Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sexy, Scandalous, Revolutionary

One of the fun aspects of writing fiction is that you get to create the world your characters inhabit. So you design or select their homes, furnishings, cars, boats (in my case), books, music, and, of course, clothes. So I’ve recently been drooling over photos of fabulous sequined, beaded, bejewelled, gilded, feathered, fringed, flirty, flapper frocks.

The Roaring 20s was an age of opulence and excess, as illustrated in the works of Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, indeed, in the latter’s own outrageous lifestyle with his wife Zelda. It was also a revolutionary era when young women rebelled against the strictures of Victorian society and morality. They scandalized the older generations because they smoked and drank in public (this, during Prohibition), wore makeup, danced “immodestly”, dated unchaperoned, bobbed their hair, and hiked their hemlines. No longer confined by breath-snatching corsets, they wore comfortable clothes in which they could easily participate in sports or dance the night away, and which facilitated sexual exploration, often in the back seats of cars.

The most influential couturier of the “modern” woman was Coco Chanel, whose “garçonne” look or flapper style, made some diehard complain that “women no longer exist; all that’s left are the boys created by Chanel.” If the clothes didn’t show women’s curves, they did reveal unprecedented lengths of leg. One Baptist minister opined:
“Mary had a little skirt,
The latest style no doubt,
But every time she got inside,
She was more than halfway out.”

To see some stunning gowns, visit these websites: Antique and Vintage Dress Gallery and Vintage Textile. It’s evident from the descriptions that the fully beaded dresses were heavy (4 pounds or more), and instructions are given for how to get out of the ones that have no closures (and ergo, no openings). “Bend way forward at the waist, pull the skirt up and then raise your arms over your dropped head and let gravity help you wiggle out of the dress.”

To see how these gowns scintillated, especially when dancing, have a look at this clip on YouTube. The dress that Carol Channing is wearing wouldn’t have had an underskirt slit that high at the side, but otherwise is representative of the period fashion.

I would love to wear one of these vintage dresses (or a replica) at my next book launch, as Book 3 of my Muskoka Novels takes place during the 1920s. In the meantime, I have to go and design half a dozen houses and cottages, a 6-slip boathouse, and a slew of costumes for a fancy dress ball!

For a fascinating look at the Jazz Age, read Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern, by Joshua Zeitz.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sir Paul Rocks… and Inspires!

Photo courtesy of Rob Whitehead & Erin Davis

Paul McCartney is still cute, charming, and dynamic 46 years after he and the rest of the Beatles conquered North America and stole our hearts. Thanks to the generosity of my old friend and fellow Beatle-maniac, the Reverend Fay Patterson-Willsie, I was one of the 16,000+ who cheered and sang ourselves hoarse at Paul’s Toronto concert on Sunday. Or more correctly, love-fest. If he sent us “all [his] lovin’”,  we gave it back “in the palm of [our] hand[s]”.

Because his music is part of the soundtrack of our lives, we were instantly plunged into punctuated moments of the past. Like the time I was at Fay’s Muskoka cottage (which inspired my Muskoka Novels), and we listened to the Beatles on some Boston radio station late at night. Or when my husband and I danced to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” at our wedding, reminding ourselves of that pivotal night when we had danced to that song in a pub and realized our friendship had become something more profound. Our “going-away” song at the wedding was, appropriately, “In My Life”. Paul and The Beatles had a way of anticipating and voicing our thoughts, joys, angst, and dreams in a lyrical and timeless way. (I’m now a “Paperback Writer”.) A testament to the power and relevance of the music could be seen in the beaming faces of the audience, young and old alike, who sang along lustily and couldn’t resist dancing.

What was so inspiring was to see Paul’s boundless energy and obvious passion for his music. That he could sing and play virtually non-stop for three hours is truly remarkable for anyone, let alone a 68-year-old. We might have been hoarse and tired from all our singing, clapping, toe-tapping, arm-waving, and hip-swinging, but he showed little sign of flagging, despite the obvious heat on the stage. May we all be that youthful and happily productive at that age and beyond. Paul continues to be a touchstone for my and other generations.

You can be sure that when I get to the 1960s in my Muskoka Novels (Book 5, 6?), Paul and the Beatles will be part of the soundtrack for my characters’ lives, just as Ragtime was in my first two novels.

To see more fab photos of Sir Paul in concert, visit  Erin Davis’s website. Many thanks to her and husband Rob Whitehead for the use of the photo from Sunday’s concert!


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Goodreads Ratings

Gabriele Wills's books on Goodreads
The Summer Before The StormThe Summer Before The Storm
reviews: 2
ratings: 8 (avg rating 4.50)

ratings: 4 (avg rating 5.00)

ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.50)

A Place to Call HomeA Place to Call Home
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.00)