February 7, 2013
Let us take a look at the young person as she strolls across the lawn of her parents’ suburban home, having just put the car away after driving sixty miles in two hours. She is, for one thing, a very pretty girl. Beauty is the fashion in 1925. She is frankly, heavily made up, not to imitate nature, but for an altogether artificial effect—pallor mortis, poisonously scarlet lips, richly ringed eyes—the latter looking not so much debauched (which is the intention) as diabetic. Her walk duplicates the swagger supposed by innocent America to go with the female half of a Paris Apache dance.
Flapper Jane by Bruce Bliven
The New Republic
September 9, 1925
In the decades before the Roaring Twenties, nice girls didn’t wear makeup. But that changed when flappers began applying cosmetics that were meant to be noticed, a reaction to the subdued and feminine pre-war Victorian attitudes and styles typified by the classic Gibson girl.
Before the 1920s, makeup was a real pain to put on. It’s no wonder women kept it to a minimum. The tubes, brushes and compacts we take for granted today hadn’t yet been invented. Innovations in cosmetics in the ’20s made it much easier for women to experiment with new looks. And with the increasing popularity of movies, women could mimic the stars—like Joan Crawford, Mae Murray and Clara Bow, an American actress who epitomized the flapper’s spitfire attitude and heavily made-up appearance.
Let’s start with rouge—today we call it blush. Before the ’20s, it was messy to use and associated with promiscuous women. But with the introduction of the compact case, rouge became transportable, socially acceptable and easy to apply. The red—or sometimes orange—makeup was applied in circles on the cheeks, as opposed to dabbed along the cheekbones as it is today. And, if you were particularly fashionable, you applied it over a suntan, a trend popularized by Coco Chanel’s sunbathing mishap.
And lipstick! With the invention of the metal, retractable tube in 1915, lipstick application was forever revolutionized. You could carry the tube with you and touch up often, even at the dinner table, which was now tolerated. Metal lip tracers and stencils ensured flawless application that emphasized the lip line. The most popular look was the heart-shaped “cupid’s bow.” On the upper lip, lipstick rose above the lip line in the shape of a cupid’s bow. On the lower lip, it was applied in an exaggerated manner. On the sides, the color stopped short of the natural lip line.
For even more foolproof application, in 1926, cosmetics manufacturer Helena Rubinstein released Cupids Bow, which it marketed as a “self-shaping lipstick that forms a perfect cupid’s bow as you apply it.” Red was the standard color, and sometimes it was cherry flavored. The 1920s stage and screen actress Mae Murray, the subject of a new biography, The Girl With the Bee Stung Lips, exemplified the look with her distinctive crimson lips.
As for the eyes, women lined them with dark, smudged kohl. They plucked their eyebrows to form a thin line, if not entirely, and then drew them back in, quite the opposite of 1980s Brooke Shields. Mascara, still working out the kinks, came in cake, wax or liquid form. The Maybelline cake mascara had instructions, a brush and a photo of actress Mildred Davis’ eyes. Since the brush hadn’t evolved into the circular wand we have today, women used the Kurlash eyelash curler, invented by William Beldue in 1923, for a more dramatic effect.
Nail lacquer took off in the 1920s when French makeup artist Michelle Ménard partnered with the Charles Revson company, Revlon, as we know it today. Inspired by the enamels used to paint cars, Ménard had wondered if something similar could be applied to fingernails. They established a factory, began producing nail polish as their first product, and officially founded the Revlon Company in 1932. The brands Max Factor and Cutex also introduced polishes throughout the 1920s. The “moon manicure” was in vogue: Women kept their nails long and painted only the middle of each nail, leaving the crescent tip unpolished.
A confluence of events led women to become more receptive to powdering their noses. First, the invention of safer cosmetics throughout the decade (since applying lead to your face wasn’t the best idea!) was key, and much of what we see in drugstores and at makeup counters today originated during the 1920s. Women were competing for attention, and for jobs, after men returned from World War I, and to that end, they wore makeup to be noticed. The idea of feminine beauty was overhauled. As the conservative attitudes of previous decades were abandoned, a liberating boldness came to represent the modern woman.
February 5, 2013
In the age before the Roaring Twenties, women were still wearing floor-length dresses. Waists were cinched. Arms and legs were covered. Corsets were standard on a daily basis. Hair was long. The Gibson girl was the idealized image of beauty. And the Victorian attitudes toward dress and etiquette created a strict moral climate.
Then the 1920s hit and things changed rapidly. The 19th Amendment passed in 1920 giving women the right to vote. Women began attending college. The Equal Rights Amendment was proposed by Alice Paul in 1923. World War I was over and men wanted their jobs back. Women, though, who had joined the workforce while the men were at war, had tasted the possibility of life beyond homemaking and weren’t ready to relinquish their jobs. Prohibition was underway with the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919 and speakeasies were plentiful if you knew where to look. Motion pictures got sound, color and talking sequences. The Charleston’s popularity contributed to a nationwide dance craze. Every day, more women got behind the wheels of cars. And prosperity abounded.
All these factors—freedoms experienced from working outside the home, a push for equal rights, greater mobility, technological innovation and disposable income—exposed people to new places, ideas and ways of living. Particularly for women, personal fulfillment and independence became priorities—a more modern, carefree spirit where anything seemed possible.
The embodiment of that 1920s free spirit was the flapper, who was viewed disdainfully by an older generation as wild, boisterous and disgraceful. While this older generation was clucking its tongue, the younger one was busy reinventing itself, and creating the flapper lifestyle we now know today.
It was an age when, in 1927, 10-year-old Mildred Unger danced the Charleston on the wing of an airplane in the air. What drove that carefree recklessness? For the most authentic descriptions that not only define the flapper aesthetic, but also describe the lifestyle, we turn to flappers themselves.
In A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents, which appeared in the December 6, 1922, issue of Outlook Magazine, the writer and self-defined flapper Elllen Welles Page makes a plea to the older generation by describing not only how her outward appearance defines her flapperdom, but also the challenges that come with committing to a flapper lifestyle.
If one judge by appearances, I suppose I am a flapper. I am within the age limit. I wear bobbed hair, the badge of flapperhood. (And, oh, what a comfort it is!), I powder my nose. I wear fringed skirts and bright-colored sweaters, and scarfs, and waists with Peter Pan collars, and low-heeled “finale hopper” shoes. I adore to dance. I spend a large amount of time in automobiles. I attend hops, and proms, and ball-games, and crew races, and other affairs at men’s colleges. But none the less some of the most thoroughbred superflappers might blush to claim sistership or even remote relationship with such as I. I don’t use rouge, or lipstick, or pluck my eyebrows. I don’t smoke (I’ve tried it, and don’t like it), or drink, or tell “peppy stories.” I don’t pet.
But then—there are many degrees of flapper. There is the semi-flapper; the flapper; the superflapper. Each of these three main general divisions has its degrees of variation. I might possibly be placed somewhere in the middle of the first class.
She concludes with:
I want to beg all you parents, and grandparents, and friends, and teachers, and preachers—you who constitute the “older generation”—to overlook our shortcomings, at least for the present, and to appreciate our virtues. I wonder if it ever occurred to any of you that it required brains to become and remain a successful flapper? Indeed it does! It requires an enormous amount of cleverness and energy to keep going at the proper pace. It requires self- knowledge and self-analysis. We must know our capabilities and limitations. We must be constantly on the alert. Attainment of flapperhood is a big and serious undertaking!
The July 1922 edition of Flapper Magazine, whose tagline was “Not for old fogies,” contained “A Flappers’ Dictionary.” According to an uncredited author, “A Flapper is one with a jitney body and a limousine mind.”
And from the 1922 “Eulogy on the Flapper,” one of the most well-known flappers, Zelda Fitzgerald, paints this picture:
The Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure, she covered her face with powder and paint because she didn’t need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring. She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart. She had mostly masculine friends, but youth does not need friends—it needs only crowds.
While these descriptions provide a sense of the look and lifestyle of a flapper, they don’t address how we began using the term itself. The etymology of the word, while varied, can be traced back to the 17th century. A few contenders for early usages of the term include:
- A young bird, or wild duck, that’s flapping its wings as it’s learning to fly. (Consider how dancing the Charleston is reminiscent of a bird flapping its wings.)
- A prostitute or immoral woman.
- A wild, flighty young woman.
- A woman who refused to fasten her galoshes and the unfastened buckles flapped as she walked.
While the origin story differs depending on where you look, cumulatively, they all contribute to our perceptions of this independent woman of the 1920s. In the posts that follow, we’ll turn our attention to how those parameters set forth by Ellen, Zelda and Flapper Magazine are reflected in women’s attire we now associate with the 1920s, from undergarments to makeup and hair.
November 16, 2012
Along with the requisite high-tech gadgets and gizmos, it wouldn’t be a James Bond movie without 007 sporting an impeccably fitted dinner jacket (usually accompanied by some high-stakes hijinks). The dinner jacket—or tuxedo, as it’s less elegantly referred to in the United States, or smoking (as in le smoking), as it’s wonderfully called in some parts of Europe—has been around since the late 19th century when the Prince of Wales lopped of the tails of his tailcoat for less formal, but still fancy, dinner parties. It’s thought to have made its way across the pond after the prince invited the wealthy James Potter of Tuxedo Park, New York, to his estate in 1886. For the occasion, Potter had a dinner suit made at the prince’s British tailor, Henry Poole & Co. When he returned to the States, he wore the get-up to his country club, the Tuxedo Club, and thus tuxedos were born in the U.S.
Sean Connery, along with some expert tailoring, established the classic Bond dinner jacket look. Made by bespoke tailor Anthony Sinclair, the first dinner jacket premiered on the silver screen in the 1962 Bond film, Dr. No. Sinclair was known for crafting a slimmer-fitting, pared-down style of suiting, or the “conduit cut” as it became known.
The comprehensive site The Suits of James Bond details the inaugural dinner jacket:
The shawl collar and all other silk trimmings are in midnight blue satin silk. A nice feature is the silk gauntlet cuffs, the turn-back at the end of the cuffs. It’s an Edwardian decoration, and perhaps the only purpose of them is when they wear out they can be replaced. Otherwise, the cuff fastens normally with four silk-covered buttons. Like any proper single-breasted dinner jacket, this one fastens at the front with only one button.
The 1974 Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun, introduces us to the white dinner jacket (cream dupioni silk, to be exact). While most of 007′s dinner jackets over the space of 23 films are timeless, this one, worn by Roger Moore, is more pre-disco, with its wide lapels, oversized bow tie and Moore’s Bain de Soleil bronzed complexion. Again, The Suits of James Bond explains:
The cut is Cyril Castle’s classic double-breasted 6 button with 2 to button and has a narrower wrap. The shoulders narrow and gently padded. The jacket has double vents and the pockets are slanted and jetted. The cuffs button 1 with a turnback detail and don’t have the link button feature that Roger Moore wears on his other suits in the film.
Fast forward to Daniel Craig as James Bond in the recently opened Skyfall. Classic and updated for 2012 (and paired with a less treacherously oversized bow tie), the Tom Ford navy suit jacket has that super-fitted, semi-shrunken look of a Thom Browne suit. Deferring to The Suits of James Bond for jacket details:
The shoulders are straight and narrow with roped sleeveheads. It’s a traditional button one with a shawl collar, faced in black satin silk. Also in satin silk are the buttons and pocket jettings. The dinner jacket has three buttons on the cuffs and a single vent, a first for Bond on a dinner jacket. I’m not sure the reason why a single vent was chosen; it’s too sporty for semi-formal wear and it’s really only something Americans do. It’s the only non-traditional detail in the outfit.
Forty of the exact same suit, with slight variations, were used to make Skyfall (reinforced knees, blood splattered or longer sleeves, depending on the action-packed sequence). Thankfully, no ruffled polyester shirts, belled pant legs or turquoise cummerbunds were harmed in the making of this latest Bond thriller.
November 9, 2012
James Bond’s accessories are never what they seem, thanks to the ingenuity of “Q” as Desmond Llewelyn was known in the 17 007 films in which he appeared. A watch was never just a timepiece. A briefcase was never a mere file holder. His accessories weren’t chosen for style (although, of course, if they were Bond’s, they were always stylish), but for their function. In those 17 films, audiences would await Q’s customary arrival. He’d present an impeccably dressed Bond with his new handy—and always handsome—tool kit, demonstrating gadgets that would be critical to the upcoming mission. With just the click of a button or the turn of a knob, those inventions always got 007 out of a bind, debilitating his enemy and enabling a quick getaway.
What better way to prepare for Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie that’s opening in theaters today, than a look back at five accessories-turned-gadgets-turned-accessories spanning five decades of Bond films.
Movie: From Russia With Love (1963)
Bond: Sean Connery
Desmond Llewelyn made his first appearance as Q in From Russia With Love. After meeting Bond (Sean Connery), he demonstrated how the nondescript black leather briefcase could turn lethal. Complete with 20 rounds of ammunition, a flat throwing knife, an AR7 folding sniper rifle .25 caliber with an infrared telescopic sight, 50 gold sovereigns and explosive tear gas, Q’s creation was a serious attache.
Movie: The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Bond wore these (humorously unstylish and conspicuous) blue-tinted X-ray glasses to enable him to see through clothing and get the upper hand on who was packing heat. Amusingly, the X-ray specs also provided an unexpected benefit for Bond. Bespeckled, he could use his special powers to observe women’s undergarments (What a coincidence!).
Movie: Live and Let Die (1973)
Bond: Roger Moore
When is a Rolex more than a status symbol? When it can shoot lasers and deflect bullets, of course. In Live and Let Die, Moneypenny presents a Rolex to Bond after Q has equipped it with its special features. Besides deflecting bullets, the watch featured a spinning bezel, essentially a mini rotating saw that helped him cut rope. Bond counted on this accessory to free himself from captivity, including once from a pool of man-eating sharks.
The Rolex “Sawtooth Submariner” that Moore wore in Live and Let Die sold for $198,000 at Christie’s in November 2011.
Movie: Goldeneye (1995)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Another day, another killer pen. Click the top of this Parker Jotter pen three times and it detonates a grenade. After Q showed Bond his latest instrument of death, Bond quipped, ”They always say the pen is mightier than the sword.“ Q responded, “Thanks to me, they were right.”
You, too, can own this pen for just $8. Explosive capabilities not included.
Movie: Thunderball (1965)
Bond: Sean Connery
Jetpacks were the way of the future that never quite arrived. We’d all own one and zoom around to run errands or get to work. In Thunderball, their full potential was envisaged when Connery used one to airlift himself back to his Aston Martin after killing Colonel Jacques Bouvar.
The pack Bond strapped onto his back had been developed by Bell Aerosystems as the Bell Rocket Belt. Using hydrogen peroxide fuel, the pack could only be flown for 20 seconds. The scenes in Thunderball were shot using two stuntmen and the abrasive sound of the jets was overdubbed with the more gentle sound of a fire extinguisher.
Fun fact: In 1984, a Rocket Belt was used in the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
A few decades later, our go-go-gadget cufflinks have been activated as we await 007′s latest mission in the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall.
October 9, 2012
By now, I’m sure Threaded readers know that I derive great satisfaction – or some might say, nerd out – uncovering the social and historical context of clothing. One of my projects, Worn Stories, does that in an even more personal way; it’s a collection of stories I edit from interesting individuals based on a piece of clothing or an accessory with a very specific memory connected to it. I recently posted a story on Worn Stories about a sprightly centenarian, Sadie Mintz, that I thought Threaded readers would enjoy so I’ve re-posted it here in its entirety.
I used to rent to the movie studios. I had a small shop that was in between two buildings, on Hollywood Blvd. It was called “The Hollywood Jewel Box.” It was really only wide enough for one person to walk into, and I stood behind a little counter at the far end. The jewelry was displayed on shelves that had been made by digging into the red brick of the buildings on either side, and I used to be so afraid that someone would see all the red dust we hosed out of the store when we made the shelves. Mary Pickford was my landlady. I would make some money at the store, in addition to what my husband Sidney earned as a wardrobe man. We would also rent our jewelry to the movie studios – back then, the studios did not have as much of their own costumes and things. We had two sons, both of whom we put through college and medical school by renting jewelry.
In one of the two bedrooms in my modest house in Hollywood, California, I had tray after tray of shallow shelves built into the wall. All the drawers were behind sliding wooden doors, so it just looked like the room had a big closet. Every tray was lined with satin or velvet, and it was full of fake jewelry! Everything you could imagine: a drawer for just emerald jewelry, one for ruby, one for multicolored stones, drawers for just earrings, ones for bangles and ones for necklaces. It was like a candy shop with every kind of color, shape and size. There was even a drawer for Indian and “native” jewelry (which my husband Sid fashioned from bones saved from our Sunday night chicken dinners).
On one occasion in the 1950s, I rented several pairs of the same rhinestone earrings. Evidently they were worn by Marilyn Monroe and several other cast members in “Some Like It Hot.” My husband and I made the earrings. We were supposed to make them with a lot of rhinestones, very noticeable. These earrings were the very same that Marilyn Monroe had on in the famous LIFE magazine photograph of her, which I always kept framed on the wall.
Years later, I sold my inventory back to the studios. I kept some things for the grandkids – I had three granddaughters, and they used to love to come play in the drawers. But I did keep those rhinestone earrings. I tried to have them sold by Christie’s or Butterfields – I don’t remember which auction house. They agreed it was the same design, but I had no proof that these were the very same earrings worn by the stars, so they could not “authenticate” them. I wonder what more information they needed since I was already in my mid-nineties and remembered everything! My eldest granddaughter even got me a clip of the video showing the earrings. These were indeed the same earrings. I ended up having them sold at auction by the Screen Actors Guild, which was more lax on the authenticity rules.
Even though I don’t own them anymore, I can still see them on my picture of Marilyn Monroe, and they remind me of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when we rented accessories and jewelry to all the stars, from Mae West (she gave me a beautiful crystal and silver decanter as a gift) to Marilyn Monroe towards the last few years of my rental business. At that time, Hollywood really was magical. The movie stars were all so glamorous, much more so than today. They sparkled like princesses, and they were so elegant. In those days, ladies had etiquette and dressed in lovely hats and, of course, jewelry. When I see that picture, I remember the Hollywood Jewel Box, and what a treasure trove it was during that Golden Age of Hollywood.
Sadie Mintz is the 105-year-old entrepreneur behind the Hollywood Jewel Box who made the earrings Marilyn Monroe wore on a 1959 LIFE Magazine cover.
(Originally published on Worn Stories.)