Mar 28, 2012

Glamorous Cocktails (#2) :: The Jazz Age...

And after numerous requests enquiring as to "what comes next"
in our Cocktail History series, 
let's put on our tap shoes, 
dress in sequins & satin
and grab that martini,
because today it's part 2 & we are entering the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

That glorious, design-decadent era 
which celebrated the cocktail as a symbol of exhuberance,
saw the emancipation of women
& some of the wildest partying of the century.

But first, let's go back to see the origins of the Jazz Age.
The Great War, of 1914-1918,
turned Western society on its head.
Men returning from the war came back to a different world.
Etiquette changed,
politics changed,
as innocence was swept away in a new era.
The carefree days of the Edwardians were gone.
Some people romanticised the world before the war;
others embraced the changes.
And partied like there were no tomorrow,
just in case.

 It set the perfect stage for a decadent life of cocktail parties
for the Bright Young Things,
a generation who partied hard, drank hard, lived fast
and rejected the values of their parent's generation.

In Europe & the British Empire, unlike in America,
cocktails were a rarity before the war,
so this new wild abandon was rather a contrast
to the genteel days of old.
  One may have been offered a pre-dinner sherry and soda,
or sherry and bitters,
 in some of the smarter homes like this,
in Europe before 1914,
but not a martini or "mixed cocktail".

So the idea of a cocktail as a fashionable drink
really took off with the increased amount of Americans
traveling by new-fangled ways
(luxury steam ships & aeroplanes)
& their demand for familiar drinks in foreign spots.
"American Bars" sprang up in European hotels,
especially in Paris & London,
where cocktails were served & jazz music was played.
The dance club was born.

While it wasn't considered ladylike for a woman
to drink cocktails in the Edwardian era,
this suddenly changed in the 1920s.
Many women who had worked during the war
were not ready to give up their new-found freedom.
Fashion reflected this too, 
with looser waistlines & free-flowing cuts.
Gone were the corsets, the bustles & the layers of petticoats.

Instead, there appeared a new confident woman,
ready to earn her own money,
wear her own style
and express her own opinions.
She became known as the "drinking woman" (1)
because she was often found at cocktail soirées,
in the most fashionable homes & lounges,
wearing the classic cocktail garb of sequined sheath dress,
cloche hat, short hair & t-bar pump shoes,
cocktail glass in hand.

To this background of pleasure,
freedom & cocktail partying
rose the jazz movement.
The sultry sound absolutely embodied the spirit of the times.
Private cocktail soirées would often feature a jazz band,
& they became de rigueur for the new supper clubs in the major cities.

While this cocktail lifestyle continued in
Britain, her Empire countries
+ in Europe,
something happened in the US
which changed our course of cocktail history.

It was the Prohibition era,
introduced in 1920 and only repealed in 1933.
Banning the sale of alcohol led to the rise of bootleg liquor,
often rather toxic mixtures .
This is the bounty seized by a raid by Los Angeles police in 1928,
and labeled with their true contents.
In order to mask the flavour of bootleg brews,
strongly flavoured cocktails were mixed,
like the Fluffy Ruffles, Pom Pom, Bees Knees
(gin, honey, lemon juice)
 & the original gin based Alexander Cocktail.
Gin was probably the most popular spirit,
largely because it was relatively fast & easy to make as a "home brew."

Interestingly, the fashion for these same types
of strongly flavoured cocktails
also crossed the Atlantic,
as did many of America's wealthy party-goers & the finest bartenders.

Unable to practice their sophisticated craft in the US
- except in the rather-less-than elegant Speakeasies,
where a surreptitious knock at the knock may afford access -
the best of the bartenders relocated to Havanna, Paris & London.
Here, the American Bars flourished,
especially at the Savoy in London,
where Harry Craddock took up residence as chief bartender in 1920,
helping to popularise the cocktail as a sophisticated drink & pastime.

Not only did Harry write the infamous Savoy Cocktail book,
first published in 1930 and still available today,
but he is also credited with the invention
of the Corpse Reviver 2
(gin, Cointreau, Absinthe, Lillet Blanc & lemon juice)
and the fabulous White Lady cocktail.

As well as these sweeter cocktails, favourites 
included the bronx, manhattan & martini,
even though they had been invented a few decades before.

This was an age of the endless party, Great Gatsby style.

Cocktails parties at elegant weekend county estates,
soirées in the city apartment,
cocktails at supper clubs.
In attendance were the aristocrats, artists, novelists,
playwrights & wits of the day.

Extravagance knew no bounds.
The cocktails flowed, as fashion became more exotic.

Exquisite beading & feathers were often worked
into both garments & hats,
reflecting an age where the exotic was celebrated.
Excess in abundance!
But all would soon come crashing to a halt.

The life of decadence stopped as abruptly as it had begun,
with the Great Depression of 1929
putting rather a dampener on finances.

Which is not to say that our cocktail craze came to an end.
Far from it.
But it became more sophisticated,
with an emphasis on elegance rather than extravagance.

In the next installment,
we shall explore how the Hollywood scene
influenced cocktail history,
as we move into the 1930s and the Art Deco era.

Meanwhile, White Lady anyone?

patricia fieldwalker via fashionising // bootleg liquor // alexander cocktail image
great gatsby film // talullah bankhead // quote noel coward: artwork bluefruit // citation (1)


  1. love this post!! vintage photography is the best ^^ love your blogg, i'm impressed, it's different from others!! come visit my blog and let's follow each other ^^

  2. Great post! A fascinating part of U.S history. Makes me want to revisit an F.Scott Fitzgerald novel - to be reminded of the glamorous days that existed for some. Also, a good show that focuses on parts of this history is 'Boardwalk Empire'. Just made me think of that :)

    1. Yes me too Anastasia - looking forward to the new Great Gatsby movie coming out but I am also wanting to re-read the fabulous book first. Existed for some, indeed! A bit of a contrast with the rich and the poor. Isn't it funny, though, when we all imagine ourselves back in history, it is always as the rich! (Or maybe that is just me and my vivid imagination??? But somehow, the life of a maid isn't quite what we romanticise, is it?) Also loving the ABC's Miss Fisher Mysteries set in this era - oh, that is glamour! x

    2. So true. Being rich just seems more fun! Can't wait for the new Gatsby movie too - hoping this one should be better than the one with Redford. x

  3. One of my favourite eras Virginia! What an amazing post you've put together.

    I just finished reading "The Paris wife' by Paula McLain a few weeks ago. Its about the early years and the glamourous Jazz Age in Paris where Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson had moved.
    A fantastic read, if you havent read it already!
    ps. just sent you an email

  4. So chic indeed - wish I'd tried one of these cocktail events - I have been to several (believe me ha ha) but these look so glamourous :)

    1. Anya you would make any event become glamorous, just by your presence there! x

  5. Fantastic post Virginia! Love your selection of vintage images and vivid writing. Can't wait to read your next installment.

    1. Oh thank you Natalie! What a lovely compliment! x

  6. Worth the wait...looking forward to the next one - weel done!

    1. Thank you Sue! I have been feeling guilty about the ridiculously long time since the previous cocktail post - but am currently almost drowning in fabulous projects, so all has to be juggled. Hopefully part 3 will get done a bit faster! x

  7. Hip hooray! I practically clapped my hands in glee! And certainly when I saw that first photo of Louise Brooks--sigh. I really need to read her memoir! What a story!! But of course I loved absolutely all of it. All of it! Thank you for this--I can imagine that it took quite a lot of time to research and put together. Merci, merci et à la prochaine...!!!


Oh! Thank you for leaving me a comment!

Just a quick note: this is about a conversation - it's not a place to advertise. So please do not include self-promotion as your comment will not be published.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...