Embodying a Modern Luxury: The White Peacock, Distinction and Desire on the Early-twentieth-century Broadway Stage

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption, 2014, 1 (1), pp. 155 - 184
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This article examines the importance of two white peacock costumes within the context of an Orientalist aesthetic operating in the USA in the early twentieth century that combined the symbolism of wealth, beauty, fashion, desire and exclusivity with the display of luxury and taste on the Broadway stage. The costly, elaborate, white Peacock Gowns of the Parisian revue star Anna Held in Follow Mw (1916) and of the haute couture mannequin and showgirl known as "Dolores" in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolics (1919) looked remarkably similar. More importantly, however, they conformed to the historical understanding of the white peacock's symbolism in the USA at a time when there was a shift, as documented by Marlis Schweitzer and Caroline Evans, towards standardisation in the way female bodies were presented to the American public on stage, in fashion and in photography. The argument here is that despite this shift, the enduring symbolism and materiality of luxury relating to the white peacock was used to distinguish two very very different performers from thousands of other actresses and models in the USA in the late 1910s.
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