Night Life – A fashion exhibition of the 1920’s and 1930’s

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Ripponlea and Barwon Park have hosted some stunning frocks in their time. This new exhibition by The National Trust, Night Life – A fashion exhibition of the 1920’s and 1930’s is no exception. A recent bequest of gowns inspired this curation exploring the decadent, ground breaking, jubilant styles of the 1920s and the more sober, practical conservatism of the 1930’s. The post war and interwar periods saw an enormous amount of change in social customs and economic conditions, and clothing is always an incredible barometer of the whole picture of society at a certain  place and time.

Many early 1920’s evening dress features amazing, intricate beadwork with new and exotic materials such as celluloid and gelatine. Celluloid sequins offered the clothed experience a luminosity, sparkle and sound that reflected well the excitement, excess and prosperity of the time. Some dresses featured approximately 2 kg of embellishment carefully stitched to feather light silks and cotton tulle. With the thrashing of exuberant jazz dance moves such as the Charleston in hot sweaty smoky nightclubs it is no wonder that many dresses have not withstood the test of time.  It is a joy and a pleasure to be able to see such well preserved precious examples as these.

As we moved into the 1930’s with the occurrence of The Great Depression and Wall street crash of 1929 as well as ominous political events in Europe, sequins, and beads were abandoned in favour of printed, painted and more restrained styles, more practical in design, less boyish, re-embracing the female form.

Designs also reflect the influence of world events such as the discoveries by Howard Carter in Egypt and the ensuing popularity of Egyptian inspired motifs. Keep an eye out for them. My favourites are the camels. Can you spot them?

If you are an avid student of fashion you will appreciate curator Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna’s informative presentation both in the exhibition and the catalogue. I personally enjoy the notes taken from media of the day and insights into the lives of the owners of these clothes.

It makes me smile to think of what Barbara Wilson Milne’s father thought of her dress and dancing antics.

I am always struck by the wearability of these periods despite their difference. There are always elements that seem very contemporary. I was struck by the the simple, graphic beauty of this black, white and blue printed silk lining a simple black evening coat and the familiarity of the cloud shaped beading on a simple black dress.

As I walk around the exhibition I can’t help but think of the many young women who would have spent hours stitching these intricate items with tiny tiny beads and sequins, and that is not even thinking about the tiny bits of tin so carefully wrapped onto mesh to create the Egyptian wrap! I have recently finished reading Fashion Victims and I can’t help but feel for their hunched shoulders, and strained eyes. I only hope that some of them had such slender hands and elongated fingers as those on the wearer of these gloves!

Art Deco influences are everywhere in beading and embroidery. This beaded shoulder detail struck me as quite unusual.

The richness of well lit black in velvet, lace, silhouette and some inspired lighting effects.

Shimmer and sparkle in celluloid, tin and gelatine. Just keep away from a naked flame as celluloid is highly flammable! It always make me smile when I think of all these women resplendent in celluloid and the connection with the importance and influence of the film era at this time. Women were watching and wearing the same material.

Floral motifs are ever popular but it interesting to observe the differences in the representation. Here you see them beaded in the 1920’s, painted and printed in the 30’s. 

Embroidery and Asian influences in the 1920’s. These Chinese shawls were a popular choice to the warm exposed shoulders with flapper girls against chill.

A visual feast, informative and a lovely day out in the gardens of Ripponlea.

But did you find the camels? Here they are, plus some Egyptian figures! Thanks to Erica Louise of recycled-fashion for her sharp eyes in spotting them and most of all for taking me as her “plus one”. Thanks also to the National Trust for another most enjoyable event.

Enjoy!

Annabel

 

 

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