A Guide to the Roaring Twenties

Written by Leanna Serras

The 1920s were a time of great change for America and Western Europe. During the Roaring 20s, America saw jazz music flourish, women coming into their own, and the stock market crashing. It also saw huge industrial growth and a break from the traditions that dominated the country before World War I.

Art and Architecture

In terms of art and architecture, expressionism became very popular in the 20s. Expressionism was the movement of the art world to revel in just "being alive.” This is exemplified by the fact that people were putting more emphasis on the emotional rather than the physical. Art from the Roaring 20s clearly illustrates this idea as abstract works started to enter the mainstream.

The 20s also saw a large increase in the number of buildings being put up. The houses took on a mock-Tudor cottage style called ‘Tudorbethan.’ People also preferred houses made of brick, oak doors, and clay roofs. The bungalow also became popular during this period.

Books and Literature

During the 20s, a number of prominent writers reflected their struggle to accept the massive changes that were affecting society. Many books expressed disappointment that the older, simpler ways were fading off while others praised the movement forward. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which was considered an “indictment” of the world’s loss of values, was published, as was Alain Locke’s The New Negro, a book that outlined the hope of change African-Americans were feeling. The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston were also published.

Fads and Fashion

The roaring 20s also saw lots of fashion experimentation. Men wore bowler hats and kept their hair very slick. Burberry and two-toned shoes became popular. Women wore drop waist dresses that were much shorter than dresses previously worn and they started wearing red lipstick. Perfume and mascara also became popular.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were all the rage in the 20s. Smoking was also considered “cool.” The 20s also saw an increase in the number of slang phrases used. For instance, “big cheese” and “cat’s meow” were commonly used phrases.

Historic Events and People

One of the biggest events of the 20s was the passing of Prohibition, an Amendment banning the sale of alcohol. This caused the real birth of organized crime as people bought liquor illegally. Then there was the stock market crash of 1929, which set off the Great Depression. The 20s also saw many new inventions such as the radio, the 3-D movie, penicillin, and insulin.

Music and Radio

The radio was invented in the 20s and instantly became popular. People would gather everyday to listen to live shows over the radio and there was a huge clamor to own one. Jazz music ruled the air waves in the 20s. It was being played in dance halls and roadhouses everywhere. Louie Armstrong attained fame as did Joe “King” Oliver. Also very popular was Ragtime music.

Film and Theater

Broadway musicals became very popular during the 20s. It was considered glamorous to go and see a show. Times Square would be thriving with mobs every night. The 20s were considered Broadway’s prime, although the shows were considered cheap and sometimes tawdry at the time.

The 20s saw the rise of full-length, non-silent films, especially from 1926 onwards. Different film genres emerged during this time. Swashbucklers, melodramas, and historical films were all very popular as were gangster films.

The 20s brought many changes to the United States and influenced every generation which followed.