Budget Savers: One Dress, Many Collars

Butterick 5391 collars from Delineator, November 1933, p. 76

I’ve been watching many documentaries on YouTube about “Fast Fashion,” and its ecological impact. The full documentary True Cost can be watched on YouTube. This month, British science magazine The New Scientist made “Can Fashion Ever Be Green? The environmental cost of your clothing — and what you can do about it” its cover article. How serious is our dependence on polyesters and plastic? Microplastics are now being found in human breast milk.

In my youth, in the 1950s and 1960s, most working class or professional women like me did not have (or need) walk-in closets. Clothes were relatively much more expensive than they are today. (I would spend $20 to $35 dollars on a dress in the sixties, when my salary was about $400 per month. My rent — a studio apartment — was $80 -$90 per month.) I had about 10 dressy work outfits — usually washable — and varied them with different scarves or jewelry. (Big pins worn near the shoulder were very popular in the 60s.)

In the 1930s, women working in offices, stores, and other “customer contact” jobs like mine often got along with just a few good dresses.

We think nothing of a man who wears the same gray suit every day, changing his ties and shirts; in the Thirties, apparently many office workers also wore a wool (or linen or rayon) dress with interchangeable, washable collars to give the impression of a larger wardrobe. (These collars would also work over a simple sweater and skirt combo.)


“If your dress hasn’t gotten to the point where it needs a new top, hide its 1931 neckline beneath a collar, one of the new big white ones that make the new dresses look so fresh…. Every one of the collars here was taken from a brand-new dress. They all come right up to the base of the throat and they’re all deep enough that even an antiquated deep V neckline can be made to look like a new high one. They all button on,… are smartest in white satin, rough crepe, linen and pique.” Butterick patterns from Delineator magazine, December 1932.

A reader contacted me about Butterick “Quick Trick” patterns from the 1930s. This 1932 evening gown has two looks:

A “Quick Trick” evening gown, Delineator, 1932.

That one, Butterick 4751, featured a separate capelette that could be made in several colors, turning one evening gown into a formal dress or dinner dress. The one below left, 4746, is based on an asymmetrical dress beneath.

The wrap-over collar at left (#4746) is separate from the dress; the little cape transforms the dress at right. Oct. 1932.

Below is another version of dress #4746. In the version above, which appears to have a white collar at left, the detail sketch (below) shows that the entire neckline, sleeves and upper bodice could have been white, or a print material, as illustrated..

At left above is the dress without the collar. “Substitute a bow, a clip, a scarf.” Imagine the dress in navy with a white or cream option, a print or navy striped option, etc. I shared some of these clever accessories for working women in earlier posts, but I found some more (ones I hadn’t photographed from Delineator, 1933 and 1934) at the Commercial Pattern archive.

Butterick collar pattern 5391, photographed for Delineator magazine, March 1934. Huge collars (and/or huge bows) were very much a part of early thirties’ dress styles. See Great Big Collars..The pattern for this collar included several collar and cuff variations.

A woman who could only afford one good dress for office work could make it look like a whole wardrobe by changing collars and cuffs, or even adding a short cape or a “gilet” which covered the bodice.

This gilet is part of Butterick pattern 5391, which included several collars and cuffs. From 1933.

A set of 1930s collars. Buttrick 4900,CoPA

A set of collars from Butterick 4900. CoPA.

Butterick collars from Delineator, April 1933.

Butterick patterns from Delinator, November 1934.

Butterick pattern 4900, a set of collars.

Perhaps we can take inspiration from those Depression era styles, instead of buying “throw-away” dresses.

Personal note: I’ve been suffering from a variety of old age complaints that made reading and typing difficult, and while I was “away,” Microsoft “upgraded” my photo program in ways I find very inconvenient! They really took the fun out of blogging. Nevertheless, may we all have a happy fresh start (or “reboot”?) in 2023!


Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Uncategorized

A Really Big Hat: 1906 Silent Film

Hat from Delineator magazine, May 1910.

A very large (and inconvenient) hat — but fashion is not about convenience! Movies Silently has discovered a charming, short Danish film from 1906 which shows not only a wildly exaggerated hat, but two ladies inconveniently attired in hobble skirts. You can watch this 6 minute comedy (and others) at stumfilm.dk. Click here for the movie, and  here for more information from Movies Silently.

Really big hats were also popular in 1920:

Fashion illustration from Delineator magazine, September 1920.

Imagine sitting next to this hat in a theater or car!


Filed under Uncategorized

Thankful Thoughts

Bicycling Costume, 1890

My mother was born on Thanksgiving Day, early in the 1900s. Of course, Thanksgiving doesn’t always fall on the same date, so she sometimes claimed that her birthdays didn’t count unless they fell on Thanksgiving.

Today, on Mothers’ Day, I want to express gratitude to two women who changed my life — with a library card.

Before I started school, the highlight of the week was Sunday, when the Sunday comics arrived. In those days (the late 1940s) many of the cartoons told continuing stories, so in addition to the weekly color (and also daily) black and white adventures of Dagwood and Maggie and Jiggs, I looked forward to the continuing adventures of The Lone Ranger and The Phantom and Prince Valiant, et al. I would climb into my father’s lap, and he would read me “the funny papers.” (If I was at my grandmother’s house, my Uncle Mel would read them to me.) Either way, it’s possible that my love of reading began with those Sunday mornings, safe and warm in the lap of an adult I adored.  (When I was older, I was very impressed by Uncle Mel’s complete recall of the whole Prince Valiant saga!) Prince Valiant was a fictional member of King Arthur’s Round Table — well, all the Knights of the Round Table were fictional, but Valiant, with his shiny blue-black bobbed hair, was a 20th century invention. His adventures, with those of his beautiful wife, Aleta, usually took up the entire back page of the Sunday Comics.

I remember a Sunday when I asked my father, “How do you know what the people are saying?” and he pointed to what appeared to me as a group of straight and squiggly black lines. “I’m reading these words,” he replied.

From that moment, I wanted to learn to read.

In fact, after my first day of school my mother took me to my father’s construction yard, where everyone asked, “How did you like school?” I shrugged. “It’s OK,” I muttered, then blurted “But they didn’t teach me to read!“(I didn’t realize that I would be going to school on most days for the next 17 years….)

As it happened, I took to reading immediately. My mother was fiercely proud of my progress in school, and, although I only recall having one book in the house (aside from Little Golden Books,) she took me to the public library while I was still in first grade. (Her aunt had been head librarian there, decades before I was born.) Mother used to ride her big, heavy bicycle alongside my child’s bike, with its handy basket on the front, to the library with me. Every two weeks we returned for another dozen or so easy reading books — the kind with colorful illustrations on the cover. I remember devouring Billy and Blaze and every other horse book we saw. Probably with the help of the children’s book room librarian, I quickly moved on to Mary Poppins and the Island Stallion books, to Edward Eager and Laura Ingalls WIlder.

Its only now that I realize my mother, a cancer survivor, was teaching me how to get to the library without her. I had my own little library card which allowed me to check out books from the children’s room. But in those early days, she usually accompanied me.

One day, probably exhausted by my saying “I’ve already read that” to all of her suggestions, Mother took me to the Adult Section. It was strictly forbidden to children under seventh grade, but she steered me to a shelf of adult books, and told me to pick one. These books had no pictures on their covers or spines, and they were shelved by author’s last name; not a clue for a book-crazy seven-year-old to seize upon. Fortunately, I recognized a title I knew from the few children’s books at my grandmother’s house: The Arabian Nights. I had read that beautifully illustrated children’s version from Scribner’s (published in the 1920s) and I loved it. The adult shelf had about ten different adult editions, so I just grabbed one, and Mother took it to the check-out desk to borrow it for me. When she told the librarian that the book was for me to read, the librarian was aghast. (She knew what my mother didn’t know, that the original English version of 1001 Arabian Nights, by explorer Richard Burton, had shocked the Victorians with its sexual content.) But the librarian didn’t say that; she just said, “Oh, that book is much too difficult for a little girl.”

My Mother’s hackles rose.

She cracked the book open (ouch,) slammed it down on the counter, and said, “Susan, read for the lady.”

I selected a paragraph at random and began to read aloud. I read for a minute or two, to the end of the paragraph, and the librarian said gently, “That’s enough.” Then she turned her back on us and went to a shelf where the new library cards were stored. She took one, stamped it, entered my address and other information, and had me sign it. Against all regulations, she gave me, a child of seven, the key to all the riches of that fairly large public library!

On the outside of the library building was this quotation from Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle: “All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books. They are the chosen possession of men.”

Thank you for introducing me to the library, Mother.

With my Mother on my fifth birthday. Because she lied about my age, I started First Grade three months later. I was a fluent reader by the time I was seven.


Filed under Uncategorized

What Next?

cover of The Delineator, December, 1931
Delineator cover, Christmas 1931. Note the artificial tree!

Since I didn’t get around to posting this in time for Christmas, I’m going to ignore the unopened presents and pretend that these ladies are taking down the Christmas decorations (in their evening gowns….) You can read about the fashion for bustle dresses in 1931 by clicking here.

Meanwhile, speculation about the clothing choices we will make when we emerge from months of isolation is all over the place. Will we be so used to comfort that “business casual” becomes even more casual? Or will the pendulum swing toward change: a more dressed up look replacing our pajamas and sweatpants? Here are three articles speculating about post-Covid 19 fashion: from Good Morning America, Barrons.com, and The Washington Post.

Historically, there is a tendency for sportswear to gradually become acceptable in more formal situations, as when the man’s country riding coat with cut-away front…

… became business, and then, formal dress:


In our own time we have seen the skin-tight leggings which women first wore for dance rehearsals and gym workouts become acceptable street (and even formal) wear, and not just by women who are shaped like ballerinas….

So there’s a distinct possibility that comfort will win out.  On the other hand, after the rationing and shortages and clothing restrictions of World War II,  women’s blocky padded shoulders and knee length skirts were quickly replaced by tightly fitted, mid-calf, super-feminine designs.

Tiny waists, natural shoulders, long full skirts: Butterick Fashion News for August 1948.

Skimpy skirts from the War years : Sept. 1943, Butterick Fashion News

Long skirts, fitted waists, and no scrimping on fabric in these suits from Butterick Fashion News, February 1948.

The wonderful blog A la Recherche des Modes Perdues shared pages and pages of French fashions from L’Art de la Mode, December 1948.  (Do take a look! At top right is a “Translate” box which allows you to choose your preferred language. ) If there’s a theme, it’s the lavish waste of fabrics in long, full skirts, and draped skirts. These are super-feminine clothes for grown-up women (very rich ones!) Perhaps the relief of getting out of overalls and “shelter suits” (and having to pinch every penny) made the fashion pendulum swing to this extreme. It could happen again….

A Personal Note: For those who wonder where I’ve been, and why I no longer post twice a week,  the answer is that I’ve been waiting for a knee replacement for about two years. It took that long to get my blood test results into a favorable place (and my rheumatoid arthritis under control….) Once the first knee is healed, my other knee will need replacement, too. I haven’t been able to go for a walk since March of 2020, so the prospect of being able to walk outdoors again this summer is very exciting.

But one of the lessons I’ll pass on to those who think older people just “get crabby” and have trouble with ordinary tasks and conversations because of age is this: When you have to think consciously and focus your mind on every move you make — strategizing how to get out of a chair, how to carry things when you don’t have a free hand, thinking about washing a saucepan, using a toilet, making toast, carrying a coffee cup from the counter to the table, getting a fresh towel or a glass of water — you become exhausted. (And yes, crabby when interrupted!)  My friend Dr. James Agapoff wrote about the importance of habit, which allows us to perform routine tasks while thinking about something more interesting.  I wrote back to say that. although I used to be able to walk and talk at the same time, I can’t any more! I used to “write” (or at least plan) blogs in my head while doing dishes or walking up a steep hill. But when you have to think about how you can safely move from the sink to the stove using a walker, and about how heavy every piece of dishware is, [seriously, I had to memorize the relative weight of every pot and pan: “this one I can lift with my right hand, but not if it has a lid on it….”] — well, my brain was too busy to roam freely! Besides, there were months when I couldn’t lift a research book, or put it back on the shelf….

I did watch a lot of YouTube, and found some treasures which I’ll be sharing.


Filed under Uncategorized

A Silent Movie About Dancing Pumps: Short and Sweet

I really didn’t mean to take a May-to-September vacation from this blog. So it’s nice to return by recommending a pleasant short film that has lots of pretty 1913 dresses in it!

500 1912 oct p 233 evening and wrap 5687 5688 wrap 5715 w5672 sk 5673 (3)

Two Butterick evening gowns from 1912. Notice the relatively high waists and the relatively close to the head hairdos. Delineator, October 1912.

Thanks to Movies Silently for writing about the film Pumps, made in 1913. Click here for an illustrated review of this less-than-nine-minutes long movie, which really is charming. (Anyone who has ever worn cute (but uncomfortable) shoes to a dance can relate!)

We get to see several ball gowns, and our heroine also appears in some lovely day dresses, which gives me an excuse to watch it again…. Actors usually supplied their own wardrobe in the early days of movie-making. Don’t miss the gowns on the extras, either! Seeing live women in real clothing, rather than fashion illustrations, is always a treat.

I don’t happen to have any photos from 1913, (Movies Silently shows several stills from Pumps) but the styles of late 1912 show the same high waistlines (and back views that do not minimize the hips.)

500 1912 oct p 240 strap evening dress article pg (2)

Evening dress from Delineator, October 1912. High waist and cold shoulders…..


Filed under Uncategorized

1907 Dancing Dressmakers

The video of dancing dressmakers includes outfits similar to the one on the seated woman. Delineator, July 1907

I’ve watched this little (once silent) film several times, because it just makes me feel good! If you can watch it on a big screen, even better.  Only 2 minutes long, the plot is simple: Infectious music from a nearby apartment seeps into the dressmaker’s workroom and suddenly all the seamstresses are dancing!  Click here to watch.

Don’t miss the dressmaker’s mannequin at the far left, or the surprisingly lively moves of the women — their outfits and hairstyles are also a treat.

A suit with a bolero-length jacket; Butterick pattern, October 1907. The dancer with the great shoulder action wears a similar style.

Working women often wore shirtwaist blouses like these. December 1907, Delineator.

Frosting on the cake: This film was directed by Alice Guy Blache, one of the mothers of the motion picture industry. In the early days of silent film, job descriptions like “screenwriter,” “cinematographer,” and “movie director” didn’t yet exist, so it didn’t occur to women that those jobs were “man’s work.” The contributions of women in these fields used to be overlooked by [mostly male] film historians, but not any more. Read more about Alice Guy Blache at Movies Silently or at the Women Film Pioneers Project site. There is also a documentary about her: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache.

Thanks to Glamourdaze for bringing this film clip to my attention! (go on, watch it again!)

Butterick fashions from September 1907. Delineator.


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Edwardian fashions

How to Marcel: Video

Curling tongs like this were used to create those Marcel waves on a temporary basis.

A “Perfect Marcel Wave” in an ad from July 1928 Delineator magazine.

The always interesting Glamourdaze blog linked to a short film from 1926 showing a hairdresser creating/cutting shingle haircuts…

A haircut in progress, November 1925. Delineator magazine.

… and, to my delight, a close up of a hairdresser using curling tongs (predecessor of the curling iron) to create those “Oh-so-Twenties” marcelled styles.

My mother’s marcelled hair. “There was a little girl, who had a little curl/ right in the center of her forehead….”

If you want to watch the vintage 1926 “How-To” video, which has been enhanced and colorized but shows great closeups, click here.

A flapper getting a permanent wave, drawn by Nell Brinkley, September 1929.

To learn more about illustrator Nell Brinkley, click here.

Other posts about 1920s’ hairstyles….

For the benefit of new readers, I’m going to supply links to several past posts about hair styles in the 1920s. Most of them are inspired by magazine articles in Delineator magazine, which was published by Butterick, and carried monthly reports from Paris..

Bobbed Hair and Shingled Hair:

Four Paris models sketched by Soulie, Delineator, January 1925.

Four Paris models sketched by Soulie, for Delineator, January 1925. The two on the right have shingled hair.


Two Paris models with bobbed hair, Delineator, 1924.

After years in which a woman’s long hair was “her crowning glory,” the decision to cut it short, or “bob” it, took courage. Click to read “To Bob or Not to Bob Your Hair, Part 1” and “To Bob  or Not to Bob Your Hair, Part 2.”

The Marcel wave had been around since the 1870s, and “Marcel” and “permanent wave” were used interchangeably. Here’s a marcelled hairdo from 1917:

A Marcelled evening hair style from 1917. Delineator, April 1917.

Getting a permanent wave was something of an ordeal:

Getting a permanent wave in the Twenties or Thirties. Ad, April 1932.

You could also do it at home…. in “just a few hours.”

From Nestle Lanoil Home Permantne ad, Delineator, Dec. 1924.

C. Nestle Permanent Hair Waving Machine, illustration from An Illustrated History of Hairstyles, by Marian I. Doyle.

To read more about permanents and marcels, see “Permanents and Marcels Bridge the Twenties to Thirties.”

Before the “bob,” Mary Pickford’s long curls were the ideal for girls in their teens. This is my mother before she bobbed her hair:


And this is my mother in 1922.

My mother (born in 1904) and her friend Irene were the first girls in town to have their hair bobbed. In my mother’s case, she also had a permanent. Her mother was in the hospital at the time. Her father forbade her to visit her mother, “because the shock would kill her.” Read “Marcels in the Family.”

An old fashioned curling iron (in three sizes) from An Illustrated History of Hairstyles, by Marian I. Doyle.

For my own experience with curling tongs and permanent waves, read “Curling Iron Memories.”

Witness2fashion in the late 1940s. I hated having my hair curled.

One of the more intriguing articles I found about Twenties’ hairstyles suggested that young women occasionally wore chic wigs — in many hues. See “Chic Wigs for September 1927.”

Transformations in the mode of the present day.... All the pictures are of the same charming woman. Top of page 37, Delineator, September, 1927.

If you still want to read about hairstyles from before and after the 1920s, just type the word “hair” in the search box at top right!

A final shout out to dancer Irene Castle, who bobbed her hair in 1917!



Filed under Uncategorized

In Memoriam: Jessica McClintock

Simplicity sold this Gunne Sax outfit by Jessica in 1982.

This private obituary for designer Jessica McClintock appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday, March 14, 2021. The Chronicle’s official coverage of her career as a fashion designer based in San Francisco can be read here.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of her dresses, but I can testify to her influence. In the 1970s, when I was teaching high school, her dresses were very popular. They were Romantic, in the sense of looking to the past for inspiration. Some had high, “Victorian” collars, “1890s” sleeves that were full and puffy from shoulder to elbow and tightly fitted from elbow to wrist, long, ruffled skirts and a great deal of lace and ribbon trim. This McClintock-inspired Simplicity pattern from 1974 gives you an idea:

McCall pattern 4249, dated 1974, shows the raised waist, long ruffled skirt, and elaborate trimmed sleeves characteristic of Jessica McClintock’s 1970s designs.

The Washington Post described her design influences well:

A reporter for the Wall Street Journal described her party dresses as “steeped in the imagery of Victorian romance and virginal sex.” People magazine in 1984 described one of her lines as “Gatsbyesque.” A paid death notice published in the San Francisco Chronicle depicted an early collection as aspiring to an “Edwardian and Renaissance look.”

“I have a romantic feeling about life,” Ms. McClintock, who boasted that she used more lace than any other designer in America, once told an interviewer. “I like Merchant-Ivory movies and candlelight and beautiful rooms. I like the patina of age.”

It’s hard to realize that was nearly 50 years ago, but the difference in how young women wanted to be seen then is striking to me. Grannie dresses or Prairie dresses were not overtly sexual. They were for young women who wanted to look pretty. There was probably an influence from the very successful 1968 Romeo and Juliet directed by Franco Zefferelli. (Some Gunne Sax dresses had real or fake lace-up bodices or sleeves.)

Plenty of applied trim meant that this look was not cheap to manufacture.

Back view of McCall 4249, from 1974.

In 2021, dress manufacturers save money by eliminating all non-essentials, such as pockets and applied trims. The fewer pattern pieces, the fewer seams, the less exacting the fit, the cheaper to mass-produce. Obviously, the Jessica McClintock look wasn’t cheap to make. Often, these dresses had a sheer poly-cotton top layer and were fully lined.

Costumers in the San Francisco Bay Area were lucky that McClintock was located (and manufactured)** in the US. The Gunne Sax factory warehouse on Townsend Street sold bolt ends of fabric (including changeable taffetas and lace and other evening/wedding dress fabrics) at really low prices.

McClintock used shiny rayon lace in the 1980s; some of these appliques are still in my crafts bin.

Even better, when you were doing a period show, were the bolt ends of lavish lace trims, bins of beading and appliques, artificial flowers, ribbons, and beautiful buttons and “jewel” trim, which usually had a Turn of the Century or Twenties’ influence. I was inspired by a lace and pearl encrusted dress worn by Bessie Smith when working on a musical  about Josephine Baker:

A character from the 1920s with one from the 1960s. I was lucky to work with Della Reese.

Rayon lace was wonderfully dye-able. The metallic lace probably came from the McClintock factory store, too.

The only trouble with the factory warehouse remnants store was that there were too many temptations to buy things that were too “special” to pass on — when would I see a beaded headband in perfect 1920s style and colors again? I’d buy them with my own money and keep them until I finally had a chance to use them in a show. When I was shopping for a show set in 1885, I might spend my own money on something that would be perfect — eventually — when I did 1770s or 1920s productions. I just tried to keep track of what I paid for them, and usually they did get billed to a show … eventually.

For collectors, The Vintage Fashion Guild shows an array of Gunne Sax, Jessica McClintock, and Scott McClintock labels.

** “Two decades ago, a Mission District garment shop that sewed her clothes was found to have violated labor standards and was liable for unpaid wages. She and others paid $120,000 to settle the case.” — SF Chronicle


Filed under 1960s-1970s, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade

Shirtwaist Photos 1904, 1907 & 1910

Photographs of waists and shirtwaists illustrate a 1907 article in Delineator.

Two views of Butterick shirtwaist pattern 3595 from Delineator, February 1910.

Feminine versions of the man’s basic business shirt could include a separate stiff collar or a softer attached collar. Sometimes the lacy collar was made separately and basted into place, so it could be laundered, starched, and ironed differently than the shirt.

I always love to find actual period fashion photos, since they avoid the exaggeratedly tiny waists of period fashion illustrations. All of the photographed blouses below were shown in “The Summer Shirt-Waist” article featured at the top of this post:

A ruffled “Marie Antoinette waist” from July, 1907.

A Butterick “Negligee waist” from July 1907, Delineator.

“Negligee” meant “casual” and was also used to describe men’s shirts for sports. The model above seems to be holding a golf club.

The stiff collar and tie worn with this shirt-waist mimic men’s business shirt styles of 1907.

Many of these styles from 1907-1910 show a three-quarter sleeve length.

A closer view of the yoke:

The soutache-trimmed yoke is elegant. Delineator, July 1907.

Now, for a real, moving picture view of literally dozens of shirtwaist-wearing women reporting for work in 1904, the Glamourdaze website shared a two minute film (computer enhanced and colorized) which is well worth watching for the shirtwaists, the skirts, the hair styles and other proof that women really did get up and go to work wearing these wonderfully varied “basics.” It’s a long parade of working women punching in at the time clock. (I wish it wasn’t colorized, but that’s a small quibble.) Click here to watch it. (You can skip the ad.)

Watch it again to notice all the handbag variations, many of them suspended from the women’s waistbands or belts.

“Chatelaine” handbags from Sears, Robuck, 1903. These bags are designed to hang from a belt or waistband.

Top, a “Wrist Bag;” bottom, a “Netsuke” bag. A Japanese idea, you pull the chain under your belt or sash, and the ornamental ball (netsuke) dangles over the belt and secures the bag.

For more about this film, visit Glamourdaze.  Glamourdaze is a commercial site, but it has excellent research, and I have never received an unsolicited ad or email from them, although I subscribed years ago.


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Edwardian fashions, Hairstyles, handbags, Purses, Resources for Costumers, Shirts and Blouses, Uniforms and Work Clothes

Glamour from the 1920s, Goodness in 2020

Art Deco illustration by Jean Desvignes for Butterick’s Delineator magazine, November 1926.

Detail of an illustration by Jean Desvignes, January 1927, Delineator.

To celebrate the New Year, I’d like to share some glamourous gowns from the 1920s, and also something that gave me hope whenever the news from 2020 seemed too bleak.

Masks made for donation to a shelter, March 2020.

Most people realize that it’s hard to make a living in the performing arts under the best of circumstances. Here’s an old joke.

Q: An actor graduates from a top drama school and gets his first job. What are the first words he will speak in public?

A: “Would you like fries with that?”

Once, I was working in the costume shop at Stanford University. A student came in for a costume fitting, and mentioned that he had changed his major from Economics to Drama. “But my parents wanted me to have something to fall back on,” he said, “so I’m minoring in Art.” After he left, the theatre professionals agreed that he wouldn’t have much of a future in Economics….

For costume designers and technicians, the first months of the year are traditionally difficult. After the Nutcrackers and Velveteen Rabbits and Christmas Carols at the end of the year, there’s not much work for wardrobe, part-timers and overhires until March or April. But in 2020, theatres and performing arts companies shut down in March, and with COVID-19 still spreading they have not reopened. Suddenly, all the theatre workers I know were facing months of uncertainty and unemployment just when they were already at the end of their “off season savings.”

Immediately, the Costumers’ Alliance yahoo group I subscribed to began exchanging information about what organizations and hospitals needed facemasks, where you could find patterns online, who was willing to share elastic and other sewing supplies, and where you could donate masks. Hundreds of people who had just lost their income set to work as volunteers, using their skills and supplies. It was the same in most theatre communities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York…. (And those are only the ones I’m in touch with.) Home stitchers and quilters were also pitching in by donating thousands of hours of labor to supply communities in need.

Whenever I began to lose hope in our democracy, I thought of all those people who pitched in, and kept at it, during the darkest months of our lives. The instinct that says, “Let me help” is still alive.

And now, since we’re not going to any New Year’s parties this year, we can fantasize about wearing this couture from the past:

Two evening dresses by Chanel, illustrated by Desvignes in January 1927. Delineator.

Lavishly beaded couture gowns by Doeuillet and Patou. Delineator, November 1926.

It’s hard to show the detail of this bodice. The skirt is equally ornamented in a different pattern.

For more detailed images and information about these and other Chanel gowns from the same issue of Delineator, click here.  Wishing you a Happy and Healthy 2021!


Filed under 1920s, evening and afternoon clothes, Jewelry, Vintage Couture Designs