You Look Like a Boy, But You Say You’re a Girl

November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

An excerpt from Austin in the Jazz Age:

The jazz life liberated women more than men.15095725_921914767908953_8143442873823728250_n

When the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, feminism was on a roll. Many young women felt they had the right to do pretty much anything men did, including wearing what men wore. They also had the world war to thank for that. America needed all the cloth it could get for the war effort, so it was goodbye underskirts and hello higher hemlines.

15107213_921914877908942_3860071538473248072_nAs women went to work in war production, they demanded suitable, comfortable clothing; that meant men’s-style apparel. Besides looking pretty comfortable and uninhibiting, wearing men’s clothing was heretofore forbidden territory. Their mothers would have been thrown in jail for cross dressing—and their fathers, too, for that matter.

The days of the uncomfortable, corseted, hourglass figure were 15179119_10208073156612017_4720789302396353902_nover. The lack of a corset and a low, loose waistline gave girls that boyish, straight-waist look. Large breasts were looked down upon as a sign of unsophistication, and amply endowed jazz babies pulled theirs in as best they could. Flappers not blessed with small busts wore uncomfortable bras that pulled in their backs to flatten their chests for that boyish look.

Whether boys actually liked that androgynous flapper look is beside the point; then, as now, they cared only about what was inside the box.

14915640_921914834575613_8562710294041109081_nBobbed, boy-length hair also defined the flapper look. A Victorian woman’s crowning glory was her hair—the longer the better. But with the world war, women working in factories had little time to spend caring for long hair. They cut their hair short for safety reasons. It also helped that their favorite Hollywood stars had done the bob. 015

The Daily Texan and Austin American did investigative reports on why co-eds were bobbing their hair. One girl said that she liked shocking her family. Another said she liked the adventure of going into a men’s barbershop to get a cut. A couple of practical girls noted that it was absurd to trouble oneself with long hair when bobbed hair could be tended to in a matter of a few minutes and that such practicality allowed a girl to sleep until almost the beginning of her nine o’clock class. A certain athletic and strong-minded young co-ed declared, “This is one step toward masculine freedom that I intend to take.”

Men’s pajamas were soon considered to be ideal boudoir wear.

The co-ed fad of wearing men’s knickers became so widespread that Austin stores were sold out by March 1, 1922.

The Austin Statesman took a random campus census regarding the number of co-ed 13532836_10208073164652218_2819141075373671058_nsmokers in February 1922. “I believe there are at least 500 girls at the University who smoke,” one UT woman declared.

“They may not all make a constant practice of it,” she conceded, “but they smoke every now and then.”

“Any woman has a perfect right to smoke if she so desires” was the concurrent expression among both male and female students on campus. Opinion differed, however, on the question of whether a girl who smoked was worthy of equal respect as that due to one who did not.

10524357_10205712792444388_190831583637019980_nJust a few days earlier, the Texan’s “Ripples on the River Styx” gossip column had included a little ditty called “Curses”:

Between her teeth a cigarette.

Between her arms me.

Between us both that damn cigarette.


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