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The Darien Historical Society steps into the jazz age

Published 12:26 pm, Friday, December 7, 2012

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  • A gold lame overblouse and skirt on display at the Darien Historical Society "speakeasy" on Thursday evening, Nov. 29, 2012 in Darien, Conn. Photo: Jeanna Petersen Shepard
    A gold lame overblouse and skirt on display at the Darien Historical Society "speakeasy" on Thursday evening, Nov. 29, 2012 in Darien, Conn. Photo: Jeanna Petersen Shepard

 

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"Stepping Out in the Jazz Age," an exhibit at the Darien Historical Society, takes visitors through the 1920s.

The exhibit, which opened Oct. 14 in the Scofield Barn, features women's fashion from 1920 to 1929.

"The barn was done as a way to have special exhibits," said John Gault Jr., executive director.

Before the barn was built four years ago, the historical society placed exhibits in the upper part of the building, which is now used to store its 3,000-plus costumes and accessories.

"It represents donations from about 1,000 people, mostly Darien residents," Curator Babs White said of the extensive collection.

White, a former Women's Wear Daily fashion designer, has volunteered at the historical society for 42 years. According to White, the historical society began collecting costume pieces in the 1960s, and its current collection includes items from 1740 to 1935.

"Stepping Out in the Jazz Age" is the third part of a trio of exhibits White planned over the years. The first exhibit, "The Ladies of Prospect Avenue," opened when the barn did several years ago.

"Prospect Avenue has a lot of still-standing, really historical houses," White said, adding that the exhibit featured a photograph of a house on Prospect Avenue, and in front of the photo was a mannequin wearing fashion that matched the same year of the house. It included years 1867 to 1900.

"Fashion Transformed" was the second exhibit, and it featured clothes from 1900 to 1920, leaving "Stepping Out in the Jazz Age" to cover fashions of 1920 to 1929. It highlights the transformation of fashion from Art Deco to the Flapper to the more Americanized version of it all.

On Nov. 29, the historical society hosted a Ladies Night Out for its latest exhibit, and provided cocktails, door prizes and a tour of the display given by White, who creates, organizes and executes all of the exhibits.

"I do have a lot of really wonderful helpers," White said.

The historical society gave away eight door prizes, including jewelry, books by F. Scott Fitzgerald and manicures and pedicures, according to White. For the cocktail portion of the event, the society had a '20s concoction called "French 75."

"Ooh, is that good," White said. "But if I have to give a talk, I don't want to forget it, so I didn't have a French 75."

Several of the pieces in the jazz exhibit were from local donors and worn by the donors' relatives. White said about 40 people attended the event, some of which were donors.

"It was nice that they came out to the party," White said.

According to White, it takes about five months to set up one of the exhibits.

"There are a million details," White said. The exhibit also showcases a skill of White's that goes almost unnoticed -- wigs made of paper rapier.

White divided the hairstyles in each section into older styles, marcel waves; newer hairstyles, bobbed hair.

"They are colossal pain to do," White said.

White said she would have used the regular wigs, but then she would have had to cut and bob those, and that was something she didn't want to do.

"Stepping Out in the Jazz Age" is at the Darien Historical Society, 45 Old Kings Highway North, until March 3. The Darien Historical Society is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

mdavis@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4407; twitter.com/megadariennews