Miss Vivie-Wivie’s goofy Flapper’s Magazette is still one of my favorite manuscripts in the Cotsen collection after all these years. And I’m not alone–almost everybody who looks at it finds it irresistible. What is so engaging is the way Vivie-Wivie’s personality shines through its pages: you feel as if you are watching her as she was when hard at work creating her magazine. Whether she grew up to be a writer or artist really doesn’t matter. You need not judge her, just smile at her attempts to participate in the flapper culture of the moment.
According to Ellen Welles Page, brains, not beauty, defined the flapper. In her “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents” in the December 6, 1922 Outlook Magazine, she asked, “I wonder if it ever occurred to any of you that it required brains to become and remain a successful flapper? Indeed it does! It requires an enormous amount of cleverness and energy to keep going at the proper pace. It requires self-knowledge and self-analysis. We must know our capabilities and limitations. We must be constantly on the alert. Attainment of flapperhood is a big and serious undertaking!”
This message didn’t just appeal to young ladies, but to little girls as well. Below Pauline Z. is avidly reading Flapper Experience (Flapper under a new title)
If Pauline were a regular reader, she would have been solicited regularly to enter mail-in beauty contests, a serious undertaking that required brains, self-knowledge, and self-analysis to chose the right photo. The editors of the magazine would not go so far as to say that aspirants for the title of “most typical flapper in America” should rock “bobbed hair; powder and rouge on the face;…lip stick; ‘plucked eyebrows;’ low-cut sleeveless bodice; absence of corset; little under-clothing, often only a ‘teddy-bear;’ high skirts, and ‘roll-your-own-stockings.” But they did say that an enterprising girl with a great look just might “win a nice little wad of pin money and get a real opportunity in the movies.”
One English girl in the 1920s set her sights higher than that! She used her brains to write, illustrate, and hand-letter one issue of a manuscript magazine that simultaneously imitated and sent up magazines like Flapper for thoroughly modern Millies.
Our editor could mimic Flapper’s fashionably breezy and girly style when she wanted her sister-readers’ opinion of the magazine’s title. But in the next sentence she could turn bossy because it was time to solicit entries for that exciting new contest!
To fill out the double page spread where “Editor’s Chat” appeared, she devised an unillustrated advertisement for an imaginary beauty product. The reader has to flip back to page 8 to see the wonders it could work on dark hair. It’s the girl’s obvious pleasure in talking back to contemporary images of female beauty that reminds me of today’s girl zines.
The editor of The Flapper’s Magazette didn’t leave behind many clues as to her identity, besides some potshots about a sister with gentleman callers that suggest she could have been someone’s pesky younger sibling. Most of the illustrations she signed “V. F.” or “V. F. F.,” but the one on the third page she wrote out her last name “Furniss.” The address of the editorial offices: “Messrs, Vivie, Wivie, Den Offices, Teddington” suggests that her first name might have been “Vivien.” While it’s true that children’s manuscript magazines often are collaborative projects, “Vivie, Wivie” seems just as likely to be a silly play on a two-syllable given name, as a disguise for two children. The address may also be a clue that Miss V. F. Furniss lived in Teddington in London’s Richmond upon Thames district.
Mail-in contests certainly made an impression on our editor. She invites her readers to vie for fine prizes (no specifics given) by submitting heads constructed from the noses, eyebrows, Betty-Boop eyes, and bee-stung lips to be cut out of pages 10 and 15.
Contestants might have wished that there were a bigger selection of hairstyles, hats, and collars. As you can see from the picture below of Clara Bow and friends, it would have been difficult to come up with a really smart head from what Vivie Wivie provided!
The other contest sponsored by The Flapper’s Magazette was literary. All contestants had to do was to complete a limerick about It-Girl, Clara Bow, whose portrait appears on the facing page.
Look closely at “Clara Bow” and you’ll see a long braid draped over her arm. I’d always assumed it was a row of buttons down the sleeve. But in going through the manuscript this time to write about it, I realized that couldn’t be right and that V. F. Furniss may not have been drawing accurate pictures of fashionable girls.
But could flappers have long hair? According to some very informative blogs and You-Tube videos about hair styles of the Roaring Twenties and how to recreate them, it’s a myth that all flappers had bobs. Movie star Mary Pickford’s long luscious golden ringlets were also quite stylish. But even if a girl’s parents stormed that she would cut her hair over their dead bodies, the unfortunate fair had options. It was possible with a little ingenuity and hair pins to achieve the look of short, curly hair, as you can see from this delightful video, based on an actual 1920s hairstyling manual.
My guess is that V. F. Furniss was too young to get permission to chop off her hair, but old enough to be interested in figuring out how she would present herself in the future. While most of the girls she drew in The Flapper’s Magazette had bobs, at least three of them, including “The Charming Flapper,” had hair tucked under in faux bobs with long braids down the back. Were her illustrations a safe way to experiment with different looks without taking the plunge? While attracted to modern short styles, was she a little bit scared at the prospect herself as a votary of fashion, sacrificing her long tresses on the goddess’ altar?
Maybe some day I’ll have some time to try and track down V. F. Furniss, girl journalist and cultural commentator…
If you find child authors interesting, you might like to read the picture letters of Marcus French. In the Roaring Twenties, this little New Yorker wrote about trick-or-treating, a Thanksgiving celebration, and his travails with algebra…