YMMV The '20s actually were just like this. America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it. Scott Fitzgerald "The era of wonderful nonsense", as newspaper columnist Westbrook Pegler later termed it. A dizzy, giddy time of petting parties, bootleg gin, jazz , and flappers. When coffee and movie tickets cost a dime, trolley rides cost a nickel the same as hot dogs or hamburgers , newspapers cost two cents The setting of many an Agatha Christie mystery, this is one era that absolutely lives up to the stereotypes and then some.
The Great War was over, most of the Western world had never been so prosperous — time to par- tay! And after four years of trench warfare and a flu pandemic that killed around million people, most everybody needed cheering up. Style is almost exclusively Art Deco moderne, all minimalist lines and coolly fluid shapes.
There were plenty of additional opportunities for employing that style in the many new consumer appliances that came on the market. Electric refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, fans, toasters, phonographs, radios and other gadgets were sold by the millions, with installment plans allowing more people than ever to buy them.
And automobiles stopped being referred to as "horseless carriages" mainly used for Sunday rides and became a wanted everyday commodity, pretty much helped by its wartime use, the same for "flying machines" and "air balloons" the latter of which would, unfortunately, have a tragic end in mainstream terms in the late '30s.
Dresses are short and so is ladies' hair. Bobbed hair had actually emerged earlier, around , and was popularized during the late s out of convenience during the war , as well as through the earlier s. Hemlines gradually rose from ankle to calf-length during the First World War and to knee-length by Hosiery and high heels were on display, and younger women sometimes rolled down the tops of their stockings and applied rouge to their knees. Despite those costumes you buy these days, most dresses were not fringed or figure-hugging, and above-the-knee hemlines were nonexistent for grown women at any time.
Dresses had boxy and boyish silhouettes, dropped waists and were minimally or highly decorated depending on the occasion. Characters include gangsters and G-men, flappers and their "sheiks" sort of proto- metrosexual young males , languid white movie idols and jolly black jazz singers and dancers, and lots of cheery collegiate types who wear huge fur coats, straw hats and wide "Oxford bags" flared trousers and play ukuleles while dancing the Charleston and shouting " 23 skidoo!
The basic idea was to shock, amaze and amuse at all costs; there were apparently some women of the era who would greet their guests in the bath. The fun and excitement is only heightened by the fact that much of it is totally illegal, at least in the USA. There Prohibition is in full swing, so gin is made in bathtubs, smuggled by the likes of Al Capone and served in 'speakeasies', hole-in-the-wall bars highly prone to raids by stolid, humourless cops, or an ambush by the eccentric Izzy and Moe prohibition agent team in disguise.
Hip flasks are handy for taking your booze along for the ride, and the mixers in cocktails will take the edge off the cheap stuff. Unless you're Treasury Agent Eliot Ness or one of his elite team of incorruptible agents, The Untouchables , be extra cautious to never insult a tough-looking Italian in a sharp suit, or you'll find yourself looking down the barrel of a Tommy Gun some of those Jewish and Irish guys are no pushovers either.
However, this growth of the influence of modern life in urbanized northern states ran headlong into more conservative communities especially in the south which tried to keep modern ideas like the theory of evolution out of their schools.
The state of Tennessee tried to do so with the Butler Act, which banned evolution from school curriculums. The small town of Dayton, suffering from an economic slump, took advantage of this and persuaded the local teacher, John Scopes, to be indicted under this law in order to have a big publicity trial to bring in the tourists.
The plan worked perfectly, and the resulting "Monkey Trial" as journalist and satirist H. Mencken famously dubbed it proved to be one of the most dramatic and publicized of the century, with the confrontation between the noted populist leader and religious conservative William Jennings Bryan and the famed defense lawyer and noted agnostic Clarence Darrow being the highlight of the event. As it happens, the prosecution's win was never seriously in doubt, but the victory was a Pyrrhic one for religious fundamentalists, with Bryan being publicly embarrassed by Darrow's questioning that forced him to concede that a literal interpretation of the Bible was indefensible; Bryan died less than a week later.
The trial would later be immortalized, albeit with certain dramatic liberties taken, by the classic play Inherit the Wind and its subsequent film adaptations. Meanwhile, the African American community started to finally gain its voice in American culture. Many black Southerners moved to Northern cities during the 's and the early part of this decade, leading to the emergence of a black middle class. Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City, was the most famous African American community, and so many of the most famous African American writers, artists, and musicians were based there that many historians call this period the Harlem Renaissance.
Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and other famous authors wrote stories that captured the African American experience and were read by millions, and Jazz started to spread throughout the country when white people realized that Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and the others sounded really awesome.
This trend would continue in the s, leading to Big Band and Swing music. Such progress had its limits, though: Meanwhile, intellectuals of the community, such as W. DuBois, planted the seeds of what would eventually become the Civil Rights Movement. Shorter work hours, coupled with higher wages and a larger part of the population working in cities paved the way for the beginning of a proper entertainment industry, which itself heralded the birth of what we call "pop culture": While in the decade before the first "true" celebrities came around Houdini and Chaplin , the term would become popular as many personalities would become worshiped by their followers.
Silent films became an art medium of their own with classic films like The Wind and Metropolis setting new heights for screen drama and the great silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin , Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton gaining enormous popularity, along with fellow film stars Clara Bow, Rudolph Valentino and child actors Baby Peggy and Jackie Coogan. The fact that they didn't have sound meant that movies still hadn't killed off Vaudeville or Minstrel Shows just yet, but the advent of talkies beginning with The Jazz Singer finished the job— and also killed the careers of many silent actors.
Radio progressed quickly through the last of its experimental phases and was firmly established as a mass-market medium by the end of the decade including radios in cars, brought to you by some lowly company called Motorola , also establishing what is now known as "popular music" in the process.
Sports became items of true passion with star slugger Babe Ruth , portentous pugilist Jack Dempsey, pigskin powerhouse Red Grange, golfing great Bobby Jones and others became heroes for the common man.
Basketball, pool and hockey also gained popularity, and bowling became a popular informal sport decades before becoming a sitcom staple. Magazines and newspapers enjoyed a booming circulation, including plenty of tabloids New York had the Daily News, the Mirror and the Evening Graphic , not that the broadsheets like the World, the American or the Evening Journal were too objective to fill everybody in on sensational divorce trials in New York, graphic pictures of shootouts in Chicago, the scandalous doings of celebrities in Hollywood, and the typical tales of daring people sitting in poles for several hours.
Magazines were subject to new ideas such as investigative reporting and the digesting of articles of different magazines into a single publication. Lurid "dime novels" printed on pulp were also very popular. Meanwhile, ultra-low-def mechanical television had brief success with early adopters essentially beta-testing it before The Great Depression killed it off by the mid-'30s.
The advent of relatively high-definition all-electronic TV would have to wait until another postwar prosperity boom. This came at a time when the progressivism of The Gilded Age embodied by Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson was replaced by a new conservative order led by Republican Presidents Warren G Harding , Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover , while the Democratic party became dominated by Southern conservatives.
There were fears Bolshevism would take over the world if the League of Nations consolidated or if those impish immigrants, those undesirable unions or that pesky Pope with the protocols would undermine the free enterprise system among other American values.
Of course, the relics of The Gay '90s and The Edwardian Era , now doughty dowagers and grumpy old Colonels, look on disapprovingly, condemning everything from short skirts and hair , to make-up and swimming wear. Of course, the "Bright Young Things" weren't really listening, and since those killjoys were among the ones who thought Prohibition and that not-so-great Great War were such good ideas, who could blame them?
The new-fangled movies took a lot of the heat, as much for the off-screen antics of the stars paging Mr. Arbuckle as for the films' content. Local censorship boards threatened to make life impossible for the studio bosses, who started thinking that guy who ran the Post Office might be able to help. However, it doesn't mean that they didn't try, once they were able to pull themselves together again.
But in Germany, there are communist and fascist paramilitary groups who have some very grand ambitions and there will be a few people who get a chilling feeling that one loud-mouth Austrian with a tooth-brush mustache is going to be very big trouble. America's booming wealth and newfound geopolitical importance meant that lots of American writers and intellectuals many of them disaffected by what they saw as the country's political complacency, puritanical moralism, and empty materialism spent most of their time in Europe during this period, soaking up Europe's old culture even as European thinkers dreamed of wiping it all clean and starting over.
The contrast between "naive" Americans and "decadent" Europe set a fictional pattern which has endured nearly a century. Soviet Russia called USSR since , after a devastating civil war, experienced a short period of economic growth thanks to the NEP new economic policy , a series of reforms that allowed free enterprise and private property.
A new Soviet bourgeoisie was born, with a penchant for over-the-top parties and a slavish fascination with American fashion, music and dance. The Soviet Nouveau Riche typically called a nepman was a stock character in 20's Russian satire. Rather funny, they left behind the most durable heritage in Soviet arts and design, as most Soviet architecture and industrial design from the s to the s was ludicrously similar to period American design.
This period lasted sometime after World War I till the Crash of or just before the New Deal of , or the entire Prohibition era In cultural terms however, the 20s didn't end until Understandably, there was much nostalgia for this period as soon as it ended, with a lot of 's movies especially the gangster ones being set during this decade, and it was often a nostalgic setting during The '40s , The '50s , The '60s , and well into The '70s and The '80s.
Actually, it has gotten to the point of people from almost a century later still relating to this decade. For the movie of the same name, see The Roaring Twenties For more information about the decade see the Useful Notes page.