Topics in the News
Women's fashions in the 1920s reflected radical changes affecting many areas of post-World War I American society. In the first year of the decade the Nineteenth Amendment had given these women the vote, which, in turn, tended to color their expectations for their lives. Many of them rejected, at least temporarily, the traditional roles of wife and mother and instead entered the workforce of the thriving businesses of the period or enrolled in colleges and universities, which were also experiencing rapidly increasing enrollments. The working girl and the coed were typically young, simultaneously more liberated and more apparently frivolous than their mothers, and intoxicated by the attention lavished on them by the popular press. "Is the Younger Generation in Peril?" asked a long 1921 Literary Digest article. Typical of journalism investigating youth during the decade, it focused almost exclusively upon young women's fashions in dress and cosmetics.
Licentious or Merely Sensible?
Articles of this kind inevitably linked short skirts, the rejection of the corset, and bobbed or shingled hair with "licentious" behavior—smoking, drinking bootleg whiskey, listening to jazz, dancing the Charleston or Black Bottom, necking, and petting. However, other assessments struck a calmer note. Writing at opposite ends of the...
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During the 1920s men's fashion, like women's, was markedly more youthful, more casual than it had been during preceding decades. The boom in business and the general prosperity in the United States caused a huge increase in the numbers of young men attending colleges and universities throughout the country. And these institutions, whether Ivy League or Big Ten, developed codes of male fashion that only the most independent or misguided students ignored. Collegiate fashions were widely covered in the popular press and in such fashion journals as Men's Wear and Gentlemen's Quarterly, the latter founded as a haberdashery trade catalogue in December 1926.
For collegians, as well as for their elders, the 1920s were an age of hero worship, and many of these heroes substantially influenced men's fashion of the day. Such sports figures as golf's Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, tennis's Bill Tilden, and swimming's Johnny Weissmuller not only set records in their fields but also provided sartorial models for their admirers, who were engaging in athletics—golf, tennis, and swimming, especially—in record numbers. The gridiron heroics of the University of Illinois's Red Grange or of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen provided a background for spectator fashion shows of raccoon coats, camel-hair polo coats, blue...
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Architecture: Urbanization, Philosophical Debate
The single most important influence on American architecture during the 1920s was the steady urbanization throughout the United States. The 1920 census revealed that for the first time in history more than 50 percent of Americans lived in towns or cities. By the end of the decade that figure had risen to 56 percent—or about 69 million—of which nearly 29 million lived in cities of more than 100,000. These commercial and industrial centers flourished not only on the East Coast but also in the upper Midwest, the Southwest, the far West, and Florida. Cities gave birth to skyscrapers, which required minimal horizontal space and which in their verticality suggested power, prosperity, and the latest technology. Cities also produced industrial plants, colossal movie houses, gas stations and tourist cabins (predecessors of motels)—and, by the mid 1920s, traffic jams and pollution. Thus, as these urban centers grew, so too did the desire to escape them. Miles of concrete roads led to suburbs that seemed to promise defense against the overcrowding, noise, and frantic pace increasingly identified with city life by the decade's end.
Like the U.S. political leaders of the decade—Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover—the major American architects of the 1920s were essentially conservative. Many had been trained in...
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Quintessentially American. Perhaps no structure more clearly expressed the optimism, energy, and ambition of the American 1920s than the skyscraper. As cities boomed, so too did the number of gigantic towers, proclaiming through their often startlingly individualistic forms the power and grandeur of American endeavors in general and American business in particular. The 1920s have been called the richest era in skyscraper design, primarily because of the theatrical romanticism of the buildings that appeared during the decade. The glistening white Wrigley Building in Chicago, begun in 1921 by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White; the massive, curved-base Standard Oil Building, built by Carrère and Hastings on lower Broadway in 1926; and the ornately crowned tower—meant to suggest radio waves—of
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Attractions of City Life.
During the 1920s, as in later decades of the twentieth century, huge numbers of Americans were drawn to the city by the perceived advantages it offered. The great urban centers—New York, Chicago, and Detroit, for example—seemed to promise the most exciting and most lucrative job opportunities, whether for stockbrokers, business entrepreneurs, factory workers, automobile salesmen, department-store clerks, or secretaries and receptionists. Cities offered a rich cultural life: theater, music and dance, and movies----- particularly foreign movies like those of Sergei Eisenstein or Fritz Lang—that almost certainly would not be shown in small-town movie houses. Nightclub-speakeasies were primarily a phenomenon of the city, as were exotic ethnic restaurants, ethnic shops, or ethnic population centers. All these factors drew multitudes to America's great cities.
Yet with these advantages came pronounced urban problems. By the mid 1920s city streets were clogged with traffic—automobiles, trucks, taxicabs—and plans to relieve this vehicular congestion were either nonexistent or impractical, as was Harvey Wiley Corbett's vision of major city thoroughfares constructed many stories above existing streets. The internal-combustion engine also created increased levels of air pollution in cities: an 11 March...
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Suburbs and the Automobile.
The city offered economic opportunity and cultural excitement, but it also provoked in many Americans of the decade a nostalgia for the small-town or rural homes of their childhood—a desire for a private refuge from the traffic, noise, air pollution, and general commotion of the urban scene. The 1920s saw a boom in the housing industry, with 767,000 units built in 1922 and 1,048,000 units in 1925, most of these in the expanding suburbs. The middle class could elect to move to the suburbs because automobiles—the primary form of transportation between the job in the city and the home in the suburbs—were becoming more affordable. New and used Model Ts and other relatively inexpensive cars were widely available, and by 1930 more than 22 million of these vehicles were on American roads.
Affordable Middle-Class Housing.
Although flight from the city had begun during the prewar period as an upper-class phenomenon, such exclusive suburban neighborhoods as Grosse Point, Michigan; Lake Forest, Illinois; or Tuxedo Park, New York, were gradually joined by humbler middle-class subdivisions. An annual family income of $2,500 and the newly popular installment plan made it possible for an upper-level bank clerk or a manager of a shoe store to purchase both an inexpensive automobile and a small suburban bungalow-style...
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During the 1920s the interior design of homes, offices, and public buildings attracted greater general interest in America than it ever had in the past. Choice and arrangement of furnishings—whether chairs, lamps, floor coverings, or art objects—became subjects for professional training as well as measures of the homeowner's or apartment dweller's taste. The August 1924 Vanity Fair advertised eight schools of interior design, the majority centered in New York City, the others were in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in San Francisco, and two of the eight claimed European branches in Paris and Florence. The decade saw the profusion of how-to books, such as Ethel Davis Seal's Furnishing the Little House (1924) and The House Beautiful Furnishing Annual 1926 (1925)—the latter of which bore the subtitle A Comprehensive and Practical Manual for the Guidance of All Who Seek Comfortable and Attractive Homes. Interior design was treated regularly in such magazines as House Beautiful, Arts & Decoration, and Fruit, Garden and Home (founded in 1922 and renamed later in the decade Better Homes & Gardens). Home decoration also became a recurrent subject for fashion magazines, notably Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. In the 1920s fashion clearly extended beyond clothing and hairstyles to include the...
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Among the most extravagant public buildings of the 1920s were the great movie theaters that sprung up in major cities throughout America. Shrines to prosperity, technology, and entertainment, these huge pleasure domes often combined vaudeville-style acts (dance troops, orchestras, vocal ensembles) with a movie—usually last on the bill—accompanied by a "mighty Wurlitzer" organ that was raised on a platform from the orchestra pit. For the price of a twenty-five-cent ticket (before 6 P.M.), a housewife could drop of her young children at the theater nursery, which included baby sitters and a resident nursing staff. She would then pass through an opulently decorated lobby and, if so inclined, an equally opulent ladies' lounge before being escorted to her first-balcony seat by a grand personage: a scrupulously polite, impeccably white-gloved usher in a tuxedo or military-cadet-style uniform with rows of brass buttons and shoulder braid on its jacket. In her seat she would be delighted by carved and inlaid and gilded and magnificently lighted walls and ceilings, statuary and paintings, elaborately decorated and draped stage curtains, wondrous air conditioning, and plush velvet seats. All this for two bits, with the show yet to come.
Providing the vision and raising the funding for most of these movie palaces...
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Automobiles: In Search of Style
The Amazing Tin Lizzie.
Henry Ford's Model T—popularly labeled the "Tin Lizzie" or "flivver"—- revolutionized American society. This simple, tough, affordable car, which was produced between October 1908 and May 1927, put America on wheels. Nearly 15,5 million Model Ts were manufactured, and an astonishing 75 percent of them were still being driven when the car went out of production in 1927. Priced as low as $260 (for a new-roadster in 1925; a good used Model T could be bought for about $50), the Tin Lizzie was the answer to the workingman's prayers. She was also frequently the object of his curses as he backed her up steep grades (reverse was her most powerful gear), pushed her through mud holes, and tried to start her on cold mornings. Yet no other car so captured the imagination of the American public: the Model T spawned songs, doggerel verse, jokes, camaraderie among owners, and a multitude of appreciative letters to Henry Ford, who was widely regarded as the common man's friend and benefactor because of his automobile.
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Automobiles: The Olympian Cars
The period of the "Olympian Cars, "a phrase coined by Richard Burns Carson, began around 1925 and extended into the early 1930s. These magnificent automobiles were brilliantly engineered and meticulously styled, and many of them were personalized by the custom coachwork of the great coach-making companies of the period—Brunn, LeBaron, Fleetwood, Dietrich, and Brewster. The January 1929 issue of Arts & Decoration illustrated several of the fine vehicles of the year, including a convertible Lincoln detailed by Dietrich; a Pierce-Arrow with "luxurious cushions" and gold ornamental hardware designed for Mrs. Calvin Coolidge; and a Cadillac convertible coupé with bodywork by Fisher and interior colors—"suggested by Vermeer's 'Head of a Young Girl' "—of pale blue, gold, and gray. These upscale cars made up no more than 5 percent of the American automobile market, but they spurred the imagination of the first generation in which a person's motorcar became an important indicator of his or her social class. Automobile historian Stephen W. Sears has declared that old wealth tended to choose the "dignified" marques—Cunningham, Pierce-Arrow, American Rolls-Royce, or (rather surprisingly, considering its quite recent origins) Lincoln; new wealth gravitated toward Cadillac, Stutz, Franklin, and Chrysler; the adventurous few chose America's most splendid automobile,...
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Carnegie, Hattie 1886-1956
Fashion and Business Sense.
Hattie Carnegie, who first achieved prominence in American fashion during the 1920s, was known for both her sophisticated taste in women's clothing and her genius in business. Having little talent for drawing, cutting, or sewing, Carnegie was not a designer in the usual sense; she instead altered original fashions imported from France and directed and polished the work of her own design assistants to ensure under-stated elegance and excellent workmanship in the clothing she sold. Carnegie was reportedly the first American to produce both custom-made and ready-to-wear garments under a single label, and she was among the first to complement her clothing stores with separate millinery, jewelry, cosmetics, and perfume establishments, thereby creating a multimillion-dollar empire.
Born Henrietta Kanengeiser in a Vienna ghetto, Carnegie came with her family to Manhattan's Lower East Side when she was six years old. As a teenager she worked as a messenger at Macy's, made hats for acquaintances, and adopted the surname of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, whose rags-to-riches story she hoped to duplicate. Hattie Carnegie's energy, her tiny, trim figure (she was less than five feet tall), and her personal flair drew the attention of Rose Roth, a seamstress, who hired...
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Chanel, Gabrielle "Coco" 1883-1971
COUTURIERE, LIBERATOR, LEGEND
Coco Chanel once declared, "Legend is the consecration of celebrity," and no other fashion designer in history has exceeded either Chanel's celebrity or her legend. She was a fiercely independent lover of dukes, industrialists, and artists; a confidante of many of the creative geniuses of her day—among them, writer Jean Cocteau, painter Pablo Picasso, ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and composer Igor Stravinsky; and a self-created image of the free-spirited "new woman" of the 1920s, Through her personal example and the fashion empire she established, Chanel launched and sustained the movement toward simplicity, practicality, and unfussy elegance in women's clothing. "A fashion that does not reach the streets is not a fashion," she said, and by the early years of the 1920s, Chanel fashion had reached streets throughout Europe and the United States.
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Dietrich, Raymond M. 1894-1980
In the 1920s, for the first time, styling became a focus for mass-produced cars. During the preceding two decades body design had been a significant concern for only the most expensive of automobiles. Often a grandmarque auto company would manufacture a chassis—the frame and working parts—and then turn it over to a custom coach builder, who would construct the body with the particular styling features specified by the wealthy customer (he would have to be extremely well-to-do, since in 1920 a custom-built automobile cost between $12,000 and $15,000—the equivalent of $120,000 to $150,000 in 1995 figures). Among the great coach-building companies were Brewster, Healy, Judkins, and Derham, all of which enjoyed reputations for splendid work and all of which had moved into automobile-body construction and design when their original roles as producers of horse-drawn carnages had become obsolete. During the mid and late 1920s custom coach builders again felt the burdens of progress, as manufacturers of expensive cars moved toward mass production and toward setting up their own design departments or coach-building subsidiaries. One of the key figures in this transition was Raymond H. Dietrich, a genuine artist in the evolving automobile industry.
Dietrich, who was born and...
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Ferriss, Hugh 1889-1962
Recorder and Inspirer.
Hugh Ferriss was a trained architect whose preferred tools were paper and charcoal pencils. For more than three decades beginning in the 1920s, he was America's most-respected "delineator"—artistic renderer—of urban architecture. As delineator he provided both early design sketches and fully developed presentation drawings for more than one hundred architectural firms during the 1920s. Many of these commissioned drawings were published in trade journals, popular magazines, and newspapers, as were Ferriss's noncommercial visions of the urban scene. Recording the evolution of city architecture, particularly of the skyscraper, Ferriss's drawings also helped inspire and direct the changes that occurred during the decade.
Early Life and Career.
Ferriss was born in Saint Louis, where he earned an architectural degree from Washington University in 1911. After a year as an apprentice draftsman with the architectural firm of Mariner and La Beaume, he left Saint Louis to take a draftsman position in the New York office of Cass Gilbert, architect of the Woolworth Building, then nearing completion. Following two years with Gilbert and with his encouragement, Ferris decided in 1915 to try to establish a career for himself as an independent architectural delineator. He lived...
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Hood, Raymond M. 1881-1934
Currents and Contradictions.
During the 1920s America was noted for its distinguished sky-scraper architect s—Harvey Wiley Corbett, Ralph Walker, Ely Jacques Kahn, William Van Alen—but no single figure so fully embodied the currents and contradictions of the decade as Raymond Mathewson Hood. Classically trained in the United States and Paris and apprenticed in one of America's major architectural firms, Hood proved amazingly independent. In the course of his brief twelve-year career he evolved from an adherent of the Gothic style to a practitioner of modernism. Born into a prosperous, conservative family, he preferred the commotion of the urban scene to the respectability of the stately architectural firm. As one commentator remarked, during a decade in which most well-known architects were in the Social Register, Raymond Hood was in the phone book. Yet he designed and built several of the notable commercial buildings of the 1920s and early 1930s.
Hood, the son of a well-to-do Providence, Rhode Island, box manufacturer, attended Brown University for two years and then enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned an architectural degree in 1903. Following his graduation he worked as a draftsman in Boston for the Gothic architectural firm of Cram,...
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Kahn, Albert 1869-1942
Detroit-based architect Albert Kahn has been called the father of the modern American factory. By the 1920s Detroit had become the center of the flourishing U.S. automobile industry, and Kahn provided what he described as "beautiful factories"—streamlined and functional—for many of the great Detroit manufacturers. Packard, Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford were among his clients, as were giants in such worldwide industries as food, textiles, chemicals, and business machines. During the early 1930s Kahn helped establish factories and engineering education in the Soviet Union; later in the 1930s and in the first years of World War II he developed plants for the construction of tanks and military aircraft. Throughout his career he also designed notable nonindustrial structures: the Detroit Athletic club, office buildings for General Motors and Fisher, the Hill Auditorium and Clements Library at the University of Michigan, and handsome private homes for such Grosse Point auto magnates as H. E. Dodge and Edsel Ford. But it is for his more than two thousand factories that Albert Kahn is remembered.
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Mizner, Addison 1872-1933
PALM BEACH ARCHITECT
Genius or Fraud?
Because of the extravagance of his vision and his connection with the Florida boom during the 1920s, Addison Mizner has been described both as a genius of American architecture and as one of architecture's great frauds. An early biographer quipped that his flamboyant Palm Beach "villas" embodied a "Bastard-Spanish-Moorish-Romanesque-Gothic-Renaissance-Bull-Market-Damn-the-Expense style." Yet his work was praised by such notable figures as Frank Lloyd Wright, skyscraper designer Harvey Wiley Corbett, and sculptor Jo Davidson. Whatever the final assessment of his work, Mizner undeniably embodied the ebullient, gaudy, expansive spirit of the decade.
Mizner was born into a prominent California family who encouraged his youthful interest in drawing. A year in Guatemala, where his father served as an American diplomat, inspired Mizner's love for Spanish architecture and artifacts, a passion that was sharpened by a few months' residence at the University of Salamanca in Spain. Never much of a student, he avoided the usual avenue to architectural success in his time—the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris—and instead became an apprentice in 1893 with San Francisco architect Willis Polk. Soon running up substantial debts, Mizner fled San Francisco for Alaska, where he joined...
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Patou, Jean 1880?-1936
FRENCH FASHION INNOVATOR
Spirit of the 1920s.
Jean Patou may have been the couturier who most fully embodied the spirit of the 1920s. A handsome, high-stakes gambler in both the casinos and the fashion world, Patou aligned himself with the restless international café society of Paris and the newly popular Riviera. He helped define the youthful, athletic look of the mid 1920s by producing exquisitely cut short dresses, often pleated or fitted with geometric inserts to ensure freedom of movement, and by introducing "Cubist" sweaters and bathing suits. He identified this style as particularly "American" and stunned the fashion world by importing six young women from the United States to model in his Paris shows. Yet with his 1929 collections Patou almost single-handedly killed the "boyish" look by, during his spring show, reintroducing the natural bustline and waistline to women's fashion and, during his fall show, dropping skirt lengths to at least midcalf, a style that took hold as the Great Depression began.
Born in Normandy, Patou was the son of an affluent tanner known for the fine leathers he produced for specialty bookbinders. Supported by family money, the young Patou tried his hand as a furrier, a tailor, and, finally, a Paris dressmaker, opening "Maison Parry" in 1912 and moving to the rue St....
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People in the News
M-G-M costume designer Adrian (born Adrian Adolph Greenburg), who had worked with Irving Berlin on Broadway and Rudolph Valentino in Hollywood, began a revolution in millinery by costuming Greta Garbo in a slouch hat in the 1928 movie A Woman of Affairs, a tepid version of Michael Allen's 1924 novel The Green Hat. The slouch hat, a soft-crowned felt with a flexible brim pulled down over one eye, replaced the cloche in the late 1920s and early 1930s as the most popular women's hat style.
Famous hairdresser Antoine de Paris (born Antek Cierplikowski in Sieradz, Poland) opened the first of his American salons at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1925. Monsieur Antoine claimed to have invented the shingle bob in 1917.
In 1925 Walter W. Birge established the Industrial Rayon Corporation, a holding company for his Industrial Fibre Corporation, the fourth largest rayon producer in the United States; Birge had been a member of the five-man committee that adopted the word rayon when U.S. government officials requested that manufacturers stop calling their product "artificial silk."
Chicago-born Main Rousseau Bocher left Paris Vogue—where he had served successively as illustrator, fashion editor, and editor in chief—to found his own Paris fashion house in 1929 under the name Mainbocher. He was the first...
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AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS GOLD MEDAL
(American Institute of Architects)
1925—Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue
—Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens
1927—Howard Van Doren Shaw
1929—Milton Bennett Medary
THOMAS B. CLARKE PRIZE
(National Academy of Design for Interior Design)
1923—Eugene F. Savage
1927—John E. Costigan
1928—Alice K. Stoddard
ROYAL GOLD MEDAL FOR ARCHITECTURE
(Royal Institute of British Architects)
AMERICAN ACADEMY AND INSTITUTE OF ARTS AND LETTERS GOLD...
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Benjamin L. Armstrong, 85, known as the "dean of silk producers"; for sixty-eight years Armstrong was associated with the silk industry, founding several production companies in New London, Connecticut, 20 October 1929.
Henry Bacon, 57, architect best remembered for designing public monuments, particularly the Lincoln Memorial, with seated figure of Lincoln by sculptor Daniel Chester French, 16 February 1924.
Alvah Norton Belding, 86, last of four brothers who founded Belding Brothers, a pioneer manufacturer and distributor of silk thread, 19 December 1925.
Carl Benz, 84, German engineer who in 1886 developed what was probably the world's first motorcar, 3 April 1929.
Charles I. Berg, 70, designer of one of New York City's first skyscrapers, the twenty-story Gillenger Building erected in 1897 at Wall Street and Nassau Street, 13 October 1926.
Alfred Cartier, 84, son of the founder of the legendary French jewelry firm. During the twentieth century the Cartier empire flourished under the direction of Alfred Cartier's three sons: Louis, who managed the Paris branch; Jacques, who ran the London branch; and Pierre, who headed the New York branch, 15 October 1925.
Theophilus Parsons Chandler, 82, specialist in ecclesiastical architecture;...
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Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture (Paris: Crès, 1923); Toward a New Architecture (New York: Payson & Clarke, 1927);
Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis, Architectural Composition (Cleveland: Jansen, 1923);
Hugh Ferriss, The Metropolis of Tomorrow (New York: Ives Washburn, 1929);
B. C. Forbes and O. D. Foster, Automotive Giants of America: Men Who Are Making Our Motor Industry (New York: Forbes, 1926);
John F. Harbeson, The Study of Architectural Design With Special Reference to the Program of the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design (New York: Pencil Points Press, 1927);
Werner Hegemann and Elbert Peets, The American Vitruvius: An Architects' Handbook of Civic Art (New York: Architectural Books, 1922);
Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Modern Architecture, Romanticism and Reintegration (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929);
Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, The International Style: Architecture Since 1922 (New York: Norton, 1932);
The House Beautiful Furnishing Annual 1926 (Boston: Atlantic Monthly, 1925);
Fiske Kimball, American Architecture (Indianapolis: Bobbs, Merrill, 1928);
Erich Mendelsohn, Amerika (Berlin: Mosse, 1928);...
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Important Events in Fashion and Design, 1920–1929
- Women's hems range from ankle length to calf length.
- A new three-button sports coat in cartridge cloth—;the fabric used to hold powder charges during World War I—;becomes a predecessor of the light-weight men's summer suit.
- Architect Addison Mizner constructs Palm Beach, Florida, Spanish-style mansions with exotic names (Villa de Sarmiento, El Mirasol) for such millionaires as A. J. Drexel Biddle, George and Isabel Dodge, and Harold S. Vanderbilt.
- John Manning Van Heusen introduces a semi-stiff three-ply detached collar.
- In New York City Raymond H. Dietrich and Thomas L. Hibbard found LeBaron Carrossiers, an "automotive architecture" firm.
- Men's suits with two pairs of pants become popular.
- On February 16, James H. Sherburne, chairman of a Massachusetts state commission, reports that working-class purchases of silk stockings and other "long-desired luxuries" have contributed to a 92 percent boost in the cost of living in the state since 1914.
- In September, Henry M. Leland introduces the Model L Lincoln, which he envisions as a "permanent car," so well made that it will never wear out or fail.
- Jantzen presents a clinging knit one-piece bathing suit in men's and...
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