What a spectacular night. A wide array of party-goers filled the lawn of the neoclassical mansion with circle skirts, fringed flapper dresses, go-go boots, retro polka dots, and plenty of netted veils. “Party in Good Taste,” the first ticketed event put on by the Atlanta History Center’s Party with the Past program, invited guests to celebrate fashion from the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, and attendees dressed accordingly!
As a fan of ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s fashion, I deemed my attendance necessary. What better occasion to take my pillbox hat and opera gloves out for air? I added these accessories, originally purchased at an antiques store in Texas, to a 1940s-style dress by the vintage-inspired clothing line Stop Staring!, fishnets, and black ankle-strap shoes.
If you’re not an “ATLien,” you may recognize the Swan House, the manse where the event took place, as the president’s house in the Hunger Games film franchise. While I’d taken a tour of the house by day, I’d never visited at night, so it was a treat to see it lit from within and “brought to life” by the lively party crowd in fabulous vintage costume.
From the event, one could easily imagine what entertaining at Swan House would’ve been like in its heyday. Built in 1928 by cotton heir Edward Inman and his wife Emily, the Inman family inhabited Swan House until 1965. The Atlanta History Center purchased the house in 1966, and the organization has maintained and interpreted it ever since.
The party celebrated the last night of the exhibit “Fashion in Good Taste,” which featured designs from the 1920s to the 1960s, following the timeline of the Inman’s residence at the Swan house. Each garment displayed was either made by an Atlanta designer, or worn by an Atlanta resident. The theme tied the designs not only to the house but to the city as well and honored the lives and work some incredible Atlanta women. A speech from Jessica Van Landuyt, Swan House site manager who curated the exhibit, gave us a summary of the clothes, the designers, and those who wore them.
Peach and Gold Evening Gown, French, silk brocade with rhinestones and glass beads, worn by Sara Grant Slaton, former first lady of Georgia (1911-1915), at her presentation at the Court of St. James’s in London in 1928.
The above designs were created in the 1950s by Atlanta resident Ann Moore, who recently celebrated her 97th birthday. Moore lived a fascinating life, an African American woman who graduated from Spelman college, studied fashion in New York and Paris, and opened up shop in Detroit near Motown Records. She dressed Detroit, New York, and Atlanta socialites, and her work has been featured in the magazines Jet, Vogue, and Women’s Wear Daily.
Lillian Brown Head Floral Hat: Aqua toque in the form of a flower with stem and leaf detail, 1960s
Lillian Head; what a fitting name for a milliner!
As you can probably tell I’m a fan of red and black fashion, and I just adore lace and Spanish influences, so I absolutely loved this 1960s cocktail dress by Chanel. Simple in form but elaborate in detail, this dress was owned by another remarkable Atlanta woman named Emily Bourne Grigsby. A powerhouse under five feet tall, Grigsby’s various roles included that of opera singer, model, artist, pilot, and law student who passed the bar at age sixty and worked as arbitrator and mediator.
Not only was the exhibit and the house a sight to be seen, but the guests were, too! I absolutely had to snap a picture of this lady, Cristi Roe, in her 1920s-style evening gown. Doesn’t she look as though she’s just stepped out of the pages of The Great Gatsby? She even demonstrated the matching dress she made for her chihuahua, composed of one of the sleeves of the original (which you can see on her right arm).
The elegant and eloquent Cameryn Richards, who works in the Education Department, gave a wealth of information on the house, its owners, and all sorts of interesting details about the fashion on display. If you visit the History Center or Swan House and happen to meet Cameryn you are in for a treat as she is dedicated to history and will share with you fascinating facts sure to engage a variety of visitors.
I enjoyed “Party in Good Taste” in many ways. The chance to see Swan House by night, set up for a party, made for a unique and evocative experience. A feast for the eyes of fashion lovers, the exhibit also informed visitors about the lives of tenacious women in Atlanta. Many of the women discussed refused to live according to the status quo and the female designers found entrepreneurial power in the fashion industry at times of limited career opportunities. One of the designers, Loretta Bonta, opened the shop Bonta Creatrix after her husband lost money in the Great Depression. Such stories show us that while fashion can bring us visual joy, it historically provided a livelihood for women in difficult times.
Overall, if this event set the precedent for the next Party with the Past events, I will look forward to them! My only suggestion for next time would be to have music of the era (either a DJ spinning old tunes or live band) to represent the past even further.
Thank you for reading,