Archive for the ‘ART, PHOTOGRAPHY, FASHION, & DESIGN’ Category

These American pre Civil War clothes for women were designed in such a way that a woman’s waist, constricted by a whalebone corset, was responsible for supporting the weight of as many as 15 pounds of 6-8 starched petticoats stiffened with straw or horsehair sewn into the hems and voluminous skirts. Dress reform was a significant focus of concern among early women’s rights activists and for good reason. A “wasp waist,” created by tight lacing of the corset, restricted deep breathing, worsening pneumonia and tuberculosis, diseases that afflicted huge swaths of the population in a pre antibiotic age and resulting in premature death. Women’s back and pectoral muscles grew dependent upon the support of the corset and atrophied. Skirts dragged the ground, collecting filth. Women—styling their hair, changing clothes throughout the day for different events, keeping up with the latest trends from Paris and Germany, sitting for dress-fittings—spent an inordinate amount of time keeping up appearances in heavy clothes that allowed neither free movement, decent digestion, nor comfort. 1858

Amelia Bloomer

In early 1851, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), the first American woman to own and operate a newspaper (The Lily)took up the idea of wearing a short skirt and loose trousers gathered around the ankles. It was a notion popularized by her friend, Elizabeth “Libby” Smith Miller, who felt that long dresses were “heavy and exasperating.” Amelia made this fashion switch when Libby came to Seneca Falls, New York to visit her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was Bloomer’s neighbor.

All three women used their voices to enact social change, particularly in the areas of women’s rights to better education, better pay, wider fields of employment, the right to vote, and dress reform. Soon these pioneer feminists were appearing on the village streets wearing their sensible and comfortable short skirts and full Turkish trousers.

Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911), photographed wearing her bloomer outfit, 1851. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)

Amelia Bloomer announced to her readers in The Lily that she had adopted this new dress. In response to many inquiries, she printed a description of her dress and instructions on how to make it. Bloomer recalls the response:

At the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style; no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. Miller. This was all the work of the press. I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused. The New York Tribune contained the first notice I saw of my action. Other papers caught it up and handed it about.

My exchanges all had something to say. Some praised and some blamed, some commented, and some ridiculed and condemned. “Bloomerism,” “Bloomerites,” and “Bloomers” were the heading of many an article, item, and squib; and finally someone—I don’t know to whom I am indebted for the honor—wrote the “Bloomer Costume,” and the name has continued to cling to the short dress in spite of my repeatedly disclaiming all right to it and giving Mrs. Miller’s name as that of the originator or the first to wear such dress in public. Had she not come to us in that style, it is not probable that either Mrs. Stanton or myself would have donned it.  2

Currier & Ives, The Bloomer Costume

During the summer of 1851, the nation was seized by a “bloomer craze.” Women from Laramie, Wyoming to London, England, embraced the freedom of the new outfit and rejoiced. A million versions of the blouse, skirt, and pants combo emerged. Managers of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, gave a banquet for any of their female workers who adopted the safer dress before July 4.  In Toledo, Ohio, sixty women turned out in Turkish costume at one of the city’s grandest social events. Bloomer balls and bloomer picnics were held; dress reform societies and bloomer institutes were formed. The craze inspired music to be composed.

The Bloomer outfit became a symbol of women’s emancipation. Thousands of women were soon wearing the reform dress.

But then the tide turned. Controversy erupted. There were laws in some American cities that made it illegal for a person to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex. At the time, pants were considered the domain of the American male, which was also the right to vote. Backlash from men ensued. The movement for a sharing of pants was viewed, in some quarters, as a threat to male power. 3

The same newspapers that had once celebrated the trend as tasteful and elegant were, by August of 1851, scorning it. Public meetings were called to denounce the fad. Some young women were turned away from church membership for wearing the dress. The satirical London magazine Punch lampooned the Bloomers.

The term “Bloomerism” came to be associated not just with wearing trousers but also with other supposedly deviant and negative (for women) behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, gambling, serving in the military, and abandoning husbands and children. Punch cartoon, 1851, artist, John Leech


Elizabeth Cady Stanton with daughter, Harriot, 1856-57

Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had felt at first “as joyous and free as some poor captive who has just cast off his ball and chain” when adopting the Bloomer costume, her young sons didn’t want to be seen with her. Her father banned the Bloomer costume from his house. Her older sister cried and her brother-in-law, a senator, said that “some good Democrats said they would not vote for a man whose wife wore the Bloomers.” After two years, Stanton gave up the Bloomers.  “Had I counted the cost of the short dress,” Stanton told cousin Libby Miller, “I would never have put it on.” 4


Although Amelia Bloomer “had found the dress comfortable, light, easy, and convenient, and well adapted to the needs of my busy life,” after wearing it six to eight years, she, too, laid it aside and returned to long skirts. Bloomer wrote:

We all [women’s right activists] felt that the dress was drawing attention from what we thought of far greater importance—the question of woman’s right to better education, to a wider field of employment, to better remuneration for her labor, and to the ballot for the protection of her rights. In the minds of some people, the short dress and woman’s rights were inseparably connected. With us, the dress was but an incident, and we were not willing to sacrifice greater questions to it. 5

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Alexander Calder’s “Josephine Baker IV”. Calder Foundation

Josephine Baker was already the toast of Paris when American artist Alexander Calder arrived there in early 1926. Her show, “La Revue Negre,” which opened at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on Oct. 2, 1925, was an instant hit. The finale of the evening was a “Charleston Cabaret,” whose featured number became known as “La Danse de Sauvage”:

A big, good-looking performer named Joe Alex, wearing next to nothing, paced onto the stage with a woman slung over his back: the 5-foot-8, coffee-colored Josephine, built like a Modigliani Venus. The handful of feathers she wore did not impede anyone’s appreciation of her nudity. She slid down her partner’s legs and proceeded to offer up to him every soft spot of her body, in musical time. In fact, she seemed to create musical time, her movement setting the pulse, with the orchestra going along for the ride. There wasn’t a dance step in sight, but “La Danse de Sauvage” created one of the great dance effects of the 20th century.

On Oct. 3, Josephine Baker woke up to find herself the American in Paris, her rear end the subject of odes, her thighs the subject of universal speculation. 1 

Josephine was 19.

Calder was entranced by Josephine.

Back in America, “Sandy” Calder had been a newspaper illustrator and a painter, but, in moving to Paris, he had abandoned all that and was newly dedicating himself to his love of wire sculpture. “I think best in wire,” he said. With his bare hands, a spool of wire, and a pair of pliers, Calder proceeded to twist, pinch, coil, and bend lengths of wire to capture Baker’s sensuous body and springy movements. Between 1926 and 1930, he created five of these roughly three-to-four feet tall “drawings in space” of the exotic Josephine Baker:

The swaying line of her arms and torso, the spiral breasts and the legs crossed in a dance movement came to life when the artist suspended the figures from a string. 2

Calder with “Josephine Baker IV” at filming of British Pathé newsreel,1929

American writer Ernest Hemingway said that French-American performer Josephine Baker was “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” photo: Josephine Baker, France, ca. 1920s, Atelier Sautier

For more on Josephine Baker, click here

For more on Alexander Calder, click here. 

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Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898-1976), American sculptor most renowned for his invention of the mobile, wrote the Kellogg Company in 1923 with a suggestion for improving their cereal packaging. At the time, they were putting the wax paper on the outside of the boxes. Calder recommended putting the wax paper on the inside. Kellogg adopted Calder’s idea, sending him a note of thanks along with a box of Corn Flakes.

“Boomerangs,” by Alexander Calder, 1941. Made of sheet metal, wire, and paint, this massive, hanging mobile measures 45″ x 117″, approximately 3.5 x 10 ft. Calder Foundation, New York.

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Frida in New York, 1946, photo by Nickolas Muray. Brooklyn Museum; Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, 2010.80. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Brooklyn Museum, New York, U.S.A.

February 8–May 12, 2019

The museum is charging a separate admission for the Kahlo show of $20 to $25, depending on the day. The museum will be open seven days a week for the run of the exhibition.

excerpted from the Brooklyn Museum website

‘Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving’ is the largest U.S. exhibition in ten years devoted to the iconic painter and the first in the United States to display a collection of her clothing and other personal possessions, which were rediscovered and inventoried in 2004 after being locked away since Kahlo’s death, in 1954. They are displayed alongside important paintings, drawings, and photographs from the celebrated Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art, as well as related historical film and ephemera. To highlight the collecting interests of Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, works from our extensive holdings of Mesoamerican art are also included.

“Kahlo’s personal artifacts—which range from noteworthy examples of Kahlo’s Tehuana clothing, contemporary and pre-Colonial jewelry, and some of the many hand-painted corsets and prosthetics used by the artist during her lifetime—had been stored in the Casa Azul (Blue House), the longtime Mexico City home of Kahlo and Rivera, who had stipulated that their possessions not be disclosed until 15 years after Rivera’s death. The objects shed new light on how Kahlo crafted her appearance and shaped her personal and public identity to reflect her cultural heritage and political beliefs, while also addressing and incorporating her physical disabilities.”

*Wonderful Readers: As of today, there are 19 more posts on Frida Kahlo on this blog, Lisa’s History Room. To see them, click here.





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Photo Card No.101, Dancer Josephine Baker posing with a cheetah wearing a collar, photograph by Piaz Studios of Paris, Early 1930's. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) with Chiquita. ca. early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” Pablo Picasso painted her, seeking to capture her alluring beauty, saying she had “legs of paradise.” She was Josephine Baker, the glamorous cabaret star that took Paris by storm during the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s. In her signature stage act, she appeared onstage wearing only high heels and a skirt made of bananas. She danced and sang with erotic frenzy and wild abandon. She was often accompanied by her pet cheetah, Chiquita, who wore a diamond collar and often escaped into the orchestra pit, terrifying the musicians and adding to the overall sensation of the moment.

Josephine Baker was the first person of color to become a worldwide entertainer and star in a major motion picture (“ZouZou,” 1934). Although born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937, she married a French man and became a French citizen.

josephine-baker1In 1939, France declared war on Nazi Germany for its invasion of Poland. Within nine months, the Nazis invaded France. Baker was recruited by the Deuxiéme Bureau, the French Military Intelligence, as an “honorable correspondent.” She was so well-known and popular that even the Nazis were hesitant to cause her harm. She made the perfect spy. As an entertainer, she had good excuses for traveling, which allowed her to smuggle secret orders and maps written in invisible ink on her musical sheets. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear. To operatives in the French Resistance as well as U.S. and British agents, she relayed information on German troop movements she had gleaned from conversations she overheard between officials with whom she mingled following her performances or at embassy and ministry parties. She also exposed French officials working for the Germans.  She hid Jewish refugees and weapons in her 24-room château in the South of France.

Her steadfast work for the French Resistance helped Baker to rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force. After the war, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance for her invaluable intelligence work in aid of her adopted country. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

Read more about Josephine Baker here on Lisa’s History Room.



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Constance Keane brushes her lustrous honey-blond hair. Undated photo. ca. 1940

Constance Keane brushes her lustrous honey-blond hair. Undated photo. ca. 1940

Constance Keane, 19, was sure she had blown her Paramount screen test. It was August of 1941 and the film was “I Wanted Wings.” Keane auditioned to portray a nightclub singer:

“We did a scene in which I was supposed to be tipsy at a table in a small nightclub. Things were going nicely until I leaned my elbows on the edge of the table….My right elbow slipped off the table edge sending my long blonde hair falling over my left eye. I spent the next few minutes trying to continue with the scene as I kept shaking my head to get the hair out of my eyes.” (1)

She knew she had lost the chance to play the part and left the studio sobbing. But then came the phone call from the picture’s director. He wanted her for the part. Her acting may not have been perfect, but she had a magnetism on film and, the biggest surprise of all, her hair had been a smash! He liked the eye-hiding gimmick of it. The picture was going to be a hit, he said, and that would make her Connie a star. A star, however needed both a gimmick and a good name. He hated the name Constance Keane so he rechristened her “Veronica Lake,” borrowing the “Veronica” bit from his secretary and adding the last name “Lake” because “her eyes are calm and blue like a lake.”

Veronica Lake liked to say that she didn't do cheesecake shots like Betty Grable but, rather, used her hair for sex appeal. Photo undated, ca. 1942

Veronica Lake liked to say that she didn’t do cheesecake shots like Betty Grable but, rather, used her hair for sex appeal. Photo undated, ca. 1942

“I Wanted Wings” was indeed a runaway success. It was the biggest picture of 1941 and Veronica Lake’s breakthrough hit. Veronica Lake (1922-1973) , all 4’11” and 90 lbs of her, became a big star overnight.

To get an idea of how tiny Veronica Lake was, she is shown here to the left of actress Dorothy Lamour. Undated photo, ca. 1942

To get an idea of how tiny Veronica Lake was, she is shown here with fellow film stars Paulette Goddard (l) and Dorothy Lamour (center). Lake is at our far right. From movie, “Star-Spangled Rhythm,” 1942.

The public loved her playful yet seductive, one-eyed look.

The poster for Paramount’s 1941 film, “I Wanted Wings” launched Veronica Lake’s career and her trademark peekaboo hairdo.

Lake’s honey-blonde hair – flat on top because women wore hats in the forties – was worn with a deep side parting and swept over to the opposite side. Soft waves draped her cheek and a single S-curl fell seductively over one eye. Long and loose, flowing over the shoulders and down the back, the hairstyle known as the “peekaboo” became a fashion must-have.

Veronica Lake at her most iconic. Ca. 1942

Veronica Lake at her most iconic. Ca. 1942

Women flocked to beauty salons all across the nation to get “The Lake Look.” The Fuller Brush Company advertised that Lake gave her hair fifteen minutes of stroking every day with one of their brushes.

Veronica Lake wore looser curls than actresses of the day. Photo undated, ca. 1942

Veronica Lake wore looser curls than actresses of the day. Photo undated, ca. 1942

Life magazine devoted an article to her hair and the sensation it caused, divulging such personal information as

“the fact that my head had 150,000 hairs, each measuring about 0.0024 inches in cross-section….[B]ecause Hollywood’s water was so hard, I rinsed [my hair] in vinegar,” wrote Lake. (1)

Veronica Lake at the height of her beauty and fame. Photo ca. 1942

Veronica Lake at the height of her beauty and fame. Photo ca. 1942

For the next several years, Lake’s hair would have the tendency to droop over one eye.

Veronica Lake was a great beauty. Ca. 1942

Veronica Lake was a great beauty. Ca. 1942

Her role in her next picture, “Sullivan’s Travels,” (1942), costarring Joel McCrea, won her both popular and critical acclaim. It was straight comedy and Lake proved to be very good at it.

Note the doodle in the bottom left of the poster. It is instantly recognizable as Veronica Lake.

Note the doodle in the bottom left of the poster. It is instantly recognizable as Veronica Lake.

Her next film, “This Gun for Hire” (1942), a film noir, was the first of seven she made with Alan Ladd. Both Lake and Ladd were short – Ladd was only 5’5″ – golden-haired, attractive, and aloof. The public loved the Ladd/Lake pairing (and Ladd didn’t have to stand in a pit when filming scenes with his leading lady).

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in the film, "This Gun for Hire." 1942

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in the film, “This Gun for Hire.” 1942

In “I Married a Witch” (1942), a romantic fantasy comedy, Lake is cast as a witch whose plans for revenge against costarring mortal Frederic March are foiled. Her characterization is a funky combination of kittenish allure and goofiness. The film was wildly popular and later sparked the creation of the TV series, “Bewitched” in 1964.

In filming "I Married a Witch," Veronica Lake played tricks on Frederic March, because she hated him, like kneeing him in the groin during a tender scene while the cameras were rolling.

On the set of “I Married a Witch,” Veronica Lake made Frederic March miserable because, in real life, she hated him. In one tender scene, the camera is filming Frederic March from the neck up while Lake is kneeing him in the groin. That was not in the script and March kept a poker face despite excruciating pain.

In "I Married A Witch," Veronica Lake plays a witch burned in the Salem witch trials, out to seek revenge.

In “I Married A Witch,” Veronica Lake plays a witch burned in the Salem witch trials, out to seek revenge.

In 1943, Veronica Lake was as popular as ever with the movie-going public. She was on a roll. She was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars.

Unfortunately, Miss Lake’s rise to fame coincided with America going to war (World War II, 1941-1945). Men left for the battlefield and women went to work in war industry factories.

Women were invaluable in the war effort. Soldiers without Guns poster, Office of War Information, ca. 1944. (National Archives)

Women were invaluable in the war effort. Soldiers without Guns poster, Office of War Information, ca. 1944. (National Archives)

Some of these factory workers wore their hair down in the factories, peekaboo style. Their drooping locks began to present a safety issue. The U.S. government intervened, asking the one-eyed beauty Veronica Lake not to wear her hair down for the duration of the war. She obliged, putting her hair up, and was praised widely for her patriotism, giving up her peekaboo look for the war effort.

In this Life magazine photo, movie star Veronica Lake illustrates the danger of loose hair for female factory workers. Her hair is tangled in machinery. Photo Undated. Ca. 1943

In this Life magazine photo, movie star Veronica Lake illustrates the danger of loose hair for female factory workers. Her hair is tangled in machinery. Photo Undated. Ca. 1943

Here is the public service announcement, “Safety Styles” she made to urge women to follow her example:

At the end of the “Safety Styles” video, the announcer says that, with her new updo, Veronica Lake’s “hair is out of the way and combed in a simple and becoming fashion.” That fashion was called a “victory roll,” making a “V” shape when seen from the back and a “victory” because of the gesture of choosing country over vanity. In the 1943 film, “So Proudly We Hail!” (1943), Lake wears her hair in a “victory roll” in her portrayal of Lieutenant Olivia D’Arcy. The movie was a success.

Veronica Lake in "So Proudly We Hail" (1943)

Veronica Lake in “So Proudly We Hail” (1943)

Veronica Lake shows her "victory roll" hairdo. 1942-43

Veronica Lake shows her “victory roll” hairdo. 1942-43

In 1944,  Lake’s career faltered with her unsympathetic role as Nazi spy Dora Bruckman in “The Hour Before the Dawn” (1944). The movie was a flop. Again, Lake is wearing her hair up in a severe style, as the war is still in progress.

"The Hour Before the Dawn" (1944) with Veronica Lake.

“The Hour Before the Dawn” (1944) with Veronica Lake.

Veronica Lake would make 26 pictures. By 1950, however, her career in films was effectively over. Some biographers say that abandoning her classic peekaboo hairstyle damaged her box office appeal. In truth, though, it was Lake’s heavy drinking and her devilish behavior that undid her hard-earned success. From the beginning, she was difficult to work with; she made enemies on every movie set, often running off and disappearing in the middle of filming. No one wanted to work with her. The studio stopped giving her plum roles.

Eddie Bracken, her co-star in “Star Spangled Rhythm” (in which Lake appeared in a musical number) was quoted as saying,

“She was known as ‘The B—h’ and she deserved the title.”

Joel McCrea, her co-star in “Sullivan’s Travels,” reportedly turned down the co-starring role in “I Married a Witch,” saying,

“Life’s too short for two films with Veronica Lake.”

(However, McCrea did co-star with Lake again in 1947 in the western, “Ramrod.”)

In Ramrod, Veronica Lake can let her hair down once again, as the war has been over for 2 years.

In Ramrod, Veronica Lake can let her hair down once again, as the war has been over for 2 years.

During filming of the film “The Blue Dahlia” (1946), screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as “Moronica Lake”.

Lake’s romantic entanglements were a disaster. She grew tired of her children. Her mother claimed that Veronica had been diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen and that she took her to Hollywood to study acting as therapy. Few people trust her mother’s words since she later sued Veronica Lake, wanting part of her estate. Nevertheless, Veronica Lake had a complex and volatile nature.

By 1948, her movies had become flops. Paramount Pictures did not renew her contract.

Veronica Lake  (1970)

Veronica Lake (1970)

Veronica Lake’s decline in mental health and descent into full-blown alcoholism was both severe and dramatically rapid. Her beauty faded; her health crumbled. In 1973, after years of ill health, menial jobs largely in hotels and bars, loneliness, numerous brushes with the law for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, and poverty due to untreated alcoholism, Veronica Lake, 51, died of cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis in a Vermont hospital.

Veronica Lake’s iconic look is still copied today. Countless Youtube tutorials teach how to achieve the peekaboo look, a classic style, a relic of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Veronica Lake reigned.

How to get that retro look of tumbling waves.

How to get that retro look of tumbling waves.


(1) Lake, Veronica with Bain, Donald. Veronica. New York: The Citadel Press, 1969.

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“The Luncheon of the Boating Party,” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. (1880-81)

Many of you will recognize this impressionist masterpiece.

Technically, this is a great painting. Forget that. Get inside this dreamy scene. It’s a breezy Sunday afternoon. After rowing down the Seine with your friends – see the river in the background? – you stop at a charming little French café for a good meal in the fresh air.

Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973), actor and collector of fine art,  loved this painting, known in French as Le déjeuner des canotiers. Robinson once said:

“For over thirty years I made periodic visits to Renoir’s ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ in a Washington museum, and stood before that magnificent masterpiece hour after hour, day after day, plotting ways to steal it.” (wiki)

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