A Woman in a Feathered Boa, 1920s

Feathered boas go in and out of style.  Searching on the wonderful home economics site Hearth, I found instructions on how to clean them in a housekeeping guide from 1908. You shake them out and then dip them in gasoline!  This might have made for some exciting parties when the boa got too close to an open flame.

I am guessing that this beautiful head shot comes from the 1920s, a period when feathered boas were all the rage.  For older women boas served a similar function to the fur piece, bringing softness to the face.

This woman wears an old fashioned pince-nez at a time when glasses with temple pieces had largely replaced them. I think they serve her well here, making her eyes look bigger. Her stylish long necklace is a sure marker of the twenties.  Was it her idea to wrap it many times around her neck to bring the glow of pearls closer to her face?  To show that she is a woman who cares about fashion, she either has short hair or has taken care to style her hair to look short.

I got this portrait from the incomparable Lizzie Bramlett, who sends me shots of old ladies in exchange for my photos of young ones.  A win-win!  It was obviously taken in a photo studio, and I’m wondering if some fancy hocus pocus was involved to give this older woman such incredibly smooth skin.

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3 Responses to A Woman in a Feathered Boa, 1920s

  1. Ruth says:

    I suspect her hair was longer and done in a flat roll in the back, I remember seeing older ladies with hairstyles like that who grew up in that era. Though both my grandmothers and great aunts, who had been flappers, bobbed their hair and kept it that way. It seems like one of my great grandmothers did her hair like that in the picture, and such beautiful hair it is! The picture probably would have been lightly touched up to give her smooth skin, though many women wore hats/bonnets and religiously stayed out of the sun which gave them lovely skin. She probably would have used a light dusting of face powder, too. She is still young enough to have nice skin but old enough to have white hair, and seems to be well enough off that she might not have done outside work that would age her skin.

  2. Feathers and gasoline! Yipes! I have dyed feather boas, bought new for the purpose. The water does not need to be boiling hot. Feathers take any union dye (such as Rit) well, at least for pastel colors. Dyes made for protein-based materials, (e.g., silk or wool,) would probably be better for dark colors, but would require more precautions for the dyer’s health protection. (When you buy dyes in small amounts, they don’t have to carry the same safety information as when you buy them in bulk. It’s always safer to use dyes in liquid form.) Some books recommend putting the wet, dyed feathers into a paper bag with corn starch, shaking them, and then air drying them. I found that my boas dried well in the air — without cornstarch.

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