At Large  January 30, 2020  Chandra Noyes

8 Trends from the Roaring Twenties to Inspire the 2020s

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Josephine Baker performing the Charleston.

So goes the saying that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In that spirit, what better way to embark on a new decade than by looking back. The 1920s were a period of incredible highs and lows, marked by major societal changes and the catastrophic crash of the stock market in 1929. As we begin the 2020s, let’s look back on what made the 1920s such a remarkable decade, and one worth learning from. Here are eight trends from the 1920s to inspire the 2020s.

Wikimedia Commons library of congress

1. Art Deco

Bold and exuberant in its style, Art Deco exemplified the excitement of the era. Using fine craftsmanship and quality materials, Art Deco was luxurious, glamorous and optimistic. Skyscrapers like the Chrysler and Empire State buildings were modern looking but had the stateliness of tradition. Similarly, Tamara de Lempicka’s portraits of beautiful women in sleek cars were classic beauties living on the cutting edge. Art Deco shows us how contemporary design can look modern and timeless.

Russell Patterson (1893-1977), Where there's smoke there's fire, c. 1925. wikimedia commons library of congress

2. Flappers

With their bobbed hair and drop-waist dresses, flappers instantly come to mind when we envision the 1920s. With pencil-thin eyebrows, bee-stung lips, and short hemlines, the style of starlets like Clara Bow has become iconic. In addition to their dress, the public smoking, drinking, dancing, and liberal stance on sex of these young women scandalized polite society. As great as generational divides seem today, it is helpful to remember that youngsters have frustrated and mystified their elders for centuries.

Carter and King Jazzing Orchestra in 1921, Houston, Texas. wikimedia commons

3. Jazz

In the United States in the 1920s and '30s, jazz was king. Owing in part to the rise of radios, people across the country, and especially young people, could now listen to the swinging beats coming out of New Orleans. A new hybrid style mixing blues, ragtime, and Creole music, jazz was a way to rebel from tradition. Because it became the soundtrack of the 1920s, the era was called the Jazz Age, and its once-radical sound is now considered America’s classical music. Now, America is more of a melting pot than ever, providing ample opportunity to create new artforms by mixing our cultural traditions together, just like jazz did.

Joseph Stella, Brooklyn Bridge, 1919–1920. wikimedia commons Yale University Art Gallery

4. Precisionism

With its stark geometric shapes and smooth handling of paint, Precisionist artists turned their eye to the uniquely American landscape. Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth and others depicted the infrastructure and machinery, as well as new buildings, that would come to define America. Meanwhile, Georgia O’Keefe, who remains one of America’s most famous artists, depicted nature and the landscape in simple, elegant forms that still enchant us. Precisionism was the first art movement to emerge solely out of America, and would set the stage for the modernist art movements to come. Precisionists' ability to admire the simple beauty of our complex world is a skill that is more valuable today than ever before.

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5. Suffrage

The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 set the tone for a decade of social change. For more than half a century, advocates for women’s suffrage lobbied and protested, many spending time in jail for their efforts. In the current political climate, with many feeling that political division is at an all-time high, all sides can agree that exercising your civic duty to vote is more important than ever.

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6. The Harlem Renaissance

As millions of African-Americans migrated from the southern to the northern US seeking economic opportunities, new creative communities were quickly born. The result was the Harlem Renaissance, an all-encompassing political, intellectual, social, and artistic movement, out of which came some of the greatest works of art, literature, and music of the 1920s. Based in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, the explosion of music and literature would reach the entire nation. The way artists like Langston Hughes, James Van Der Zee, and Augusta Savage, above, celebrated their identities and communities through creative expression remains an inspiration to artists today.

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7. Prohibition

The 1920 constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in America shaped the decade. While drinking rates did drop, crime syndicates ran a booming black market for alcohol that saw the rise of bootlegging and speakeasies. The Eighteenth Amendment became increasingly unpopular until its repeal in 1933. While few would advocate for prohibition in 2020, temperance is seeing a rise in popularity. Alcohol is a leading cause of death in America, and some are now taking a more mindful approach to their drinking, which has led to the opening of alcohol-free bars and of companies selling craft mocktails.

wikimedia commons Hjochheim

8. Bauhaus

The design principles of the Bauhaus brought simple elegance to art and everyday objects. In a time of great industrial growth and developments in mass production, these artists, including  Mies Van Der Rohn, Josef and Anni Albers, and Walter Gropius, insisted that the functional could also be beautiful. As our world moves away from cheap, disposable, goods to more sustainable ones, the Bauhaus principle that design must insist on things being useful, well-made, and beautiful, should guide us. Originally based in Weimar, Germany, the school was officially disbanded in 1933 after facing backlash from the Nazi party. Many of its leading artists and professors moved to America where they would influence an entire generation of artists.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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