Lois Long, and New York in the 1920s

“The originality of this nation is something miraculous. Likewise the imagination and the je ne sais quoi. Take, for example, a simple matter such as naming colors for stockings. Do they say taupe, greenish brown, or yellowish beige—descriptive names all? No, a thousand times no! You are wearing stockings of Elephant’s Ear, Baby’s Breath, Summer Dawn, or What Not? And the trouble is, just as you have decided Rhinoceros Shimmy is just the right color to match that new suit, and go back for more of the same color, they tell you that batch has sold out and it is impossible to duplicate the dye exactly. But Aztec or Mystery or Sans-Souci is almost the same color. My first grey hair has just made its appearance as a result of trying to keep track of all this verbal grandeur.”

– Lois Long, 1925

It is often forgotten that New York in the 1920s had something more of a claim to being the centre of the artistic world than Paris did. It was, alas, more expensive than Paris, particularly where alcohol was concerned, which drove many artists away. But the city attracted the likes of Marcel Duchamp, and the original intersection in the 1910s led many American artists to Europe. As Man Ray put it “Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival.”

Lois Long was known as the one true chronicler of New York in the 1920s. Starting in 1925 and running all the way through 1969, her column “on and off the avenue” covered the experience of getting hilariously drunk during prohibition. It provides a map to some of the locations, and cultures that have since disappeared.

The only way to read these articles now is to buy a subscription to the New Yorker. One would hope that eventually a separate book of her prohibition writing would appear, but we’ll have to wait for Conde Nast to figure that one out.


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