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"1920s Jazz Age: Fashion & Photographs" on view at the American Museum in Britain
Norma Talmadge, 1922. Courtesy Private Collection. © James Abbe Archive.

BATH.- America in the 1920s provided the creative inspiration for a Europe still staggering out of the fog of war. From the East coast to the West, the United States was producing icons on an industrial scale— from stars of the silver screen to skyscrapers.

What became a worldwide phenomenon is being explored in 1920s Jazz Age: Fashion and Photographs, a new exhibition at Bath’s American Museum in Britain, which examines how the world saw the US as the global taste-maker and trend-setter.

It is especially fitting that an exhibition celebrating the Roaring Twenties is ‘coming home’ to the American Museum – particularly at a time when the spotlight of the world is firmly on the US once again.

The period after the Great War created a seismic shift in moral, social, and cultural attitudes. Emancipation combined with burgeoning affluence offered women the chance to adopt a completely new way of dressing, from sports to evening wear.

1920s Jazz Age: Fashion and Photographs includes a dazzling display of 100 fashion objects from a major private collection. The exhibition also includes a selection of James Abbe’s iconic celebrity photographs, highlighting the role of photography and the press in promoting the daring new fashions.

Women’s clothing in the 1920s reflected dizzying social change on an unprecedented scale. From Paris and London to New York and Hollywood, the period following the Great War offered the modern woman a completely new style of dressing. The exhibition showcases a stunning selection of haute couture and ready-to-wear garments from 1919 to 1929, including printed day dresses, fringed flapper dresses, beaded evening wear, velvet capes, kimonos, and silk pyjamas, all of which reveal the glamour, excess, frivolity, and modernity of the decade.

The exhibition also explores accessories, from jewellery to feather headdresses, and the ways in which different groups of women, including fashion designers and suffragettes, chose to present themselves to the world.

The American Museum is also displaying the photographic work of James Abbe, for many of his sitters had personal connections with Beatrice Pratt, the mother of one of the Museum’s founders.

A regular in gossip columns on both sides of the Atlantic, the 4-times married socialite and fashionista Beatrice Pratt Gibson Cartwright McEvoy was famed for throwing extravagant parties, her ground-breaking outfits filling column inches in the likes of Vogue and Town and Country. Her extensive archive is held by the American Museum and the show includes a display of photographs, letters, press cuttings, and items of clothing, all of which tell the story of her position as a fashion icon at the beginning of the twentieth century.

From Hollywood to the Folies Bergère, James Abbe documented the world of entertainment and created the modern-day concept of celebrity through his portraits of stage and screen stars such as Gilda Gray, the Dolly Sisters, and Louise Brooks. These iconic images from the world of entertainment present the stars of the stage and screen with perfect posture and knowing smiles. Included are portraits taken in his studio and on location for key movies and theatre productions featuring Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, and Fred and Adele Astaire.

Richard Wendorf, Director of the American Museum says: “The seismic cultural and social changes that occurred during the 1920s were clearly conveyed through women’s fashion. Jazz Age demonstrates to the visitor just what a magnificent variety of options women now found available to them. These new designs gave them unprecedented opportunities to express themselves and engage in activities that were once almost purely the preserve of men. Arguably the Jazz Age set the course of modern fashion history.”

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