The 1920’s conjure many images in the contemporary American mind: stately chandelier-filled ballrooms with dashing men in Italian suits courting the hands of dainty women clad in opulent ball gowns and bustling cafés brimming with chattering young women in tweed skirts and cloche hats discussing the latest scandal or divorce, all accompanied with a never-ending soundtrack of Jazz. Never before in American history has there been an era so romanticized as the 1920’s. But why? Why is this decade so idealized and inexorably associated with America’s glorious days of youth?
The 1920’s saw an entire generation lost and disoriented from the ravages of World War I. Known as the Lost Generation, those whose youth was shattered by the “war to end all wars” turned to culture as outlets for the anger they felt due to their lost childhoods. This became known as the flapper movement. In essence, the flapper movement was a rebellion against the social fabric tying up the West to the point of suffocation. Spending their childhoods under the insufferably constricting Victorian era, this generation found themselves furious at the archaic path laid out for them by their forefathers. Indoctrinated since birth into becoming docile housewives obediently waiting on men hand and foot, they turned to fashion to blaze a new trail. Lopping off their buns for chin length bobs, shortening their hemlines just below the knee, and tracing their face with pink rouge, American women rebelled against the outdated mores that constricted them.
Out of the bounds of the Victorian generation’s disapproving eyes, this new generation of social deviants found fashion a solace from the unshakable pain they suffered under the war that could have meant humanity’s demise. Thus, a golden era was born, an era where women freely strutted the streets of New York City and London in skirts above the knee and bleached blonde locks liberated from the fear of an arcane society pushing them down. An era where peace and affluence were taken for everlasting gifts, bestowed upon this generation in never-ending supply.
Sadly, such an era of splendor and allure was not built to last. The Great Depression rendered the flapper culture devoid of the funds necessary to retain its lifestyle. American consciousness grew to disdain the flappers’ excess and idealized the classic working girl as the height of feminine aspiration. Flappers lost their haunting grounds as Couture houses closed their doors and theaters struggled to scrape together enough to keep their productions running. The final blow came after the fateful bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now all we have left of this glorious era are collections of faded photographs, reels of film, and the fond memories of those fortunate enough to have come of age in this beautiful era. And yet, the vitality of the 1920’s seems to linger on in this generation; only time will tell how it will manifest itself.