Mutton Dressed as Lamb?

Youthful puffed sleeves, McCall’s pattern 4547 circa 1975.

Last month, I received a letter which posed some interesting questions about fashion and age:

“I would like to ask you a question: In which era did the idea develop
that women after a certain age are not supposed to wear very feminine
designs such as puffed sleeves, slim waists, lots of lace, pastel
colours or patterns with flowers? As far as I know, there have almost in
every era been ideas about what women are supposed to wear at which age.
I know designs from the 1930s and 1940s showing dresses for different
ages, with wider waists for elder ladies. But I guess this just
corresponds to larger sizes, and probably a slim lady of 70 years could
then have worn dresses with slim waists.

“Anyway, it must have been an era when feminine designs were considered
attractive and youthful – perhaps the 1950s?

“I am 39 years old and I cannot imagine myself not wanting to wear these
designs anymore, when I will be older….”

Well, I can start by noting that men have been making fun of older women who didn’t dress their age for a long time.

Padded bottoms from Pinterest. 18th c. cartoon.

Historically, and in cartoons and literature (mostly made by men,) older women who dress as if they were sexy young things are ridiculed. The British expression (going back at least 200 years) for such a woman is “Mutton dressed as lamb.”

(A mutton is a fully mature sheep. Mutton chops have a strong, gamy taste and smell that lamb chops do not have. On the day when Lizzie Borden did or did not murder her parents, her breakfast was cold mutton soup….)

I.e., mutton dressed as lamb is not a good thing to be.

The old woman at left is ridiculed for attempting to dress as a young woman. Note the old man with a young beauty at far right….

The blog “Americanagefashion” is devoted to the topic of clothing for American women over 55.

“Dressing your age” is a thorny problem. The goal of using makeup and dressing to express your personality is always to look like your current self at your best. If we cling to the fashions and hair and makeup styles that made us look our best when we were 18 or 25, eventually we will look ridiculous to people who are actually that age.

Do Adjust Your Makeup

The idea is NOT to look like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Maybelline ad, April 1929. My Aunt Dot still had a marcel wave in 1980.

In the 1980s, I used to see women on the bus who were still applying their makeup as they did in 1929.

Maybelline ad, December 1929.

Thinly penciled dark eyebrows (unrelated to hair color,) coal black eyeliner and tons of mascara (often applied badly, because they couldn’t see well without glasses [I now have this problem, myself,] dark red lips in a Cupid’s bow (extending far above their upper lip line) — these were women who were living in the past, and sadly oblivious to the changes in their faces and to the fact that “the fashion in faces” changes, too.

After teaching so many actors how to do an “age makeup” (including one actor in his 60s who was playing a 90 year old man,) I’m all too aware of the changes that come with age.  Cartilage continues to grow, so old people’s noses are often larger than they once were. Our lips tend to turn in with age, making them appear thinner. The space between the nose and upper lip may seem longer, and our eyebrows get closer to our eyes. The flesh above the eyes gets puffy and sometimes sags until it touches our eyelashes. In some cases, it impairs our vision. Some of us get under-eye bags or dark areas. Uneven skin tones and blotches may appear. (And I haven’t even mentioned how hard it is to apply eye makeup to wrinkled skin….) At 75, I currently need a 15X magnifying mirror to see what I’m doing, and that means I won’t see both eyes at the same time until I finish and put on my glasses. Often, I have to do some correcting to make both eyes look symmetrical!)

In short, we have to take a fresh look at ourselves every few years, and learn to apply makeup to the face we have now, not the face we remember.

Do Rethink Your Wardrobe Occasionally

As for dressing at sixty as you dressed at 27, well, if you always preferred classic styles and modest hemlines, you’ll probably be fine. (And I do consider jeans and shirts or knit tops to be as classic as suits and dresses.) However, extreme fashions don’t always age well.

Really wide padded shoulders from Givenchy. Vogue 2303, 1989.

I had some really flattering clothes in the 1980s & early 90s. But I gained 12 lbs one year, and by the time those clothes fit again, their huge shoulder pads were laughable. I could not possibly wear them to work — not when my job was telling other people —  actors — what to wear!

On the Other Hand

We’re probably lucky to be in an almost-anything-goes fashion era now, when hem length is not rigidly fixed, and mixing vintage and new is OK. Also, a woman with confidence and joie de vivre can often break the rules and look fabulous.

Twenty years ago, I was was waiting for a light to change when I saw a man and a woman walking together with their backs to me. She was wearing a black, brimmed hat (maybe crocheted?) with a black mini-dress, black hose, and knee high black suede boots. Her shining platinum blonde hair hung half-way to her waist. She was the embodiment of prosperous Hippie chic, circa 1967 -68. Suddenly she took a few dance steps, flung out her arms and twirled around. When I saw her face, I realized that her hair was not platinum. It was silver-white. She was a happy, smiling woman in her sixties. She was lively, flirtatious, and beautiful. She was breaking some of the “rules:” ‘dress your age, not younger’ and ‘don’t wear the styles that you wore when you were young.’ She was very attractive — because she was confident and joyous. Ari Seth Cohen would have photographed her if he saw her.

When and Why Dress in Black?

But to get back to the “when” part of the question, I have a lot of conjectures, and allowance for different cultural attitudes must be made. (E.g., are widows allowed to remarry in your culture? Is wearing trousers modest or immodest behavior in your country? Etc.) Also, many people are uncomfortable thinking of their parents and grandparents as sexually active….

Discouraging older women from wearing pastel colors or brightly flowered textiles may go back to Victorian/Edwardian mourning customs. By the time a woman was fifty, there was a very good chance that someone in her immediate family had died within the year. Grandparents, parents, aunt & uncles, possibly her husband…. Since wearing plain, black clothing for a year after the death of a close relative was customary, some women never got out of mourning. First a grandparent, then a parent, perhaps a sister or a child, …. Consequently, many older women just wore black all the time. I attended a church-sponsored Greek Picnic in the 1960s, and all the older women were wearing black. So were some teenagers.

[Lavender was the one pastel worn by Victorians and Edwardians while transitioning from black mourning to normal dress. But “lavender and old lace” were associated with age.]

Poor women don’t have a lot of clothing, so once they dyed all their clothes black after a death, they wore them until they wore out.

As for slim waists, I don’t think older women ever padded them! However, our bodies do change, and a thickening of the waist and loss of height are common. Multiple childbirths will also change a woman’s figure. Lynn Mally at Americanagefashion.com has written a lot about “half sizes” for aging female bodies.

When you’re older and you lose weight, it may come off in unexpected places. Even though I dropped many pounds a few years ago, my formerly hourglass waist is now bigger in relation to my hips and bust than it ever was before age 60 — but I had to alter some sagging trousers in back because my butt had disappeared!

Short puffy sleeves from Woman’s Home Companion, March 1936.

As for sleeves, many older women are self-conscious about our “bat wings:” just read a bit of this blog and you’ll know why older women prefer longer sleeves to sleeves that show our upper arms. When I lost 40 pounds at age 13, my skin shrank to fit immediately. Ditto when I lost weight at 40. But after a lifetime of gaining and losing weight, we can’t expect that automatic skin shrinkage in our 60s and 70s.  Now, if I want to fill out the loose skin on my arms, I need to build some muscles! So — short puffy sleeves lose their appeal. And elbow length puffy sleeves just remind me of the 1980s….

Laura Ashley pattern 8432 for McCall’s, dated 1983.  Been there, done that….

Of course, sex appeal comes into this problem. I’m old, now; but I have never consciously dressed with the hope of picking up a stranger and having sex with him that night. In fact, whenever a clearly intoxicated man “hit on me” at a party or in public, I usually wondered what I had done to send the wrong signal. (I usually concluded that he must have been wearing “Beer Goggles,” because I generally wore clothes that were entirely appropriate for office work or teaching school. My rare low-cut dress was strictly for parties at friends’ houses.)  So, how does a woman in her 60s or 70s dress “sexy” without seeming ridiculous? Well, I didn’t try to dress sexy in my 20s, so I’m not qualified to tell you how to do it at 75!  That said, good grooming, a positive attitude, and a sincere interest in the other person are always attractive…. but those qualities attract friends. Sexual attraction may be a different problem.

A book that helped me adjust to my changing role was Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style. I loved the first book he did, although by the time he made the film, some of his favorites (women with plenty of money) became stars who started to overshadow the many women who looked fabulous on a limited budget. Wearing fabulous and massive jewelry isn’t an option for most of us.

But a positive attitude doesn’t cost a cent.

 

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Edwardian fashions, Late Victorian fashions, Makeup & Lipstick, Musings

Thinking About Bad Apples

“Argy-Bargy,” watercolor by Susan Grote.

When I was making this painting, years ago, I was concentrating on choosing the right paint colors to layer to capture the green of the apples. But another part of my mind was thinking, “That apple in the corner is in BIG trouble.”

Recently, we’ve seen people on TV talking about “a few bad apples,” as if they were nothing to worry about. And that got me thinking about the origin of the expression, and about the importance of apples in the past.

I’m old enough to remember when fresh fruit was seasonal. We didn’t have fruits raised on the other side of the equator flown in to our local supermarket. Ordinary families didn’t get to eat strawberries in the fall, or tomatoes and melons in the dead of winter.

Back in the fifties, strawberries marked the coming of summer for me. In May, some gardeners we knew proudly offered me the chance to pick a few ripe ones, and my parents often drove fifteen or twenty miles to a “pick your own” strawberry farm. We picked a couple of lugs. because strawberries were only available for a few weeks. If you wanted that delicious, summery taste later in the year, you ate the strawberry jams or preserves that you had made in early summer.

What we now call “stone fruits” were also available, each in turn, during the summer. Peaches and apricots, easily bruised, were gorged on, then canned or made into jam and jelly. We canned cherries, too. We ate juicy plums while they were in season. (A dried prune is delicious, but nothing like the plum it came from.) Supermarket pears are now bred (like tomatoes) to survive shipping and storage, but pears used to be so delicate that each was wrapped in tissue paper and cradled in a special cardboard box, every pear in its own little nest.

Freezers were small in the fifties — big enough to hold two trays of ice cubes, a quart of ice cream, and eventually, a few “TV Dinners” — the first popular frozen meals for home consumption. But frozen fruit? Not really.

There were times, in the winter and early spring, when you might long for a fresh peach — but there weren’t any. The gift of a “Christmas orange” was special, because in relatively frost-free states like California and Florida, oranges ripened in December, and were shipped all over the States by train and truck. Fresh fruit in December! It was a rare, special treat.

Which brings me to the importance of apples. There were thousands of apple varieties, many with special properties. People ate Macintosh and Red Delicious; sour green “Pippin” apples were prized for baking into pies because they had a low water content (and the pie wouldn’t shrink much or get soggy.) Golden Delicious were good for making baked apples, and Granny Smiths were not too tart to be “eating apples,” but also good in pies. Those were just the popular supermarket apples. Gravensteins made excellent cider and applesauce. Other apples were valued because they lasted! Unlike the soft fruits (peaches, apricots, etc.) some apple varieties could be stored and eaten for months! Fresh fruit you could eat all winter! (The BBC gardening channel says that apple species which ripen in November may last though March if properly stored.)

People might store their apples in attics or cellars or barns: cool, dry, dark places. If you stored them properly, by the end of February when you got tired of eating meat, bread, and root vegetables, you could have a fresh apple  —  even apple pies! Apples were shipped all over the world in barrels — a treatment that no peach would survive!

And this is where we come to the old expression, “One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.”

People noticed that one rotten apple would spread the rot to every apple touching it. If you didn’t find the rotting apple and get it — and the other apples contaminated by mold spores — out of your stored apples in time, the rot would eventually ruin them all.

That is why the apples chosen to be put into winter storage had to be carefully examined first; any flaw, like a bruise or a bird-peck, disqualified the apple, because it would rot and contaminate the others. (The BBC recommends storing apples with space between them so they don’t touch, or wrapping each apple in newspaper.)

And you couldn’t just store your apples, close the attic door, and expect to find them perfect when you needed one. Your stored apples had to be examined carefully every ten days or so.** Each apple was looked at, handled gently to avoid bruising, and any sign of “going bad” — damage or a rotten spot — meant that apple had to be removed immediately. (You could use it for some other purpose, but you couldn’t leave it to contaminate others.)

So, anyone who says “just a few rotten apples,” meaning “there’s no big problem” simply doesn’t understand the metaphor.

I don’t know how anyone can watch the slow death of George Floyd at the hands of four policemen and not admit that our police need to be better trained, and more accountable to civilian review boards. How many “excessive use of force” complaints have to accumulate before the officer is removed from public contact and given better training?  I have served on juries several times, and each time I was inspired by how hard a disparate *** group of people — none of whom wanted to be there — strove to render a fair judgment. If civilians can be trusted to do justice in civil and criminal trials, they can be trusted to do justice to our peace officers, most of whom are routinely asked to work overtime to the point of exhaustion, often for pay that doesn’t even allow them to live in the community they police. American police rarely get training in de-escalating a bad situation. They are expected to deal with the mentally ill — but without medical training. They are expected to resolve domestic disputes — but without special training. This is not necessarily the case in other countries. Heavily armed police are also not the norm everywhere. Of course, the United States has more guns than citizens — no wonder our police have to wear bulletproof vests.

But there is growing evidence that Black and other non- white Americans are more likely to end up dead after a police encounter than I am. And their lives matter. We are “equal under the law.” I’m a non-religious person living in a secular country, but passages of the Bible leap into my mind as often as passages of Shakespeare. Every time I see a photo of a group “taking a knee” in support of Black Lives Matter, I half expect the photo to be captioned “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” ****

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” — First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

Peaceable assembly, seeking redress for grievances — that’s as American as…. Apple pie.

Watercolor by Susan Grote.

 

** I believe I first read this in a book from the library — and no search has enabled me to find it again! I think it was a book written, by a woman then in her eighties, about ordinary life in the early 20th century. She explained things like how they dried laundry indoors in wet winter weather. One memory was that she would be scolded as a lazy and wasteful girl if she ever broke open an egg for cooking and neglected to run her finger around inside the shell to get every last drop of albumin out of it. I, too, was taught to do that — and only broke the habit when American eggs began to harbor salmonella.

*** American juries are not diverse enough, but we can fix that….

**** I studied the Douay-Rheims Bible rather than the King James translation, which uses the word “righteousness” instead of “justice”.

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Birth of the Three Piece Suit: October, 1666

How did men go from wearing suits like this:

Petticoat breeches, British, 1660. Victoria and Albert Museum; image from Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion.

… to wearing suits like this?

Man’s three piece suit illustrated in Esquire, Autumn, 1933.

Suit with petticoat breeches, from Boucher; 1666. You couldn’t have too many ribbons….

There aren’t many changes in fashion which can be dated to a specific moment, but the change from petticoat breeches to the trio of coat/jacket, matching breeches, and a matching or coordinating vest was inaugurated in England on Monday, October 15, 1666. It is considered to be the birth of the Three Piece Suit.

When Charles II was restored to the throne of England after years of Puritanical rule, the king brought with him the extravagant styles worn in European courts.

English King Charles II with his queen, 1662. Source: Cunnington: Costume in Pictures.

In October, 1666, Charles declared his intention to start a new fashion for men. Diarist Samuel Pepys held an official position in government and was present at the court of King Charles II on that day. When Pepys went home, he wrote in his diary for October 8:

“The King hath yesterday in Council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes, which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how; but it is to teach the nobility thrift, and will do good.”

NOTE: About the word “vest:” The gulf between British and American English may be more confusing than usual, because clothing vocabulary is very subject to change. (For example, a “bodice,” i.e., the top section of a dress, began as “a pair of bodies,” meaning the two sides of a corset.) In 20th c. England, “vest” came to mean a sleeveless undergarment worn by men, while they called the garment which goes over the shirt but under the coat a “weskit” or “waistcoat.” However, in 1666, even in England, although the vest was worn under a coat, a “vest” was meant to be seen, and through the 18th century, a vest might even have sleeves. Perhaps we should think of Charles II’s “Persian vest” as a “vestment” or “clothing” rather than the waist-length garment the “vest” later became, especially in America.

 After a few years in England (and perhaps in a spirit of competition) Charles decided to break with the distinctly un-thrifty French fashions of Louis XIV’s court. (One way Louis kept his nobles from becoming too powerful was by forcing them to live at court and spend lavishly….) Here is King Louis in his petticoat breeches and cropped top:

King Louis XIV receiving Swiss Ambassadors, 1663 painting by Van Meulen. From Boucher’s 20,000 Years of Fashion.

Why a “Persian vest?” The English writer (and courtier) John Evelyn had returned from travels in the East in 1666, filled with enthusiasm for the men’s clothing he saw there. (See Barton’s Historic Costume for the Stage.)

Once King Charles II had declared his intention of starting a new fashion for men, his courtiers literally tried to “follow suit.” On Saturday, October 13, Pepys visited the Duke of York, who had just returned from hunting and was changing his clothes. “So I stood and saw him dress himself, and try on his vest, which is the King’s new fashion, and will be in it for good and all on Monday next, and the whole Court: it is a fashion, the King says; he will never change.”

On Monday, October 15, Pepys recorded “This day the King begins to put on his vest, and I did see several persons of the House of Lords and Commons too, great courtiers, who are in it; being a long cassocke close to the body, of black cloth, and pinked with white silke under it, and a coat over it, and the legs ruffled with black riband like a pigeon’s leg; and, upon the whole, I wish the King may keep it, for it is a very fine and handsome garment.

A gentleman in knee-length coat, long vest, and breeches, 1670. Source: Cunnington.

Fashion — even by royal decree — doesn’t change instantly, but after about 1670, petticoat breeches and short jackets were being replaced by the knee length coat, less voluminous breeches, and a waistcoat or vest that gradually got shorter — in relation to the coat — over the 18th century.

King Louis XIV and Family, painted in 1711. From Boucher: 20,000 Years of Fashion. The King’s vest matches his brown coat and breeches; the man at right wears a brocade vest with a red coat and matching red breeches.

“Attempts have been made to trace to Persia the origin of the coat which about 1670 ousted the short doublet from fashionable wardrobes. It is true that the first coats closely resembled the contemporary Persian garment, which in its turn had not changed much from the ancient Persian coat …. It is true also that Sir John Evelyn returned from Persia in 1666 enthusiastic about the native costume. (Pepys made an entry about it in that year.) Nevertheless it was four years after that date when the new garment actually replaced the short doublet at both French and English courts…. Be that as it may, here was a coat, and the history of masculine dress from that day to this is largely a record of the changes rung up on that essentially unchanged garment.” — Lucy Barton, Historic Costume for the Stage, page 276.

The progress of the three piece suit introduced by Charles II in 1666 is a gradual evolution. The vest gradually got shorter:

The vest or waistcoat of 1735 was still quite long, although not nearly as long as the coat. Cunnington.

This gentleman’s vest is still thigh length in 1785. (Boucher.)

During the French Revolution and the Directory, vests approached the waist. (Kybalova et al: Encyclopedie illustree du Costume and de la Mode.)

In the drawing above, the coat is cut away to show more of the legs — still in knee breeches. But the radical Revolutionaries were called thesans culottes,” because they didn’t wear breeches. They wore long trousers (pantalons.)

A “sans culotte” revolutionary drawn in 1793. Note his wooden shoes, or “sabots.” Source: Kybalovna, et al.

An actor dressed as a revolutionary, dated 1792 by Kybalova.

The coat is cut away to show just a bit of vest (stopping at the waist) and to expose tight, pale-colored breeches. (Cunnington) This is the ancestor of the modern “White Tie and Tails” formal wear.

After the revolution, when there was once again a French court, a gentleman might wear knee breeches for formal occasions and pantalons for more casual dress.

Two gentlemen, circa 1810 1811, from Kybalova’s Enc. illustree du Costume. The vest/waistcoat at right just reaches the waist. The pantalons are very tight.

In this illustration from 1872, Charles Dickens (left) wears a short frock coat with a waistcoat of different fabric and long trousers. Benjamin Disraeli (right) is wearing a suit of “dittoes:” a three piece suit made from one fabric.

Victorian gentlemen. The “suit” could be all one fabric (right) or two or three different fabrics. 1872. Cunnington.

These suits from 1933 came with matching vests. Esquire magazine.

But, for less formal or country occasions, a contrasting vest could be worn:

Gray suit worn with contrasting vest. Esquire, April 1934.

The King of Denmark also wore a contrasting vest — in 1785. (Styles worn at royal courts tended to be slow to change. Knee breeches were still worn at the British court in the 1900s, as this cigarette card from 1911 shows.

Clothing actually worn by King Frederick of Denmark, 1785. From Boucher. (museum photo, Rosenborg Castle.)

There’s a very good article about King Charles II and the introduction of the “Persian vest” here.

Sources for images in this blog post: 

Francois Boucher: 20,000 Years of Fashion

Phyllis Cunnington: Costume in Pictures

Lucy Barton, Historic Costume for the Stage

Ludmila Kybalova et al, Encyclopedie illustree du Costume et de la Mode (1970)

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Menswear, Suits for Men

A Few Words on Fashion from Jane Austen

Public domain image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

This passage about fashion is from Northanger Abbey. First published in 1811, it was written in 1798. I bolded the “quotable bits.”

“[Catherine] went home very happy. The morning had answered all her hopes, and the evening of the following day was now the object of expectation, the future good. What gown and what head-dress she should wear on the occasion became her chief concern. She cannot be justified in it. Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. Catherine knew all this very well; her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before; and yet she lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating between her spotted and her tamboured muslin, and nothing but the shortness of time prevented her from buying a new one for the evening. This would have been an error in judgment, great though not uncommon, from which one of the other sex rather than her own, a brother rather than a great aunt, might have warned her, for man only can be aware of the insensibility of man toward a new gown. It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter. But not one of these grave reflections troubled the tranquillity of Catherine.”

This 1790s evening dress in the Met collection has delicate beading and sequin embroidery. Follow this link for several views.

Late 1790 dress embroidered with beads and sequins. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

The embroidered hem. Later 1790s.

This British dress circa 1796 to 1798 is in the Metropolitan museum collection. You can see several views, all large scale-able. Follow this link and click on the small images to see front, back, side, and bodice details.

British dress in Met collection. Circa 1798.

Bodice details, British dress in Met collection.

This French dress of 1797-98 is a printed muslin. Does it have a separate bodice? Visit the Met Collection to see bigger images.

French dress in collection of the Metropolitan Museum, dated 1797-98.

A closer view of the printed fabric on the French dress from 1797-98.

For more about Muslin dresses and other things “Austen,” I recommend the blog, Jane Austen’s World. Click here for the post showing various muslin dresses.

What I learned today: This empire dress, embroidered with a wool chain stitch, is a “tamboured muslin!”

Empire dress, early 1800’s, with wool embroidery at hem in three shades of brown. Private collection. Sadly, moths have eaten some of the wool.

The Met also has a great collection of fashion plates, and you can zoom in for the details. Here’s a link to the ones from 1790-1799.

 

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Why I Haven’t Been Witnessing Much Fashion Lately….

Collage art by my friend Karen.

I have not been posting nearly as often as I used to — not because I’m losing interest, or because of quarantine, but because I’m having trouble with my hands. I love this collage that Karen sent me — the vintage athletic gear, the “bird-brained” woman, and especially the boxing gloves. She is undefeated by those clumsy gloves, so she’s a role model for me. I don’t have carpal tunnel problems, I have severe osteo-arthritis. I am currently wearing a brace on both hands!

What I’m wearing: A hand and wrist brace, a cane, and my new microphone headset. I need to learn to talk to my computer.

I “got old” very suddenly in the past year. The arthritis in my knees, which was not a real problem before, went from “living with it” to “severe.” For the first time, I need a cane to walk, and stairs are very difficult, which made it nearly impossible to take public transportation to the Main Library, even while it was still open. I have notebooks full of Delineator pages I want to photograph, but, by October, I could no longer spend hours standing near the window and photographing them in natural light. I have plenty of images I took before, still waiting to be posted and enjoyed; and for a few months I was able to sit in the recliner or at the kitchen table and work on them. I’m currently on track for a knee replacement (COVID permitting,) but the greatest impact on my life has been the fact that using a cane in my right hand triggered arthritis there, too. Right-clicking the mouse (which I do hundreds of times while preparing and resizing images for this blog) has to be limited.

My friend Sharon lives in the Napa valley wine country, where one tourist attraction was a train that served gourmet meals and wines while traveling past the vineyards. Whenever we exchange letters about our problems and annoyances, she says we are “taking a ride on the Whine Train.”

I’m a very fortunate person, with the freedom to read and write and research whatever takes my fancy, so I don’t want to ride the Whine Train today. Let’s just say I want to explain why I haven’t been posting regularly, and to say I will learn how to work around these inconveniences.

I need to learn to use dictation to write posts, (see the microphone image above) and I’ll need to be disciplined about the number of images I use. I used to format a collection of images with a common theme and write the post “around” them. I always found more images than I expected, so my posts were always longer than recommended. Being forced to be more selective may improve the blog quite a lot! (I’ve always said, “Writing is easy. Editing is hard!”)

Thank you to all my readers and commenters: I learn so much from you, and you are always kind. Please bear with me as I figure out some new strategies, and if I accidentally dictate a few swear words — apologies in advance.

Meanwhile: I highly recommend a visit to A la Recherche des Modes Perdues. Her most recent post covers some French fashion magazines from the years 1895 to 1899, with many wonderful illustrations. I copied the link after turning on the English translation; if  the post comes up in French, you should have a translation option at the top of your screen. This was a period of very rapid fashion change, from the extreme “leg of mutton” sleeves of 1895 to the softer, flowing Art Nouveau styles of the turn of the century. Notice the lily or trumpet-vine skirts of 1898.  Bathing suits 1895 to 1899 are included. You’ll find a change from the usual English-language blog images in this fashion history blog!

 

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, Bathing Suits, Late Victorian fashions, Resources for Costumers

Summer Fashions and More from July, 1937

July 1937 cover of Woman’s Home Companion.

Before the month is over, I thought we might travel into the past with the help of Woman’s Home Companion. Of course, we won’t be hanging around the pool, unmasked, showing off our red, 1937 Dodge…. (She’s sitting on the “running board,” a feature of the older cars driven in my childhood.)

Ad for Dodge cars, 1937.

The bare backed swimsuits on the women go along with the very low backs of late 1930s evening dresses…..

Vogue patterns from 1937.

And what an interesting tan that man on the right would have acquired…. (American men were just getting used to appearing bare chested in public.)

Striped canvas sandals were in, and so were bright red fingernails and toenails.

Ad for La Cross nail polish, July 1937.

Youngsters could wear athletic shoes that looked like classic Keds, but weren’t:

Ad for Hood Canvas Shoes, 1937.

Different models of Hood canvas and rubber shoes were given creative names. (Say Hykeshu out loud.)

1937 was still Depression-era, when many were watching their pennies. Knee-high stockings were featured in these fashion tips:

WHC fashion tips column, July 1937. Note the Pince-Nez glasses!

My glamorous Aunt Irene sometimes wore pince-nez glasses which hung by a black silk cord. (In the drawing, you can see the place where a cord or chain was attached at the side.) She seems to have switched to ordinary glasses in this picture from 1949.

Aunt Irene had bright red hair, bright red lipstick, and sometimes, pince-nez glasses. But not in this photo from 1949.

In 1937, fashions had broad shoulders or puffy sleeves:

One pattern made these three jackets. July 1937. Shoulder pads or a ruffle inside pouffed the sleeve heads.

Other patterns for summer dresses:

“Vacation” dresses for women up to size 44 bust. July 1937.

Dresses for teens and younger women, July 1937.

The green dress has a very wide collar shading the shoulders.

The floral print dress has a cape/collar that looks like sleeves:

Fashions for older women were brightly colored — and worn with white, punched leather shoes.

“Charm after Fifty” was the caption. July 1937.

Punched leather shoes from June, 1937.

Those “After fifty” women look amazingly tall and trim, but the same July issue ran this “halitosis” ad from Listerine mouthwash:

Elderly People:  Your children avoid kissing you? Must be your bad breath…. “You never know when you have halitosis.” “Deodorant Power” Listerine ad, July 1937.

On the bright side, kitchen work was getting easier with the introduction of paper towels! 

In 1937, women had to be taught how to use paper towels. Scot ad, July 1937.

But women were finally being allowed to wear shorts on the tennis court!

Tennis shorts and a knit top, July 1937.

And here is a fad that appears frequently: Alpine, Tyrolean, or otherwise Germanic folkwear inspiration.

The Yodel apron, a pattern from WHC. 1937.

Folksy fashion for June 1937.

Considering that storm clouds were forming over Europe in 1937, the 1930s’ fashion for Germanic folk clothing seems odd. (Although this apron is “Swiss.”) The Vintage Traveller has written about and illustrated the “alpine” trend.

Time to get back to the present…. COVID-19, arthritis, etc. Thanks to Randy Rainbow I can hobble around my house singing, “I will save the world / by lying on my couch.” Don’t forget your mask!

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Bib or Plastron Fronts on 1920s’ Dresses

Three dresses with bib or plastron fronts, from Delineator, July 1926.

Costume designers know that for most stage actors it’s a good idea to choose designs that draw attention to the face. (It’s much easier to hear the dialog when you can see the actor’s lips moving….) The contrasting color of bib front dresses is one flattering 1920s’ trick for drawing the eye up from the hip width and toward the face and upper body.

Center, a lavender dress with white bib front. Butterick 6962 from August 1926. (Notice the “tricks” used on the other dresses to lead our eyes up from the hip toward the face.)

The “gilet” or “plastron” or “bosom” front is a style that was shown on Butterick patterns in 1925 and 1926. I call them “bib fronts” because they remind me of the stiff, starched bib front on men’s formal shirts:

This man’s shirt has a starched white plastron front which would be decorated with a row of gold, onyx, mother of pearl, or even diamond studs. The real buttons, where the shirt opened, were in back.

That particular shirt would have been worn with stiff detachable collar and a tuxedo or white tie and tails.

This report of Paris fashions from 1926 calls it a “bosom, gilet, or plastron front.”

A Paris fashion report in Delineator, April 1926, touts the “bosom, gilet or plastron front” for women’s wear. I call it a bib front.

It offers some strong vertical lines to counteract the horizontal line at the hip.

There are plenty of vertical lines on these dresses from June 1925. A plastron front (at left) often had a row of buttons, as well.

In the same Paris fashion report, Delineator showed this dress:

On this dress supposedly from Paris, a row of embroidery follows the same lines as a long necklace, creating a “gilet outline.”

Butterick copied that dress quite literally, if it wasn’t actually invented by Butterick:

Right, Butterick pattern 6737; April 1926.

But the plastron front really was a designer fashion; this design is by Agnes Haver (Mme. Agnes).

A series of curved lines outlines this gilet and evoke the lines of long necklaces. Couture from the house of Mme. Havet.

Another (similar) mid-Twenties’ style was the suspender skirt, which was worn over a separate blouse.

Butterick called these either dresses or suspender skirts, but the pattern numbers make it clear that the blouse was bought separately.

It’s not always easy to decide which: suspender skirt or bosom front dress.

These Butterick patterns from July 1925  look like suspender skirts, but were described as “dresses” without a separate blouse.

They do have a shorter “bib” area.  Some plastrons were rectangular, instead of rounded at the bottom:

A squarish white plastron brightens a house dress (and distracts from its resemblance to a sack-with-a-hip-belt.) July 1925.

This white gilet has a long button placket adding to its vertical look. May 1926.

Other shapes were possible:

The plastron/bib/gilet at right is pointed at the bottom. April 1926.

Teen fashions from July 1926.

One of the reasons the “bib” look ought to be in our 1920’s fashion vocabulary is its versatility. I like the crisp look of a white plastron, but it could be made in a contrasting color, or in a print fabric, or even in stripes, with the dress and plastron stripes going in different directions.

Center, a plastron and collar in a coordinating lighter green color. April 1926.

A striped skirt and matching plastron. June 1926.

Right, fun with stripes, February 1925.

A girl’s bib dress plays with horizontal and vertical stripes. May 1926.

Another use of pleats and stripes on a woman’s bib dress, May 1926.

Left, plaid adds interest to the gilet and the sleeves (and the matching coat lining.)

A colorful plastron on a teen style. October 1925. Many buttons on that sleeve!

More plastron/gilet/bosom variations. April 1926.

A gilet or bosom front could also be quite sophisticated, with the use of a more luxurious fabric:

The bib in a dressy incarnation, from Delineator, November 1926. The rear view at right shows an inventive skirt design whose angles echo the gilet/bib shape.

Or you can enjoy/adapt the basic shirt bib or “bosom” version:

Dresses for girls, August 1926. School and party wear. (Within a year, women would be wearing dresses almost this short!)

 

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Filed under 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, evening and afternoon clothes, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Shirts for men

Morning to Midnight Fashions for June, 1930

Golf outfit illustrated by Leslie Saalburg, June 1930. Delineator masthead.

Before June 2020 is over, let’s relax with some women’s fashions from 90 years ago. Butterick’s Delineator magazine illustrated a range of outfits for sports, resorts, and daily life, for day and night.

The play of pattern on pattern is pretty extreme in this editorial illustration of a golfer:

Should this outfit be taken literally? June 1930.

Another editorial illustration by Saalburg for June 1930.

Those bare-backed beach overalls were real, as shown by Butterick pattern 3184, far left, below. Beach shorts like those on the right could also be made from a Butterick pattern.

Butterick overalls pattern 3184; center and center right are Butterick shorts 3187 and 3178.

For summer evenings in 1930, Saalburg illustrated couture by Lucien Lelong, Molyneux, Cheruit, and Jean Patou:

French couture evening coats and gowns by Lelong, Molyneux, and Cheruit. Delineator, June, 1930.

This Patou jacket and matching gown was described as a “restaurant ensemble.”

Wealthy women who couldn’t afford a trip to Paris could buy a copy of a different Patou gown from Saks Fifth Avenue:

Detail of a printed chiffon evening gown by Patou at Saks. 1930.

The fishnet gloves were a chic summer accessory for this “lavender chiffon gown printed in delicate rose and green.”

Patou gown from Saks, 1930.

Earlier in the day, soft gowns were worn for formal occasions (e.g., an afternoon wedding or dance).

Left, Butterick afternoon dress 3247; right, tea gown 3279. June 1930.

Everything shown for June 1930 has a natural waist, although sometimes it’s partially hidden by a blouson bodice. Often the bodice continued to a seam far  below the waist, and the bodice was not darted. Only the belt defined the waist. Some of these day dresses show a hint of the old dropped waist and the new natural waist:

Women’s dress patterns from Butterick for June 1930. These 1930 bodices continue to the place where the skirt is attached, with no waist seam.

1920s meets 1930s in these summer dresses.

A belt at the natural waist and a horizontal seam around the low hip. 1930.

The waist is natural, but the bodice is bloused, rather than fitted. June, 1930.

Women who wore larger sizes could find flattering styles, too. These patterns were available up to size 48 bust:

Butterick dress patterns for larger women. 1930. The one on the right has vertical tucks to define the waist.

Here’s a variety of dresses in the usual size range of 32 to 36 (14 to 18) and 38 to 44. Patterns sized by “year,” e.g., “15 to 20 years” used to come in shorter lengths for younger or smaller women. That seems to be changing here.

Butterick dresses for women and teens, 1930. No bare knees to be seen! No. 3278 is at far right. Vertical tucks at far left.

These dresses (below) for younger women show how different 1930 outfits could be. The one on the left has a separate cape, but flutter sleeves became an iconic 1930s look — reappearing in the 1970s.

Left, Butterick 3297 has a cape; right, 3261 has a bolero top. June 1930.

Another little touch that was popular in the Thirties (on sportier outfits) was lacings. The laced look was “nautical” and popular for several years:

Lacings affect the fit of 3256 (left) and lacings appear on the skirt, jacket, and blouse of 3262, at right. June 1930. These three patterns were only available up to bust size 40.

These are “sailor made fashions” from Butterick, featured in 1934.

Butterick dresses 5801 (left) and 5769 (right.) Delineator, July 1934.

And these  laced dresses come from a Berthe Roberts catalog, January 1935.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/sailor-lacing-butterick-6019-delin-jan-1935-and-berth-robert-catalog-1934.jpg

That’s it for June 1930!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Capes, Coats, Sportswear, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, Women in Trousers

When Will America Fulfill Its Promise?

“Let America Be America Again”

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free….

“I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!” — Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

I first encountered this poem (click here for the complete text) in a textbook when I was teaching American Literature. It has always moved me, that last line. His hope, his courage and tenacity, his determination that American principles — which could and should be a light to the world — will someday be reality for all of us.

Langston Hughes is also famous for this poem:

I, Too

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.” — Langston Hughes

I think “Let America Be America Again” was the first poem that got me thinking about the difference between immigrants who came here voluntarily — inspired by the dream of equality, and the hope that their own hard work would build a better life for their children — and the very different “America” of those who were torn from their families, shipped here in chains, sold into slavery, and even denied the right to think, “I can bear this because my children will have a better life.”

The children of the enslaved were taken from their arms and sold into slavery.

In all the long list of injustices and cruelty “the darker brother” and sister have endured, think of that difference between black lives and all the rest of us.

Their children were sold. No matter how difficult the lives of other immigrants to America may have been, the “American Dream” was different for those who came here by choice. Black families were torn apart, and few were reunited after Emancipation. How can we ever make reparation for that crime?

So I keep thinking of Langston Hughes. If he could keep faith with the Dream, the rest of us have no excuse. We ought to be ashamed. Why is equality still only a dream? It’s time to repeat — and act on — his words:

“And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!”

[Yes, the children of native and aboriginal peoples have been taken from them, too. Another injustice with long-lasting effects.]

 

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Maternity Corsets

Detail, ad for an H & W maternity corset, Delineator, March 1912. Are they kidding??? No.

Traditionally, fashion rarely made allowances for pregnancy.

Delineator article, April 1912, p. 341.

“New models … have the effect of the uncorseted figure”? Well, not exactly….

Ad for American Lady Corsets, Delineator, March 1912.

That American Lady corset ad above (showing the corset which is under her dress) shows the fashionable figure for 1912 — obviously not a good year to be pregnant if you were a slave to fashion.

Ad for an H & W maternity corset, Delineator, March 1912.

“Gives a trim and stylish figure — without the slightest endangerment to the well-being of either the mother or the child…. Particularly desirable in convalescence or after surgery.”– H&W maternity corset ad, 1912.

My grandmother, born in 1875, was still wearing a long corset like that fashionable “American Lady” when I shared her bedroom in 1950. It was true that women who had grown up wearing corsets did not have well-developed “core” strength — and they certainly couldn’t do sit-ups in one of those corsets! So, they did experience backaches if they tried to go without the support they were used to.

Even when pregnant, they thought they needed a corset. And maybe they did…. I’ve never been pregnant, so reader comments are welcome. You can still buy a stretchy support garment — does it help that aching back?

Lane Bryant (actually, the woman behind the stores was Lena Bryant) was an early — but not the only — company catering to pregnant women in the 1910s.

An ad from Berthe May, January 1914. Delineator. “Allows one to dress as usual and preserve a normal appearance.”

Ad from Lane Bryant, Delineator, April 1914. Lane Bryant specialized in clothing that allowed for an expanding waist.

This 1917 Lane Bryant ad from Ladies’ Home Journal emphasizes that the dress could also be worn after pregnancy. It was “so adapted as to successfully conceal condition.”

There was still a suggestion that pregnancy ought to be concealed — imperceptible — as long as possible.

Lane Bryant maternity corset ad, Delineator, February 1917. “Makes the change imperceptible.”

Maternity corset from the Ferris Waist Co., May 1910. Ferris specialized in corsets made without very much boning — they used more flexible cording instead.

Ad from May, 1914, featuring a maternity corset.

Ferris maternity corset from 1920. Delineator March 1920.

This H & W maternity corset from 1920 promised a “stylish appearance” and “safety for the little one.”

This H & W maternity corset from 1920 shows a more realistic image than the H & W corset from 1912:

H & W maternity corset ad, 1912.

In 1924, you could buy a Butterick pattern and make your own maternity belt / abdominal supporter.

Butterick pattern 5342 for a maternity belt. Delineator, July 1924.

In 1927, Vogue magazine was recommending these:

A bust binder brassiere and maternity corsets shown in Vogue, Oct. 1927.

The Sears, Roebuck catalog for 1930 showed several maternity corsets — in keeping with 1920’s styles — and, yes, a supportive “breast binder.”

A maternity corset and a maternity girdle from Sears, Spring 1930.

Elastic maternity/nursing breast binder and “accouchement band” for post-delivery abdominal support. From Sears, Spring 1930.

They were still around in 1938:

Sears, Roebuck catalog, Fall 1938. Cotton knit binders for breasts and abdomen.

Maternity corsets from Sears, Fall 1938.

In a 1935 article called “Heir Apparent,” Vogue explained the choices in maternity undergarments; by then, corsets were only recommended for women who “habitually” wore girdles or who had weak abdominal muscles.

Advice from Vogue magazine, November 1935.

Maternity corsets from Sears, Spring 1940.

Corsets for abdominal support were also sold for women whose jobs required heavy work — “war work” for many women in factories and munitions plants.

In 1945, Sears was still selling posture supports for women working in “house, farm, or factory.” Sears catalog, Spring 1945. But these are not maternity belts.

Support belts for working women. Sears, Spring 1945.

I didn’t find many maternity corsets in Sears catalogs after 1945 — but perhaps I didn’t look hard enough. Or perhaps in the Post-War baby boom, women no longer felt they had to hide their condition from public view.

Simplicity 4979, 1954. No mention of maternity use on this pattern.

Simplicity 2562, maternity tops from 1958.

Simplicity maternity tops from 1958.

McCall’s 4936, maternity tops, skirt, pants and shorts, 1959.

Quite a change from this “maternity skirt” from 1907:

Maternity skirt ad, 1907.

 

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Filed under 1910s and WW I era, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s-1940s, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Maternity clothes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc