We’re Due For Our Own Roaring Twenties
The end of the 1918 pandemic led to the roaring 1920s. Conditions are ripe for our fabulous renaissance.
In the 1920s, we were shot out of a dismal cannon as the despair of world war and the flu pandemic, which combined, claimed the lives of nearly 800,000 Americans. But this led to a period of cultural change, economic expansion, jazz music, and club dancing. And we did it in style and with glamour because we were fed up.
At the near sunset of our generation’s pandemic, it seems we are also poised for a renaissance. And 100 years later, we are due. With less than 3 million vaccines delivered in the U.S., the virus is far from over, but I’m hopeful of a day soon after when people replace sweatpants with the dapper duds that have hung dormant in closets for months — to party in real life.
“Pandemic exhaustion, nearly 100 years after the roaring 1920s, poises us all for a great coming out party, just like our ancestors before us.”
When this is over, we’ve all earned our Roaring Twenties. The 2020s. When the pent-up frustration, stress, and general malaise from isolation will usher in an exponential boom to cultural expansion, nightlife, music, and arts once we can do so safely, and we will do it in style, baby!
The Roaring 1920s
Americans took a beating leading up to the 1920s. We were embroiled in the First World War, which lasted for several years until 1918 and resulted in 116,708 U.S. military deaths.
In addition, the Spanish Flu, which spread from 1918 to 1919, infected 500 million people worldwide. By the time the pandemic was over, according to the CDC, the flu had claimed 50 million deaths globally, with 675,000 lost in the United States.
Our generation, too, has endured the loss of life and will, unfortunately, continue to do so until the coronavirus has been eradicated by vaccine. But pandemic exhaustion, nearly 100 years after the roaring 1920s, poises us all for a great coming out party, just like our ancestors before us.
Aside from the collective sigh of relief that the great war and flu pandemic was finally over in 1920, other cultural changes were taking hold. The twenties brought changes to culture like the 19th Amendment which extended voting rights to women in 1920.
And in 1921, the American Birth Control League was formed, which advocated for women’s reproductive rights and health. This was a precursor of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Strict sexual norms of the previous era eased in a more sexually permissive society. Men and women dated, while some tried trial marriages where couples (Gasp!) lived together out of wedlock.
Fashion, too, was revolutionized in a wild departure from the Victorian era as women exposed their (double gasp!) knees in skirts modeled after Coco Chanel’s ‘little black dress,’ introduced in 1926. Chanel, a popular fashion designer of the era, said, “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
And that’s precisely what “flappers” of the time did. They coiffed short bobs of hair, wore cosmetics, and dropped their corsets in exchange for skirts with plunging necklines and raised hems as they drank, smoked, voted, and danced.
But the dancing and drinking had to happen on the down-low. That’s because 1920 marked the beginning of Prohibition, commonly referred to as the Volstead Act, which made alcohol illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport.
This led men and women to party underground, in speakeasies and cigarette smoke-filled jazz joints. During the Jazz Age, the liquor poured in clubs as people partied like it was 1929. And they did it with elegance and style since clothing and image were essential or, as Chanel said, “classy and fabulous.”
It’s our time
The 1920s were marked by flamboyant music, style, drinking, and getting out to dance. And after a year of comfy clothes and virtual meetings, we, too, will be ready to boogie.
People have been cooped up in their homes for far too long in stretchy pants and slippers, shopping from home. Some pundits suggest that these ‘new normal’ behaviors will take hold. But while we won’t be returning to the shopping mall, I suspect we will be heading to the disco — or the equivalent — as recent evidence reveals a pent-up demand for in-person events.
Despite warnings from health officials, we witnessed large gatherings from 460,000 people who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to mask-free parties on the White House lawn just a few months ago. To be clear, both events led to covid-19 outbreaks and are not to be glorified.
But the fact that people were willing to engage in the risky behavior then, either due to ignorance or in deference to recommendations against doing so, lends a strong argument to the volume of in-person activities we can expect once it is deemed safe for all to do so.
We might be slurping cocktails from sippy cups in the future to prevent the transmission of germs. But we will be classy and fabulous drinking from our sippy cups.
Hopefully, by the end of next year, most of the population will be inoculated to the virus, allowing schools and businesses to fully reopen. Possibly by the fall, travel will pick up, assisted by the proliferation of digital “vaccination passports.”
Party in Ibiza, baby! Similar technology, being developed by companies like Clear and CommonPass, will be used for safe access to large venues for entertainment, music, and sports. Are you ready for some football?
One more thing we’ve learned is that virtual events of 2020 have stunk. Yes, they are safe. But they’re also boring. Even televised New Year’s Eve celebrations last night were a snore-fest without the usual crowds. Virtual museum visits, virtual marathons, and virtual concerts are lame compared to the real-world alternatives and the ability to share the moments with friends in-person rather than over digital likes.
When this is over, yes, we will be attending big musical events in clubs and stadiums. I predict a resurgence of the monster rock tours that harken back to the 1980s and some bands like Green Day have already scheduled dates in anticipation.
Though how we attend these events will change. Even with herd immunity, for a time, we may still be wearing masks. We will be more health-conscious, so don’t expect food buffets at the club.
And we might be slurping cocktails from sippy cups in the future to prevent the transmission of germs. But we will be classy and fabulous drinking from our sippy cups.
Even good things must pass
Even though the economy saw significant gains during the roaring twenties, the wealth was not evenly distributed.
More than 60% of Americans lived just below the poverty line. We’ve already seen parallels with our K-shaped recovery that has benefitted certain sectors and populations while others continue to slide.
And the Roaring Twenties ultimately ended with a crash on Black Friday. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 led to the Great Depression, which lasted for ten years.
Some analysts caution that we, too, are due for a major market correction. But perhaps we can put in a pin in that for a decade while I get my polyester dry-cleaned?
Because even though we haven’t been involved in a World War, the parallels to the 1920s are uncanny. This past year we’ve had coronavirus, staggering unemployment, murder hornets, devastating fires, and racial prejudice and social injustice leading to unacceptable losses of life.
Soon, it will be our time to disco. And it will be fabulous.