• Weird History

What Each Counterculture Scene Since The 1900s Looks Like

According to popular history, the American counterculture peaked in the '60s and '70s.

This isn't really the case. Counterculture groups and movements have always existed and continue to thrive. In fact, countercultures are defined more broadly as "the culture and lifestyle of those people, especially among the young, who reject or oppose the dominant values and behavior of society." From the 1900s onward, multiple anti-establishment trends and styles have evolved, generating their own unique followings. Some of these subcultures were absorbed by the mainstream, while others faded into obscurity. Several are still intact to this day.

Each decade's counterculture scene has proven to be the result of diverse influences and assimilations. From everyday people to musicians and celebrities, those who promote counterculture values are unified by one thing: a distaste for the conventional.

  • 1900s - Bohemian Rhapsody: Long Hair And Gypsy Vibes  

    While Bohemia is a region of the Czech Republic associated with nomadic gypsys, the itinerant and creative Bohemian lifestyle evolved into an American subculture by the turn of the 20th century.

    Actresses and muses like Evelyn Nesbit (left) and Blanche Walsh (right) characterized the Bohemian look: flowing fabrics, dramatic accents and minimal makeup.

  • 1910s - Early Cinema: Silent Film Vanguards 

    Cinema was in its infancy during the 1910s, and the actors who were defining the artform promoted countercultural attitudes and trends in their films.

    From Charlie Chaplin (left) to Theda Bara (middle) to John Barrymore (right), these screen stars created enticing alternatives to a society paralyzed by WWI.

  • 1920s - Flapper Flair: Short Hair, Jazzy Dresses, And Hip Flasks

    Flappers were a generation of women who redefined their roles in society by resisting norms and traditions. Bucking antiquated notions of respectability, they wore their hair in bobs, donned flashy dresses, and dove headfirst into the flipside of Prohibition-era life: speakeasies, jazz music, and immodesty.

    Role models included actresses Louise Brooks (left) and Alice Joyce (middle).

  • 1930s - Depression Era Doldrums: Everyone's Got The Blues

    While the Great Depression left millions of Americans without work or homes, many found solace in bars - especially after Prohibition ended - and jazz's sadder sibling, the blues.

    The jazz and blues counterculture thrived during this time, from musicians playing regional styles like zydeco (middle) to nationally recognized singers like Bessie Smith (right), whose iconic dangle earrings and feather accessories are still emulated.