By: Laura Spears
“My girlish delight in barrooms…which serve the best beefsteaks in New York, received a serious setback a week or so ago in a place which shall, not to say should, be nameless. The cause was a good, old-fashioned raid. It wasn’t one of those refined, modern, things, where gentlemen in evening dress arise suavely from ringside tables and depart, arm in arm with head waiters no less correctly clad. It was one of those movie affairs, where burly cops kick down the doors, and women fall fainting on the tables, and strong men crawl under them and waiters shriek and start throwing bottles out of windows. A big Irish cop regarded me with a sad eye and remarked, ‘Kid, you’re too good for this dump,’ and politely opened a window leading to the fire escape. I made a graceful exit.”
This excerpt from The New Yorker’s weekly column, Tables for Two sets the scene for a typical night out on the town for Lois Long, known to her readers simply as “Lipstick.” Lois began her career as a columnist at The New Yorker in 1925, at the age of 23. As Lipstick, she chronicled the social club life of New York speakeasies during Prohibition.
Early in her writing career Lois Long would often go undercover. Her goal was to blend with the usual clientele of the Jazz clubs and maintain her anonymity. For two years, the identity of Lipstick was unknown to her readers. Her cover was blown with the newspaper announcement of her engagement to the cartoonist, Peter Arno, with whom she worked at The New Yorker. Hired in 1925 by, Harold Ross, Lois became the pulse of the magazine. Her lifestyle as a glamorous, witty, party girl was exactly the persona that Ross wanted his readers to associate
After the success of her column Tables for Two, Ross made Lois the magazine’s fashion. Unlike previous fashion reporting, Lois’ column covered ready to wear fashions instead of the expensive couture fashions from French salons. The boom in economic prosperity of the 1920’s, along with the new trend of department stores had created a new kind of consumerism. Clothes, hats, make-up, handbags, were all now mass-produced, which in turn drove the prices of these items down. The fashions that the department stores were selling were often based of the latest silhouettes coming from Paris designers such as Coco Chanel or Jean Patou, but the growing middle class of America could now afford them.
Her salary, just under $4000 a year, made Lois a part of this middle class. In later years, after the popularity of the magazine increased and her salary did as well, Lois would be able to afford hats from couture New York designers such as Lily Daché. However, as a young workingwoman in the 1920’s, Lois favored the millinery salons at department stores such as Lord and Taylor, Bonwit Teller, and Macy’s.
Part of the iconography of this style, was the cloche hat. The cloche originated in France at the salon of Caroline Reboux. A Reboux cloche was specially made for the client. Reboux would place a soft felt hood over her clients head, then drape, fold, and cut the fabric to achieve the perfect fit and look. The close fitting silhouette that Reboux created was adapted for ready-made hats. Soon the cloche was ubiquitous for women of any economic status. In keeping with Reboux’s original concept, cloches often had drapes and folds in their design. Any ornamentation, was kept asymmetrically to one side of the head.
The cloche also helped to promulgate the bobbed hairstyle of the 1920’s. For hundreds of years, fashion dictated that long hair be worn piled on the head in braids and buns. Women’s hats were the perched on the elaborate hairstyles. In 1920, hats were worn close to the head, covering or nearly covering the ears and the forehead and hugging the nape of the neck. Women had a choice: wear an outdated style or cut their hair short.
The cloche I designed for Lois Long would likely be worn on an undercover evening like those she had in her early career as Lipstick. The cloche has three pleats above the left eye, radiating from an enamel brooch. It is made of jewel tone green wool, appropriate to the art deco movement.
For the construction of Lois’ cloche, I followed a similar method as Reboux. Felt millinery hoods are still available for purchase today. The green hood I chose was a rabbit fur felt, with a luxurious velour finish. The hood was made pliable enough to work with by placing it on a hat steamer and allowing the seam to saturate the hood. Instead of working directly on a human head like Reboux, I placed the hood over a balsa head block, and stretched, folded and sculpted the felt until I had achieved the shape I desired. To achieve the dramatic pleating I designed, it was necessary for me to cut the crown away from the brim of the cloche and seam them back together. To hide the stitches, I covered the seam with a delicate hatband made of green silk rouleux.