The Roaring Twenties is a phrase used to describe the 1920s, principally in North America, but also in London, Berlin and Paris. The phrase was meant to emphasize the period’s social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. ‘Normalcy‘ returned to politics in the wake of World War I, jazz music blossomed, the flapper redefined modern womanhood, Art Deco peaked, and finally the Wall Street Crash of 1929 served to punctuate the end of the era, as The Great Depression set in.
The era was further distinguished by several inventions and discoveries of far-reaching importance, unprecedented industrial growth, accelerated consumer demand and aspirations, and significant changes in lifestyle and culture.
The social and cultural features known as the Roaring Twenties began in leading metropolitan centers, especially Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Paris and London, then spread widely in the aftermath of World War I. The United States gained dominance in world finance. Thus when Germany could no longer afford war reparations to Britain, France and other Allies, the Americans came up with the Dawes Plan and Wall Street invested heavily in Germany, which repaid its reparations to nations that in turn used the dollars to pay off their war debts to Washington. By the middle of the decade, prosperity was widespread. The second half of the decade becoming known as the “Golden Twenties“. In France and francophone Canada, they were also called the “années folles” (“Crazy Years”).
The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of discontinuity associated with modernity, a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, moving pictures and radio proliferated ‘modernity’ to a large part of the population. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality in both daily life and architecture. At the same time, jazz and dancing rose in popularity, in opposition to the mood of the specter of World War I. As such, the period is also often referred to as the Jazz Age.
Dance clubs became enormously popular in the 1920s. Their popularity peaked in the late 1920s and reached into the early 1930s. Dance music came to dominate all forms of popular music by the late 1920s. Classical pieces, operettas, folk music, etc. were all transformed into popular dance melodies in order to satiate the public craze for dancing much as the discophenomena would later do in the late 1970s. For example, many of the songs from the 1929 Technicolor musical operetta The Rogue Song (starring the Metropolitan Opera star Lawrence Tibbett) were rearranged and released as dance music and became popular club hits in 1929.
‘Immortalized in movies and magazine covers, young women’s fashion of the 1920s was both a trend and a social statement, a breaking-off from the rigid Victorian way of life. These young, rebellious, middle-class women, labeled ‘flappers’ by older generations, did away with the corset and donned slinky knee-length dresses, which exposed their legs and arms. The hairstyle of the decade was a chin-length bob, of which there were several popular variations. Cosmetics, which until the 1920s was not typically accepted in American society because of its association with prostitution, became, for the first time, extremely popular.
“Flapper” in the 1920s was a term applied to a “new breed” of young Western women who wore short skirts, bobbedtheir hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobilesand otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.
Flappers had their origins in the period of liberalism, social and political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of the First World War, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.
With the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920, women finally attained the political equality that they had so long been fighting for. A generational gap began to form between the “new” women of the 20s and the previous generation. Prior to the 19th Amendment, feminists commonly thought that one could have either a career or one could have a husband and a family, for one would inherently inhibit the development of the other. This mentality began to change in the 20s as more women began to desire not only successful careers of their own but also families. The “new” woman was less invested in social service than the Progressive generations, and in tune with the capitalistic spirit of the era, she was eager to compete and to find personal fulfilment.