The Jazz Age, flappers and the roaring ‘20s. Rumrunners and moonshiners. Gangsters Al Capone and Max “Boo-Boo” Hoff, with their tommy guns and moxie. Carry Nation, the “dry” who busted up a saloon with a hatchet.
So went the heady days of prohibition, from the passage in 1920 of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, barring the sale and distribution ale and transportation of alcohol, until its repeal in 1933, when the 21st amendment was enacted.
This colorful period in U.S. history is the focus of a new world-premiere exhibit at the National Constitution Center, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, which will feature fashion accessories loaned by The Design Center at Philadelphia University.
Items from The Design Center include two authentic women’s accessories from the 1920s: a cloche hat made in France for the Lord and Taylor Salon, and a fan made of dyed ostrich feathers with a tortoise shell handle. “I could just imagine the fan on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire-style,” said Sarah Moore, Design Center curator, referring to HBO’s hit prohibition-era drama.
Lasting a little more than a decade and repealed nearly eight decades ago, the prohibition era still influenced modern fashion. “The women’s rights movement played a large role in the drastic change in fashion that happened during the 1920s,” Moore said. After women gained the right to vote with ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, “freedom of movement in dress swiftly followed suit,” she said. “Liberated women began drinking and dancing in speakeasies without male chaperones.”
Corsets were abandoned, hair was bobbed and hemlines were raised. This new style of dress was able to accommodate the exciting dances of the Jazz Age, such as the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. Some of the most influential designers of all time revolutionized fashion during the 1920s, transcending tradition and breaking convention while responding to this new, fast-paced culture. Iconic designer Coco Chanel was credited with creating the “little black dress” – a staple in modern women’s wardrobes—during this time. “It was revolutionary, since black had been considered a color of mourning in previous decades,” Moore said.
The exhibit, which runs through April 13, 2013, features rare artifacts from the prohibition era, including original ratification copies of the 18th and 21st amendments, authentic flapper dresses and fashion accessories, home manufacturing items used to make moonshine, beer and other illegal alcohols, and a re-created speakeasy where visitors can learn to Charleston. Following its debut in Philadelphia, the exhibit will embark on a nationwide tour.
For more information, call 215-409-6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org. Admission is free on Sundays throughout the run of the exhibition.