Glamorous Vice: Cocktail Culture’s Couture and Accoutrements

Michelle Finamore, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Tuesday, October 8, 2013Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Summer Cocktail Party with English Butler, 1961, by Larry Salk

Summer Cocktail Party with English Butler, 1961, by Larry Salk (American, 1936-2004), watercolor, gouache, ink on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

Gorham silver cocktail shaker set, 1925-1929, designed by Erik Magnussen

Gorham silver cocktail shaker set, 1925-1929, designed by Erik Magnussen (Danish, 1884-1961, working in U.S.A. ca. 1925-1939). Newark Museum

Michelle Finamore’s lecture will present the cocktail as the consummate American potable, a drink that embodies a unique mix of innovation, modernity and glamour. Not merely a libation, the word “cocktail” conjures up a careful melding of tart and sweet spirits, mingling guests and fashion to achieve a balanced, yet stimulating, social concoction. Dr. Finamore’s talk will explore how Americans, for almost 100 years, have embraced the cocktail and its social milieu. From the private cocktail party to the public bar scene, the ritualized performance, distinctive dress and consumption of artfully mixed beverages remain a vital force in cosmopolitan culture.

Cultured men began drinking cocktails in hotel bars in the 1880s, but women weren’t invited to the party of mixed drinks in “mixed company” until the 1920s. Cocktail parties became even more popular — and legal — social events for sophisticates after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. The sophisticated social ritual was widely popularized on the silver screen by fashionably dressed and coiffed Hollywood movie stars who drank from martini glasses in Art Deco interiors, exchanged scintillating quips and listened to Cole Porter’s melodies.

Cocktail parties moved — with many Americans — to the suburbs in the 1950s. Cocktail parties characterized post-war affluence and the sophistication of young, married couples who created the “baby boom.” Michelle Finamore will address the transformations in taste and style occasioned by the cocktail party, through fashion, jewelry, bar accessories and popular imagery.

Just as the new social ritual of tea drinking lead to a wide array of new domestic products in the 18th century, tea caddies, tea pots, cream pots, sugar pots, tea cups and saucers, tea spoons and even tea tables, cocktail consumption in the 20th century spawned another range of consumer products. Home consumption of mixed drinks was similarly accompanied by a specialized array of glasses, shakers, muddlers and swizzle sticks that had been the professional bartender’s tools. Trolleys, wet bars and serving pieces for hors d’oeuvres and canapés — and the ever-present toothpicks — also accompanied the home cocktail party.

The history of the cocktail dress, which began in the early 20th century, encompasses sweeping sartorial, social and even moral changes. The cocktail ritual required sophisticated fashion and accessories; think of Holly Golightly’s iconic “little black dress,” pearls and cigarette holder in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Christian Dior wrote in his 1957 biography, Dior on Dior, that “the real masterpieces of American design are the cocktail dresses, the cocktail being the symbol par excellence of the American way of life.”

Michelle Finamore earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Providence College in Rhode Island and a master’s degree in museum studies from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York where her thesis was “Mistress v. Wife: The Realization of the American Dream Woman in 1950’s Automobile Advertising.” Her doctoral dissertation from the Bard Graduate Center in New York was “Fashioning Early Cinema: Dress and Representation in American Film, 1910–1930.”

Dr. Finamore was a curatorial research associate in decorative arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and now serves as the MFA’s curator of fashion arts. Her professional experience draws upon many diverse disciplines, fashion, decorative arts, cinema and social history. During her senior year of college, she interned at the Rhode Island School of Design to assist on researching an exhibition of 1960s clothing. She also served for four years as a curatorial assistant in the Peabody Essex Museum’s Department of Asian, Oceanic and African Art.

During graduate school, Michelle Finamore interned at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, working with collections of 20th century fashion sketches from Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel and The New York Times. She later served as a research assistant for the Costume Institute’s exhibit of “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years.”

Dr. Finamore’s understanding of the fashion she curates is enriched by her wide-ranging experience with mounting exhibits, the vintage fashion market and textile conservation. She served as assistant to the exhibitions manager at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, cataloguer/administrator for Sotheby’s Fashion Department in New York (and later consulted for Skinner, Inc. in inaugurating its Couture and Fashion Department) and textile conservation technician for Elizabeth Lahikainen & Associates in Salem, MA. She has also taught courses in fashion history for the Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.

Dr. Finamore’s publications include Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film (2013) and Jewelry by Artists: In the Studio, 1940–2000 with Kelly L’Ecuyer (2010). She also contributed “Fashioning Early Cinema: The New York Garment Industry and Hollywood, 1900–1935” to A Perfect Fit: The Garment Industry and American Jewry (2012).

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Shaken or stirred? Bring a flask or a shaker, martini glasses or other barware. Celebrate the cocktail hour with your own cocktail dress, hat, gloves and jewelry.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.