Last week, while splitting my time between volunteering and working on a contract with the History Museum of Western Virginia, I was able to work with several 1920/early 30s dresses on my volunteer time. I’ve always seen 1920s flapper dresses, whether it be from photographs, movies, or fashion plates, but I’ve never actually seen one up close, let alone touch one!
The museum will be putting together a 1920s/prohibition exhibition in June, and I was able to help stage some of these dresses for the volunteer photographer. None of the dresses in the museum’s collection had been photographed yet, and in order to create a complete record, as well as document the dresses current condition, I acted as the Collections Manager/Costume Expert in unpacking, handling, and staging all items on a mannequin to be photographed. I was so excited!
All of the dresses were exactly how 1920s flapper garb is portrayed through the media: gauzy shift dresses; heavily sequined and beaded overlays; super thin, delicate straps. I was in heaven. And as I’ve mentioned before, the excess and glamour seen in the 1920s is one of my favorites. If I could, I would have taken as many photographs as I possible, but I was so focused on not damaging the extremely delicate fabric. Additionally, these aren’t from my personal collection, and I felt wrong actually taking any photos.
So, in honor of the excitement and awe of my experience, for today’s post, I’ve chosen a portrait of a flapper, who stares sadly off to the right.
Her hair illustrates the short pixie cut popular at this time, as well as the perfect finger waves underneath a beaded headband. Her dress is relatively shapeless, with a broach pulling the fabric together on her left hip. The only other ornamentation on this dress are the beaded straps. On all of the dresses I staged for photography, the straps were the on area that had the most damage and degradation, I’m assuming because of the relative weight of the dresses and the thin, flimsy material used. Most were hanging on by mere threads. One dress, very much like the one in the photograph above, had a light gold shift underlay, completely un-ornamented, with a bright gold sequined overlay that draped over the shoulders and hung loosely over the shift, accentuating the appearance of the boyish figure, but at the same time holding onto the feminine aspects of a lithe figure. If only I had an image of it!