Monthly Archives: May 2015

Some Ways That Costumers Transform Actors’ Bodies

Delineator magazine, July 1926.

Hand sewing. Delineator magazine, July 1926.

The many comments I read from theatrical costumers pointing out that our skills overlap —  but also differ from — couture, tailoring, retail fashion and dressmaking got me thinking about one costumers’ specialty that won’t show up in ready-to-wear:  transforming the actor’s body. [That is, transforming it to make it less attractive rather than more.]

Sometimes it is the costumer’s job to make a normally proportioned actress look like this . . .

Illustration by Henry Raleigh, Delineator, July 1929.

Story illustration by Henry Raleigh, Delineator, July 1929.

. . . At other times we may have to eliminate all her curves so that she can play a male role.

Some while ago, I watched a TV show about people participating in a “CostumeCon.” One of the contestants was female, playing a male character, and she tried to suppress her breasts with adhesive tape. (Was it really duct tape?) It was so tight that she had to be extracted from it with scissors in order to breathe. Yipes! Theatrical costumers know there are better ways to do it. (Even researching bust binders from the 1920’s would have been a start!)

“It Ain’t Pretty” — Sometimes

Unlike retail fashion and couture, it’s not always the costumers’ job to make people look more attractive. Over the years, as a designer and a costume technician, I have built costumes (these are just random highlights) to transform

  • a pretty, twenty-ish actress, only 4’10” tall, into a male, forty-ish, hunchbacked dwarf, for Ballad of the Sad Cafe.
  • a curvaceous opera singer into a teenaged boy, for Marriage of Figaro.
  • a trim, healthy actor into a pot-bellied old man in Galileo.
  • a male actor into a female character and back to male again. (A musical version of The Duenna.)

I’ve never worked on Greater Tuna, but that show has two male actors playing all the characters in a small town, including ladies of a certain age and stoutness.

Sometimes a female character goes through several stages of pregnancy in less than two hours. (e.g.,  Stella in  A Streetcar Named Desire.)

Sometimes you have to turn a healthy actor into a seriously obese character, like Falstaff.

Operas often use mezzo-sopranos  or contraltos to play young men.  (These are called “breeches” or “trouser” roles:  Cherubino, Octavian [the Rosencavalier,] Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, among others.)

Sometimes you have to transform a matinee idol actor (e.g., John Barrymore, Lawrence Olivier) into Richard  III (called “Crookback,”  so “deformed, unfinished . . . that dogs bark at me as I halt by them.”)   In grand opera, Rigoletto, the court jester,  is also a man with a “hunch.”

Sometimes a trim young character ages into a plump, sagging, old one — as Queen Victoria does in biographical plays and movies. (And as Henry VIII did, except in a certain recent TV series ….)

There is a trend for male actors to play female roles (e.g. David Suchet playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest) and for female actors to play male characters. (There are far more male roles in Shakespeare than female roles — some modern theatre companies like to equalize them a bit.)

And I mustn’t forget Charlie’s Aunt  (first performed in 1892) — in which a young man is persuaded to pose as a friend’s elderly aunt from Brazil in order to chaperone a meeting of proper young ladies and university undergraduates.

So, part of the costumer’s job is to figure out ways to accomplish these transformations, while giving the actor or singer complete mobility and as much comfort as possible.

Welcome to the wonderful world of “fat suits,” “birdseed boobs,” bust flatteners, “pregnancy pads,” and “body suits” — but not the kind popularized by Donna Karan!

Costumers call all padded suits “body suits” now — the old term “fat suit” is frowned upon. And, like custom tailored suits, cartwheel tutus, and couture garments, making padded body suits requires special skills and a lot of hand stitching.

If the transformation is to be believable — not a joke — you start with plenty of research. Life drawing classes frequently use models who would never appear on a fashion runway.

Life drawing of a model (watercolor), detail of back and upper arm.

Life drawing of a model (watercolor), detail of back and upper arm. These folds of flesh can be duplicated in a body suit.

Observation of people on the street is also useful. In many cases, you need to consult a medical library to understand curvature of the spine, stages of pregnancy, or other medical conditions.

It’s almost impossible to build a good padded bodysuit without a dressmaker’s mannequin which has the same measurements as the actor. (We sometimes pad the mannequin itself, first, to be sure we are starting as “close” to the actor’s body shape as possible.)

The base of the suit is usually a stretchable leotard — with or without sleeves and legs, as needed. A “pregnancy pad” can be built on a scoop-necked, sleeveless leo, or even a camisole/tank top, but it needs a snap-closed crotch strap to keep it in place when the actor sits.

Traditionally “built” padded bodysuits use layers and layers of polyester fiberfill (the kind used for quilt-making), each layer cut and shaped to simulate belly fat, “love handles,” sagging pectoral muscles and fat, and even the fat accumulating on the back and shoulders. (Fat does not accumulate on the front of the body only.) Notice the back-of-neck and shoulder padding on this body suit, which changes a young, erect posture (the mannequin) into a flabby old man’s slouch.

A padded body suit fromThe Costume Technician's Handbook, by Ingham & Covey. Photo by Frances Aronson.

A padded body suit from The Costume Technician’s Handbook, by Ingham & Covey. Photo by Frances Aronson.

To build up the “fat,” costumers begin with the widest part of the bulge, cut a large oval of fiberfill, and hand stitch it securely to the bodysuit with stretch stitching (called cross stitch, herringbone stitch or catch stitch.) The first layer must be well secured, because subsequent layers, each smaller than the last, will be attached to the previous ones. The shape is built slowly, 1/4 or 1/2 inch of thickness at a time.

Not surprisingly, an actor wearing all this padding will sweat. Acting, especially on stage, can be very hard work. The suit will need to be completely washable — repeatedly washable, over weeks or months of use. That’s why it can take 40 hours of work to make an elaborately padded suit:  painstaking hand construction. The final shape is sealed in with another layer of smooth stretch fabric, hand stitched for definition. Sometimes it needs nipples and a belly button. And the final layer may be dyed to match the actor’s skin tone.  A zipper will need to be added, and a snap crotch. (Actors need to visit the restroom, just like everybody else.)

Really huge suits — for Falstaff, for example — can be built on a semi-spherical “cage” of boning and fabric, which stands away from the actor’s body and provides some air circulation. The realistic padded structure — belly, “man breasts”, etc. — is built up on top of the cage. Outdoor productions, which rehearse or perform in daytime, can put the actor wearing a padded body suit at risk of heatstroke, so every precaution and opportunity for cooling and hydration must be planned. (Sometimes this includes putting pockets inside the costume to hold ice packs.)

Birdseed Boobs

When we wanted to give a female character large and/or sagging breasts, without a complete bodysuit, we used to make a pocket in each large bra cup and fill them — but not tightly — with flaxseed, which simulates the weight and movement of breasts. Hence the term “birdseed boobs.” Modern silicone has been a big improvement — at least for filling part of the cups. One thing I learned from a friend: never, never put birdseed boobs into storage without removing all the birdseed . . . . Unless you want mice nesting in your costume storage area.

When You Need to Flatten Instead of Flatter. . . .

Many people have a mistaken idea that all opera singers are very large, like this Wagnerian singer of the past.

Not true. I worked with a lovely (in personality as well as looks) mezzo soprano who could have posed for a Petty Girl calendar. She sang the title role in La Cenerentola (Cinderella), but she also sang Hansel in Hansel and Gretel and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro — male roles. When you wear a C cup bra — or larger — just wrapping a band of “athletic support” elastic bandage around your chest, even if you put shoulder straps on the bandage, does not provide comfort and support. You need something that flattens the breasts without pushing them down or making a crease under them — something that supports and distributes the flesh to the sides, as “minimizer” bras do.

Lovely ‘Rochelle’ suggested a method she’d encountered at another opera company — a close fitting, V-necked, sleeveless shell — dyed to her skin tone — with boning on each side running up from just below the waist and over her bust points. (I made several boning channels.)  The boning pushed her breasts up and flattened them, so they looked like a man’s pectoral muscles.  After fitting the coutil shell (which zipped up the back) as tightly as we wanted, I opened the side seams, folded out a long wedge from just below her bust to the waist, and inserted a godet of elastic in each side seam to give her plenty of breathing room. (Some singers and Shakespearean actors learn to expand the ribcage at will, by several inches, creating a vacuum to suck in huge gulps of air.)

Recently, I was amazed to discover that the “Breeches role / opera flattener” we made decades ago had the same fan-shaped boning as this 1920’s bust flattener for older women (the one on the right:)

Ads for De Bevoise Bandeaux, May & April 1925. Both are made of stiff corset material; the one on the right is boned and designed to flatten a more mature figure.

Ads for De Bevoise Bandeaux, May & April 1925. Both are made of stiff corset material; the one on the right is boned and designed to flatten a more mature figure.

Even if I did “re-invent the wheel,” my flattener was much more comfortable than Duct Tape!

Book Recommendation:  The Costume Technician’s Handbook, by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey, will tell you how to do many useful things, from corset construction to cartridge pleating and pattern drafting. Click here for more about this very practical book. There’s a whole paragraph about it at the bottom of the post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bras, Musings, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Women in Trousers

A Wedding Party: Butterick Patterns for May 1929

Maid of Honor and Bride, Delineator magazine, May 1929.

Maid of Honor and Bride, Delineator magazine, May 1929.

Just in time for June weddings, The Delineator’s May issue suggested these Butterick patterns for the bridal party and guests.

It’s a little late to make these gowns for June, 2015, but in case you’re dreaming of a retro wedding, here are five designs from a very lovely period of 1920’s fashions.

The bride and her maid of honor are wearing full-skirted gowns — see other robes de style in my last post, about Lanvin. I noticed this wedding article while looking for other examples of transitional hemlines from the late 1920’s; hems that were long in back and short in front — or simultaneously long and short in other ways — anticipate the longer hems of the 1930’s.

The Bride, Butterick No. 2634

Butterick bridal pattern 2634, Delineator, May, 1929.

Butterick bridal pattern 2634, The Delineator, May, 1929.

1929 may p 25 bride 2634 wedding text

Elsewhere in The Delineator, this same pattern was offered as an evening dress. See Other Versions, at end of post.

The Maid of Honor, Butterick Pattern No. 2630

This sleeveless gown is suggested for an outdoor wedding.

Butterick pattern 2630, suggested for a Maid of Honor, The Delineator magazine , May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2630, suggested for a Maid of Honor, The Delineator magazine , May 1929.

1929 may p 25 wedding text 2630 maid of honor

I’m glad “Crinoline chiffon” was defined: it’s “starched chiffon.” Although the Bride’s gown was available up to size 44 bust, the Maid of Honor is a youthful 31 to 38 inches. (If you’re puzzled by size “14 to 20 years,” click here.)

Wedding Guests, 1929

Butterick patterns suitable for wedding guests, Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick patterns suitable for wedding guests, Delineator, May 1929.

Mother of the Bride, Butterick No. 2626

Both the dress and the jacket hems are scalloped.

Butterick pattern 262 is suggested for the Mother of the Bride, Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2626 is suggested for the Mother of the Bride, Delineator, May 1929.

1929 may p 24 wedding guests 2626 brides mother  text rt

A note to modern brides and wedding parties: bare arms were not acceptable in some churches even in the 1970s. A wedding was not thought of as an opportunity to look as “hot” as possible, but to exchange solemn vows. A lace jacket was a way to be modestly covered up during the ceremony; the jacket could come off for dancing after the wedding.  Nevertheless, since this is described as a “formal garden wedding,”  the bride’s sister is shown in a sleeveless dress.

The Bride’s Sister, Butterick No. 2631

Butterick pattern 2631 was suggested for the Sister of the Bride. Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2631 was suggested for the Sister of the Bride. Delineator, May 1929.

1929 may p 24 weddingbrides sister 2631 text rt

“A draped yoke, in Vionnet’s best manner, ends in a bow at the shoulder and flatters with its soft lines. The applied flares are unusually placed.” In this case, the skirt appears to be longer at the sides.

A Wedding Guest, Butterick No. 2577

Wedding guest, Butterick pattern 2577, Delineator, May 1929.

Wedding guest, Butterick pattern 2577, Delineator, May 1929.

1929 may p 24 wedding guests 2577  text

This dress has an uneven long-short hem thanks to its “oblong handkerchief drapes.”

Other Versions of the Wedding Dress

In May, the wedding dress pattern (2634) was also illustrated as “the most important formal evening gown of the month,” made sleeveless, with a deep back decolletage. Recommended colors for this lace gown are beige, “string,” lake blue, black, and yellow.

Butterick pattern 2634, "the most important formal evening gown of the month." Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2634, “the most important formal evening gown of the month.” The Delineator, May 1929.

In this version, the skirt is cut in long scallops.

1929 may p 26 2634 evening gown text rt

Apparently, the jacket “is useful to turn this frock into one less formal. It makes the gown correct for important afternoon occasions. Its decolletage is formal — a deep V in front and a much deeper one in back.”

In June, the same wedding dress pattern, No. 2634, was described as ” a smart dress for outdoor dining, on roofs, country house terraces, country club verandas.” Here, the back decolletage is less revealing.

Butteick 2634 illustrated in Delineator, June 1929.

Butterick 2634 illustrated in The Delineator, June 1929.

1929 june p 25 evening 2634

“It is just the degree of informality to be very useful. . . . It has long sleeves, a new high fashion for the evening. It has a V decolletage, that may be very much deeper. It has an uneven, scalloped hem-line very long in back. And it is worn with a little jacket of the same fabric.”

This is a good illustration of the importance of taking fashion descriptions with a grain of salt. The dress that was “the most important formal evening gown of the month” in May, has “just the degree of informality to be very useful” in June. Presumably the difference lies in the decolletage, and in the difference between lace and “crepe de Chine, an important dull fabric.” I’m thinking that those scalloped edges would be easier to hem in printed chiffon or crepe de Chine than in lace!

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Lanvin Couture in Two Versions for Two Clients, 1924-25.

Two dresses, House of Lanvin, Paris, 1924-1925. From the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum, NY.

Two dresses, House of Lanvin, Paris, 1924-1925. From the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum, NY.

I’m sorry that these two dresses are not on exhibit now; they really opened my eyes when I saw them several years ago, side by side like this, and I would love to know more.

They surprised me because, although I knew that couturiers make adjustments for private clients, this seems to be an illuminating example of how much a designer is willing to tinker with a design to suit individual customers. It’s possible that one of these gowns with the Lanvin label was altered at a later date [the Met doesn’t say], but the difference in the sleeves, for example, seems to be original to me. The Met hasn’t supplied much information, but click here to see the image at a larger size, and here to see the label.

Sleeve detail. Original photo courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

Sleeve detail. Original photo [lightened to show detail] courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

For a long time, most of the women who could afford couture were “women of a certain age,” so it’s not surprising that, for example, a dress shown on the runway with a completely see-through bodice — or open to the waist — may have a layer of concealing, flesh colored lining added for private clients.

What I love about these two dresses is the way that one has been modified for a smaller, and possibly younger, client.

Two bodices, Lanvin 1924-25. Metropolitan Museum.

Two bodices, Lanvin 1924-25. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

The sheer fabric in the neckline (cut lower and gathered, on the left dress), the length of the bodice, and the shape and decoration of the sleeves, are all adjusted to flatter two different clients. Because the dress on the left is for a shorter woman, the appliqued trim has been carefully rescaled to fit. (Imagine the dress on the right, cut at same the waist length as the left one. The waist seam would be almost touching the trim. Because they aren’t perfectly side by side, it’s hard to be sure, but the dress on the right curves in at the natural waist and then curves out toward the hip.) The dress on the left seems to be made for a more girlish body.

Skirt differences, two Lanvin dresses from 1924-25. Collection of Metropolitan Museum.

Skirt differences, two Lanvin dresses from 1924-25. Collection of Metropolitan Museum.

Look at the trim on the skirts. This is not a case of simply shortening the black part around the hem. The scale has been adjusted; where the bodice is shorter, the light colored part of the skirt is longer, to compensate, and the whole dress remains beautifully proportioned.

Two dresses from Lanvin, 1924-25; Metropolitan Museum Costume Collection.

Two dresses from Lanvin, 1924-25; Metropolitan Museum Costume Collection.

Lanvin’s “robes de style” — with these dropped, but semi-fitted waists and full skirts, unlike most 1920’s couture — were often aimed at a younger client or a debutante.

Lillian Gish in a Robe de Style, Delineator magazine, Spring of 1925.

Lillian Gish in a Robe de Style [designer not named]Delineator magazine, Spring of 1925. Photographed by Kenneth Alexander.

“The immemorial symbol of growing up is to put up your hair. So the debutante is letting her hair grow to her shoulders, waving it softly and dressing it in a tiny roll at the nape of the neck.”

Click to see an earlier example of a “Robe de Style” by Lanvin, 1922.  Although this fashion could be worn by women who were long past their debuts, Butterick aimed its full-skirted 1920’s patterns at young women and teens.

“For the young girl Paris suggests . . . .” Fashion report, Butterick’s Delineator magazine, Feb. 1924.

This dress (below), which has floral trim and a contrast hem like the Lanvin gowns, comes from a Paris design house called “orange.”

Center: a gown suitable for the

Center: a Paris gown suitable for the “fille d’honneur” at a wedding, designed by “orange.” Delineator, Feb. 1925.

“A frock that would be altogether charming for the “fille d’honnneur” of a wedding-procession begins and ends with a yoke and band of green chiffon. The frock itself is of white mousseline de soie garlanded with pink and green embroidered roses and leaves. From orange.”

Butterick offered these patterns — probably influenced by Lanvin — for Misses aged 15 to 20 in January, 1925.

Party dresses for Misses (age 15 to 20), Butterick patterns Nos. 5755, 5714, 5743. Delineator, Jan. 1925.

Party dresses for Misses (age 15 to 20), Butterick patterns Nos. 5755, 5714, 5743. Delineator, Jan. 1925.

However, this “robe de style” — designed by Jeanne Lanvin — for 1926 is definitely sophisticated:

Robe de Style, Lanvin, 1926. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum/

Robe de Style, Jeanne Lanvin, 1926. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

I wonder if some clients asked for the “nude” triangle filling in the very low bodice to be higher — or lower, or not there at all.

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

What on Earth Is a “Costume Slip” ?

Costume Slips

I kept noticing the phrase “costume slip” in combination with “tunic blouse,” but even after finding several examples in Butterick lingerie patterns, my definition will be deduction and guesswork. I’m tempted to define a “costume slip” as “a slip-like garment that is intended to be seen.”

Four costume slips, November & December 1924. Butterick patterns.

Four costume slips, November & December 1924. Butterick patterns 5635, 5631, 5685, 5667.

That is, the costume slip may be seen below a tunic blouse . . .

Tunic blouses with costume slips; Delineator, December 1924.

Tunic blouses with costume slips; Delineator, December 1924.

or under a sheer fabric like lace, voile, chiffon or georgette. . .

Sheer dresses reveal the coordinating slip under them. Delineator, November 1924.

A sheer dress reveals the coordinating slip under it. Delineator, November 1924.

Butterick pattern for a sheer dress, Aug. 1924.

Butterick pattern for a sheer day dress, probably cotton voile, Aug. 1924. Such a dress needs a coordinating slip.

. . . or perhaps revealed by a coat dress that is open down the front, although these two dress patterns apparently included their own slip patterns.

Sheer coat dresses from 1926. Butterick patterns 6904 and 7024. Delineator.

Sheer coat dresses from 1926. Butterick patterns 6904 and 7024. Delineator.

Costume slip pattern #5685, Butterick, Dec. 1924.

“To wear under tunic blouses and transparent dresses . . . .” [I have not seen a lace-trimmed slip illustrated with a tunic blouse.] Costume slip pattern #5685, Butterick, Dec. 1924. Available up to bust size 52″.

This costume slip (#5638, below) takes the place of a pleated skirt. It could also be made with a “plain lower part.” The costume slip’s low pleats would avoid bulk over the hips, giving “the slender silhouette.”

Tunic Blouse 5962 worn over pleated Costume Slip 5638. Butterick patterns.

Tunic Blouse 5962 worn over pleated Costume Slip 5638. Butterick patterns.

Butterick pattern description, Costume SLip 5638; Nov. 1924.

Butterick pattern description, Costume Slip #5638; Nov. 1924.

Tunic blouses with side slits, April 1925. Delineator.

Tunic blouses with “open edges”, April 1925. Delineator. Costume slip #5638 — this time without pleats — is on the right.

To see more “tunic blouse costumes,” click here.

This 1926 costume slip could be made with a detachable front, called a vestee, to take the place of a blouse under a very low V-necked dress, a coat dress,  or a suit jacket.

A coat dress with low front, Nov. 1924; a Costume Slip (Butterick #7072, from 1926) could take the place of a blouse.

A coat dress with low front, Nov. 1924; a costume slip (Butterick #7072, from 1926) could take the place of a blouse.

cost slip 7072 1926 sept p 34 text

Women over forty may remember a more recent vogue for colorful, knit tank tops or camisoles with appliqued lace at the neckline, which served the same purpose.

Costume Slips or Lingerie Slips?

Lingerie slips, made of translucent silk, might have a “shadow-proof” hemline (i.e., two thicknesses of fabric) so that a woman could stand in a doorway with the light behind her and not have her legs visible though her clothes. This embarrassing photo of Lady Diana Spencer, later a fashion icon, shows why wearing an opaque slip can be a good idea.

The more images of costume slips I found, the more confused I got. This seems to be a lingerie slip, made of light silk or cotton — intimate apparel. But crepe satin and radium [a lustrous silk] were also recommended for costume slips.

A slip pattern, Butterick 4971, January 1924.

A slip pattern, Butterick 4971, January 1924.

You would think a slip trimmed with lace is obviously a lingerie slip, not intended for public view. However, I was forgetting that the same pattern could be used for a costume slip or a lingerie slip –– depending on the fabric used: heavy, opaque silks for costume slips, and sheer China silk, batiste, cotton voile, etc., with optional lace, for intimate apparel.

Butterick slip pattern 4971, January 1924, would make a costume slip or a slip that was only revealed in private.

Butterick slip pattern 4971, January 1924, would make either a costume slip or a slip that was only revealed in private. The small illustration shows it untrimmed and with a deep, shadow-proof hem.

“Radium” refers to radium silk, not radioactive silk. Crepe meteor seems similar to modern crepe-backed satin.

Costume slip patterns  #5724 (Ladies) and #5426 (Misses and small women.) Butterick, Jan. 1925.

Costume slip patterns #5724 (Ladies) and #5726 (Misses and small women.) Butterick, Jan. 1925.

cost slip 5724 1925 jan p 36

Butterick 5724:  “This costume slip with a straight lower edge and a three-inch or deep shadow-proof hem, is an especially good design.  Use soft satin, crepe meteor or crepe de Chine under tunic blouses, or these materials or sateen under transparent dresses, and radium silk, habutai silk, glove silk, silk jersey or sateen, under non-transparent dresses.” Notice how deep the shadow-proof hem is!

Skirts versus Costume Slips

To add to the confusion, 1920’s skirts were often made without a waistband, and attached to a slip-like bodice instead, so that the skirt was suspended from the shoulders and needed no darts or waist shaping. But they are not “costume slips.” They are skirts intended to be worn with hip-length overblouses, not longer “tunic” blouses, and the skirts are usually made from wool or broadcloth, not silk. The bodice could be inexpensive silk, cotton, or rayon.

1920's skirts suspended from a bodice. 1927-28. From Blum, Everyday Fashions of the Twenties,

1920’s skirts suspended from a bodice. 1927-28. From Stella Blum’s  Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

This method of suspending a pleated skirt gives a perfectly straight, authentic twenties’ line. Wearing a twenties’ blouse or sweater over a modern skirt is less effective. Some 1920’s skirts were constructed with a waistband, but it did not ride snugly at the natural waist, so those skirts probably migrated around the body when worn. It must have been difficult to keep the blouse tucked in.

1920's skirts to wear on top of a blouse, Sears catalog, Fall 1925.

1920’s skirts to wear on top of a (or under) a blouse, Sears catalog, Fall 1925.

Also, with a waistband, the skirt waist is necessarily higher than the “fashion waist” of the late twenties.

Butterick patterns in Delineator, July 1926, p. 33.

Butterick patterns in Delineator, July 1926, p. 33.

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Filed under 1920s, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage patterns

Going Up: Rising Hemlines, Border Prints, and Tunics, 1924-1925

In 1924, the “Twenties’ look” most familiar to us today had not yet reached the proportions we expect. Skirts were long — as long as they had been in 1917.

Cover of Butterick's Delineator magazine, June 1924

Cover of Butterick’s Delineator magazine, June,1924

The young mother above wears a simple housedress, but the most famous designers in Paris were also showing long styles for daytime in 1924:

Fashions from Paris, sketched for Delineator by Soulie, January 1924. This dress is by Agnes, also known as Mme. Agnes Haver. Her house later combined with the house of Drecoll.

Fashions from Paris, sketched for Delineator by Soulie, January 1924. This dress is by Agnes.

“Gold braid underscored with rose-colored embroidery binds the slashed edges of an overdress and tunic of black crepe marocain. The foundation is narrow, the sleeve short and the length about eight inches from the floor. From Agnès. ” (Agnès was also known as Mme. Agnes Haver; her fashion house later merged with the house of Drécoll.)

Two things to note:  The dress ends “about eight inches from the floor,” and it is actually a tunic over a “narrow foundation.”  Here are three more Paris designs from early in 1924, drawn by Soulié:

Suits from Paris, March 1924. The designers are Marial et Armand (not much known today,) Molyneux, and Lelong.

Parisian luxury, March 1924. The designers are Martial et Armand (not much known today,) Molyneux, and Lelong.

1924 was a year when fashion was changing, and I want to draw attention to some of the “styling tricks” that made women willing to exchange these very long styles for much shorter ones. The suit on the far right above is by Lucien Lelong. Here is one of Lelong’s daytime styles, just six months later:

An ensemble by Lucien Lelong, drawn for Delineator in September, 1924, by Soulie.

An ensemble by Lucien Lelong, drawn for Delineator in September, 1924, by Soulie.

Fans of late 1920’s fashions may think, “Now we’re getting somewhere!” Here are the two Lelong designs, side by side:

Day wear by Lucien Lelong, March and September, 1924.

Day wear by Lucien Lelong, March and September, 1924.

How did we go from 8 inches off the ground to knee length in just six months?

Once again, a “tunic” is involved:  “Silver embroidery trims the white georgette tunic top.” Judging from other tunics (see below) the tunic has a dark, flared skirt which extends down to about 5 inches above the skirt hem. That produces two hemlines, and two hip lines as well:  transitional fashion. I can’t help noticing that the coat from March is the same length as the whole outfit in September.

Tunics and Costume Slips

Tunic blouses, as well as dresses with horizontal bands near the hem, and the use of border prints in both are typical of this period in fashion, when designers offered “two hems,” visually. The long “tunic blouse,” worn over a longer “costume slip,” created a dress that was both long (conservative) and short (the coming — but shocking — style.) This illustration shows all three “styling tricks” which evolved into a shorter look:

Butterick patterns for June 1924:  a dress with a contrast band at hem, a dress made from a border print fabric, and a border print tunic worn over a costume slip. Delineator.

Butterick patterns for June 1924: left, a dress with a contrast band at the hem; center, a dress made from a border print fabric; and, right, a border print tunic worn over a white costume slip. Delineator.

These dresses get your eye used to stopping near the knee. (My eye runs down the blue dress to the hem and then bounces back up to the big black dots, and stays above them, as if the dress ended there.)

The “tunic blouse and costume slip” ensemble came into its own in mid-1924 — at least in Butterick’s Delineator patterns. Outfits with two visual hemlines — one real, and one either a tunic hem or an optical illusion, such as a plain or embroidered band — appeared early and often, side-by-side with other mid-twenties’ dresses, throughout 1924 and 1925.

Three Butterick dress patterns from 1924. Nos. 5157, 5145, and 5658.

Three Butterick dress patterns — not tunics — from 1924. Nos. 5157, 5145, and 5658. Each has a horizontal line at about knee level.

The dresses above use decoration to give your eye a choice of “hemline” — long, or about knee height. (To see some 1924 dresses shortened to knee length, click here.)

These “tunic blouse and costume slip” outfits really do have two hemlines:

Three tunic blouse and costume slip ensembles, Butterick patterns, 1924. Nos. 5790, 5455, & 5681.

Three tunic blouse and costume slip outfits, 1924. Butterick patterns Nos. 5790, 5455, & 5681. Slip patterns  5631 and 5685. The costume slip is also visible in the deep V-neck of the dress at right.

Older (or conservative) women could opt for very long dresses (right and center). Two of the tunics above also have a band of embroidery, suggesting three possible lengths: 8″ above the ground, mid-calf, or knee length.

A Vintage Tunic Blouse

Many years ago, while making an inventory of a vintage collection, I encountered a navy and white silk garment that puzzled me. I could tell from the fabric, construction and neckline that it was probably from the 1920’s. But it was a big cylinder, about 44 inches around, and quite short.

A mysteriously short -- and large -- silk dress.

A mysteriously short — and large — silk dress.

It was too big for the mannequin, even big enough to fit me — but it stopped far above my knees. I tried to imagine a woman with a 44″ bust who was at least 10″ shorter than I am, which would make her 4′ 9″.  The fabric was printed á disposition, with a large scale pattern toward the bottom, getting smaller toward the top, and a white band. Was it so short because it was made from a silk scarf? I wondered.

lg V095 silk pattern

Since it probably had a low resale value, I decided not to spend any more of my employer’s time on it. Two years later, I saw this page in a 1925 Delineator and the penny dropped:  It was a tunic blouse (far right):

A dress, a pink border print dress, and a  black and white tunic blouse over a costume slip. Butterick patterns for June, 1925. Delineator.

A striped dress, a pink border print dress, and a black and white tunic blouse over a white costume slip. Butterick patterns for June, 1925. Delineator.

The vintage silk tunic blouse I found had become separated from its “costume slip” — probably navy or white, and probably mid-calf length. The tunic was made from a border print with a white band, as shown in the color image above, and in the black and white image below:

Three tunic blouse outfits, March 1925. Butterick's Delineator.

Three tunic blouse outfits, March 1925. Butterick’s Delineator. Each tunic is a different length, unlike the slips which show beneath them.

Once I started looking, the number and variety of tunic blouses in the 1924-25 Delineator magazines surprised me. Sometimes you have to look twice (or read the label) to tell the two-piece tunic blouse outfits from the wide-bordered dresses beside them.

Dresses and a tunic blouse outfit, Delineator, 1925. Butterick patterns.

Three dresses and a tunic blouse outfit (in brown), Delineator, 1925. Butterick patterns.

Delineator, Nov. 1924. A, B, and C are tunic blouses.

Delineator, Nov. 1924. A, B, and C are labeled tunic blouses. “A costume slip and several tunic blouses make a varied wardrobe.” The white and silver Lelong tunic was probably cut similar to “A.”

Three tunic outfits, December, 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator.

Three tunic blouses with costume slips, December, 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator.

Dresses from 1925. Butterick patterns.

Dresses — not tunics — from  February, 1925. Butterick patterns. These 1925 hemlines are a little shorter, but two dresses still create a knee-length “stopping point” with a decorative band or embroidery.

The tunic blouse ensemble, and other dresses with a horizontal line at the knee, made the proportions of knee-length dresses seem familiar and attractive as they came to dominate twenties’ fashion.

“Tunic blouse costumes, the newest two-piece frock and dresses,” Delineator, April, 1925.

I suspect that many vintage dealers have encountered tunics without their slips, and, like me, puzzled over their odd proportions. Once the transition to knee length dresses happened in 1926-27, I wonder if thrifty women continued to wear the longer knee-length tunics without their slips.  The survival of any of the silk border prints is lucky, because they were such a great source of re-useable fabric during the 1930’s Depression and 1940’s fabric rationing. It’s easy to imagine them turned into blouses, scarves, jacket linings, and even bodice/yoke/sleeves for two-fabric dresses.

Two-fabric dresses from Butterick's Delineator, 1931.

Two-fabric dresses from Butterick’s Delineator, 1931.

Two-fabric outfits, Butterick's Delineator, 1932.

Two-fabric outfits, Butterick’s Delineator, 1932. A flash of matching, dotted jacket lining is visible at left.

Next stop:  What on earth is a “costume slip?”

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

On Writing Shorter — and About Shorter Styles

Detail of Camel cigarette ad, Delineator, March 1929.

Detail of Camel cigarette ad, Delineator, March 1929.

“Writing is easy. Editing is hard.” — witness2fashion

I keep trying to write shorter posts, really, I do, but one thing leads to another. I keep finding old images I want to share. Or I start to write about one thing — e.g., transitional hemlines in the late 192o’s  (“Going Down!”) — and realize that I also have images to share of transitional hemlines in the mid- 1920’s (“Going Up!”)  (Which led me to realize how short — in months, not hem length — the fashion era I think of as “the Twenties” really was!)

When I look at a fashion illustration from 1924 or 1925 , I am tempted to cover the bottom of the dress with my finger just to see what it would look like with a shorter, “real twenties” hem. (I did it in a photo program, instead. See the results farther down.)

Two dresses from 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, June (left) and November.

Two dresses from 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, June 1924 (left) and November 1924, right.

Just over one year later, styles had changed, and not only in length.

Butterick patterns for December, 1926. The dresses that were in style in 1924 look very long, indeed.

Butterick patterns for December, 1926. The dresses that were in style in 1924 look very long compared to these “classic” 1920’s fashions.

Since I’m interested in everyday fashions, I can’t help wondering how women on a limited budget coped with rapid fashion change. Of course, when you only own five or six dresses, they do wear out faster…. But many women trying to stay in style without buying a whole new wardrobe must have resorted to taking up hems and remaking dresses.

The styles of 1924 would need some alteration not to look old-fashioned, especially on young women. Did women shorten dresses  like this?

What if this dress from June, 1924, was shortened like this?

What if this dress from June, 1924, was shortened like this?

November 1924 dress, shortened for 1926 or 1927.

November, 1924 dress, shortened (in my computer) for 1926 or 1927. A clever girl would use the old hem fabric to make a hip-level belt, too.

I’ll be writing (at length — sorry!) about hems going up — and hems going down — in future posts. Notice how convenient it was for me to shorten these dresses where they already had a design line? That’s no coincidence…..

Hems had already started down again before 1929. The real problem that fascinates me is how women coped with dresses getting much longer (not such an easy alteration) just when the stock market crashed and unemployment skyrocketed in 1929-1930.

Nevertheless, this photo of a group of women with President Herbert Hoover in 1931 shows that — at least among middle class women — the new hem length was uniform and widely worn.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage patterns

Up Like Little Soldiers: Wilson Garter for Children, 1917

Ad for Wilson Garter, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Ad for Wilson Garter, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

I want to share this advertisement for a couple of reasons. First, there may be a collector of vintage underthings who has one of these contraptions and will appreciate the identification.

The Wilson Garter for children and pregnant women. It supports the stockings from the shoulders instead of from the waist. LHJ ad, Sept. 1917.

The Wilson Garter for children and pregnant women. It supports the stockings from the shoulders instead of from the waist. LHJ ad, Sept. 1917.

Second, it is just one more example of the way America’s entrance into World War I, in April of 1917, permeated American popular culture.

Wilson Cord and Slide Garters

“Up Like Little Soldiers — That’s how the Cord & Slide Wilson Garter allows children to grow — trim, graceful — all ginger. No more little rounded, stooping shoulders, and no more torn hose tops.

“For Boys and Girls, 1 to 16 years. Shoulder style like picture, slips on over head, white or black, 25 cents. Give Age.

“For Women, same style. Fine for home, athletic or Maternity wear, 50 cents. Bust sizes.”

Digression:  I feel I should explain a bit;  we live in an era when many people have never worn stockings. (Pantyhose are more popular, if less erotic, than individual thigh-high stockings worn with garter belts.)

When I wore my first garter belt in eighth grade, I was puzzled by ads — like this page from a 1958 Sears catalog — that showed the garters [suspenders] being worn over full petticoats — which would have flattened the petticoat absurdly. I had no mother to ask about this; finally an older girl explained that you actually wore the petticoat on top of the garter belt, but advertisers couldn’t show a garter belt attached to stocking tops over a bare thigh in family magazines.

Garter belts from Sears catalog, Fall 1958.

Garter belts from Sears catalog, Fall 1958. My first garter belt looked like K (bottom center), not P (the black one.) Back then, normal 12 year old girls did not wear black lace undies. However, if you wore stockings when dressed up, you needed a garter belt.

“Pull Up Your Socks!”

It’s hard to conceive of a time when active little children wore stockings instead of socks.

Fashions for boys, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Fashions for boys, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Nevertheless, these little boys are wearing boots with spat-like contrast uppers (or possibly spats! see far right), over stockings probably made of cotton lisle, although wool was a possibility.

Ad for Buster Brown Shoes for Boys or Girls, Delineator, October 1917.

Ad for Buster Brown Shoes “For Boys — for Girls,” Delineator, Oct. 1917.

A poor boy receives a basket of food from a boy who is better off. Both wear stockings. Robert A. Graef illustration, Delineator, Nov. 1924.

A poor boy receives a basket of food from a boy who is better off. Both wear long stockings. Robert A. Graef illustration, Delineator, Nov. 1924.

Because putting on his first pair of “long pants” was once a rite of passage for an adolescent boy, pre-adolescent boys wore knickers or short pants; these left their lower legs exposed all year round — so they sometimes wore long stockings.

Since neither little boys nor little girls have a waist significantly smaller than their hips, keeping trousers, shorts, and stockings from falling down was a problem.

Pictorial Review pattern 3386, for boys shorts that button on to the shirt.

Pictorial Review pattern 3386, for boys’ shorts that button on to the shirt. Note the sagging sock.

A solution popular in the 1920’s was to button the pants to the shirt, or to a sleeveless underbodice, in front and in back. This made it very difficult for small boys to go to the bathroom without help. (To read “Zippers Are Good for Your Children,” click here. )

Boys didn’t always wear stockings; some wore sensible socks, sometimes rolled over elastic garters, and little boys and girls kept warm by wearing stockings under leggings in the winter. [Like much fashion vocabulary which changes over time,  “leggings” now describes a completely different garment, i.e.,  women’s knit tights that stop at the ankle.]  Formerly, stiff (lined) wool or corduroy leggings were buttoned from below the anklebone to above the knee (you needed to use a buttonhook) and must have been a nightmare to put on squirming children.

Clothes for boys, Delineator, Nov. 1917. The smallest boys wear buttoned leggings.

Clothes for boys, Delineator, Nov. 1917. The smallest boys wear buttoned leggings. Butterick patterns.

Grown men wore long trousers which covered their garters:

Boston Garter ad for man's stocking garter; Delineator, Jan. 1917.

Boston Garter ad for man’s stocking suspender with “Velvet Grip;” Delineator, Jan. 1917.

Grown women suspended their stockings from their corsets:

La Camille Corset advertisement, April, 1917.

La Camille International Corset advertisement, Delineator, April, 1917. Look at those lovely clocked/embroidered stockings! For modesty’s sake, the model is drawn wearing frilly bloomers, which would have made it difficult to attach the suspender to the stocking! Here it is left dangling.

Corsets and stocking suspenders were also worn by some unlucky little girls:

Ad for girls' corsets; April 1917.

Ad for girls’ corsets; April 1917. Ferris Good Sense “Waist” for Girls and Misses.

The younger girl’s figure is still unformed, so her corset has shoulder straps to prevent the tension on her stockings from pulling it down. If it only attached to her stocking tops in front, this might produce the “stooped” look mentioned in the Wilson Garter ad.

Like Little Soldiers

Boy's patterns, Delineator, July 1917. Two of these children have sagging socks.

Children’s patterns, Butterick’s Delineator, July 1917. The long stockings of the boy on the left are falling down. Note the military insignias on their tunics.

There was a time when a parent, seeking to divert children from mischief, would simply yell, “Pull up your socks!”

However, the pugnacity of these two boys was part of a general trend to illustrate children as little warriors during World War  I.

Boy's pattern illustration, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

Boy’s Butterick pattern illustration, Delineator, Sept. 1917.  A few months earlier, boys were shown flying a kite, not leading a charge “over the top.”

Butterick pattern for a girl's military uniform, Sept. 1917. Delineator.

Butterick pattern for a girl’s military style “Service” uniform, Sept. 1917. Delineator.

Butterick pattern for boy's military uniform, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

Butterick pattern for boy’s military style outfit, complete with putteesDelineator, Sept. 1917.

Which brings us back to the Wilson Garter, which “allows children to grow . . . up like little soldiers.” By Jingo.

Ad for Wilson Garter, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Ad for Wilson Garter  for children, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Corsets, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Maternity clothes, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Underthings, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage patterns, World War I, Zippers