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Grit to glamour: dressing up for Lates at the National Railway Museum

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‘Lates’ events are well established in London, where a variety of museums stay open in the evening, putting on activities aimed at adults, so that those normally at work during the day can visit the museums. The Science Museum has been doing them since 2008 and more recently our sister museums the National Media Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry have also started to run them. Public Events Co-ordinator Rose Lindsay Smith takes a look behind the scenes of preparations for the National Railway Museum’s first Lates on 28 April.

A Lates event at the Science Musuem, South Kensington.

A Lates event at the Science Museum, South Kensington.

Our event is inspired by Flying Scotsman, but is Roaring 20s themed with activities ranging from Charleston dancing and whisky tasting to stunt classes. You can also get on Flying Scotsman’s cab and see some objects from our collection up close. It’ll be a fun event highlighting the glamour and luxury of Flying Scotsman’s heyday in the 1920s and we’re are encouraging visitors to come dressed to impress in 1920s regalia.

Even though I’ve got a bit of a reputation for dressing up in mad costumes that I have made myself – A Rubik’s Cube, an Academy Award and the blue caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, to name a few – I totally get it that some people find it a cause of anxiety. What if people laughed at me? What if I looked out of place? Fear not though, you will be in good company!

Costume shops and the internet are awash with ready-made costumes, but for the more adventurous out there, with a bit of research, you can make your own costumes cheaply, and often with things you already have in your wardrobe! You can keep it simple or bite the bullet and go all out. I’ve cobbled together some basic info on 1920s styles to give people some ideas, though it is by no means exhaustive and I am no expert!

Arms and legs were on show for the first time in the Roaring 20s

Arms and legs were on show for the first time in the Roaring 20s

In the 1920s women became more independent, learning to drive and, following the First World War, more commonly having jobs. It was all about rebelling – going against society’s expectations – and this was also reflected in women’s fashion. Everyone knows about ‘indecent’ Flapper dresses of the Roaring 20s, but thanks to Coco Chanel it also saw the birth of the ‘Little Black Dress’. The decade itself was transitional with fashion constantly evolving. Women started wearing trousers, waistlines dropped and hems rose; legs and arms were on show for the first time! Sheer fabrics, sequins, tassels and oriental prints were key for evening wear and two-piece sweater and skirt outfits became popular for the day. Silhouettes became slim and boyish, shunning the corsets and curves of the previous decades. Watch a couple of episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries for inspiration!

It was all about accessories too. Accessories could be used to embolden the look of simple dresses. Fur boas, fascinators, head bands, cloche hats, evening bags, pearls, broaches scarves, gloves; all things that can easily be bought to help you get the look. You can even make your own and there are lots of ideas on the web and YouTube (I love this one).

Fur boas, fascinators, head bands, evening bags, pearls, broaches scarves, gloves... just a few ideas to get you started.

Fur boas, fascinators, head bands, evening bags, pearls, broaches scarves, gloves… just a few ideas to get you started.

Hair styles also changed with bobs and cropped hair becoming vogue and the introduction of commercial make-up as we know it now. Make-up was one of the largest industries of the 1920s with cupids bow lips, heavily rouged cheeks and kohl shadowed eyes the fashion. As hairstyling became more popular they even introduced hair saloons on the Flying Scotsman service so that people were ready to go out on arrival in London. Again there is lots of inspiration on the web.

Now Gentleman, don’t think you’ve escaped. Men’s fashion was very dapper in the 1920s. Think smooth and sophisticated! Tailored, three-piece suits were the norm though the more casual V necked sweater and tie also made appearances, with crisp front pleated trousers. There were also boater jackets with hats and bow ties and the American trend of baggy ‘plus four’ trousers matched with Arglye socks. Also we mustn’t forget the Gangster look; after all, 1920 saw the start of Prohibition which led to the rise of gangsters in America, and the likes of Al Capone.

Even men accessorised in the 1920s so creating a simple costume should be easy. Whether it be with a bow tie, a pocket square, a pair of braces (make sure they are Y-shaped though!) or a hat. Hats, hats, hats. Bowlers, flat caps, boaters, panamas, fedoras or even the formal top hat. You name it. It wasn’t just women that had hats for every occasion, with choices being led by the season or outfit.

Men’s hair was simple. Slicked back and shiny or middle and side partings will make you look truly smooth and sophisticated!

Now, I had better get started on my costume – hopefully see you there at the cocktail bar!

Dance the night away with our Charleston classes and live band. Try whisky tasting, cocktail making, and live dangerously by taking one of our 1920s stunt classes. Or maybe you'd prefer a theatrical guided tour and getting hands on with craft activities?

Dance the night away with our Charleston classes and live band. Try whisky tasting, cocktail making, and live dangerously by taking one of our 1920s stunt classes. Or maybe you’d prefer a theatrical guided tour and getting hands on with craft activities?

Our Lates event from 7pm on Thursday 28 April is free. Find out more about the evening, or let us know you’re coming via our Facebook event.

Written by Dan Clarkson

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