Sleeveless sequinned beaded rose dress,
Photograph©Tessa Hallman
Collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield


This autumn the Fashion and Textile Museum celebrates Jazz Age fashion and photographs with a major exhibition of 1920s garments alongside portraits by James Abbe.

1920s JAZZ AGE: Fashion & Photographs (opening 23 September 2016) presents a glittering display of haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion from 1919 to 1929. 

Posted 2 August 2016

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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. With over 150 garments and accessories from a major private collection, this stunning selection of sportswear, printed day dresses, fringed flapper dresses, beaded evening wear, velvet capes, kimonos and silk pyjamas reveals the glamour, excess, frivolity and modernity of the decade.
The exhibition focuses not only on high-end couture but also on the ready-made. It offers a reassessment of the 1920s by showcasing the wide variety of clothing and accessories available to the modern woman, not just the drop-waisted flapper dress immediately associated with the era. 

Throughout, the exhibition highlights the decade’s changing silhouette including the straighter less exaggerated shape, promoted by haute couture designers such as Lucile and Paul Poiret since the pre-war years, the rising hemline and clothes designed to allow free movement. By the 1920s, the waist and the bust had ceased to be the focus of modern fashion. Yet while designers had claimed to banish the corset it continued to be worn, albeit with a longer, more natural shape. Lingerie was designed to flatten and smooth the bust and a slimmer cylindrical silhouette became the accepted norm.
Exhibition Structure
Paying homage to the importance of cinema and its influence on Jazz Age style, the exhibition starts in a darkened movie theatre showing silent film clips. This leads to the main gallery, which is presented as a film sound stage with ten scenes and 100 outfits that follow the imagined journey of a fashionable woman from day to night.
1. The Film Premiere
2. The Boudoir
3. The Picnic
4. The Fashion Show
5. The Ocean Liner
6. The Tennis Match
7. Afternoon Tea
8. Nightclubs
9. China Town After Dark
10. The Wedding
Each scene is framed by a meticulously recreated backdrop, hand-painted to reflect the 1920s-style. 

A Fashion Phantasy
©Illustrated London News Ltd&MaryEvans

Detail sleeveless sequinned beaded rose dress,
Photograph©Tessa Hallmann,Collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield

Lemon Sequinned beaded dress, Photograph©Tessa Hallmann
Collection Mark and Cleo Butterfield

Alongside the exhibition, wall displays and cases reflect on key details and developments in fashion. The 1920s was a decade of dance, joie de vivre and new leisure activities. A sense of movement, defined by the rhythms and beats of jazz, was a leitmotif of the era. Women’s clothes, particularly those for evening, were designed to move and shift. The swing of a beaded hem or a fringe, or an evening cape sliding off a shoulder was intrinsic to the look and feel of the garments.
A group of beaded dresses showcases rare and fragile garments with exquisite hand-crafted deco designs. The exhibition also explores accessories, from shoes to hats and fans to monocles, and the ways in which different groups of women, including fashion designers and suffragettes, chose to present themselves to the world,.
Illustrations by Gordon Conway (1894-1956) are shown together with photographs by Cecil Beaton (1904 –80), Man Ray (1890–1976) and Baron de Meyer (1868–1946) to highlight the role of graphic art and photography in promoting the Jazz Age look. In addition, the exhibition reflects on how 1920s fashion has been interpreted by future generations. A particular highlight is the loan of the remarkable crystal gown worn by Carey Mulligan as Daisy in the recent Baz Luhrmann adaptation of The Great Gatsby (2013), which was designed by Catherine Martin with Prada. 

Finally, a display of photographs by James Abbe (1883–1973), curated by renowned photo historian Terence Pepper with the James Abbe Archive, adds valuable context to the garments on display. James Abbe: Photographer of the Jazz Age presents a candid commentary on early 20th century celebrity. From Hollywood to the Folies Bergère, these iconic images from the world of entertainment present the stars of the stage and screen with perfect posture and knowing smiles. Featuring fashion studies of Gilda Gray, the Dolly Sisters and Louise Brooks among others, plus portraits taken in his studio and on location for key movies and theatre productions featuring Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish and Fred and Adele Astaire.

Dolly Sisters, 1923
Courtesy Private Collection©James Abbe Archive

“  It is no surprise that Jazz Age fashion is a key reference point for our students and visitors: the quality, characteristics and rich vocabulary of design forged in the decade set the standard for generations to come. We are delighted this exhibition will shed light on an outstanding private collection, as well as on the imagination and innovation that set the course of modern fashion history.
Dennis Nothdruft, Curator of 1920s Jazz Age Fashion

About Fashion and Textile Museum
The Fashion and Textile Museum is the only museum in the UK solely dedicated to showcasing developments in contemporary fashion, as well as providing inspiration, support and training for those working in the industry. Founded by iconic British designer Zandra Rhodes in 2003, the museum is part of Newham College London – one of Europe’s largest further education colleges. About Cleo and Mark Butterfield Cleo and Mark Butterfield have one of the widest ranging and largest privately owned fashion collections in the UK. The collection includes thousands of garments from Victorian Gothic to early 21st century designer deconstruction, and individual collections of important British, European & Japanese designers. They started collecting in the late 1960s and, since 1999 they have specialised in hiring inspirational pieces to the fashion, film & television industries. About James Abbe James Abbe (1883-1973) was one of the leading American celebrity photographers of the 1920s and is best known for his iconic portraits of stars of the cinema and stage. Shortly after moving to New York in 1917 James Abbe quickly established an international reputation as a stage and film photographer with his photographs being published in Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Ladies Home Journal. Abbe visited Hollywood in 1920 and 1922 where he took portraits of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin and also directed a film for Mack Sennett. After working for seven months on location in Italy on the Ronald Colman – Lillian Gish film, The White Sister (1923), Abbe made his base in Paris. Here he photographed French stage and revue stars, introducing them to a world-wide audience through his picture syndication. During the 1920s Abbe made regular trips to England to photograph the theatre and film-making activity. In the late 1920s Abbe returned increasingly to photo-journalism.
About Mary Evans Picture Library
Mary Evans Picture Library began life in 1964, and its core philosophy has remained unchanged for over 40 years: to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints. Our images cover a broad range of topics and subject areas which, although coming under the umbrella classification of history, in fact extend far beyond most people's perception of historical pictures. Today, Mary Evans Picture Library has more than half a million images online, which it licences for commercial use in books, newspapers, magazines, adverts, web sites and all manner of other media.

The book 1920s JAZZ AGE FASHION (ISBN 978-1-910787-28-1) is published on 23 September to accompany the exhibition, with essays by Martin Pel, Terence Pepper, Dennis Nothdruft and the Fashion and Textile Museum. Published by Unicorn Press, RRP £25.
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