Monthly Archives: September 2015

High Low Hems for Evening — 1929 and Now

Maid of Honor and Bride, May 1929. Butterick patterns 2360 (left) and 2634 (bride.)

Maid of Honor and Bride, May 1929. Butterick patterns 2360 (left) and 2634 (bride.) Illustrated by Muriel King.

Evening dresses, as well as day dresses, had reached historic heights by the late twenties, exposing middle and upper class women’s legs to — or above — the knee for the first time in thousands of years. We know that hems descended rapidly in the early 1930’s, so it’s easy to assume that some women welcomed a return to the lengths they were used to from the 1910s. I’ve been writing about the high-in-front-low-in-back hems of the late 1920’s as a transitional fashion — a way of “easing” into a longer look. (Click here for Part 1.) (Click here for Part 2.)

Miss Jean Ackerman wearing a gown by Paul Popiret in Ziegfeld's production of "Whoopee." Licy Strike cigarette ad, March 1929. Delineator.

Miss Jean Ackerman wearing a gown by Paul Poiret in Ziegfeld’s production of “Whoopee.” Lucky Strike cigarette ad, March 1929. Delineator.

Poiret was no longer a leading couturier in 1929, but top designers like Lelong, Molyneux, Worth, and Cheruit were all showing  what I’ll call High/Low hems.

Couture evening gowns by (from left) Louiseboulanger, Lelong, Cheruit, ; sketched for Delineator, May 1929.

Couture evening gowns by (from left) Louiseboulanger, Lelong, Cheruit, Molyneux, and Lelong; sketched for Delineator, May 1929.

Couture from Lelong, Louiseboulanger, Vionnet, and Vionnet. Sketched for Delineator, May 1929.

Couture from Lelong, Louiseboulanger, Vionnet, and Vionnet. Sketched for Delineator, May 1929.

For those who love a sewing challenge, here’s a closer look at two 1929 Lelong gowns:

Couture gowns by Lucien Lelong, Illustrated in March and May, 1929. Delineator.

Couture gowns by Lucien Lelong, Illustrated in March and May, 1929. Delineator. I’ll link to some modern leg-baring dresses with sheer overlays later.

Worth designed this white velvet wedding gown for Princess Francoise of France in 1929. The gown is relatively simple so as not to detract from the yards of heirloom lace in her veil.

Worth wedding gown designed for Princess Francoise of France. Sketched in Delineator, June 1929.

Worth wedding gown designed for Princess Francoise of France. Sketched in Delineator, June 1929.

Bridesmaid dress by Ardanse. "Green taffeta with the yoke, tiny sleeves and skirt of tulle." June 1929.

Bridesmaid dress by Ardanse. “Green taffeta, with the yoke, tiny sleeves and skirt of tulle.” June 1929.

Commercial designs followed suit:

Wedding gown in Butterick's Delineator, June 1929.

Wedding gown in Butterick’s Delineator; illustration for article, June 1929.

Butterick pattern 2632 has a coordinating jacket. May, 1929.

Butterick pattern 2632 has a coordinating jacket. May, 1929.

Butterick pattern 2634 dress and jacket; May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2634 dress and jacket; May 1929.

As I said, I’ve been thinking of these dresses with hems that are simultaneously long and short as “transitional” fashion. I know some readers really dislike them; I may have bad news for you. Here’s Sonya Molodetskaya in a gown by Vasily Vein – worn in San Francisco in September 2015. (Photo by Laura Morton.)

We have now been living in a long period of varied hem lengths — without the edicts of other eras that “this season the hem will be nine inches above the floor” or “Just at the kneecap.” So how am I to explain the reappearance of high-in-front-low-in-back hems?

These were seen at the San Francisco Opera and Symphony events in September, 2014 and 2015:

A red satin gown by Rubin Singer (click here.) (2015)

Designer Yuka Uehara in her gown for Tokyo Gamine (click here.) (2015)

Another super-short front and full trained gown worn by Sonya Molodetskaya  (click here.) (2014)

Komal Shah in Oscar de la Renta (Short in front, click here.) (Another view click here.) (2014)

Belinda Berry demonstrated her love of outrageous formal outfits by wearing her own high/low design . (2015)

Pianist Yuja Wang in mini-dress with long sheer overlay  (2015) proved that Heidi Klum (seen here at the Emmy Awards) (2015) wasn’t the only person wearing a short hem and a long hem at the same time. Fashion indecision? Fear of commitment? Anything goes? (Klum’s yellow dress from Atelier Versace, with a choice of hems and two completely different sides, seems a little too indecisive to me!)

 

5 Comments

Filed under 1920s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns

Victorian Working Women, by Michael Hiley (Book Recommendation)

"Pit Brow Girls" working at coal mine, Wigan, 1867. From Victorian Working Women.

“Pit Brow Girls” working at coal mine, Wigan, 1867. From Victorian Working Women.

When we think of the Victorian era, we usually think of lace and silks and cashmere shawls, of crinolines and bustles. That’s because rich people can afford to have their portraits painted. They have the leisure time to write memoirs. But rich people were a very small sample of Victorian life.

"Tip girls" (they work unloading mine refuse onto the "tip" or mountain of coal mine waste. Tredegar, Wales, 1865. Photo by W. Clayton from Victorian Working Women.

“Tip girls” (They work unloading mine refuse from rail cars onto the “tip” or mountain of coal mine waste.) Tredegar, Wales, 1865. Photo by W. Clayton from Victorian Working Women.

The clothes worn by ordinary people usually get worn to rags; they rarely wind up in museums. Pictures and displays of  clothing worn by the wealthy minority give us a false impression of the past. And any woman who thinks she would prefer to live in Victorian times should think again.

If you want food for thought, I recommend Victorian Working Women: Portraits from Life, by Michael Hiley.

Front cover, Victorian Working Women, by Michael Hiley.

Front cover, Victorian Working Women, by Michael Hiley.

We seem to be fascinated by the separate world of “downstairs” in PBS television fiction. This book has plenty of information about — and photographs of — housemaids and domestic workers.

Housemaids, early 1860's. They are dressed in their best for the photographer, but look at their hands. From Victorian Working Women.

Housemaids, early 1860’s. They are dressed in their best for the photographer, but look at their hands. From Victorian Working Women.

I repeat, “Look at their hands.”

We don’t hear or see much about other Victorian women who did hard manual labor. The genteel life we picture as “Victorian” only applied to the upper classes; the lives illustrated in this book are shockingly different.

1842. A bare-chested woman dragging a mine cart, with text from the report. Form Victorian Working Women, by Michael Hiley.

1842. A bare-chested woman dragging a mine cart, with text from the report. From Victorian Working Women, by Michael Hiley.

” Girls were to be seen half-naked, with their breasts exposed . . .  dressed like boys in trousers, with belts round their waists, and chains passing between their legs’  as they drew loaded wagons along mine passages. . . . ‘The chain, passing high up between the legs of two of these girls, had worn large holes in their trousers… indecent… revolting…. No brothel can beat it.’ “

In theory, this 1842 employment report put an end to that particular form of child & female labor, but women were still working at coal mines in the 1860’s. Many were proud of their strength and ability. Because photography then required long exposures, these women miners were asked to pose in their work clothes inside photographers’ studios.

South Wales Mine Tip Girls, 1865. From Victorian Working Women

South Wales Mine Tip Girls, 1865. From Victorian Working Women

Other jobs — hard manual labor — done by Victorian women included garbage collection, done by “dustwomen;” the streets were full of horse manure, which had to be collected. Women made bricks; a thirteen year old brickyard girl spent 6-day weeks carrying 25 pounds of clay on her head and another 25 pounds in her arms to supply the female brick molders.

Women hammered hot metal into nails at a blacksmith’s forge. Women collected limpets and other shellfish, sometimes scaling cliffs to reach them.  Milkwomen carried 80 to 100 lbs. of milk through the streets of London.

London Milkwomen in 1964 and 1872. From Victorian Working Women.

London Milkwomen in 1864 and 1872. From Victorian Working Women.

Factories — including glue factories, where animal hooves and offal were the primary ingredient — also employed women.  In the countryside, women were usually responsible for collecting milk (It’s heavy!), churning butter, and working alongside men in the fields.

Traditionally female jobs, like doing laundry and cooking, also required physical strength.

Photo by Rejlander, 1854 to 56. From Victorian Working Women.

Photo by Rejlander, 1854 to 56. From Victorian Working Women. This picture was posed in a photographer’s studio.

The older woman on the left is agitating the dirty clothes in a barrel of soapy water using a wooden “dolly;” it makes me appreciate my electric washing machine. Wet laundry was heavy, so “washerwomen” had muscular arms.

Housemaids were responsible for building fires in bedrooms and other rooms before the family rose in the morning; that meant carrying heavy scuttles full of coal upstairs every day.

Footman carrying tray and housemaid carrying coal scuttle. Cartoon by George du Maurier, 1863. From Victorian Working Women.

Footman carrying a tray and housemaid carrying a coal scuttle. Cartoon by George du Maurier, 1863. From Victorian Working Women.

Without hot running water, gallons and gallons of water for baths was heated in the kitchen (usually below ground level) and carried upstairs by maids. I suppose the cold water had to be carried back down, to0, until “water closets” with flush toilets and sinks became common. (Many working-class British homes had outdoor toilets until after World War II.)

Victorian Women in Trousers

Two Victorian women, undated sketch by Arthur Munby from Victorian Working Women. The muscular woman with her face and arms blackened by coal dust is “about to oil the wheels of an upended wagon.”

Two Victorian women, undated sketch by Arthur Munby from Victorian Working Women. The muscular woman with her face and arms blackened by coal dust is “about to oil the wheels of an upended wagon.” [I think Munby wanted to contrast the size of their boots. The woman on the left is probably a respectable young lady.]

Those of us who are interested in the history of trousers for women should find plenty to think about in Victorian Working Women.

women nimers in trousers at Wigan, 1860s. From Victorian Working Women.

Women mine workers in trousers at Wigan, 1860s. From Victorian Working Women.

In addition to the young women dragging mine carts in the 1840s, women miners at Wigan wore trousers in the 1860’s, although this was not the case at all mines, as shown in the studio portraits above.

A woman, otherwise respectably dressed, who exposed her legs was an obvious prostitute in Victorian London:  these signal their profession by exposing just part of the calf:

A glimpse of stocking signals that these women are prostitutes. From London Labor and the London Poor, Vol. IV, p 260. "The Haymarket -- Midnight."

A glimpse of stocking signals that these women are prostitutes. From London Labor and the London Poor, Vol. IV, p 260. “The Haymarket — Midnight.”

Fisherwomen also had to expose their legs, often by pulling up their skirts into their belts and tying them around their knees. Not being women of the middle classes, their modesty was not a consideration.

Yorkshire girls collecting limpets and other fishbait; 1860. From Victorian Working Women.

Yorkshire girls collecting limpets and other fishbait; 1860. From Victorian Working Women. Their skirts and petticoats appear to be tucked up into their belts in back.

Hiley does discuss the indignation caused by “Bloomer girls;” but a fisher girl or a mudlark might have to expose her legs up to the thigh; class is a big element in “shock value” and notions of indecency.

"Mudlark girl. Coalheaver gives her remains of his dinner. From life. 1855." Sketch by Arthur Munby from Victorian Working Women.

“Mudlark girl. Coalheaver gives her remains of his dinner. From life. 1855.” Sketch by Arthur Munby from Victorian Working Women.

“Mudlarks,”  male or female, looking for anything that could be salvaged and sold, waded through the refuse in the Thames, a tidal river. (All the raw sewage of London flowed into the Thames.)

We owe many of these fascinating photos, sketches, and detailed descriptions of Victorian working women to Arthur Munby, who interviewed many, and collected their photographs as well as their stories.

Arthur Munby standing beside Ellen Grounds, a "pit wench" at Wigan. 1866. Right, a photo of Ellen Grounds in her "Sunday best."

Arthur Munby standing beside Ellen Grounds, a “pit wench” at Wigan. 1866. Right, a photo of Ellen Grounds in her “Sunday best.”

Munby stood next to Ellen in this photograph to show how tall she was.

A Strange Romance

The story of Arthur Munby, barrister, Cambridge M.A., civil servant, diarist, poet, friend of many other writers and of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, popular in high society, and obsessed with Victorian working women, is almost incredible. Utterly middle-class, but not wealthy enough to cut loose from the conventions of society, Munby fell in love with a “maid of all work” — about the lowest form of domestic servant — named Hannah Cullwick. They were both in their twenties. After a chaste courtship of almost twenty years, they married in 1873, but — as much by her wish as by his — she continued to pretend to be his servant.

Hanna Cullwick, maid of all work; right, Hannah "in her dirt." from Victorian Working Women.

Hannah Cullwick, maid of all work; at right, Hannah “in her dirt.” from Victorian Working Women. She was strong enough to lift her husband off the ground and carry him around. He liked it.

“Ours is a story that, a hundred years hence, no one would believe!” — Hannah Cullwick after her (secret) marriage to Arthur Munby.

“Not so: perchance they shall both know and believe it; and if they honour her as she deserves, it is enough for me.” — Arthur Munby in his diary, May 7, 1874.

Michael Hiley has drawn heavily on the Munby and Cullwick archives (she, too was a diarist.) Consequently, Victorian Working Women recounts much of this story of the bizarre relationship between two people whose lives were governed by the rules of a society which treated working women as a different species from “ladies,” although both Munby and Hannah Cullwick felt they were made for each other. Munby was entranced by her muscular arms, her strength, her intelligence, her dignity, her “dirt,” and her voluntary servitude. (She insisted on calling him “Massa.”) After their marriage he sometimes persuaded her to eat dinner with him, instead of in the scullery, but she ate off a plate on her knees, and would not sit at the table like him. She hated being “shown” to — i.e., meeting on an equal footing — the few of Munby’s friends who were in on the secret.  The Munbys could only admit to being man and wife when they traveled — where no one knew them. When they returned to London, she walked behind him and carried the luggage.

This peculiar (that’s an understatement) love story makes Victorian Working Women an especially engrossing read.

I confess:  I have not finished re-reading Victorian Working Women, because I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. reading Munby: Man of Two Worlds, by Derek Hudson, as soon as I brought it home from the library.

They didn’t teach history like this when I was in school!

Victorian Working Women is for sale in used hardback or paperback for very low prices. Costumers interested in “distressing” will love the illustrations.  Other books about the Munbys include Love and Dirt: The Marriage of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, by Diane Atkinson (read a review by clicking here) (It’s a very informative review….) and Munby: Man of Two Worlds,  by Derek Hudson. Wikipedia lists several other publications. A PhD dissertation by Cathy Carter can be read at Google Books (click here); the introduction discusses the difficulty of accessing the vast Munby/Cullwick collection (now on microfilm), and I’m hoping to read the rest of the dissertation (but I hate reading on the computer screen….) For those of us who need to costume servants correctly, Carter’s list of sources may be very helpful.

Another engrossing — and very detailed — account of Victorian working people is Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, in four volumes, published between 1851 and 1861. Mayhew’s interviews with “crossing sweepers,” milliners, fly-paper makers, rat-catchers, prostitutes, criminals, street sellers, bone-grubbers, cigar-end finders, and every other obscure way of scraping a living is encyclopedic and overwhelming — it’s like reading Dickens, but with more statistics. Illustrated with black and white drawings — and republished in paperback by Dover Books. Want to write a novel about Victorian London? There’s plenty of inspiration here! Read a retrospective review in the Guardian by clicking here.

 

10 Comments

Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 19th century, Early Victorian fashions, Late Victorian fashions, Resources for Costumers, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers

Girls as Little Women (1950’s) and Women as Little Girls (1960’s)

I swore off buying vintage patterns, but a trip to the recycling center — which has drawers full — proved too tempting. I bought four. There were two McCall’s patterns for girls from the early 1960’s which caught my eye because of the charming illustration style. . .

McCall's patterns 5365 (1960) and 6384 (1962). Dresses for girls.

Early sixties’ dresses for girls. McCall’s patterns #5365 (1960) and #6384 (1962) These are dress-up dresses, perhaps for Easter or a wedding.

. . . and the way these girls’ dresses echoed the adult fashions of the late fifties and early sixties.

Cover, Butterick Fashion News, June 1956. Pattern #7745.

Cover, Butterick Fashion News, June 1956. Pattern #7745.

Buittreick Fashion News June 1956. Dress #7786.

Butterick Fashion News June 1956. Dress #7786. The cummerbund waist was very popular into the early 1960s.

Butterick Misses pattern #9260, McCall's girls' pattern 5365. Both from 1960.

Butterick Misses pattern #9260, McCall’s girls’ pattern 5365. Both from 1960.

They all have tightly fitted bodices, and the sash on the girl’s polka-dotted dress mimics the high, fitted waist on the women’s styles above and at far left.

Butterick Dress pattern 9366 (1960) and McCall's girls' pattern 6384 (1962)

Butterick Dress pattern 9366 (1960) and McCall’s girls’ pattern 6384 (1962)

Like many store-bought adult dresses with full skirts,  the girls’ dresses had stiff, built-in petticoats attached at the waist.

When I was a little girl in the 1950’s,  I wanted to be a grown-up. I didn’t enjoy being a child in a world of adults; like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, I was “too big” for some things and “too little” for others.

alice too big in hall107I was “too big” to cry, but “too little” to stay up when my parents had a party. I could hear the grown-ups laughing and talking in the next room, and, since I hardly knew any other children, those adults were my friends. I wanted to be with them. Being told to go to sleep while it was still light out seemed especially unfair. In the 1970s, I was shocked when one of my students — a boy of 14 — said he didn’t want to be an adult. He wanted the irresponsibility of childhood to last forever, like Peter Pan.
Different generations! (Or, perhaps, different childhoods….)

I bought four vintage patterns for girls, because the change in attitude between the early sixties  and the late sixties was striking to me.

Early sixties' dresses for girls. McCall's patterns 5365 (1960) and 6384 (1962).

Early sixties’ dresses for girls. McCall’s patterns 5365 (1960) and 6384 (1962).

Late sixties patterns for girls: Butterick 3908 (1966) and Simplicity 7616 (1968)

Late sixties dresses for girls sizes 7 to 14: Butterick 3908 (1966) and Simplicity 7616 (1968)

In the fifties and early sixties, it was assumed that teenaged girls aspired to become sophisticated women.

Teen dresses, Butterick Fashion News, Oct. 1954.

Teen dresses, Butterick Fashion News, Oct. 1954.

But, in the mid to late sixties, women in their twenties dressed like little girls.

Butterick 4873 and Simplicity girls' pattern 7616. Both are from 1968.

Butterick 4873 and Simplicity girls’ pattern 7616. Both are from 1968.

Simplicity for girls, pattern 7616 (1968.) Butterick women's pattern 4520 (1967.)

Simplicity for girls, pattern 7616 (1968.) Butterick women’s pattern 4520 (1967.)

Short, body-skimming dresses, exposed legs (often covered in white tights), and low-heeled shoes were all traditionally associated with childhood. So were big eyes, so we wore tons of eye makeup, false eyelashes, and very pale lipstick “to make our eyes look bigger,” moving focus away from the red lips of the fifties sophisticates. [The models in those photos are Jean Shrimpton (an iconic mid-to-late 1960’s model) and Suzy Parker (an iconic 1950’s – early 60’s model.)]

I’m especially struck by how similar these styles, for girls’ sizes 7 to 14, are to the dresses my teenaged friends and I were wearing in the mid sixties.

BUtterick patterns Quant 3288 1964 and girls 3908 1966

Butterick patterns: Mary Quant #3288 (1964) for Misses and Juniors,  and girls’ #3908 (1966)

Although illustrated here on pre-teens, Butterick #3908 was made in girls’ sizes 7 to 14.

Butterick patterns: #3908 (1966) for girls; #3526 for teens (1965.)

Butterick patterns: #3908 (1966) for girls; #3526 for teens (1965.) The caption applies to #3526.

Mixing dots and stripes, solids and patterns, and even large and small-scale plaids on clothing was inspired by the Op Art movement.

This Butterick dress (No. 3398) (click to see it) from 1965 has the high waist and color blocking of the yellow and white girl’s dress above.

This dress for teens (Butterick 3695 from 1965) shows a high waist and the playful combination of solids and stripes associated with the “Mod look” of the dress on the right, above. Click here for a Mary Quant example from www.n2journal.com. (Read more about Mary Quant by clicking here.)

I wore dresses like these to work as a teacher and in a bank in the late sixties — sometimes with opaque tights — and I was a very conservative dresser in my early twenties.

Butterick 4519, Vogue 7095 (both 1967)and Simplicity 8365, 1969.

Butterick 4519, Vogue 7095 (both 1967) and Simplicity 8365, 1969. Note the Mary Jane shoes and low heels.

The shoes that went with these sixties dresses and mini-skirts were low heeled. The “spike” heeled “stiletto shoes” of the late fifties and early sixties went with longer skirts, and were still worn by older women. I wore a pair of 3 inch spike heels heels to a dance in 1962, but not later in the decade. As I remember the late sixties,  very high heels were never worn with a very short skirt by “respectable” young women. (As if their lives were not already painful enough, the women who stood on street corners for a living usually did it in miniskirts and excruciatingly uncomfortable shoes.)

 

10 Comments

Filed under 1950s-1960s, Children's Vintage styles, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Shoes, Vintage patterns

Musing: A Few Rules I’ve Learned

Hairstyle by Emile at Rockefeller Center, Delineator, Feb. 1936.

Hairstyle by Emile at Rockefeller Center, Delineator, Feb. 1936.

I celebrated my birthday this year by bleaching my hair white — to go with my white roots. I now consider myself a genuine LOL (Little Large Old Lady) in Tennis Shoes. So, speaking officially as an old bag…. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Delineator, April 1917.

“Bagging Is A Big Game,” Delineator, April 1917. Purses and handbags.

  1. Never buy a purse that weighs more than the stuff you’re planning to carry in it.
Volunteering for the Red Cross, Vogue, Aug 15, 1943.

Women Volunteering for the Red Cross, Vogue, Aug 15, 1943.

2. Never buy a purse that costs more than the maximum amount of cash you’re likely to put in it.

($38,000? ) Seriously? Thirty-eight thousand dollars?

3. Always remember to apply sunscreen to the tops of your ears as well as your face.

Ad for Golden Peacock Bleach Cream, Delineator, July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock Bleach Cream, Delineator, July 1931.

(A sun visor doesn’t protect your ears. My dermatologist recommends big hats.)

Woman fishing whhile wearing a big hat. 1930's or 40's.

Woman fishing while wearing a big hat. 1930’s or early 40’s.

O.K., maybe not that big….

4. If a woman persists in wearing shoes that hurt her feet, eventually she will have the face of a woman whose feet hurt. . .

Ad for Lady Esther Make-up,March 1935.

Ad for Lady Esther Make-up, March 1935.

. . .  And a bill from the chiropodist.

Two ads for Raccoon Corn Plasters, Ladies' Home Journal, 1917.

Two ads for Raccoon Corn Plasters, Ladies’ Home Journal, 1917. “Beauty’s worst enemy is discomfort, and most discomfort is caused by corns. A Raccoon will relieve the ache at once….”

Ad for Queen Quality Shoes, Delineator, Oct. 1934.

“Rejoice the Foot.” Ad for Queen Quality Shoes, Delineator, Oct. 1934. I wouldn’t want to walk very far in those shoes, but at least she’s wearing a hat with a brim.

(If the one you love asks you to go for a walk in the moonlight right now, could you do it in the shoes you’re wearing?)

5. Never buy a car you can’t afford just because you want to impress people you haven’t even met yet.  How many of your best friends did you meet while driving a car?

(If you’re attracted to people wearing highway patrol uniforms, I’ll make an exception for you. )

Vintage photo labeled "Frank Adams, 1915."

“Frank Adams, 1915.” Vintage studio photograph —  the car is a photographer’s prop.

And, from professor, costume designer, and exemplary human being,  the late Jack Adin Byers (1931 – 2015), this advice:

6. “Always buy one extra yard.”

Cutting out a sewing pattern. Delineator, July 1926.

Cutting out a sewing pattern. Delineator, July 1926.

13 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, bags, Hairstyles, handbags, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Purses, Shoes, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Accessories, vintage photographs

Tennis Dress, Part 2: Tennis Patterns from 1929

Tennis and spectator sports outfits, Delineator, June 1929.

Tennis and spectator sports outfits, Delineator, June 1929.

As I mentioned in Part 1, when the casual, sportswear look became chic in the nineteen twenties, clothes for actively playing tennis and for watching tennis and other sports began to be illustrated together.  A two-page layout in the May, 1929 issue of Butterick’s Delineator magazine contains a few surprises when you read the pattern descriptions.

On page 32, the caption is “Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock against all sports styles,” but not every pattern illustrated in the article is for actively playing tennis.

Tennis frocks, Delineator, June 1929, page 32 (Detail, bottom of page.)

Tennis frocks, Delineator, May 1929. (Detail, bottom of page 32.)

On the opposite page, the caption is “Necklines Have Style News for all on the sidelines,” i.e., for spectators.

Delineator, May 1933, page 33 (Detail, bottom of page.)

Delineator, May 1929. (Detail, bottom of page 33.)

Also illustrated on the same two pages  — at the tops — were these outfits:

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From "Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock." May, 1929.

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555.  From “Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock.” Top of page 32, May, 1929.

Delineator, May 1929, page 33. Detail from top of page.

Delineator, May 1929. Detail from top of page 33. “Necklines Have Style News for all on the sidelines.”

It’s pretty clear that those two dresses, Butterick patterns 2605 and 2589, are a bit fussy for active sports, in spite of their pleated skirts; but what are we to make of the woman in a columnar, sleeveless, wrap dress, holding a tennis racket and wearing tennis shoes and socks?

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From "Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock." May, 1929.

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, May 1929. Which of these is really a tennis dress?

Is pattern 2555 really a tennis dress? I can see that bottom button popping right off if she lunges for a low ball.

It’s interesting to look at the alternate views of these dresses, too. The style details from the front don’t necessarily carry to the back. It’s obvious that — as with this 1971 pattern — the pattern company is trying to multi-purpose the designs:  with sleeves, or sleeveless; for playing or watching; in plaids or solid colors, etc.

Simplicity No. 9417, dated 1971. Tennis dress and shorts, or tunic and long trousers.

Simplicity No. 9417, dated 1971. Tennis dress and shorts, or tunic and long trousers. Click to enlarge

The Article, Pattern by Pattern, page 32. Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick 2555: Double Breasted Wrap Dress

Butterick pattern 2555, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2555, May 1929.

Butterick 2603:  Tennis Dress with Polka Dot Trim

Butterick pattern 2603, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2603, May 1929. This is a tennis dress. “An amusing version of the sleeveless white tennis frock has a polka dot collar and a knot of polka dots on the pocket.” All the pleats are in the front of the skirt, a common practice in the 1920’s.

Butterick 2616: Demure in front, low in back

Butterick pattern 2616, for jacket and dress. May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2616, for jacket and dress. May 1929. The back view is a surprise — except that tennis dresses were often low backed. The deep V-neck in back “may be of different lengths.” The skirt has pleats in front and back. Available in sizes up to 44 inch bust.

More “Sunburn Fashions”

This chiffon resort dress is from Hattie Carnegie; although definitely a spectator dress (with matching jacket and scarf) it has a back like the tennis fashions that follow.

Sunback dress from Hattie Carnegie, 1929.

Sun-back dress from Hattie Carnegie, 1929. “The intense flower tints which look so well against a bronzed complexion appear in this Hattie Carnegie chiffon afternoon resort frock with an unconventional neckline and three-color jabot.”

 

Butterick patterns 2551, 2531, 2365; May 1929.

Butterick patterns 2551, 2531, 2365; May 1929.

Butterick 2551:  The Evening Back

Butterick 2551, May 1929.

Butterick 2551, May 1929. “This frock, a sunburn fashion, is cut with a sun back — the strap across the shoulders holding it in place.” That would allow you to play tennis in it; the skirt is pleated in front. It looks very different in two colors.

Butterick 2531: The Sun Frock

Butterick 2531, May 1929.

Butterick 2531, May 1929. “The woman of fashion exposes arms, legs and back to the healthful rays of the sun.” Pleated skirt, front and back.

The front and back of this dress echo each other, but I don’t think I would have guessed at the low back from an illustration of the front!

Butterick 2635:  Sleeveless Tennis Frock

Butterick 2635, May 1929.

Butterick 2635, May 1929. “A sleeveless tennis frock that may be cut with a sun-back.” The pointed trim line in the front is not echoed in back.

In the back view, she is wearing tennis shoes and socks, but will the high front neckline keep the dress on when she bends over to pick up a ball?

Pattern by Pattern, Delineator, page 33

Buttrick 2625, 2633, 2367, from May 1929,

Butterick 2625, 2633, 2367, from May 1929.

Butterick 2625: White with an accent of color, polka dots

Butterick 2625, May 1929.

Butterick 2625, May 1929. “White with an accent of color is very smart.” A spectator dress, more elaborate than the polka-dot trimmed tennis dress pictured earlier (No. 2603.)

Butterick 2633: Checked fabric, kimono sleeves, lingerie collar

Butterick 2633, May 1929.

Butterick 2633, May 1929. “The checked frock is one of the first sport fashions.” The same page featured other dresses with “lingerie collars.”

Butterick 2637:  Tucked waistline, pleats at the sides

Butterick 2637, May 1929.

Butterick 2637, May 1929. A spectator sport dress, apparently with two different back views.

Butterick 2621:  Kimono sleeves and a monogram

Butterick 2621, May 1929.

Butterick 2621, May 1929. A Patou-like monogram, but not a word about playing tennis, in spite of her practical shoes.

On the same page….

Delineator, May 1929, page 33. Detail from top of page.

Delineator, May 1929, page 33. Detail from top of page.

Butterick 2605: Color contrast in a 4-H dress

Butterick 2605, May 1929.

Butterick 2605, May 1929. “Contrast in color is the season’s most predominant note. . . . This two-piece frock can be used for a 4 H club uniform. Designed for . . . 15 to 20 years.”

Those 4-H club girls must have been fairly accomplished dressmakers. As illustrated, the soft fabric looks like silk, but the 4-H girls would probably have used cotton.

Butterick 2589:  Lingerie touches

Butterick 2589, May 1929.

Butterick 2589, May 1929.  The “lingerie touches” (delicate fabric ruffles) are attributed to Patou and to London Trades (a 1920’s designer name.) Available in bust sizes 32″ to 44″

Finally, also from 1929, the tennis dress I showed at the very top of this post, Butterick 2549 :

Butterick 2545, June, 1929.

Butterick 2549, June, 1929. “An evening-back tennis frock with a detachable panel that may be buttoned up to cover the low decolletage if you do not want to tan.”

1929 june p 33 tennis 2549 etc dress skirt text btm

The same criss-cross back straps are a detail in these dresses for younger girls:

Butterick 2684, for little girls, and 2686, for older girls. June 1929.

Butterick 2684, for little girls, and 2686, for older girls. Delineator, June 1929.

2684 2686

Butterick No. 3544, from 1965, left.

Butterick No. 3544, from 1965, left. Can we call it a classic?

4 Comments

Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1960s-1970s, Children's Vintage styles, Shoes, Sportswear, Vintage patterns, Women in Trousers

Tennis Dress, Part 1– A Few Images 1870’s to 1970’s

Tennis dress, Chesterfield cigarette ad, Nov. 1929. Delineator.

Tennis dress, Chesterfield cigarette ad, Nov. 1929. Delineator.

I am no authority on tennis or any other sport. I just have a batch of images to share — more than will fit into one post.

When I began playing tennis for fun, around 1971, I thought you were supposed to wear white on the court. In fact, my tennis partner and I felt quite daring because we were wearing the new white-piped-with-color tennis outfits, like this one.

Tennis dress and shorts, Simplicity pattern 9417, dated 1971.

Tennis dress and shorts, Simplicity pattern 9417, dated 1971.

Now, of course, women players like the Williams sisters appear in tournaments wearing comfortable stretch fabrics and brilliant hues. If some of the period illustrations I’ve come across are accurate, wearing white is a fashion that comes and goes (although casual play is different from playing at Wimbledon, where the dress code is strict.)

Tennis game in an ad for Indian Head Cloth, May, 1925. Delineator.

Tennis game in an ad for Indian Head Cloth, May, 1925. Delineator.

For informal games in the 1920’s and earlier, both spectators and players apparently had the option of wearing colorful clothing.

Tennis and golf dresses, Butterick patterns 5994 and 5590. May 1925, Delineator.

Tennis and golf dresses, Butterick patterns 5994 and 5990. May 1925, Delineator.

A sleeveless version of the red print dress is shown in the background, worn by a tennis player.

“5994:  If you omit the sleeves, this slip-over frock makes a smart tennis costume, for the two-piece circular skirt fastened at the hip-line allows freedom for running, etc. ”

Of course, tennis rackets, golf clubs and parasols were often used in pattern illustrations as as way of emphasizing the season, and may not be taken too literally. Another illustration of the blue “golf” dress above (No. 5990)  is shown with a tennis racket a few pages later — in a shorter version for a younger wearer. It does not seem well suited for running or leaping.

Butterick 5990, Delineator, May 1925

Butterick 5990, Delineator, May 1925. Here, the model is a teen.

Nevertheless, prints, stripes, plaids and colors all seem to have been acceptable — possibly chic — in a friendly game.

Masthead illustration of a tennis game, Delineator, July 1928.

Masthead illustration of a tennis game, Delineator, July 1928. The model below wears a very similar pleated skirt and patterned top.

Dressed fpr tennis, July 1925. Delineator.

Dressed for tennis? July 1925. Delineator. Butterick 6088.

Although she has both a racket and tennis balls, her shoes don’t look appropriate for active sports. (Rubber-soled shoes were available. Click here for some vintage Keds.)

Pattern description, Butterick No 6088. Tennis is not mentioned.

Pattern description, Butterick No. 6088. Tennis is not mentioned, nor is golf.

How Did They Do It? Some Earlier Tennis Outfits

A Rally, watercolor painting by Sir James Lavery, 1885.

“A Rally,” watercolor painting by Sir James Lavery, 1885. Detail.

For photographs of a tennis player actually dressed like this, click here. Playing tennis while wearing  a bustle, a corset, petticoats, and long hems, like this, must have required immense agility and balance. Not to mention stamina….

It was quite a handicap, as cartoonist George du Maurier noticed in 1877:

1877 tennis cartoon by Du Maurier. "Charlotte and Ethel, having accepted a Challenge to play against their cousins, Tom and Harry, insist upon Handicapping them, as is only fair."

1877 tennis cartoon by Du Maurier. “Charlotte and Ethel, having accepted a Challenge to play against their cousins, Tom and Harry, insist upon Handicapping them, as is only fair.”

Cartoonists also noticed that athletic young women — even those who scorned to play tennis wearing corsets — found male admirers. [Caution: This is a cartoon, from Punch magazine, not a photograph….]

Tennis without corsets, Cartoon, 1879. "They have given up stays altogether.... and are all engaged to Dukes."

Tennis without corsets, Caricature, 1879. “They have given up stays altogether…. [and] are all engaged to Dukes. “

The full caption says, “The O’Farrell – Mackenzie girls have gone in so extensively for early-rising, fresh air, cold water, farinaceous food, rowing, riding, rinking, lawn-tennis, gymnastics, and what not, that they have distorted their figures into the likeness of so many Greek statues, and have no more waist to speak of than that quite horrid Venus at the Louvre; indeed, they have given up stays altogether as a bad job. As they are all engaged to marry Dukes, Mr. Punch fears they will set the fashion; and as he holds that a long and wasp-like waist is as essential to a lady as a — well, as a hump between the shoulders, a prominent nose and chin, and a protuberant abdomen are to a gentleman, he hopes that the above caricature may serve as an example and a warning.” [Illustration from The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.]

The idea that a woman’s body should support itself without stays (boned corsets) — thanks to healthy exercise — was a principle of the Jenness-Miller magazine. This is a Jenness-Miller pattern for lawn-tennis, 1890.

Lawn Tennis outfit (right) from dress-reformer Annie Jenness-Miller. 1890.

Lawn Tennis outfit (right) from dress-reformer Annie Jenness-Miller. 1890.

Two decades later, British tennis champion Charlotte Cooper Sterry managed not to trip on her skirts, winning five singles titles in outfits like this one:

Tennis champion Charlotte Sterry, 1909; from Elizabeth Ewings' History of 20th Century Fashion.

Tennis champion Charlotte Sterry, 1909; from Elizabeth Ewings’ History of 20th Century Fashion.

In 1918, Butterick’s Delineator recommended a colorful two piece outfit:

Butterick patterns for a middy blouse and pleated skirt; tennis costume, July 1918.

Butterick patterns for a middy blouse (1033) and striped skirt (9723); tennis costume, July 1918. The skirt is striped, not pleated, although pleats were popular in 1918.

“Behind the tennis net a middy blouse and striped skirt do their part … championship in sport and fashion.”

In this 1925 advertisement, the male player wears white; one woman wears a white middy or dress with pleated (?) skirt, but the other wears lavender –and recognizable tennis shoes.

Indian Head Cloth ad, May 1925.

Indian Head Cloth ad, May 1925. Detail. Most of the women in the background — probably waiting to play — are wearing white.

“Gradually, white for tennis became a rule, so that in 1890 Wimbledon mandated all-white outfits for players. Elsewhere, the all-white tennis outfit became a decorous standard by the early 20th century — just in time, by the way, for the Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen to aggravate rich people everywhere by playing tennis in a (white) calf-length skirt and short sleeves.” — Emily Chertoff, writing in The Atlantic. Click here.

(Another theory is that white doesn’t show sweat stains as badly as colored fabrics.)

Champion Suzanne Lenglen wore a longish pleated skirt in this tournament:

Suzanne Lenglen playing tennis in 1919, from Elizabeth Ewing's History of 20th Century Fashion.

Suzanne Lenglen playing tennis, from Elizabeth Ewing’s History of 20th Century Fashion.

Lenglen wore many outfits designed by couturier Jean Patou in the 1920’s, which helped to popularize his sporty sweaters and skirts.  Lenglen first appeared at Wimbledon in Patou’s short white silk pleated skirt and a sleeveless cardigan in 1921. According to Brenda Polan & Roger Tredre, her outfit created a sensation and introduced the sporty, boyish look known as the “garçonne.”

“As with so much sportswear, many of [his] clothes were in reality bought by women who did not participate in sport and were more interested in showing off their Patou monogrammed cardigan sweaters to their envious friends.” — Polan and Tredre, in The Great Fashion Designers

Patou took credit for shortening skirts to the knee in 1925; he was one of the first designers to put his monogram very visibly on his designs — monogrammed cardigans, scarves, etc. This was a clever move, since without the monogram his relatively simple sportswear — sweater, skirt, and matching scarf — would not have proclaimed its price. [Sometimes I’d like to go back in a time machine and strangle Patou, but then I realize that somebody else —  probably his arch-rival, Chanel — would have invented the merchandising of Monogrammed “Designer” Everything if he hadn’t done it.]  For a concise history of Patou, see The Great Fashion Designers, by Polan and Tredre.

The outfit on the right shows Patou's influence. The woman is wearing tennis shoes and socks, so is probably not merely a spectator. Delineator, May 1929.

The outfit on the right shows Patou’s influence. The woman is wearing tennis shoes and socks, so perhaps she is not merely a spectator. Delineator, May 1929.

If you couldn’t afford couture, you could put your own monogram on your clothing.

Butterick patterns for August 1926. Right, No. 7043: "The Monogram is chic."

Butterick patterns for August 1926. Right, No. 7043: “The Monogram is chic.”

(Butterick sold embroidery transfers for alphabets as well as sewing patterns.)

Monogram fad, 1924. Butterick's Delineator magazine.

Monogram fad, 1924. Images collected from Butterick’s Delineator magazine.

The influence of Patou, as stated by Polan and Tredre, may explain why it’s not always easy to tell spectator sportswear from active sportswear in fashion illustrations. Which of these ladies are playing, and which are spectators?

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From "Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock." May, 1929.

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From “Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock.” May, 1929.

More about these patterns later.

For a slide show of historic tennis dress at Wimbledon, click here.  K. Shriya Sharma has written a chronology of women’s Wimbledon fashions in the Times of India. Click here to read it.

9 Comments

Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers

Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick Two.

"Now for the real excitement the actual cutting." Sewing article in The Delineator, Feb. 1936, p. 7.

“Now for the excitement, the actual cutting.” Sewing article in The Delineator, Feb. 1936, p. 7.

I recently ran into a costume designer I hadn’t seen in years; I woke up the next day remembering a wonderful story he once told:

He was visiting a costume construction shop in Los Angeles — the owner was an old friend — and he overhead her on the phone with a client. It was obvious that the client was arguing over her estimate for the job. After a discussion that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, she finally sighed and said, “Good…. Fast…. Cheap…. Pick Two!”

Every shop manager I’ve known loves this saying — not because you want negotiations to reach the stage where you have to spell it out like this, but because it’s true.

If it takes 60 hours of skilled labor to tailor a suit from high quality fabrics, the cost will reflect that. There is no “good and fast and cheap” custom work:  “Pick Two.”

Stitching. The Delineator, Feb. 1936.

Stitching. The Delineator, Feb. 1936. (Reaching through the machine with your right hand seems rather awkward….)

Good + Fast:
If you want it good and you want it fast, the shop will have to hire more skilled labor, including the time it takes to locate last-minute overhire workers in addition to the usual staff; or it will have to pay overtime; and it may have to put aside other work to fit your rush order into the schedule (which means overtime on that job, too.) The material will have to be ordered immediately, at full price, from someone who ships overnight — not at discount.
So it won’t be Cheap.

Amelia Earhart, aviator and designer of " active-living" clothes for women: "Learn the fundamentals of business. Bring imagination and zest to work." The Delineator, June 1934, p. 12, article on careers for women. The Delineator, June 1934, p12. article on careers for women.

Amelia Earhart, aviator and designer of “active-living” clothes for women: “Learn the fundamentals of business. Bring imagination and zest to work.” The Delineator, June 1934, p. 12, article on careers for women.

Fast + Cheap:
If you want it fast and you want it cheap, the shop has to take shortcuts in labor and materials. Real, quality custom tailoring needs natural fibers — real wool, real horsehair — not cheaper polyester blends. There won’t be time for much hand sewing, so fusible interfacings and prefab padding may be used. The front of your cheap suit may bubble after one dry cleaning. You won’t have a final fitting in which the tailor adds a quarter inch to one shoulder pad to hide your low shoulder — or makes other subtle modifications to fit and flatter as only a custom suit can. The material will look cheap.
So it won’t be Good.

Shopping for fabric. The Delineator, March, 1936.

Shopping for fabric. The Delineator, March, 1936.

Good + Cheap
Almost impossible. However, if you’re not in a hurry, there are times when the shop may not have enough work to keep its permanent staff busy, so it may be willing to build “at cost” or close to it. Or, if there’s no hurry, the shop may be able to work on your project in between other orders, as time permits. But they won’t be able to commit to a firm delivery date; your order may be put on hold if a rush order comes in. If there’s no hurry, the shop manager may be able to locate a really high quality material at a much lower cost than usual. However, shopping takes time, and costs money — unless it can be combined with shopping for another client or project — who will have priority.
So “Good + Cheap” is not impossible, but it won’t be Fast.

Good…. Fast…. Cheap…. Pick Two.

I used a custom-tailored suit as an example, because turning a costume design into a fully realized costume to fit a specific actor is custom work.

Costume design for a character in Ah, Wilderness. The actress was not a standard size: custom work.

Costume design for a character in Ah, Wilderness! The actress was not a standard size, and the color palette was limited:  custom work. Click to enlarge.

Although mass-produced Halloween costumes can be cheap, theatrical costumes are usually custom made. When a TV show needs costumes for people on another planet; or an opera designer needs a full set of Renaissance costumes for Rigoletto in a limited palette of black, gold, and red; or a movie needs six copies of a year-old white Armani suit made in 48 hours — that is custom work.  Building a one-of-a-kind costume has all the costs of developing any prototype, without the prospect of eventually sending it into mass production and recouping the development costs. The “Pick Two” rule applies.

If you’re a costumer, you may get a smile from this 1934 ad:

"Design Hollywood Fashions." 1934 ad for Woodbury College; Delineator, Oct. 1934.

“Design Hollywood Fashions.” 1934 ad for Woodbury College; Delineator, Oct. 1934.

“Mingle with the elite, win financial independence….” The ad is for a “home-study course in costume designing.”

Woodbury University is still offering a fashion design program. It is located in Southern California. Click here for more information. [This is not an endorsement – I have no personal knowledge of the program, except that it’s still there after 130 years!]

9 Comments

Filed under 1930s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade