1920s JAZZ AGE Fashion & Photographs at the Tilburg Textile Museum

The Tilburg Textile Museum is located in an old textile mill. This sprawling complex has a cafe, shop, working steam engine and space for five exhibitions. The ‘Jazz Age, Fashion and Photography’ exhibition complements the Art Deco exhibition shown at the The Hague Gemeentemuseum.

‘Jazz Age’ shows fashion from just after the Great War to the Great Depression. A stunning amount of fashion: over 150 pieces. Most items were worn by women who bobbed their hair, behaved brazenly, listened and danced to Jazz music. Women immortalized by Scott Fitzgerald in short stories like ‘Bernice bobs her hair’ and novels like The Great Gatsby.

Included are also snippets from old movies and news reels. One room has walls covered with photos of famous people. These include Noel Coward, Fred Astaire and his sister, but also many actors, actresses and artist whose names are now forgotten.

The dazzling display starts in the boudoir. Fortunately, it is not just fashion worn by the rich which is on show. A maid’s uniform is included, with excerpt from a maid’s autobiography.

From the bedroom with underwear, silk pyjama’s and kimono-jackets, visitors come across sportswear and beachwear. These are followed by day and ‘tea’ dresses, beautiful capes, evening outfits. As in real fashion shows, the exhibition ends with a bride’s dress.

This being a textile museum, there are plenty explanations about the embroidery applied, the cloth used, various other details. One draw-back: most texts are provided in Dutch only. The big texts on walls, which introduce exhibition themes are both in Dutch and English – but it is a bit of a let-down.

The exhibition shows the changing silhouette, including the straight shape created by Paul Poiret for his Lucille. Women wanting to move freely ensured hemlines went up and up, corsets changed, the bra was invented.

Floating and thin materials are favoured as well as beads. A more natural female shape became accepted. Young girls were called ‘flapper’; ‘backfish’ in German, or ‘garçonne’ in French.

The name ‘roaring twenties’ is easy to understand. This exhibition not just shows women playing tennis, swimming, driving cars, flying planes. Here are the ‘latest dances’, while jazz is heard throughout the exhibition. No surprise plenty feet of young and old visitors tap to catchy rhythms.

Survivors of the Great War and Pandemic seemed bent on enjoying themselves. Videos show night-life was fast, frantic, fabulous – fun. However, this exhibition does not skip a darker side including drugs and opium dens.

The last room explains these roaring times ended with a big bang: ‘Years of a speculative stock market, overproduction and easy credit lead to one of the biggest drops in the history of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929.

On the fourth of September 1929, a worldwide panic ensued. This Depression had a major impact on the world economy, as well as fashion. Fortunately, many changes and rights women had obtained, including for instance the right to vote, were not affected.

After all this jazz, my head was spinning. I had a look at the working steam engine and left. The other exhibitions at the Textile Museum simply have to wait till a next visit.


Tilburg Textile Museum: ‘1920s JAZZ AGE; Fashion & Photographs’ continues until  27th of March 2018. This exhibition was realized together with the London Fashion and Textile Museum

Click here to read our review of The The Hague Gemeentemuseum’s Art Deco exhibition which runs till 3rd March.


Photo ©Tommy de Lange