“Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” conjures up images of Champagne wishes and caviar dreams. (Remember Robin Leach?) There’s currently an exhibition at the Frazier History Museum by the same moniker, and it should have a modifier: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in Louisville at the Turn of the Century.
Did you know that in the early 1900s, Louisville was one of the top 20 largest cities in America by population? Industry thrived here during this era, a time which is also known as the Gilded Age. In Louisville, this is when wealth really emerged among much of the population. With this newly minted class, people worked less and had more time for recreation. This was the age of consumerism, where people now had money to spend and the time to spend it. This select group of consumers left behind many treasures, and the Frazier has compiled more than 200 of them for modern-day Louisvillians to ogle.
No longer relegated to walking or even public transportation, early 20th-century people began buying cars. The one below was available in the Sears catalog for $395, but required consumer assembly.
This was the age when bicycles emerged as a popular method of transportation and recreation. More importantly, though, two-wheel transportation opened up a whole new life for women. Susan B. Anthony said it best: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling: I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel … the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
Destination travel became very popular during this time. With long visits, lots of luggage was required. Louis Vuitton invented the flat-topped trunk, when all others were curved. That way, more luggage could be stacked on top of the trunk.
The popularity of French Impressionism created an entire market for American Impressionist artists. The works shown here by American artists are on loan from the Reading Public Museum in Reading, Penn. In that era, they would have been hung salon-style, which means close together from floor to ceiling, with all different sizes and frame types.
This was the age of beautiful lighting, where the light fixtures were actually art. These lights were found at Architectural Salvage in Louisville.
During this time, clothing was made not just for functionality, but for fashion as well. It took on a new, luxurious tone, with people changing an average of five times a day. There was a morning dress, a morning going-out dress, a lunch dress, a tea dress and an evening dress. Throw in a recreational dress, or lawn dress, for good measure. Think Downton Abbey, where they get dressed every night for dinner, and they were doing that in Louisville, as well.
Dresses were streamlined as the years went on, with trends changing rapidly. As transportation became more popular, the hoop skirt became obsolete. Getting in and out of a car or carriage with a hoop and crinolines was impossible.
Local retailer Rodes, a show sponsor, has many treasures in the exhibition, including clothing and accessories from Rodes-Rapier, its founding company.
From the formal to the most informal, many different styles and lifestyles are represented here.
The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous exhibition is sponsored by Rodes, Bittners and Architectural Salvage. The exhibit is included in the cost of admission to the Frazier. Find pricing, hours and more at www.fraziermuseum.org.