Women's lifestyles in the 1920s & '30s

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Women's lifestyles in the 1920s & '30s
"Flappers" had a slender appearance and were considered to be the apex of 1920s women's fashion. (PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

The 1920s and 1930s were a particularly dynamic period of change for women's lifestyles. Work patterns, educational goals, and basic notions of morality, etiquette and fashion for women in the United States were radically transformed by global economic and geopolitical factors. These decades heralded a greater visibility for women not only in the labour force, but on an intellectual plane as well.

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The industrial revolution of the late 19th century led to a greater need for domestic servants. Women in the work force traditionally took roles as housekeepers or domestic servants who could perform "ritual cleaning," notes "The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History." By the 1920s and 1930s, greater access to education and continued economic prosperity allowed many middle-class women to take roles as teachers, secretaries and temporary office workers.

Education and Morality

The rate of women enrolling in college during this period rose substantially. For the first time, there was now a social class of "college women" who thought of themselves as being distinct from adults. This exploratory period allowed them to experiment with the boundaries of their sexuality and their social structure. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "The best flapper is resilient emotionally and courageous morally. You always know what she thinks, but she does all her feeling alone." Freed from the pressure to immediately marry, young women could focus on developing their minds and their career ambitions.


The 1920s was a spectacular decade for fashion. While the slender but highly accessorised "flapper" was a model for many young women, personal fashion frequently served as a yardstick of social standing. Those women who did not adopt a stylish manner of dress or a svelte personal appearance were regarded as being beneath polite society. This pressure lessened somewhat during the 1930s, when extreme economic hardship forced many to stop buying new clothes.

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