History and Society: What Was Happening in the 1920s

The 1920s, also known as the “Roaring Twenties,” was a decade of great economic growth, social change, and innovation in many areas, including technology, art, music, and politics. It was a time of optimism and prosperity in the aftermath of World War I, and the rise of new technologies and cultural shifts that would come to define the 20th century.

To better understand the context people were living in in the 1920s, it’s important to take a look separately at the main trends in Europe and the US.

Europe: What Was Happening in the 1920s

The era saw large-scale changes in European society. Here are the main developments introduced in this era that changed the life of an average person.

Ending of World War I

One of the defining moments of the 1920s was the end of World War I, which had a profound impact on both the social and political landscape of the era. The Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war in 1919, resulted in the dissolution of empires and the establishment of new nations, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. The war also created a sense of disillusionment and skepticism towards traditional institutions and authorities, paving the way for new social and cultural movements.

The war also provoked a wave of emigration to the US, which played a big role in the emergence of new opportunities and economic growth.

Emergence of fascism

The emergence of fascist and totalitarian regimes in Europe foreshadowed the instability and violence that would define the following decade. The rise of fascism and totalitarianism in Europe was another significant event of the 1920s. Benito Mussolini rose to power in Italy in 1922, and Adolf Hitler became the leader of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1921. Both men espoused nationalist and anti-Semitic beliefs, and their rise to power marked a dark turn in world history. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union emerged as a major world power under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, ushering in an era of communist influence and political tension.

Adoption of automobiles

The 1920s also saw significant advances in technology, particularly in transportation and communication. The widespread adoption of the automobile led to the development of new industries, such as oil and rubber, and transformed the way people lived and worked. The airplane also became a viable mode of transportation, with Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 capturing the world’s imagination. Meanwhile, advances in radio and telegraphy made communication faster and more efficient, connecting people across great distances and paving the way for the development of television and other electronic media.

The Follies Bergere Costume Show in Paris, France

In 1925, the Follies Bergere Costume Show in Paris showcased Jean Patou’s designs. He was the first designer to use a zipper in a dress and also designed the first swimsuit for women. Later he became known for using nylon in clothing, which made it much easier to create form-fitting garments that had previously been impossible due to restrictions on fabric stretching capabilities.

Coco Chanel

The founder and namesake of the Chanel brand, she was credited in the post-World War I era with popularizing a sporty, casual chic as the feminine standard of style. This replaced the “corseted silhouette” that was dominant beforehand with a style that was simpler, far less time-consuming to put on and remove, more comfortable, and less expensive, all without sacrificing elegance. 

US: What Was Happening in the 1920s

Here are some of the most known hallmarks and events that took place in the 20s.

How World War I affected the US

The United States entered World War I in 1917 and emerged from it stronger than ever before, with a new sense of national pride. At home, Americans were enjoying the fruits of their victory without directly facing the devastation of the war. Among them were higher wages, better working conditions, and shorter hours for many workers, safer food products, cleaner water supplies, better housing options that included electric lighting and indoor plumbing–the list goes on!

World War I definitely provoked considerable changes in society. As people on both sides of the Atlantic realized that life can end at any given moment, they strived to live their best life today, hence the trend for parties.

Women rights

The 1920s saw significant progress in women’s rights, particularly in the United States, where the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 gave women the right to vote. Women’s fashion also changed dramatically during this time, with shorter hemlines, looser clothing, and bolder accessories. Women began to assert their independence and pursue careers outside of the home, marking a significant shift in gender roles and societal expectations.

Flapper fashion

Change in women’s rights provoked visible changes in fashion. Women were finally able to wear what they wanted without being told by men or society that it was wrong or inappropriate. Women were also allowed to do what they wanted in life as long as it didn’t interfere with their husbands’ careers. This gave many women the opportunity to be themselves and express their individuality through fashion choices, hobbies and interests.

The 1910s fashion silhouettes changed considerably. The Flapper style was a new look for women in the 1920s, pioneered by Coco Chanel. Flappers were known for their short hair and short skirts, as well as their makeup and cigarettes. They also had a reputation for being fast-living women who loved dancing and partying all night long!

The Stock Market Boom

The stock market boom of the mid-1920s allowed many people to become wealthy, leading to a culture of excess and extravagance. However, this economic prosperity was not distributed equally, with many Americans, particularly farmers and laborers, experiencing financial hardship and poverty.


The prosperous 1920s were logically marked by a growing sense of consumerism and materialism. Advertising became more sophisticated and pervasive, promoting a wide range of products from cars to cigarettes to household appliances.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929

The stock market crash of 1929 marked the end of the era of fun, joy, and economic growth, as well as the start of a decade-long economic depression, which eventually led to World War II. The Great Depression lasted from 1929 until 1941, although some say it didn’t end until 1946 when WWII ended.

Rise of Jazz

The rise of jazz music was another hallmark of the 1920s. Jazz emerged in the African American communities of New Orleans and quickly spread to other parts of the country, becoming popular among both black and white audiences. Jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington became household names, and the genre had a significant influence on other styles of music, including blues and rock and roll.

Alcohol Ban

Prohibition, the ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol, was also a defining feature of the 1920s. Enshrined in the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Prohibition was intended to reduce crime and improve public health, but instead led to a rise in organized crime and corruption. Speakeasies, illegal bars that served alcohol, became a popular social destination, while bootleggers smuggled alcohol into the country and sold it on the black market.

Radio broadcasting

Technology was advancing rapidly: radio broadcasts began in 1920 while television did not become available until 1939.


One of the key 1920s makeup trends was intensity. The eye shadow was bolder than it is today; the lipstick was darker; the blush was more intense. The term ‘makeup’ actually was invented in the 20s. Makeup emerged as a mean to cover up flaws, accentuate features and create a certain look.


We hope you enjoyed this look back at some of the most memorable hallmarks and trends from the 1920s. If you’re looking for more information about this era, please check out our blog post on 1920s fashion.


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