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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8 Comments

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

8 responses to “Going Up: Rising Hemlines, Border Prints, and Tunics, 1924-1925

  1. Christina

    This is excellent. I think we have to look at marketing and advertising to fully understand the length fluctuations. In Daniel Dellis Hill’s book “As Seen in Vogue: A Century Of American Fashion in Advertising” he writes about hemlines as being “marketing failures” in the early 1920’s. The longer length was promoted but apparently “was rejected year after year” and “…stores became backlogged with alterations orders for shortening hemlines.” He writes that by the end of 1924 french couturiers began to respond to the demand of the “marketplace.”

    Daniel Dellis Hill also writes about the economic depression at the end of that decade and how the female silhouette changed again.

    • Thank you for the book recommendation! I’ve ordered it from the library. I’m going to have to go back to the stacks and look at the Ladies’ Home Journal from the end of the twenties, because the LHJ did a lot of “how to re-use” or modify clothing articles in the 1910s. Perhaps I’ll find some from the late 20s and early 30s. Joy Spanabel Emery printed a wonderful Butterick pattern image from 1948 showing ways to make a 1940’s skirt longer for the “new look.” (In A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, p. 165.) I’d love to find something similar for 1929-31. I’ll do more checking at the CoPA site, too. It’s lovely to have the time to do research for the fun of it!

  2. Pingback: What on Earth Is a “Costume Slip” ? | witness2fashion

  3. Debra Bullard

    Thank you for these articles! I enjoy them very much. Don’t ever stop!! I look forward to the next writing!! Sincerely, A Devoted Fan, Debra

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Pingback: Hems Going Down Part 1: 1926 | witness2fashion

  5. Pingback: Hems Going Down Part 2: July 1928 | witness2fashion

  6. Pingback: 1920s: The Long Tubular Look | The Vintage Traveler

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