The Sea Cliff Village Museum’s latest exhibit, “Sea Cliff’s Fabulous Flappers,” offers visitors an opportunity to visit the 1920s, in particular the flapper era, which has remained iconic for over a century.
With dozens of original flapper dresses, jewelry and other unique articles of clothing, visitors can learn about how flappers defied convention and the styles of the time.
Courtney Chambers, the museum’s director, explained that when she started working there four years ago, she discovered a surprisingly extensive collection of 1920s flapper dresses. Although the museum largely focuses its exhibits on the history of Sea Cliff, Chambers realized that with these they could look at the more general history of flappers and their style.
“So we’re the Victorian village, but it’s kind of fun to do something a little bit more modern,” Chambers continued. “The exhibit kind of grew around these core dresses that I found in our collection.”
Flappers were part of the early feminist movement of the 1920’s. Women wore short skirts and hair, listened to jazz music and publicly showed their disdain for the idea that women should stay at home and tend to the family. In addition to their iconic clothing which continues to influence modern fashion, they pioneered women’s social rights by driving cars and smoking in public.
According to Chambers, the flappers’ style of clothing also reflected a growing appreciation for physical fitness and female athletic competition. As more women began playing sports like golf and tennis, they eschewed the traditional full gowns that they were required to wear for clothing that allowed more freedom of movement.
“Flapper dresses were their way of saying ‘We’re not stuck at home anymore. We’re out and about and we need to move,’” Chambers explained.
While flappers are seen as ubiquitous with America in the 1920’s, they were largely found in cities and it isn’t known if Sea Cliff had its own local flapper culture. However, that hasn’t stopped modern Sea Cliff residents from loaning the museum flapper family heirlooms for the exhibit, from dresses to shoes to capes to jewelry.
Laureen Collier and her parents, Dan and Maureen Maddock, donated Maureen’s mother’s flapper wedding dress from her 1929 marriage, along with wedding photos. Collier said that while she didn’t know much about her grandmother, she was glad to see so many people had visited the exhibit and were interested in the history.
“The exhibit’s amazing,” Collier said. “It’s beautiful, the dresses and the pictures and the jewelry and all of the things they have in there representing that era is really amazing.”
Victoria Bjorklund lent the museum several outfits that had been given to her when she was 16 by her grandmother, Catherine Krause Baum, who Bjorklund described as “a socialite and fashionista.” Bjorklund explained how her grandmother would wear them to various events, such as parties she hosted for the New York Audubon Society, where she was one of the first female board members.
Bjorklund lent the museum a black velvet coat with ermine collars and cuffs, which she wore to her own wedding in 1972. Her family also had a personal connection to Sea Cliff at the time, as her grandfather, Dwight James Baum, was an architect who built several homes and buildings on the Gold Coast.
“We’re thrilled that people are interested in historic clothing, and I think when they see the workmanship on these clothes, they’ll be very impressed,” Bjorklund said. “These dresses were made by hand, so to see the hand stitching on the dresses is very impressive.”
In addition to the wide range of flapper pieces, the exhibit also boasts more standard 1920’s artifacts like gramophones, record players and more. The exhibit will run until May and the museum encourages anyone who has photographs of their relatives in the 1920’s in flapper attire to reach out if they would be willing to lend them to the museum.