Dressing Down: Private Life and the Dressing Gown, 1890-1950
Pastimes, Decoupage and Scrapbooking
Indulging in a pastime popular from the 1920s through the 1960s, the lady of the house enjoys a creative outlet in découpage and scrapbooking as a 1930s steel and glass Tiffany clock, displayed on the bottom shelf of the white painted Louis XVI style bedside table, strikes 4:00pm. Alletta Morris McBean of Chepstow (1860), a Preservation Society property, along with her sister Elizabeth Morris Smith and friends Aeriel Frazer Eweson and Doris Duke, were keen practitioners of découpage (cutting and pasting pictures onto various objects in decorative patterns) and scrapbooking. Here, Aeriel Frazer Eweson's scrapbook from 1935, the year of her debut, is displayed alongside several découpage eggs on gilded stands made by Alletta Morris McBean. The three-panel, double-sided floor screen is another creation by Mrs. McBean and incorporates society photographs of her friends in New York, Newport, and Palm Beach from the 1930s to the 1960s. Presiding over the vitrine is an oil on masonite panel painting entitled, Trolling for Mermaids, by Martha Cahoon (1905-1999). The husband and wife team of Ralph and Martha Cahoon were amongst the most collected of contemporary regional New England primitive artists in the mid-20th century. Both naive and sophisticated, the artistic vision of the Cahoons lends a humorous view of life on old Cape Cod, a lighthearted perspective on seaside life greatly appreciated by Mrs. McBean. The painting is one of four by the Cahoons on display at Chepstow.
In the early 20th century, European aristocracy became increasingly entangled with the American social elite through marriage and the loosening of traditional social class barriers through revolution, war and economic upheaval. Through gossip columns and society magazines, the public adopted these well-heeled -- and usually well-dressed -- individuals as “celebrities,” and the burgeoning American fashion industry took note. his gown was designed by Helene Obolensky, wife of Prince Alexander Petrovich Obolensky of Russia, whose family fled to England from Russia following the 1917 revolution. Parlaying society’s fascination with titles and nobility, Obolensky established herself in the fields of publishing and public relations before turning to fashion, first as a personal assistant to Coco Chanel in 1940s Paris and later as the fashion editor for Town & Country. Princess Obolensky drew on her social connections to secure the endorsements of celebrities like Princess Grace of Monaco and capitalized on the emerging marketplace for apparel with the glamour of celebrity. The Princess and her namesake brand benefited from a broader market for dressing gowns spurred by popular Hollywood films and “screen goddesses” of the 1930s. These women, depicted onscreen in idealized boudoirs, brought the glamour of the dressing gown into the wardrobe of women from a wide range of social and economic groups.
Photography by Al Weems