In many ways, teens in the 1920s were similar to teens today. It was the teens of the 1920s who also celebrated the dawn of a new century and the promise of the future, just as teens today celebrate a new century filled with excitement and promise. Known as “The Roaring 20s,” “The Jazz Age,” and other nicknames, this era was one of romance, excitement, and American modernization.
Teenagers in the 1920s Danced Too
Dancing is a popular activity among tweens and teens today. Silentó has created hit songs with all the right dance moves to match the lyrics. In the 1920s, teens also had dances that were popular and provocative. While some of these dances were brand new, others were simply updated versions of older dances.
During this time, young people enjoyed the following dances:
- With periodic heel kicks, the Charleston involves bending and straightening the knees to the beat
- An old dance, the One-Step, was renamed the Foxtrot; young people added hops to each step
- The Tango is characterized by close contact between dance partners and a gaucho-like atmosphere
- A shimmy is a shaking of the upper body
- There is more individual performance with black bottom, which involves side-to-side stepping
- A slow waltz involves close physical contact between partners
Teenagers in the 1920s had a bit more freedom than teens today, although they did not enjoy quite as much freedom as they do today. The term “teenager” did not exist back then, but historians from U.S.History.org believe the idea originated in the 1920s. Older and younger children begin to differ more sharply during this time, making them distinct groups.
In their place were shorter, flapper-style dresses that replaced the long, constricting dresses and corsets of earlier in the century. Stockings were often worn with longer skirts by girls. During World War I, teen boys wore bomber jackets to resemble fighter pilots.
Since it was the style for young girls and women to dress alike, adolescent girls’ fashion followed women’s fashion. Teenage girl wardrobes in the 1920s typically included:
- Hats with a fun design
- Dresses with a drop waist and a loose fit
- The bloomers
- The stockings
- Dresses made of wool
- Wide collared blouses
- The galoshes
- Shoes with patent leather for parties
The fashion of adolescent boys from this era was similar to that of an adult male. Teenage boys usually wear the following items in their wardrobes:
- Patterned suits with round lapels and loose pants in light colors like gray, blue, or tan
- Striped shirts with vibrant colors
- Dress boots with lace-ups
During the 1920s, the country was doing well financially and experiencing a boom, so most teenagers could easily find work. Most people did not finish school because they could find jobs paying livable wages without a high school diploma. Due to this, many teens grew up faster and lived on their own earlier than they do today.
A million 10-15-year-olds had jobs in 1920, according to NPR. There are about one in twelve kids who work on family farms, of whom half are farmers. Work in manufacturing or as a messenger are other common jobs.
Model-T Fords were readily available in a stripped down, no frills version that was affordable for most families. Teenagers were often allowed to use their automobiles for social purposes, but most families only had one automobile.
With the invention of the automobile, kids were also able to travel farther to school, resulting in the creation of consolidated high schools. The one-room schoolhouse was no longer acceptable and preferred for older adolescents. A quarter of adolescents attended high school by the 1920s, according to Time magazine.
Teenagers in the 1920s enjoyed unsupervised recreation four nights a week with friends and peers, according to Time. Automobiles revolutionized teen dating because young people could now date privately rather than in front of their parents. Families with cars often allowed adolescents to drive to:
- Take in a vaudeville show or a movie
- Go get some ice cream
- You can get Coca Colas here
- Taking it easy while driving
Differences Between 1920s and Today’s Teens
Compared to teenagers today, teens in the 1920s had some marked differences.
- A lot of technology wasn’t available to teens in the 1920s, such as cell phones, iPods, or laptop computers. They didn’t even have telephones in their homes, and they couldn’t watch television to distract them. Teenagers enjoyed listening to radio shows and music, socializing with friends, and pursuing various arts and studies. Toward the end of the decade, young people were also able to enjoy movies with sound for the first time.
- The importance of education in the 1920s was not as great as it is today. As young as 14, many teenagers quit school and started working full-time. Higher education was available, but not as readily accessible. In the past, getting into college was much more difficult for women than for men.
- Women and men played very different roles in society in the 1920s, even though teens had quite a bit of independence. In centuries past, women were expected to get married and raise a family, even if it wasn’t necessary for survival. Even so, most girls married and started families rather than pursue careers. In spite of this, women like Amelia Earhart offered hope that they could accomplish anything they set their minds to.
- The 1920s were a time of great jazz popularity. It was also a favorite to listen to ragtime and Broadway music. There were a lot of brass instruments and soulful notes in the sound. Edith Day, Al Jolson, Paul Whiteman, and Mamie Smith were popular artists.
The Start of Teenage Years
Describe teens in the 1920s is to describe the general attitude of the time. As World War I ended, new technologies were being developed, and the economy was booming, everyone was ecstatic. There was a relaxed atmosphere, even in fashion.
Although the teens of the 1920s and today’s teenagers have similarities, the 1920s were a unique time in history that will never be repeated. However, we are left with hints of independence and a sense of hope for the future that date back to the second decade of the twentieth century.