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Anthony Graham & Nathan Turner


According to historian Kathy Peiss, commercial recreation connected women to a “sense of modernity, individuality, and personal style.”[1] By the 1920s, travel had become disassociated with its earlier Victorian structured meanings. Travel was not designed to make them better, wiser, or more prepared, “to the middle class it did not have to mean anything more than an opportunity to get away.”[2]Magazines such as Vogue capitalized on this new audience and wrote extensive fashion advice. Vogue’s fashion staff instructed female travelers on what to wear for the act of being in transit.[3] They also advised women to wear lightweight tweed when traveling by rail.[4] Much of their advice came from supposed trends coming out of Paris in that time.[5] The new importance on travel as a pastime created a demand for clothes that were comfortable, practical, and yet still interesting.

Americans spent more and more of their income on leisure activities such as vacations.[6] Railroads, such as the Northern Pacific, capitalized on the image of the new woman to make their trips attractive to city dwellers and in the process opened up the continent and played upon the image of the new woman.[7] The destinations of the West—Death Valley, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and the Grand Canyon—all saw tourism booms and the construction of new lodges such as the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. Throughout prohibition improvements were made on the Pullman sleeping car including increased lighting, full lavatories, floor lights, single rooms, and air conditioning.[8] Taking advantage of the automobile, railroads offered rail and motor coach tours. Luxury railroads hit their peak during early Prohibition 1920 to 1925 with the Pullman Company alone operating a fleet of 9800 cars and providing lodging for as many as 40,000 travelers per night.[9] Dining, lounge, observation, and ballroom cars with live bands were also introduced.[10]

Fashion and popular culture directly influenced travel destinations. For example, the revival of the Spanish Colonial Myth in Southern California produced books, films, architecture, and fashions that reflected a romanticized Spanish past. Built into this revival was the revitalization of the California Missions, which could be visited by automobile on the newly constructed El Camino Real, (CA-82).[11] Florida became a popular winter destination Florida was one of the “leakiest places” in the nation. The speakeasies and clubs attached to Miami hotels welcomed a diverse crowd; one visitor noticed “two proper old-fashioned saloons” located just a stroll away from a police station.[12]Tourists coming from eastern cities expected to find the same leisure opportunities as they had left at home and facilitated expanding urban culture and fashion to previously undeveloped regions such as Southern Florida.

Automobiles became a cultural icon for all but still helped carve a generational divide. Cars were already on the market, but only in the 1920s did their numbers and availability multiply. Between 1919 and 1923, automobile sales revenue jumped 44 percent, while production rocketed upwards of 100 percent.[13] At the beginning of the decade, major U.S. manufacturers Ford and GM fought a deadly price war from which GM barely recovered.[14] These companies invested in advertisement to reach a wider audience, tripling their advertising budgets between 1920 and 1927.[15] America was incensed with the automobile, tying car ownership firmly to class status. Poor, rural families that had yet to install running water in their homes bought cars to fulfill this new social value of mobility.[16] Government entities at all levels invested in a new motorist-friendly infrastructure. Paved roads, more friendly to a car’s tires, doubled in the United States by 1931.[17] A federal highway project spanned the continent, while cities produced four-lane parkways to lessen traffic congestion.[18]

While the automobile slowly made its way into most people’s lives, it facilitated the most change as part of a rising youth revolt. In the early 1920s, women were seen smoking and drinking with men, and more of their body seemed to show with every passing year.[19] Parents, teachers, and clergy all panicked at what they saw as a sudden degeneration of morals, though it was not new, just more visible. The youth were rebelling in the previous decade as well, but the car catalyzed this process.[20] Young couples found the car to be a convenient escape from their watchful parents or neighbors. Even chaperoned dances were no match, as couples could simply leave when they wished to “engage in the unspeakable practice of petting and necking.”[21] Cars also became more private themselves. By the beginning of Prohibition, 90% of cars were “open,” with no windows or doors to hide the passengers from the outside world.[22] But by 1924, 43% of cars had “closed” bodies. By 1927, 82.8 percent had this feature.[23] The car served as a new private space for young people to experiment, and helped them form identities separate from their parents’ values.

The reemergence of the popularity of shawls is directly connected to developments in travel and transportation.  Valerie Mendes connects the rise in popularity of shawls with open-cockpit cars stating, “Over flimsy 1920s attire, shawls could provide much needed warmth,” and could “keep out the chilly night air as they traveled to and from the theater”[24] By the mid-1920s revival of shawls was so successful that Libertys devoted entire catalogues to silk shawls.[25] They also served as attractive souvenirs. “They answered many needs at once, being resplendent, fashionable and easy to carry home.”[26] The easy storage, light weight, and relative flexibility of shawls made them popular travel items, allowing diverse travel wardrobes consisting of a minimal amount of items.

Over the course of the Prohibition years the United States became a more mobile nation. The growth of railroad travel soared in the early 1920s, providing a more luxurious mode of travel around the American West and South.[27] Yet, by the mid-decade railroads were replaced by automobiles in popularity.[28] Cars opened travel even further while encouraging rifts between the youth and their parents. Fashion developed to meet both ends, allowing women to remain stylish, yet comfortable through the development of travel fashion and sportswear and in the process shaping the images of travel and the destinations themselves.

[1] Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), 7.

[2] Peiss, 6.

[3] “The Apparel of the Hours En Route,” Vogue, June 1921, 23.

[4] “Travel by Train,” Vogue, June 1926, 62.

[5] “Clothes for Trips by Trains or Ships,” Vogue, January 1924, 42.

[6] Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty: An American History3rd ed. (New York: WW Norton & Co, 2012).

[7] "North Coast Limited: Newest Train West," Fortune, April 1931, 21.

[8] Pullman State Historic Site, http://www.pullman-museum.org/aboutUs/, Accessed 3/4/2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Kropp, California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

[12] Tracy Revels, Sunshine Paradise: A History of Florida Tourism, (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2001) 71-72.

[13] Jean-Pierre Bardou et al., The Automobile Revolution: The Impact of an Industry, trans. James M. Laux (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 91.

[14] Bardou et al., 93.

[15] Bardou et al., 117.

[16] Regina Lee Blasczyk, Imagining Consumers: Design and Innovation from Wedgwood to Corning, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000), 168.

[17] Bardou et al., 114.

[18] Bardou et al., 114.

[19] Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 74-75.

[20] Beth L. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 19.

[21] Allen, 75.

[22] Barou et al., 94.

[23] Allen, 86.

[24] Valerie Mendes, “Cosmopolitan Heroin—The Shawl in the 1920s,” The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society, No.18, 1994, 69.

[25] Ibid. 70.

[26] Ibid. 71.

[27] Hal Rothman, Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth Century American West, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 144.

[28] Ibid.