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America of the 20th Century

The twentieth century was marred with a lot of events for American society. In the 1920s in specific was marked with acceptance of consumer society developed from the rise of postwar young female generation and a subsequent boom in economic growth. The 20th-century triggered material extraction that so significant changes in cultural practices across the diverse aspects of life, including the explosion of individualism, materialism, and Epicureanism (Tomko, 2018). In particular, women of the 20th-century, commonly referred to as “flappers,” played significant roles in the establishment of mass media as well as revealing lurking tension thriftiness and morality embodied by the traditional value for modernity and the Victorian Age. During and after World War I (WWI), trauma, hardship, and despair engulfed American society and other parts of the world (Glennon, 2019). American women had their freedom limited following the rules provided by those in authority, female gender was confined to home activities, not able to vote, and their rights were nearly half to those of males. The essay depicts on 20th-century America narrowing down to the flappers of the 1920s and Prohibition as well as the cultural fashion adopted by the group.

The flappers’ incorporated young women of the middle income who ideally wore the flapper look characterized by the low waistline, bobbed hair, and short skirts. The flappers’ generation was seen as brash due to its liberal ideas that created ripples in American society as they were accused of flouting social norms by drinking, dancing, and smoking. The Jazz Age, consumer capitalism, along with the postwar materials, paved the way for the development of flapper culture as the modern girls. The young women in the 1920s contributed much in leading the rise of contemporary culture that female gender is equally respected as that of their male counterparts, freedom and rights of women as same to that of men (Reinsch, 2016). Even though American society was still dominated by individuals who stick to the traditional and conservative values passed from the Victorian Age, female gender had begun to adopt change early in the 1890s when more women enrolled for university studies. Academics enlightened women and later became active in the society by 1920s demanding for their rights and freedom to lead, decide on economic matters, and join politics (Tomko, 2018).

The rise of flapper came as a significant change in the societal status of American women revolutionizing through fashion as their new cultural force. Media contributed much in represented the flappers and creating awareness of the emerged generation to the public domain. The newspapers and magazines focused on fashion and freewheeling ideas generated by the flappers pushing for the growing perception and independence of 1920s women (Donald, 2016). The flappers, as illustrated in films and stated in some fiction novels, were far placed from the conventional view of women as the embodiment of materialism, dynamic social being, and indulgence in free activities. In the books of F. Scott Fitzgerald, many heroines, were portrayed as persons seeking fun and attention through fashion and were as well impersonated in the popular movies of the 1920s as lovely flappers (Reinsch, 2016). For all the indicators those flappers were tremendous changes and symbols of 1920s postwar American society, no precise categorization of the group have ever been made (Reinsch, 2016). The flappers’ first portrayed young women with sound and open minds but later in the 1920s became more comprehensive and demanding for new cultural practices (Donald, 2016).

Looking at women’s revolution through fashion in the 1920s, Art Deco and Paul Poiret cannot be excluded from the discussion (Donald, 2016). Poiret, a commercial leader in fashion practices of French industries in the 20th century, resigned the strain between reproduction and originality in the historical framework issues in the era (Donald, 2016). After postwar, American women fashion shifted to exposing female body figures showing how erotic the young female generation developed from the Jazz Age and Victorian era. Based on research and observation made, flappers were the first female generation to freely exercise their democratic rights in voting for electorates and enjoying leisure activities and urban life putting on dresses of their choice, drinking, and smoking. Additionally, some researches have been completed on the flappers’ fashion concerning their artistic trends in the period. Mackrell analyzed how fashion shapes, accessories, fabric adornments, or jewelry influenced the flapper generation by demonstrating a close relationship between clothing wore and the intentions of the individuals (Burr, 2017). The fashion design of the flappers was characterized by the young women generation desire for change depicting their vision, skills, and freedom.

According to Burr (2017), several perspectives were attached to the flapper fashion in the 20th century, which developed from the previous era of Jazz Age and Victorian; it considered the group as independent individuals and truthful to their desires in the context of liberating women. The American women’s liberation movement in the 1960s was highly influenced by the flappers of the 1920s who are assumed to have been of age enough to advise their younger ones on how to go about advocating for their rights (Burr, 2017). Cultural norms on the desirable status and women’s behavior had long been present in the history of humanity. The expectation and requirements of the American societal norm gave birth to a different act of kindness through femininity representatives in every era passed. During the 19th century, women were forcefully held to live in line with the Victorian ideal, where the female gender was respectful, moral, and submissive. However, it was until the late 19th century that modernization led to changes where women were enlightened through schooling; at the university level, women expressed themselves through fashion and changed behavior.

After postwar in the 1920s, American society faced an economic boom, which favored the majority of the citizens, among them women (Glennon, 2019). The unprecedented economic growth changed people’s lifestyles to their cultural practices. The new technology adopted in the 20th century contributed to making the 1920s women’s vision of developed popular-culture in American society a reality more than the liberal ideas (Glennon, 2019). The American culture and modern women’s practices can be said to have been foretold by the flapper and concept of femininity illustrated in the 20th century. If the need arises to determine the exact cause of flappers in the 1920s, a comparison between Gibson Girl and Victorian eras is necessary. Between 1900 and 1920, the Victorian and previous Gibson Girl cultural practices held in American society began to weaken, and the local communities led women to decide over their lives (Glennon, 2019). The most notable among the changes was the fact that women started expressing the attitude towards sex more than their male counterparts. Urban women adopted technology in completing house chores using refrigerators and vacuum cleaners.

According to Adam (2018), it is in the 20th century that Prohibition was enacted in the United States. During the 1920s, when flappers were actively engaging in activities against the social norms of women’s behavior, smoking, and drinking alcohol, the government banned all importation, transportation, and sale of liquor (Glennon, 2019). The enactment that lasted from 1920 to 1933 formed the period called the Prohibition era in American society (Adam (2018). Prohibition was difficult to enact despite the influential legislation act recognized as the Volstead Act put in place to control liquor in the country. Crime and violence had increased among the Americans leading to increased support of the ban until the end of the decade. However, in 1933, Congress enacted a new act proposing a 21st Amendment of the American Constitution that overturned the 18th leading to the uplifting of Prohibition (Adam (2018). It should be noted that Prohibition was developed from women’s massive support and outcry of temperance societies. The women argued that alcohol played a significant role in enacting the temperance movement, painting alcohol as a destructive ailment for marriages and families.

Earlier in 1906, waves emerged against the ban on the sale of liquor driven by young women who argued that alcohol had nothing to do with violence or marriage issues (Pauly, 2015). The flappers called upon the government’s desire to increase industrialization and employment to women in general. President Wilson Woodrow had stated that Prohibition was aimed at saving grain for food purposes since the country had not produced much in the short-time after WWI. Prohibition was initially left for the local and federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) before transferred to the Prohibition Bureau (Pauly, 2015). The ban was highly enforced in areas where locals were sympathetic to the enacted laws, including small towns, rural areas, and higher learning institutions. Linda (2018) asserts that the Prohibition era recorded 30 percent declined in drinking with very few arrests of those found drinking, transport of selling liquor. Nonetheless, the ban did not bring to end consumption of alcohol as those who wanted to take acquired new means of drinking. Instead of ending violence as objected, the Prohibition-era led to men sobering up to understand the need for the women who had revolutionized through fashion.

It is during the period that young women adopted a new cultural way of doing things, including drinking, smoking, leadership, and economic practices like their male counterparts. Crime rates and violence related to bootlegging was reported higher during the Prohibition period contradicting the goals and objective of the act. Some men acquired and dressed in police officers attires attacked and killed individuals from an enemy gang using fashion to camouflage in the society.) Young women had adopted new fashion to display their body shapes and figure an erotic manner according to the 20th-century norms of American society (Linda, 2018). By the end of 1929, Prohibition was waning as nativist and fundamentalist gained more control over the superior members of the temperance movement (Starks, 2017). The young women associated with flappers were determined to not only attaining the freedom but also to get jobs while through with their higher learning education. The economic depression suffered in 1932 in the United States forced the legislature to uplift the ban through amending the Constitution against the 18th enactment of the temperance movement (Starks, 2017).

Socialization among the young women generation in the 1920s helped attain their objectives of freedom for the women and also industrial revolution the manufacturing of liquor (Wasserman, 2016). Flappers were united in the conventional fashion style that led to the adoption of similar attitudes towards cultural norms in place to guide on societal issues. In support of Prohibition, flappers were criticized by feminists that they were unconventional from the Victorian era that directed for female gender way of life and behavior. The Prohibition helped some men understand the desire of one’s heart to complete specific activities as they felt denied the right to drinking, selling, and transporting as a form of doing business to earn a living. The majority of families who depended on the liquor industries for monthly income ganged up both the male and female accusing the government and its leadership. The feminists flaunted flappers on parading their youthfulness, dancing, and wearing make-up without a significant aim. They further stated that flappers had no interest in all women, none other than pushing for gender equality to their male counterparts. To some flappers, the term feminist was not correct but an insult to the female gender that possesses equal and superior powers to development as the male gender (Wasserman, 2016).

In conclusion, many scholars emerged in the 1930s that recognized the development of the flappers as a significant phenomenon that fought for their rights as women in the advancement of the present American society. The scholars distinguish their argument, stating that the flappers applied “new woman look” as the concept through fashion and design to change the traditional norm in society. Flappers were highly interested in securing women’s freedom though indirectly fought against the societal norms by dressing as pleased, drinking, and smoking as males do. Given the involvement of women in economic opportunities during and after World War II, the flappers contributed much to freeing the female gender from the traditional norms of their defined role in society. Prohibition as well played significant roles in helping women acquire equality in American society as presently lived.


Adam, R. R. (2018). Mapping the Muggleheads: New Orleans and the Marijuana Menace, 1920­–1930. Southern Spaces.

Burr, C. A. (2017). Why the Flapper Still Matters: Feminist Pedagogy, the Modern Girl, and the Women Artists of the Beaver Hall Group. Historical Studies in Education29(2), 113

Donald, P. (2016). Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and 1920s Flapper Culture, 10(2), 123–132;

Glennon, J. L. (2019). American ways and their meaning : Edith Wharton’s post-war fiction and American history, ideology, and national identity.

Linda, M. (2018). Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s Angela J. Latham: The American Historical Review106(4), 1389;

Pauly, P. J. (2015). Is Liquor Intoxicating? Scientists, Prohibition, and the Normalization of Drinking: American Journal of Public Health84(2), 305–313.

Reinsch, O. (2016). Flapper Girls – Feminism and Consumer Society in the 1920s: Gender Forum, (42), 1

Starks, T. A. (2017). A Revolutionary Attack on Tobacco: Bolshevik Antismoking Campaigns in the 1920s. American Journal of Public Health107(11), 1711–1717.

Tomko, L. J. (2018). Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s: Dance Research Journal, (2), 131.

Wasserman, I. M. (2016). Prohibition and Ethnocultural Conflict: The Missouri Prohibition Referendum of 1918. Social Science Quarterly (University of Texas Press)70(4), 886–901.


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