Brave and Gay and Beautiful

Olive Durant, Charleston contest entrant (image by Bettmann/CORBIS)

“I think a woman gets more happiness out of being gay, light-hearted, unconventional, mistress of her own fate…. I want [my daughter] to be a flapper, because flappers are brave and gay and beautiful.”

– Zelda Fitzgerald

So, little secret confession: I’ve always wanted to be a flapper.

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, I know that the unchecked hedonism, substance abuse, and promiscuous sex doesn’t exactly jive with my personal values. Yes, I know that I have never and will never have the ideal body type to pull off any of those straight-cut, low waistband numbers. And yes, I know that I don’t smoke, much less through a cigarette holder. But there is something about the gaiety and liberation of flappers that has always held me transfixed.

The uptight neurotic in me looks at them and says, “Those girls knew how to let loose!”

The fashion lover in me looks at them and says, “Those girls knew how to put an outfit together!”

The conflict hater in me looks at them and says, “Those girls knew how to rebel!”

And maybe that last one is the biggest reason of all. You see, I grew up on the cusp of the 21st century. In New Orleans. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot for me to rebel with, fashion-wise. My parents signed for me to get my nose pierced at age seventeen, and on the way from the shop to the car we passed three people with facial tattoos and giant septum rings. What’s so daring about getting a tattoo when there are people with ink covering 90% of their body, or of chopping off your hair when mohawks are passe? Congratulations to us–we’ve broken all the rules–but now all we’re left with are the misshapen, boring pieces.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way ungrateful to the people who blazed trails for my generation, whose efforts and sacrifices enabled me to grow up in an environment where I face practically no opposition or ridicule for whatever crazy things I wish to do to my appearance. I get that my complaint is a privileged one. But isn’t that part of so many people’s fascination with history and vintage fashion? In our postmodern world where we’ve done it all and bought the t-shirt, don’t we look back with longing at a time with things were new? A time where literally no Western woman, be she of sound mind and without gum stuck to her scalp, would ever consider bobbing their hair to their chin? Where skirts ending at the knees were the stuff of lingerie closets only? Where a woman could be a riot grrrl just by the length of her dress and her hair as she walked out of the door, no bumper stickers or jacket patches necessary?

I know I do.

Which is why I have a flapper dress hung in the back of my closet, waiting for the day when I can shed enough pounds to don it and go lindy-hopping on Frenchman St. And, today, it’s why I got this tribute haircut to my bobbed, rouged, garter flask wielding heroines:

I know it’s not very shocking to the general public, but I hope that somewhere out there Louise Brooks is giving me a “you go girl” wink.

Nikki


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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Brave and Gay and Beautiful

  1. LOVE the hair, it works well with your features!

    I have always wanted to be a flapper girl as well. I lived the lifestyle, but could never fit the mold (I just don’t have the “look”), and LOVE LOVE LOVE the music associated with that time period!

  2. Eloquently put, lady! You’re absolutely right. Seeking the past is far more rebellious than looking to the future these days.

  3. Caroline

    Saw this today and thought you would enjoy it, too 🙂

    “Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

    Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

    She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

    Buy her another cup of coffee.

    Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

    It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

    She has to give it a shot somehow.

    Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

    Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

    Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

    If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

    You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

    You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

    Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

    Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”
    — Rosemarie Urquico

  4. Pingback: Friday Ephemera: Lydia the Tattooed Lady | indiainkelephant

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