Boudoir Dolls: A Brief History

February 18, 2020

Working at a museum filled with 19th century antiques and surrounded by coworkers with outstanding knowledge of such artifacts starts to rub off on you after a while. I have always had an appreciation for old things, as is not hard to tell by my love of classic films and their stars, but lately I've noticed the objects in the background of these films more and more. Such is the case with today's topic: boudoir dolls.

These unique looking dolls, which are so often seen in Ginger's movies, have always sort of caught my attention. They stand out to me because they do not appear to be just your average doll. These figures have distinct features. They have elongated arms and legs, and minimal detail on their painted faces. If you are familiar with Stage Door (1937), you might know what I'm talking about. Below is a screen grab of one scene from the movie:


My first impression of these dolls was that they seem a little creepy, but after noticing them more and more, I was more so fascinated by them. Another element that stood out to me was the fact that when I see Ginger sleeping with this doll, I know that she is 26 years old. To the average person, that might seem a little grown to still be sleeping with a doll, but this is an important factor that will be explained shortly.

Boudoir dolls, primarily used for display in a woman's bedroom but also be seen in other common areas of the home, became a craze in the late 1910s all the way through the 1940s. Their purpose was more so for decoration rather than to be played with. They were often fashioned with elaborate costumes that could exhibit a woman's needlework ability, and some were even modeled after celebrities. Russian modernists and French designers revolutionized this style of doll which had unique characteristics separate from others of the era.

These distinctive figurines were most popular among adolescent women part of the Lost Generation. This was an age group in the process of reaching adulthood during and following the first world war. They were a generation that was discovering personal freedom, rebelling against Prohibition by establishing speakeasies, throwing loud parties, and embracing cultural advancements in art, music, and technology. If you would like to learn more about the collective mindset of the Lost Generation and how they came to be, Looking Glass provides an excellent essay comparing this generation to today's millennials here.

Paragraph nine of the Looking Glass article states, "Many of the members [of the Lost Generation] lost their youth and innocence in in World War I and sought to regain it but could not." Perhaps items like boudoir dolls provided a nostalgic escape for those craving the comfort of their youth, as they were popular among teens and "grown-up" women. These dolls were commonly made with a medium called "composition," or a blend of materials such as flour, sawdust, wood pulp, and glue. The hair usually consisted of silk floss or mohair, and bodies would be made with cloth, wax, or ceramic. The most valuable boudoir dolls were made by Lenci, of Italy, beginning in 1919.

To wrap things up, here are just some examples of boudoir dolls that can be seen in the background of a few of Ginger's films:


From Stage Door (1937)
From Bachelor Mother (1939)

From Roxie's bedroom in Roxie Hart (1942)

Hopefully next time you spot these strange, endearing dolls in a classic film, you will have a better understanding of their meaning.


Sources: https://glass.hfcc.edu/, KhanAcademy.org, JazzAgeClub.com, Newspapers.com

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