Out of the Box: Depictions of American Women through Consumer Culture of the Early 20th Century

Facilitated by post-World War I economic prosperity in the 1920s, more Americans than ever had access to cash or credit to buy consumer goods. Middle-class women in particular bought goods to sustain a certain domestic image. This reflected a standardization of appearance for self and family. The limited access to credit, based on race and class, reduced participation for many Americans in consumer culture.

Women were targeted through multiple channels as the primary consumer, the one who purchases everything one might need to make a good impression in the home. Historically, consumerism in the 1920s refers to this middle class woman as a cog in the machine of capitalism, constantly being manipulated to buy things prescribed by distributors of desire. Consumption was marketed as an act of power and a means by which women could both produce and express themselves. Though consumerism standardized the majority of middle class women, it also gave them power. 20th century Social Historian, Ole Reinsch states, “These women’s hedonism is highly marked by consumption of mass industrial products, mass culture, mass media, consumption of urban nightlife and consumption of sexuality.


Gracie Eakins- Public History Capstone Project. Dr. Jennifer Le Zotte-Capstone Advisor, The History Hub founder, National Building Museum, National Museum of American History, The Cape Fear Museum of History and Science