Puritan Attacks on the Stage and Its Clothes

Revealing clothing was becoming more popular at social events in 1919 — more revealing by the standards of the day, at least. Acceptable clothing in the staid theater, however, changed much more slowly.

In a recent play a young actress engaged in a game of “strip poker” in which she “lost” large quantities of her hosiery and lingerie. Certain case-hardened first nighters were shocked; but, as it happened, she went from the theatre to a costume ball in the identical disarray, and there created not a ripple of protest.

Even today, one is usually expected to dress up to attend a theatrical show. Theatergoers, then as arguably now, generally tended to be a little more prim and proper than the average person on the street. That might explain why, despite the proverb “sex sells,” such tactics generally didn’t attract theater audiences in 1919.

That the exploitation of nudity has at times been a serious evil is obvious to every right-minded playgoer. But the remedy is not so obvious. … Certain managers have gone so far in catering to the roving eye as to shock the man in the street, not to mention his wife and his daughter. The result has been financially disastrous.

Nowadays, we see more nudity in theater than ever, asNew York Times theater critic Ben Brantley would write nearly a century later in 2013:

Full nudity has been a customary part of the mainstream Western theater since the 1960s and ’70s, while avant-gardists were regularly disrobing for public consumption a good decade earlier. But I have never been confronted with as many chests, buttocks and genitalia as I have in visits to Broadway and West End theaters during the last six months.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Puritan Attacks on the Stage and Its Clothes: Plays Which Offended Fundamental Morality Are Not Successful Nowadays, Despite What Reformers Say of Lingerie Displays and Scanty Skirts (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 1, 1919

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Written by Jesse

June 2nd, 2019 at 10:26 am

Posted in Theater

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