The 1920s were an exciting time to be a young women, it was period of great social change and economic prosperity in Great Britain and the United States. After the First World War more women than ever were joining the workforce and gaining greater independence. By the end of the decade women on both sides of the pond had achieved equal voting rights as men.
The fashion of the time reflected women’s changing role in society and captured the decadent ‘Joie de vivre’ of the age. The more active and independent lifestyle of the modern woman required clothing that was looser and less restrictive. And increased opportunities in work and leisure, inspired outfits to be designed for every possible occasion.
Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs currently on at the Fashion & Textile museum (in Bermondsey, London) is a visual treat for anyone with an interest in the Roaring Twenties, or even just anyone who likes looking at beautiful dresses.
The Fashion & Textile museum is fairly small, as museums go, but they use the space well and there is always plenty to see. This exhibition brings together a stunning selection of outfits, grouped into lovely tableaux, complete with beautiful illustrated backdrops to set the scene (by the fashion illustrator Gordon Conway). The clothing is complimented by a collection of photographs by James Abbe, Cecil Beaton, Man Ray, and Baron de Meyer.
The exhibition runs until the 17th January and the museum is also hosting a number of talks and events where you can further immerse yourself into all things 1920s, including Charleston dance classes, talks on Art Deco Architecture and Jazz Age Gin Tasting (which sounds particullarly tempting!)
I have a special interest and affection for this era, as last year I was fortunate enough to be cast in a production of Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives– A very moving play which tells true story of a group of American women who worked for the Radium Dial corporation in the 1920s & 30s. Their job was to paint watch dials and clock faces with radium so that they would glow in the dark. I played Francis O’Connell, one of the 4 dial painters featured in the play. It is a great play and was a wonderful production to be a part of. And because of my love of design and interest in vintage clothing I was, of course, very happy to lend a hand with the costumes. Enthusiastically gathering lots of research into 1920s and 30s fashion and helping to source and adapt a variety of dresses to fit the period.
Before getting the role I knew very little about ‘the radium girls’ and their shocking fight for justice, it was not a subject that had been given much coverage in the UK. But as our amazing director Kate Moore, shared her incredible research on the subject, her passion for the project brought these characters to life and made us very conscious of the fact that we were portraying real women and that their story deserved to be remembered and retold.
Kate was, in fact, so moved by the plight of the radium girls and shocked that so little had been written about these women…..that she went on to write an excellent book the subject.
‘The Radium Girls’ by Kate Moore captures the spirit of these young women, excited to be earning good money and experiencing new found freedom. It draws you into their world which makes it all the more upsetting when the inevitable tragedy befalls them. Pack full of period details drawn from previously unpublished sources, it is an intimate narrative account of an unforgettable true story.
As Kate is a very good friend of mine, I could be accused of being a little partisan, but I am very happy to report that the book has been getting rave reviews from lots of unbiased sources!