Costume Communicates

College students, Woman’s Home Companion, October 1936.

Many years ago, I finally had time to take a life drawing class. During a break, the woman next to me introduced herself. She was a psychologist. When I told her I was a costume designer, she shared this story — one that taught her the importance of dress, and how much it communicates.

When she was completing her post-graduate degree, starting to look for jobs, she was also asked to do group counseling with high school students who were having behavior problems.

As it happened, on the day of her first group session with the students she also had a very important job interview. She dressed in her best (and only) suit, with high heels she would never have worn on campus for a usual day; she got up early to do makeup and style her hair (instead of pulling it back into her usual “no-time-to-do-my hair” ponytail,) and she carried a briefcase instead of her backpack. She wanted to look as grown-up and professional as possible for the job interview.

Two dressy suits made from Butterick 7928, October 1956, Butterick Fashion News.

She went straight from the interview to her first session with the high school students. It went really well. She felt that they were glad to participate and have a chance to get help with their problems.

A week later, she went straight from attending her own university classes to the high school. That session did not go so well. The students didn’t volunteer or participate as they had. They became quiet, sullen, obviously bored. Every week, every session felt worse. The students who had been so eager were almost hostile now. The young psychologist stayed up nights trying to figure out how to get the group sessions back to that promising first day.

Finally she realized she had to deal with the problem openly; she asked, “What changed?” One girl was willing to answer:

“That first day you came, you seemed to really be interested in us; you listened to us, and we thought maybe you could help make things better. You were all dressed up, and we thought ‘Somebody important cares about us!‘ But then you saw that we was just poor kids, and the next time you came here looking just any-old-way because we didn’t matter.”

“Oh, dear god,” thought the young psychologist. It hadn’t occurred to her that dressing as what she really was — a graduate student in college — would send that signal to them. She realized that being dressed formally had given her extra authority, and built confidence that she was really a doctor. But she hadn’t considered the reverse. She had never thought to carefully explain her real status:  she was a student, like them; poor, like them.  And being honest months later — “I really needed that job, so I tried to look professional and grown-up for the interview” — didn’t help, because it still meant she hadn’t thought it was equally important to dress professionally for them — clients who didn’t pay.

It’s a sad story that has stuck with me all these years. The shaman’s feathers and paint, the doctor’s white coat, the banker’s suit: clothes establish our identity. Whatever we wear tells other people something about who we are, what they can expect from us, and how we expect to be treated. Like it or not, costume communicates.

Doctor, nurse, and baby in an ad from 1937. Delineator.

We know at a glance that this is not a family; and we know these people are trying to help the baby — because we can “read” their clothes, without any conscious thought about what is going on here. We read each other all the time.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under 1930s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uncategorized

Balenciaga at the V & A : Museum Exhibitions Online

Design by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1965. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

The Vintage Traveler recently shared an FIT symposium on museum exhibitions of fashion.
That reminded me of some extraordinary videos that were part of “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition closed in February, 2018, but the V&A has generously posted the videos made for the exhibit online, so we can all enjoy them. [Note to other museums: Go, thou, and do likewise! Once the exhibition closes, put the videos online!] Unfortunately, the still photos from the exhibition are under copyright, as are most other museum pictures of Balenciagas — so please click on the links.

I didn’t see the exhibition in London, but it appears to have used technology to very good purpose. I’ve whiled away hours watching the V&A’s exemplary videos.
This link will take you to the V&A website, where you can read about Balenciaga and watch three marvelous videos illustrating exactly how his minimalist but extraordinary patterns come together into “Balenciagas.” Click here for Secrets of Balenciaga’s Construction

The museum took X-Ray photos of some of the Balenciagas on exhibit. This link includes another fascinating video. You can see hidden weights controlling the drape, and, occasionally, a straight pin!

A V&A video about the custom beading on a glittering evening coat is found here.

In “Learning from the Master: Deconstructing Balenciaga,” the Museum invited a group of advanced design students from the London College of Fashion to create patterns and toiles from Balenciaga gowns in the museum’s collection. If you sew or drape, this is for you! ( I’m thinking of you, Fifty Dresses….)

“Shaping Fashion: Balenciaga” is another well-done video from the V&A. You can watch designs by Balenciaga morph into designs by other famous couturiers. (I just wish all the V&A’s videos were together in one place online!)

A preview of the entire exhibit can be found in the AP Archives: click here.

Until I started searching museum collections for Balenciaga designs, I hadn’t appreciated how much he influenced my wardrobe in the late 1950s/60s. Not that I ever wore couture (ha!) but because the inexpensive clothes I did wear and saw worn everywhere were inspired by his work. My first wool suit (home-made) was a distant echo of this one. Party and prom dresses worn by my friends owed a debt to this simple & elegant flowered dress. (Note the shape of the skirt.) The shape of this coat was everywhere, and I bought a long formal in green brocade with soft pleats at the waist (circa 1964,) reminiscent of the dress under it.

More Online About this Exhibition

Many who visited the exhibition posted images or videos on YouTube; here are a few blogs or videos about it.

At 12 minutes long, this video from Stitchless TV gives a good idea of how well-thought-out this exhibition apparently was. Click here for a “walk through” that includes much besides the videos posted more clearly at the V&A site. It shows the “upstairs” part of the exhibit, which features designers who trained with or were inspired by “The Master.”

This video by Natalie (at Time with Natalie) gives a good “walk through” (starting at one minute in.)

Betty Raen at The London List captures some photos that show more of the exhibit.

For a quick taste, try Fashion Expedition’s report.

The Arcadia online blog previews the exhibit (with illustrations, of course.) Many designs by students of “the Master” are shown.

This link includes a photo of the pink “Tulip Dress” which is magically reconstructed in a V&A video.

As the late Anthony Bourdain said, “I’m still hungry for more.”

More Balenciaga exhibitions:

“Balenciaga and His Legacy:” was presented at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas on February 3, 2007 by the Texas Fashion Collection. Click here. This video is not too dark, unlike others; but it’s not really in focus, either…. However — you won’t see the same creations featured elsewhere. Worth a taste.

When you have had your fill of evening gowns, this video from the Museo Cristobal Balenciaga shows superb construction on wool suits and other daytime clothing. Some of the images are too dark, but other close-ups are superb.

If you still want more Balenciaga, this 2011 exhibition, “Balenciaga and Spain,” from The DeYoung museum in San Francisco is 17 minutes long and traces Balenciaga’s development and early influences  …. sadly, the lighting and photo quality are not good. Films of his showroom are good.

This short video of “Balenciaga: Spanish Master” exhibition from New York is different and definitely worth watching.

Also creative and interesting: this video from ICONIC.

When you have time to relax, pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, put your feet up, and enjoy these videos and blogs.

2 Comments

Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Capes, Coats, Exhibitions & Museums, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Beach Overalls: Butterick 3184

Left, overalls to wear on the beach — Butterick 3184, Delineator, June 1930.

These beach overalls deserve a blog post of their own.

Butterick 3184, June 1930.

“Sunburn” was the old way of describing “a tan.”

This editorial illustration from March 1932 shows a similar but not identical beach outfit. (These have a hip yoke.) Delineator. Illustrated by Leslie Saalburg.

The front view is shown at left. Butterick 3184, 1930. Note the three [?] bust darts.

The back is low to match the evening clothes of the 1930s — but that big “X” where you weren’t tanned would not be lovely.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/lhj-1936-feb-cover1.jpg?w=372&h=500

Ladies’ Home Journal cover, February 1936.

Wide legged overalls seen in an ad, Delineator, June, 1932.

You can find a picture of the pattern pieces for Butterick 3184 on pinterest. The pattern did include the “bodice like a working man’s shirt.”

Very wide-legged pajamas were also popular in 1931. See The Fascinating Pajama 1931.

 

2 Comments

Filed under 1930s, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Women in Trousers

Berthas and Capelet Sleeves: 1930

In the 1970s, we called these “flutter sleeves.” When they first appeared in the early Thirties, they were often called “capelet” sleeves. (And their construction was different.)

These flutter sleeves — loose-fitting and cool — were popular in the 1970s. Butterick pattern 3578, dated to 1974.

They are reminiscent of a Nineteen Thirties’ style. A variation on the cape, the bertha collar, and the sleeve, a pair of “capelets” covering an otherwise sleeveless dress became a fashion in 1930. But the “bertha” came first.

Berthas, 1920s and 1930s

This sheer frock with scalloped bertha collar (sometimes called a cape or capelet) was suitable for teens and  for women up to size 44 bust. Delineator, Jan. 1930.

This very similar dress calls its scalloped bertha collar a “capelet.” Butterick 3054; Delineator, February 1930.

Butterick blouse 3758 has a bertha; Delineator, April 1931.

Butterick 3231 has a bertha collar. Delineator, May 1930.

The bertha was one way to cover the upper arm; another 1930 approach was a pair of “capelets instead of sleeves.”

Butterick 3587 (left ) and 3566 (right.) In both [otherwise sleeveless] dresses, the upper arm is covered by a “capelet.” Left: this “capelet” is a bertha collar. Right: Two separate capelets are the new style.

The broad, sheer collar on the left is a bertha collar described as a capelet; the sleeves on the right, which suggest the “flutter sleeves” of the 1970s, are actually two little capes (or “capelets,”) one to cover each arm. See the back view. They don’t meet in the back, as a cape would.

On Butterick 3252, right, the capelets are outlined in rickrack trim. Delineator, June 1930.

The “bertha” collar (which had been popular in the late 1830s to 1840s) was familiar again in the 1920s, often appearing on evening dresses for girls in their teens.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/1926-sept-p-27-7065-7024-7059-7047-7063-7057-7003-7053-top1.jpg?w=290&h=500

Left, an evening dress with a cape-like bertha collar. Fashions for teens, September 1926. Delineator. The arm baring dress on the right is more adult.

Dressy dresses for girls in the Twenties often had a bertha collar, which covered the upper arm.

Bertha collars covered the shoulders on these dresses for girls under 17;
Delineator, April 1930. The bertha on the right is split in the back.

Berthas were also seen on grown women, but covering the upper arms made a woman’s dress suitable for “afternoon” or dinner dates instead of “evening.”

Butterick 2070 from June, 1928. Delineator. The attached bertha collar ties like a cape.

(Truly sleeveless dresses were worn as formal evening dress during most of the Twenties.)

Of the six 1930 dresses that were originally featured on this page, four of them have some kind of cape-like sleeve or bertha.

Four (and a half) dresses from page 34, Delineator, April 1930.

The bertha resembles a cape when viewed from the back of the dress. This sheer, attached collar covers bare arms. Butterick 3168; Delineator, April 1930, p. 34.

It’s an afternoon dress. Older women probably appreciated the upper arm coverage, but were used to going bare-armed in very formal evening gowns.

This very-wide collar extends past the shoulders, but it’s not long enough to be described as a bertha. Butterick 3140; Delineator, April 1930, p. 34.

There are optional 3/4 sleeves under this extended, ruffled bertha collar/capelet. Butterick 3138; Delineator, April 1930, p. 34.

Where does the cape begin? Where does the collar end? Butterick wrap dress 3145, Delineator, April 1930, p. 34. Click here to see a fichu.

 

Two Capelets Instead of Sleeves: Very 1930

“The Cape Idea:” three variations from Delineator, May, 1930, p. 32. Right, 3221 has double-layered capelet sleeves — a little two-tiered cape over each arm.

Butterick blouse 3274, from June 1930, shows its capelets — probably each is a half-section of a circle. They are not sleeves, because they do not have an underarm seam.

A pair of capelets had to be stitched to the dress, but bertha-like capes/capelets could also be removable — some patterns gave the option of making a separate cape or one that was attached like a bertha.

The cape at left is part of the dress (and is actually two pieces in back;) the cape at right could be made separately. Butterick 3190 and 3237. Delineator, May 1930, p. 108.

Below: “Many sleeveless frocks have their own little tied-on matching shoulder capes. Of course the cape can be attached if you prefer that. The dress itself has a lingerie collar and a square neckline.”

Left: Butterick 3277 could be made as a sleeveless dress with separate tie-on cape, or as a dress with a bertha/capelet attached under its little white collar. Delineator, June 1930.  Right:  Oh, no — another 1930’s bolero!

Below, a little  “capelet” is sewn to the dress over each armhole.

Butterick dress 3293, Delineator, June 1930. The Commercial Pattern Archive has this pattern. The pattern layout shows that each capelet is about 1/3 of a circle, curved at the top.

The back view of Butterick 3334 clearly shows long capelets rather than closed sleeves. The front also shows a glimpse of arm between the capelet and the dress.

The “little cape sleeves” of  Butterick 3291 look very much like those 1970s’ flutter sleeves. [Yes, it’s hard to ignore those beach pajama/overalls!]

The sleeves on the right do look like sleeves, rather than capelets, but they are described as “shoulder capelets.” Butterick 3486, October 1930.

Below: This is a true sleeve –what we later called a “flutter sleeve.”

Pretty sleeves — not capelets — from May 1930. Butterick 3202.

I believe that actual capelet non-sleeves went out of fashion as 1930’s sleeves grew puffier and shoulders grew wider.

This 1939 dress has padded shoulders; instead of a flared, semi-circular capelet or sleeve,  this sleeve has a pleat for fullness.  Butterick 8583 Butterick Fashion News, Sept. 1939.

A lovely style while it lasted….

Two 1930 dresses with capelet sleeves (left) or a bertha (right) to cover the upper arm. Butterick afternoon dresses 3247 and 2988.

The dress at left, above, had three capelets: one over each arm and a third covering the gap between them in back.

10 Comments

Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Capes, Children's Vintage styles, Dating Butterick Patterns, Sportswear, Women in Trousers

1929 and 1930 Side by Side

Two very similar suit patterns illustrate the big change in fashion between late 1929 and 1930. Both images from Delineator magazines.

I was struck by the similarity — and the difference — between these two Butterick patterns, issued in 1929 and 1930. Both have bolero jackets, which stop above the “waist” of the suit. Both have blouses with a line of buttons down the front, prim collars, deep cuffs, and are accented with frills. Both have a girdle around the hips. Both are shown in print fabrics. Both are worn with cloche hats.

But…. the return to the natural waist has completely changed the proportions that look “right.”

1929 bolero suit with dropped waist: Butterick 2576, Delineator, April 1929.

1930 bolero suit with natural waist: Butterick 3378; Delineator, August 1930.

Side by side again:

Delineator published these illustrations less than a year and a half apart.

5 Comments

Filed under 1920s-1930s, Dating Butterick Patterns, Hats

Boleros Through the 1930s (Boleros Part 4)

Butterick bolero pattern 7459, from July 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

When I went looking for 1930’s boleros, I found that I had many more images of them than I realized! (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) What started as one post turned into four — so far. And I am limited to the images I happen to have photographed from Delineator Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion and various store flyers from a few pattern companies.

To backtrack a bit, with the low waist of the 1920s, boleros might be quite long:

A “youthful” bolero from Butterick, Delineator, April 1929.

A Butterick bolero outfit from August 1929. Butterick 2749, from Delineator magazine.

As waists rose, boleros began to get shorter.

Bolero outfit from October, 1931. Butterick 4122. Illustrated in Delineator magazine.

The width of the bolero was thought to minimize the waist — recommended for women whose waists had expanded during the 1920s. I’ve shown many boleros from the early 1930s (click here or here.) This one, from 1936, is trimmed with pleated ruffles:

It’s similar to a store-bought outfit from 1937:

This bolero covers a sheer, lace bodice. WHC, March 1937.

As a way to stretch your wardrobe with very little money, boleros in different colors could be worn over most dresses. This set of inexpensive additions is Vogue pattern 7250, from Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1936.

Simplicity offered this bolero pattern,  (along with other accessories) in a store flyer, August 1939. Simplicity accessory pattern 3155.

This bolero covers a low-backed sundress; Companion-Butterick pattern 7296, WHC , April 1937.

The bows are part of the dress, not the jacket.

Companion-Butterick pattern No. 7296 shows a low-backed summer dress with matching bolero jacket. Woman's Home Companion, April 1937.

Butterick pattern 7303 from WHC, April 1937.

Companion-Butterick jacket dress pattern 7359; Woman’s Home Companion, May 1937.

This illustration of 7359 shows how many outfits you could get from one pattern in the price-conscious 1930s. [E.g., wearing the white jacket with the brown dress would change it from “fall” to summer….]

In that pattern, the bolero tied in a bow at the high waist. The traditional bolero jacket stopped inches above the waist:

Companion-Butterick pattern 7459 would make three different jackets — or the same jacket in several colors. July 1937.

Economy wardrobe: A jacket took less fabric than a dress, and jackets could be worn with several dresses, if you coordinated carefully.

“…Sure to give you a reputation for having lots of evening clothes….”

Elsa Schiaparelli was credited with popularizing the bolero in the 1930s. She was still using them in fabulous ways in 1940.

Butterick 7804 from a Butterick Fashion News flyer, April 1938. “The bolero (in printed silk) says Schiaparelli is top news….”

And “The beer jacket in denim is still headline material [!]”  Beer jacket? Apparently a “college craze” ( click here ) which, in this case, extended to women students.

You could make four different jackets from Butterick 7804 — including a “beer jacket” and the fitted, zipper-front jacket at bottom right. Zippers were already common in sportswear, but 1937-38 was the year they began to be featured in dressier clothing for women.

Butterick 7803, from a BFN flyer, April 1938. Boleros were definitely getting shorter.

Butterick 7788 has a very brief bolero. BFN flyer, April 1938. Triangular pockets are a couture touch.

A very high-style bolero, Butterick 8805 from August, 1938. Butterick Fashion News. Next to it is a variation of the tied bolero, here called a bloused jacket — the line between “bolero” and “jacket”becomes blurred.

You may have noticed that sleeve heads got puffier, and then shoulders got wider, as the Thirties progressed.

Three jackets from Butterick pattern 8367; BFN, May 1939. These jackets require shoulder pads.

Butterick bolero outfits 8391 and 8355, BFN, May 1939. These are not just for teens. [There is no “apron” explanation.]

Shoulders were getting wider as skirts got shorter:

In May, 1939, we probably can’t attribute the shorter skirts to wartime regulations.

Right, a wide-shouldered, rather matronly bolero outfit. Butterick 8472 from BFN flyer, July 1939.

This wide-shouldered, cropped jacket with frog closings is Simplicity 3203, from October 1939. Only its length says “bolero” to me. Those horizontal darts (or tucks) in the sleeve head exaggerate shoulder width even more. A very “late Thirties” detail.

2 Comments

Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Coats, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories

Boleros Part 3: Day and Evening, 1930s

A bolero jacket tops an evening gown, center, in this editorial illustration by Leslie Saalburg, Delineator, November 1931. The Nineteen Thirties’ bolero was often used with evening wear…. [But boleros continued to be a daytime option, too.] If not actually used as a separate jacket, a bolero might be suggested….

Left, Butterick 4093 from October 1931; right, a vintage dress circa 1929 -31 has the same bolero effect built into its bodice.

Butterick 4093: the width of the bolero enhances the slenderness of the waist and hips. This bolero “runs to a point at the back, is split and tied with a bow.”

A bolero built into the dress contrasts with the slender hips and belted waist. Butterick 3696 from Delineator, February 1931.

This pattern for a tied bolero reminded me of a vintage tied jacket (not a bolero) that I also love.

Right, a bolero for evening is tied at the waist. (Usually, but not always, daytime boleros were tied near their neckline.) Butterick 3460, Delineator, October 1930.

Although this vintage velvet jacket is hip-length, not a bolero, the tie at the waist has the same effect.

Vintage 1930s evening jacket with front-waist tie and dolman sleeves.

The sleeves taper from very full to tight at the lower arm.

This 1931 lamé evening jacket stops at the waist, like a bolero, and has curved fronts, like many boleros — but the word “bolero” is not used:

Another glamorous, but simple, waist-length evening jacket. Butterick 4076 from September 1931. Delineator.

The fad for huge, ruffled “Letty Lynton sleeves” can be seen in this bolero from 1933:

Bolero illustrated for a fashion column, Delineator, April 1933.

In 1936, boleros over evening gowns added versatility to the fashions, which could be worn with or without the jacket, creating two different looks.

A bolero with a long, twisted tie changes this evening gown from daringly bare (left) to chic but modest; the covered-up look was suitable for dinner and night-clubs. Vogue 7507, from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1936.

[It’s also a reminder that a gown which appears to be black and white in a movie might really be green, or some other intense color.]

A white gown could be “dressed down” for dinner by a colorful bolero jacket. LHJ, July 1936.

This gown in soft silk or chiffon with printed green organza [or some other fairly stiff fabric] has a low back, covered on a cruise ship by a hooded bolero. Convenient for moments when you step out onto the deck in the moonlight. LHJ, February 1936.

Another article on cruise wear also emphasized the bolero jacket — by packing several boleros, you only needed to pack one long evening gown.

Butterick 7407 shows a halter dress in sheer blue printed fabric — topped with a white bolero. Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937.

From a fashion editorial describing a Companion-Butterick cruise wardrobe. WHC, June 1937.

Below right: this sheer bolero over an evening gown appeared in Ladies Home Journal, July 1936:

Vogue 7403, 7369, and 7386. LHJ, July 1936. A corsage doesn’t have to be worn on the shoulder…. Click here for a closer view of the bolero.

Right, a dignified lace dress with matching bolero; Butterick 7998 from 1938. Butterick Fashion News flyer.

That lace gown is probably for mature women, since the size range is 34 to 52 inches (bust.) But evening gowns for teens also showed them with bolero tops.

A bolero tops a prom dress; WHC, May 1937.

A long dance dress for teens, with bolero jacket. Butterick 7354.

This reminds me that wedding dresses for church ceremonies — and prom dresses in conservative schools — could not reveal bare arms (at Roman Catholic weddings) or have strapless tops or “spaghetti straps” as late as the 1960s, so this jacket would satisfy the chaperones. A girl could take it off when she was alone with her date….

Butterick evening gowns, August 1938 pattern flyer.

Butterick 8004, left, and Butterick 7997, right, with removable bolero top. The bodice of 8004 (“molded to slim your waist”) has a sort of false bolero effect, being larger than the gown below it.

Buttterick 8004, 7997, and 8010. BFN, August 1938. No. 8004 was available in sizes for teens and for women up to 44″ bust. The two on the right are for Junior Misses, up to bust 38.”

Another bolero with coordinating evening gown, left, Butterick 8461, from July 1939. BFN.

A Junior Miss evening gown with bolero jacket. From Butterick Fashion News flyer, July 1939. ” ‘Straps’ on the dress tie in a halter effect….”

However, older women might also buy a pattern that included the versatile bolero in 1939.

Right, Vogue 4128, Vogue Fashion Flyer for May 1939.

Designer Lucile Paray was featured in an article about Paris fashion revivals (i.e., “retro-inspired) — like leg-o-mutton or “Directoire” sleeves — in 1937. Paray’s evening suit was inspired by the turn of the century garment (with bolero) illustrated beside it.

Lucile Paray designer evening suit; illustrated for Woman’s Home Companion, December 1937.

The bolero doesn’t get much simpler than this one, from June, 1937:

Butterick 7405, an evening ensemble with bolero jacket, Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937.

Meanwhile, bolero jackets for daytime use were also seen throughout the Thirties.

In fact, Butterick 7405 had many casual and sporty variations for daytime!

Boleros were not just for evening wear in the 1930s. Click here for more about 7405.

To be continued as “Boleros Through the 1930s, Part 4.”

 

10 Comments

Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Coats, Coats, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes