Designing Women: Cinema, Art Deco, and the Female Form

By Lucy Fischer | Go to book overview

2. COUNTER CULTURE
Art Deco, Consumerism, and the Department Store

ART DECO AND CONSUMERISM

In chapter 1, I focused on Art Deco largely as a stylistic mode—with its mixture of modernism, exoticism, and primitivism as well as its fascination with the female form. While I mentioned, by way of example, the movement's incarnation in various commercial artifacts (lamps, vases, statues), I did not highlight its status within American material culture. In this chapter and the next, I will do precisely that—interrogate the relationship between Art Deco and consumerism in America in the 1920s and 1930s. The focus of my attention will be on the female shopperof the era and on the connotations that the Style Moderne may have held for her. Though I will consider both middle-and upper-class individuals, the main discussion here will largely be on the urban woman since she was more associated with consumerism in the period than was her rural counterpart. Chapter 3 will then consider such fashion venues as the Sears catalogue, which reached women residing both in the city centers and in the heartland. Due to the economics of race in this period, mainstream American consumer discourse was aimed at the Caucasian woman. The black female only entered that rhetoric as a symbol of the “Primitive” or the “Exotic,” rarely as the subject of its address.

Deco as revealed in America in the first third of the twentieth century was an art movement that was actually … an advertising strategy of the 1920s and 1930s. Art Deco romanticized and then sold soap, tires, and train tickets.

—Mark Winokur (1996:198)

I will treat the subject of female consumerism in some depth: first, because it has not received much attention in the literature on Art Deco;1 and second,

1. The lone exception is a book published after this manuscript was essentially written:
Anne Massey's Hollywood Beyond the Screen: Design and Material Culture (2000).

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