As an outward sign of their liberation, flappers abandoned the ample-figured, hourglass-structured dresses of the Gibson Girl for short, straight, unstructured sheath dresses with dropped waists that suggested boyish figures (sometimes binding their breasts to complete the effect), like Madeleine Vionnet's two-tone pink silk dress here embroidered with blue birds and green foliage. Would the frenzied footwork of hot new dances like the Charleston and Lindy Hop have even been possible without the new, looser attire? A slinky late 1930s black silk dress is layered with fringe to show off the slightest wiggle.
Following the stock market crash of 1929 and the start of the Great Depression, Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Its most lasting, uh, success was the organizing of crime. Legal drinking spawned sales of drinking glasses, swizzle sticks, and shakers. Some celebrated industrial modernity, like Norman Bel Geddes's 1930s Manhattan cocktail service, featuring simple small polished chrome-plated brass cups on narrow stems arranged around a streamlined shaker that resembles a skyscraper. Similarly, a creamy pink celluloid broach in the shape of a calla lily studded with rhinestones flaunted the new plastics. The term "cocktail dress" debuted in 1935, which happened to be the same year that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.
Cocktail hat by Joseph’s New York, 1950
Boyish flapper dresses made way for clingy dresses cut on the bias (at an angle instead of with the grain of the fabric), for more stretch and sensuousness. Then World War II seriousness, as well as restrictions on fabric, resulted in boxy military-inspired garb like a broad shouldered 1947 twill woman's suit by John W. Thomas & Co.
The peacetime government's G.I. Bill funded college educations and backed home loans that fostered the construction of new suburban communities, where young white couples formed new societies from scratch. Peak union power won pay and benefits that also contributed to upward mobility of whites, which included more leisure time — and more casual clothes, like a '50s green Hawaiian shirt decorated with catamarans and the names of Pacific Islands like Samoa, Tonga, Philippines, and New Guinea that were the sites of bases or battles during World War II. Tiki bars, like the custom late '40s example from Japan on display here, re-imagined the bloody island battlefields of the Pacific as carefree paradises.
Cocktail set by Erik Magnussen, 1925-1929
Maybe post-war suburban cocktail parties, like the World War I Lost Generation's 1920s bender, were a form of self-medication. In the 1960s, New Yorker cartoonist William Steig decorated glasses with psychological cartoons (which he'd published in 1942) plumbing social anxiety — like a naked woman hanging on a lamppost with the caption "Public Opinion no longer worries me."
Purse by Paco Rabanne, c. 1965
The suburbs were a place to fashion modernist utopias with paper plates and prepared foods and fresh, easygoing polka dot 1957 Eclipse glassware designed by Russel Wright. America's post-war boom meant more luxurious fabrics and more of them. It was a consumer revolution, but not necessarily a social one. Rosie the Riveters, who built fighting planes during the war, were sent back to the kitchen. And World War II African-American Tuskegee Airmen were returned to the back of the bus — where they dreamed up the Civil Rights movement of the '50s.