The Cigar Girl’s history began in the Roaring Twenties, an Era during which America enjoyed considerable prosperity, particularly in urban centers. Fueled by this newfound wealth, entrepreneurial restaurateurs began to expand their establishments from pure eateries to “supper clubs,” a destination where patrons could spend an entire evening eating, drinking (despite Prohibition), socializing, and listening to live music.
The Cigar Girl was a common fixture at such clubs. She was always a pretty, young girl who wore a bright (often red trimmed in black), short saloon-style dress and sported a pillbox hat. Around her neck, she holstered a tray with a considerable selection of cigars, cigarettes, and various other tobacco products and sundries. Depending on the venue or the wishes of the restaurant’s owner, she might also carry candy, snacks, drinks, chewing gum, flowers, or novelty items.
The job of a Cigar Girl was more than just selling tobacco products; she was part of the ambiance, mixing among the patrons while adding a touch of class and full-service. The Cigar Girl relied on her charm, quick wit, and a flirtatious manner to catch the attentions of businessmen, who would tip graciously for the pleasure of speaking with such a beautiful young woman. She was often described as being the “life of the party,” and thus while refrains of “cigars, cigarettes?” certainly enticed tobacco buyers, most customers were paying as much for her company as they were for her wares (and no, not as prostitutes).
Within a few short years the Cigar Girl archetype had been well-established by Hollywood, which had depicted her in many films of the time, and when the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed in 1933, she had caught on as a cultural icon: Cigar Girls could be found in restaurants, social clubs, bars, casinos, and even airports. Her popularity continued to soar through the postwar era into the 1950s, when she could be seen at sporting events and in the lobbies of theaters and music halls during intermissions.
Audrey Hepburn as Frieda the Cigarette Girl in Laughter In Paradise (1951)
Model/actress Josie Maran in the Aviator (2004)
But eventually, the Cigar Girl fell victim, as so many things do, to modernity. The mid-1950s brought automated vending machines which worked for free, and could earn the venue-owner a tidy profit besides. Changing attitudes about smoking aside, the Cigar Girl was increasingly seen as a bygone relic.
These days, you are more likely to see a Cigar Girl at a Halloween or Costume Party than you are inside a big city night club or hotel. But even though she has been largely relegated to a romantic yesteryear curiosity, there is still a demand for her services. There are still companies today (like Mrs. Bella’s Dolls) that specialize in hiring out models for private parties and corporate events whose organizers are looking to add a touch of old-school sophistication to their event. And though cigars and cigarettes can still be seen on their trays, their are Vape alternatives also in evidence.
My Cigar Girl was a long-time in the making. I knew the first time I saw the basic saloon-style dress and stockings from Super Duck a few years back what I was going to do with it. It’s taken me a very long time to gather all the things I wanted her to carry. I gave her as big a variety of items as I could reasonably fit on the handmade tray, wanting to make sure she could cover the gamut of possible items her patrons might desire.
This little project reminded me of when I turned 18 (just before going overseas while serving in the Air Force) when my Dad took me to the Playboy Club he belonged to (not sure they still have Playboy Clubs today). While there weren't Cigar Girls dressed like this one or the lovely ladies in the photos, there were Bunnies acting in the same role. It was a fun and nostalgic trip down memory lane for me.
Hope you enjoy.
The tray is made from balsa wood and wrapped with ribbon. Although I don’t show it, the cash box (all in black w/ a red ribbon pull) does actually contain different denominations of US currency.#custom #kitbash #female #historic