Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Fascinating Pajama, 1931

Title of Delineator magazine article, page 72, August 1931.

Title of Delineator magazine article, page 72, August 1931.

I don’t have complete copies of the Delineator for 1929-1930, but by 1931 the lounging pajama (also spelled “pyjama”) had moved from beach wear to formal wear. Butterick patterns even included a slip for wearing under pajamas. These pajamas, illustrated on page 72, were for casual wear.

Illustration for "The Fascinating Pyjama" in Delineator, Aug. 1931.

Illustration for “The Fascinating Pyjama” in Delineator, Aug. 1931. From Left, pyjamas for “Lounging,” “The ‘Jama Slip,” “Leisure,” and “Loafing or Working.”

Butterick 4014:  Lounging Pajamas, 1931

Lounging pajamas, Butterick pattern 4014, 1931.

Lounging pajamas, Butterick pattern 4014, 1931. Here, they are worn with a necklace.

1931 aug 4014 text lounging pjs p 72

“4014:  The three-piece type, with swaggeringly full trousers and a knee-length jacket. When made of satin or crepe they look especially smart and are eligible for the run of the house at all hours.”

The bi-color look, with inserts in the legs matching the bodice color, was also seen in this Munsingwear advertisement from April 1931:

Munsingwear ad, Delineator magazine, April 1931.

Munsingwear ad, Delineator magazine, April 1931. The pajamas have “Wide, wide trousers, swank as can be.” The bra is “uplift.”

[Note: “Pyjama” was the usual British spelling; “pajama” was the usual American spelling. Butterick Publishing, which had offices in Europe and aimed at middle-class readers, used “pyjama” in 1931, but its American advertisers used “pajama.”]

Butterick pattern 4037 : The ‘Jama Slip

Butterick 4037, the "Jama slip" for wearing under pajama outfits. Delineator, Aug. 1931.

Butterick 4037, the “Jama slip” for wearing under pajama outfits. Delineator, Aug. 1931.

1931 aug p 72 4037 text

“4037:  The thing to wear under the pyjamas you dance in [!] and the pajamas you receive in at home. [I.e., hostess pajamas.] It is as inevitable as the slip you wear under silk frocks. It has the “two-skirt” fulness that belongs to new pajamas, and it stops short of the ankles.”

The Vintage Traveler recently showed lounging pajamas from the 1920s (click here to see photos); the leg width increased in the thirties.

Butterick Pattern 3937 for One-piece Pajamas. 1931.

Butterick one-piece pajama pattern No. 3937, for "leisure" wear. Delineator, Aug. 1931.

Butterick one-piece pajama pattern No. 3937, for “leisure” wear. Delineator, Aug. 1931.

1931 aug p 72 3937 text undies pjs pj slip

Another — very bare — one-piece pajama, Butterick 3803, was featured in Delineator magazine in April, 1931. It was for sleeping:

Butterick one-piece pajama pattern 3803, Delineator, April 1931.

Butterick one-piece pajama pattern 3803, Delineator, April 1931.

“3803:  The sleeping version of the one-piece pajamas!  Wicked in black georgette with skin showing through in the fagoting, stunning in white crepe, smart in pastels. Wide slit trousers and sash tied waistline.”

The fagoting which joins the yoke to the bodice forms a deep V shape. A glimpse of nipple might be possible:  “wicked.”

Butterick One Piece Pajama Pattern No. 3752, 1931.

Butterick pajama pattern #3752, for "loafing or working" -- but not for working in public. 1931.

Butterick pajama pattern #3752, for “loafing or working” — but not for working in public. 1931. Interesting bare-toed sandals.

1931 aug p 72 3752 text

This one-piece pajama is for housework or lounging, depending on fabric choice. “Cotton for your morning’s work, or in printed crepe for the hours when you want a dressier type.”

Back views of "Fascinating Pyjamas," 1931.

Back views of “Fascinating Pyjamas,” 1931. Nos. 4014, 4037, 3937, 3752. #3752 could have short sleeves. Here are their fronts:

Illustration for "The Fascinating Pyjama" in Delineator, Aug. 1931.

Front views of Nos. 4014, 4037, 3937, 3752.

Evening Pajamas, 1931

These pajamas for casual wear were not the only pajamas illustrated in Delineator that month; on page 65, right beside the formal evening gowns, was an evening pajama pattern:

Pyjamas Now Go to Dances, Too." Pattern for lace pajamas, Butterick's Delineator magazine, Aug. 1931.

“Pyjamas Now Go to Dances, Too.” Pattern for lace pajamas, far right, Butterick’s Delineator magazine, Aug. 1931.

Pyjamas have "Come Out." Butterick pattern 4035, Aug. 1931.

“Pyjamas Have ‘Come Out.’ ” Butterick pattern 4035, Aug. 1931.

“4035:  As modern as a skyscraper, as graceful as a skirt, these wide, wide, lace pyjamas are a gay and amusing thing to wear to country club dances, and to dinners that are not too formal. Satin jacket.”

The same evening pajama pattern appeared in Butterick’s Delineator the next month, September 1931, with a different description and a long-sleeved jacket:

Butterick evening pajamas No. 4035, left, and Butterick lounging pajamas No. 3551, right. Delineator., Sept. 1931

Butterick evening pajamas No. 4035, left, and Butterick lounging pajamas No. 3551, right. Delineator, Sept. 1931

"Pajamas That Go Places" (Butterick No. 4035) and "Pajamas That Stay Home," (No. 3551.) Sept. 1931.

“Pajamas That Go Places” (Butterick No. 4035) and “Pajamas That Stay Home,” (No. 3551.) Sept. 1931.

“4035:  For parties that will be given the bride and for entertaining in her own home — these evening pyjamas with wide, wide trousers are gay and modern. The velvet jacket ties at the waist.” A month earlier the same pajamas were described as suitable for attending country club dances and “dinners that are not too formal.”

“3551:   There are as many types of pyjamas this season as there are dresses. These satin ones are for informal tea parties and afternoons with a book. Wide trousers, sleeveless blouse.” Satin is recommended — probably crepe satin, which is shiny on one side and matte on the other. Wearing pajamas “for informal tea parties” was probably appropriate for the “stay at home” hostess, rather than her guests.

The ” ‘Jama Slip” was also featured again in September, as were these other pajama patterns first seen in August:

Pajamas, left, and a dress, right. Butterick patterns 4014 and 3937. Delineator, Sept. 1931.

Lounging Pajamas, Butterick patterns 4014 and 3937. Delineator, Sept. 1931.

text 4014 and 3937

Butterick 4014:  “At college you may sleep in nightgowns, but you must have pyjamas for lounging. They’re perfect for studying, too. These are three-piece, wide-trousered, with a blouse that is sleeveless.” The long jacket resembles a robe.

Butterick 3937:  “Pajamas are the pet lounging costumes in college circles. The wider they are, the smarter. This is their feminine version, made of plaid silk with godets and frill of plain.”

Here are the August and September versions of these two patterns, side by side.

Two versions of Butterick 4014 and 3937 pajamas/pyjamas. 1931

Two versions of Butterick 4014 (left) and 3937 (right) pajamas/pyjamas. 1931

Butterick three piece pajama pattern 4227 (below,  at left) appeared in December of 1931:

Butterick patterns 4215, 4224,and 4227. Delineator, December 1931.

Butterick patterns 4227, 4215, and 4224. Delineator, December 1931.

1931 dec p 73 pj 4227

This pajamas set was shown with robes, but the suggested fabrics are velvet and lamé, so they are probably not for sleeping! It had wide trousers, a jacket, and a cowl-necked blouse.

Butterick even showed a pajama set for girls in this Christmas issue:

Butterick patterns 4177 and 4223, Delineator, Dec. 1931.

Butterick patterns No. 4177 (“satin crepe gown”) and girls’ pyjamas No. 4223, Delineator, Dec. 1931.

1931 dec p 69 pj text for pj 4223 ensemble

Butterick 4223:  “Much like the pyjama big sister wears, The top part is white and the trouser section and jacket are scarlet. The embroidered motif adds a ‘special’ touch. . . . Sizes 4 to 15 [years.]” The nightgown on the left looks like wide legged pajamas; it’s probably more accurate to say that wide legged pajamas looked like evening gowns.

If you didn’t want to make pajamas/pyjamas for Christmas, you could buy them. Munsingwear advertised that this set (below, top left) was only “One of many new Pajamas.”

Part of an andvertiesment for Munsingwear, December 1931. Delineator.

Part of an advertisement for Munsingwear, December 1931. Delineator.

I don’t know anything about this vintage pajama set — but the fabric says “lounging pajamas” to me:

Vintage lounging pajama set in red and black.

Vintage lounging pajama set in red and black. Private collection.

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Filed under 1930s, Bras, Children's Vintage styles, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, Women in Trousers

Costume Research: Watch “Dress Extras” in Silent Movies

I saw the freshly restored Colleen Moore film “Why Be Good?” at the Silent Film Festival this summer, and now it is about to be shown on Turner Classic Movies:  Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. EST and 5 p.m. Pacific time. (If you record it, you’ll be able to watch later and pause it for a closer look at the clothes.)
Colleen Moore was considered one of the quintessential movie Flappers; the book, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style and Celebrity and the Women Who Made America Modern, by Joshua Zeitz, devotes a whole chapter to her.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald quipped in Motion Picture Magazine, “I was the spark that lit up flaming youth; Colleen Moore was the torch . . . .” — article by Susan Doll for Turner Classic Movies.

Colleeen Moore, New York Public Library Image Collection.

Colleen Moore, New York Public Library Image Collection. Click to enlarge.

Colleen Moore usually wore the same smooth-bob-with-bangs as Louise Brooks, but her character was distinctly American.

In this movie still, from 1927, you may be surprised by how tightly fitted her dress is.

Colleen Moore in "Her Wild Oat," 1927. Image from classicfilmheroines.tumblr.com/

Colleen Moore in “Her Wild Oat,” 1927. Image from classicfilmheroines.tumblr.com/

You can see another view here. (scroll down a little)

Why Costumers Should Notice “Dress Extras”

Why Be Good was released in the spring of 1929, which means it was probably filmed in late 1928.  It’s worth watching for many reasons, but especially for the clothes worn by the “dress extras.”

The clothes worn by the star and featured players in a movie are usually designed or purchased specifically for them, so they may be the costumer’s good or bad guesses at what will be in style a year after they are designed — when the picture is finally released. But the clothes worn by the extras — the nameless people walking around in the background of street scenes or nightclubs, etc. — are usually real clothes worn by their owners. When I watch old movies, I spend a lot of time looking at the the extras instead of the main characters. (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are always worth watching, but I learn a lot from the other people at the nightclub!)

Movie extras show us ordinary clothing in context — day, night, working, at sports, beaches, restaurants, etc.

Movie extras (or supers, short for supernumeraries) were often hired for their wardrobes — except for period films. A man who owned a set of “white tie & tails,” or a tuxedo, or a good business suit could work as a “dress extra” in Hollywood — it was cheaper for the studio to hire someone whose clothes didn’t need to be rented, purchased, or fitted. The same would go for the guests in the lobby of a ritzy hotel (actually a film set), shopping, attending a party,  or working in an office, etc. People who owned a nice wardrobe but had fallen on hard times after the stock market crash sometimes found their way into movie work as “dress extras.”

One child star, “Baby Peggy,” made millions in the early 1920’s; later, no longer a baby, she and her mother and sister worked as dress extras. (As an adult, under the name Diana Serra Cary, she wrote several books about Hollywood and was a strong advocate for child actors’ financial protection and working conditions.)

Click here to see Colleen Moore — far right — with dress extras in a nightclub scene. (The costumed waiter is not a dress extra.)

Moore is not in this preview, (a video of the first minutes of “Why Be Good?”) but the party guests are worth looking at — especially if you care about menswear, too. Notice how very short the women’s hems are! (An even fancier party is seen later in the film.)

More About “Why Be Good?”

Most of Colleen Moore’s dresses in Why Be Good have a tightly fitted bodice, which closes with a line of snaps in the underarm seam. (She also dresses and undresses in the film, which gives us a look at her underwear, including a black bra.) The plaid (taffeta?) dress with apron effect, which she wears early in the movie, is supposed to be the “going out to a nightclub” dress of a salesgirl.  (See it at She Blogged by Night — click here.) The  evening dress Moore later receives as a gift from her wealthy boyfriend is such a knockout on her that the audience gasped and murmured when I saw the movie. She Blogged by Night captured a still photo of Moore dancing in it at a party — notice the variety of clothes on the extras.

The dress she wears in the movie’s posters has an “apron” effect, created by ruffles that rise in a diagonal line toward the back of the dress. This Butterick pattern for a dress with a similar apron effect appeared in The Delineator magazine in December of 1928. (Colleen’s dress had a snug bodice, a modest-but-low back and no sleeves.)

Butterick pattern 2370, Delineator,Dec. 1928. The inspiration, it says, was Jean Patou.

Butterick pattern 2370, Delineator,Dec. 1928. The inspiration, it says, was Jean Patou.

1928 dec p 32 2370 text

A different dress by Jean Patou, with a relatively fitted bodice, is worn by a model resembling Colleen Moore or Louise Brooks. Click here. It’s from Pinterest, so I can’t check the date — given as 1925.

More About Dress Extras

People still work as dress extras — because extras are often asked to show up with a suitcase full of possible outfits.

A clever stage actress I worked with twenty years ago was not too proud to work as an extra on TV shows filmed where we live. We started chatting at a play rehearsal when I complimented her on the vintage black, beaded sweater she was wearing. She said she bought it at a thrift store for $8.50, and it saved her from getting fired from a scene when she was working as an extra.

We don’t usually notice extras — we’re focused on the characters with dialog. That means a clever extra (and this woman was very smart!) can appear in several scenes in the same show.  I’ll call her Maya. In her little wheeled suitcase she carried clothes that could play many roles with minor changes, plus some hairpieces. For example:

(1) The detectives (the stars) visit a murder scene in a park. In the distance we see a woman with a baby stroller, and a jogger. One of them was Maya in the warm-up outfit she had packed. (2) The detectives interview the clerk at a fast food store. In the background are a few customers — one of them was Maya in a black T-shirt and a baseball cap. (3)  The detectives visit an office. While they talk to the receptionist, Maya — wearing a tailored navy blue skirt, a blue blouse, and heels, with a cluster of curls clipped to her hair — passes in the background, carrying a stack of files. (4) At the courthouse, the detectives play a scene in the foreground. Behind them are all the people waiting for a trial to begin — including Maya dressed as a lawyer, in the same navy skirt and heels, but wearing the matching suit jacket over a white blouse, with glasses, and her hair slicked back into a bun. (5) A few days later she was wearing her red cocktail dress while sitting at the bar of a fancy restaurant — where the detective took his date. Uh-oh! The detective’s date was wearing the same color! The director didn’t want Maya in the shot. But:  “I reached into my bag and took out this beaded sweater and put it on. I stayed in the shot, and I got paid for the day’s work. Not a bad return on an eight buck sweater from Goodwill!”

Extras in movies and TV shows may still be asked to supply their own wardrobe. If you’re curious, WikiHow has a long, clear article, How to Become an Extra in a Movie. Advice about wardrobe is Step 10, near bottom of the article. Click here to read it.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Hairstyles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

Quilt Portrait of Bangladeshi Textile Worker by Terese Agnew

"Portrait of a Textile Worker;" art quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

“Portrait of a Textile Worker;” art quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

I mentioned this art quilt in a comment on The Vintage Traveler blog, and it dawned on me that, since it was a powerful work of art that really started me thinking about our international economy, I ought to write about it here.

Detail of "Portrait of a Textile Worker" by Terese Agnew. The quilt measures 98 by 110 inches. Image from tardart.com

Detail of “Portrait of a Textile Worker” by Terese Agnew. The quilt measures 98 by 110 inches. Image from tardart.com

Around 2005, Fiber Artist Terese Agnew put out a call for labels clipped from clothing manufactured overseas. She wanted to make a quilt honoring textile workers, using only clothing labels. I went through the shirts in my husband’s closet — mostly knit “golf shirts” from Land’s End and dress shirts bought at Ross Stores. I was stunned by the range of countries: Made in Sri Lanka, Made in India, Made in Bangladesh, Made in Cambodia, Made in Pakistan, Made in China, etc.

Jones New York woman's knit shirt. Made in Cambodia.

Jones New York woman’s knit shirt. Made in Cambodia. I own many shirts from this company.

(There was a brief period when textile workers in Cambodia were promised better working conditions and a living wage. It didn’t last long. In 2014,  protesting Cambodian workers were shot for asking for the same improvements.) Click here for a BBC News report.

Calvin Klein label: Made in India.

Calvin Klein label: Made in India. Agnew used many thousands of labels like these to make her quilt.

After going through our closet, I cut the country-of-origin labels from a dozen or so garments and mailed them to Agnew. Then I began talking about her project at work, and the theatre company gave me permission to go through costume storage on my lunch breaks. I collected another fat envelope full of clothing labels from our boxes of used men’s shirts, showed them to my co-workers, and mailed them to Agnew. Other costumers did the same, along with people from all over the world who heard about her project.

Shirts from a department store and from Costco.

Shirts from a department store and from Costco. Made in Indonesia and China.

Several years later, Terese Agnew and her finished quilt, called “Portrait of a Textile Worker,” appeared in an episode of the PBS series “Craft in America.” Click here to watch a preview of the program. Click here to watch the entire 12 minute segment.

Here, you can see Ms. Agnew working on the quilt. That should give you a better idea of its size.

The finished quilt measures 98 by 110 inches.  Agnew has devoted a website to this project:  tardart.com. Click here.  (The portrait is based on a photograph by Charles Kernaghan, Director of the National Labor Committee, which was taken on an unauthorized visit to a factory in Bangladesh.) As of January, 2014, textile factory workers in Bangladesh were the lowest paid in the world.

Detail of worker's hand, "portraint of a Textile Worker," quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

Detail of worker’s hand, “Portrait of a Textile Worker,”  a quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

Agnew’s site does not show closeups that enlarge the quilt so that we can get some idea of how many labels it took to make the image, but you can see more by clicking here. Ifthebirdknew at blogspot showed the quilt with a close-up of fashion labels you may recognize:  click here.

A 2007 interview, “Not Your Mother’s Quilt,” done after the quilt was finished, appeared in UTNE Reader. Click here to read it.

Agnew’s art quilt was featured on a segment of Craft in America on PBS, a terrific series I discovered late — by borrowing DVDs  from my local library. (Again, you can watch the very good preview by clicking here.)

Teres Agnew with "Portrait of a Textile Worker;" from article about Craft in America series, SFgate.com

Terese Agnew with “Portrait of a Textile Worker;” from article about Craft in America series, SFgate.com

The PBS series on Craft in America covers many art forms — pottery, woodworking, quilting, etc. You may be able to find a copy at your local library, or online. This particular episode is on DVD, available as Craft in America Season 4, Threads. It can be downloaded from Amazon or purchased as a DVD for about $9.  The quilt is not black and white, as it appears here; closeups on the DVD show flecks of color and subtle grays and tans. Agnew’s other quilts are equally amazing, and very colorful. The Threads DVD includes other textile artists:  Faith Ringgold, Randall Darwall  (gorgeous hand weaving,) and Consuelo Jiminez. The three women artists use textiles to explore social issues. The entire series is wonderful. (Potters, woodworkers, basketmakers, jewelers, glass — some crafts I didn’t know existed!) You can buy them all from PBS. Click here to see the full collection.

If Terese Agnew’s  work makes you want to do something about the conditions of textile workers, she has printed sample letters to write to major stores. They are on her website: click here.

Note:  Although I tried, I could not find a way to contact Ms. Agnew for permission to use the images from her website. I hope that she won’t mind my attempt to make more people aware of her work. Signed posters — a fund-raising effort for improving workers’ conditions — were available through the National Labor Committee.

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Filed under Exhibitions & Museums, Musings

Dancing Shoes, December 1928

“… Never have the shops made it easier to select dazzlingly beautiful slippers to complete the Christmas and New Year’s formal costume.” — Lucile Babcock in The Delineator magazine, December, 1928, p. 61.

Top of article, "Dancing Data," by Lucile Babcock, The Delineator; Dec. 1928.

Top of article, “Dancing Data,” by Lucile Babcock, The Delineator; Dec. 1928.

Elegant shoes were featured in The Delineator in November of 1928, too. (Click here for shoes by Vionnet’s husband.) All these dancing shoes are made of fabric — fragile but practical, since fabric shoes don’t usually need to be “broken in.”

(A) is made of gold brocade trimmed with soft gold leather. (B) is "dramatic with gold kid and gayest embroidery." December 1928, Delineator.

(A) is made of gold brocade trimmed with soft gold leather. (B) is “dramatic with gold kid and gayest embroidery.” Dancing shoes, December 1928, Delineator.

(C) is "ready-to-dye" crepe de chine fabric. (D) is "silver and white brocade which may be dyed."

(C) is “ready-to-dye” crepe de Chine fabric. (D) is “silver and white brocade which may be dyed.” Dancing shoes, Dec. 1928, Delineator.

I928 dec p 61 text C and D dancing shoes

“There is paisley brocade, as gorgeous in its many colors as a Persian shawl, which chooses to collaborate with gold kid heels and straps — a vivid lovely accent for a white or off-white evening frock.”

(F) Gold or silver brocade dancing shoes from Arch Preserver. (G) Crepe de Chine pump made by Delman. Dec. 1928.

(E) Gold or silver brocade dancing shoes from Arch Preserver. (F) Crepe de Chine pump made by Delman. Dancing shoes, Delineator, Dec. 1928.

I928 dec p 61 text E and F dancing shoes

 “Gold or silver brocade twinkling with rhinestone buckles has elaborate new tendencies in plaided or flowered designs, and is as glamorous as the fabled slippers of the fairy tale.”

(G) "Persian brocade and silver kid. Dance magic!" (H) Black velvet with scarlet satin inserts. Dec. 1928.

(G) “Persian brocade and silver kid. Dance magic!” (H) Black velvet with scarlet satin inserts. Dancing shoes, Delineator, Dec. 1928.

I928 dec p 61 text G and H dancing shoes

“The suave beauty of velvet has a dozen new guises and disguises when it appears on the dance program. Embroidered, painted in flamboyant colors, moired or inlaid with satin in some fanciful arabesque, the velvet slipper adds an ornate look to the simple, stately, monotone frock of velvet or satin.”

(I) is labelled "Red and gold paisley brocade" but clearly is not. (J) says "Rhinestones sparkle on the strap of this pump." Dec,. 1928.

(I) is labelled “Red and gold paisley brocade” but clearly is not. (J) says “Rhinestones sparkle on the strap of this pump.” Dancing shoes, Dec. 1928.

If you don’t know the online shoe museum called “Shoe-Icon” — based in Russia — it has a large, well illustrated collection and an excellent library of shoe trademarks.  You can search for shoe designers by name or by trademark. (Translate into English by clicking at upper right of screen.) Shoes by the designers in this article are well-represented.

The shoes illustrated in this article came from I. Miller & Sons, J. & T. Cousins (click here for a very similar shoe — in color — at the Shoe-Icons site. ), Laird Schober & Co. (click here for a brocade shoe by Laird Schrober with rhinestoned heel, at Shoe-Icons,) Delman (Shoe-Icon shows many Delman shoes — click here), and Arch Preserver. (“Arch Preserver ” and “Foot Saver” shoes, advertised for comfort, were nevertheless sometimes very attractive. The brocade one shown above (E) has a slightly thicker heel than the others.

From a Foot Saver ad, Feb. 1929.

Woman’s Shoe from a Foot Saver ad, Feb. 1929.

Day shoe from Arch Preserver, June 1929. Delineator.

Day shoe from Arch Preserver, June 1929. Delineator.

It reminded me of this I. Miller evening shoe:

I928 dec p 61 dancing shoe II really like 1920’s shoes. They are usually beautiful and wearable (not too high) — and flattering. The thin straps that kept them on even during a Charleston are often a color that blends with the wearer’s stockings or legs — gold, tan, silver, bronze, etc. — so that the strap doesn’t visually “cut” the leg at the ankle. (See the white shoe with tan strap, above.)

Israel Miller’s shoes were worn by fashionable women from the early 1900’s through the 1960’s. Andy Warhol was a shoe illustrator for I. Miller & Co. ads in the 1950’s. The Historialist wrote about the Warhol shoe ads here.

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Filed under 1920s, Shoes, Vintage Accessories

Swimsuits for Esther Williams and Annette Kellerman

Cover of Esther Williams' autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Cover of Esther Williams’ autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Esther Williams’ swimsuit in the movie Million Dollar Mermaid (click here) , a film based on the life of champion swimmer and diving star Annette Kellerman, bore only a partial resemblance to the one that got Annette Kellerman arrested.

Swimming champion Annette Kellerman, circa 1907

Swimming champion Annette Kellerman, circa 1907. There is some disagreement about whether the offensive suit was sleeveless or had cap sleeves.

“When Annette Kellerman stepped out onto Revere Beach in 1907 wearing a one-piece bathing suit that ended in shorts above her knees, her legs caused a scandal. Police were called, and she was arrested for indecency,” wrote Kristin Toussaint in the Boston Globe’s website. [July 2, 2015]

To read the rest of Toussaint’s article, with a large slide show of vintage bathing suit photos, click here. This picture (click here) shows that other female competitive swimmers were wearing even less in 1907.

Nevertheless, ten years later, a group of chorus girls from Daly’s Theatre in London posed for a bathing suit photo in suits that covered a lot more than the suit that shocked Boston in 1907. (click here.)

In 1920, in the United States, women at a public pool posed in knitted wool suits which presented a real danger of drowning in the surf; if you have ever hand-washed a long-sleeved wool sweater, you know how heavy wet wool can be! In this picture from 1922, the woman on the right is wearing a ruffled swimsuit, rather like the one below– at least it’s not wool!

Ruffled 1920's bathing suit.

Ruffled vintage 1920’s bathing suit.

Of course, some swimming suits have always been intended for lounging and sunbathing, rather than getting wet.

Bathing suit from an ad for HInds sun cream; Delineator, June 1929/

Bathing suit from an ad for Hinds sun cream; Delineator, June 1929.

Annette Kellerman settled her problems with the law by promising to stay covered by a cape until she entered the water, according to Toussaint . . .

The young women at the left are critical of the conservative fashions worn by the one with the cape. From The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

The young women at the left are critical of the conservative fashions worn by the one with the cape. From The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

. . . or by wearing full length tights to cover her legs, as Kellerman did in this photo:

Annette Kellerman with her legs completely covered.

Annette Kellerman with her legs — and shoulders –completely covered.

As a long-distance speed swimmer, Kellerman had to eliminate the drag of her swimsuit as much as possible, but as an exhibition diver and swimmer — she played the vaudeville circuit — publicity photos like this one were more likely to get printed in local papers. Many women wore stockings with their bathing costumes. Since “erogenous zones” keep changing, it’s worth noting that it was her bare legs, not her breasts, that were the subject of scandal. I’m enough of a cynic to believe that the sight of Ms. Kellerman in a cold, wet bathing suit must have been part of her attraction. (Remember that best-selling poster of Farah Fawcett?)

That, and the fact that Kellerman introduced the Australian crawl to swimmers all over the world.

Kellerman kept up with the times, too. Here she is in an ad from 1931:

Annette Kellerman in an advertisement for her diet plan; Delineator, August 1931.

Annette Kellerman in an advertisement for her diet plan; Delineator, August 1931.

Women reading this ad would be aware that Kellerman was in her forties; she’d been a public figure (in both senses of the word) for 26 years. And her figure, once “perfect” because it resembled the Venus de Milo, now has the slender lines of the 1920’s and 30’s.

Annette Kellerman ad for her diet and exercise plan; Delineator, Aug. 1931.

Annette Kellerman ad for her diet and exercise plan; Delineator, Aug. 1931.

I’m happy to say that her weight loss plan appears to be based on healthy practices:

1931 aug delin btm 500 diet annette kellerman ad

“I allow you plenty of delicious, satisfying foods, but they produce energy instead of fat. I use no drugs or pills; prescribe no starvation diets.” The ad also mentions improvements in posture, “pep and energy,” so — I hope — exercise was part of “The Body Beautiful” plan.

Esther Williams was also a teenaged swimming champion before she became a movie star. In fact, in her very good autobiography, (which she also called “Million Dollar Mermaid“) she mentions the many times her life was in danger while filming, because there simply were no stunt performers who could do what she could do. Certainly, no stuntman could look like Williams in a bathing suit! She had to stay underwater for long periods, performing till the end of the shot before she could grab a breath from a concealed air supply tube.  She really did perform her own high dives off of trapezes and towers. (She did refuse to perform one very high dive while pregnant.)

Public domain image of Esther Williams

Public domain image of Esther Williams

The producers of the movie in which she played a fictional version of Annette Kellerman — “Million Dollar Mermaid” — wisely saved her most difficult high dive until the end of the shoot. Her glittering full bodysuit included a tight-fitting hood with a crown attached to its top. When Williams hit the water, the crown formed a cup at the top of her head; instead of piercing the water smoothly, her head and neck snapped back; she broke bones in her back, and she was lucky not to be paralyzed.

This costume is apparently the one that put Williams in a body cast for several months (click here).

Poor Esther — who made a full recovery — was always having to stand on her tiptoes in photos, to make her strong, athletic legs look longer.

Esther Williams posing on tiptoes in a Cole swimming suit. From her book, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Esther Williams posing on tiptoes in a Cole swimming suit. From her book, Million Dollar Mermaid.

So, naturally, when the studio recreated Annette Kellerman’s one piece suit for her, they shortened its legs, for an unbroken long leg line, effectively putting the star in an almost-modern (1952) bathing suit.  You can see the movie trailer [preview]– with several of her costumes, including the head-to-toe bodysuit — by clicking here.

Like Kellerman, Williams turned herself into a business. Williams had a long working relationship with bathing suit manufacturer Cole of California. She even persuaded the U.S. Navy to order 50,000 swimsuits from Cole.  Million Dollar Mermaid, by Esther Williams with Digby Diehl, would be a great poolside or summer “read.” Used paperbacks are available for as little as a penny!

And the movie has choreography (over the top — of course) by Busby Berkeley. Starring Esther Willams and Victor Mature. [Or, to repeat an old theatre joke, “Why ‘and?’ Why not ‘But?’ “] Rent it to enjoy a little Technicolor time travel; take with plenty of popcorn and low expectations of historical accuracy.  Just in:  the 1952 movie will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015:  10 pm Eastern time, 7 pm Pacific Time.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1930s, 1950s-1960s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Sportswear, Swimsuits

Thinking About Sewing Machines

Sewing; Butterick's Delineator magazine, July 1924.

Sewing; Butterick’s Delineator magazine, July 1924.

A recent post from Two Nerdy History Girls reminded me that I have some vintage sewing machine advertisements to share. The Two Nerdy History Girls linked to an article in the July 2015 Smithsonian magazine, “How Singer Won the Sewing Machine Wars.” An interesting read, pointing out the various features — and business practices — that helped Singer to dominate the American market. For an excellent, illustrated overview of sewing machine history by Terry’s Fabrics, click here.

Singer ran a full page ad in October, 1939 to celebrate its fiftieth year of producing electric sewing machines.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, Oct. 1939.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, Oct. 1939. Let’s not take the feed dog, which moves material through the machine at a steady pace, for granted! in 1939, “88 years ago” would be 1851.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, October, 1939.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, October, 1939. In 1939, “50 years ago” would mean 1889.

Electricity in private houses was not usual in the 19th century — gas lighting was then more modern than candles and kerosene lanterns, but all were in use. Most home sewing machines were run by human energy: a hand crank or a treadle.

A Singer Treadle sewing machine. Image from pastiane blogspot.

A Singer Treadle sewing machine. Image from pastiane blogspot.

I learned to sew on an electric machine belonging to my Girl Scout leader, but I made parts of my college wardrobe on a treadle (foot-powered) machine very much like this one. It was down in my parents’ laundry room, and it worked, so I used it.

A woman using a treadle sewing machine in the 1940s. I used one in the 1960s.

A woman using a treadle sewing machine in the 1940s.  I used one in the 1960s.

There have been times since then, when I was sewing velvet or other tricky fabrics, or trying for a very exact needle placement on each stitch, when I wished I still had a treadle machine, because it gave absolute control:  when you push the peddle, the machine makes one stitch. You can go as slowly as you want, and stop exactly where you want — take one more stitch into a corner, for instance. Of course, I usually appreciate my electric sewing machine’s speed and the many other functions that you didn’t get with my treadle machine — like a reverse gear for backstitching, zigzag and hem stitches, easily adjusted stitch length, and a built-in light so you can see what you’re sewing. Many of these improvements came twenty years after this ad:

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, March 1917.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, March 1917. “You don’t have to pedal it.”

“. . . Every disadvantage of the old-fashioned sewing machine was thrown aside. You don’t have to pedal it — a pressure on the foot control starts that motor, regulates the speed and stops motor instantly. You can sew all day without tiring — and at a cost of about one-half cent an hour for current.” 1917.

Of course, before home electricity, and before the big treadle machines, there were small, hand-cranked ones.

VIntage hand-crank sewing machine.

Vintage hand-crank Singer sewing machine.

In the 1950’s, I had a toy sewing machine. (I wonder what sexist relative assumed that I’d like one of those– presumably to go with my toy stove and my toy iron? Not my idea of fun! Besides, my mother expected me to do real housework with real sweepers and vacuums and irons.)

My toy sewing machine was much like this vintage Singer. Turning the crank produced a chainstitch — no bobbin thread was necessary.

Which makes me wonder:  Why did makers of the first sewing machines expect you to do the easy part — turning a crank — with your right hand while guiding the material with your left hand?  And now that we’re aware that a majority of people are right handed, why do they still make sewing machines that way? And why do they always have the part you really need to focus on (the needle and presser foot) off to the left side instead of in the center? Just asking….

I don’t have any sewing machine ads from earlier than 1917, but the selling points mentioned through the 1930’s certainly make me appreciate my thirty-year-old , all metal, Pfaff.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, Delineator, April 1917.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, April 1917. “You can use it on the porch.”

$35 was a lot of money in 1917; one way the Singer company gained dominance over rivals like Western Electric was that Singer offered the first installment plan in the U.S.

Portability was not a new concept; the early hand-cranked machines were portable. But in a world without air-conditioning, many women appreciated a chance to work outside on a breezy porch in the summer. You still needed a source of electricity, however, and most houses did not have base outlets in the walls.

Western Electric Sewing machine ad, March 1917.

Western Electric Sewing machine ad, March 1917.

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Mar. 1917. You can use it anywhere there is a light socket."

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Mar. 1917. “You can use it wherever there is an electric light socket.”

That’s right; instead of plugging into the nearest wall outlet, you unscrewed the light bulb — most rooms only had one in 1917, since houses like my grandmother’s were built during the gaslight era. Then you screwed the sewing machine’s cord and adapter into the light socket.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, Oct. 1917.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, Oct. 1917.

This ad emphasizes the convenience of a portable electric sewing machine, which takes up less room than a treadle machine.

Top of sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917.

Top of sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917.

Bottom of Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine ad, Ladies' Home Journal, Oct. 1917.

Bottom of Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Oct. 1917. “With a Western Electric 2-way Plug you can operate both the machine and a lamp from a single socket at the same time.”

The 2-way plug was a stroke of genius; you could have a light bulb and a sewing machine going at the same time! (Just in case you wanted to see what you were doing….)

Sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917.

Sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917. “Connect to any light socket.”

A light directly over the needle and work area was a selling point for Singer in this 1937 advertisement:

Singer Sewing Machine ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937.

Singer Sewing Machine ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937.

Notice the 1937 reference to treadle machines…. Many were still in use.  In fact, we now take for granted the wonderful new things this 1937 sewing machine could do.

Singer Sewing Machine Ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937. Full page ad.

Singer Sewing Machine Ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937. Full page ad.

It could reverse! (On a treadle machine, you have to rotate the entire piece of fabric 180 degrees to backstitch at the end of a seam.)

Singer Ad, Dec. 1937. "Sew backward or forward."

Singer Ad, Dec. 1937. “Sew backward or forward.”

Singer ad, Dec. 1937. You can sew over pins!"

Singer ad, Dec. 1937. You can sew over pins!

Of course, professionals do not sew over pins today, but we did when I learned to use a home sewing machine.

"I was still struggling with my old treadle machine..." Singer sewing machine ad, 1937.

“I was still struggling with my old treadle machine, as out-of date as a 1910 car. Now I’ve traded it in for the grandest Singer made — and am I tickled!” Singer sewing machine ad, 1937.

Singer’s willingness to accept trade-ins was another reason for the company’s success. Of course, the deluxe, non- portable models were still being presented as important pieces of furniture:

Singer ad, 1937.

Singer Anniversary Model ad, 1937. It had “A lovely period cabinet.”

Which period? Don’t get picky!

Singer sewing machine cabinet, closed and posing as a side table. 1937.

Singer sewing machine cabinet, closed and posing as a side table. 1937.

Singer sewing machine cabinets disguised as living room and dining room furniture. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930.

Singer sewing machine cabinets disguised as living room or dining room “fine furniture.” Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930.

This Singer, disguised as a “library table” when not in use as a sewing machine,  “is most frequently placed . . . in the living room. There it is admired by guests for its simple beauty in design. They would never guess . . . that this attractive table is really a sewing machine. . . . All its lines express simplicity and good taste.”

Singer ad, Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

Singer ad, Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

Of course, my family wasn’t the only one to own a foot-powered treadle machine long after these luxurious Singer models appeared. For one thing, sewing machines were expensive. And those treadle machines just kept working. (A delightful company that makes historic re-enactment clothing is Treadle Treasures; when I corresponded with  Heather a few years ago, she was still using treadle machines for special jobs.)

If you didn’t want to buy a new electric sewing machine, you could purchase a little motor to run your old treadle machine:

Ad for Hamilton Beach Motored Appliances -- a motor for your treadle sewing machine. Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

Ad for Hamilton Beach Motored Appliances — an external motor for your treadle sewing machine. “You just set it under the hand wheel of your sewing machine and sew without pedaling. Both hands are free to guide the material….” Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

It was also possible to buy attachments for your sewing machine; I’m not sure how this zigzag attachment for a straight stitch machine actually worked, but unless your machine has zigzag capability, you have to make most of your buttonholes by hand. (When using a treadle machine, I bought patterns that called for zippers, not buttonholes.)

Singer zigzag attachment advertised in Butterick Fashion News, May 1938.

Singer zigzag attachment advertised in Butterick Fashion News, May 1938. “Fits on any modern Singer machine.”

I’m just guessing that the needle stitched in a straight line while the attachment pushed the fabric back and forth?

Even stranger was a Singer attachment that enabled you to make rugs on your sewing machine:

Singer sewing machine attachment advertised in 1934.

Singer sewing machine attachment advertised in 1934. “All you need is the Singercraft Guide — a simple attachment that fits any sewing machine.”

“All you need is the Singercraft Guide — a simple attachment that fits any sewing machine. For the materials, use rags, old stockings, or wool yarn. The result is amazing. . . . Get Complete Singercraft Set, including Book, Guide, transfer patterns and instructions — for 50 cents.” (The Depression may have had something to do with this rug maker.)

This hemming attachment — with free embroidering attachment — cost a dollar in 1929.

Hemstitcher attachment ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

Hemstitcher attachment ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

If you sew, take a minute to appreciate how much sewing machines have improved over the years.

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

“It is the modern way. . . .” It’s so modern, that the model has bobbed hair, which was just becoming acceptable in the U.S.A.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1930s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Two Blouses from the Mid-Twenties

Two blouses from the 1920's

Two blouses from the 1920’s

Both of these blouses appeared to be factory-made, both have long sleeves, and both have side openings that button at the hip. They also have strong vertical lines — a nice touch to copy if the hip-widening properties of twenties styles make you uncomfortable. Both are from a private collection that has been sold.

Machine Embroidered Twenties’ Blouse

Vintage 1920's blouse with machine embroidery.

Vintage 1920’s blouse with machine embroidery.

The body of the blouse is slightly eased into the hip band, for a mild blouson effect.  The colors are light blue, navy and rust. There are six tiny tucks on each side of the center front hidden button placket. The design is geometric. it may have been embroidered on light cotton ribbon and applied to the blouse.

Collar, cuff, and CF placket trim.

Collar, cuff, and CF placket trim.

Back of twenties blouse with embroidered trim.

Back of twenties blouse with embroidered trim.

There is a slight amount of easing at each side of back where it meets the hip band.

The hip band closes with buttons on the sides:

Hip band is closed with buttons.

Hip band is closed with buttons.

You could adjust the fit by moving the buttons.

White Tucked Twenties Blouse with Lace Trim

White tucked  vintage 1920's blouse with lace trim on collar and cuffs.

White tucked vintage 1920’s blouse with lace trim on collar and cuffs.

This blouse is not as long from collar to hip as the first blouse. It’s possible that some buttons have been replaced. The sheer cotton with woven stripes is enhanced with tucks on either side of the center front placket. The wrist-length sleeves have long cuffs that fold back, covering the buttons.

Collar detail, 1920s vintage blouse.

Collar detail, 1920s vintage blouse. The blouse would look better after pressing.

Side view of vintage twenties blouse.

Side view of vintage twenties blouse.

The blouse uses French seams, with flat-felled seams at the armholes, like a man’s shirt.

Detail of hip opening on 1920s vintage blouse.

Detail of hip opening on 1920s vintage blouse.

These 1924 Butterick blouse patterns from Delineator magazine have many of the same characteristics, including vertical lines and visible buttons at the hip band.

Butterick blouse patterns, Delineator, May1924.

Butterick blouse patterns, 5228 and 5243; Delineator, May,1924.

These 1924 blouse patterns have a different hip treatment. The one on the left fits loosely and is belted to create a slight blousing. The one on the right is snugly buttoned.

Butterick blouse patterns 5055 and 5077, with hat 4973. Delineator, March 1924.

Butterick blouse patterns 5055 and 5077, with hat No. 4973. Delineator, March 1924.

This cotton broadcloth blouse from Sears cost $1.98 in 1924 ($2.39 for stout sizes.).

Blouse with hip buttons, Sears catalog, Fall 1924.

Blouse with hip buttons, Sears catalog, Fall 1924.

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