Florence Mills in 1923. She was born in 1895, to ex-slaves in a Washington, D.C. slum. By the age of four, she was performing on stage. By the 1920s, she was the toast of Broadway and London and the first black woman featured in Vogue. Her trademark song, ‘I'm a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird’ was a protest against racial inequality. Mills died in 1927, aged only 31.
The over-the-top expression of opulence seen in this ball gown worn by a prominent member of the Astor family is a testament to the degree of ostentation required at certain events in order to stand out from the crowd. The dense sequin and bead embroidery on the gown would have created a beautiful shimmering effect.