The fast, wild, and showy decade of the 1920s is sometimes called the Age of Flaming Youth, because the influence and energy of young people was unleashed in a new way during this period. Young people met in high schools and colleges. They gathered together and socialized in ways their parents and grandparents never had, and they created styles and fads that were imitated across the generations. In a world stunned by the devastation of World War I (1914–18), the fun and carefree freedom of the young was a welcome relief, and no style seemed too silly or frivolous to become high fashion.
World War I had raged throughout Europe, leaving almost an entire generation of young men dead or damaged. After the war, many young people rebelled against the values of their parents' generation, which they saw as having brought about the horrors of the war. They rejected the modesty, control, and respectability of the eras of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and embraced all that was modern, fast, and exciting. New inventions like the automobile (the Ford Model T began to be mass-produced in 1909) and new popular jazz music became symbols of the time. As the world recovered from death and destruction, many people celebrated being young and alive.
One thing that increased the influence of young people as a group was the growth of secondary education, or high school. The period following World War I was one of prosperity and industrialization. As more goods were mass-produced, people did not have to work as hard and childhood grew longer. Where once most adolescent children had to go to work, by the 1920s, many went to high schools instead. For the first time, large numbers of young people spent a great deal of time together. College enrollment also increased during the 1920s. These high school and college students began to develop their own ways of dressing, talking, and having fun. Films such as The Campus Flirt (1926) and College Days (1927) glamorized college life, and people everywhere began wearing raccoon coats and using college slang like the lighthearted students in the films. The college man and the flapper became the ideal young man and woman of the 1920s, and house parties, long drives, and fast, sexy dancing to jazz music became the most popular pastimes.
Another social change introduced by the youth of the 1920s was the idea of dating, or unchaperoned social engagements between men and women. In the years before the war, it was considered improper for men and women to spend time alone unless they were engaged. Even then, a chaperon, or older companion, was usually present when a man and a woman socialized. Dating introduced the idea that men and women could spend time getting to know each other in private even if they did not intend to marry. Dating might mean going to a party or nightclub for music and dancing or a drive in the car. It could also mean necking and petting, nicknames for kissing and touching, that had been forbidden during the nineteenth century, but was viewed as good, clean fun by the young people of the 1920s.
Older, more conservative people were often shocked and scandalized by the behavior of the young during the Roaring Twenties. Besides dating and dancing in the modern close fashion, which many saw as immoral, youthful rebellion frequently included drinking illegal alcohol and using foul language. Young women began showing their knees, wearing heavy makeup, and smoking cigarettes. Many older community leaders tried to outlaw these disgraceful new fashions, but, even more than alcohol and cigarettes, the freedom of the age was addictive, and the new liberated styles were unstoppable. When the stock market crash of 1929 introduced the more somber age of the Great Depression (1929–41), many conservative people claimed that the hard economic times were a punishment brought on by the excesses of the youth of the 1920s.