The History of the 20s

The Roaring ‘20s began at the end of World War I and ended with the Great Depression (1920-1929). It was a period of sustained economic prosperity, dramatic social rebellion and political change. Old values were overturned and woman felt liberated and empowered. It was a time of celebration, cultural civil war and consumerism.

The New American Woman

  • The 1920’s woman embraced new fashions, personal freedom and challenged the traditional role of women.  Many attended college, worked in a white-collar job, voted and were less conservative.
  • The flapper, a new kind of woman, was born. She was young, rebellious and liberated.  She drank, smoked, voted, danced, cut her hair in a short bob, wore short skirts & makeup, was fun-loving, had casual sex and took risks.
  • Woman could now own property and land.

Beauty & Fashion

  • Hairstyle – Women welcomed short haircuts such as the Bob, the Eton Crop and the Shingle Cut often sporting finger and Marcel waves or cropped curls.
  • Makeup – In the past, makeup was frowned upon and those who wore it were considered harlots. This attitude towards makeup changed drastically. In the 1920s, every pharmacy and department store had a makeup counter and women were eager to try the latest lipstick and powder.  Kohled eye shadow, eyeliner, plucked eyebrows, and rouge applied in circles on the cheeks & knees were fashionable as well as outlined cupid bow-shaped lips.
  • Women’s Fashion – Women gave up their whalebone corset for comfortable clothes that were soft, sleek & clung to their curves. Light low-waisted, shorter dresses with pleats, gathers or slits (the flapper look) allowed women to kick-up their heels. Women wore flashy evening attire, comfortable sportswear, the boyish Garonne look and working woman wore tailored suits. Ankle length skirts were popular between 1923-1925. It was common for women to change their outfits based upon the time of day and activity.
  • Accessorize – Cloche hats, rolled down stocking, galoshes, long-beaded pearls, cigarette holders, boas, and feather headbands were quite the rage.
  • Trends – The latest trends in beauty & fashion were promoted in magazines & movies. Young woman were eager consumers.

The Economic Boom

  • Laissez-faire was the economic policy.
  • New import taxes increased the cost of imported goods encouraging Americans to purchase items made in America.
  • The economy soared as the manufacturing of consumer goods increased. The average household had a radio, washing machine, refrigerator and a vacuum cleaner. For the first time, people were allowed to buy automobiles on credit increasing the number of cars on the roads.
  • The gross domestic product rose from $687.7 billion in 1920 to $977 billion in 1929 and the stock market increased by 20% a year.

Social Changes

  • The 19th amendment to the Constitution is signed into law giving all women the right to vote.
  • Prohibition of alcohol began when Congress ratified the 18th Amendment banning the sale and manufacture of intoxication beverages. All taverns & saloons were closed encouraging illegal speakeasies, bootleggers & organized crime to emerge.
  • After the war, many young Americans began to challenge the traditions of their parents. The times were defined by cultural civil wars between new women and old-fashioned family values, blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, and city dwellers and small-town residents. Radios brought different ideas & views into their homes
  • Urbanization increases. For the first time, more Americans lived in urban towns & cities than rural farming communities.
  • Americans had more leisure time thanks to affordable household appliances which reduced the time it took for daily chores. People spent more times at sporting events, dance clubs, and movies.
  • The Jazz Age inspired a new dance craze. The Charleston, the Black Bottom, the Shimmy, Turkey trot, Cake walk, Bunny hop, the Lindy Hop and the American Tango were popular. Dance Marathons were born.