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The 1920s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

The 1920s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

The post-World War I (1914–18) era, which stretched through the 1920s, was a time of prosperity and new opportunities. The economy was flourishing, and the middle class was enjoying a higher standard of living. More young people were seeking higher education, and college and university campuses became prime spots for new fashion trends to emerge. Women were granted the right to vote and had many more possibilities for jobs and careers. These improvements gave many females, especially younger ones, a new sense of empowerment. The Volstead Act of 1920 kept intoxicating liquor from the public; however, homemade stills (machines to manufacture alcoholic beverages) and illegal saloons called "speakeasies" gave people an opportunity to indulge in an evening's escapade of illegal drinking and maybe a chance to perform one of the jazzy new dances such as the Charleston or the black bottom!

In this energetic environment, more Americans became fashion-conscious. The emphasis on style was not limited to the upper classes, nor was it restricted to certain types of clothing. Fashion trends touched every facet of American life, including clothing, jewelry, perfumes, cosmetics, appliances, urban design, and automobiles. According to a marketing study from Columbia University in 1928, "Fashion is one of the greatest forces in everyday life."

By the start of the decade, spreading the word about the latest fashion vogues was a straightforward matter. Advertisers could buy space in national magazines to highlight the latest clothing and accessories or spotlight the most attractive new home furnishings to potential customers. Movies showed Hollywood stars wearing the latest designer evening gowns from Paris or the current casual attire. Also on the silver screen, audiences could view the latest in home decoration and modern appliances. Later in the decade, radio became an influential forum for advertising new styles and products.

As viewpoints became more worldly and lifestyles more adventure-some, clothing became more daring. Women's hemlines rose from ankle-length to knee-length. Inspired by sensuous movie sirens such as Theda Bara and Pola Negri, women took on new looks with the aid of powder, rouge, and eyebrow pencil. Paris, France remained the fashion capital of the western world, and innovative French, designers catered to affluent Americans. For the fashion-conscious with less buying power, copies of Paris originals could be bought for a fraction of the original price or sewn from McCall's patterns. Men's clothing became less dour, and young college men began wearing baggy pleated flannel slacks and long raccoon coats. Also, men bought more fashions designed specifically for sports and leisure activities.

Urban skyscrapers with sleek lines began to replace the neo-gothic high-rises of the previous decade. High-rise luxury apartment buildings began to take the place of residential brownstones and townhouses in many big cities, in order to meet more modern lifestyles. More than ever, Americans became interested in interior decoration. Home furnishings often reflected historic period, and households were decorated in copies of antiques. The kitchen often was the only room to have a modern look. There, newly devised cooking and cleaning appliances not only proved functional but also looked attractive.

As all aspects of life were changing, Americans were becoming less connected to organized religion. Instead of attending church services, many Americans spent weekends riding in automobiles and watching movies. Hobbies became more frivolous as the nation became preoccupied with fads ranging from crossword puzzles to dance marathons. A youth culture arose, and teenagers indulged in pastimes such as petting parties, shocking their more conservative elders.

To bring the public back to religion, leaders of organized faiths and zealous believers began interacting with popular culture. An attempt even was made to bring Jesus Christ into modern times in order to make him more relevant. In the best-selling book The Man Nobody Knows, by Bruce Barton, Christ was refashioned into a modern businessman and masculine outdoorsman who likes women!

The 1920s was a time of prosperity, leading to new energy, excitement, and flamboyance. Sadly, the exuberance ended when the stock market crashed in 1929, and the public turned away from games, frolic, and fashion to face the unemployment and discouragement of the Great Depression.

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