Sunday, 11 December 2016

1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs

Warning: this is possibly the most picture-heavy blog post of all time.

Last weekend I went down to London for a few days, to be extremely cultural and go to lots of exhibitions. So cultural in fact, that I didn't even go to Goldhawk Road! (Truth to tell, this was largely because I'm nowhere near making up everything I've bought on previous trips, and even I realized that the last thing I need is more fabric.)

Top of my list to visit was the Fashion and Textile Museum, to see the exhibition 1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs, so I dropped my case off at the hotel and headed to Bermondsey.

The Dolly Sisters, photographed by James Abbe

When I got off the tube at London Bridge I was amazed to see Cate, who writes the fabulous Vintage Gal blog. We follow, and often comment on, one another's blogs, but we'd never met. She had come up to London with her mum for a few days, and once she'd got over the shock of being accosted by a total stranger on the London Underground we discovered that we were all heading to the exhibition.

Cate looking fabulously elegant as always, me . . . less so!

We joined a guided tour of the exhibition, and then went for lunch in the museum café. It was lovely to go round the exhibits with someone who takes as much interest in these things as I do, and to have a good chat afterwards. Plus, I was able to examine Cate's amazing jacket in detail, and get some tips for my 1930s suit. Thanks Cate!

The exhibition begins with a display of drawings by the (female) American fashion illustrator and costume designer, Gordon Conway.

Fashion illustrations for 'The Tatler' and 'Britannia and Eve' magazines

All of the clothes on display are from the collection of Cleo and Mark Butterfield, and what a collection it is. Almost nothing is behind glass, which allows you to get a really good look at the details - my favourite sort of exhibition!

The exhibition is set out as a series of scenes, each with a title. It starts with a selection of opulent coats and capes.

Scene: At the theatre

Next it moves to a more intimate scene.

Scene: In the boudoir

Amid the lingerie and pyjamas I spotted a little figure. Gina, does this remind you of anything?

Silk pyjamas, and a boudoir doll

From silk to cotton, and a beautiful display of organdie dresses in sorbet-like colours.

Scene: Picnic at the lake

These afternoon dresses are in more muted colours.

Scene: Time for tea

I loved the embroidery on this dress (and the fact that I could get close enough to see it in detail).

Chemise-style dress, c 1925

It isn't all pretty pastels, there are outfits in bolder colours as well.

Scene: On the cruise liner

Suspended over the stairs is a seated figure.

Gold lamé and matching shoes

Upstairs the exhibition moves from day to evening wear.

Scene: In the night garden

Scene: Chinatown at night

Scene: Cocktail hour

The brown velvet dress with its swirl of diamanté trim seemed to be a favourite of everyone who saw it. As someone who Doesn't Wear Black, I particularly loved it.

Please, no drool on the dress

The final 'scene' is a wedding, with a bridal dress with a twist; it's not white.

Scene: A wedding

Silk and lamé wedding dress, 1920

The bride, Barbie Lutyens, and groom, Euan Wallace

The exhibition also has a series of small displays in cases. These include collections of 1920s accessories such as hats and stockings, and some advertisements from the period.

Fans, bags and smoking paraphernalia

Apologies for the poor quality of this photograph, but I just had to include the bizarre method of applying lipstick - I can't imagine why it didn't catch on.

Stencil your lips!

The 1920s displays were book-ended with what came before, and after.



Needless to say, both Cate and I loved this suit. There may even have been a discussion along the lines of, "I'll distract the staff, you run off with the mannequin"! It has clearly lost its original belt buckle, but is still a thing of beauty, with wonderful details.

Too small and prong-less buckle, and fabulous pockets

Cate is inspired to make her own version, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it.

So that's the fashion, what about the photography?

The final room contains fashion studies by James Abbe, an American photographer who was based in Paris for most of the 1920s.

Dancer Anna Ludmilla (born Jean Caley), 1927

The Brox Sisters, sharing a hat (and possibly a dress), 1925

Continuing the theme of wanting to recreate items from the exhibition, I'd love to make this hat. It's described as, "green felt with felt gardenia, edged in silver and stitched in silver thread and available then from Louise Marsey".

Gilda Grey, 1925

Finally in this epic post, another hat. This turned up in one of the Pathé News clips being shown. I spotted the pinched detail in the crown, similar to my purple hat, and had to watch the whole sequence several times to get a decent photo!

Hat with folded crown

1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs runs until 15 January, so if you're in London, why not take a break from Christmas shopping or the sales - it's well worth a visit.


  1. Oh... My gosh!! I just squealed when I saw the boudoir scene with the kimono and boudoir doll!! Then I noticed you asked me if it reminded me of anything! Way too fun!! Oh how I would love to attend this exhibit!! The pastel dresses are scrumptious!! For some reason I really like that yellow one. The wedding dress is beautiful. Ok, I loved every photo you took and thought the hat resembled your recent creation! How fun that you ran into a fellow blogger!! It looks as though you had a thoroughly fabulous day! Thank you for sharing it with us!!

    1. Thank you Gina, so glad you spotted the link! As soon as I saw the doll, I was reminded of your beautiful Costume College outfit.

      I actually took 200 photos in total, so you got off lightly with this post! I always try to post about exhibitions in a way that gives a feel of it to readers who won't have a chance to visit, and there were so many lovely things in this one that it was hard to edit them down.

      Yes, I still can't quite believe that I met up with Cate, especially as neither of us lives in London. It really made the day!

    2. Well, I know I appreciate your photographic endeavors!! Cause I probably went be getting over there for a long while! And how did you select from all those pics? Might have been hard!!

      Wow!! I didn't know Cate didn't live their either! What a wonderful happening!!

    3. I tried to include a shot of each 'scene' (there were a couple that I missed), and then close-ups of things I particularly loved.

      Cate and I live about 200 miles apart, so it was truly amazing that we met!

  2. Wonderful photos, although I look slightly manic in the one of us! It was such a lovely exhibition and made all the more better by meeting you. And well done for getting decent shots of the photographs at the end. I may have to point my mum in your direction to see the one Gilda Grey as mine didn't come out very well. xx

    1. Thanks Cate, I really enjoyed your post about the exhibition as well. Interesting that we seemed to have a lot of photos in common.

      Unless I'm with my mum, I don't get to go round exhibitions with someone as interested in the details as I am, so it was a real treat to have company. xx

  3. Thank you for sharing. One of my all time favourite rv series is an Australian show called Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. It is set in the 1920's Melbourne and very dood entertainment, not least of which is the exquisite costuming. The detail for all actors clothing is fantadtic. What I find most interesting is the way that clothing drapes because the support undergarments were just evolving. Corsets out, teddies in. I am glad you shard your tour with us. Iloved the clothing. Thank you

  4. What a fantastic post. I feel as if I've been to the exhibition (wish I could make it). Thanks so much for sharing all the lovely photographs and details. Yes, the pockets on the jacket are great - crying out to be copied. And thank you for signposting Vintage Gal's blog.

    1. Thank you Kate, I'm glad I was able to give a feel of the exhibition!