Anxiety and Change: The Jazz Age and Wedding Gowns of the 1920s

A global war with staggering loss of life. The very air became a battlefield, with airplanes, invented not long before, turned into death machines. An influenza epidemic killed 50 million worldwide.

Young American men returned from war, and women from military offices and civilian wartime industries.  They worried that another war or epidemic could end their lives, so many of them did not want to live the quiet, seemingly dull, lives of their Edwardian parents.

The young were hyped up from the war, accustomed to the anxiety of wartime.  Popular music and dances became more energetic. Clothing became relaxed.

This zeitgeist (spirit of the era) is shown well in the recent movie “The Great Gatsby.”

To add to the woes, Prohibition spread nationwide in 1920.

In the 1920s, the Jazz Age, women changed.
– They voted,
– Imitated boys and men by compressing their bust with undergarments and cutting their hair short,
– Wore makeup and smoked cigarettes openly, actions that had previously been associated with prostitutes,
– Wore short skirts to reveal their legs, which had not been done for thousands of years.

Imagine how the older generation felt about women’s behavior and appearance.  These two bridal gowns, worn before the 1920s, show rising hemlines.

The 1913 wedding dress on the right has a peekaboo effect.  The underskirt stops above the ankles.

The bridal gown on the left is later, during the war.  The skirt is short and a detachable train fastens at the shoulders.

1920s wedding gown.  Asymmetrical hem.
1920s wedding gown. Asymmetrical hem.

In the 1920s, women used undergarments to deemphasize their bust and hips, just the opposite effect of the old-fashioned corsets.  The goal was an androgynous figure, so dresses no longer nipped in at the waist, as shown in the gown at the right.

This gown has embroidered lace.  We think of the 1920s as the era of beaded dresses.

The Pasadena Museum of History, where over 40 antique and vintage bridal gowns are on display until July 14, has three gorgeous 1920s beaded bridal gowns.  One is  a pastel color.

Jazz-Age brides often wore elaborate headdresses or caps.  Here is a photo of Dorothea Underwood.  There are closeups of her dress at the end of this post.

Dorothea’s dress is sleeveless, but she wore gloves past the elbow, revealing her upper arms.  Although the dress is short, she wore a long train, which you can see near the toes of the little girl in the wedding party.  Dorothea’s bridal cap is attached to, or part of, a long, filmy veil.

The 1924 Sabin-Underwood Wedding Party
The 1924 Sabin-Underwood Wedding Party

Her silk gown has faux pearls, some of them clustered and surrounded by beads.

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Her shoes are silk satin with faux orange blossoms.

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Dorothea’s 1924 silk gown with dropped waist

Come back on Friday for wedding dresses of the 1930s.

Bridal Gowns of the Early 1900s

1906-09 wedding dress “Complex works of art,” curator Sheryl Peters said of wedding gowns dating from about 1906 to 1915.

In this, our first dress, the lace around this collar is the most delicate I have ever seen.  It looks as if it would dissolve if I breathe on it.

Silk cord runs just above it, at the top of the collar, and also below the lace.  It is looped.

That same silk cord is pulled through net elsewhere on this dress to make elaborate designs on the bodice, cuffs and the belt.

And around the hem.

Long gloves would have been worn with all of these dresses, extending under the sleeve.

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This bridal gown was worn in 1910, with the jacket over it.

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This silk gown was worn by bride Louvena Grace Dolson in 1911.  The long, narrow pleated portions, like the one running down the center of this dress, were made on a separate piece of silk.  That piece of silk was pleated and stitched, then cut into strips.  The seamstress then sewed lace trim all around each strip of pleated silk before she inserted them into this opulent creation.

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This 1914 gown has faux orange blossoms.  Orange trees bear fruit and bloom at the same time, and so are a symbol of fertility.  This gown has a beautiful train that is pleated when viewed from the side.

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When I give tours of  “I Do, I Do, Pasadena Ties the Knot, 1850-1950,” patrons ask which of the forty-two dresses is my favorite.  My favorite, pictured below, was worn in 1915 by Margaret Whitney Collins and almost fifty years later by Julia Collins Haselton.  I would have worn this dress if I’d had the chance.

Worn 1915 and 1964 (600x800)

Swags and big tassels of faux pearls.

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The train has a handle on it — you can see it at the top of this photo — so the bride could hold up the train at the reception while she walked.  And danced with her groom.

These and many other beautiful dresses are on display at the Pasadena Museum of History, only until July 14.  My next post will feature beaded wedding gowns from the 1920s, and the following post will highlight dresses from the 1930s in historical context.

Here’s information on seeing this exhibit in person:

http://pasadenahistory.org/thingstosee/IDoPartI.html

Springtime in a California Paradise

Poppies and Lupines by Frank Moore (1877-1967), The Irvine Museum
Poppies and Lupines by Frank Moore (1877-1967),
The Irvine Museum

The paintings in Paradise Found:  Summer in California, evoke a sunny natural landscape —  the sparsely populated Southern California of the past.  Spring brought fresh, green grass, orange poppies and purple lupines, shown above.   Even now, the hills and mountains turn green this time of year.

Beverly Hills by Paul Grimm (1891-1974), Private Collection, Courtesy of The Irvine Museum
Beverly Hills by Paul Grimm (1891-1974), Private Collection, Courtesy of The Irvine Museum

Beverly Hills is no longer known for its natural landscapes.

Around 1900, people stepping off ships near Los Angeles were in luck if they arrived in springtime.  They could see, forty miles north, fields of California poppies shimmering orange in the sunshine, on a gentle slope rising above Pasadena and just below mountains.

Poppies Near Pasadena by Benjamin Brown (1865-1942). Private Collection, Courtesy The Irvine Museum
Poppies Near Pasadena by Benjamin Brown (1865-1942). Private Collection, Courtesy The Irvine Museum

The Great Romantic Comedy of 1934

In the last blog post, I wrote about Frank Capra’s desert writing retreat, where he hit the jackpot, the five greatest Academy Awards, with this movie.  Here are two clips from this romantic comedy, It Happened One Night.

Here’s the link to the famous hitchhiking scene. It was filmed in the Great Depression. Do you know the reference to farmer’s daughter? He means a sexy joke.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/358189/It-Happened-One-Night-Movie-Clip-You-Mind-If-I-Try-.html

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert took home Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars.  She plays a runaway heiress, and he portrays a down-on-his-luck newspaperman following her for a big story.

In the following scene, they pretend to be married so they can split the cost of a room.  Remember, it is the Great Depression.  I heard Gable created a sensation when he took off his shirt and revealed his bare chest.  Men wore undershirts at the time.  Don’t miss this charming scene.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/29309/It-Happened-One-Night-Movie-Clip-Every-Man-For-Himself.html

Winter Warmth and Sunshine

Palm Springs Desert

Palm Springs is the most famous city in the Coachella Valley.  Today, in early February, the forecast is in the mid-70s, which is about 25 Celsius, and visitors flock here to play golf and tennis in the pleasant winter weather.

It’s warmer and drier than winters in Los Angeles, about 150 miles away, and early Hollywood stars made the trek out here in the days before the interstate and airport, not to work but to enjoy themselves by playing the same sports we do today, dancing in the evenings, and relaxing.

John Frost needed this climate for his ill health.  He often painted Mt. San Jacinto, which borders this valley near Palm Springs. He painted the one below in 1926.

Mount San Jacinto by John Frost, 1926

This same year, the La Quinta Hotel was established nearby (no connection with the chain of the same name).  It attracted old-time Hollywood stars and is still open for business, 87 years later.  I’ll write more about the La Quinta resort next Wednesday.  Here’s a photo below.

La Quinta Resort

Enjoy your week.  If you are busy, you might take a little time for yourself and curl up with a book.  Make your own warmth with a blanket over your legs and a cup of tea.   Next Wednesday we’ll go back to the desert and the 1920s and 30s.

Hollywood’s First Cinema

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Sometimes you just get lucky.  The investors of the first theater in Hollywood selected an Egyptian theme.  Five weeks after it opened its doors, King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and everything Egyptian became the cat’s pajamas.  The year was 1922.

One of the men who built the Egyptian was Sid Grauman, who would later build Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where the handprints and footprints of the stars attract visitors today.  Sid was a marketing genius, in my book.  The movies shown at the Egyptian were world exclusives for six months, while the rest of the country eagerly waited for them to come to their local movie houses.

While the feature-length silents played in this glamorous venue, their titles shone in lights in front of the courtyard.  Today the lights spell the name of the organization that took this decrepit building where homeless people slept, restored it, and presents a wide variety of movies there today.  Picture the sign below with “Robin Hood” or  “Thief of Baghdad,” brightly lit at night.

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Sid Grauman also rolled out the red carpet for the stars at the movie’s premieres.  Long, red carpets had been used similarly in ancient times, but Sid was the first to use them for movie stars.  Now planters with palm trees take up much of the courtyard, but in the Twenties, there was room for fans to star-gaze.

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The flappers and their fellas paid five dollars a head for the premiere, and between seventy-five cents and a dollar-fifty for an everyday showing.  With prices that high, it must have been a special occasion calling for dressing up.

As the movie-goers entered the auditorium, singers standing in theater boxes serenaded them as they found their seats.  Then live actors performed a prologue or short piece with the same theme as the movie.

If you visit Hollywood, or if you live nearby, relive the history of movies by watching the wonderful documentary,”Forever Hollywood,” at the Egyptian, Hollywood’s first movie theater.

Where in the World?

I hope you enjoyed my last three posts about Rome.

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This is not Europe — here’s a detail of one of the figures on the ceiling above.

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See the headband? She’s a flapper. All of these photos are of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, which was built in 1923.

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Right now it’s decorated for Christmas.

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Have a beautiful and blessed Christmas.

The Hotel del Coronado — Part Two

Pickford, Chaplin, Gable and Katharine Hepburn, as well as movie stars of the present, have been guests at the Hotel del Coronado.  Eleven U.S. presidents have slept here.  Charles Lindbergh was feted at a 1927 banquet for his solo crossing of the Atlantic in “The Spirit of St. Louis,” and a replica of his plane circled above the guests in the dining room.

Clicking this link will open a new window with a website showing a lovely impressionist painting created by artist Louis Betts about 1907. It is of Coronado Beach, and Betts probably painted it while he was outside.  The top of the page has a detail of the painting. Below that is a blank area above a row of small photos (called thumbnails). Click on the thumbnail of this painting, the one on the far lef,t to see the entire painting.

I can almost feel the warmth of the sand. The lady in the white dress carries a yellow umbrella, and the top of it is lit by the sun. The umbrella shades her upper body, and she herself casts a shadow on the sand.

With all the sunshine and bathers enjoying the ocean, I wondered why the painting is called “Mid-Winter, Coronado Beach.” I’ve been to Coronado Beach in summer, which I will write about in a few days, and this looks like summertime to me. This afternoon, it’s 75 degrees in Coronado and the water is 69 degrees. (Yes, the water is this cool off of San Diego, the southernmost city on the west coast of the continental U.S.  That’s because the surface current along the Pacific coast comes from Alaska. Along the east coast of the U.S., the current comes from the Gulf of Mexico, so beach water is warmer on that coast.)

But mid-winter in Coronado? Isn’t the water chilly? The water then averages 59 degrees, but this painting was an advertisement for the Southern Pacific Railway.

This painting will be on display only until September 20, and then it will go into storage. The exhibit is called “Paradise Found.” I will try to see it. Art is worth the drive, and I could use a little paradise.  I’ll bet you could, too.  This is what art is for.

Hotel del Coronado — Part Three will describe the beach in the present, and then I will move on to the amazing events at the hotel, as I promised in Part One.  If you haven’t read Part One, the previous post, take a look at it and view a scene from the #1 comedy of all time.

Olympic Medals for the Arts

In the first half of the 20th century, the Olympics awarded medals for artworks. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, which began in 1896, pushed for “muscle and mind” to be honored. Medals were presented to artists from 1912 to 1948.

Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded for music, sculpture, literature, architecture, and two categories of painting, oil painting and watercolor. No, they did not paint in front of a crowd or the judges.

In the first year of the arts competition, American Walter Winans won a medal in sculpture and another in shooting. A true artist-athlete.

You can read more about this in the book The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions by Richard Stanton.

You can also read about a gold-medal winner and the poignant path his life, his art, and his medal took after his victory. “When aesthetes competed at the Olympics” was published in the Los Angeles Times on August 25, 2008.