Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Speakeasy


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The Prohibition Act of 1920 in America

An attempt to ban booze in America, called Prohibition, was by most accounts, a failure. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was eventually repealed in 1933

When the Doughboys came back from World War I, they found many changes, not the least of which was an absence of alcoholic beverages. The nation, much of which was dry already, had decided to eliminate the saloon, once and for all. As early as 1916, a total of 23 out of 48 states had already passed antisaloon laws.

The movement was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, improve health, solve social problems and reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses.

Prohibition, called "the noble experiment" by Herbert Hoover, had come at last. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors. When the amendment came before the Senate in 1917, it was passed by a one-sided vote after only 13 hours of debate.

When the House of Representatives accepted it a few months later, the debate upon the amendment as a whole, occupied only a single day. Hard to imagine in the politics of this decade. The state legislatures ratified it in short order and by January of 1919, some two months after the armistice, the necessary three-quarters of the states had fallen into line and the amendment was part of the Constitution.

Initially, a number of Americans probably endorsed prohibition but the public rapidly grew disenchanted with it. The hip flask, filled with "bootleg" whiskey and displayed openly, soon became a familiar symbol of the era. Every community of any size had their "speakeasies," where both imported and homemade alcohol could be purchased.

Prohibition jump-started the Jazz Age. As songwriter Hoagy Carmichael put it, the 1920s came in "with a bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends." According to novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, during Prohibition, "The parties were bigger…the pace was faster…and the morals were looser."

These underground saloons did a booming business. Keeping them supplied was the occupation for many thousands of rumrunners, bootleggers, and beer barons, who were forced to work beyond the law. All too often, rivalries and differences of opinion resulted in open warfare and gangland murders. Thanks to wartime technology, they had new and deadly weapons at their disposal, such as hand grenades, handy for blowing up the competition, not-to-mention machine guns and faster getaway cars.

Inevitably most of the liquor traffic fell into the hands of gangsters, whose names we still know today. Alphonse "Scarface Al" Capone of Chicago was only the most notorious.

Gangsters invested their profits in countless other businesses, both legitimate and illegitimate. Their widespread influence pervaded law enforcement agencies and other organs of government. Americans had never been a particularly law-abiding people, but in the twenties statistics on crime soared.

The Eighteen Amendment had a host of both defenders and detractors. The defenders insisted it was a success, sharply reducing deaths, divorces, accidents and poverty. But the other side held it was a senseless attempt the enforce the impossible. One gentleman of the era quipped, "they might as well have been trying to dry up the Atlantic with a post-office blotter."

Basically, those who wanted prohibition could say they had it, those to wanted to drink, could and often did.

Thus as a social experiment, prohibition was considered a dismal failure. Not only was it impossible to enforce, it provided the underworld thugs with their primary source of revenue, thus creating another set of problems entirely.

The American public, which had once willingly or at least resignedly accepted the law, gradually came to look upon it as the ill-advised measure it was. Yet, because the issue was political dynamite, the movement to abolish prohibition made little headway during the 1920s. Not until 1933, the first year of Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration was it repealed. Following repeal, liquor control again became a state, rather than federal problem.

Today's historians argue the evidence from the "noble experiment" affirms sound economic theory, which predicts prohibition of any mutually beneficial exchange is doomed to fail..










The speakeasies of the 1920s were the only places people were able to get a hold of alcoholic beverages. The name speakeasy came from the manner the customers would order an alcoholic drink without raising suspicion—bartenders would tell patrons to be quiet and “speak easy. Many of them were owned by or connected to organized crime. Although the police would raid speakeasies frequently, people continued to take part in the highly lucrative business deals. Often the owners of such bars would pay of corrupt police and mayors to either leave the bars alone or to worn them before a raid.

Speakeasies were also known as "blind pigs" or "blind tigers." This was because the operator of one of these establishment would charge customers to see an attraction (such as an animal) and then serve a “complimentary” alcoholic beverage, thus circumventing the law. The difference between a speakeasy and a blind pig was that a speakeasy was usually a higher-class establishment that offered food, music, or entertainment, or even all three. In large cities, some speakeasies even required a coat and tie for men, and evening dress for women. But a blind pig was usually a low-class dive where only beer and liquor were offered.


Connie's Inn, a major speakeasy of the 1920's and 1930's.

Men drinking in a "Blind Pig," or speakeasy.

A flapper hides a flask in her garters. Those who frequented speakeasies usually brought their own liquor with them, transporting it in their coat pockets, purses, or, as this woman demonstrates, in their stockings!

Police raid a speakeasy.

Law enforcement agents confiscate and destroy alcohol.

Men drink in a speakeasy.

Read here about a speakeasy in New York.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Men's Clothing and Hair Styles

An incredibly informative PDF document with images of men's clothing and hair from this period can be found by clicking this link.

Evening Wear

Formal Wear

With casual wear so radically different from previous decades, and women’s clothing changing so boldly, it may be something of a surprise to note that men’s formal wear in the 1920s was much the same as it had always been. Black was the only color to wear in the evening, and while the frock coat had given way to the tailcoat, the overall look was the same. A starched white shirt and high collar with a bow tie was worn under the tails, and the black trousers topped shiny black shoes. For all else that changed then and has continued to change in men’s wear, this formal suit remains much the same.

Hats On

No man of any class was out in public without a hat. That had been true for centuries and was still very much the case in the 1920s. In summer, light blazers were topped by a Panama straw hat or the shallow, flattop, stiff-brimmed hats called either boaters or skimmers, depending on the brim’s width. Autumn and winter were all about the felt fedora, worn with panache by gangsters but beloved of all men for their style and comfort.

Style Driving

The 1920s saw the rise of the automobile as a major part of the culture. The booming financial times meant that many more people could afford a car and the fashion industry took note, creating clothing worn almost specifically for driving. Men wore flat English driving caps and vented leather gloves when toting their sweeties around town. The leather jacket popularized by dashing aviator Charles Lindbergh was something no stylish man could do without, and many liked to include the white silk scarf as well.

Till the Music Stopped

Men’s fashion in the 1920s had a snap, sizzle and brightness that have mostly associated with women’s Jazz Age couture, and it stayed that way until the stock market crash of 1929. However, although it took several decades for the youth to have such sway again, there was no going back to the stuffiness of centuries past. A new age had begun.

Initial Author: SJ Stratford

Thursday, October 14, 2010


A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a store that I'd been meaning to go into since I first saw it nearly 10 years ago. It looked interesting from the outside and I'd always thought that they sold only men's hats, which is perhaps why I never went in. The inside was just as interesting, and I'm told that it looks exactly the same as the day it opened in 1934.

If you need (want) an inexpensive hat for the party in November, or for any other occasion or non-occasion, Bernie Utz Hats is the place to go. Here are some photographs of the hats that I tried on, along with a few others that the fellas might be interested in.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


An Egyptian inspired 1920's costume would certainly be appropriate for the upcoming party. Here are a few articles and photos about how the discovery of King Tut's tomb, in 1922, influenced fashion during that time.

Egyptomania: The Influence of Tutankhamun

by Michael Johnson, Staff Writer (Ranked #1 expert in History)

In 1922, the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered by the archaeologist Howard Carter. This was a major event in the history of taste and provoked a craze for Egyptian artefacts, which is sometimes known as ‘Egyptomania’ or ‘Tutmania’. The craze affected cinema, fashion, jewellery and architecture. In particular, the exquisite artefacts of Ancient Egypt were among the major influences on the Art Deco style of design. Art Deco was a glamorous, decadent style that flourished in the 1920s and 30s: it was the style of the Jazz Age. Art Deco emerged in France, but soon spread around the world, and became especially popular in America. It affected all forms of design, including architecture, interior design and fashion. The Art Deco style is instantly recognisable. It was based on angular forms like trapezoids and zigzags, as well as geometric shapes and sunbursts. Art Deco drew its imagery from a wide range of sources, both modern and historical. It was influenced by modern art, but also by the arts of Africa and Ancient Egypt.

France had been interested in Egyptian artefacts since the time of Napoleon, but the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb inspired French designers to incorporate Egyptian imagery into the new style. The solid gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun uses lustrous materials like gold and lapis lazuli, creating a sharp contrast of colour. It has sinister animal forms – the cobra and the vulture. Artefacts like this appealed on an imaginative level. They revived the romantic fascination with Ancient Egypt. This imagery was immediately incorporated into Art Deco design.

Of course, Ancient Egyptian artefacts were inherently luxurious because, by and large, the only examples that survived were things that had been buried in tombs, which had belonged to the elite of Egyptian society - Pharaohs, royal families and priests. This made them instantly compatible with the luxurious Art Deco style.

Cartier clock

This is a clock by Cartier (1927), based on the form of an Egyptian pylon or temple gate, specifically the Gate of Khons. It may seem absurd that this massive architectural form has been reduced down to a minute scale; there is no trace of historical accuracy, but it celebrates the imagery of ancient Egypt in an enjoyably na├»ve way. The surface is covered in hieroglyphics – the Egyptian system of writing – but none of them have been used correctly; they are treated purely as decorative motifs. In fact, two figures look like they are serving drinks. Of course, it is executed in the most expensive materials, including gold, mother-of-pearl, coral, lapis lazuli and emeralds.

Boucheron corsage ornament

This is a piece of jewellery by Boucheron, the great rivals of Cartier. This is a corsage ornament with lapis lazuli, coral, jade and onyx set in gold. This was designed for the 1925 exhibition. It is not such an explicit imitation of Egyptian forms, it is slightly more abstract, but the colours and motifs are clearly Egyptian in influence.

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra

Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre

Hollywood was inspired by Ancient Egypt. The film director Cecil B. DeMille started to make historical epics like The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra, and constructed grandiose sets based on Egyptian temples and so on. These films also fed the interest in Ancient Egypt. But this imagery leaked off the screen and was used for the cinemas themselves. Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard was a famous example. This was designed in an overblown Egyptian style that summons up the mystery and glamour of a vanished age.

Cemetery gate, New Haven, Connecticut

The discovery of the tomb had other implications. This is an Egyptian style cemetery gate in New Haven, Connecticut. The Ancient Egyptians established a cult of death that was manifested in Tutankhamun’s tomb. This design revives that rather morbid association.

Perhaps the best example of American Art Deco is the Chrysler Building, built by the Chrysler Corporation and designed by William van Alen. The building is constructed from a steel frame. It is surmounted by a spectacular metallic spire that rises in a series of ascending curves based on sunbursts. The metal cladding was meant to resemble platinum. The ornamentation is based on car styling. The corners have these gleaming metallic eagles that look like modernistic gargoyles: they are replicas of 1929 Chrysler hood ornaments. Te building is a monument to the car industry. The lobby of the Chrysler Building is equally spectacular. It is entirely lined in amber-coloured marble with lustrous metallic fittings. This is an elevator door with a design based on the papyrus flower, another Egyptian motif. It is executed in inlaid wood and metal, making it very opulent.

For a discussion of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, see Lauren Axelrod’s excellent article:


Fashion Ad

The largest archaeological find in history had become the best way to make money. First, the tomb benefited the locals in Luxor. The discovery helped transport owners, hotels, liveries and shopkeepers. One tradesman said to a reporter: "'Insh Allah [Please God], they find a new tomb next year also.'"(59) From there, the sensation spread like wildfire. In the same day that the Times reported that a New Yorker had bought the rights to filmed tomb scenes,(60) the newspaper also reported that Washington D.C.'s Patent office received a flood of applications for the use of Tut-Ankh-Amen as a trademark--objects chiefly for "women's use."(61) In fact, commercially, Tutankhamen made the biggest impact on women's fashion.

Fashion Ad

Egypt had been "advertised almost to the point of saturation," but the new interest manifested mostly with dress styles, according to one Art and Archaeology article.(62) "Printed materials sometimes of frightful vividness attempt to reproduce the scenery of Egypt with patterns of sphinxes, camels and palm trees. Dangling earrings and colored sandals help to complete the oriental picture."(63) For better or worse, Egyptian motifs had invaded America. "What was worn in the days of the Pharaoh was made to seem new," said another Art and Archaeology article.(64) The first signs that the fashion industry would pick up on the trend came as designers examined works at the Metropolitan Museum to glean ideas for designs.(65)

Fashion Ad

Just days later the Egyptian influence exploded at the Hotel Savoy's design show by the Fashion Review of United Cloak and Suit Designers' Association of America. Designers used the show as a chance to remark on their superiority to European fashion: "'America is in a better mood to produce styles today than Europe'" because they are "'war mad.'"(66) One designer also said that the "Egyptian trend in clothes was on before the discovery of the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen."(67) The Americans were determined not only to show their strength in the fashion world, but thought Tut-Ankh-Amen was the way to do it. Fashions, for the moment, shifted strongly toward Egyptian styles.

Fashion Ad


By February 26, 1923, H.R. Mallinson and Co., a silk firm, probably motivated by its own desire to expand, predicted that the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb would change furniture, decorations, jewelry and women's dress. Furthermore, the firm said that the tomb could possibly lead to a more extended revival--"a distinct epoch of Egyptian fashions, the adoption of flowing robes, a complete change in our jewelry, furniture and decorations."(68) The Chairman of the Dress Fabric Association, a silk group, said in July that the Egyptian fashions had created "through publicity an entirely new silk season…one of the liveliest the silk business has experienced in years." Yet alas, the chairman, F. B. Patton, dismissed the vision of a permanent Egyptian epoch envisioned by H.R. Mallinson and Co. (69)

HeaddressThe Egyptian fad, Patton said, was now a "thing of the past."(69)

(Above left, a garment of coptic Egypt, fourth to sixth century A.D., Metropolitan Museum, New York. Right, an Egyptian feathered Head-dress and a gold diadem of a Princess. (April 1923, Art and Archaeology)
Fashion Ad

Others seemed to agree that Tutankhamen's time in the fashion world had come and gone like his short reign in Egypt, even before it was over. Art and Archeology's readers learned from the magazine that "fortunately for the true lover of art all this is but a passing fancy rather amusing while it lasts."(70) The National Geographic Magazine affirmed this opinion: "It is unlikely that the comparatively small tomb itself will have more than passing interest."(71) Still others deplored that the king was being used by entrepreneurs as a commercialized fad. Fashion Ad"It is pathetic to think that the man who once ruled …is today but a mummy, a centre of acute interest…in a phrase, a 'new stunt.'"(72)Englishmen, in particular, for reason mentioned previously, were disgusted by the commercialism surrounding the find. "It is vulgar…for a man to aim do laboriously at carrying beyond the grave the magnificence of life. But it is at least as bad to exploit this old vulgarity of pride in the interests of the new vulgarity of commercialism."(73)

Even as the New York Times reported the spread of the Egyptian motif in fashion, advertising copy in the 1920s shows how Tutankhamen influenced advertisers as well. In a series of advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post, Palmolive compared their product to that of Cleopatra's own beauty products.(74) The ads featured scenes of a queen and a king in full regalia, waited on by servants and dressed richly. An ad in the New York Times, placed next to an article about Tutankhamen, showed the latest fashions--"The decorative splendors of the Tut-ankh-amen period are reflected in the rich embroidery motif on this distinguished Wrap-Over Coat with its aristocratic collar of bisque squirrel."(75) Yet at $95, only the most elite could feel like a queen for a day. Still, these kind of clothing ads offered everyday people the dream of being royalty in a time long gone. Still other ads testified to the longevity of Egypt. "Achievements that endure are the milestones along the great highway of progress," said a typewriter company's ad in the Saturday Evening Post that featured a picture of a typewriter beside a pyramid.(76) The message was longevity, which Americans identified with Egypt rather than their own civilization.

Full paper and footnotes.

Related Article: Ancient Costume and Modern Fashion (1923) by Mary MacAlister.

GownFashion Ad

At left "Mrs. Asquith, wife of the British Prime ex-Premier, appeared in London recently wearing this gown draped in the manner popular when King Tut ruled." (Literary Digest, March 10, 1923.)

Photo Sources:

"At the Tomb of Tutankhamen." National Geographic Magazine XLIII: 5, May 1923: 467. (At left)

McAlister, Mary. "Ancient Costume and Modern Fashion." Art and Archaeology 15, April 1923: 167-175.

New York Times. 8 March 1923: 6.
New York Times. 25 Feb. 1923: 6.
New York Times. 9 March 1923: 5, 6.
New York Times. 27 March 1923: 7.
New York Times. 8 March 1923: 6.

Uncovering Tutankhamen I The Boy King I Buried Treasure I Metropolitan


'The Egyptian Ballet'

The Egyptian Ballet
Photograph by Putnam & Valentine, Los Angeles, reproduced from "Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis: Pioneer & Prophet, II" (San Francisco: Printed for John Howell by John Henry Nash, 1920): plate 2


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Fascination With Egypt