A lively look at the ways in which American women in the 1920s transformed their lives through performance and fashion.
New definitions of American femininity were formed in the pivotal 1920s, an era that vastly expanded the "market" for sexually explicit displays by women. Angela J. Latham shows how quarrels over and censorship of women's performance — particularly in the arenas of fashion and theater — uniquely reveal the cultural idiosyncracies of the period and provide valuable clues to the developing iconicity of the female body in its more recent historical phases.
Through disguise, display, or judicious appropriation of both, performance became a crucial means by which women contested, affirmed, mitigated, and revolutionized norms of female self-presentation and self-stylization. Fashion was a hotly contested arena of bodily display. Latham surveys 1920s fashion trends and explores popular fashion rhetoric. Resistance to social mandates regarding women's fashion was nowhere more pronounced than in the matter of "bathing costumes." Latham critiques locally situated contests over swimwear, including those surrounding the first Miss America Pageant, and suggests how such performances sanctioned otherwise unacceptable self-presentations by women.
Looking at American theater, Latham summarizes major arguments about censorship and the ideological assumptions embedded within them. Although sexually provocative displays by women were often the focus of censorship efforts, "leg shows," including revues like the Zeigfeld Follies, were in their heyday. Latham situates the popularity of such performances that featured women's bodies within the larger context of censorship in the American theater at this time.
1. Starting Points
What We have Been Told
Coming to Terms
2. Fashionable Discourse
1920's Fashion in Perspective
Dame Fashion as Tyrant
A High Price to Pay
Fashion and Morality
Fashion and Health
3. Fashionable Display and the Problem of Bathing Costumes
"Annette Kellermans": A Line in the Sand
The Profitable Decency Dilemma
Performed Resistance: The arrest of Louise Rosine
Subversive Stories : Mae West
Subversive Stories : "Mrs. Brown"
4. The Right to Bare: Containing and Encoding American Women in the Popular Theater
The Beauty Clause
Clashing Contingencies: An Analysis of Leg Shows
Chorus Girls: Legends in Their Own Time
Decoding the Debates
5. The Transgressions of Ladies' Night
Getting the Joke: An Analysis of Ladies' Night
The Legal Censorship of Ladies' Night
ANGELA J. LATHAM is Director of Theatre in the Department of Fine Arts at Triton College.
""In her engaging analysis of women's dress in the 1920s, Angela Latham is the first analyst in recent times to address at any length the important issue of the meaning of the flapper for the United States. Drawing her information from conservative moralists, feminists, and men and women of the stage, Latham plumbs the age's agendas regarding women's clothing and their bodies.""~Lois W. Banner, Professor, History and Gender Studies, University of Southern California
""Melding resources as diverse as newspaper reports, women's magazines, sermons, and theatrical reviews with sophisticated theoretical concepts, Angela Latham offers a lively and provocative analysis of women's ways of testing the boundaries of gender definitions during the Roaring Twenties.""~Kathleen J. Turner author of Lyndon Johnson's Dual War: Vietnam and the Press
"In her engaging analysis of women's dress in the 1920s, Angela Latham is the first analyst in recent times to address at any length the important issue of the meaning of the flapper for the United States. Drawing her information from conservative moralists, feminists, and men and women of the stage, Latham plumbs the age's agendas regarding women's clothing and their bodies."~Lois W. Banner, Professor, History and Gender Studies, University of Southern California