In fashion, anything can spark a trend — the latest film, gallery opening or chic political figure. But how about a four-person gambling game from the Far East? On Oct. 10, 1923, WWD reported on how the craze for Mah Jongg impacted San Francisco dress codes. “Coming into sudden and unusual prominence throughout the more fashionable stores of [the city] are Mah Jongg pajamas and smoking suits in extreme design treatments of Oriental splendor,” the paper wrote. “Heavy crepes, radium and satins, with black a favorite color, tell the story.” Prices ranged from $22.50 to $50, and embroidered accents came in pops of jade, orange and a color known as “Chinese blue.”
The popular retail venue for these chinoiserie looks was a store named Gump’s, which featured a department devoted exclusively to these sorts of garments — kimonos, mandarin coats, smoking sets, bright shawls and Chinese brocade trousers. “Fashionable San Francisco women, tourists and moving picture people are accustomed to patronize this shop for their needs in Oriental negligees of all kinds,” wrote WWD. “Moving picture actors and actresses come to leave orders for personal and screen wardrobes.” According to the article, that department made $2,500 a day in sales.
But the fad wasn’t just restricted to California’s City by the Bay. Another story that day noted how B. Altman & Co. in New York introduced a new black satin negligee, with gold braided trim. It was named “the Mah Jongg.”