Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Saturday, July 17, 2010

I've been writing quite a bit about the 1920s and 1920s style.  It started by accident.  Tutankhamun's tomb (KV62) in Egypt's Valley of the Kings was discovered in 1922 and I have memories of watching old silent movies when I was a girl - Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  After all as a tiny tot I wasn't interested in the romances but slapstick is something I enjoyed.  (These days I really don't like slapstick anymore, but that's a different topic.)

The more I learn though, I realise just how special the 1920s were.  It was the start of the modern age.  Or put another way, I am starting to think that the Great Depression and World War II put back culture by two generations.  

There are clear parallels between the Bright Young Things, subject of the Stephen Fry movie, and the New Romantics of the 1970s and 1980s.    (I must read the Evelyn Waugh book.) 

The Charleston was the dance of the 1920s.  Dancers were accustomed to static upper bodies: the Charleston changed all of that.  In fact it was the arm movements which some thought to be like a bird flapping its wings that led to women being referred to as "flappers".   Fashion kept pace with this freedom of movement.  Women abandoned corsets, bustles and confining long skirts and dresses and wore short, simple dresses that wouldn't look too out of place today, although beads and feathers were more fashionable in the 1920s than they are today.  It still wasn't acceptable for a woman to show off much of a figure so a flat bodice was fashionable.  Nonethless, the 20s was the decade when women finally gained many of the freedoms modern women take for granted.  Suffrage saw women gain the vote.

As picture houses became more common, movie stars became the first celebrities.  Today we might think of Posh and Becks or Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  Back in the 1920s it was Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.  Invitations to their Pickfair mansion were the hottest invites in America, perhaps even hotter than the White House.  The papers followed Douglas and Pickford intensely.

We all also know that the Great Crash has parallels with the banking crash of the late Noughties with roots in permissive banking regulation and consumer debt.  The Great Crash and the slump which followed was the end of the laughter and gaiety of the 20s.  As the political situation in Europe grew ever tenser, there was little reason for optimism.  The Camelot age had come to an end and it took the world 50 - 60 years to recapture the magic.

What is frightening is the risk of a repeat.  Could the Credit Crunch still become a sovereign debt crisis?  Is the political situation in the Middle East and Pakistan much better than Europe in the 1930s?