In the early 1900s, thanks to a variety of social and technological factors (like the suffragette movement, dress reform, the safety bicycle, etc), it became more and more acceptable for women to take part in life outside of the home — albeit still in limited quantities and within certain parameters.
The Dakota is a place of residence in New York City, but it’s more than just the building at 1 West 72nd Street along Central Park West. It was, and is, a luxurious apartment complex and has become one of the most exclusive addresses in New York City. It is often called the most famous apartment building in NYC, as it is considered to be the first luxury apartment building in Manhattan, and has gained recognition and a cult following over the years, though it did not always have that connotation. The building’s co-op board is infamous for its inclusion of popular cultural icons and celebrities, as well as its rejections. Can you believe that Madonna and Billy Joel were rejected from living here? Not only is the façade imposing, the current qualifications for actually living at the Dakota are intimidating as well, with rigorous background checks, financial statement submissions, etc. (the board has also supposedly been accused of bias among other things, but that’s not something we’ll explore in this post).
Ice skating in front of the Dakota, ca. 1890, as seen in Life at the Dakota by Stephen Birmingham (originally from Museum of the City of New York)
But let’s get back to the era of 1880-1930. Why talk about a building instead of dress? I thought this would be an interesting, brief detour from clothing itself, because your address, like clothing, can act as a social statement. This is a more holistic look at style during the 1880s, and a nod to the major architectural changes that were happening in the late 1900s, as impressive buildings were newly dotting the city skyline.