Monday, April 18, 2016
Peggy Hamilton: 1920's Hollywood Socialite and Los Angeles Fashion Icon
The 1920's in Hollywood and Los Angeles was a boom town era, complete with dramatic socialites and actresses wearing the latest fashions to wild parties in massive mansions and ballrooms. Peggy Hamilton (Mae Bedloe Armstrong: 1892 – 1984)) first made her mark in Hollywood as a costume designer for well-known company, Triangle films. Her name as an actress was mentioned as early as 1916. Peggy began her fashion career in New York, but she followed the move to new Hollywood with Triangle Studios soon after that.
Hollywood connections remained strong throughout her career, allowing her to feature such starlets as Gloria Swanson, Myrna Loy, Norma Shearer Delores Del Rio, Joan Crawford, Betty Davis and Greta Garbo during her career as a journalist and marketing maven. She became a well known socialite personality who made the promotion of fashion and costume in the newly developing Los Angeles and Hollywood region her mission.
Between 1921 and 1934 she wrote a well-read fashion column for the Los Angeles Times featuring countless fashion photos of starlets and herself wearing fashions and costumes that originated locally. Fashion shows featuring well known film costumers along with ready to wear fashions were her specialty. Later she would launch a radio program on fashion that ran from 1929 to 1933.
There are now online collections of the many photos she featured that were taken from 1927 to 1933. Several well known photographers such as Bachrach are listed, along with fashions by top Hollywood designers Adrian, Howard Greer and Travis Banton, among others.
Peggy Hamilton is probably best remembered for her efforts to create a fashion ‘brand’ for Los Angeles/Hollywood, using the phrase that Los Angeles was the “Paris of America”. Much of the Parisian connection was probably due to her love of Marie Antoinette, whose bed she was said to own. Costumed in the style of Marie Antoinette, she was often photographed in full period costume for her Los Angeles Times column.
Her many promotional events are well documented. One particular socialite costume was worn at the 1923 extravaganza to promote the opening of the new Crystal Ballroom in the Biltmore Hotel, where she appeared in a gown that featured architectural detail from that ornate room (the gown is now on display at the hotel). In 1933 she would promote the LA Olympics of 1932, as “Queen of the Olympias of the Mythical Olympia”.
We are fortunate to now have many of the photos taken of Peggy, actresses and events that were featured in her Los Angeles Times column, along with related photos. While copyright regulations don’t allow for inclusion here, this collection is a valuable resource for fashions during her era. Hamilton's display dress was brought to my attention by a featured article in LACurbed.com, "The Biltmore Girl" by Hadley Meares
References and More Reading:
Online Archive of California (OAC): Peggy Hamilton Adams Papers
UCLA:the ADAMS (Peggy Hamilton) papers
Hollywood Before Glamour:Peggy Hamilton, Queen of Filmland Fashion chapter from the book on Hamilton.
The Biltmore Girl: by Hadley Meares, April 14, 2016, LA Curbed
The ink drawing of fashion designs were created in Los Angeles during this era, I included them both as an example of the work Montgomery sought to promote, and because permission for using the photos online are not easily attained.