Perhaps more than any other era in American history, the 1920s saw a dramatic shift in women’s appearance. Young women wore clothes and hairstyles significantly different than their mothers. This massive change was made possible by expanding fashion and beauty industries. Women purchased ready-made versions of the latest styles at reasonable prices through catalogs and at department stores. They also bought lipstick, rouge, and other makeup products at drugstores. Lower prices allowed women from a variety of economic backgrounds to embrace the latest styles. The expanding advertising industry helped take trends national. Fashion and cosmetics advertisements targeted young women in magazines, on radio stations, and on billboards across the nation.
The most popular styles embodied the new generation’s focus on unconventionality and sexual freedom. Young women of the 1920s felt empowered by the vote, birth control, mass media, cars, and other modern conveniences not necessarily available to their mothers. Short skirts and short hair were a direct rebellion of traditional ideals of womanhood. Even underwear changed as young women chose bras over restrictive corsets. But the styles were also practical. The bob cut required less attention than long hair and fancy updos. And knee-length skirts made it easier to dance, climb out of cars, and explore the world. Fashions were also designed to attract a prospective partner. The rise of dating culture meant young women not only dressed up for themselves but also for the enjoyment of others.
These photographs show women of diverse backgrounds embracing the newest fashions of the 1920s. This combination of images highlights the fact that women across communities embraced the same trends, such as bobbed hair, high heels, and short skirts.