Flapper fever has officially swept the Essence.com offices. From super-short, spit-curled haircuts to wide-eyed, heavily lashed eyes, we’re so into the hair and beauty trends made popular by 1920s-era jazz babies.

Needless to say, we’re obsessed with the original Jazz Baby herself, Josephine Baker (or “Le Baker,” as she was christened by her fawning French fans).

Born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906, the beautiful teen made her way from the St. Louis slums to New York City, where she began dancing on Broadway and at The Plantation club. She definitely drew a crowd with her vaudeville antics and saucy choreography, but it wasn’t until she moved to Paris in 1925 that she became a legend.

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As a headliner at Folies Bergres, Baker performed her wildly risque Danse Sauvage, wearing no more than a skirt made of bananas–and European audiences fell in love, declaring her the most beautiful woman in Paris (the sad irony is that, in her home country, Blacks were barely considered worthy of basic human rights, let alone considered beautiful).

Baker broke barriers, made her own rules, and set trends. In the ’20s, there wasn’t a woman alive–Black or White–who didn’t want to copy her glossy, spit-curled crop. Back then, spit curls were created by, literally, applying spit to a section of hair, winding it into a pin curl, and then allowing it to dry.

These days, you can mimic Baker’s flapper-fabulous style by applying gel to damp hair; molding small, face-framing sections at the temple and above ears into pin curls; and then and blasting with a blowdryer.

Baker, we thank you for your contributions to the world of dance, art, society and glamour.

This story was originally published in 2010.


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