A Skirt and Two Waists, January 1917

Some Butterick patterns for January 1917, Delineator magazine.

Some Butterick patterns for January 1917, Delineator magazine. These are not dresses, but skirts with separate blouses [called “waists.”]

These are not dresses. Bodice, or “Waist” patterns were sold separately from skirt patterns for a long time. (Sometimes, sleeve patterns were sold separately, too.) In Victorian times, practical women often had two bodices made to match one skirt:  a high necked, long-sleeved bodice for day, and a low-cut, short sleeved bodice for evening wear. When upper and middle class families “dressed for dinner” every night, this was a sensible way to maximize the clothing budget. Skirts took several yards of fabric, while bodices took less fabric but more labor.

It’s not surprising that patterns for these 1917 skirts, which take a lot of fabric, were also sold separately from their “waists”, i.e. blouses. This allowed women a great deal of originality in their costume, and made it possible to use one elaborate skirt with several top variations, as shown in these Delineator illustrations featuring Butterick skirt pattern 8875.

The simplest (and barest) version of both skirt and waist were shown in an editorial illustration:

Editorial Illustration, Delineator,  Jan. 1917. The top and skirt of this evening ensemble were sold separately, and both skirt  (No. 8875) and waist (No. 8901) had variations.

Editorial Illustration, Delineator, Jan. 1917. Patterns for the top and skirt of this evening “frock” were sold separately, and both skirt (No. 8875) and waist (No. 8901) had variations.

[I was able to identify the pattern numbers because they were featured in more detail elsewhere in the magazine. Butterick didn’t usually specify the patterns used for the full-page editorial illustrations that began Delineator‘s pattern pages every month.]

In this illustration, the surplice [wrap] waist is very bare, and trimmed with embroidery  at shoulder and waist:

Waist pattern 8901, shown sleeveless. Jan. 1917 Delineator, p. 37.

Waist pattern 8901, shown sleeveless. Jan. 1917 Delineator, p. 37.

On a different page, the same waist has short lace sleeves to match its more elaborate skirt:

Butterick waist pattern 8901, illustrated on page 38. Delineator, Jan 1917.

Butterick waist pattern 8901, illustrated on page 38. Delineator, Jan 1917.

Waist 8901 requires a “French lining,” which would have been close-fitting and supported the loose folds of the fashion fabric layer. Pattern 8901 was sold in sizes 32 to 46 inches bust measurement.

Butterick Skirt pattern 8875, from 1917

Skirt pattern 8875 can be made relatively simply, as on page 37:

Skirt pattern 8875 as illustrated on page 37, Delineator Jan. 1917

Skirt pattern 8875 as illustrated on page 37, Delineator Jan. 1917

Here, the sides of the panels are open at the natural waist and the front and back panels are connected with a button. The underskirt appears to be finely pleated chiffon, matching the fabric seen at the bodice underarm. [This skirt could also be made with the underskirt and overskirt of the same silky fabric — see color illustration below.]

Editorial Illustration, Delineator,  Jan. 1917. The top and skirt of this evening ensemble were sold separately, and both skirt  (No. 8875) and waist (No. 8901) had variations.

Editorial Illustration, Delineator, Jan. 1917. Page 37. This version has a plain, sheer, pleated fabric under the silk parts of the skirt and bodice.

The version with short lace sleeves was shown with matching lace — yards and yards of it — for an underskirt.

Waist 8901 with lace sleeves, and skirt 8875 with a lavish lace underskirt. Delineator, Jan. 1917, page 38.

Waist 8901 with lace sleeves, and skirt 8875 with a lavish lace underskirt. Delineator, Jan. 1917, page 38.

A closer view of this version of skirt 8875:

This version of skirt pattern 8875 has a lace underskirt, open at the sides like the overskirt, pulled through the opening near the natural waist.

This version of skirt pattern 8875 has a lace underskirt, open at the sides like the overskirt, and pulled through the opening near the natural waist. The patterned stockings echo the lacy look.

Butterick 8875:  “The skirt has an extremely graceful drapery at the front and back which gives a cascade effect at the sides. The underskirt is cut in two pieces and can be made with a flounce having a straight lower edge. The skirt is 39 inches long in front and has a slightly raised waistline.”

To make the skirt as illustrated would not be cheap. “A medium size requires 4  1/2 yards of taffeta silk 36 inches wide, 1/2 yard lace 22 inches wide, 7  1/2 yards edging 16 inches wide, 1  3/8 yard of narrow edging, 2  1/2 yards material for underskirt. Bottom foundation skirt measures 2  1/2 yards.”  When I was studying this illustration, I wondered how the underskirt could have galloon edged lace on three sides; apparently, the lace we see is the seven-plus yards of 18″ wide edging. The skirt shown here has at least three layers: silk top drape, lace under-drape, and and opaque “foundation skirt.” This skirt pattern was available in waist measurements 22 to 36 inches, for 20 cents.

Waist Pattern 8863 with Skirt pattern 8875

Skirt pattern 8875 was also illustrated with a completely different bodice, No. 8863, which had its own variations.

Other views of skirt pattern 8875, with waist 8901, left, and waist pattern 8863, right. Delineator,  Jan. 1917 .

Other views of skirt pattern 8875, with waist 8901, left, and waist pattern 8863, right. Delineator, Jan. 1917.

Butterick waist pattern 8863 with Skirt 8875:

Waist 8863 with skirt 8875, Delineator Jan. 1917.

Waist 8863 with skirt 8875, Delineator Jan. 1917. Embroidered bag transfer pattern 10616.

This is a day or afternoon version of the look. In this case, the skirt has been made with panels and underskirt of the same fabric, and trimmed with beading and tassels, which match the points of the bodice.  “Satin, charmeuse, taffeta or crepe meteor” are recommended. This two-piece outfit is described as a “smart frock.”

Butterick Waist pattern 8863:  “The waist has a draped front which is in one with the sash ends — a very new and effective arrangement for the back. The closing is made at the left shoulder and at the seam under the arm. Two different types of long sleeves with one seam are offered, or you could use the shorter length if you prefer. [The color illustration shows long, sheer sleeves with a cuff, and the black and white views show a tight long sleeve, left, and a below elbow sleeve, right. “The lower edge of the waist can be cut  in a single [black and white illus.]  or double pointed effect [color illus.]

Waist 8863 with a single point center front and high collared chemisette, or with the sheer collared V-neck chemisette shown in the color illustration.

Waist 8863 with a single point center front and a high-collared chemisette, or with the sheer collar and V-neck shown in the color illustration. Butterick also sold the embroidery design, Transfer No. 10101.

“The chemisette and collar can be omitted, but not the French lining, which is extremely important.” [I believe “French lining” refers to a close-fitted lining that does not have exactly the shape of the outer garment; it supports blouson or ruched and gathered effects on the outer layer and was very common on 19th century bodices.]

Waist pattern 8863 with sheer, cuffed sleeves and a double-pointed top, trimmed with embroidery and beaded tassels.

Waist pattern 8863 with sheer, cuffed sleeves and a double-pointed top, trimmed with beaded embroidery and tassels to match the skirt. The bag is also beaded and tasseled.

In 1917, one skirt pattern and two bodice patterns provided many variations; a woman could really feel that her choices would give her a unique look. Careful planning could also give her several “frocks” which used just one skirt. A second, more workaday, skirt pattern made from coordinated fabric could really multiply her wardrobe.

Simpler Skirts, January 1917

Skirts and blouses for day wear, Delineator, January 1917. p. 45.

Skirts and blouses for day wear, Delineator, January 1917. p. 45.

Since taffeta and silk were worn in daytime, as well as evening, one of these skirts might also be combined with the waists shown with skirt 8875.

I can’t resist pointing out the chi-chi balls / ball fringe trimming the hat on the right. Ole!

Hat with ball fringe, January 1917. Delineator, page 45.

Hat with ball fringe, January 1917. Delineator, page 45.

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14 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, bags, handbags, Hats, Purses, Vintage Accessories, Vintage patterns

14 responses to “A Skirt and Two Waists, January 1917

  1. If that three layer skirt could be made with detachable layers, the woman would really have a lot of options! But I guess this was before elastic waistbands. I think I finally understand the meaning of “frock”–a coordinated skirt and blouse/waist outfit. Is this right?

    • No, describing a two-piece outfit as a “frock” is odd — and why I mentioned it. A frock is usually a one-piece garment. I thought it interesting that these outfits which look like dresses — and were called “frocks” — were actually separates. Like many fashion terms, the meaning of “frock” changed over the centuries. I found a useful definition/ history of “frock” at apparelsearch.com
      Originally, it described a loose garment worn by monks or priests (That’s why a priest who violates his vows may be “defrocked.”) A “frock coat” has a skirt. In the 1920’s “frock” was often used as a synonym for “dress.” (I should look up the history of “waist” to see when that garment became a “blouse.”)

  2. I never knew this! What a fascinating post…..i always learn something from you! Thank you! 💝

  3. Nancy

    Are there details about how/if the skirt attaches to the waist? Are there patterns for sale that are close to these in design?

    • About connecting ‘waists’ and matching skirts: In the theatre, we sew a hook to the inside/lining of the finished bodice in several places — side seams, either side of the center back, in front — anywhere the weight of the skirt is greatest. (Sew five or six hooks, not right at the bottom, but where the bodice completely covers the waistband of the skirt.) The big, flat hooks used for trouser fronts work best. We carefully mark the waistband while top and bottom are on the actor or the mannequin, and sew corresponding bars — not curved eyes — to the outside of the waistband. If done properly, the bottom of the bodice will cover the hooks and eyes completely, and the bodice and skirt will not separate when worn.
      Finding patterns for this period: The Vintage Pattern Lending Library is a great resource, since they collect and copy authentic period patterns and sell the copies, in your size. (I haven’t used any of their products, but the overall website is informative and well done.) To see VPLL patterns for the First World War era, click here. To learn more about the Vintage Pattern Lending Library, click here.

  4. Auntie Nana

    Wow, these are beautiful. I love the weighted tassels on the handkerchief points of that over skirt, a way I guess to keep the skirt from flying around,
    Thanks so much,
    Auntie Nan

  5. This is a fascinating post. I am working on what might be seen as the opposite solution which is a skirt attatched to a camisole with an overblouse (a 1960s Nina Ricci pattern). I love the idea of being able to wear your clothes in different combinations.

    • Some 1920’s dresses (and many 1920s skirts) were constructed with the skirt attached to a camisole; when you want to control the amount of blousing, this works very well. 1920’s stage costumes behave better, too, when the skirt can’t slip around or sag on one side, because it hangs from the shoulders.

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