Jun 16, 2012

Glamorous Cocktails (#3) :: Art Deco, Hollywood & the 1930s :: the Golden Years

We have left behind those flapper cocktail parties of the 1920s
in our cocktail history series, 
because today we are venturing into 
the Hollywood Years of the cocktail,
when all the glitz & glamour of the silver screen
made the little drink oh-so-irresistable,
as the centrepiece of elegant entertaining.

It was the decade which began with a Great Depression,
and ended with World War II.
But in between, it would be those golden years of the 1930s,
when Art Deco reigned supreme in the style stakes,
 and Hollywood epitomised the golden life, albeit a fantasy one.
Cocktails were a great part of this,
as a symbol of style, glamour & sophistication,
moving away from the hotels & bars,
and into the private home.

As we saw in the 1920s, 
cocktails were something that one drank in the new dance clubs
of Paris & London,
and in the speakeasies of New York.
But the changing economic fortunes, following the Great Depression,
saw a return to entertaining at home.
The style of entertaining was largely influenced 
by the glamour of Hollywood,
seen both in the heavily stylised films,
but also in the carefully publicised "private" lives of the stars,
where cocktail parties were shown as elegant gatherings
of allure & flirtation, 
of sophistication & relaxation.
The cocktail parties were held in the stars' own homes,
themselves very artfully stylised fantasies.

pickfair, 1932, the home of mary pickford & douglas fairbanks

It was all a world away from the debauchery & self-indulgence 
of the flapper parties,
and it was a reflection of the more stream-lined economic times.
The worse the economy, the more people wanted to immerse themselves
in a fantasy world of glamour & elegance,
as personified by the Hollywood stars.

Cocktails were no longer considered a drink of excess,
drunk with abandon by the rebellious youth, or Bright Young Things,
as they had been in the 1920s,
but were now a drink of sophistication, in a much more "grown-up" era.
It was expensive to host a dinner,
but a little cocktail party,
mostly held between the set hours of 6 and 8 pm,
gave the clever hostess a chance to show off her
worldly airs,
while her guests indulged in witty conversations
and gentle flirtations.
The cocktail party was synonymous with luxury & sleek modernity.

We can see the transformation from the flapper days to the golden years
through the changing image of the cocktail on the silver screen.
The movie "Manhattan Cocktail" came out in 1928,
the year before the Great Depression began,
 as one of the last silent films.

It's a curious title, considering that Prohibition was still in force in America,
(and would be until 1933)
but looking at the artwork of this movie poster, 
it's obvious that the little cocktail drink 
was about to change its image in Hollywood, 
from the suggestive dame balancing precariously on the 
martini glass...

...to the more dapper drink sipped by one of the most successful 
husband & wife detective teams on celluloid,
in The Thin Man films, the first of which came out in 1934. 

The cocktails drunk by William Powell & Myrna Loy in these films
were a big part of the movie's ambience.
These people drank, form morning till night,
but they were never depicted as really drunk. 
Cocktails were used to symbolise their easy-going,
yet elegant, style: a certain urbane suavity.

And just as the parties reflected a more refined mood, 
so did the design of cocktail barware,
with streamlined curves & geometric detailing,
in the incredibly popular Art Deco style.
This is the "Manhattan Cocktail Service"
designed by Norman Bel Geddes,
with sleek lines & the shine of polished chrome.
Of course, not everybody could afford such fine barware,
but it set the benchmark for more commercially available settings
throughout the decade.

A cocktail shaker became a "must-have" item for any
serious cocktail bar in the most fashionable homes.
They were often made from glass, with chrome lids,
or sometimes in stainless steel or enamel.

Hems were down, natural waists were back,
the bias-cut was deployed to make garments look tailored yet flowing,
and men wore their suits with a debonair confidence.
Luxury, or at least the allure of it,
was the order of the evening.
The development of artificial fibres, to mimic silk,
allowed the ready-to-wear designers to reproduce
the Parisian haute couture lines
to a much more commercially acceptable price point,
bringing chic, elegant dressing to a new generation of women.

While wealthy women could afford to dress as the Hollywood stars did,
sporting fabulous long sweeping evening gowns of decadent fabrics,
most middle class women were on much more limited housekeeping allowances during the Depression,
but they still wanted to dress the part for the cocktail hour.
So little details could take an afternoon dress to an evening soirée dress,
with the quick addition of an accessory or two.

Hats, long gloves and costume jewellery,
especially cocktail rings & fancy pins,
often made from imitation diamonds, or rhinestone,
were added to the afternoon dress or day suit,
and a woman could swirl about the cocktail party with panache.

And what was served at these 1930s cocktail parties?
Largely gin-based drinks,
mixed with fruit juices.
The martini was still king, 
but towards the end of the decade it was sometimes made with vodka.
(Most movies showed the stars swanning about with a martini in hand,
as if it were the most natural thing in the world...)
Interestingly, glasses were very small by today's standards,
which was a more economical way of serving one's guests,
but also reflected the mood for stream-lined restraint.

As the storm-clouds gathered over Europe in the late 1930s,
the cocktail parties continued unabated,
perhaps with a little more talk of politics than before, 
but with all of the glamour of this stylish decade.
The darker the times,
the more the idealised Hollywood glamour appealed,
not just in America,
but in Britain, her Empire countries & across Europe.

Much was to socially change with the closing of the decade
and the advent of the Second World War in 1939,
but the cocktail would continue on in history,
morphing again in later decades,
waxing and waning in popularity,
as we shall see in the continuation of this series.
Still to come would be the heady days of the swanky 50s cocktail parties,
and the hedonistic 80s ones.

But never again would the Cocktail Hour be quite so refined,
or quite so polished,
 as it was during this Golden Age of the Cocktail.
A little martini, anyone?

Cocktail History #2: Roaring Twenties
Cocktail History #1: The Beginnings

images :: still from upstairs downstairs // cocktail bar set // 1930s dress by the staircase // 1930s dresses // blue fruit artwork // hollywood starlet with cocktail set // pickfair //
cocktails on an ocean liner // martini advert // manhattan cocktail movie poster //manhattan cocktail movie publicity shot // movie poster // the thin man movie poster //
blue fruit artwork // thin man still // evening gown // cocktail hour movie poster + art deco cocktail barware // art deco cocktail shaker //
french cocktail party 1930s // cocktail set // blue fruit artwork // myrna loy // vintage ad // straw cocktail hat 1930s vintage // rhinestone costume jewellery // schiaparalli // 
cocktail ring // cocktail recipe book // blue fruit artwork // still from upstairs downstairs


  1. Love this post, would love to share it with my readers, please visit and let me know if you would like to be featured on my little drink blog.

    1. Hi there. I would be delighted - I'm on a mission to celebrate the cocktail so always happy for it to be discussed!

  2. OK, now, you have just completely outdone yourself with this post. It is simply splendid! And, since I'm a Martini girl, I must say I read every single word and actually learned a thing or 2. Well done !!

    1. Oh Marsha, thank you! I do rather imagine you as a martini girl - forever stylish - so am not at all surprised.

  3. I love Martinis!It's such a wonderful informative post! Love it!
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. How very glamorous and sophisticated this era was. I must remember the waltz rhythm if ever I have to make a dry martini! x

    1. yes, what a hoot that is. Somehow, we never seem to have waltz music on when we are making martinis, but perhaps they would taste even better if we did. If I hear a waltz, I immediately feel like dancing to it, so perhaps there is method in the madness...

  5. What a beautiful post, the words and images are exquisite. I wish I had a white bias cut silk gown to slip into.

  6. Fab-u-lous!

  7. Lovely work as usual!

    Anyone for a martini?

    Pass me the olives..........


  8. Now, you know that I am absolutely swooning over here! Gone! Pass the smelling salts quick! Better yet--pass a Sidecar! For although I am a martini girl too, a Sidecar would be too wonderful to resist right now with that sweet sugar rim...Good thing I am about to have lunch otherwise it would be a lushy afternoon!!!

    Bravo, bravo, bravo as always my friend!!!

    1. I'm a bit keen on Sidecars too! Often serve them as pre-dinner party drinks - everybody seems to love them.

  9. My grandparents had cocktails every evening, calling it "drinky-poo time". I still have my great grandfather's silver plate shaker from the '30s and a few times a weeks my husband and I revive the tradition.
    Thank you for your kind and insightful comments about my art.

    1. How deliciously stylish your grandparent obviously were! And it is just inspiring that you have kept the tradition alive. A celebration of each day, which sounds brilliant to me!

  10. Such glamour... how fabulous were those dresses?? Gorgeous post and delicious martinis! Happy weekend... xv

  11. Oh my what luxurious surroundings and accoutrements for enjoying the tradition of the Cocktail Hour!
    Very much a glamorous time!

    Art by Karena
    2012 Artists Series

  12. I am not normally a martini girl but put ANYTHING in a martini glass and I put on an air of intrigue and sophistication that I normally do not possess. It's a bit like wearing heels instead of flip flops.

  13. You always find the best photos for your posts! Excellent write-up. The 1930s were such a fascinating time period. And I love the hat with the red and black brim!

  14. My favourite era for fashion, architecture, furniture...well just about everything. What a lovely post!
    Thanks for adding a little luxury to my cold winter morning.

    1. Yes, there was certainly something fabulous happening to design in the 1930s, across all the elements.

  15. I adore the prescribed hours of the 1930s cocktail party: 6 to 8pm. The evening is young enough to continue on elsewhere for dinner, or the night is still long enough to get 8 hours recovery sleep. How perfectly practical it sounded! Yet another brilliant post.


    1. And a tradition which I hope will come back - it's an easy way to entertain - not so much pressure on the hosts.

  16. Great post - very elegant & chic - it's getting me in the mood for The Great Gatsby!


    1. Yes, I'm looking forward to it coming out later this year too. Although, I was a little disappointed with the publicity stuff they have put out - but hopefully that's not a true reflection of the movie. As for the book - an absolute favourite.

  17. Love the roaring 20's
    that era speaks to me,
    so glam.
    Oh love Martini too.

  18. How fun. You do such a great job with your posts. Wouldn't it be fun to step back in time and attend one their fabulous cocktail parties!

    1. We just need that Dr Who tardis and what a fun trip it would be! Then we could dash back to current time, in time for dinner. I would happily pop in for the party, but am very glad that I am living now, with much more progressive attitudes than then. But the style, well, they sure got that right!

  19. Fascinating and fabulously illustrated reading. And one of the brightest glam icons of the time Marlene Dietrich with her husky voice and shadowed eyes, furs and poise and aura of mystery. Thank you Virginia.

    1. Indeed, she epitomises the glamour of the silver screen of those golden years! Just a little mysterious, but just a lot fabulous.

  20. Love it when you do these posts Virginia (in fact I love all your posts :) So informative, I feel I have been somehow transported back to the roaring 20's - FAB
    Thanks for adding some glamour to a rainy day,

  21. i do love this post soooooo much.
    i am linking it on my sidebar.

    thank you for your sweet comments.


  22. 8 o'clock Saturday morning reading this blog & I now have a strong hankering for a cocktail or two - in a small restrained glass of course! Fabulous series.


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