Millennium Countdown

Teenagers' lives changed throughout the century

By Lindsay Mathieson
SNN Co-Editor
Port Hardy Secondary School
Port Hardy, British Columbia

The 1900s marked the beginning of a new century, one that would allow people to grow and develop, and of course it was to be the century of technological advancement.

Although teenagers of the 1900s were not considered an individual group yet, their progression through the century brought teenagers to where they are today.

Copyright of Canada's SchoolNet

With the beginning of the new century, attitudes slowly began to change. People began to spend more time on leisure activities, and the working week was cut to six days a week, and some employers gave two-week vacations. Much of this time was spent with friends, either at the home, at a musical concert, at the theatre or at the beach.

Inventions like the icebox and shopping by catalogue made everyday life much more easier for people. Women no longer had to sew all the clothes for their families, but they could now purchase them through the Sears catalogue.

Although teens still had to wear uncomfortable undergarments, clothing in general was becoming a little less constrictive and much simpler. Young women still had to wear corsets, but the often wore a dress that fell just below their ankles which was of a much more simple design and not as frilly. For boys, the jacket and knee pants or sailor suits were all popular.

There was no major event, nor was their a major trend, that signifies the teenagers of the 1900s. They simply did as their parents told, and there was not much of a gap in between childhood and adulthood. Many teens were forced to grow up quickly, as can be seen in many of the decades in this century.

The 1910s provided an era of change, as the world witnessed its first major world war in 1914. Nations around the world were also switching from agrarian economies to ones based on factories and industries. Along with these changes, the importance of education recognized during this era. North American society felt that there was a need for young people to be taught the basics, such as reading, writing and arithmetic.

Before the war, clothing was quite traditional although the hemline on women's dresses became shorter. One fashion, originated in Paris, was the hobble skirt. This skirt had a hem tied together with a band so that women had to hobble to walk in them. These were often accompanied by wide-brimmed hats. However when the war started new materials were used and new dyes made clothes more colourful.

Overall, teenagers did not stick out as an individual group, but one could see the young faces in the war photographs. These youth did not have many luxuries that people are used to today, and on top of that many were sent to war.

The 1920s can best be characterized by the boom period that followed WWI. Employment had escalated phenomenally during the war, as North American's industrialization allowed it to produce vast quantities of armaments.

Throughout this era, teens usually had no trouble finding a job, and they made quite good wages. Often youth did not attend secondary school because they would be able to go out into the workforce and make good wages without having a high school diploma.

After the war ended, Parisien designers resumed their positions as the leaders of fashion. Flappers were very popular, and their shorter dresses were often accompanied by feathers worn in their hair. The Charleston was a favourite dance of these people. Teen girls' dresses became shorter during this era, and they often wore stockings with various patterns. Young men on the other hand, imitated pilots, wearing leather jackets and flying coats.

Overall, the 1920s was a great era to grow up in for teenagers, as it was very easy to find a job, and North America was prospering. However, this was not to last long, as depression hit in 1929.

The thirties marked an era of economic depression, and unemployment was apparent all around the world. Teens suffered greatly during the depression. It was extremely difficult for them to find employment, even one third of all college graduates could not find a job. However, this did not discourage people from getting an education -- in fact, it did the exact opposite. Parents strongly encouraged their children to stay in school as there would be no future for them if they did not have a education. During the thirties, high school enrollment increased drastically.

Many youth lived on the street and teens were responsible for many criminal acts. A common question asked by adults was, "What is happening to our youth?" As teens had seen the results of war, many demonstrated anti-war opinions.

Although many teens could not afford extravagant clothing, many teens adopted the "swing kids" look, which incorporated not only clothing but a specific type of dancing also. Girls wore dresses that went just below their knees, which were often belted to show off their waistlines. They also wore their hair quite long and softly curled. Young men wore dress pants and shirts, which had not changed much for the past few years.

Although times were quite rough for many people, the teens of this era managed to persevere, and they grew up knowing that they never wanted to live in a state of depression again.

Throughout the 1940s youth were preoccupied with the Second World War. Teens were sent off to fight for their countries, and younger people contributed to the war effort by collecting newspaper, rubber, rags, tin cans and other scrap metal, which were all recycled. Children in the U.S. also spent money on War Stamps which, when accumulated, could buy War Bonds.
As France was heavily involved in the war, most Paris designers were unable to continue their work, giving North American designers the opportunity to create their own styles.

As there were few materials available at the time, clothes became much simpler and less fabric was used. Women's dresses acquired shorter arms and hems. Their fancy hats no longer existed, but turban-style hats were more useful to keep women's hair back when they worked in the factories. However, after the war ended, Paris fashions returned and fancy clothing was once again popular.

For young men, zoot suits became extremely popular. These suit jackets, "fingertips," hung to the mid thighs and incorporated wide-padded shoulders. The pants, "drapes," were tight at the ankles but the legs themselves were ballooned out. These suits were often accompanied by wide-brimmed hats and long watch chains.

Although the war made the '40s a very difficult time for teenagers, people made do with what they had. However they would be left with the memories of WWII for the rest of their lives.

During the '50s, everyone was still recovering from the horrors of World War II. People from around the world idolized the Americans, who definitely prospered during this era. For teenagers, the clean-cut "college" look was back in style. Girls often wore full skirts with bobby socks and saddle shoes, and their hair was usually in ponytails or softly curled. Beehives came into style in the late years of the decade As the '50s progressed trends started to imitate cover model, Marilyn Munroe, and young women turned to clothes that showed off their figures.

Although boys' appearance began as rigidly clean-cut, it slowly changed. Teenage boys either had short crew cuts or their hair was on the slightly longer side. These young men started dressing as "bikers" or "greasers," and many imitated the popular Elvis Presley.

During the 1950s, youth became more self-aware, and they were determined to create their own styles, which the designers followed. Throughout the decade, the teenagers became a distinct group of society, which had never been done before. Young people gained much freedom, which was attributed by some to the lack of discipline after the war and the invention of Rock'n'Roll. However with this newborn freedom also came an increase in racism, and some youth gangs appeared.

One type of music known as Rock'n'Roll greatly influenced the teens of the '50s. Saturday nights were spent at local dances where teens jived to their favourite music. Youth could also "hang out" at coffee bars or diners and listen to jukeboxes while they smoked cigarettes. Although nicotine was a very popular drug used, the other drugs that teens use now were not as prevalent in the '50s.

The '60s marked an era of teenagers, as they truly became a distinct part of North American culture. The first baby-boomers were just growing up and developing into young men and women. As this was a time of prosperity and production for North America, teens received more money and had an easy time finding jobs.

Since teens had more money to spend, more and more products were being designed specifically for them, notably clothing. Designers began to market items directly to youth, and small boutiques that sold these young and modern fashions opened up everywhere.

For girls miniskirts and tights were extremely popular, accompanied by a skimpy or see-through blouse and long loose hair. It was during this decade that the young and ultra-skinny look first made headway.

For boys, the Beatles look was very popular, and their clothes were often very colourful. Many hippies wore tie-dyed t-shirts and bell bottoms. These bright and bold outfits were seen as very daring for young men to wear as opposed to previous generations. Denim jeans also became the most worn type of pants during the '60s, and Levi's was thought of as the best brand. Common practice for teens to buy jeans too big for them and wear them in the bath to shrink them down to the "perfect fit."

Although the horrors of WWII were somewhat in the past, teens were often still very pacifist during the '60s. The protested against the war in Vietnam, and the immediate fear of nuclear war gave them even more reason to despise war. This threat of world demolition also gave youth the opportunity to enjoy their lives immediately, experiencing as much as possible, even if it had been seen as inappropriate in the past.

The '70s proved to be a drastic change in thoughts and beliefs of teenagers from the '60s. Many young people held pessimistic views of the world, and they felt very uncertain about what the future would hold.

Many people have speculated that this complete change in youthism resulted in the outrageous fashions during this time. The unisex look was in trés chic with denim becoming the most common teenage apparel. Large boots and platform shoes complemented the look, and many young women combined this footwear with hot pants and a crop top. Flared trousers were also very popular, and military colours also influenced some of the "camouflage clothes" worn by youth.

Probably the most noticeable change in fashion was the creation of the punk movement. This style was heavily influenced by musicians of this era, including the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. The glamorous clothing consisted of lots of glitter and colourful materials.

Movies and television shows also had a great impact on the styles of the youth in the '70s. Saturday Night Fever made disco very popular and many teens copied the disco attire worn by John Travolta in the famous movie.

Teenyboppers, or young fans, were also an invention of the '70s. As young male stars, such as David Cassidy, were becoming more and more prevalent, these younger fans had role models who were just a few years older than themselves.

Although not every one viewed things in a negative way, the majority of teens were worried about the future. Unemployment was increasing, and teens were finding it more and more difficult to get a job.

During the '80s, young people were influenced by many different cultural aspects. Styles were not specific to boys or girls and almost everything was unisex. The punk look was also still alive, and preppies seemed to appear again. During the '80s, anything with a designer label was considered cool, as well sportswear, as people were very involved in fitness and their health.

During the mid-eighties, the Madonna era began, and girls everywhere copied the daring styles worn by the singer. Young women also began dressing in more masculine clothing, and often their attire was a combination of traditional female clothing with the typical clothes worn by men.

In their spare time on the weekends, teenagers could often be found in night clubs and cocktail clubs, listening and break-dancing to dance, hip-hop, rap or "synthesizer music." By this time entertainment was a regular part of everyday life, including television shows and movies, such as Teen Wolf, Back to the Future and ET. As fitness had become very important to people during this decade, young people were often encouraged to go to workout classes, and they often sported tights and leg-warmers even outside of the gym.

Although there was an emphasis placed on becoming more healthy during the '80s, many teens suffered from major drug abuse problems. Crack and heroin were more common than ever before, and people were becoming aware of the dangers of AIDS and HIV, which was associated with heroin. Youth were told to practice safer sex, which included the use of condoms and limit their sexual partners.

Overall the eighties was a decade that combined many different styles, groups and teens were more aware about risks like HIV and AIDS. This led to the attitudes displayed by teens in the nineties.

Like the 1980s, the '90s cannot be described by one specific trend or group of people. Everyone has been excited about the new millennium beginning, and the fear of Y2K has been on everyone's mind.

The '90s has been an era of education. Most teens have been introduced to modern equipment such as the Internet, digital cameras, compact discs and DVD players. There has also been awareness raised about many different causes, such as AIDS, cancer, racism, homosexuality, women's issues and teen pregnancy.

Styles have been very casual through this decade, with emphasis placed on comfortable clothing. However there have been many trendy clothes in fashion, but most are just modified versions of clothes from previous decades. Flared pants have been popular pants, and most teens own at least one pair of khakis. These styles are worn, not only by teens, but also by children as young as three years old. This decade has witnessed an emphasis placed on younger people to look more and more trendy.

As teens wait for the new millennium, they can only look back on the last century and remember how their group has changed and grown.