Clara Bow: The Rise and Fall of the Fashionable Flapper

It’s happening tomorrow! Join us for Modes of Modernity, a symposium held by the  Fashion and Textiles Studies program at FIT. Here is another example of the kind of research students will share. We know you don’t want to miss it. Come along and bring a friend, the event is free and open to the public.

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Clara Bow: The Rise and Fall of the Fashionable Flapper

byDanielle Morrin

Bow, Clara (1928)  Paramount / The Kobal Collection

Bow, Clara (1928)
Paramount / The Kobal Collection

Clara Bow (1905-1965) became a Hollywood film star by the mid-1920s.  Bow was the embodiment of the decade’s zeitgeist, a “flapper,” a modern young woman pushing boundaries of expected feminine dress and manner, but her lifestyle, so modern at the time of her newly blossoming film career, became outdated as it progressed into the early 1930s.

In 1923, not long after winning Motion Picture Magazine’s Fame and Fortune contest, which led to a small part in Beyond the Rainbow (1922), Bow left the slums of Brooklyn for Hollywood. She plunged into the new way of life that included frequent reveling, living in the moment, and the free expression of sexuality involving many boyfriends and lovers rather than a single, protective husband.  Bow’s persona shone through her films, perhaps none more so than It (1927), which attracted masses of fans while solidifying her image as the ultimate flapper. Her short hemlines, untamed red bob, and variety of hats and flowing head scarves, both on and off screen, were influenced by the fashions of the time, but her star power also further influenced the flapper image itself.  Fans were attracted to Bow’s lively, carefree personality and her naturalistic, fluid approach to acting.  She was the silent screen It Girl– strikingly different from the actresses of previous generations.

As the Jazz Age gave way to the Great Depression, so too did the tastes of film audiences.  Once viewed as exciting on and off screen, Bow came to be seen as excessive, irresponsible, and altogether passé.   Paralleling the rise of “talkie” film technology during the early 1930s, these changes regenerated a new perspective on what it meant to be a modern woman.  Bow’s career spanned only 1922 through 1933, but during that time she made fifty-seven films, fifteen films in 1925 alone, and undoubtedly cemented a lasting impression within an eleven year period before her exciting, modern lifestyle turned obsolete. This paper will trace Clara Bow’s rise and fall as a modern emblem of the 1920s and examine the career and era of this once fashionable flapper woman.

Danielle J. Morrin received her B.P.S. in Fashion Merchandising from Marist College and interned at Winterthur Museum before coming to FIT.  She is focusing on Curatorial Studies but has also completed Advanced Conservation I.  She has interned in the Curatorial Dept. at Museum at FIT, as a collections management/archive intern with The Wardrobe and Calvin Klein, and in Collections Management Dept. in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This spring she was one of the curators of the student-run exhibition Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket, and is interning with the Costume Institute in the Curatorial Department.
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One Response to Clara Bow: The Rise and Fall of the Fashionable Flapper

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