, was never never invited to  elite Hollywood parties or social events, and according to some, wasn’t even invited to her own premiers. At any rate, both Bow and Brooks, in spite of their enormous natural talent and success were  eventually blackballed out of the movie business because of their no nonsense and confrontational posture toward the movie elites – both also found themselves living out the the remainders of their lives from whence they came, in relative obscurity, if not in poverty. Colleen Moore, on the other hand quit the flapper identity when scripted alongside Bow (in the Ultimate Flapper) and found herself wanting, married a producer and continued making films until retirement.

Some of the attitudes promoted by the “IT” phenomena beyond the utilization of sexual liberation, unselfconscious charisma, personal independence,  natural self confidence, and a decided anti-authoritarian attitude  were; an implicit internationalism in the adoption of European avant-garde clothing styles instead of American traditional ( flapper dress was distinctly French art nouveu), the first unabashed (and serious) embrace of African American cultural arts in both music – jazz being the preferred music, and the popularization of African American dance styles like the Charleston, the Black Bottom, and later the Lindy Hop, and finally, the blurring of sexual identity and the beginnings of acceptance of gay lifestyles into popular culture.

More than anything though, the “IT” quality pioneered by the above actresses soon became the defining quality of success of the modern woman untethered from traditional roles and expectations.

***The lasting impact of which I witnessed yesterday. In the grocery store I saw a middle aged woman with a perfect Louise Brooks haircut, and just after dark saw any number of  teen girls dressed as flappers for Halloween.

Or as William Faulkner said once, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

7 Responses to “the “it” girls”

  1. The Lance Moore of your dreams. Says:

    […] anna missed » Blog Archive » the “it” girls […]

  2. good Says:

    good

  3. Maxcrat Says:

    The range of your art and topics is phenomenal, A.M.

    Louise Brooks has a timeless allure.

    Your commentary is excellent.

  4. jack Says:

    thanks Maxcrat,

    i’m sort of retired from workaday stuff now, so hopefully the’ll be more time.

  5. jack Says:

    also, one nice thing about being a drop out (of the art world) is i’m not so limited by the “consistency” = “serious” laws.

  6. jack Says:

    also, i can’t think of a another actress who could walk off the set of her period movie ( with all it’s cultural trappings) and walk on to a modern movie set tomorrow and be completely now. she was really something, all 5″ 2″ of her.

  7. Maxcrat Says:

    Yep.

    Please don’t take infrequency of comment for lack of interest.

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