It’s safe to say we haven’t had the swinging start to the roaring 20s that we might have liked. We might have embraced the pandemic element of the decade, and if we want to be cynical about it, the economic depression too, but there have been very few Gatbsy worthy parties.
However, with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby finally coming into the public domain in 2021, it seems like a good time to embrace the more positive elements of the 1920s. From fashion to art to literature, the era swiftly redefined culture and challenged the status quo. The world we currently find ourselves in is eerily reflective of these rapid changes.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby (2013), Robertebert.com
Whilst comparing the current pandemic to the ‘Great War’ may sound melodramatic, and arguably it is, the societal shift we’ve seen take place over recent months echoes the massive changes the first world war triggered. We’ve found ourselves in a new normal in a similar way to the post-war years. Fitzgerald reflected this feeling of great relief and yet unease in the years following the armistice in his work, and coined the result of this as the “jazz age”. We might be a little while away from the “jazz age” 2.0, but here are a couple of ways that we can embrace the roaring 1920s in the 2020s.
The Golden Age of Literature
There’s a reason the 1920s are known as the golden age of literature. The decade saw an influx of female writers due to bettering women’s right, increased literacy rates equating to reading becoming increasingly popular, and a monumental change to life post-war that saw shifts in themes and issues addressed in the literature.
The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, 1921, Simondandschuster.com
Whilst most of us have probably been forced to read The Great Gatsby for school at one point, Fitzgerald’s other works are just as compelling if not more so and embrace the glitz of the era like no other. His first novel, This Side of Paradise, was a commercial success unlike Gatsby, whilst The Beautiful and The Damnned and Tender is the Night capture the era with Fitzgerald’s signature melancholy. However, Zelda, his wife, regularly complained of him plagiarising her letters and diaries to use in his novels.
Zelda and F.Scott Fitzgerald, Smithsonian.com
Whilst we can not know for sure the truth of these allegations, Zelda also published a novel later in life, Save Me the Waltz, which gives a fascinating insight into the life of one of the original flappers and her marriage to the father of the ‘lost generation’ of writers.
Other key female authors from this period are Virginia Woolf, Colette, Dorothy Parker and Gertrude Stein. The later was known for holding infamous parties in Paris for Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Picasso, and her novels give a brilliant insight into the social nightlife of the time.
French writer and personality Colette, brainpickings.org
Alternatively, Woolf’s work is all a bit darker and experimental. She stormed through the barries set for her as a woman and the expectation that she should write dainty books about courtship and gossip. The Waves, Orlando and To the Lighthouse can be difficult to read but helped redefine what the novel could be and are great additions to your reading lists.
Era Defining Fashion
The fashion of the 1920s was groundbreaking. For women, gone were tight and constricting dresses and in were short dresses and trousers. Both caused quite the stir and were mainly reserved for the more rebellious women of society.
The beach trouser, vintagedresser.com
During the war, more women than ever were at work in the fields and factories doing men’s jobs, which saw them donning work trousers. Trousers were also seen as acceptable on women as sportswear, and under this umbrella sits the “beach trouser”. Made of chiffon or silk, the beach trouser could be worn at home or as a cover-up at the beach, but by the end of the decade, they were being worn to the theatre, parties and to raise the eyebrows of polite society. The uproar over women wearing trousers was felt so strongly, that France only officially made it legal in 2013.
Coco Chanel, Vogue.com
As for skirts, French fashion designer Coco Chanel ushered in the flapper era with her love for practical and easy clothes that allowed for full movement. Long hair went out of fashion for being too ‘difficult’ and Chanel’s masculine suits and silhouettes defined the era. The flappers also embraced the ‘Oriental’ style that came over with increased trade links to China, and beading, long strings of pearls and bangles replaced the outdated frills of lace that dominated previously.
Women of the 1920s embracing the new trends, catworkyourself.com
Whilst these styles weren’t universal, the shortening of the hemline and embracing more masculine styles paved the way for future liberation in women’s fashion and the freedom we have today with how we dress.
The Art of the Roaring 20s
The overarching artistic movement of the 1920s is Art Deco, and it wasn’t just limited to the canvas. Art Deco was a dedication to streamlined minimalism, yet not in the way we view the word today. Deco embraced luxurious material and represented luxury and glamour and the faith in advancement during the ‘golden age’.
The Chrysler Building embodies Art Deco, Jamesmaherphotography.com
One of the easiest ways to embrace Art Deco is through furniture and art. Furniture from the era was opulent to point of vulgarity, bold and often included geometric designs. Tiffany lamps are probably the most iconic pieces, but chrome and glass coffee tables, bar carts and round armed chairs can help achieve a 1920s look at home.
Jimson Weed, Georgia O'Keefe, Tate.org
As for art, social progress was a recurring motif reflective of our current time. The big names include Salvador Dali, Georgia O’keefe, Marcel Duchamp, Edvard Munch, and Pablo Piccaso. The movements that defined the era were arguably Surrealism, Dada and Expressionism. By including a print or finding inspiration from one of these artists and incorporating their work in your own, you can easily surround yourself with the art of the 1920s.
As we look forward to a new year, there are many negative parallels we could draw to the 1920s. However, the era broke the way forward for many sectors of society and fundamentally changed our artistic culture. Hopefully, we can embrace these positive elements and start to enjoy the 2020s with the same enthusiasm and fun as the flappers and members of the 'lost generation'.