Booze, Babe, and the Little Black Dress: How Innovators of the Roaring 20s Created the Consumer Revolution


Worth reading 😎

Thorough and witty, this curated history of 1920s American innovation reveals the un(der)told foundations for consumerism and culture today.

Actually, to say that Booze, Babe, and the Little Black Dress is thorough might be an understatement. Clocking in at just over four hundred pages, Jason Voiovich’s economic history of 1920s America is rich with painstaking detail that sets the scene for an audience one hundred years late to the party.


The book is divided into three parts that group the decade's commonalities together: “Booze,” indicating the short-lived Prohibition era; “Babe,” referring to Babe Ruth and the emergence of baseball and public radio; and “The Little Black Dress,” an oft-used moniker for Coco Chanel’s revolutionary flapper dress. Each section further explores the origins of our relationship with "consumer culture" as a means of learning about the power of choice, the influence of advertising, and the impact of using products and brands to express your identity.


Voiovich is careful to open the book with a framework of "choice culture," and not the more stigmatized term "consumer culture," so as to spark a gear-shift in how we talk about the economics of choice, as opposed to who is providing the choices or why certain people have better choices than others. This makes sense, given the author’s publishing background in the history of marketing and his experience as an ad man, product designer, and entrepreneur. Voiovich reminds readers that our intellectual relationship with “consumerism” as we know it today evolved from the questions and choices that came to innovators one hundred years ago, riding on the coattails of historical influences such as the Industrial Revolution, World War I, and a more youthful and independent urban populace.


Voiovich’s heavier-hitting chapters on the socioeconomics of the 1920s are largely stacked at the end (see “Little Black Dress”), where he debunks some of our common misconceptions of significant wealth and class disparity, the role of financial literacy in the home, and the lasting impact of the nuclear family structure. What we see with hindsight today—a “roaring” decade of modern experimentation over Victorian inhibition—is colored by the financial repercussions of the Great Depression that followed close behind. How can we not see the 1920s as an era of indulgence and individuality from this vantage point? Or, to take the question a step further: can we look back on the wealth of innovation and social change of the Roaring Twenties to help us define what we are navigating today, a hundred years on, as we confront more of the same issues of free-market capitalism, but with leveled-up tech and richer players?


In challenging readers to take a closer look at (often underacknowledged) players and their contributions to social and technological progress, Voiovich invokes a new angle on how we can look back at our past to better define how we got here as consumers today.

Reviewed by

Nicole works in book publishing, so reading is something they consider more of a lifestyle, not a choice. Nicole reads literary fiction, fairytale & folklore spinoffs, and odd nonfiction ranging in subjects from the history of central Asia to the critiques of capitalism.

Introduction: "Coffee for Every Purse and Purpose"

About the author

In a career that spans more than 25 years, Jason Voiovich has launched hundreds of new products – everything from medical devices, to virtual healthcare systems, to non-dairy consumer cheese, to next-generation alternatives to the dreaded “cone of shame” for pets, to sex aides for cows (really!). view profile

Published on April 04, 2023

Published by

150000 words

Genre: History

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