As per title. This is the Ngram Graph for the word alluring:
For comparison, this is the same graph for the word remarkable:
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Disclaimer: This answer is pure speculation based on well documented cultural changes in the 1920's and my impressions of the word alluring. I have no citations that usage of alluring changed at all over the asker's time frame as, indeed, ngrams are not evidence1. In this way, you could say that the question posed has an unsound premise.
My hypothesis is the rise of "alluring" appearing specifically in print was partially driven by marketers and advertisers attempting to capitalize on the cultural shifts of the "Roaring 20's" by sexualizing the language and imagery of their advertising copy. I am afraid I won't be able to prove this, or do any better than provide circumstantial evidence and weak correlation.
The rise of mass marketing at the beginning of the 20th century is well documented. One resource sums the impact this had on advertising like so:
The content of advertising messages shifted in the early twentieth century. Before 1910, advertisers mostly sought to inform customers about products; after 1910, the main goal was to create a desire to purchase products.
Business Enterprise in American history Mansel G. Blackford, Kathel Austin Kerr. Houghton Mifflin, 1986 - 456 pages. Citation: Arkansas Tech University faculty page.
Sex in Advertising is a long standing practice that also took hold in the 1920's.
Images of attractive women often appear in ads even without connection to the product being sold. This provocatively clad woman lends "sex appeal" to a 1921 ad for tire valve caps.
'Alluring' is a sexual word, but also highbrow and not vulgar or obscene. Nearly every definition equates it to 'seductive'. In other words, it's a prime choice for marketing material. It stands to reason that alluring came into vogue as a combination of the increased expressions of sexuality through advertising and women's fashion.
Correlated to this change in marketing and other print and media – at the time, allegedly a "loosening of morals" with far-reaching societal ramifications – many milestones for women's rights were reached, including Women's suffrage in the US in 1910 and the UK in 1928. The 1920's were renowned for the fashion changes, where women's dresses and swimwear began revealing ankles and forearms in the 1910's, followed by legs and shoulders in the 1920's with the titular flapper dress.
"Alluring" was at least a common enough term in marketing materials to warrant a mention in this 1928 book titled Advertising to Women.
The tantalizing "alluring" – The use of "alluring" and other terms meaning to lure is described fully in the chapter dealing with Sex Appeal. Suffice it here to repeat that alluring, in such settings as "alluring fragrance," "alluring aid to loveliness" (of toiletries); "alluring colors," "alluring shades," "alluring ankles" (of hosiery);
Source: Advertising to Women by Carl Albert Naether. Prentice-Hall, 1928 - Advertising - 340 pages
The rest of the text is cut off because Google books only allows snippets to be displayed, presumably for copyright reasons.
It's also interesting to see that "allure" did not see the same rise in usage as "alluring", but that doesn't prove anything by itself, either.
As for the fall of the usage of the term, I can also only speculate that it fell out of fashion. Marketers frequently change their tactics (including design, fonts, text aka copy, color pallets) simply to put something new in front of the customer. Woodbury Soap Company used the slogan "Skin You Love To Touch" from 1911 until 1940. This is somewhat informative because their soap was a marketing success story, going from near bankruptcy to wild success, largely attributed to sexualizing their advertisements. Again however, this advertisement does not use the word "alluring" and the wikipedia articles are poorly cited on this, but there are many other sources easily found supporting the Woodbury story.
1: Despite NGrams being the most comprehensive datasource for word usage and popularity, it is not a scholarly resource and its evidentiary value is more for curiosity sake than hard proof. The fact that "alluring" appeared slightly more in printed materials does not prove that the word was used more, and as Mari-Lou's deeper dive into the NGram shows, was driven partly by book titles, not usage in prose. Finally, while it may seem self-evident that printed usage is correlated to verbal usage and popularity of words – "art imitates life" Aristotle, Oscar Wilde, et. al – this is hardly proven for every word in every timeframe.
Google Books report from 1910 to 1935 a whole series of books whose titles contain the word alluring:
Salads Alluring and New:... (1926); The Sport Alluring (1917); The Sport Alluring: Trap Shooting (1911); Alluring Arizona (1929); Labrador, Newfoundland, Gulf of St. Lawrence Cruises to the Alluring North - Lands that are Different (1935); The County of Labelle Perhaps the Most Beautiful of the Alluring Laurentians Invites Tourists and Sportsmen Especially the Lovers of Hunting and Fishing to Enjoy Its Scenery, Its Mountains, Its Lakes, Its Rivers and Its Forests (1923); Alluring Rockport: An Unspoiled New England Town on Cape ...; Alluring Albany: Handbook for the Port and Back Country (1912); By Alluring Paths (1932); Margaret Reynolds, Collector: Alluring Arkansas: Scrapbook (1920); Riverside: The City Beautiful : a Brief Description of Some of the Alluring Beauties and Scenic Gems which Confront the Visitor at the Metropolis of Southern California's World Famed Orange Belt (1913).
Apparently, the Ngrams posted by the OP suggest that the term "alluring" hit a peak in the 1920s, while the term remarkable witnessed a steady decline in usage. I compared the two terms on the same Google Ngram, with the same criteria fixed by the OP, i.e. 1800 -2008 with a smoothing of 7, and obtained the following result: alluring (blue line) and remarkable (red line).
If you narrow the search between 1900 and 1960, the following Ngram graph is reproduced
The mountain peak that was so impressive in the Ngram posted by the OP is now barely a bump, on the contrary it's virtually flat on this chart.
Google Ngrams is a great tool, but it needs to be used wisely, and judiciously. One user mistakenly believed that Ngrams confirmed that raper was a spelling variant of rapist, when in actual fact Google Books was only reporting the many instances when “Raper”, (note the capital letter) was the last name (surname) of an author.
Please see the following meta posts for more information on the the advantages and drawbacks of using Google Ngrams.
Although the site offers poor analytics, newspapers.com shows an undeniable peak in the word "alluring" during the 1920's as well, and unlike the NGram record or other book corpora, it gets a lot of these hits from advertisements and fashion features.
The first thing I noticed when delving into period uses of the "alluring" was its frequency in writing about women's fashion, whether in advertisements or in newspaper features on the latest trends. It often was used to describe colors, fabrics, or attire, in an effort to make something sound attractive and desirable. Since the argument related to advertising and sexual liberalization has already been made, I'll offer what might be an "alternative" theory, that could at least be a latent or partial factor in the popularity of the term.
The twenties marked a growing influence of French culture on American fashion trends. This is best exemplified by the influence of Coco Chanel, arguably the most well-known fashion designer of all time. Chanel's influence on fashion in the twenties was remarkable and extended from hats to clothing to perfume.
Along with other designers and trend-setters, she helped make Paris the epicenter of western fashion and beauty in the twenties. I postulate that the growth of this trend in the twenties and surrounding decades might have played a role in the popularity of the word alluring as a fashion word.
allure: v. Origin: A borrowing from French. Etymon: French aleurer.
What I noticed in my research was the frequency with which "alluring" appeared alongside other words that are either direct borrowings from French, or that have origin in French etymology.
In these examples, "alluring" is highlighted in yellow, while other words that derive from French are outlined in red.
While the above examples focus on advertisements, the word shows up frequently in feature pieces about fashion as well.
Could the word "alluring" have come into vogue because words that "sound French" were a la mode at the time? It's hard to say, but the correlation in time with the influence of French fashion on the western world at large seems like enough to make it worth suggesting.
As pointed out by Tom22 in the comments, Ngram shows similar bumps for other French words, particularly glamour and vogue, which fits with the trend related of alluring. I also experimented with some of the prominent words I found in the advertisements from the 20's.
On a separate chart, glamour and vogue, much more popular words:
At least in the case of advertising and fashion, the answer could lie in changes taking place in the ad industry as a result of the Great Depression. According to a blog by Mascola Group, a Connecticut ad agency, the Depression had a significant impact on the role of advertising in that period. Much of the progress in gender equity that took place in the 20's was reversed, as women were urged to remain in the home and leave available jobs to men. Mascola writes that ads at the time focused on "need."
Such advertisements indicated what was “needed” at the time — women at home taking care of the children while the men brought home the bacon. This stayed the same for 10 years, until men were needed on the battlefield and women were needed back in the workforce.
A discussion of advertising in the 30's on Encyclopedia.com echoes many of the same themes.
During the Depression years of the 1930s, with successes hard to find, the advertising business faced severe challenges. Economic stringency, political attacks, and a need to recast their appeals all made the decade a difficult one for advertisers. Indeed, the advertising industry's achievements during the 1920s in establishing its cultural and economic importance may have made the challenges of the Great Depression more severe.
Connecting these changes in the ad industry with the anecdotal evidence provided in the newspaper clippings above is difficult to do, and any conclusion on the prevalence of the word is bound to be speculative. But the newspaper record does mirror the NGram record with regard to frequency of the word "alluring," and certainly indicates a high frequency of use in advertising and fashion. It doesn't seem difficult to fathom that the effects of the Great Depression on views of fashion and strategy of advertising could have reversed the prevalence of alluring in a fashion sense the same way it seemed to increase in the 20's.
Notably, many of the French words used in the fashion industry didn't disappear in the 1930's, as another prominent advertisement from 1935 featuring the word alluring attests:
Another fashion history blog adds an argument to the decline of French influence on Western fashion: World War II and the German occupation of France.
World War II and the German occupation of Paris dealt a severe blow to Paris's fashion leadership. Many couture houses shut down for the duration of the war. Those that remained in business found both materials and customers in short supply. Even worse, the vital American market threatened to go its own way, as sportswear designers such as Claire McCardell made a virtue of "the American Look" during this hiatus in Parisian fashion leadership. With the end of the war, the reestablishment of the fashion industry was one of the top priorities of the new French government.
Surely much of the rise and decline in certain words is a matter of fashion itself. But with all of these factors aligned in favor of - and then against - both the dominance of Parisian fashion and the advertising industry, at least for particular spans of time, it seems reasonable not to discount the possibility of a "French connection."
I've tilted at the Google Books n-gram windmill previously on ELU, to no noticable effect. The "Ngram Viewer" interface to the Google Books corpus, being superficially easy to use and understand, presents itself to the unwary as a splendid, tall feature of the landscape of linguistic expertise. Although that same prominence of the target attracts my lance as dragons might another's, the "Ngram Viewer" interface and its beating heart, Google Books data, is probably no more or less worthy of skewering than others. Statistical analyses of linguistic phenomena are tools most effectively and accurately deployed by experts, and such analyses even in expert hands are a step down from damn lies.
Thus, it should be made plain from the outset that I will not attempt a statistical analysis to answer the question at hand, but rather deploy a patchwork of educated guesses and observations based on available data. In short, the donkey I ride in on is untrained.
First, the question must either be rephrased more precisely and qualified, or merely qualified. The only data presented in the question as support of the contention that 'alluring' "peaked in the 1920s" is data from an uncurated corpus based on book texts. While some periodical texts are included in the corpus, primarily periodicals contained in bound volumes of earlier issues of those periodicals, Google Books "N-gram Viewer" is not based on data from broader 'genres' of text: advertisement text copy, for example, although present in trivial amounts in the corpus, is notably scanty. Similarly, text from the popular press (newspapers and magazines) is, while present, not balanced with the amount of book text in the corpus.
To make this point abundantly clear, I will illustrate it with the Corpus of Historical American (COHA) English. COHA, a 400 million word corpus, is "the only large and balanced corpus of historical American English" (from the "FAQ" at corpus.byu.edu, emphasis mine), wherein the "corpus is balanced by genre decade by decade" (from the main page for "COHA" at corpus.byu.edu). It includes text from "novels, magazines, and non-fiction books" ("FAQ"). How does the use of 'alluring' present in this balanced corpus?
As shown, a peak use of 'alluring' appears not in the 1920s, but rather in the 1900s, at 5.84 tokens (n-grams) per million words of text. The use then drops off through the 1910s and 1920s, at 5.46 and 4.99 tokens per million words respectively. Use of 'alluring' continues to drop through the 1930s and 1940s, followed by a very slight increase in the 1950s, itself followed by a further drop in the 1960s to a low of 1.08 tokens per million words.
Obviously, COHA data does not bear out the question's underlying claim of a "peak" in the use of 'alluring' in the 1920s.
So, let's try another approach, this time using the BYU interface to present Google Books data.
This does show a peak in the 1920s. As conjecture, the peak in the 1920s, as opposed to the COHA peak in the 1900s, results from (1) an add-on effect from later bound volumes of earlier periodical issues; (2) an uptick in the number of periodical issues rebound and published in book form. The latter possibility, if accurate, could well represent the period of relative prosperity and cultural stability in the US between the first two World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45).
The artifactual 1920s peak shown in the Google Books data is likely to have been more accurately shown to be in the 1900s by the 'balancing' of the genres in the COHA corpus.
Another advantage of the BYU COHA data and interface is that it allows a rapid display of the text in context. First, a look at the year-by-year distribution of use in the 1900s:
The peak in the 1900s use of 'alluring' was in 1904. The uses for that year are these (click image to enlarge):
Eight uses in fiction are shown, 3 in magazines, and six in nonfiction. We can easily compare these with uses from the 1920s, during which the peak use of 'alluring' was in 1921:
Uses of 'alluring' in the 1921 COHA data were these (truncated for convenience after 34 of the 36):
Twenty-five of the uses were in fiction, 4 in magazines, 2 in newspapers, and 5 in nonfiction.
No uses in advertising appear in the data shown above, for the simple reason that advertising text in the corpus is slim to nonexistent.
Returning to Google Books, we can test a hypothesis. If the artifactual 1920s peak of use of 'alluring' is related to some diffusion into fiction, etc., of a trend in advertising toward use of more sexually charged language, we could expect a similar effect for synonyms of 'alluring'. So this:
Not a peak, but more of a hump, does appear post-1920 for all of these sexually charged words. However, I am reluctant to the point of refusal to ascribe that hump to the remote effect of a diffusion into fiction, etc., from the adoption of sexually charged language in advertising. The latter (the adoption of sexually charged language in advertising) must be, if it exists at all, the reflection of a more basic cultural shift toward permissiveness and self-expression.
What might explain such a cultural shift in the US? Taking for granted that the textual data, as a reflection of cultural trends, lags behind the trend in US society in general, if only by a year or two, I find a more compelling source of the hump expressed by the "Ngram" chart of 'alluring' and synonyms in these observations from Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, in "History of the motion picture":
During the 1920s in the United States, motion-picture production, distribution, and exhibition became a major national industry and movies perhaps the major national obsession.
Virtually all the major film genres evolved and were codified during the 1920s, but none was more characteristic of the period than the slapstick comedy.
The Flapper Allure
By way of contrast with 'allure' (this time in all its forms), 'flapper' (in all its forms) is a word few would argue is associated with societal trends in the 1920s.
First, the by-decade balanced view of 'allur*' in the COHA corpus.
The graph shows what I might describe as 'moderate peaks' in the 1810s (14.39 tokens per million) and 1830s (11.62), with a middling frequency in the 1820s (10.11). The moderate peaks in the 1810s and 1830s both exceed later frequency spikes in the 1900s (10.91), 1910s (8.28) and 1920s (8.77). The frequency of uses in the 1820s exceeds every decade of the 1900s except 1900-1909.
Clearly, ascribing the trend of uses of 'allur*' in the 1800s to a general diffusion of trends in advertising doesn't reflect known facts. Yet observe the similar pattern over three decades of use toward the beginning of each century: a decade of heavier use is followed by a decade of lesser use, itself followed by a decade of intermediate use.
My own sense is that the pattern exposed toward the beginning of both the 1800s and the 1900s, and the supposed 'spikes' or 'peaks' of use are artifactual, and that a larger sample size from a wider array of authors would moderate or eliminate the effect.
In contrast, 'flapper*' shows a marked pattern of cultural influence, the source of which is hardly controversial.
Supposing (for the sake of argument) controversy did arise about the extreme peak in frequency of use of 'flapper*' in the 1920s, a brief search reveals a large amount of scholarship surrounding this phenomenon. For example, this derivative paragraph from the Wikipedia article on the general phenomenon (that is, not specifically focused on the linguistic aspect):
One cause of the change in young women's behavior [labeled 'flapperdom'] was World War I which ended in November 1918. The death of large numbers of young men in the war, and the Spanish flu epidemic which struck in 1918 killing between 20-40 million people, inspired in young people a feeling that life is short and could end at any moment. Therefore, young women wanted to spend their youth enjoying their life and freedom rather than just staying at home and waiting for a man to marry them.
- Sagert, Kelly Boyer (2010). Flappers: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara CA: Greenwood Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780313376900.
- Cellania, M. (2013, March 25). The Rise of the Flapper - Sociological Images. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/03/25/guest-post-the-rise-of-the-flapper/
Material 'explaining' the cultural phenomenon leading to the rise of the term 'flapper' is abundant, and the sociolinguistic history of the term has been well described.
There was a good answer to this in 1907 at the beginning of the peak. The article is Overworked Words by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton. It was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (May 1907),
As it may soon be prohibitive for us to find any one or anything attractive or compelling, shall we, reverting to that most expressive old-fashioned word "alluring," bring it into the arena to lead the strenuous life of its predecessors, or shall we treat our language with the respect that it deserves, and once more give to words their proper values ?