The Butterfly Existence of the Bright Young Things: Exploring the Costume Parties and Media Representation of Britain’s Interwar Generation
This dissertation follows the Bright Young Things throughout the British interwar period (1918-1939), tracing their movements in fancy-dress costume through representations in interwar press publications. The Bright Young Things and their unsteady journey as the period’s high society youth pose as a key example of the press’ ability to simultaneously build and yet tear down the images of those within the public eye. This is drawn into even sharper focus when explored in conjunction with the Bright Young Things’ own damaging reliance on the press for the attention and notability they were unable to claim elsewhere in society due to their largely meritless positions during World War I.
Representation and its role within the lives of the Bright Young Things is the central critical theme of this dissertation. Scope to explore this theme has been provided in unparalleled clarity by the large body of work produced by Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) during his time within the Bright Young Things’ company. Beaton’s work, including his memoirs, diary entries and most importantly his own representations of the Bright Young Things through his photography, has been central in exploring both the beauty and freedom provided by the wild and wonderful fancy-dress costumes worn by the Bright Young Things, as well as the persistent undercurrent of post-war pain and uncertainty that the costumes shallowly masked. Fancy-dress costume and representation reveal themselves to be deeply entangled, exposing a more fragile and butterfly-like element of the Bright Young Things’ lives that was often overshadowed by representations of wild parties and immoral behaviour.