Most cultural histories of teenagers focus on delinquent (white) boys in the 1950s as the first “teenage” culture. However, Schrum argues that girls were the original teenagers. Adolescent girls developed their own unique tastes and styles in fashion, beauty, movies, and music beginning as early as the 1920s and used consumer culture to create their own unique teenage identity. The market responded by providing products to meet the unique interests and needs of teen girls. By 1938 teenage girls were identifiable as a distinct cultural group.
“As high school girls developed a separate peer identity and began to recognize their collective strength, they established themselves as important arbiters of clothing, beauty products, music and movies–consumers with decided opinions and preferences” (3).
“At the turn of the twentieth century, teenage girls received little, if any, attention from creators of consumer culture or commercial popular culture and wielded little power as a group–in fact they were rarely defined as a distinct group” (1).
My own research confirms that it is difficult to tell what entertainment content in nineteenth century children’s magazines is geared to children versus teenagers. They are generally treated as one homogenous category without any age-based segmentation. (there does seem to be gender segmentation though?)
The rise of high school attendance in the early twentieth century transformed life for those ages 13-18 and was the most important factor contributing to a distinct teen culture (12). It allowed a “peer culture” to develop in which teens socialized without adult/parental supervision (13). Other contributing factors were the rise of consumer production and an increase in advertising which acted as a guide to being socially acceptable and stylish (14).
Key question – Did girls shape teen culture by appropriating common consumer items to construct their own tastes and fashions? Or did marketers shape teen culture by telling girls they were different and required their own distinct consumer items? Schrum does not view it as an either/or, but moves beyond the binary to describe a both/and scenario.
- Fashion – according to diaries and magazines, fashion choices were a major source of conflict between teen girls and their parents.
Merges individual stories with national sources to benefit from both the detail of case studies and the accuracy of larger national samples. Historical analysis of unpublished sources (diaries and letters) as well as published (yearbooks, short stories). Also draws upon magazines, catalogs, market research studies. (see pages 6-10 on sources)
HOW TO USE
There is very clear gender segmentation in advertising and popular culture in this time period. Did it exist earlier? When did this begin?