Hand-Painted Knees

On July 21, 1925, the same day as the St. Petersburg, FL, newspaper headlines featured the John Scopes trial (he was found guilty of teaching evolution in a Kentucky science class), there was also an article on the latest flapper fad: painted knees.

6ade6db95341a66ac19572a3a7d2534a“What is more appealing to the eye than a hand-painted knee? The answer, of course, is two hand-painted knees. And the world may expect from now on to see Flapperia’s dimpled knees exhibiting a painted pansy or a bleeding heart, or any other design of their choice.

This painting of the epidermis in the region of milady’s knees is predicted and advocated by Mrs. Ruth J. Maurer, beauty culture expert who has brought the question up for the approval of 500 beauty specialists meeting in Chicago. ‘It is an odd and beautiful fashion,’ Mrs. Maurer declares. ‘Hand-painted pictures on the knees are intriguing. Some of the designs are simple, some elaborate. Some girls prefer a flower or a group of blossoms of startling colors. Others like a portrait or a little landscape.”

I have my doubts as to how popular this was . . . I found only one image online that showed painted knees (and these, as you can see, are actually painted shins). Still, I think I’ll make a brief mention of this in the mystery I’m currently writing. Nothing big, maybe just a line where Jessie notices someone in New York with painted knees. If it happened anywhere, it would have happened in New York!

Here are some photos readers submitted:

1926 flapper

1926 flapper



Published in: on August 20, 2016 at 8:09 am  Comments (11)  

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  1. I hadn’t realised this was a fashion. I have found pictures of this online, but I thought is was the stockings be painted, not the skin.
    I hope you don’t mind if I post the link here

  2. Same here! Heard about it some, but never found much to actually prove it was a big thing. I would think this would require some speciality, like nail art today – most people can’t do their own nail art. And where would one go to get their knees painted? The design on the girl in the photo is pretty elaborate. Not a simple heart or flower. I’ve seen more to support rouged knees than painted pictures…

  3. I, too, always assumed these were painted stockings. Would she have gone bare legged? Interesting.

  4. There are at least a few images found online by searching google iimages for “painted knees.” IN this one both women appear to be wearign stockings rolled below the knee and paint on the skin itself. http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/the-painted-knees-of-two-of-mario-sgambatis-subjects-news-photo/515951014

    • You’re a better detective than I am. That’s a great picture. Unfortunately, I can’t post it here, but readers can view it themselves.

  5. Terry Evdokimoff says in his Facebook account in Jan ’16 “My father Mario Sgambati was an ecclesiastical artist who decorated many churches in and around the Philadelphia area.”

    He also decorated knees.

  6. two more urls last two images here: https://mimiberlinblog.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/tainted-shoulders-and-knees/

    mostly about prison tattoos.

  7. and last but not least: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/406942516303482202/

    • Thanks! I’ll post those images on the blog.

  8. I just came across this article…I have always wondered at this weird trend. I am 50, and my maternal grandmother grew up in Conn. and prob new haven was biggest city near her.
    I recall her being grimly proud of having been a flapper in her youth, and as a very young kid not really understanding what that was. She would talk about the dresses being short and modern and swingy and the scandalous short haircuts (she wore them her whole life that I recall) and making bathtub gin, then she did tell us that she and her friends would like to Paint their Knees before going out, and that was rubbing makeups like lipstick onto their bare knees. It seemed to be a very sexy signal thing to do, very much about bare skin and possible willingness for sex. She said they would take off hose ..or roll down…and paint knees in the car on way to dances etc, because everyone’s parents would check their knees before they went out to make sure their darling daughters were not doing such a whorish thing, which of course they were. I recall my prissy Virgo mother blushing about this anytime it was brought up and my grandmother laughing like hell.

    • What a delightful memory! I’ll venture this: if your grandmother had a bob before 1925, she was probably a wild child. Young women who bobbed their hair during the early 1920s were considered shocking–many suspected that was a sign of low morals and rebellion against society’s strictures. When was she born?
      My own grandmother was born in 1900 and so was a married women in her 20s during the Roaring Twenties, so a bit “old” to be a flapper. But she had bobbed hair and wore flapper dresses (I have 2 of them–heavily beaded, silk, just below the knee, made in China or the Philippines, where they lived then–she was an Army wife) and she was always outspoken, so I’ll bet she was a bit of a flapper herself, even though she didn’t quite fit the mold.

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