Guest Post – Sarah Zama

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AIN’T WE HAVE FUN
THE NEW WOMAN ENTERS THE SPEAKEASY

The Dawn of a New Era

When the XX century started, the Gibson Girl was still the paragon of beauty and elegance. She was pale and curvy, she would coiffed her long hair in complicated ways, and she would use very little cosmetics. She wore long, hindering clothes, she would spend much of her time in the house.
The Gibson Girl was expected to become a wife and a mother and that was her main, most valued role in society.

Though this was the situation when the XIX century died, things had already started changing throughout that century. Upper class families had started aiming for fewer children to whom the family would give more attention and concentrate more expectations. But controlling births in the XIX century was still very hard and abstinence was the most effective method of contraception.

But at the beginning of the XX century, contraception methods became more common and effective, and this triggered a huge change in the dynamics of families.
Couples could now decide when to have children and how many. These led to women having the possibility to prolonged their non-mother years and achieve other goals (like for example an education) before they turned to the caring of children. It wasn’t just a change of lifestyle. It changed the way women thought to themselves and so the way society at large perceived them.

 

1920s: enter the New Women

When the 1920s began, this New Woman, who was daughter to a mother who had great aspirations but little possibilities to realized them, stepped to the scene and had all the intention to capitalized on everything she had.

The fact that intercourse between the sexes was now separated by childbearing, changed the way young people understood themselves and their relation, and as it may be expected, this affected women in particular.
Young people started to increasingly think that exploration before marriage was acceptable (intercourse before marriage was still socially condemned). They started dating, which meant young people went out on dates even if they didn’t have any intention to marriage the particular person. Sex appeal became very important for both men and women, because having the possibility to choose on the date practice meant you had to heighten your possibilities to be chosen.
The New Woman’s New Look

This resulted in a dramatic change of look on the part of women: contours became more important and gladly sported. Skirts became shorter, stockings became sheerer, the practice of making them up (which was considered bad prior to the 1910s) became absolutely acceptable for young people.

The Gibson Girl never made herself up, and even when she did, she useed a limited range of cosmetics, which were normally very hard to detect because they try to mimic the pail complexion that was fashionable at the time.
Nice women weren’t expected to ‘paint’ their faces, that was what actresses and prostitutes did. And in addition to the social stigma, makeup was also quite dangerous, since it still incorporated dangerous substances, and quite difficult to put on.

In the late 1910s and early 1920s, cosmetics became not only safer, but also a lot easier to use. It also became portable (the compact was invented) and this, coupled with the new attention to sex appeal and driven by the example of ever more popular film celebrities, made makeup ever more common and socially accepted.

1920s women also started bobbing their hair.
This was claimed to be for practical reasons: no more confined to the house, the life of a young woman was a lot busier in the 1920s. Women engaged in activities with their male counterparts and did things that were unthinkable for their mothers. Going to the beach, doing sports, going around in cars, dancing the new crazy dances, all of this became routine of the modern girl. That was the reason, she clamed, why she needed less cumbering clothes and short hair that made it easier to be active and still remain well-groomed.

Social stigma

But here was more to the changing in the 1920s women’s look and that didn’t get lost on women themselves, nor on society at large. Women were cutting with the past and embracing a new conception of life.

They made themselves up because they wanted to be more attractive, because they lived their sexuality more freely, and that was condemned by society as a decadence of their nature. They bobbed their hair because they refused to be bound to the practice of caring after it for a long time everyday, which bound their mothers to the house. Society at large cried out at the carelessness and lack of responsibility of women who seemed – and in fact were – questioning their traditional social role.

In imposing a new look for herself, the New Woman of the Roaring Twenties also imposed a new idea of herself. The idea of a person who could do what she desired and grabbed the possibility to do so.


Sarah Zama - dieselpunk author (1)About Sarah Zama:

FULL BIO

Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.

Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.
In 2016, her first book comes out, Give in to the Feeling.

She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.

 

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10 thoughts on “Guest Post – Sarah Zama

  1. Excellent post, and a great reminder of how women were expected to behave and how they found some freedom to be themselves. I took a Women’s History class and so much of this entry harkens back to the things I learned there. Wish I could take some more classes like that one, it was a real eye opener.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Happy you enjoyed the article 🙂

      You can always research by yourself, that’s what I did. One of the books I enjoyed the most for my research is – Chapman, Erin D., Prove It on Me. New Negroes, Sex, and Popular Culture in the 1920s – In case you feel like checking it out.
      While most of the info in here come from – Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s

      Like

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