Monthly Archives: December 2013

1920s Styles for Larger Women, Part 1

For Bust Measurement 33 to 48 Inches

For Bust Measurement 36 to 48 Inches

1920s Patterns with Bust Measurement 44 Inches or More

In spite of the long, narrow figures in 1920s fashion illustrations, twenties dress patterns were usually available in bust sizes 33 to 44 inches – the equivalent of a modern size 22. Butterick routinely issued patterns even larger than 44.  The gorgeous evening dress above, pictured in gold metallic brocade, is sized 36 to 48. More about it later….

Body Measurements from a Butterick Pattern Envelope, 1927

This chart is on the back of a pattern envelope from 1927:

Butterick Pattern Envelope, 1927

Butterick Pattern Envelope, 1927

A woman with a 32″ bust was expected to have 35″ hips; a 38″ bust had 40 ½” hips; and a size 44 was assumed to have 47 ½” hips – and the pattern mentions “outlet seams” which can add another inch and  a half if necessary.

Surplice Styles Flattering to Larger Women

As you can imagine, 1920s fashions which drew a horizontal line across the widest part of a woman’s body were not necessarily flattering — especially to a woman with 49″ hips. With that in mind, the editors of Delineator Magazine often recommended a surplice line dress for larger women. 1929 jan p 26 surplice“There is no line more flattering to mature figures than the surplice closing, especially when it is softened by a scalloped and frilled lingerie collar. The straight skirt is gathered to a girdle that ties snugly….Designed for [bust] 34 to 48.”

The ‘surplice line’ meant that there was a design line, often the front closing, that ran diagonally from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Draped fabric falling from that point – as in the gold evening gown, #1187 below – carries the eye down, rather than across the body.

Two 1926 Evening Gowns for Size 48 Bust Patterns 1195, 1187 together

1926 dec p 47 #1195 for 48 bustFrock #1195: Draperies that develop wing-like properties in motion fly from the shoulder and hip of a Paris evening gown. The frock that composes itself entirely of Georgette, lace, or crépe de chine is the most useful kind of evening dress. In this particular frock the bloused body is sewed to a one-piece slip and the lower edge of the tunic [sic] is straight….For women 32 to 48 bust. [Controlling the blouson top by attaching the sheer outer layer to a slip makes the dress much easier to wear. The slip – with its straight hem – is visible below the asymmetrical hem of the dress. Such a slip would be made in a color to match the dress, and the silk used for the slip might also bind the neckline.]

1926 dec #1187 fits 36 to 48 bust

Gown #1187: “Uneven lies the hem of the Paris gown intended for formal day or evening use. The long V line of the surplice closing, the tight drapery at the hip and the free drapery at the side have reducing properties. The gown itself is in one-piece style and so is the separate slip. An extra slip with sleeves for afternoon, make[s] two gowns. Size 36 will need 2 5/8 yards of metallic brocade 40 inches wide. Designed for women 36 to 48 bust.” [The version illustrated is an evening gown. An under-dress ‘slip’ with a higher neckline and sleeves, often of sheer fabric trimmed with the dress fabric, would make it modest enough for afternoon tea dances, etc.]

Mature Elegance in a Surplice Evening Gown1929 feb p 89 lucky ad middle aged woman

Elsie de Wolfe, Noted Interior Decorator (and about 63 years old at the time of this February ad) wears an evening dress very similar to Butterick #1187 in an advertisement for Lucky Strike Cigarettes, 1929. She is quoted as saying, “I recommend a Lucky instead of a sweet… an excellent substitute when your appetite craves a sweet but your figure must be considered.” [The ad goes on to say that “A reasonable proportion of sugar in the diet is recommended, but the authorities are overwhelming that too many fattening sweets are harmful. So, for moderation’s sake we say: – ‘Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet!’ “]

Surplice Line Dresses for Young Women and Teens, January 1929
1929 jan p 29 rt

The surplice style was not limited to older women or those who had to “consider” their figures. Butterick pattern #2397, “a very informal afternoon frock for winter resorts, [was] designed for sizes 32 to 37, 15 to 20 years, and for [ladies with bust measurement of] 38, 40.” The dress next to it, #2424, is also for teens “15 to 18 years and [women bust] 36 to 44 [inches.]” A dress pattern for size 18 years had a 35 inch bust, but was proportioned for a smaller person. 1920s pattern descriptions often say “15 to 20 and smaller women.” Butterick Patterns for women who were both short and stout did not become available until the 1930s, as far as I have seen — but I’m still looking.



Filed under 1920s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Chew Gum for Beauty: Wrigley’s Ads from 1929 to 1936

Chewing Gum, 1929 to 1936, Part 11929 feb wrigley's spearmint gum ad

“Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight? / If your mother says don’t chew it, do you swallow it in spite? / Can you catch it on your tonsils, can you heave it left and right? /  Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight? “Lyrics to DOES YOUR CHEWING GUM LOSE ITS FLAVOUR ON THE BEDPOST OVERNIGHT? Based on the 1924 original by Ernest Hare & Billy Jones “Does The Spearmint Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight? (Marty Bloom / Ernest Breuer / Billy Rose)

I’ve been working on a project to date Butterick patterns using information from old issues of the Delineator Magazine.  There are over 430 bound copies of The Delineator in my local library, dating from 1900 to 1937, so my project will take a while – especially since I keep getting distracted by the advertisements at the back of each issue. The one above, for Wrigley’s Gum,  appeared in The Delineator magazine in 1929. However, in 1930, the Wrigley Company changed from this cartoonish style of advertisement to ads that explained that…

Chewing Gum Is a Beauty Aid! wrigley's gum ad june 1930

“Only Cows Chew Cud”

If you watch a lot of old black and white movies, as I do, you’re familiar with the rude, gum-chewing waitress; the tough, blonde, gum-popping chorus-girl; the “here-comes-trouble” gum-snapping teenager – all stereotyped images of young women “from the wrong side of the tracks.”  My mother, who was a teenager in 1920 [no, that’s not a typo] was sitting on the porch, chewing gum, when her favorite aunt came to call.  The aunt beckoned her over and said, very sternly, “Helen, only cows chew cud.”

If your mother says, “Don’t chew it….”

My mother took this lesson very seriously. Thirty years later, I was still only allowed to chew gum in private, or in the dark at the movies.

In grammar school, when we sang, “Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?”, we thought it was a ‘kids’ song,’ like jump-rope jingles. We didn’t know that the original lyric was “Does the Spearmint lose its flavor…,” and it was written in 1924!  spearmint 1929 feb wrigley's ad bottomEven in the 1950s, no one ever suggested that chewing gum was an elegant habit for adults. It wasn’t “ladylike.”

Making Chewing Gum Respectable

If chewing gum marked a woman as lower class, how could fashionable women be persuaded to buy it? In 1930, the Wrigley Company decided to tackle that problem with an advertising campaign that ran in fashion magazines. Here is the first of the series [I have divided it for better visibility]:top of beauty gum ad june 1930

The model is not just pretty, she is clearly upper-class. She is elegant – no bleached blonde bob for her; her hair is dark and almost severe in style.  She wears evening dress.  She is poised, not peppy.  And she’s advertising Wrigley’s Double Mint Gum.

Wrigley’s Double Mint: An Old Beauty Secret

The Listerine company had already discovered (i.e., publicised) a condition called “Halitosis”,  launched an ad campaign to make people self-conscious about their breath, and sold millions of bottles of mouthwash in the 1920s.  You might assume that mint flavored gum would also be publicized as a breath-freshener – and Spearmint’s popularity may have had something to do with hiding the smell of booze during Prohibition. But Wrigley’s decided to sell it as a beauty product:bottom of beauty gum ad june 1930The text of this ad reads:

“What most excited the astonished Spaniards who first set foot in Mexico was not the glittering gorgeousness of Aztec civilization as much as the Aztec women’s seeming possession of the secret of perpetual youth.

“It was observed that Aztec women rarely lost their teeth and their lips stayed marvels of youthful loveliness even into old age.  Could this signify that a woman is only as young as her lips? But how [sic] keep lips young?

“The Aztecs’ Beauty Secret was chewing Sapota gum (the same as in Wrigley’s). Chew Wrigley’s regularly each day. Keeps lips young by toning up muscles and preventing saggy wrinkles. Try Double Mint – it’s peppermint flavored.”

Chewing Gum Prevents Wrinkles?

Would you believe that chewing gum will prevent wrinkles? – just as it did for those Aztec beauties?

If you still can’t imagine this chic brunette popping a stick of Double Mint into her mouth at a party, the last line of the ad is even more surprising: “Clears the throat for the next smoke.”  Wrigley's gum ad june 1930

Sure enough, if you look down, next to the pack of gum, she is holding a cigarette.

Elegant People Chew Wrigley’s Gum – 1930s

In the following year, in addition to claiming that “Science is recommending Double Mint as the latest beauty aid,” [ad in Delineator, October 1931] the ad campaign linked chewing gum with a luxurious lifestyle, as in this advertisement showing a young woman leaving her mansion for a game of tennis: 1931 sept wrigley's ad Fine Living“Where Good Taste Prevails, Smart People Know the Zest for Fine Living and go in for all the good things of life. That is why it is smart to chew Wrigley’s…. Years of attractiveness added to a woman’s face.” 1936 feb p 50 wrigley's gum ad

Five years later, Wrigley was still promoting the regular use of chewing gum as a beauty treatment.

The caption on this ad from 1936 says, “Your Beauty Shop gives you added charms. Go there every week. And, to help beautify the natural shape of your mouth and lips, enjoy Double Mint gum daily.”


Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uncategorized

Chiffon Blouse, Early 1920s

vintage 1920s chiffon blouse side viewThe Vintage Traveler recently published the Pantone Fashion Color Report for Spring 2014.

I immediately thought, “I’ve seen that color combination before!” A peachy pinkish color, somewhere between beige and tan, with orange, yellow, pale blue, and aqua accents (plus a touch of darker color for contrast.)
I was able to photograph this blouse while it was in the collection of a friend. [The collection has been sold.]  front vintage beaded blouse

The mannequin was very small, so the blouson above the waistband doesn’t show properly, but this is a very close kin to the blouse pictured in this Pictorial Review pattern, which also uses two layers of sheer material to give opacity over the body and transparency to the sleeves:  Pictorial review #9186 detail

The blouse I photographed has a sleeveless layer of the chiffon – probably ‘crepe chiffon’ – inside the outer layer.  The layers were not connected all the way around the neckline. It has above-elbow sleeves and is decorated with appliques of orange crepe chiffon, hand stitching in silk floss in colors of yellow, aqua, and orange, and pale blue and black beads, plus silvery blue beaded tassels. Appliques, silk embroidery, beads and tasselsIt’s possible that some of the beads outlining the appliques are the same color as the blouse fabric, but those in the tassels have a pearly, light blue tone.  The silk embroidery in aqua and light orange continues the pattern of diamond shapes across the back of the blouse, and accents the sleeve hems. back of vintage blouse

You can see the gathering which creates a sash effect at the front of the blouse. The ties in back are very long.  There was no sign of a manufacturer’s label; it’s possible that this blouse was not store bought. Embroidery patterns were a big part of the pattern business in the 1910s and 1920s, when dress styles were often simple but accented with embroidery and beading.  Pictorial Review pattern # 9186 suggests (Pictorial Review) Beading design # 12511 for the neckline of the blouse – available as a transfer in blue or yellow for 25 cents.  PR 9186 beading at neckline

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Filed under 1920s, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Paris Couturier Designs, December 1926

The latest styles from Paris, December 1926, as described in The Delineator magazine

The latest styles from Paris, December 1926, as described in The Delineator magazine

This is a two-page spread on the latest Paris Fashions of 1926. Coverage of the Couture collections was a regular feature in The Delineator in the 1920s; Butterick Publishing maintained an office in Paris, and used several sketch artists, including Soulié, who also worked for L’Art et la Mode. These illustrations are signed Lages. The designers featured in the article are Paul Poiret, Lucien Lelong, Louiseboulanger, and Molyneux. [Louiseboulanger is always written as one word.] The gowns pictured on these two pages could be purchased in New York: “Models on these two pages imported by Mary Walls.” Mary Walls’ shop was located in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Page 40: “French Designs for the American Season”

Evening frock by Poiret, 1926

Evening frock by Poiret, 1926

Left:  “An evening frock from Paul Poiret is an uneven swirl of black velvet below a sequinned bodice on which multicolored flowers are worked in brilliant shades of rose and blue and green. Ends of Chartreuse velvet fall from the bows at the hip and the hem is faced with silver ribbon.  The Gothic outline of the décolletage is new and interesting.”

Hostess Gown by Lelong, 1926

Hostess Gown by Lelong, 1926

Right: “In a hostess gown designed by Lucien Lelong, arabesques of gold and silver trace a gorgeous pattern on the transparent tissue of the body.  The narrow skirt of black chiffon velvet opens over a panel of gold lamé, and gold and silver ribbon square the hanging sleeve and outline the deep V of the neck.  The Parisienne wears a gown of this type at home and for informal dinners.”

Dolman evening coat, Lelong, 1926

Dolman evening coat, Lelong, 1926

Left:  “Body and sleeve merge into one in the medieval cut of ‘Christmas’, an evening wrap of black chiffon velvet faced with white velvet and trimmed on the collar, sleeves and scarf with clipped white cony [rabbit.]  Furs, shaved or clipped to absolute flatness are new, velvet is smart, and black, in a somewhat florid season, remains the most distinguished of colors. From Lucien Lelong.”

Page 41: “Brilliant Frocks that match a Holiday Mood”

Some 1926 dresses had asymmetrical hems, longer on one side, or some trailing fabric that dipped below the normal hemline. The descriptions below show that some thought them a precursor of lower hemlines, but in fact. skirts got even shorter in the late 1920s, before descending to new lows, along with the stock market, after 1929.

Evening dress with a train at the side, Louiseboulanger, 1926

Evening dress with a train at the side, Louiseboulanger, 1926

Left:  “In trains many prophets see the re-entry of the long skirt and the exit of the knee-length fashion, while others find them only the charming contradiction that is so much more entertaining than the jewel of consistency. Louiseboulanger girdles the slender hips of a sheath frock of violet velvet bound with silver with a great bow of purple velvet placed over a train at the side.”

A sheath dress by Molyneaux, 1926

A sheath dress by Molyneaux, 1926

Above right:  “Captain Molyneux preserves in the heart of Paris the essentially English tradition of evening magnificence. His gowns are almost invariably sheaths of classical simplicity made splendid by fabric, lace, or beads. A frock of gold, green, and red brocade is absolutely untrimmed. A brocade scarf is thrown over the head is looped at the hip and trails behind in a long and graceful train.”

An evening dress with skirt covered with spangles, by Louiseboulanger, 1926

An evening dress with skirt covered with spangles, by Louiseboulanger, 1926

Right:   “Gold metallic ribbons place the waistline of a delightful frock from Louiseboulanger. The skirt is slightly gathered, slightly flared, and entirely covered with long spangles of black and gold which weight it and cause it to sway and undulate in motion. The former are used on the brief skirt, the latter suggest a hip yoke. Models on these two pages imported by Mary Walls.” [The Metropolitan Museum has a gown by Jeanne Lanvin with the label: “Mary Walls/Branch Shop/Waldorf-Astoria/South Lobby/East 45th St./New York”]

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Filed under 1920s, Vintage Couture Designs

Looking at Old Photographs over the Holidays

1870s GL witness2fashionHow I Met My Great-Grandmother

In the lull between Christmas dinner and the second helpings of dessert, after the dishes are done, while some are napping and some are playing, is the perfect time to meet your forgotten ancestors.

In fact, any time between the winter holidays, while older relatives and friends are still visiting, is a perfect time to get out that box of really old family photos and ask the oldest members of the group to help you identify them. We always think there will be time … someday … to find out who those strangers in the pictures are.  Sadly, life doesn’t always work that way.  My mother died when I was a child.  My father went through several shoeboxes of old photos with me, on various visits; then he had a stroke that left him as bright as ever, but unable to speak.   Fortunately, my mother’s older sister always came to stay for a few days at Christmas. 1870s GL full photo When I showed her this photograph, my aunt cried, “Why, that’s my Grandma Lipp!” She seemed surprised that I hadn’t recognized a member of my own family — forgetting that her grandmother had died decades before I was born.

Once You Put a Name to the Face, It’s Easy to Find Out More

Today, I’m kicking myself for not asking for all my aunt’s memories about this young woman with the confident gaze. But, once I knew who she was, I was able to find her complete name and date of birth in the family Bible. With that information, it was possible to look up census records, which may tell you about parents and siblings in the same household, and a lot of other genealogical information. (You may not be interested in genealogy — I wasn’t — but one of your children or grandchildren might be, someday. )

One Name Leads to Another

Two Cartes de Visite: My great-grandmother and an unknown woman

Two Cartes de Visite: My great-grandmother and an unknown woman (photos cropped)

Some time later, when I inherited my aunt’s boxes of photos, I found two cartes de visite – studio portraits of women in 1860s dresses. The face of the young woman looked familiar. 1860s GL younger alone

Yes, it is another picture of my great-grandmother. It said so on the back.  The high, straight waistline of her dress was a fashion of about 1868-1870, when she would have been in her late teens. (As a costume historian, I like to know dates.)

I also found a labeled picture, early 20th century, of my once-beautiful great-grandmother Lipp as an old woman.  By comparing the faces of this woman in youth and old age with the older woman in the Civil War era carte de visite who was middle-aged when great grandma was a teenager, I’ve become reasonably certain that the unidentified woman is my great-great-grandmother.

Great Grandmother Young and Old, and Her Mother

Great Grandmother Young and Old, and Her Mother

You Get Stories Along with the Names of People in Old Pictures

"Dressed to Kill!"

“Dressed to Kill!”

My Aunt and Father loved seeing this picture of my mother, circa 1921 or 1922. My aunt laughed out loud when she saw it and said, “Dressed to kill!” so that’s what I wrote on the back of the picture, and it still makes me smile every time I see it. The photo prompted my aunt to tell me something I never knew:  that my mother – here, obviously hoping to resemble a fashion plate – was an accomplished dressmaker. She worked as a secretary for a large company on Market Street in San Francisco in the 1920s, and, according to my aunt, “During her lunch breaks, your mother would go to the fabric stores and look at all the material. Then she’d buy her fabric on Friday, make the dress on Saturday, and wear it to a dance on Saturday night!” (I found this hard to believe, but I have since seen some 1920s patterns that would have been possible to cut and sew in a night and a day – especially if the dances started at 9 p.m.)evening gowns, coat ;1924 dec

Use Acid-Free, Archival Ink to Write on the Backs of Photos

Sometimes the backs of photographs have a coating that makes it hard to write on them in pencil. Even when I use an acid-free, archival pen like the Micron .02, (available from office supply stores and art stores for less than $3) I try to write on the back in what would be the margin of the photo. Many old photos have writing right across the front — or back — in ink that was probably not archival.  Sometimes the writing on the back “makes” the picture. Here is one that is tiny, ragged, creased, and a family treasure – because of the writing on the back.

A tiny photo, precious because of what is written on the back

A tiny photo, precious because of what is written on the back

“Lost in Colorado”  There was a Silver Boom in Colorado in 1879. This man would have been born in the 1840s or 50s (One of his brothers was born in 1851.)lost in colo detail dog & rifle

 I can’t help thinking that heading off into unknown country, among  strangers, while carrying a rifle studded with real gold and silver coins was probably a bad idea – in spite of that determined-looking dog.)


Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, vintage photographs

An Art Deco Fringed Dress, November 1926

nov 1926 butterick  ad pattern #1090In this illustration by Jean Desvignes for The Delineator, Butterick pattern #1090 is a classic of Style Moderne, the repeated curves of the lines of fringe accented by the repeated triangles in the model’s jewelry – and in the shape of her fingers, her stockings, and the elongated triangle formed by her legs. Even her shingled hair, worn smooth over the crown, curves to expose her earlobes and dangling earrings; the curves of the stylized 1920s rose in her hand and the curves and angles of the constructivist sculpture on the table echo the fringe.

The Chrysler Building's Curves and Tringles

The Chrysler Building’s Curves and Tringles

The tout ensemble reminds me of the Chrysler Building.

Here are some closer views of her Art Deco bracelets and the necklace cascading down her back (very 1920s!) details of  jewelry, heels, fringe

Desvignes has given her a jeweled belt to echo her rhinestone-studded high heels – perhaps it was woven, like a necklace, of black and silver beads – or it may be artistic license, since it ties like a ribbon. It was possible to buy jeweled heels like this  and have them put on your shoes.  Here’s a closer view of the curves of her dress: 1926 fringed dress detail butterick #1090 ad

Another View of the Same Pattern (#1090)

1926 dec #1090 version 2 front p 46 alt croppedDevignes’ illustration was part of an advertisement for Butterick patterns, so it’s interesting to compare his version with this conventional pattern illustration, which appeared elsewhere in the same issue of this Delineator magazine.

“# 1090: Pale dawn-blue georgette spattered with crystal stars is intended for the night life that begins one day and ends the next. The uneven line of the tiers and the backward flutter from the shoulder are extremely chic. The frock is in one piece and may be trimmed with tiers of fringe and made with a higher neck and a sleeve for afternoon. [The version with sleeves was probably illustrated on the pattern envelope.] The design is beaded with sequins. [Butterick embroidery pattern #10422] Designed for women 32 to 44 bust.”

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Filed under 1920s, Vintage patterns

1950s Formality — Even for Teenagers

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” – L.P. Hartley
The 21st century is a much more informal place than the 1950s.
It may be hard to imagine a time when T-shirts were only worn as underwear, except by ‘bad boys’ – and no T-shirts had writing on them… when you could get sent home from public school for wearing the tail of your shirt outside your pants… when most men wore hats or caps outside – and removed them when introduced to a lady.

Dresses for Teens, sizes 11 to 17

Dresses for Teens, sizes 11 to 17

Just a glance at these fashions for teenaged girls, from a Butterick Fashion News flyer dated October 1954, shows us young women who aspired to be adults. They wear gloves and hats when they go out in public (although not to school). Their dresses are tightly fitted, not made for comfort. If we weren’t told that these are dresses for teens, we would think they are women’s styles, especially the Sheath (#7122, Above) and the high-waisted Princess line (#7126, Above.)

Teen patterns #7084 and #7042, BFN Oct 1954

Teen patterns #7084 and #7042, BFN Oct 1954

The girl above, on the left (#7084) is carrying a delightful purse, probably made of black plastic, like a tiny piece of luggage. The girl on the right has a textbook in her hand, to remind us that this is a school dress. In order to support these very full skirts, we wore layers of crinoline petticoats. Imagine trying to squeeze all that fabric into a school desk or lecture seat! Since crinolines were scratchy, many of us wore a straight slip underneath, like this model.

Crinoline petticoat pattern, Butterick #5933, Oct.

Crinoline petticoat pattern, Butterick #5933, 1951

Believe me, to make your dress look like these illustrations, just one crinoline wouldn’t do – but, actually, just one was more than enough for school days.

Teen styles #7086 & #7083, October 1954

Teen styles #7086 & #7083, October 1954

Note the gloves. The dress on the right has a strong New Look influence. The illustration reminds me of young Natalie Wood; the last time I saw Rebel without a Cause (released in 1955), I was struck by how grown-up she looked. And yes, ‘rebel’ James Dean did wear a white T-shirt. He was a rebel!

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, Uncategorized, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc