The Parisian Life In The 1920’s
By Anne Rohan
I n France, the twenties were called the "Années Folles". This fascinating decade began after the First World War and ended with the economic crisis of 1929.
During this period, the behaviour of the French suddenly changed, with an aspiration to joy and debauchery, particularly in the upper and middle classes. The French tried by all means to get rid of the pre-war values.
The 1920s were a real watershed in the culture as well as in daily life which went through many changes.
France after the War :
Even though France came back victorious, the First World War had a big impact on the morale of the French. Indeed, they had seen so many disabled people and a lot of them lost part of their family. After five years of distress and austerity they wanted the war to be the "der des ders" (last of the last). A new period full of lightness and distractions was about to begin for a better society.
The 1920’s in Paris :
The main characteristics of the 1920’s were the change in habits and for demand of personal freedom.
This effervescence was most important in Paris, where, thanks to the influences coming from all over the world, mentalities and ways of living were revolutionised. The Parisians, thanks to the progress in great expansion, adopted a new, more modern lifestyle. They took advantage of this new freedom and some of them adopted an unbridled and exuberant behaviour.
The most considerable social change was certainly the feminine emancipation. Indeed, most of the women were alone during the War, and it changed their status in the society. They learned to live in accordance to their aspirations, and how to take responsibilities.
The novel of Victor Margueritte, which was called La Garçonne and was published in 1922, is a good illustration of the debauchery and the extravagance of this decade.
• The leisure :
In Paris in the 1920’s, people knew how to have fun. The middle class could finally have access to leisure the same as wealthy people. The Parisians went out often; they went to Music-hall shows (especially the reviews, like Josephine Baker’s), operettas, theatre, circus, but also to the cinema which was becoming more and more popular.
The consumption emerged during this period with the success of department stores and the institution of correspondence catalogues. The French began to have a different look towards money and the "nouveaux riches", (people who had just become wealthy thanks to the fallouts of the post-war inflation), emerged. The TSF (Téléphonie Sans Fil was created and allowed the society to benefit from the radio at home. The car industry was in full development and democratised this new mean of transport, symbol of modernity and elegance.
• The culture :
The 1920’s were a watershed concerning the culture. André Breton introduced the surrealism, a literary movement which attracted numerous writers. As far as music was concerned the jazz was very fashionable in luxurious parties of the Parisian elite. A new conception of the aestheticism emerged. It had some impact not only on the painting, the sculpture and the design (for example the artistic movement called "Art Déco"), but also on the appearance and more particularly on fashion.
• Fashion :
In the 1920’s, feminine fashion went through a real revolution. The woman’s status changed after the War; she was not only looked upon as a housewife anymore, but as an active and independent woman. Women showed a true will of freeing, they wanted to feel more feminine and liked being in fashion. The 1920’s were a new opportunity for women to taste a new freedom, like cutting their hair, wearing makeup and perfume, or smoking in public. They could dress in accordance with their liking. Thin silhouettes were fashionable as well as short dresses, high heels and bare legs. Women abandoned corsets and big hats that symbolised the pre-war reserve. Women of the 1920’s wanted to get rid of the constraints and remain elegant, what was made possible by the greatest fashion designers of the time, like Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel… The athletic look, as well as golf trousers, was fashionable for men. The tie, coming from the United States, appeared in 1924.
The end of the 1920’s :
The "Années Folles" were a cultural phenomenon which had important repercussions in the capital city but did not really disrupt the French social structures still remaining stiff.
The economic crisis of 1929 had a social and political impact that put an end to this period of lack of concern and "joie de vivre". The French feared the tensions increasing between the states and the rise of the nationalism which might lead to another dreaded war.