Toggle

20 North Main St (also enter on 224 Benefit Street) Providence, RI 02903

The museum is closed today.

Art & Design

  • Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980

    Costume and Textiles

    April 15 –July 31, 2011

  • Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980

    Costume and Textiles

    April 15 –July 31, 2011

Previous Next
  • Cocktail drinking inspired a new language of dress and design in the twentieth century. Distinctly American, the cocktail tradition was established during Prohibition (1919–1933), when illicit drinking took place in secret clubs and private residences. The risqué spirit of cocktail drinking—infused with exclusive company, glamour, and witty conversation and heightened by the possibility of overindulgence— continued to energize social entertaining in America through World War II, postwar suburban culture, the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the glittering disco era. This exhibition traces the shifting shapes, materials, and embellishments of cocktail-inspired attire and barware, highlighting their elegance and inventiveness with an eye to the rapid social changes that shaped their design. In the first half of the twentieth century, for example, a time when hemlines and roles were prescribed, the cocktail hour created an opportunity for flirtation and social climbing, and with that a desire for lighthearted yet chic fashion distinct from formal evening attire and functional day wear. By midcentury the cocktail dress, as well as fashions in shakers, glasses, and trays as promoted by women’s magazines and department stores, attracted design-conscious American consumers. The flapper, resort wear, the New Look, ethnic dress, the pants suit, spangled and revealing disco attire—all of these fashions had iterations as cocktail party attire. The current resurgence of interest in all things cocktail, including ersatz urban speakeasies, elaborate mixed drinks, and Tiki bars, attests to nostalgia for the glamour and role playing of earlier eras and reminds us that cocktail drinking is a ritual with potent significance in American life and design. Cocktail Culture is sponsored by Swarovski Elements and Swarovski Consumer Goods Business, with additional support from The Coby Foundation and the Museum Associates.


Selected objects from Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980