The 1920s: The Growth of Glamour

As the year 2019 draws to a close and with 2020 fast approaching, the cultural impact of the 1920s in America is reinvigorated by quips and remarks about the revival of “The Roaring Twenties”. It suddenly appears that society can’t quench their thirst for fringe and furs, but where did this draw to extravagance originate? What happened in that short period between World War I and the Great Depression that inspired such an emphasis on vanity and an individual’s outward appearance in America? Though a 21st century resurrection of Gatsbian glamour and flapper fashion has yet to occur, it is quite exciting to think that the cultural changes cultivated by the 20s fashion scene can make a comeback in the upcoming decade. However, this possibility is unlikely unless similar conditions become a catalyst to the societal reform that took place in the 1920s. 

First, the 1920s was not only a time of change in fashion but also the emergence of Hollywood and mainstream media. With the sudden change of lifestyle in Western society, cinema and celebrity captivated the country. Hollywood actors and actresses were easily visible to the greater public, so it was the first time in history that young people had access to idols and icons. In turn, these glamified figures became fashionistas and one of the few sources of influence on the fashion culture in America as a whole. Rather than looking at their classmates and other immediate figures to find the style they desired to imitate, young men and women could now aspire to be beautiful in the same way that their favorite movie stars were presented on screen. Even in our modern society, Hollywood celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Leonardo Dicaprio hold a huge impact on the way we view ourselves and how we aspire to appear to the outside world. 

Furthermore, the rise of a new social structure caused the style scene to have a greater impact in the daily lives of Americans. The United States recently won the first World War and became a first world country. Consequently, this created a “first-class” mindset among the general public. In the 1920s, the nation was no longer consumed by the threat of war nor struggling financially, so Americans were able to alter the societal infrastructure of the nation. Americans became obsessed with the idea of self-expression as an expression of wealth, and unless everything you had was new, you were old-fashioned — trust me, the last thing you would want in a “modern and sophisticated” society is to be old-fashioned. So, shopping and appearance became a key part of demonstrating one’s social class and worth in society. This is most likely the turning point when the consumerist stereotype in American culture originated. In fact, as a result of this widespread promotion of commercialism, the mannequin was created to catch the wandering eyes of individuals looking for cues of what could be the newest “new”. Today, mannequins still loom over us, like the looming pressure to follow the latest fashion trends and keep up with what is “in style”. This widespread social effect of style on society cultivated the fashion industry and the culture behind fashion in general. 

The 1920s was a time of change — a turning point between the old-fashioned view of clothing and the new, youthful and modern image. Like the roar of a lion, the “roar” of the 20s was loud and attention-grabbing. For the first time in history, it was acceptable to be vain, to desire to be beautiful, and to decorate yourself with fancy ornaments as one would their homes. Our bodies became another piece in the puzzle of self-expression and representation. Women were allowed to embrace their appeal and wore makeup to enhance it. Similarly, skirts and dresses became shorter as society grew comfortable with the idea of showing skin. Even men, who had previously been expected to present themselves to the public in formal attire and suffocating suits, were allowed the opportunity to relax both in the social sphere and with their clothes. Sportswear grew in popularity and athletic clothing became a part of daily attire. Gone were the times of sophistication and stuffiness: the 1920s was the genesis of glamour.

– Mahalia Marie