By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
They met like many 1920s-loving flappers do these days, on the Internet. Chantel Geary, Nicole “Nicolette” Holloway and Natalie Miller, the three members of the Follies Sisters vaudeville act, are practicing their routine at Chantel’s mother’s house in Riverside, stomping the wood floors into oblivion.
“I was always interested in the 1920s, but I was kind of lax,” says Natalie. “I was wearing jeans. Until I met Chantel. She inspired me to be less of a slob.”
“I stalked Chantel,” says Nicole, who is now married to Chantel’s ex-boyfriend. “I saw her on MySpace and went, Wow. This person is neat. Then I went to a party and saw her dancing the Charleston. I tried to do it, but I looked so lame! I had long blond hair and was into classic rock.”
All three of the Follies Sisters are slender and pretty, with short jet-black Louise Brooks hair. They are cultivating the delicate pinkish pallor of the era, and studiously avoid the California sun. They eat, sleep, breathe and dress as if the past eight decades never happened.
“What really inspired me was the bobbed hair,” Natalie says, absently touching the curling edge of hair fused to her cheek. “I saw a picture of Louise Brooks and she looked so beautiful. I wanted to be like that.”
Nicole took things a step further. Like the rebellious girls of the 1920s, she snipped off her long blond hair herself.
The rhythmic pounding of tap shoes resumes. “Have you ever danced to a live band?” Chantel asks. “It’s really hard.”
“We can’t disgrace ourselves twice!” says Nicole, referring to the time they inadvertently drank too much before their last performance, got sweaty and upset. “Stop,” she begs, struggling with the steps. “It’s driving me crazy.”
Why live your life like it’s the past? Because the present kind of sucks. Yes, it might seem odd for this faction of the antimodernity movement to obsess over the 1920s — after all, that era is arguably when modernity was born. But the ’20s happens to be a good time to be obsessed with when you are in your 20s and young and sturdy and hedonistic. It’s an era that seems both more decadent and more innocent than ours.
“Chantel’s life is her art,” says her friend, Mr. Uncertain, at a recent party held at a mausoleum. They were two of the most attractive in a crypt full of flappers — alive and dead. All night, people arrived to pay homage to Chantel’s outfit and pet her vintage fur stole.
Like most things, dressing like a flapper improves with practice. Wearing real vintage isn’t crucial. For instance, the pleated skirt Chantel is wearing today is from Target. The cloche hat, from Anthropologie.
“Besides,” she says, “vintage clothes are so fragile. They shatter. It’s not hard making modern stuff look ’20s. You just have to have an eye for it.”
Developing an eye for it means immersing in old magazines like The Flapper, of which Chantel owns an original first edition. She slips the small pamphlet reverently from its plastic case and thumbs through articles like “Society Girl Is Found in Bathtub: Foul Play Suspected.”
In high school, Chantel, who is now 23 years old, was a devotee of the 1940s. Then she started watching movies of the 1930s, which led her naturally to the 1920s. It was a process of moving further and further back in time. It would be tough to go back any further to the Victorian era and start wearing bustles every day, she thinks.
“Maybe you should explain It,” Natalie interrupts. The concept of the It girl originated with Jazz Age star Clara Bow. “She was dancing on the table with the champagne. She was hot. She was bold.” Natalie waves her hands in the air.
“That’s the thing. You can’t explain It,” says Chantel.
Suffice to say, there are things that modern-day flappers hate. These include: denim and tennis shoes. Drop-waist dresses that are dropped too low. Ennui. Cruel people who tease them when they are out in the world by saying, “Hey, Halloween is over.” Or who ask, “Are you in a play?”
Men, however, tend to be nicer to girls in dresses. This is one of the things that modern-day flappers appreciate. For one glorious minute, when the movie Chicago came out, Chantel even suspected the ’20s might make a comeback. (They didn’t.)
“We respect all good time periods,” Natalie says diplomatically. Then less diplomatically, “Except for the early 1990s, which were deplorable.”
“The ’40s has some good stuff, but I can’t stand the big shoulder pads,” adds Nicole.