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Style at Sea: A Night of Cocktails, Dancing and Glamour

Style at Sea: A Night of Cocktails, Dancing and Glamour

Chris Walker, Exhibitions and Events Officer, Scottish Maritime Museum

It’s easy to get caught up in the scale of the giant Ocean Liners. Before air travel was common, these huge passenger ships sailed the world’s oceans and really were the only way to travel. Millions of rivets, hundreds of tonnes of paint and miles of chain were used during their launch. Here at the Scottish Maritime Museum, we became fascinated with life on board these floating palaces; what was it like to travel, dine and dance on them? This inspired an exhibition, which focused on the enormous Cunard liners built by John Brown of Clydebank. Festival of Museums was the perfect excuse to get a bit closer to that lost era of style and opulence, and introduce our visitors to Style at Sea: A Night of Cocktails, Dancing and Glamour.

Our evening event recaptured and brought to life that feeling of classic ocean travel. Our historic Linthouse building was filled with live music from Jon Ritchie’s Swing Sensation who provided a whole range of tunes from the 1930s and 40s. To get everyone's feet tapping in time the dancers from Fly Right Dance provided hints and tuition for anyone feeling a bit shy about getting onto the dancefloor.

Step back in time for a taste of the Golden Age

The launch of Queen Mary was an era defining event. To celebrate, Cunard had renowned band leader Henry Hall write a piece called Somewhere at Sea for her maiden voyage. Although full of the latest technologies and distractions, dancing was a popular pasttime and live music a vital part of any crossing. Modern cruises still reflect this through evenings themed around the halcyon years of the thirties and forties. Our event provided us an opportunity to make this link real in a way a display of objects never could.

Of course, an evening of dancing really means you need to be dressed for the part. A Cunard employee painted a fantastic picture when he said; ‘I was able to study at close range the 1939 Glitterati in all their Art Deco glory and finery. Elegant women in their long gowns with Mink and Fox draped over their pale English shoulders… portly, well fed gentlemen in formalwear...’

Our stylish exhibition included fabulous costumes and accessories from the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume, Dalgarven Mill. They provided a hint of the style and fashion of the time that I'm sure was inspiring for visitors. Of course a real taste of Liner luxury in the shape of a few cocktails provided by Social and Cocktail, inspired by the extensive drinks menus offered on a Liner crossing helped the evening go with a bang too!

Festival of Museums was the perfect platform to bring our exhibition to life, allowing visitors a taste of Liner life. It turned out to be a great evening, gentlemen did well to remember their tuxedo's. Advice from a 1930s Cunard promotional leaflet ran: ‘Without it, you will have no dances and no Great Moments with the young thing in the crêpe marocaine on the lee of the starboard ventilator.’

Published 11 May 2017