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Roaring ’20s—Take Two?

In Feature Stories, June 2021 by Lauren KruchtenLeave a Comment

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It’s been over 100 years since the last major pandemic. What followed was a decade of prosperity and partying a la Roaring ’20s. Will history repeat itself?

Who’s ready to party like it’s 1920? History has a way of repeating itself—case in point, the 100-year pandemic (the 1918 flu that wreaking havoc on the globe with extraordinary mortality—sound familiar?). What followed that 1918 influenza and the end of World War I, of course, was a period of glitz and glamour, economic prosperity, political and social change, shiny new objects (see: automobiles), and an explosion of culture—aka the Roaring ’20s. 

And while we didn’t experience a world war last year, we did endure social unrest and a year-plus of loss, angst, confusion, masks, closures—and restlessness. So, since history does have a tendency to repeat itself, we’re predicting a Roaring ’20s replica of sorts: 2020s style. 

With vaccinations, businesses and travel resurging; concerts on the calendar; and restrictions lifting at relatively rapid pace; and now the CDC’s latest, that fully vaxxed people can unmask indoors and out—well, as Jimmy Fallon reacted: “Every bar in New York City is going to feel like St. Patrick’s Day fell on Cinco de Mayo.” Retweet. But, read: every city across the land.

While only time will tell how our own post-pandemic ’20s play out—the parallels cannot be ignored. So, for a fun forecast (you heard it here first), we parallel the two post-pandemic decades—from art, music and culture to fodder and fashion, to booze and dollar bills. Either way, one thing is certain, as F. Scott Fitzgerald so famously culminated The Great Gatsby, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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Culture Shock

Also known as the Jazz Age (a term coined by Fitzgerald), the ’20s witnessed an incredible amount of artistic output, with an explosion of visual artists, designers, musicians, writers and the like coming onto the scene (beyond Fitzgerald, think Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and
Gertrude Stein). 

“The 1920s provides historical precedent for the idea that periods of intense social hardship, such as the one we’re now experiencing, can lead to an explosion of creative and artistic output,” says Dr. Jennifer Nolan, associate professor of English at NC State, an Americanist whose research focuses on literature published in U.S. popular magazines in the interwar era (1918–45). And while we’ve yet to experience “the next Picasso,” people young and old have picked up creative hobbies during quarantine… so perhaps it’s only a matter of time. 

To wit, after a year with no live concerts, a great musical resurgence is already underway—shows scheduled thus far are selling out as fans are eager to get out and jam out to their fave bands (us included!). Concerts may just prove to be 2021’s version of Jay Gatsby’s parties. Rock on. 

Juice Joints

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world”…  Subterranean was de rigueur in the Roaring ’20s as Prohibition (1920–33) yielded the very real need to take drinking underground or behind secret doors (literally). Hence, speakeasies—the unlawful bars (ranging from fancy clubs with jazz bands to dive bar-esque joints) that popped up around that time in order for folks to get their drink on unseen from law enforcement. 

And with our already booming speakeasy scene for us to tipple the ’20s away—with such hot spots like Watts & Ward, The Haymaker, Local Icon’s The Green Light (and, now, its fast upcoming The Merchant) and the Atlantic Lounge—Raleigh’s ready to make grabbing a drink feel oh-so-retro and scandalous.

Reminiscent of the Roaring ’20s in its own right is the latest bar to bow on Glenwood South, Teets. And—no, it isn’t dubbed for boobs, though co-owner-brothers Anthony and Bates Battaglia (of NHL fame) aren’t mad you might assume that upon first seeing the name. “It gets people talking,” says Bates with a laugh, who also owns adjacent Lucky B’s dive bar.

Named for the brothers, mobster grandfather, Sam “Teets” Battaglia, the newest hot spot nods to the Prohibition-era speakeasy via its decor (looking at you, “Gangster Gallery” of news clippings along the bar wall), extensive drink selection
and live music. 

And now, just in time for the state’s alcohol curfew and capacity restrictions, social distancing, and mask mandates to be lifted, the modern blind pig (throwing Prohibition bar terms at ya) seems like a promising location for some Roaring ’20s post-pandemic parties of our own.

Luxury Leisure

OK, sure, culture shock and booze parallels aren’t hard sells. But can we convince you on the fashion? Challenge accepted. As your mind wanders to the garb of the 1920s, it’s no doubt filled with images of sparkly flappers, extravagant jewelry, and lavish tuxes and top hats (a la The Great Gatsby)—but, in reality, “in many ways, [the ’20s] were much more casual,” Nolan says, “particularly in women’s fashion.” 

Sure, those flappers may look fancy, but corsets were no longer being worn (or at least no longer expected); skirts were shortened (ankles on display—how scandalous!); and comfortable dropped-waist dresses were all the rage. The decade is actually fashion famous for its “casual clothing” and sports- and leisurewear. Again, sound familiar?

Clearly, our own version of athleisure—already popular pre-pandemic—exploded as we whiled away the days of stay-at-home orders and restrictions. And, like a mirror on time and custom, what’s considered “acceptable” for women to wear—especially in an office setting—is expanding. Sure, you might get some weird looks for donning a flapper dress to the bar this weekend, but sporting sweatpants, leggings or all kinds of comfy elevated athleisure to work now isn’t so shocking. (Can we get an amen?!)

Money Moves

Clothes shopping—as well as going out to bars, attending concerts and other money-spending activities pre-pandemic—took a backseat the past year, however. And while some people financially benefited from the money saved (the hefty stimulus checks didn’t hurt either), many others lost income streams, jobs or revenue due to temporary or permanent closures, and are much worse off financially—“and this could lead to an equally divided decade of haves and have-nots,” says Nolan.

“While we have this idea of the 1920s as this era where everyone was making money overnight and spending it just as fast,” Nolan adds, “in truth, many people were never able to take advantage of the economic boom, and this has the potential of being just as true today.” 

Now, after a year-plus of isolation, Nolan thinks it’s possible many people may want to spend their money on travel especially. “It certainly was something that happened before,” she says. WWI exposed many people to places beyond where they had grown up and lived—back then, it was much more common for people to never even leave the town they were from—and opened Americans’ eyes to experiences they could have in Europe—or in other parts of the U.S. Once they get a handle on the pandemic internationally, we imagine there will be a resurgence of people traveling outside of the country again. Wheels up—and top hats on!

As the great Jay Gatsby also said, “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can.” Just watch us.

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