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Retrostyle: A Day in the Thirties

Art Deco, Edward Hopper, and the fine art of the cocktail.

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Doll House: Dixie Feldman in her thirties studio.  

The Boogie-Woogie Beat

In a story published
last year, we provided
itineraries for how
to make contemporary
New York feel like the
sixties, seventies, eighties,
and nineties. Here, we set
the time machine for
further back.

When Dixie Feldman was growing up in seventies Miami, she didn’t exactly fit in with the free-love, Farrah Fawcett Zeitgeist. While other 10-year-olds were into the Bionic Woman and Jordache, Feldman worshipped Gypsy Rose Lee, and prowled thrift stores for playsuits. At 12 she shaved off her eyebrows and painted on thin lines, à la Jean Harlow, and joined TV Guide’s Nostalgia Book Club, through which she gained an encyclopedic knowledge of thirties film history from sources like Love Goddesses of the Silver Screen.

“The beauty of the thirties stars was so much more accessible than the prevailing Cheryl Tiegs ideal of my day,” says Feldman, 43. “I have the looks of a truck-stop waitress named Tillie, not a Charlie’s Angel.” Through the book club’s classifieds, Feldman began amassing a collection of thirties movie memorabilia; when she later sold it all, it went a long way toward paying her University of Pennsylvania tuition.

Feldman moved to New York in the early eighties. Inside her pristine pink-and-green apartment (in the 1931 Parc Vendôme building)—“like a Singaporean bordello circa 1933”—a visitor will find Ruth Etting on the Bakelite radio and several parakeets in thirties birdcages. Feldman wears prison rings crafted from Bakelite and a picture of a loved one. She has multiple mini-collections—ten “Tijuana bibles” (little books that depict pop culture icons, like Popeye, in very explicit positions) from her “smut” phase, music boxes from her World’s Fair phase, and a Lindy Hop certificate from her swing-dancing phase.

As a schoolgirl, Feldman’s obsession didn’t exactly make her popular. It wasn’t just that she wore bed jackets or that her ideal catch was John Garfield. “The sexuality of the women in the thirties seemed brighter and more empowering than post-Pill times,” she says. Even now, as editorial director of Nick Digital Television, Feldman’s values seem largely out of step with today’s irony. “I’m patriotic in an old-fashioned, tear-up-when-you-hear-the-national-anthem kind of way,” she says.


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