Prohibition-Inspired Fashion

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

This gown is a curious, if not bizarre, object from the Prohibition era (1920-1933) in the United States. The 18th amendment to the United States constitution and its enabling legislation (Volstead Act) placed a nationwide ban on the production, transportation, importation and sale of alcoholic beverages. The law was widely disliked and was frequently flouted, as is suggested by the artifact. It is festooned with wine corks, and covered with ink sketches relative to alcoholic consumption, i.e., drink recipes, a XXX barrel, bottles, a bar, and other paraphernalia.   

The law resulted in unintended consequences, such as rum-running, bootlegging, widespread corruption, and organized crime. Prohibition was finally ended by the enactment of the 21st amendment to the constitution in 1933.  

The gown and an accompanying photograph of are among a large collection of canoeing artifacts in the Museum’s collection. Canoeing became an extremely popular sport in the 1800s and remains a very common means of getting people out on the water. The photograph, listed in the sidebar under related artifacts, shows George Lewis wearing the gown in 1930 at a meeting of the American Canoe Association on Sugar Island, Ontario.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. If Prohibition was so unpopular why do you suppose the 18th amendment was passed?
  2. How did Prohibition help to define a specific period in American history?
  3. How did Prohibition have the unintended consequence of playing into the hands of organized crime?