Crazes in the 1920s

Silent movie star Louise Brooks started a craze with her shingle bob haircut.
... General Photographic Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The postwar decade celebrated as the Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age, was a time of significant social change. With World War I over, Americans welcomed a period of prosperity and revelry. It was a time of jazz music, dancing and speakeasies where bootleg liquor flowed during Prohibition. Money flowed, too, leading to a stock market boom and wild speculation on Wall Street. A number of crazes and fads swept the nation. At the same time, people sought refuge from all the giddiness and unpredictability. For that, they turned their focus to national heroes, sports champions and other role models who embodied traditional American values.

1 Dance Crazes

With the advent of radio, American popular music and dances reached a coast-to-coast audience. An energetic new dance called the Charleston became all the rage in the nation's ballrooms and dance halls. Young people were eager to show off their skills, sprightliness and stamina. Another popular craze was the round-the-clock dance marathon. A human endurance contest, a dance marathon required couples to move their feet practically nonstop for dozens or even hundreds of hours, competing for cash prizes.

2 Fashion Trends

In the 1920s new hat styles emerged for men, along with argyle socks and raccoon fur coats. But Jazz Age fashion trends were more noteworthy for women, whose clothing and hairstyles reflected shifts in social attitudes. Women's skirts and bathing suits got shorter, as did their hair. Young women who danced the Charleston, wore skimpy dresses and bobbed their locks were nicknamed flappers. Silent film star Louise Brooks popularized the shingle cut, while jazz singer Josephine Baker modeled a daring Eton crop. After the first Miss America pageant in 1921, beauty contests came into vogue. Beauty was no longer the domain of the leisure class. Even housewives and working women shopped for the latest fashions and cosmetics in the Sears catalog or at chain stores like Woolworth's.

3 Pop Culture Fads and Pastimes

Many 1920s Americans spent their free time enjoying new games and activities, along with a few fads. One of the most notorious fads of the decade was flagpole sitting, in which a person would climb the local flagpole and sit on top of it for as long as possible. Like a dance marathon, flagpole sitting was a test of endurance. Back on the ground, mah-jongg, a Chinese game, became a wildly popular pastime. Simon and Schuster published the first crossword puzzle book, which launched a nationwide crossword craze. Two stylish new periodicals, Time and Reader's Digest, hit the newsstands. Meanwhile, the Book-of-the-Month Club lured thousands of avid readers into literary discussion groups.

4 Aviators and Sports Heroes

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh became the first man to complete a solo transatlantic flight. He became an overnight sensation and a national hero. The story of his courageous flight filled the front pages of newspapers around the world, while his Midwestern modesty charmed the nation. As a pioneering female aviator, Amelia Earhart inspired millions. Athletes like golfer Bobby Jones and boxer Jack Dempsey also became celebrities, while baseball legends Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth served as role models for a generation of American youth. Heroes like these gave Americans a sense of security in a time of sweeping social change and uncertainty.

Shannon Leigh O'Neil, a New York City-based arts and culture writer, has been writing professionally since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "GO Magazine," "The New York Blade" and "HX Magazine," as well as online media. O'Neil holds a Master of Arts in modern art history from the City College of New York, where she also studied French and minored in classical languages.