Monthly Archives: March 2015

Four Souls of Birmingham, by Kristine Mays

I saw a picture of this wire sculpture by Kristine Mays in the Sunday newspaper and wanted to share it. Her wire sculpture of four little girls’ dresses — in memory of Addie May Collins, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, and Carol Robertson, four children who died when their church in Birmingham was fire-bombed in 1963 — must resonate with anyone who remembers the happiness of wearing your very best dress, your Sunday dress, often your “birthday dress.” The joy of the innocent, their hope for the future, and the loss of so much goodness: artist Kristine Mays captures all those with these four empty dresses.  Click here.

You can read the New York Times report on this tragedy by clicking here.   It’s not easy reading — over fifty years have passed, and the promise of equality in America is still not fulfilled.

You can read  more about the bombing and its aftermath at Wikipedia ( click here.) It’s a reminder of the power of human beings to forgive, but not forget.

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Dresses from Remnants, World War II

“Remnants on Your Budget,”October 1943, Butterick Fashion News flyer. Pattern #2718.

With war-time fabric regulations and eventual fabric rationing, women who sewed were trying to make do, cannibalizing old garments to create more up-to-date styles. Butterick responded to their needs with a series of suggestions on how they could combine fabric remnants using specific Butterick patterns. Some new fashions also helped, like a fad for dresses made with two different materials, or for suits that no longer needed matching jackets and skirts.

“Something New from Something Old,” Butterick Fashion News flyer, September 1943. Yoke and sleeve pattern #2304.

The dress below, from Saks or Neiman-Marcus, combined a dotted fabric with a solid one, like the Butterick illustration above.

Enka Rayon dress available from Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus, or Meier & Frank. Vogue, Aug. 15. 1943.

Enka Rayon dress available from Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus, or Meier & Frank. Vogue, Aug. 15. 1943.

It cost $35.00, a lot of money in 1943.

Butterick 2304 was a pattern for just the spotted sleeves, collar, and yoke of this “remnant” dress.

Butterick pattern 2304, Sept 1943 Butterick Fashion News.

Butterick pattern #2304, Sept 1943 Butterick Fashion News.

The body of the dress was one you might already have in your closet; Butterick gave instructions for removing the existing sleeves and collar and replacing them with just one and one eighth yards of 39 inch fabric.

BFN sept 1943 bk cvr 500 text btm wartime color block pattern reuse277

BFN sept 1943 bk cvr text  follow 500

information from bottom of page, Butterick Fashion Flyer, Sept. 1943.

Information from bottom of page, Butterick Fashion Flyer, Sept. 1943.

“Stop, look, and consider just how you can salvage that discarded dress for another season or two. . . . Next time you’re at the remnant counter of your favorite store, look for a fabric to combine with your original dress. This bit of salvage magic will give you a completely new one. . . . This transformation of your tired frock will do such wonderful things for your budget as well as aiding in the vital program of fabric conservation.”

Click here for a great illustration of a refashioned dress in this article about clothes rationing — and the usefulness of printed feedsacks — from the Lebanon County Historical Society.

Butterick 2718

Information from the back cover of Butterick Fashion News, October 1943.

Information from the back cover of Butterick Fashion News, October 1943. “Slim two-piece dress” pattern #2718.

Because it lacks the interior structure of a suit, this is called a two piece dress, but it has a jacket-like bodice and a separate skirt.

“Remnants used adroitly are invaluable in balancing a budget; invaluable in aiding the all-out wartime effort of fabric conservation. . . . we suggest Butterick 2718, a slim two-piece dress . . . . Plan it in contrast . . . . . . In this was you can have a really individual dress . . . a dress that saves fabric . . . a dress that saves your budget from the doldrums!”

The skirt takes less than 2 yards of 39″ fabric, and the top uses only 1 3/8 yards — so the chance of finding both pieces on the remnant table were pretty good.

Butterick 2746

Butterick suit pattern #2746, Oct. 1943 Butterick Fashion News flyer.

Butterick suit pattern #2746, Oct. 1943 Butterick Fashion News flyer.

Pattern information for #2746, October 1943. Butterick.

Pattern information for #2746, October 1943. Butterick.

The skirt from either pattern could also be combined with jacket-like blouses — sometimes with a peplum — like these:

Peplum blouse patterns from Butterick, Dec. 1942.

Peplum blouse patterns from Butterick, Dec. 1942. From left, 2301 version A, 2301 version B, 2302 version B.

Butterick 2747

Butterick also offered this “shirtwaist dress,” (left, below) which looks like two pieces but isn’t. The waist is very similar to a blouse and skirt combination sold at I. Magnin. (right)

Burrerick dress pattern 2747 (left) and an outfit from I. Magnin, right. Both from Fall of 1943.

Butterick dress pattern #2747 (left) and an outfit from I. Magnin, right. Both from Fall of 1943.

Pattern information for Butterick #2747, Oct. 1943.

Pattern information for Butterick #2747, Oct. 1943.

The coral rayon top (also available in aqua) and the black velveteen skirt from I. Magnin (a very upscale store) came in junior sizes 9 to 15, and cost $35.00. The ad reminds careful shoppers that they could be worn separately.

Details copied from the I. Magnin ad in Vogue, Aug. 15, 1943.

Details copied from the I. Magnin ad in Vogue, Aug. 15, 1943.

I haven’t checked the Ladies’ Home Journal for 1943, but that magazine constantly suggested ways to remake dresses during World War I. The World War II slogan “Make Do and Mend”  was observed by all levels of society in England and the U.S.

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, World War I

Semi-Made Dresses, 1930’s

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

“You simply sew up the seams. Complete accessories with each dress.”

One way women could save a little on dresses during the great Depression was by buying a partially constructed dress and sewing their own hems, side-seams, buttons, etc.  I didn’t find much information online about the Berth Robert company, or its rival, Fifth Avenue Modes. But I have encountered a sampling of their ads in nineteen thirties’ magazines.

Just at random, I found this Berth Robert ad in The Delineator, February 1931 issue. I may yet find earlier ones.

Top of ad for Berth Robert Semi-Made Dresses, from The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 79.

Top of ad for Berth Robert Semi-Finished Dress catalog, from The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 79. “Dress smartly by the Berth Robert Plan and save.”

Text of Berth Robert ad, Delneatro, Feb. 1931. p. 79.

Text of Berth Robert ad, Delneator, Feb. 1931. p. 79.

“In Paris we select the smartest, cleverest styles. Then, in our own New York atelier these charming frocks are tailored to your measurements from the finest fabrics. All difficult sewing — necklines, tailoring, tucking and pleating — is completely, beautifully done. All you do is the easy finishing up. Even an inexperienced sewer can easily finish a Berth Robert Frock or Ensemble.

“This Spring, dress with Parisian smartness, yet actually save money by the Berth Robert Plan.”

The implication is that all the buyer will need is a needle and thread (see pictures.)

Berth Robert catalog ad bottom. Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 79.

Berth Robert catalog ad bottom. Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 79.

This ad, from the Fifth Avenue Modes company, appeared in the same issue of The Delineator:

Top of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes "Finish-at-Home" fashions. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 106.

Top of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes “Finish-at-Home” fashions. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 106.

“How to be well-dressed on a limited budget — that is the problem which the “Finish-at-Home” Plan is solving for so many fashionable women today! Finish-at-Home fashions save you half!”

Text of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes' "Finish-at-Home" catalog. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 106.

Text of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes’ “Finish-at-Home” catalog. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 106.

“Made to Your Order. The dress you select comes from Fifth Avenue Modes cut to your exact size or measurements, with all the difficult work done. . . . Our expert men-tailors complete all the tailoring, pleating, hemstitching, tucking, etc., so that all you have to do is to put together a few completely-made parts. No bothersome patterns to follow, no expense for outside work, no trimmings to buy or make — we furnish everything you need for your dress, down to the spool of matching thread.

“A Little Sewing – A Great Saving. You can easily follow the common-sense finishing instructions we send with your dress. . . . And what you save by this simple sewing will enable you to have two stylish dresses for the usual cost of one ready-made dress of equal style and quality.”

No, both firms don’t have the same mailing address, although they do have very similar ads.

Both companies continued to advertise for several years, in various magazines.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

Text of Berth Roberts ad in Delineator, Feb. 1934.

Text of Berth Roberts ad in Delineator, Feb. 1934.

“All you need to do is to sew up a few simple seams . . . fitting the coat or dress perfectly to your figure . . . And presto . . . you have a luxurious spring wardrobe at what the cloth alone would ordinarily cost you. Buying direct from the producer, on the semi-made plan, effects these great savings.”

"Worn with Pride by hundreds of thousands of smart women." Berth Robert Semi-Made dresses ad, Woman's Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

“Worn with Pride by hundreds of thousands of smart women.” Berth Robert Semi-Made dresses ad, Woman’s Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dresses Ad, Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Frocks Ad, Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

“Many women who can afford the finest favor Berth Robert Semi-Made dresses. . . . All you do is sew a few simple seams, adjusting the dress to your figure perfectly as you sew. . . and as you sew you save.”

Berth Roberts Semi-Made  ad, March 1937. Woman's Home Companion.

Berth Roberts Plan, Semi-Made dress ad, March 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

Fifth Avenue Modes was still in business, too:

"Dress with Fifth Avenue Smartness Yet Save Half!" Finish-Your-Own dress ad, Fifth Avenue Modes, in Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

“Dress with Fifth Avenue Smartness Yet Save Half!” Finish-Your-Own dress ad, Fifth Avenue Modes, in Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

Fifth Avenue Modes ad, text, Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

Fifth Avenue Modes ad, text, Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

“With our “Finish-at-Home” Plan, your frocks are cut to your own,  individual measurements! . . . We furnish all the trimmings and findings  . . . you have only a few simple seams to sew! . . . If you want custom-cut clothes and chic accessories, send today for our Magazine of Fashion. FREE!”

There seems to be a link with Betty Wales fashions, too. I’ve seen Betty Wales fashion ads in magazines as early as 1917. But’s that’s another story. . . .

Artfire dot com has pages from a 1939  Fifth Avenue Modes catalog for sale, but there’s no hint of “Finish-Your-Own” that I can see. There is a paragraph about both companies in an article by Madelyn Shaw about the Tirocchi sisters, dressmakers in Providence, which you can read online; click here.

I just found an affordable 1934 Berth Robert catalog at Ebay, so I’m looking forward to finding out more when it arrives. I’m especially looking forward to seeing the size range, and the prices of the semi-finished frocks and coats, which cost “half as much” as comparable finished clothing.

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Filed under 1930s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Some 1930’s Evening Gowns, and What to Wear Under Them

Evening gowns from Companion-Butterick patterns 7073 ans 7083. Woman's Home Companion, November 1936.

Evening gowns from Companion-Butterick patterns #7073 and #7083. Woman’s Home Companion, November 1936.

Although they were available in both women’s and misses’ [teens’] sizes, the illustration shows these patterns from 1936 being worn by sophisticated women. Fashion Editor Ethel Holland Little recommends “this pale pink satin or the dusty blue jacquard crepe [only] if they are becoming. If not, you can go in for tomato red or emerald green or again keep to black or a dark grape color.”

Text accompanying Companion-Butterick patterns 7073 & 7083, WHC Nov. 1936.

Text accompanying Companion-Butterick patterns 7073 & 7083, WHC Nov. 1936.

I love the braided neckline on #7073, and the slenderizing vertical lines on #7083, which also shows a glittering Art Deco belt buckle with matching dress clips.

Details of Patterns #7073 and #7083, Nov. 1936.

Details of Patterns #7073 and #7083, Nov. 1936.

Number 7083 has a matching jacket; both show low, bare backs accented with a row of tiny buttons.

Alternate views of Companion-Butterick #7073 and #7083, 1936.

Alternate views of Companion-Butterick patterns #7073 and #7083, 1936.

Women with perfect figures might wear these gowns with just a smoothing “Softie” girdle, but those who were not as young and firm as they used to be had quite a selection of foundation garments to choose from. This “Flexees” foundation ad was frank about its target customer in 1937:

Ad for Flexees foundation garment, Woman's Home Com[anion, Dec. 1937.

“Years from your Waistline, Inches from your Age.” Ad for Flexees foundation garments, Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1937.

“Nowadays a woman’s as young as her figure, and FLEXEES is her greatest rejuvenator. The extra inches that come with years . . . the years suggested by extra inches . . .both surrender to FLEXEES. And it’s a permanent surrender, because FLEXEES patented bias panels . . . Twin and Super Control . . . teach your body to retain the lovely lines in which they mold it. At your favorite store — Girdles, $3.50 to $15 — Combinations, $5 to $35. “

[In 1936, a female college graduate could expect to earn about $20 per week. Click here. Foundation garments from Sears were much less expensive. (Click here for examples.)

These two back-baring gowns are from 1934:

Butterick pattern 5531, Feb. 1934, The Delineator magazine.

Butterick evening gown pattern #5531, Feb. 1934, from The Delineator magazine.

Butterick pattern #5745, June 1934, The Delineator magazine.

Butterick evening gown pattern #5745, June 1934, from The Delineator magazine.

This nearly backless Gossard foundation garment was advertised in The Delineator in April of 1932:

Gossard "Simplicity Junior" foundation garment ad; Delineator, April 1932.

Gossard “Simplicity Junior” foundation garment ad; The Delineator, April 1932.

"Simplicity Junior" from Gossard, April 1932 advertisement.

“Simplicity Junior” foundation garment from Gossard, April 1932 advertisement.

“If you are slim . . .  regardless of your age . . . you can have a debutante’s figure. This silken under-fashion molds your figure without the aid of a single bone. The clever brassiere part gives a pointed outline to the bust, and the back is low enough for your most daring gown. . . .”

The following ad for Flexees — a boneless corset probably knitted from the new rubber called Lastex — appeared in Woman’s Home Companion just one month after these dress patterns.

Evening gowns from Companion-Butterick patterns 7073 ans 7083. Woman's Home Companion, November 1936.

Evening gowns from Companion-Butterick patterns 7073 & 7083. Woman’s Home Companion, November 1936.

Flexees ad, Woman's Home Companion, Dec. 1936.

Flexees ad, Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1936.

“Flexees — the modern corset. Twin-Control for the average figure — Super-Control for the full figure. At all good stores.”

Of course, not even a low-backed “modern corset” could be worn under this spectacular sequinned gown, also from 1936:

A sequin covered gown with "back interest" from April, 1936. Woman's Home Companion.

A sequin-covered gown with “back interest” from April, 1936. Woman’s Home Companion.

This photo is from an ad for Listerine mouthwash. I suspect that any woman who could wear this dress on the red carpet today, would wear it! That’s what I call a classic.

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Filed under 1930s, Foundation Garments, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uncategorized, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, vintage photographs

Changing the Foundations of Fashion: 1929 to 1934

"Make us look like this!" Sears catalog, Spring 1934, featuring Lastex two-way stretch girdles.

“Make us look like this!” Sears catalog, Spring 1934, featuring Lastex two-way stretch girdles: “Boneless! Bulgeless!”

Many changes in fashion were taking place between 1929 and 1934, in addition to the fall of the hemline and the rise of the waistline.

For the first time in centuries, fashions followed the natural shape of a woman’s body. Bias-cut dresses, which clung to every curve, were already chic in 1929.

November, 1929. Form fitting gowns from French designers Louiseboulanger and Jean Patou. Delineator sketches by Soulie.

November, 1929. Form fitting gowns from French designers Louiseboulanger and Jean Patou. The Delineator.

Makers of bosom-flattening brassieres — such as the “Flatter-U” and “Boyshform” bandeaux — were losing younger customers to companies like “Maiden Form” and G.M. Poix’s “A-P Uplift.” The word “uplift” was applied rather freely.

"Uplift bandeau" and Foundation with "Uplift rayon jersey top. Seaers catalog, Fall, 1929. Page 218.

“Uplift bandeau” (left) and Foundation (right) with “Uplift style bust.” Sears catalog, Fall, 1929.

Farrell-Beck and Gau, authors of the book Uplift:  The Bra in America, point out that in previous centuries, corsets pushed the breasts up from below; now, brassieres with shoulder straps lifted the breasts up.

After the mono-bosom years earlier in the 20th century, the word “uplift” seems to include the idea of separation. Women were finally acknowledged to have two breasts, one on either side of the sternum.

"Empire Gown" with "uplift line of the bodice." Butterick pattern # , Nov. 1931.

“Empire Gown” with “uplift line of the bodice.” Butterick pattern #4175 , Nov. 1931.

The garment that had been called a “corset” (or “corselette,” if it was unboned) became a “foundation.”

This illustration of the latest foundation garments appeared in The Delineator as early as March, 1929.

This illustration of the latest foundation garments appeared in The Delineator as early as March, 1929.

“Out went the whalebone. In went elastic. . . . The ‘foundation garment’ or ‘costume foundation’ . . . has definitely supplanted the word ‘corset’ and earned universal approval.”  — Editorial in The Delineator, March 1929.

Several months later, this article appeared, with illustrations more typical of 1929 undergarments:

"Facts and Figures About the strikingly feminine new silhouette." Article by Lucile Babcock in Delineator, October 1929.

“Facts and Figures about the strikingly feminine new silhouette.” Article in The Delineator, October 1929.

“Gone are the days of the straight-line, belted-about-the-hips frock which concealed many of our figure deficiencies. Snug fitting hips, slightly raised and occasionally nipped-in waists, a frank recognition of the bust line, are characteristic of autumn styles.” — Lucile Babcock, in The Delineator, Oct. 1929.

Two mid-twenties' corsets: La Camille ad, 1924, and Bien Jolie ad, 1925. Both Delineator.

Before the change: two mid-twenties’ corsets. Left, a La Camille corset ad, 1924, and right, a Bien Jolie corset ad, 1925. Both from The Delineator.

The corset went through other changes after 1929.

Bias-cut satin dresses like these would have revealed every bump, boning channel, and lacing of an old-fashioned corset.

Bias-cut gowns from August and October, 1921. Butterick patterns 4039, 4093, and 4097. Delineator.

Bias-cut gowns from August and October, 1931. Butterick patterns 4039, 4093, and 4097. Delineator.

In 1929, the Sears catalog shows “boyish”/bust-suppressing corsets on the same page as corsets with soft, non-flattening tops. 1929 sears Fall p 218 page 500

 

The foundation on the left  is a typical 1920's corselet, turning the body into a tube shape.

The foundation on the left is a typical 1920’s corset;  bust-flattening boned seams and no waist indentation turn the body into a tube shape.

Significantly, the 1929 corset on the left below has rayon jersey (knit) in the bust area. Although not truly cup shaped, the soft fabric was not designed to flatten the breasts,  unlike the boned garment on the right.

Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 223. (Look at that deco fabric!)

Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 223. (I love that art deco fabric on the right!)

Several of Sears’ 1929 corsets/foundations use soft rayon jersey over the bust.

Foundation with "uplift" rayon bust; Fall 1929 Sears catalog p. 218

Foundation with “uplift style” rayon bust; Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 218. It’s hard to believe that this did much “lifting.”

But the chief problem of late 1920’s corsets (or foundations, as they were now being called)  was that their stretch panels had to be made from something like surgical elastic (similar to the Ace bandages used for sprained wrists and ankles.) At the time, elasticized fabrics were limited in size, so the fronts and backs of corsets had to be made of traditional, non-stretch corset materials, like coutil or thick satin; they needed hook-and-eye or  zipper closings, and the seams (and fastenings) were never smooth enough for wearing under thin, bias-cut gowns like this one:

Bias-cut satin gown in a Kotex ad, July 1931. Delineator.

Bias-cut satin gown in a Kotex ad, July 1931. Delineator.

Lastex Changes Corsetry

The revolution came in the early 1930’s, when a new method for processing rubber was invented. According to Elizabeth Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear, before 1930 the sap of rubber trees (latex) was dried and compressed into bricks for shipping. When it reached England, the bricks were liquified, and long sheets of rubber were made. These sheets would then be cut into strips and incorporated into fabrics, but the strips were never long enough to be effectively woven into material suitable for the mass production of corsets.

Fall 1930 Sears catalog. Before the invention of Lastex, elastic panels had to be used sparingly. (However, the bust is back!)

Fall 1930 Sears catalog. Before the invention of Lastex, elastic panels had to be used sparingly or pieced together. (However, by 1930 the bust is definitely back in style.)

“About 1930,” a new chemical process allowed latex to be shipped in its liquid form. The liquid latex could then be extruded into fine threads — called Lastex —  which were as long as threads of traditional materials, which meant that elasticized yardage could finally be made in lengths and widths suitable for mass produced garments. As soon as weaving and knitting machines had been adapted to use Lastex, a new kind of undergarment became possible.

Munsingwear's 'Foundettes' two-way stretch girdle ad, March 1937. Woman's Home Companion.

Munsingwear’s ‘Foundettes’ two-way stretch girdle ad, March 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

My question was, “How much time did it take for undergarments made with Lastex to become available — and affordable — to working class women?”

The answer: Hardly any time at all! The Sears, Roebuck catalog for Spring 1932 proudly introduces Lastex and “Clingtex” garments made of “new, cloth-like elastic (Lastex.)”

Sears catalog for Spring 1932, introducing "Sensational new garments of marvelous Lastex ."

Sears catalog for Spring 1932, introducing “Sensational new garments of marvelous Lastex .”

Early Lastex foundations combined the new stretch fabric with traditional corset materials —  for extra control over the abdomen, for example.

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

By Fall of 1933, however, Sears was offering “Two-Way Stretch Softies” made entirely of stretch fabric.  The “roll-on” girdle, which required no fastenings,  “dates from 1932 in England and probably a year earlier in the U.S.A.” [Ewing]

"New Two-Way Stretch Softies." Seamless girdles and foundations from Sears Catalog, Fall 1933.

“New Two-Way Stretch Softies.” Seamless girdles and foundations from Sears Catalog, Fall 1933.

These “step-in” stretch foundations, which pull on, were made on a circular knitting machine; not only did they have no zippers , they had no seams. 

A foundation garment that made a woman look firmer, smoother, and younger — which improved her natural figure without distortion — was perfect under the bias gowns of the 1930s. This 1933 “Softie” All-in One from Sears (on the left) )looks very much like the Spandex “smoothers” available in stores in 2015.

A seamless, Lastex knit foundation garment, Sears, Fall 1933. This foundation cost $3.69; the "roll-on" girdle cost just $1.98.

A seamless, Lastex knit foundation garment, Sears, Fall 1933. This foundation cost $3.69; the “roll-on” girdle (right) cost just $1.98.

Literally for the first time in hundreds of years, the purpose of a corset was not to distort a woman’s body.

The purpose of the nineteen-thirties’ foundation garment was to create the impression of a perfect, nude body under the clothes. It firmed the hips, flattened the belly, and supported the breasts, but all in imitation of nature, giving its wearer the firm, flexible figure of a healthy young woman.

Softies, Fall 1934. Sears catalog. "Not a bone! Not a bulge!" Seamless, circular-knitted two-way stretch foundation.

“Softies,” Fall 1934. Sears catalog. “Not a bone! Not a bulge!” Seamless, circular-knitted, two-way stretch girdle or foundation.

The End of the Boyish Figure

One more (less encouraging) thing about changes in fashion after 1929:

By Fall of 1932 women were already made to feel self-conscious about having small breasts.

1932 fall sears 500 help for flat chested pushup

"Are you boyishly flat-chested? . . . Wear our 'Form Bust' and be neat, smart, up-to-the minute, and so be happy." Sears catalog, Fall 1932.

“Are you boyishly flat-chested? . . . Wear our ‘Form Bust’ and be neat, smart, up-to-the minute, and so be happy.” Sears catalog, Fall 1932.

That didn’t take long, did it?

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Zippers

Sears Catalogs Online (and More Suspender Skirts)

A page from the Fall 1925 Sears catalog, now accessible online at Ancestry.com.

A page from the Fall 1925 Sears catalog, now accessible online at Ancestry.com.

When I wrote about Butterick’s “suspender skirts” from 1925, I found another example online in the Sears, Roebuck catalog from Fall 1925, but I wasn’t able to convert the image to a JPG file. Today I found a work-around. I also learned how wonderful the Sears Catalog archive at Ancestry.com really is.

For years, costumers and others interested in the history of everyday fashions treasured the exerpts published by Stella Blum and her successors in the “Everyday Fashions from Sears and Other Catalogs” series of Dover books. Now, you can see complete Sears Catalogs from 1896 to 1993 at Ancestry.com. Every page is scanned, it is searchable, and you can set it for a full page view and skim through several pages easily. When you find something you want to examine closely, you can zoom in as much as you want. And you can print your own copies of a page or part of a page.

The bad news is that you have to join Ancestry.com to access them. The good news is that you can get a free trial subscription to Ancestry.com and explore this resource before you commit to a $19.99 per month subscription. Lynn at American Age Fashion wrote about this resource in January, so I tried it, but I had to phone for help finding the Sears catalogs, so I’ll tell you how to find them, later.

More 1920s Suspender Skirts

MIsses' skirt 6017, with blouse 5903. Butterick, May, 1925.

Misses’ suspender skirt #6017, with blouse #5903. Butterick, May, 1925.

This suspender skirt for misses and small women appeared in the Sears catalog in Fall 1925, proving that the fashion was not limited to Butterick:

A suspender dress (note the deep armholes) from Sears. It is called the "Pretty Peggy." Fall 1925 catalog.

A suspender skirt (note the deep armholes) from Sears. It is called the “Pretty Peggy Skirt” in the Fall 1925 catalog.

pretty peggy text sears 1925 fall catalog 500

A search for “Pretty Peggy” led to song lyrics, a kind of doll, and — so far — no other suspender skirts. A “Peggy” skirt was also popular in the 1950s — in England, it looks like a full skirt — with no suspenders.

The same Sears catalog had this “suspender dress” for girls:

Sears catalog, Fall 1915. "Girls' suspender dress."

Sears catalog, Fall 1915. “Girls’ suspender dress.”

Sears also sold a suspender skirt sewing pattern (left, below) :

Spring 1926 Sears catalog pattern 39E7061 for a suspender skirt.

Spring 1926 Sears catalog pattern 39E7061 for a suspender skirt.

A search for  “suspender skirt pattern” in Google images brought up versions going back to 1910s  and many from the 1940s, 50s, and later, but not these 1920s versions.

Sears Pattern Illustrations

I find it interesting that the pattern illustrations for Sears used a more realistic human figure than those from Butterick.

Sears pattern illustrations  from Spring 1926.

Sears pattern illustrations from Spring 1926.

Pattern illustrations from Sears catalog, Spring 1926.

Pattern illustrations from Sears catalog, Spring 1926.

Sears pattern ilustrations from Spring 1929 catalog.

Sears pattern illustrations from Spring 1929 catalog. Even Lane Bryant catalogs were not this honest about size 52.

Here’s a bit of useful information about women’s sizes I found skimming through Sears’ pages; 1920’s hips were larger than you would expect from fashion illustrations:

Women's pattern measurements from Sears, Spring 1929.

Women’s pattern measurements from Sears, Spring 1929. Page 146.

Using Sears Catalogs for Costume Research

Here is a simple demonstration of how useful these online catalogs can be; I wanted to find out how quickly hems dropped in the mass market — as opposed to high fashion — between 1929 and 1931.

1929:  Misses dresses from the Fall Sears catalog, p. 127.

1929: Misses’ dresses from the Fall Sears catalog, p. 127. Hems are at mid-knee. Kneecaps exposed.

1930: Misses' dresses from the Fall Sears catalog, p.44.

1930: Misses’ dresses from the Fall Sears catalog, p. 44. Hems are one or two inches below the knee.

1931: Misses' dresses from the Fall Sears catalog, p. 35.

1931: Misses’ dresses from the Fall Sears catalog, p. 35. Hems are approaching  mid-calf.

Here they are, side by side:

Misses' Dresses from Sears catalogs one year apart: 1929, 1930, 1931.

Misses’ Dresses from Sears catalogs one year apart: 1929, 1930, 1931.

I decided that, as a research tool which includes clothing for all ages — men, women, boys and girls; occupational uniforms; shoes; underwear and hosiery; nightwear; hats, purses and other accessories; and prices for all of them, access to 97 years of these catalogs is worth $20 per month.

How to Find the Sears Catalogs at Ancestry.com

After you sign up for a trial membership, look for Search on the horizontal bar. The Sears link is in Ancestry.com under “search” > card catalog > collections > newspapers and publications > periodicals and magazines > Historic Catalogs of Sears Roebuck and Co. Once there, you can search by keywords, year (exact or plus/minus 1 year, etc.) You can print a zoomed image of any page — there’s a tiny, olive green printer icon next to the facebook icon. The Gentleman’s Magazine Library (1700s to mid 1800s) and Illustrated London News up to 1900 are also available, along with access to a vast number of newspapers.

My workaround:  The images in this post were printed on paper and then scanned to get them into JPG format. The print quality is very high.

NOTE:  If you don’t want to commit to paying monthly membership dues to Ancestry.com, be sure to opt out before your free trial deadline expires!

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Children's Vintage styles, Resources for Costumers

Great Images, Just a Click Away at “Envisioning the American Dream”

A Vintage 40s Anne Adams overall pattern.

A Vintage 40s Anne Adams overall pattern. Courtesy RememberedSummers at Ebay.

Sally Edelstein , at Envisioning the American Dream, has written another terrific post, packed with vintage advertising images. This time, her topic is women workers in World War II, wearing overalls, coveralls, work uniforms — and underwear and negligees — as part of the war effort.

To read “How the Mad Men of Madison Avenue got Rosie the Riveter to Man Up” click here.

At the bottom of that page are related posts:

Rosie the Riveter Goes to War  (Women in uniform) click here

Rosie the Riveter’s Swimsuit Romance (WW II Swimsuits) click here (and scroll down for the sequel — Rosie’s Swimsuit Romance!)

and Rosie the Riveter Gets Her Pink Slip click here

Note: Envisioning the American Dream is packed with images, so sometimes it takes a few seconds to load — always worth waiting for!

 

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, Bathing Suits, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Uniforms and Work Clothes