It is a decade oft overlooked in favour of its neighbours, yet one of considerable depth. With the American stock market collapsing in October of 1929, the flappers of smokey jazz clubs past beginning to grow up, and the eventuality of a great, terrible war looming, these were years of significant social change.
Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs at the Fashion and Textile Museum charts this change, using vintage garments, magazines (which became mass-circulated and increasingly popular amongst the middle class) and fashion photographs as historical markers of the social, political and economic factors that characterized the period.
Lef:t Cover of the New York Woman, 23 September 1936. Private collection, Right: Cover of The New York Woman, September 9, 1936. Private collection
The exhibition creates a sense of the time, using nine different defining themes to contextualise garments on display. There’s nightclub, cinema and street scenes to emulate city nightlife, with mannequins clad in the quintessential floor-length, languidly structured gowns of the era, oft with sensuous fitted waists and voluminous sleeves that were pioneered by fashion designer, Madeleine Vionnet.
Then, upstairs, there’s exploration of the ‘day’, where the rise of the seaside resort, suburbia, domesticity and the working womanare unpicked, ending with a display of patriotism in a section on 1938’s Coronation of King George VI.
Anna May Wong. Photograph by Paul Tanqueray, 1933. Courtesy of private collection
What strikes us, is how distinctly wearable so many of the garments are, both on the mannequins and within the stunningly curated fashion photographs on display. Take, for example, the dress worn by Anna May Wong, an actress who is widely considered to be the first Chinese-American movie star (above). It would hardly look out of place on the Instagram feeds of boho-cool girls world over.
The highlight of the exhibition, though, is the intimate room displaying thirty of Cecil Beaton's most revered photographs, capturing the essence of his visionary approach to portrait photography that made him a major and distinguished contributor to some of the world's most reputable fashion publications. Other photographers exhibited within the exhibition are the likes of Madame Yevonde, Paul Tanqueray, Dorothy Wilding and Cecil Beaton, depicting starlets and personalities such as Jean Harlow, Anna May Wong, designer Elsa Schiaparelli and writer Elinor Glyn.
In short, fashion is escapism in an era filled with extremes. 1930s Fashion and Photographs, Fashion and Textile Museum does not just present the sartorial inclinations of the 30s, but the 30s themselves: a fascinating period of great social change that you can now explore in style.
|What||Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs, Fashion and Textile Museum Review|
|Where||Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey St, London, SE1 3XF | MAP|
|Nearest tube||London Bridge (underground)|
|Price||£7 - 9.90|
|Website||Click here for more information|