I just got back from perusing the National Constitution Center's new show, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Without wasting time with saloon artifacts, temperance medals or the 1929 Buick Marquett unique to the era, I headed straight for the style section of the presentation; And let me tell you, it was more than beautifully accurate, it was right on time with the fashion zeitgeist fueled by HBO's Boardwalk Empire and PBS' Downton Abbey.
Sarah Winski, one of the Center's exhibit developers, led me through. Three drop waist dresses straight from the Roaring Twenties fashioned from silks, beads, lace and velvet were at the center of the exhibit. There was a top hat and tuxedo too. These delicate items are on loan from the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. Also featured is a woman's cloche - think Coco Chanel - and a man's top hat, as well. Sparkling clips and tiaras were on display, too.
My favorite part of the showing, however, was a recreated women's powder room complete with vintage sink, wallpaper designed especially for the exhibit, compacts and cigarette case. At the time women were getting their first tastes of the nightlife, so establishments had tiny little bathrooms for them. Interesting.
Why is fashion important in an exhibit about Prohibition?
"Prohibition fueled the birth of the modern American night club," explained Winski "In this illegal, anything goes atmosphere, young women - and men- wanted to wear more comfortable clothing and a slim silhouette was born. Suddenly people were dressing in a way that was more daring. There was lots of glamour and glitz and it was the beginning of a new freedom in fashion."
American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition opens Friday, October 19 and will run through April 28. It's $17.50 for adults. The museum is located at 25 Arch Street.