The Grand Dame of Deco

Doreen Sinclair

Photo By Larry Dalton

Dance halls were once full of petite flappers doing the Charleston, androgynous women in velvet and vibrant chiffon, and plenty of smoking-hot jazz. Now, Doreen Sinclair, president of the Sacramento Art Deco Society, celebrates, preserves and trades the final remnants of the sleek, streamlined Art Deco era with other collectors. Attend Deco Society events here and abroad and you might find Sinclair in her Deco pajamas, or dressed for a 1930s afternoon of golf, or in a beaded gown selling her collection of hand-embroidered dresses.

How did you fall in love with the era between the two world wars?

Well, I love the clothing from the ‘20s. I love the style, the beautiful colors they came in, how well made they were and the cloche hats and the brimmed hats. … I started to wear the clothes of that era, the ‘20s, and I have a very big collection of hats and shoes and dresses and things. The ‘20s style was very boyish—flat busts, dropped waistlines. Women started to cut their hair, which had been a big no-no, because they wore the cloche hats. Some of them are helmets, like airmen’s helmets, almost. There were a lot of chiffons and lamés and the evening dresses were particularly nice. And the shoes became very attractive because they were now not hidden under long skirts.

Do you have an interest in the politics of the era, too, or is it about style?

It’s mainly a style for me. In 1925, Paris held this exhibition, of which Arts Décoratifs was a part. … They invited people from all over the world. They didn’t invite Germany. The Americans went there and came back entranced by the things they saw: furniture, dresses, gates, art, light fixtures. Out of that came the Chrysler Building, which is very Art Deco, and the Empire State Building.

Does Sacramento have any exceptional examples?

We don’t have a lot of them. I’m not sure why. There are some buildings that are Art Deco on Del Paso Boulevard. And the Crest Theatre. We lost the Alhambra, of course. The Firestone Building has wonderful tile work at 16th and L. Hopefully they’re going to preserve that. We have a few houses, not many. One had owners of Japanese descent who wanted to build in Land Park, and because they were Japanese, back then, they were told they could not, so they built it downtown, and that’s still there. It’s at 14th and W or somewhere around there.

Anything been found in Sacramento that’s especially exciting?

Not that I know of, in particular. … You know, I haven’t lived in Sacramento all my life. I’m from England. I left England in ‘57.

Did you come directly to Sacramento?

No, I went to India and lived in India for about three years. And I met my husband, who was an American there, and got married there. And he was in the attaché system, so we were assigned to Mexico City next, and then we came here when he retired.

Do you still travel?

Well, I did check out Paris and I didn’t find anything there. And I checked out London, and I didn’t find anything there. There may be places I don’t know about where you can find them, but if you find them, they’re so expensive. … A lot of them were small sizes because people were smaller then. And a lot of these ‘20s dresses have no openings in them. There are no side openings. Zippers didn’t come in until the late ‘30s. So they’re hard to climb into. And they used to flatten their busts.

You mean wrap them?

Yes. … Prohibition came in and that gathered people into speak-easies, so they started to drink, and they got a little wilder. And the Charleston was danced and cigarettes were being smoked in the open by women, often in long holders. It was the Jazz Age. Jazz came in and everything got wild. And there was the automobile, which gave people the freedom to move around. And also necking went on in these automobiles. You didn’t have places before that. All of this was happening at the same time and it produced this evolution of style and manners and a change in women’s outlook on things. There was just this move for women into the future where they’d been held back a lot, and they took advantage of it.

If you were a siren of that era, what would you have become famous for?

Oh, gosh. Who knows? I’m not sure that I’m the siren type. … I think there were conservative people as well as the more daring ones, and I’d have probably been one of the more conservative ones. But I would have loved to go to the dances. I used to love to dance. I would certainly have kicked up my heels that way.

Were you born into the wrong era?

Oh, yes. My affinity is with the Art Deco: the style, the music and what was happening then.

Where do you think that feeling comes from?

I have no idea.