Thursday, April 18, 2013


FLAPPER GIRL. A fashion-forward young miss from Sta. Rita shows off her low-waisted American flapper dress, complete with stockings on her legs, a headband and a bow. Only the fan remains of the Spanish fashion influence.

 The Americanization of the Pinoy youth began rather auspiciously with the introduction of a new school system by our colonizers that called for teaching subjects in the new medium—English. Kids were taught that ”A”was for ”apple”, and were trained to sing new songs like ”America, the Beautiful”, sometimes replacing the word “America” with “Philippines”.

The unceasing stream of American pop culture—from music to movies, fashion to food-- further heightened the consciousness of Filipinos for things Americans.

Young lads, for example, easily took to American styles, shunning the camisa and the barong for the tailored Americana cerrada of sharkskin cloth, matched with white pants. With a straw boater’s hat on his head and 2-tone shoes on his feet, our young sajonista was ready to paint the town red with his dashing good looks and fashion sense.

 Filipina women were not far behind. In the 1920s, women of age lived independently from their families in Manila college dormitories ran by American dorm mothers. Mentored in the American way, these elite “dormitory girls” spoke in English among themselves and held tea parties to show off their etiquette and social skills. The Roaring Twenties ushered in a new era of fashion that has come to be known as the Flapper Era. Popularized by the looks of movie stars featured in jazz films – Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Joan Crawford, Vilma Banky—the flapper look was a breakaway from tradition, a rebellious statement against things prude and Victorian.

Perhaps, it was in synch with the rise of woman suffrage that was the talk of Philippine matriarchal society. No longer second class citizens, women decided to free themselves too of their long hair. Suddenly, bobbed hair became fashionable, along with spit hair.

 Icons of the day—like the Miss Philippines of the Commonwealth Manila Carnivals—came out in public sporting marcelled hair while wearing sleeveless, low-waisted chiffon dresses and dressy shoes of patent leather. The short skirted dresses fell above the knee and were trimmed with ruffles and sequins. To complete the look, the flapper ladies wore headbands (“headache bands”, as some remember them), dog collar adornments and extra-long string of pearls knotted around the necks which were swung at every given chance.

 The Flapper Age caught on among young Filipinas, and certainly, Kapampangans embraced the look, as seen from the above photo. Popular for over two decades, it was, without a doubt, a carefree, fun and trendsetting era. The local bodabil perpetuated the icon of the feisty Flapper—with dancers and performers scandalizing many with their short skirts and made-up faces, while flaunting cigarettes in long holders—a no-no with conservative Filipinas.

 But the Flapper era just roared on. False modesty and pretentious decorum fell by the wayside. There was daring and gaiety in the way Flappers looked, behaved and moved, repulsing others, but attracting even more youths that were bent on hastening the country’s Americanization, which they believed is the key in opening new doors for the Filipina women of the future.

 Just as quickly as it had raged, the Flapper fad would slow down as the Commonwealth years ended and a brewing war took hold of an unsuspecting Philippines. The War would eventually reach our shores and put everything on hold—and would mark the beginning of the end for an age of unbridled fun and symbolic rebellion—age of the Flapper.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Sir, may I ask where can I buy your book "Views from the Pampang and Other Scenes"? Is it still available in bookstores?

alex r. castro said...

It's currently out-of-print. But do try Heritage Art center in Cubao or Old Manila in Megamall. They might still have copies.