Monthly Archives: June 2014

A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, by Joy Spanabel Emery

Book cover image from Bloomsbury Publishing site. Please do not copy.

Book cover image from Bloomsbury Publishing site. Please do not copy.

I’ve been looking forward to this book, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, ever since I corresponded with its author, Joy Spanabel Emery, about the Commercial Pattern Archives Site at University of Rhode Island.  Her book  about the history of sewing patterns is now available from its publisher, Bloomsbury, or from Amazon or Abe Books. You can read reviews and summaries on their sites: Bloomsbury Publishing , AbeBooks.com , or at Amazon. I just found out that it is currently available in paperback for $35 or less, or in hardback. 272 pages; 125 colour illustrations and  75 black & white illustrations. Reviews mention that there are also scale reproductions of 9 patterns included for those who wish to enlarge them and make the garments.

Joy Emery is Professor Emerita of Theatre and the Curator of The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island, USA.  She is also the author of Stage Costume Techniques.

Publisher’s description of  A History of the Paper Pattern Industry:

“This accessible book explores this history, outlining innovations in patternmaking by the companies who produced patterns and how these reflected the fashions and demands of the market. Showcasing beautiful illustrations from original pattern pamphlets, packets and ads, as well as 9 complete patterns from which readers can reproduce vintage garments of different eras, the book provides a unique visual guide to homemade fashions as well as essential exploration of the industry that produced them. ”

Chapters include:

Chapter 1 Tailoring and the Birth of the Published Paper Pattern

Chapter 2 Development of Dressmaking Patterns

Chapter 3 Nineteenth Century Technology

Chapter 4 Early History of Pattern Companies 1860s-1880s

Chapter 5 New Markets and Expansion 1880s-1900

Chapter 6 Shifts and Balances 1900-1920s

Chapter 7 Blossoming Economy 1920-1929

Chapter 8 Surviving the Great Depression 1930s

Chapter 9 The War Years 1940s

Chapter 10 Shifting Trends 1960s

Chapter 11 New Challenges 1960s-1980s

Chapter 12 Reinvention and Renaissance 1980s-2010

9 Pattern Grids 1854-1968

Endnotes, Bibliography, Index

The Commercial Pattern Archive collection, of which Joy Spanabel Emery is curator, has over 56,000 commercial sewing patterns, and is available to the public for research (by appointment.) The enormous CoPA database can be searched online. For full access, you can subscribe for a modest fee (which is used to pay the students who work scanning and entering new patterns into the database). Or you can sample the database for free if you click on Sample.

 

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Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf, Resources for Costumers, Vintage patterns

You Cannot Afford to be Gray in the Day of Youth: 1920s Ads for Hair Coloring

The fashions of the nineteen twenties emphasized youth. A very slender figure, boyishly short hair, lots of ‘pep’: it was hard for women over forty to embody these ideals — unless they had a little help.1926 aug p 64 top honest gray hair dye ad

Most women born in the late 1800s — and approaching their forties by 1925 —  were raised to think that obvious cosmetics and beauty aids were signs of immorality, the mark of a “painted woman.” [Even in the 1880s, wealthy urban women, of unimpeachable social standing, could get away with wearing powder and rouge, and perhaps a touch of lip color, but the wife of a small-town doctor or businessman could not risk her reputation that way.] To some people, wearing make-up was a form of deceit. This ad — asking “Are Gray-Haired Women Honest?” — plays upon that attitude, and turns it on its head, so to speak.

An Advertisement for Goldman's Hair Color Restorer, August 1926.

An Advertisement for Goldman’s Hair Color Restorer, August 1926.

“Today, gray or faded locks mean a woman is careless. . . . Nowadays the knowing woman uses a colorless liquid, clear as spring water, and just as harmless. This happy discovery restores the original shade your hair should never lose.” [Notice, it’s not a dye, it merely “restores” your hair’s natural color.] “And leaves it so silky soft, it waves or curls as in youth. Even a streak of gray ruins the effect of any bob. . . .”

1926 hair styles -- three of them are 'bobs' or 'shingles', cut very short in back.

1926 hair styles — three of them are ‘bobs’ or ‘shingles’, cut very short in back.

In the 1920s, attitudes toward visible cosmetics were changing. Young women now carried a compact containing powder and rouge in their purses (and were criticized for applying powder and lip rouge in public, at restaurant tables, for example.)  Lips were unnaturally bright or dark red — look at the lips on the gray-haired model above — and mascara and eye shadows were not subtle:

From an advertisement for Maybelline eye makeup, Delineator, May 1924.

From an advertisement for Maybelline eye makeup, Delineator, May 1924.

With young women looking so seductive, older women had to keep up the appearance of youth to compete. Advertisers played on the fears of their audience in many ways.

Does One Gray Hair Frighten You? Use Notox.

I928 dec notox top of ad gray hair marcel

Ad for Notox "corrective for gray or white hair." December, 1928.

Ad for Notox “corrective for gray or white hair.” December, 1928.

“The very nicest women use it.”

Gray Hair Comes in the Night; Use Brownatone.

Illustration by Walter Maya for Brownatone hair color. 1924.

Illustration by Walter Maya for Brownatone hair color. 1924.

“She retires, a reigning beauty whose triumphs were the envy and despair of a hundred rivals. She awakes to tragedy! In the night relentless age had laid a silvering finger on her hair. Youth betrayed by Time!”

You Cannot Afford to Be Gray — This is the Day of Youth

Ad for Brownatone hair color, 1925.

Ad for Brownatone hair color, 1925.

“Present Day hairdressing makes no allowance for Gray Hair. The shingle, the boyish bob, the masculine pompadour, the chic coiffure of closely bound hair, accents gray, faded, streaked or unevenly colored hair. You cannot afford gray hair because this is the Day of Youth.”

Decline to Be Gray as Long As Youth Beats in Your Heart

Ad for Wyeth's Sage and Sulphur Compound, October, 1928

Ad for Wyeth’s Sage and Sulphur Compound, October, 1928

“As long as you feel youth in your heart, you have a right to retain it in your appearance! Gray hair need not be submitted to meekly. . . . [Wyeth’s Sage and Sulphur Compound] darkens the hair so beautifully and naturally that no one can possibly tell. . . . By morning the gray hair disappears; . . . its natural color is restored and it becomes thick, glossy and lustrous, and you appear years younger.”

Choices in 1920s Hair Coloring Products

These ads are all taken from one publication, Delineator, a woman’s magazine which was published by Butterick, the sewing pattern company. Many of the advertisers’ themes are still in use today; some modern hair products are “natural,” like Wyeth’s Sage Tea and Sulphur Compound; Mary T. Goldman’s product is a “clear” color “restorer,” like products aimed at men today. Notox — scientifically produced by three Ph. D’s — colors the inside of the hair shaft , so it leaves hair shiny and “glossy and young” — like the Healthy Look™ ‘creme gloss’ I use today. Other brands advertised included Brownatone, which promised — in March, 1925 — that “You can tint gray, faded or bleached hair any color from lightest blonde to the varying shades of brown or black. . .”1925 march p 107 big text gray hair brownatone ad . . . even though it was only available in two colors, “Golden to Medium Brown” and “Dark Brown to Black.” Perhaps the product had been greatly improved since this ad appeared in February, 1924:

Brownatone Ad, February 1924. This ad says it "tints hair to natural shades of brown or black."

Brownatone Ad, February 1924. This ad says it “tints… hair to natural shades of brown or black.” (The model doesn’t look a day over thirty to me.)

Q-Ban Hair Color Restorer (say it out loud, and notice the lovely Senorita) promises only to restore dark hair. Note, it’s “not a dye.”

Q-Ban Hair Color Restorer Advertisement, March 1924.

Q-Ban Hair Color Restorer Advertisement, March 1924. “Used by men and women for over 30 years.”

“A beneficial preparation used by men and women for over 30 years. Used in privacy of your own home…. Your friends need not know.”

In 1895, a character in The Importance of Being Earnest says, of the widowed Lady Harbury, “I hear her hair has turned quite gold with grief.” “It certainly has changed its colour,” replies Lady Bracknell, “from what cause I, of course, cannot say.”

Free Trial Samples

If all these claims made a woman skeptical, she could get a free, “complete test outfit” from Mary T. Goldman, or a sample from Brownatone for just 10 cents.

On the Other Hand…

It’s hard to distinguish blonde hair from white in a black and white illustration, but I’d like to think this Paris couture model represents a mature client who refuses to dye:

A design from Paris: Agnes, January 1925.

A Paris design from Agnes, January 1925.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Hairstyles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Couture Designs

Early Keds for Women Ads, Summer 1917

Keds for women ad, June 1917.

Keds for women ad, June 1917.

Keds rubber-soled shoes were introduced in 1916 (according to Wikipedia), a product of the United States Rubber Company. I have not searched through magazines from 1916, but this ad from June 1917 implies that this particular Ked shoe is a new style, “A New Shoe with a New Charm.” An ad from the following month makes a pun about this model: “Keds Make Their First Bow to You.” Obviously, these are not the high-topped sneakers that were the first Keds produced. These rubber-soled flats, with their squared bow on the toe, look amazingly modern compared to other women’s shoes from 1917:

Women's Shoes for April, 1917. From an article in Delineator magazine.

Women’s Shoes for April, 1917. From an article in Delineator magazine.

Here is the text from the June Keds advertisement pictured above:1917 june p 33 keds ad btm text“A new shoe — a new name — a new attractiveness in style — a new comfort in  coolness and graceful flexibility — a new economy worth while. These are reasons why you, too, will appreciate the charm of this big new American shoe family called Keds.

“Keds have cool tops of the firmest and finest of canvas. The soles are made of rubber, full of grace and spring.

“Keds prove a necessity to the well-dressed woman who values perfect ease in all of her outdoor games and sports. They are so comfortable outdoors that she also wears them for housework, shopping, and leisure dress-up hours. Keds, in name, means quality, for behind every pair there is the reputation of the largest rubber manufacturer in the world. You will find all that is desirable in materials, workmanship and shapeliness and smart style in any of the three grades of Keds. Ask for Keds according to price and style desired under these names:

“National Keds, from $1.50 up; Campfire Keds, $1.25 to $2.00; Champion Keds, $1.00 to $1.50.

“There is style, service and economy in Keds for every member of the family.

“Keds for girls and boys are national favorites. The lines and support of Keds conform to little growing feet. There is also great economy in their splendid wearing qualities.”

Keds Advertisement, July 1917

Keds Advertisement for July 1917; it appeared in both Delineator and Ladies' Home Journal.

Keds Advertisement for July 1917; it appeared in both Delineator and Ladies’ Home Journal.

This full page ad — “Keds Make Their First Bow to You” —  appeared in the July edition of the women’s magazines Delineator and Ladies’ Home Journal.  “They bow to you — discriminatingly well-dressed American woman!”

“Keds for you will cover all daytime occasions — home wear; golf, tennis and all other outdoor games; for ordinary walking or longer ‘hikes’; for yachting and riding wear; and plenty of other styles just as perfectly suitable for wear with morning frocks and daintiest house gowns, at home or on the country-club porch.

“She travels many miles a day — the woman going about her household duties; but she is perfectly content to walk on that journey of loving service when she wears a shoe as pretty as it is comfortable….”

[U.S. Rubber later introduced a line of woman’s shoes called Kedettes, closely resembling fashion shoes; some even had medium-high heels.]

I’m not sure whether the July 1917 shoe is the same as the June one, or if the July shoe actually had thin black piping as drawn. The illustrations also have different skirts and different backgrounds — a boat race in June, a beach scene in July.

Take another look at that classic, slip-on shoe; it’s 97 years old this month.

Keds for women ad, June 1917.

Keds for women, June 1917 – almost 100 years ago.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories

Golf and Corsets, 1917

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

After writing about the use of golf to promote everything from laundry soap to deodorant in September of 1924, I went to the library to finish reading the bound Delineators from 1917 and found this image of a lady in her underwear holding a putter. (I may be wrong about the golf club’s name. I’ve only played golf once, over 50 years ago.) If asked to name the least flattering period of women’s clothing, ever, I would say “World War I;”  these corsets, brassieres, and bust-confiners do nothing to dissuade me.

Corsets for Sports, 1917

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

It would be fun to make up stories about why this lady is so interested in the golf club that she has just found in her boudoir, but it’s not a clue in a murder mystery; the illustrator probably put it there to indicate that this is a corset for “sports, motoring and dancing, ” “lightly boned and made flexible with rubber gores that give and take.” The corset is shown worn over her bloomers. Judging from the two pairs of straps on her shoulders, she is wearing a corset cover over either a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Her shoes are also interesting; her stockings are held up by her corset, so these straps are not garters, but part of the lady’s boots:

Ladies' boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

Ladies’ boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

This is a lighter sports corset — on a less substantial woman —  from the same article:

A sports corset for slender women. 1917.

“The new sports corset has a very short front bone with buttons above it. The bust is very low.” 1917.

The riding crop on the bench, plus the bowler hat — assuming it belongs to the lady — suggest she is going horseback riding. “The bust is very low” indeed, even though her arms are raised.

Brassieres and Bust-Confiners, 1917

"with a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917,  p. 43.

“With a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner.” This upper garment, with gathers at the side and no boning, is a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917, p. 43.

The brassiere of 1917 created a mono-bosom, and contributed to the sagging bustline that was illustrated in fashions for young women as well as for matrons.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

The stout lady in this illustration is wearing a heavy linen brassiere with her front-lacing corset:

A brassiere and a front-lacing corset, 1917.

A brassiere worn with a front-lacing corset, 1917.

The front-lacing corset was still new. “With the present low bust the corset only takes care of the lower part of the figure. The upper part is no longer corseted by the corset but by a brassiere or bust-confiner. The new brassieres are quite lovely. For stout figures they are made of heavy linen and heavy lace in the filet and Cluny patterns. They come right to the waistline and are boned lightly but firmly. The stout woman has to wear a brassiere. . . . Slender women wear either a brassiere or bust-confiner of silk tricot, crepe de Chine, net or satin ribbon. Under the very thin Georgette crepe blouses and dresses, with only a thin silk shirt and a satin camisole between you and your dress, the bust-confiner is absolutely necessary for even the most slender and undeveloped figures.” A few years later, the brassiere and the bust-confiner had evolved into bust flatteners and bandeaux. Click here for more about early 1920s bandeaux and corsets.

From and article by , Delineator, Sep. 1917, p. 43.

From an article by Eleanor Chalmers, Delineator, Sept. 1917, p. 43.

This article about underwear was titled “First Line of Defense of the Figure.” After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, military terms were constantly used by Delineator editors in fashion coverage, in a way that I find shocking today. Of course, the World War I images of horrific slaughter which we have seen were censored and suppressed at the time, so whimsical references to “manouevres,” “holding the line,” and “going over the top” were perhaps not so tasteless then. Perhaps.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Bras, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Hosiery & Stockings, Shoes, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

The Power of Golf in Advertisements, 1924

“What Makes a Sportswoman?” Article Illustration, Delineator, May 1924.

“What Makes a Sportswoman?” Article Illustration, Delineator, May 1924.

Advertisers still try to link their products with a desirable life-style, preferably a few rungs higher on the economic ladder than their target audience. In 1924, golf was the sport that meant “middle to upper-middle class.” (The association of golf courses with country clubs and gated communities is still strong.) All of these illustrations appeared in Delineator magazine in 1924. In the September issue alone, golf was used to sell:

Deodorant

An ad for Ab-Scent Deodorant, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

An ad for Ab-Scent Deodorant, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

Carpet Sweepers

An Ad for Bissell Carpet Sweepers, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

An Ad for Bissell Carpet Sweepers, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

Sewing Patterns

Illustration of Butterick Patterns for Girls, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

Illustration of Butterick Patterns for Girls, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

And Shoes.

Ad for Selby Arch Preserver Shoes, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

Ad for Selby Arch Preserver Shoes, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

In August, golf was used to sell:

Lux Laundry Soap

Advertisement about washing sweaters and knits with Lux Soap, Delineator, August 1924.

Advertisement about washing sweaters and knits with Lux Soap, Delineator, August 1924.

And Gossard Corsets

Ad for Gossard Gossard Corsets, Combinations, and Brassieres , Delineator, August 1924.

Ad for Gossard Gossard Corsets, Combinations, and Brassieres , Delineator, August 1924.

In June, the Butterick Pattern Company suggested that a golfing outfit should be part of your trousseau:

From a page of suggested patterns to make for your trousseau and honeymoon, Delineator, June 1924

From a page of suggested patterns to make for your trousseau and honeymoon, Delineator, June 1924

and that girls aged 8 to 15 were also likely to be playing golf.

Butterick patterns for girls aged 8 to 15, Delineator, June 1924.

Butterick patterns for girls aged 8 to 15, Delineator, June 1924.

A Closer Look at Some of These Ads

The ad for Ab-Scent deodorant is actually aimed at men, but different “embarrassment” stories appeared in their other ads. In August, this unhappy young woman was “shunned” at the tennis club.

Ab-Scent deodorant ad, August 1924.

Ab-Scent deodorant ad, August 1924. Notice the snob appeal; “The most select men and women….”

Both ads are interesting because they give us a view of typical sports clothes, including shoes.

From an Ab-Scent deodorant ad, September 1924.

From an Ab-Scent deodorant ad, September 1924. Note his cufflinks and bow tie.

It’s a relief to see that at least one of the women golfers is wearing very flat-heeled shoes; imagine playing golf or lawn tennis with your heels sinking into the grass.

Ad for Selby Arch Preserver Shoes, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

Ad for Selby Arch Preserver Shoes, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

This illustration comes from a full-page advertisement that told a rather lengthy story about woman who had jeopardized her husband’s career by playing golf in uncomfortable shoes.

Before her marriage, she was a champion golfer (always wearing Arch Preserver shoes), but she had stopped playing while her children were young.  Her husband comes home one day and says, “What do you think, little wife, the boss came in today and asked if I played golf….  Then he asked whether you played. I told him plenty about your playing. I told him –” The result was that the boss invited the young couple to play golf with him and his wife. The young wife “started out dashingly, driving a full two hundred yards from the first tee….” But she eventually felt so much pain in her feet that she had to  “hobble over the last few holes. She paid dearly for her ‘bargain’ shoes…. ‘I can’t help but worry,’ she tells her husband. ‘That game meant so much to you in business…. I know you’ll hate me, but I did the silliest thing. I thought I’d save some money by buying shoes at a sale.’ ” A few weeks later they played another game with her husband’s employer and his wife, who says, “Why, what in the world has happened to you? I never saw such a difference in anyone’s playing!” After the ‘little wife’ gives her a whole paragraph explaining the benefits of her new Arch Preserver Shoes, the boss’s wife says, “Do you know, that’s the very kind of shoe I’m wearing”– neatly reinforcing the class aspect of the product.

To my surprise, these are the shoes illustrated in this advertisement:

Selby Arch Preserver Shoes featured with the article about wearing them for golf. Sept. 1924.

Selby Arch Preserver Shoes featured with the article about wearing them for golf. Sept. 1924.

The boss’s wife, seated in the illustration, seems to be wearing either the lace-up shoe No. 678 or the flat oxford shown at the bottom. But the ‘little wife’ is wearing very fashionable Arch Preserver shoes with a broad strap.1924 sept p 37 golf arch preserver shoe shoes only

Sweeping Your Carpet while Dressed for Golf

An Ad for Bissell Carpet Sweepers, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

An Ad for Bissell Carpet Sweepers, Delineator, Sept. 1924.

I don’t for a moment suppose that any women did their housework dressed like this, hat and all. [We had a Bissell carpet sweeper like this one when I was a child. It wasn’t electric; as you pushed it, the round bristles swept the dirt into a trap in the machine, avoiding the need for a dustpan.]

The text of the ad doesn’t mention golf at all.  The idea is that you will save so much time with the Bissell sweeper that you’ll be able to play golf all afternoon instead of cleaning. And the sweeper is good for picking up last-minute spills, so you can grab your clubs and head for the country club.

I do like her striped sweater and the checker board band on her hat. She seems to be wearing a pleated skirt like the women golfers in this Ab-Scent ad.1924 sept deodorant Ab-scent ad golf pleated skirtsOnly the sportswoman pictured in the illustration at the top of this post is wearing golf knickers.  It is an illustration for an article, not an ad. Advertisers would avoid any clothing that might be considered controversial, such as a woman wearing ‘men’s’ clothing. The woman golfer in this Gossard corset ad is also wearing a pleated, buttoned skirt with her striped sweater:

Ad for Gossard Gossard Corsets, Combinations, and Brassieres , Delineator, August 1924.

Ad for Gossard Gossard Corsets, Combinations, and Brassieres, Delineator, August 1924.

This 1924 ad is really ahead of its time. The model has a well-defined, natural waist [!] accentuated by a belt, and an equally natural bust, styles which were not widely adopted until the end of the decade. By 1926, some women were beginning to replace breast-flattening bandeaux and brassieres with bras that had a gathered center front, acknowledging, for the first time in years, that women naturally have two breasts, not a mono-bosom. The name “Maiden Form” — as opposed to Boyshform, makers of the Boyshform binder — was registered as a trademark in 1924, the date of this ad, but bras that separated and lifted the bust first appeared in advertisements a couple of years later. (See Uplift: The Bra in America, p. 41) I do wish this 1924 ad from Gossard had shown the underwear this young lady was wearing!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, Bras, Corsets & Corselettes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Sportswear

Book Review: A Perfect Fit, by Jenna Weissman Joselit

A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America

A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America was first published in 2001, but I discovered it at the library this year. This is such a good book that I wish it had a better format. Professor Joselit writes about the way clothing “Americanized” immigrants and helped other Americans — “outriders” by virtue of race or economic status — integrate into the mainstream culture.

Illustration from A Perfect Fit; from the Peter H. Schweitzer collection. Please do not copy this image.

Illustration from A Perfect Fit; from the Peter H. Schweitzer collection. Please do not copy this image.

The chapters can be read as independent essays on topics ranging from “The Mark of a Gentleman” to “The Truth About Fur” (with a necessary side trip into egret feathers and the founding of the Audubon Society) — all researched primarily in periodicals, trade journals, and newspapers. Consequently, there is a lot of information from previously neglected sources. Other chapters discuss changing ideas of modesty (corsets and hemlines), men’s clothing and hats, shoes (“Oh, My Aching Feet”), and other accessories (“Say It with Jewelry.” )

There is much to like about A Perfect Fit — including the extensive use of primary sources that are not on the usual fashion writers’ list:  Hadassah Newsletter, Council Woman, Catholic Citizen, Scientific American, and the records of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, among many others.  But it can also be exasperating, chiefly because of problems that should have been addressed by the editor.  Since the preface says,  “the 1890s, when this book begins, and the 1930s, when it ends,” it’s disconcerting to see undated illustrations from earlier and much later decades.  To Joselin’s credit, the illustrations include Americans of African and Jewish ancestry wearing elegant clothing, in keeping with her theme of “The Promise of America.”

Illustration for A Perfect Fit: Photo of "two unidentified South Carolina women" by Richard Samuel Roberts, NY Public library collection. Please do not copy this image.

Illustration for A Perfect Fit: Photo of “two unidentified South Carolina women” by Richard Samuel Roberts, NY Public library collection. Please do not copy this image.

Her discussion of “fashion shows produced by rural women and their daughters,” between the wars, with the encouragement of 4-H clubs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture was news to me, and fascinating — in spite of this photo illustration that is clearly from the post-war era.

Illustration from A Perfect Fit. From collection of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. Please do not copy this image.

Illustration from A Perfect Fit. From collection of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Please do not copy this image.

The chapter on fur and feathers is very interesting, and answered a question that had been in my mind: How was it possible that photos of the 1930s — the Great Depression — showed so many ordinary women (like secretaries and typists) wearing furs? The answer illustrates the problem of unintended consequences: to eliminate the cruelty of steel-jawed traps, fur farming was encouraged as a more humane solution. “In 1917, there were only four fur farms in the entire United States; by 1930, there were more than forty-five hundred.” This drove down the price of furs — and millions of animals were raised for slaughter.

“A la Mode,” the chapter that best explains the subtitle “Clothes, Character and the Promise of America,” shows the aspiration to “blend in” and the consequent emphasis on materialism that is still [in my opinion] an American plague. It also discusses the revolution in dress that resulted from improvements in mass-produced clothing.

Illustration from A Perfect Fit. From the Peter H. Schweitzer collection. Please do not copy this image.

Illustration from A Perfect Fit. From the Peter H. Schweitzer collection. Please do not copy this image.

There is even a mention of early charity thrift shops and the “I cash clothes!” man who was familiar in many neighborhoods.

Since so many of the sources are periodicals, the lack of a bibliography is perhaps understandable, but the decision to avoid numbered footnotes — or even an asterisk — means the reader has to flip back and forth constantly, trying to track and date the sources. (The footnotes are sorted by page number; until you look for a citation, you don’t know whether there will be one or not. There usually is one — or several — identified by phrases from the text. ) Finding out more about an intriguing statement is not easy. Joselit examines trends, using copious citations but without much regard to strict chronology; it’s possible to find references to articles dating from 1911 and 1925 in the same sentence, e.g., in a sentence on p. 175 about the popularity of  ” ‘interesting insect jewelry’ and strings of pearls.”

[My husband has had several books published, so I’m aware that editing is often up to the writer these days. One publisher even told him to avoid putting dates in the text, because “people don’t like books with lots of numbers.” And some publishers are footnote phobic — but luckily, not Mary Roach’s. Her Packing for Mars would be much less funny without the footnotes at the bottom of the page. I hope other publishers notice that footnotes at the bottom of the page have not discouraged readers from buying her books. ]

I just wish A Perfect Fit had a better format and the quality of editing that it deserves.

The final chapter, “Emphatically Modern,” covers the nineteen forties and the fifties, and ranges to the 1970s ( in spite of the date range set out in the preface.) It covers man-made fibers, zoot suits, women wearing trousers, etc. — and the citations at the back of the book offer some great leads to further research.

A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America is crammed with marvellous quotations from usually neglected sources. Joselit is concerned with the everyday clothing of Americans, new and old. And she discusses both men’s and women’s fashions. It’s definitely worth reading — but you’ll need to keep a bookmark in the footnotes section; you’ll probably be flipping back and forth several times per page to check the dates. Available in hardback or paperback. You can read more detailed reviews of this book at Houston Chronicle,  Project MUSE, Kirkus Reviews.

Note — photos from the book have been used only to illustrate points made in the review. They are not to be copied, posted, reproduced, etc. without permission of the copyright owners.

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Hats, Menswear, Shoes

Change-Abouts for Teens and Twenties: 1937

Change-About Fashions, Woman’s Home Companion, April 1937

Change-About Fashions, Woman’s Home Companion, April 1937

Companion-Butterick patterns often emphasized that they were economical because the dresses featured could be worn several ways, giving the look of a large wardrobe with only a few garments. These three patterns from the April 1937 Woman’s Home Companion are intended for teens and young women. (Sizes run through Junior Miss size 12 to a Ladies’ Bust size 38″) The text, by Fashion Editor Ethel Holland Little, says:

“If there is one rule that you Teens and Twenties can put at the top of every clothes list, it is: seek variety. You can wear so many of the new fashions. Why not arm yourself with all the season’s hits – the boleros, the bright prints, the colored sashes, the novelty piqués, the hats with fabric crowns? You can do this without stretching your clothes allowance too much – if you go in for change-abouts.

One day you wear it one way, the next, another – the simple dress that you vary by adding or subtracting a jacket, by substituting a belt for a sash. Try it; try all three of the change-abouts pictured here if you are looking for an economical way to put yourself on the fashion map.”

Companion-Butterick pattern #7296, April 1937.

Companion-Butterick pattern #7296, April 1937.

Pattern # 7296 looks demure with its jacket on; the surprise comes with the jacket off – revealing a back bare to the waist. 1937 april p 78 changebackless 500 7296

“No. 7296 is the beach dress you are practically forced to acquire if you want to build a reputation for knowing what’s what. Wide short skirt, cut-out back, and brief bolero – these are the three fundamentals of a style that looks right at the country club with its little jacket, on the sand without. Make both dress and jacket in a splashy surrealist print [popularized by Schiaparelli] or in this new combination of white linen with polkadot silk crepe. But in any case don’t forget your matching rubber-soled sports shoes (they’re cotton and remarkably inexpensive) and your big-brimmed fabric-crowned straw.

Was it a coincidence that rubber-soled Kedettes were advertised in the same issue?

Kedettes rubber-soled shoes ad, 1937. Keds and Kedetttes were made by United States Rubber Company.

Kedettes rubber-soled shoes ad, 1937. Keds and Kedetttes were made by United States Rubber Company.

“Kedettes are made by the makers of Keds and Gaytees. At the better stores… $1.29 to $2.25.”

Companion-Butterick pattern #7924, April 1937.

Companion-Butterick pattern #7924, April 1937.

“No. 7924 makes a good weekday school cotton – one that you can wear with or without the jacket according to the weather and your mood. It is perfect for a novelty piqué (the new ones are called by such pat names as boxbar or hexagon) and for a non-soiling shade such as this wine red, printed and plain.” [Note: She seems to be wearing a pair of the Kedettes featured in the ad.]

Companion-Butterick pattern #7298, April 1937.

Companion-Butterick pattern #7298, April 1937.

“No. 7298 is your silk daytime dress – made to order for club gatherings and monopoly parties. Wear it on Friday the ninth with the printed collar and peplum. Appear on Friday the sixteenth with a tricolor ribbon sash. The crowd won’t know it’s the same dress at first, and when they do, they’ll applaud your sorcery.”

If you look closely, you’ll see that there is no jacket – the same print fabric is used for the detachable collar and peplum, and the peplum is attached to a belt. 1937 april p 79 change abouts teens twenties peplum

 

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Sportswear