Interwar England witnessed the emergence of a new generation of socially and financially independent young working-class women who worked in offices, shops, and factories, ‘dressed like actresses’, and were prominent leisure consumers, indulging in cosmetics and confectionery and frequenting the cinema and dance hall. This article analyses that development. A synthesis of qualitative and quantitative material indicates that age- and gender-specific roles were shaped by material factors rather than by ‘custom’ as existing social histories imply. It is argued that individuals' financial contribution to their household shaped the allocation of leisure and spending money, and that young women's increasing earning opportunities, and rising economic importance to the household, thus enabled them to become prominent leisure consumers. However, close attention to life histories also demonstrates that mother–daughter relationships were not simply economically determined, being characterized by mutual emotional as well as financial support. Maternal aspirations for their daughters, and expanding employment opportunities, shaped the emergence of youth as a life stage marked by a degree of personal independence and commercial consumption.