• 07.01.11

An Exhibition Celebrates 50 Years Of Cocktail Culture

In documenting changing fashions and societal attitudes from the 1920s to ’80s, “Cocktail Culture” includes everything from clothing to decorative and fine art.

Where have the days of classy boozing gone? If you imagined adulthood to be a Nick-and-Nora routine with endlessly flowing martinis and witty banter, you’ve probably been sorely disappointed. Take some heart: A new exhibition at RISD, Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920?1980, lets you revisit the glamorous days, with more than 220 objects, including clothing, jewelry, textiles, decorative and fine art, and even an authentic 1940s Japanese tiki bar.


Designed by Nader Tehrani, an MIT architecture professor, the show is organized thematically, spanning the Roaring Twenties to the wartime and postwar periods to the social upheaval and loosing of societal rules in the 1960s and ?70s. It also explores how different popular venues for cocktails — such as urban nightclubs, backyard barbecues, and luxury ocean liners — determined how people dressed for one another. The apparel represents some of the century’s major designers, such as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Norman Norell, and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Cocktail Culture is on view through July 31, and it may inspire you to dust off that chic martini shaker, even if it’s only to serve soft lemonade.

About the author

Belinda Lanks is the editorial director of Co.Design. Before joining, she was the managing editor of Metropolis.