Romance on the High Mississippi

Spend an evening reminiscing the days of cocktail dresses and Chanel suits and the nights of Moscow Mules and Gimlets

by Sara Nicole Miller

It’s no wonder the everyday gal – from time to time – gets a rush of nostalgia for days when ironing seemed sexy, and TV dinners were eaten in front of “I Love Lucy” broadcasts on the idiot box. The world today can seem like such a scenescape of disenchanting hogwash, with violence and fashion disasters galore. The 1950s, on the other hand, were indeed glorious times. The war had just ended, the jukebox was here, and American moms were just realizing the magnitude of their consumer powers.

RetroRama: A Celebration of 1950s Style

WHEN: 7 to 11 p.m. Tonight
WHERE: Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul
TICKETS: $15 ($12 members)

For one evening, you too can ditch your usual digs and daddy-o’s and venture back to an era where dress-up was the thing, and the world seemed just a tad less complicated.

But since ya might be a little rusty dolling up Donna Reed style, don’t worry ladies, A&E is here to guide you.

Getting Ready: The ’50s weren’t called the Atomic Age for nothing. The decade was banging with mod styles, tailor crafted for both the cocktail party and the backyard barbeque. So yank out those post-war synthetic threads gathering dust in the back of your closet. Whether nylon, rayon or polyester, these petrochemically produced love-fabrics turned your coming-of-age grandmother into a malt-shop sex goddess.

Set in the twinkling antique downtown riverfront of St. Paul, the Minnesota Historical Society urges ladies of all sensibilities – no matter whether their look is more Bettie Page or more Rita Hayworth – to celebrate the era that gave birth to Dior and consumer superpower.

5:57 p.m.: Arrive inside the marbled rotunda, dressed to the nines. Make sure your nose is properly powdered, talc absorbed evenly. Forgive anyone who smells remotely of mothballs. Check in with volunteers adorned with their fav vintage digs – from diamond-encrusted pheasant brooches to pale yellow paper-doll pleated evening dresses. All the jukebox favorites will encourage swanky movement and sultry hip swaying, if you’re game.

7:08 p.m.: As you marvel at the number of Dusty Springfield beehive knockoffs in attendance this evening, step aside into the sitting room. There at the bar even the classiest of lasses can get plumb licked as Rico the bartender serves up era-appropriate cocktails, both for sampling and cheap transactions: gin martinis, Tom Collins, Sidecars, mai tais, and gimlets. Rico will teach you how to make ’em all.

7:22 p.m.: You’re now slightly tipsy, as any well-intentioned woman of leisure should be. Proceed up the winding staircase to the second floor rotunda where a crowd has gathered among the most lavish garment cases from the Historical Society’s collection. Walking gingerly on your pumps as you gaze at the best vintage clothes, from Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Neiman Marcus pink nylon tricot nightgown (with halter neckline and applied foliage and carnations) to a lady’s netting cap adorned with plastic strawberries.

7:31 p.m.: The night is still young, and you have a lot more gazing to do before the main events. You have myriad choices before you: perchance you’ll jaunt over to the booth where you can make your own clutch purse or tie (for any daddy-o’s or tomboys in attendance) out of colored vinyl blueprints. Or venture over to the boutiques, where St. Paul vintage vendors Up Six and Succotash will be selling mid-century accessories and garment items.

7:46 p.m.: Don’t fret if you find yourself meandering through the museum’s many exhibits. It’s allowed. While you’re at it, better check out the Prom Ballroom replica exhibit, a bygone staple date hot spot in Midway, St. Paul. Get your photo taken in one of the booths.

If you could use a little chow to wash down the mai tai, summon a nearby butler and request a sampling of cocktail wieners, deviled eggs and mistletoe dip.

8:00 p.m.: Mosey on over to the Capital Corridor, and be prepared to strut like Mae West. Fashion show producer Anna Lee (the same fashionista who brought you First Avenue’s “Voltage: Fashion Amplified”), along with four other femme fashion phenoms, will have models parading their vintage-inspired pieces amidst a moving backdrop of clips from the KSTP’s ’50s newscasts spliced with segments from “North by Northwest” and “Rebel Without a Cause.”

8:30 p.m.: Now’s your chance to get up on the runway and catwalk your own vintage threads.

9:00 p.m.: Local cool cats the New Standards play swingin’ tunes to make you go ape.

12:00 a.m.: If the evening’s events haven’t struck you drunk yet (or you’ve yet to turn back into a pumpkin before the clock strikes 12), perhaps a stop at the famous Mickey’s Diner for a burger and chocolate shake would hit the sweet spot.