Court Presentation Gowns of the 1920s

August 14th, 2014by Katy Werlin Filed under: Collections, Stories

Being presented at the Court of St. James in London, England was a pivotal moment in the social life of a debutante—it marked her entrance into adult society. Naturally, such an auspicious occasion required a truly spectacular gown. We are fortunate to have several court presentation gowns in our collection. Here are two particularly beautiful ones.

A young lady’s court presentation gown was one of the most lavish and important gowns she would ever own, perhaps even more important than her wedding dress. Court presentation gowns were traditionally white, but by the 1920s all colors were allowed. The entire ensemble was regulated strictly, as can be seen from these rules published in The Times in 1923:

  • Ladies attending their Majesties’ Courts will wear Court trains, while veils with ostrich feathers will be worn on the head.
  • Three small white feathers mounted as a Prince of Wales’s plume, the center feather being a little higher than the two side ones, to be worn slightly on the left-hand side of the head, with the tulle veil attached to the base of the feathers.
  • The veil should not be longer than 45in.
  • Lace lappets may be worn.
  • Coloured feathers are inadmissible, but in cases of deep mourning black feathers may be worn.
  • The train, which should not exceed two yards in length, should not extend more than 18in. from the heel of the wearer when standing.
  • There are no restrictions with regard to the colour of the dresses or gloves for either debutantes or those who have already been presented.
  • Bouquets and fans are optional.


Court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. 1965.380a-e.

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Arts & Crafts, Metalwork & Jewelry

August 12th, 2014by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.

Evon book cover[1]

Darcy L. Evon. Hand Wrought Arts & Crafts, Metalwork & Jewelry: 1890–1940. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (2014).

This extraordinary work can be read on many levels. As a picture book of metalwork and jewelry with 749 photos, it is unsurpassed. As a reference book about artists, workshops, and hallmarks, it is indispensable. For new insights on major figures such as Jane Addams and Bertha Honoré Palmer, it offers color. At its deepest level, this is the story of a social movement, one that was spurred by the Progressive movement and reached into hearth and home, studio and the workplace, changing the lives of those with the skills to make hand–wrought masterpieces and winning support from a wider public. The scope is breathtaking and the work is meticulous.

> Read more about and purchase this book 

> Learn more about the Arts and Crafts movement

> Learn more about the Progressive Era

Bold Style for a Bold Woman

July 7th, 2014by Joy Bivins Filed under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

Etta Moten Barnett’s leopard-print hat and matching handbag, c. 1960
Gift of Sue Barnett Ish, ICHi-68439

Etta Moten Barnett (1901–2004) was a groundbreaking performer and activist who spent her long life making statements. She undoubtedly accomplished one with this leopard-print topper and matching handbag. Her daughter Sue Ish, who donated many of Barnett’s garments to the Museum, thinks the set matched a cape made from fabric purchased during one of her mother’s many trips to Africa. In the late 1950s, Barnett and her husband, Claude Barnett, founder of the Chicago-based Associated Negro Press, traveled to that continent often to support newly independent nations.

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Gary Sheahan’s D-Day

June 5th, 2014by Olivia Mahoney Filed under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

Friday, June 6, 2014, marks the seventieth anniversary of D-Day when Allied forces invaded Europe to defeat Nazi Germany. D-Day is one of the most thoroughly documented events in modern history, but few people know that a Chicago artist captured it on paper.

Joseph “Gary” Sheahan (1893–1978) was born in Winnetka, Illinois. He studied at the University of Notre Dame and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before joining the Chicago Tribune as an illustrator in 1922.

Shortly after World War II broke out, the fifty-year-old Sheahan volunteered to serve as an artist-correspondent. He initially spent time in the Pacific before joining the European effort. On June 6, 1944, Sheahan and about 160,000 Allied forces boarded more than 5,000 ships and crossed the English Channel under the protection of 13,000 aircraft. Landing at five beaches in Normandy, France, the Allies suffered an estimated 10,000 casualties before breaking through German lines to gain a toehold in Europe.

Crossing the English Channel, June 6, 1944
Watercolor on paper by Gary Sheahan, 1944
Gift of Gary Sheahan, ICHi-68246

Sheahan’s Crossing the English Channel shows the invasion in process. Notice that many vessels towed large barrage balloons to protect against possible German bombing attacks that never came. His Normandy after D-Day is of Normandy Beach after the invasion.

Normandy after D-Day, June 8, 1944
Watercolor on paper by Gary Sheahan, 1944
Gift of Gary Sheahan, ICHi-68461

Sheahan worked until the war ended, painting more than a hundred battle scenes and sketching nearly one thousand Chicago-area servicemen and servicewomen for the Tribune, which featured his work on a regular basis to give a local dimension to the global story. In 1957, Sheahan donated his WWII sketches to the Museum for the edification of future generations.

Part of the great armada along the coast of Normandy, June 8, 1944
Watercolor on paper by Gary Sheahan, 1944
Gift of Gary Sheahan, ICHi-68451

Gary Sheahan’s Crossing the English Channel is on display in the Unexpected Chicago case in the Museum’s Kolver Family Lobby through the end of June.

> Watch film footage from D-Day, narrated by soldiers’ firsthand accounts

> Visit the National D-Day Memorial

> Explore the National WWII Museum in New Orleans

> Explore the Unexpected Chicago archive

> Support the Museum’s collection

People and Places: Augie Sallas

May 29th, 2014by Peter Alter Filed under: Collections, Stories

DePaul University students Bryant Arvesen, Sekordri Lewis, Ryan McGovern, and Kasia Szymanska talked to August “Augie” Sallas about the Little Village Community Council (LVCC) for this entry in the Museum’s People and Places blog series. They were students of the Museum’s archivist Peter Alter, as a part of DePaul’s public history program.

Eager to learn about Little Village and politics in Chicago, we met with Augie Sallas, president of the LVCC, to ask him about his neighborhood. First, we learned a little bit about Augie. He was born in South Chicago on the city’s Southeast Side. As a child, he spent eight years in a North Side orphanage with his brother after their parents died. He later moved to Texas and eventually settled in suburban Blue Island. Augie also served as a longtime member and organizer for the Chicago Typographical Union.

Augie Sallas Chicago Typographical Union election flyer, c. 1970
Chicago History Museum collection

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