Monthly Archives: November 2015

Two Vintage Evening Wraps, 1920s

Three evening capes, 1922. From Olian's Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

Three evening capes, 1922. From Olian’s Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

Capes and wraps were often worn with evening dress in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s. Coats with dolman sleeves — or fur trimmed coats of various shapes — took over in the later twenties. Here, I want to share two vintage wraps — one is especially luxurious.

Back detail of gold evening wrap, early 1920s. Private collection.

Back detail of vintage gold evening wrap, early 1920s. Private collection.

High, crushed or textured collars were usually a feature.

Cape and dress pattern, Butterick No. 5072. Delineator, March 1924.

Cape and dress pattern, Butterick No. 5072. Delineator, March 1924. This dress is not an evening dress, and was included in the pattern.

Evening cape, Butterick 4919, Jan. 1924. Delineator.

Evening cape, Butterick 4919, Jan. 1924. Delineator.

Evening cape pattern, Butterick 4963. Delineator, Feb. 1924.

Evening cape pattern, Butterick 4963. Delineator, Feb. 1924.

Trousseau dress, Butterick 5291, and matching cape 3788. Delineator, June 1924.

Trousseau dress, Butterick 5291, and matching cape 3788. Delineator, June 1924.

One of the most difficult things about wearing these wraps was that most of them had to be held closed to stay on.

These are not hands-free fashions. Three capes, Butterick patterns 5116, 5559, and 4963.

These are not hands-free fashions. Three capes, Butterick patterns 5116, 5559, and 4963. All from 1924. Delineator magazine. Note the shoulder yoke at right.

Imagine trying to climb into a taxi while holding your clutch purse in one hand and keeping your cloak from falling off with the other!

This vintage garment carries the problem to an extreme; there are no fastenings and no slits for the arms.

Vintage evening wrap circa 1920's; It has a shaped shoulder yoke, but has to be held closed.

Vintage evening wrap circa 1920’s; it has a shaped shoulder yoke, but has to be held closed. (I used a silk pin for the purpose of this photo.)

It was very heavy, and may have been built on a base of wool. It cleverly gives the impression of fur by using cream lace over a thick, slightly darker (duvetyn?)fabric at top and bottom; in the middle is a rectangle of golden-tan velvet, gathered to fit. Perhaps it had a matching lace, or lace and velvet, gown.

Front and back views of lace and velvet wrap. At some point it was stored over a hanger, which left a nasty creased line in the velvet.

Front and back views of lace and velvet wrap. At some point it was stored over a hanger, which left a nasty creased line in the velvet.

Paris was showing equally hard-to-wear open capes for daytime in 1925:

Couture by Molyneux and Patou, Jan. 1925. Sketches in Delineator.

Couture by Molyneux and Patou, Jan. 1925. Sketches in Delineator.

A Gold Lamé, Gold Lace and Metallic Bullion Cape

I do not have a photo of the front of this spectacular gold lamé and gold lace, cape/wrap with gold tassels and bullion fringe. It was awesomely heavy, very dusty, in need of restoration, but originally of very fine quality. (No label.)

Gold evening wrap, circa early 1920s. Gold lace is layerd over gold lame, with some heavy fabric (wool coating?) sandwiched between the outside layers and a pale green lining.

Gold evening wrap, circa early 1920s. Gold lace is layered over gold lame, with some heavy fabric (wool coating?) sandwiched between the outside layers and a pale green lining.

It has slits for the arms, an interior pocket, and buttons at the neck and chest. You can get some idea of the front from these details:

Detail of center front closing; the spirals end in heavy metal tassels.

Detail of center front closing; the spirals end in heavy metal tassels.

Tassels made of bullion fringe, like that used on the shoulders of military uniforms. shoulders.

Tassels made of bullion fringe, like that used on the shoulders of military uniforms.

You can see the slit for the wearer’s hands, and a bit of the Nile green lining.

V101 bullion fringe 72

My hand gives you an idea of the size of these tassels:

V101 tassel bullion 72

This is the base of the collar in front. You can see that there are two covered buttons on the yoke, between the collar and the decorative fringe trim.

Base of collar and yoke, which is hidden by the collar in back.

Base of collar and yoke. There are two practical buttons.

The collar, the top third, and bottom third of the cape are covered with metallic gold lace in a floral pattern:

Upper back, covered with metallic gold lace.

Upper back, covered with metallic gold lace.

Detail: lower back of cloak

Detail: lower back of cloak

In this pocket detail, you can see that the entire coat is covered in metallic lace, so that the subtle shine is continuous.

Pocket in lace covered-cloak.

Pocket in lace covered-cloak.

Inside the gold cloak: Sateen lining and a pocket.

Inside the gold cloak: Sateen lining and a pocket.

V101 back 500

Luxurious capes were still being shown in Paris in 1925:

Green velvet and brocade cape, 1925, from Olian's Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

Green velvet and brocade cape, 1925, from Olian’s Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

But coats with sleeves, much easier to wear, were becoming  more popular.

Butterick "coat wrap" 5621. December 1924. Delineator.

Butterick “coat wrap” 5621. December 1924. Delineator.

Butterick pattern 1086 is a close copy of a coat by Lucien Lelong. Nov. 1926, Delineator.

Butterick pattern 1086 strongly resembles a 1926 coat by Lucien Lelong. Nov. 1926, Delineator. Back and Front views of the same coat.

1926 nov p 50 evening 1086 text

See the Lelong sketched here, with a matching fur-trimmed shawl.

“Tricks of the Trade” Tip:  If you make a cape the simplest way, by gathering fabric into a straight neckband, the weight of the cape will pull against your throat. Make your cape with a yoke, so that the weight of the fabric hangs from your shoulders, not your neck. This cape has a yoke; this one doesn’t.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Coats, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Thanksgiving Greetings

Ford Automobile Advertisement, Delineator magazine, October 1924.

Woman Gathering Autumn Leaves. Ford Automobile Advertisement, Delineator magazine, October 1924.

Some of the happiest hours of my life were spent “rambling” on public footpaths in England, or driving cross country, like these two women. We didn’t dress in riding breeches, of course — our clothes were more comfortable. But there is something to be said for the text of this 1924 advertisement. I’m certainly thankful for the freedom to go where I like, dressed as I like, alone if I like.

Freedom for the woman who owns a Ford." Ad, Delineator magazine, Oct. 1924.

“Freedom for the woman who owns a Ford.” Ad, Delineator magazine, Oct. 1924.

“To own a Ford car is to be free to venture into new and untried places. It is to answer every challenge of Nature’s charms, safely, surely, and without fatigue. Where a narrow lane invites or a steep hill promises a surprise beyond, a Ford will take you there and back, in comfort, trouble-free.  Off and away in this obedient, ever-ready car, women may “recharge the batteries” of tired bodies, newly inspired for the day’s work.”  — Ford Closed Cars advertisement, Ford Motor Company, Detroit, Michigan. 1924.

Women who live in the United States take our freedom for granted — to drive, to work, to dress comfortably, to vote, to own property, to attend school, to travel unaccompanied, to enjoy solitude — but not every woman has it, even in the 21st century.  For those of us who do, personal freedom (and men of integrity, like this father) are blessings to consider on Thanksgiving. I’ll be remembering all the good people, men and women, who have made my life of physical and intellectual freedom possible.

Ford ad aimed at women, Oct. 1924. Delineator magazine.

Ford ad aimed at women, Oct. 1924. Delineator magazine.

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Filed under 1920s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Women in Trousers

Christmas Gifts to Sew for 1936: Lingerie, Robe, Pajamas, Nightgown

For some folks, the approach of Thanksgiving is a reminder to start making Christmas presents — if you didn’t start last summer.

The Personal Touch in Pattern-Made Gifts

"The Personal Touch in Pattern-Made Gifts." Woman's Home Companion, Dec. 1936, pp. 70-71

“The Personal Touch in Pattern-Made Gifts.” Companion- Butterick patterns in Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1936, pp. 70-71

If you were a reader of The Woman’s Home Companion, this two page spread in the December, 1936, issue might inspire you to sew gifts for members of your family or close friends:  a personalized set of matching panties, slip and nightgown; a classic robe/negligee, or lounging pajamas.

Companion Butterick patterns, Woman's Home Companion, Dec. 1936, p. 70.

Companion-Butterick patterns, Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1936, p. 70.

Companion-Butterick patterns, Woman's Home Companion Dec. 1936. Page 71.

Companion-Butterick patterns, Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1936. Page 71. Illustration by Mortimer.

If you didn’t feel up to that much work — or have enough time — you could always run up a few aprons.

Companion-Butterick apron pattern #7114: Christmas Aprons, Dec. 1936.

Companion-Butterick apron pattern #7114: Christmas Aprons, Dec. 1936. Illustration by Ernst.

Matching Panties, Slip, and Nightgown, 1936

Companion Butterick patterns 6835 (panties and bra) and wrap slip (6847.) WHC, Dec. 1936.

Companion Butterick patterns 6835 (panties) and wrap slip (6847.) WHC, Dec. 1936.

whc 1935 dec p 70 500 panties slip 6835 6847 text

There’s no mention of bias binding. The slip is a “wrap-around,” although the line drawing doesn’t show how the bodice closes. The nightie has a pretty back:

Back views of slip 6837, nightgown 6835, and panties 6847. Companion-Butterick patterns, Dec. 1935.

Back views of slip 6837, nightgown 6835, and panties 6847. Companion-Butterick patterns, Dec. 1936. Bra not included.

The closely fitting nightgown, Pattern 6837, has a lovely back view, but I can’t figure out how a midriff that tight could be pulled on or stepped into. Perhaps it has a snap opening on the side seam — or it doesn’t fit as tightly as illustrated.

Companion-Butterick nightgown pattern #6837. WHC, Dec. 1936.

Companion-Butterick nightgown pattern #6837. WHC, Dec. 1936.

You’d need to cut your own bias strips from that 3/8 yard of contrasting material. [The owner’s name is embroidered on the front of her nightie. In former times, this was useful for sorting family laundry. In the age of casual “hook-ups” with strangers, putting a name on one’s nightgown might prevent some embarrassing “morning after” moments….]

whc 1936 dec p 70 text 500 nightie undies slip 6835 6837 6847

Although “A fresh printed silk crepe was our choice for the three-piece lingerie set embroidered with a young girl’s name,” remember that “…peach-colored silk crepe with lace is lovely as ever…. Any one piece of the set would make a regal gift…. The wrap-around slip in bright-colored taffeta — royal blue, bottle green, or rust — is sure to please a friend who follows the latest fashions. For someone else make it of black satin, her tiny initials embroidered in white.”

Companion-Butterick patterns, 7109 (negligee) and 7122 (pajamas.) Woman's Home Companion Dec. 1936. Page 71.

Companion-Butterick patterns, 7109 (negligee) and 7122 (lounging pajamas.) Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1936. Page 71.

whc 1936 dec p 71 text 500 negligee robe 7190 7122 pajamas text

The “negligee” (No. 7109) could be made in double-faced silk crepe, with the body of the robe in matte silk and the collar, facings, and sash using it shiny side out. [Edited 11/22/15:  See a robe like this at Glamourdaze.] Or it could be made as a warm, wool flannel robe; a flash of contrasting color is inside the sleeves. The pajamas seem to be intended for lounging, rather than sleeping: “Velveteen for the blouse … and trousers,” or with a “satin blouse,” or with both pieces in satin. The buttons, as shown, are velveteen-covered and enormous; “blue and purple are the last word in chic…,” but these pj’s would also be luxurious “all in lilac-blue satin with pearl buttons.”

whc 1936 dec p 70 text 500 robe negligee and pajamas

Negligee pattern 7109 and lounging pajamas pattern 7122. Cmpanion-Butterick patterns from WHC, Dec. 1936.

Negligee pattern 7109 and lounging pajamas pattern 7122. Companion-Butterick patterns from WHC, Dec. 1936.

The Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) has another pajama pattern in this number series, Companion-Butterick No. 7116, which looks more suited for sleeping. Click here to see it. If you haven’t heard of CoPA, read about it here. You can “Sample” its pattern search for free. Select a year, and pattern illustrations from many companies appear. For a chronological look at everyday fashion, CoPA is hard to beat.

Christmas Aprons, 1936

More suitable for a less intimate friend, or for sale at a Christmas Bazaar, are these aprons, made from Companion-Butterick pattern 7114.

Three aprons, Companion-Butterick [attern 7114, WHC, Dec. 1936.

Three aprons, Companion-Butterick Pattern 7114, WHC, Dec. 1936.

The idea that everything related to Christmas has to be red, white, and green had not taken hold in 1936, so these gift aprons could be worn all year round. Two of them are finished with contrasting bias binding; the one in the middle is trimmed with rick-rack.

Back views, Apron 7114. 1936.

Back views, Apron 7114. 1936.

Two tie in back; the one on the right slips on over the head. Bust sizes 32 to 48 inches.

whc 1936 500 christmas aprons 7114 text

Apron pattern 7114 looks less fancy on the pattern envelope:  no rickrack. Using the rickrack so that only half of it shows is a lovely 1930’s touch. Click here for a vintage waitress uniform that uses this technique.

 

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Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Dating Vintage Patterns, lingerie, Nightclothes and Robes, Resources for Costumers, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, Women in Trousers

Patou’s Evening Gowns for Short and Tall, 1936

According to this article in The Woman’s Home Companion, January, 1936, couturier Jean Patou suggested that, rather than dressing to look taller (if you’re short) or more petite (if you’re tall), women should choose designs that take advantage of their size.

Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1936. Designs and Advice from Patou

Woman’s Home Companion, Jan. 1936. Designs and Advice from Patou

As reported by Marjorie Howard, “Paris Fashion Correspondent,” here is Jean Patou’s advice for penny-wise shopping in the Depression.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 top for tall and little text

Patou’s Advice for Tall Women

Patou evening gowns, Jan. 1936. WHC.

Patou evening gowns, Jan. 1936. WHC. The tall woman is on the left.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 for tall and little text ctr tall woman

Patou’s Advice for Short Women

Patou for the short woman, Jan. 1936. WHC.

Patou for the short woman, Jan. 1936. WHC.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 for tall and little text btm Little woman

I’ve broken the illustration up so the details are more visible:

Parou design for a tall woman (left) and for a short woman (right.) Jan., 1936.

Patou design for a tall woman (left) and for a short woman (right.) Jan., 1936.

These are both complex designs. What a shame that we can’t see color:  the belt in “dark turquoise leather.” The gown on the left, of  “antelope crepe — mat with a suede finish” has a back drape “because the long lines [of a tall figure] can afford it.” Anyone wishing to copy the bodice on the right, with silver lame bands that almost seem to be woven over and under, will find the stripes helpful in determining straight of grain and bias. That assumes a careful drawing, of course. “The top is made of line stripes in interlaced bands….” The text says that capes or sling drape designs in back are not suitable for short women, but some kind of dark lining (of a cape of drape?) seems to be visible under the model’s arm.

To tell the truth, I can’t be sure from this drawing exactly what is happening with the skirt on the left:

Patou, 1936.

Skirt details of two gowns by Patou, 1936.

The illustration by Clark Fay seems to show a side slit. The text says the train ends in two points, but as drawn, it looks like a recipe for a broken neck! do the tucks in the hip bands continue into the skirt on both side? Is it symmetrical? It’s definitely glamorous. The short woman on the right has a strange hemline “cut into uneven points.” The chevron accenting the center front seam is slenderizing; how nice that the two woman are not equally slim, but proportionate to their heights. By the standards of 1930’s fashion illustrations, the woman on the left is downright voluptuous.

Although Patou was known for his influential sportswear in the 1920’s, this gown, made of tulle covered with pink sequins, is a Patou from the early 1930’s, in the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Jean Patou, sequinned evening gown, early 1930's in collection of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Jean Patou, sequinned evening gown, early 1930’s in collection of Victoria and Albert Museum.

It has a “cape or sling drapery” in back, and a contrasting belt, like the 1936 “little woman’s” gown illustrated in the Delineator.  Jean Patou died in 1936, but the House of Patou — and “Joy” perfume — continued.

Incidentally, around 1936-37, several couturiers began using zippers in fitted dresses. Zippers — finally light enough to be used with delicate fabrics — began to take the place of snap closings, making possible form-fitting gowns that didn’t gape open between the snaps. Zippers appeared in sportswear earlier than in Couture. Butterick pattern #2365, in December 1928, called for zippers at the neckline and pockets. It tied in with an ad for Talon. Madeleine Vionnet used a zipper in a blouse/step-in (what we would call a bodysuit) in 1929, and the design was copied by Butterick. Click here for a post about it, with pictures.  Robert Friedel’s book Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty mentions couture in the late 1930’s, but only briefly.

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Filed under 1930s, Exhibitions & Museums, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Designer Lingerie from Paris, 1920’s

I live so far from the life of people who buy couture that it never occurred to me that couturiers made underwear in the 1920’s. This little article from June, 1929 shows a royal bride, plus trousseau lingerie from the Houses of Worth, Doeuillet-Doucet , Philippe et Gaston, and Rouff.

Wedding dress and lingerie from Worth, Doeuillet-Doucet, etc. Delineator, June 1929.

Wedding dress and lingerie from Worth, Doeuillet-Doucet, etc. Delineator, June 1929.

I already wrote about the white chiffon velvet wedding dress made for Princess Francoise of France (click here.)

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.

This bridesmaid dress by Ardanse was not necessarily part of the royal wedding , nor were all the designer lingerie pieces sketched.

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.

Below, left:  “The wedding nightgown of white crepe de Chine trimmed with Milan lace is netting edged. By Rouff.

Nightgown by Rouff, chemise and matching panties by Doeuillet-Doucet. Delineator sketch, June 1929.

Nightgown by Rouff, chemise and matching panties by Doeuillet-Doucet. Delineator sketch, June 1929.

The nightgown by Maggy Rouff is surprisingly un-sexy (but perhaps the Princess was modest.)

Lingerie top and bottom from Doeuillet-Doucet. Delineator, JUne 1929.

Lingerie chemise and “pantalon” underwear from Doeuillet-Doucet. Delineator, June 1929.

“Pale pink crepe de Chine and pantalon for the going-away lingerie set.” Doeuillet was a known design house, and so was Doucet. When Doucet died in 1929, Doeuillet took over the house of Doucet; that explains the hyphenated name.

This similar set, probably not couture,  was not labelled, but very elegant:

Vintage pink silk chemise and panties or knickers.

Vintage underwear:  a pink silk chemise and panties or knickers.

Note the crotch fastened with buttons. I think of wide-legged undies like these as “tap pants,” since they resemble dancers’ rehearsal shorts from the twenties and thirties. Separates were replacing “combinations” or “Teddies” as waistlines returned to late nineteen twenties and early thirties dresses.

Silk bedjacket by Maggy Rouff, sketched for Delineator, June 1929.

Silk bedjacket by Maggy Rouff, sketched for Delineator, June 1929.

“The bride slips this pale pink satin jacket over her night-dress for the ‘petit dejeuner’ in bed.” Married women were allowed to eat breakfast in bed — a luxury denied to the unmarried daughter or houseguest.  [Source: The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes.] Bed jackets were a common gift item, useful because a long robe would have been uncomfortable under the blankets, but even Great Houses and hotels were not well heated.

Combinations (a teddy) by Phillipe et Gaston, right, and a combination that ties in the back, by Doeuillet-Doucet. Sketched for Delineator, June 1929.

Chemise-pantalon (a teddy) by Doeuillet-Doucet, right; left, a long wrapped chemise that ties in the front, by Philippe et Gaston. Sketched for Delineator, June 1929.

The teddy — an all-in-one, step-in undergarment, would have had a crotch strap; the “trousseau chemise” that ties in front strikes me as a very impractical garment to wear under clothing — the bow would create a bulge — but is certainly trousseau-worthy for wandering around the honeymoon suite. (It almost seems designed to slip off gracefully….) The House of Philippe et Gaston rose rapidly in the 1920s. (See a fashion plate here.)

Left, Phillipe et Gaston; right, Doeuillet-Doucet. Sketcher for Delineator, June 1929.

Left, Philippe et Gaston; right, Doeuillet-Doucet. Sketched for Delineator, June 1929.

This pale green tucked teddy has a a crotch strap, barely visible. it stops at the edge of the net lace.

This pale green, tucked teddy has a a crotch strap, barely visible. It stops at the edge of the netting lace.

Netting lace and tucks were both used on the wedding nightgown illustrated above.

I personally love the use of “cafe au lait” colored lace on vintage lingerie — and, of course, it could give the illusion of nudity under sheer dresses, depending on your skin tone.

Detail of lace on pale green silk undergarment, 1920s.

Detail of lace on pale green silk undergarment, 1920s.

Cafe au lait lace on a pink silk undergarment,, 1920s.

Cafe au lait lace on a pink silk undergarment, 1920s.

The extraordinary Vintage Textile website has exquisite 1920’s garments for sale; after an item is sold, its photograph is moved to the Gallery, where we can enjoy it for years to come (Thank you!) Click here for the 1920s Gallery.

A sample from the Vintage Textile Gallery: “France, 1925.”

Details of another lovely piece of lingerie attributed to Maggy Rouff can be seen here. Another famous twenties Fashion House was Boue Soeurs. See an example of their work by clicking here.

For dessert:

A step-in teddy from Pinterest…

… And a black peignoir from 1925, at the Vintage Textile Gallery– you really should take a look at Vintage Textile.com! It’s not just 1920’s clothing. Who knows what you might find in their “Treasure Hunt” pages!

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, lingerie and underwear, Nightclothes and Robes, Resources for Costumers, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

One Coat, Five Dresses: Wardrobe for March, 1936

Companion-Butterick patterns and fashion advice, page 72, Woman's Home Companion for March 1936.

Companion-Butterick patterns and fashion advice, page 72, Woman’s Home Companion for March 1936.

Planning your wardrobe around your coat (assuming you have only one winter coat) has been good budget and fashion advice for a long time. In the Great Depression, it was fair to assume that most women had only one or two coats, period. And they were expected to last for at least two years. Click here for a 1936 clothing budget. However, The Woman’s Home Companion brightened its readers’ spirits by assuring them that they would be wearing the latest styles from Paris under that coat.

A choice of print dresses to wear with your coat. Companion-Butterick pattens from Woman's Home Companion, page 73, March 1936.

A choice of print dresses to wear with your coat. Companion-Butterick pattens from Woman’s Home Companion, page 73, March 1936.

The advice was to make one dress that matched the coat exactly, another in a contrasting color from the same pattern, and one in a print fabric.

Companion Butterick patterns for a dress, 6649, and a coat, 6655. WHC, March 1936, p. 72.

Companion Butterick patterns for a dress, 6649, and a coat, 6655. WHC, March 1936, p. 72.

The coat is Companion-Butterick Pattern 6655, available in bust sizes 30 through 46 inches.

WHC 1936 mar p 72 500 coat 6655 text

Dress No. 6649 was illustrated in two versions, one in a lively color, like the wine red shown above . . .

WHC 1936 mar p 72 500 two dresses 6649 text

. . . and another version of the same pattern in fabric to match the coat.

Companion Butterick dress pattern 6649, WHC, March 1936, page 72.

Companion Butterick dress pattern 6649, WHC, March 1936, page 72.

Companion-Butterick patterns often advised that you could save time and money by making two or three versions of the same pattern. Here are two bodice variations on No. 6649.

Companion -Butterick pattrn 6649 made in two different versions. March 1936.

Companion -Butterick pattern 6649 made in two different versions. March 1936.

Those square armholes are interesting, and the pockets are also sharply geometrical. The pattern envelope shows the version on the right, but without dress clips at the neckline.

Prints for Spring, 1936

Woman's Home Companion, March 1936.

Woman’s Home Companion, March 1936.

“Prints are as certain to come back with spring as the swallows. All the Paris dressmakers who stress spring clothes are using prints in quantity.” Quite a list of French couturiers are cited as inspiration: Mainbocher, Schiaparelli, Molyneux, Chanel, and Lelong.

Companion-Butterick pattern 6632, MArch 1936. WHC, p. 73.

Companion-Butterick pattern 6632, March 1936. WHC, p. 73.

Companion-Butterick patterns 6642 and 6638. WHC, p. 73, March 1936.

Companion-Butterick patterns 6642 and 6638. WHC, p. 73, March 1936.

WHC 1936 mar p 73 500 prints text 6642 6638

Printed Dresses for Sprint, 1936. Woman's Home Companion, p. 73, March 1936.

Printed Dresses for Spring, 1936. Woman’s Home Companion, p. 73, March 1936.

Here’s a pattern envelope for #6642, left.

Butterick and The Woman’s Home Companion

The Butterick  Publishing Company suddenly discontinued its own magazine, The Delineator, in Spring of 1937, but there was already an agreement in place with The Woman’s Home Companion to feature Companion-Butterick patterns in every issue. They debuted in this March, 1936, issue of WHC.  Companion-Butterick patterns usually stressed versatility:  several slightly differing dresses could be made from one pattern. The Delineator had always emphasized Butterick’s “Paris” connection; you can see traces of that attitude in this article by “Paris Fashion Correspondent” Marjorie Howard. The Woman’s Home Companion aimed a little lower on the economic scale, and acknowledged that its readers had to make their money go a long way during the Depression.

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Filed under 1930s, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

The Evolution of the Shirt and Cut My Cote: Book Recommendation

I’v been wanting to recommend this little book, Cut My Cote, for a long time, and, since I showed some Victorian era men’s shirts in a recent post, this seems like a good time to share some things Cut My Cote taught me about the evolution of the shirt.

Shirt spun, woven and stitched by Elizabeth Hitchings in 1816. Metropolitan Museum.

Shirt made by Elizabeth Wild Hitchings in 1816. Metropolitan Museum Collection.

“This shirt was created, from the linen fiber to the finished garment, by the donor’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Wild Hitchings, for her husband Benjamin Hitchings, a sea captain, in 1816.”

Cut My Cote, by Dorothy K. Burnham, is more of a pamphlet than a book, but its 36 pages are packed with useful diagrams and thought provoking information. For me, it was one of those “whack on the side of the head” books, because I had simply never considered how precious cloth was in the pre-industrial age, or how garment construction was influenced by the size of the handwoven cloth available. Making clothes from Burnham’s diagrams is a real education.

This book expands on  some themes from Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Barber. Barber, an archeologist and a weaver, estimated that it takes a woman seven hours to hand spin enough thread to weave for one hour. For the woman spinning and weaving and sewing a linen shirt like the one above, every scrap would represent days of labor. You can understand why “zero waste” clothing is not a new idea.

Diagram of Man's shirt, by Dorothy Burnham, showing how none of the handwoven linen was wasted. From Cut My Cote. Pleas do not copy this image.

Diagram of 16th c. man’s shirt, by Dorothy Burnham, showing how not a single inch of the handwoven linen was wasted. From Cut My Cote. Please do not copy this image. The cloth was 27 inches wide.

In the shirt above, the sleeves (B) narrow from below the elbow to the wrist. The triangles of fabric (C) trimmed from the lower part of the sleeves are used to widen the upper part. The neckline is slit straight across, and gathered into the collar at front and back. This gives ease across the back. (Modern shirts have a center back pleat for the same reason.) Notice how similar it is to that shirt made by Elizabeth Wild Hitchings nearly three hundred years later.

“I shall cut my cote after my cloth.”

Burnham examines this proverb and finds it true:  “I shall cut my cote after my cloth.” ( Haywood’s Proverbs, published in 1546) You may have heard a variant of the proverb:

“You must cut your coat to fit your cloth.”

The size of the cloth often dictates the shape of the garment. Using her measurements of rare surviving garments, Burnham charts their cutting patterns. In examples that trace the development of the European shirt, for instance, you can see how reluctantly the cloth is cut at all, and how every inch is utilized.

The Loom and The Shirt

Burnham explains the various types of looms used from place to place, and how the physical requirements of the loom (width, portability, number of weavers) dictates the width of the cloth. Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt [all slave-owning societies, as it happens] used very wide, vertical or horizontal looms; some needed two weavers passing the shuttle back and forth. The Greeks wove big, wide pieces of cloth, and wore them sideways, wrapped around the body with one selvage as a hem and the other at the top, usually pinning (rather than sewing) the garment at the shoulders. Excess length was controlled with belts, or by folding the top down, or both (below right.) It didn’t need cutting or sewing.

Greek charioteer, ca 475 BC; Roman dancing girl, before 79 AD.

Greek charioteer, ca 475 BC; Roman dancing girl, before 79 AD.

Nomadic societies had to use looms that were portable and easy to set up. Sometimes a waist strap (or back strap) loom was used (Click here to see one being used.) When fabrics began to be worn vertically, instead of having the selvage as a hem, their width was dictated by the weaver’s reach when passing the shuttle from one side of the loom to the other. Since shirts made from narrow cloth were also worn very long, added width was needed for walking, so the sides had to be open at the hem, or the front and back were slit and godets inserted, as below. The fabric for this 13th century shirt was only 22 inches wide. Fabric (C) left over from the sleeves (B), which narrow toward the wrist, is used for godets (C) to widen the bottom of the shirt.

Burnham's diagram for a 13th century French shirt. The wedges cut off the fabric used for sleeves have been inserted into the bottom of the shirt front and back. Please do not copy this image.

Burnham’s diagram for a 13th century French shirt. The wedges (C) cut off the fabric used for sleeves have been inserted into the bottom of the shirt front and back. Please do not copy this image.

This drawing of a medieval farm worker shows a similar garment, with tapered sleeves and a very full skirt.

Harvesting barley in a long, belted, shirt-like garment. Late 1300's c. From 20,000 Years of Fashion, by F. Boucher, p. 199.

Harvesting barley in a long, belted, shirt-like garment. Late 1300’s. From 20,000 Years of Fashion, by F. Boucher, p. 199.

Shirts for the 1700’s

Late 18th c. shirt in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Late 18th c. shirt in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I have made late 18th century shirts like this one using Cut My Cote as one source, and, while perfectly authentic, they did not always behave well on sweaty actors and singers.  You can see that the shoulders of the shirt are much wider than the shoulders of the wearer, and in the diagram there is no shoulder seam. Even on a motionless mannequin, the shoulders fall forward, twisting the sleeves.

Also, when the neckline is cut as a straight line, like this one …

Shirt, late 16th c. Diagram by Burnham. Please do not copy.

Shirt, late 16th c. Diagram by Burnham. Please do not copy.

… it doesn’t take into account some facts about the human body. First, flat rectangles of cloth are relatively two dimensional; we are three dimensional. Second, we are not symmetrical when seen from the side.

Left, and illustration from Walt Reed's book The Figure; Right, an illustration from Drawing the Head & Figure by Jank Hamm.

Left, based on  an illustration from Walt Reed’s book The Figure; Right, based on an illustration from Drawing the Head & Figure by Jack Hamm.

Our necks are lower on the body in front than in back. The measurement from the base of the neck to waist (CF measurement) is always shorter than our Center Back measurement (CB). If you cut your shirt’s neck opening in a straight horizontal line, the opening will be forced down in the front, and the shirt will twist on the body. The shoulders of the shirt will want to move forward, while the back rides up. (Actors will be more comfortable with a modern curved neckline on an otherwise “period” shirt.”)

Another problem that had to be solved was the trapezius — the muscle that connects your neck with your shoulder.

Geometrical stick figures (top) and a more complex figure, bottom.

Geometrical stick figures (top) and a stick figure adjusted to treat the neck and trapezius more realistically (bottom). Photo from Walt Reed’s book The Figure.

It took a long time for most shirt makers to solve these problems, although this woman’s smock from 1630 has a triangular gusset at the side of the neck; that was part of the solution.

This shirt, which belonged to British banker Thomas Coutts, has triangular pieces at the neck, either side of the collar.

Early 19th c. shirt belonging to Thomas Coutts, Metropolitan Museum Collection.

Early 19th c. shirt belonging to Thomas Coutts, Metropolitan Museum Collection.

This 19th century shirt with a neck gusset was collected by a friend.

Linen shirt, 19th century. The collar has a gathered triangular gusset at each side.

Linen shirt, 19th century. The collar has a gathered triangular gusset at each side. inserted in the straight, slit neckline.

The triangular gusset is an attempt to solve the problem of the trapezius.

The triangular gusset is an attempt to solve the problem of the trapezius. It just didn’t go far enough.

The collar, hand sewn, of a finer fabric than the shirt's body.

The collar, hand sewn, is a finer fabric than the shirt’s body.

This shirt, from the same collection, has a shoulder yoke and a different way of using a triangular gusset:

Yoke across the shoulders and a gusset below the yoke.

19th century shirt with a yoke across the shoulders and a gusset below the yoke. Apparently the shirt body was cut straight across, but did not match the shape of the yoke without piecing. The neckline seems to be curved in front.

These collars with a wide gap between the wings were seen from the 1820s through the 1850s, persisting among older men. They could be starched and worn turned up, or worn turned down.

Shirt collars with a wide gap in front: a fashion plate, 1849, a sketch by Ingres, 1826, an older man, 1859, and Ingre's self portrait at age 79, 1859.

Shirt collars with a wide gap in front: a fashion plate, 1849, a sketch by Ingres, 1826, an older man, 1859, and Ingre’s self portrait at age 79, 1859.

This shirt, also owned by Thomas Coutts, has a yoke. So did the shirts worn by Mississippi boatmen in the 1840’s and 50’s, as painted by George Caleb Bingham; their shoulder seams drop far down the arm. (Shirts were one of the few ready-made garments available. But they were not sized to fit before the Civil War, when statistics that made standard sizing possible were collected.) The boatmen’s shirt size was probably dictated by the width of the cloth available.

The Jolly Flatboatmen, painting by George Bingham

The Jolly Flatboatmen, painting by George Caleb Bingham, 1846.

The problem of the too-high-in-front neckline was solved by wearing the shirt unbuttoned at the throat. There are no other buttons, except at the wrists, and shirts were pulled on over the head.

Mississippi Boatman by George Caleb Bingham, 1850.

Mississippi Boatman by George Caleb Bingham, 1850.

Another problem for shirtmakers was that, if the sleeves were tight, it was hard to raise your arm.

Photo from Erik A. Ruby's book The Human Figure. If your sleeve was tight, raising your arm like this was difficult.

Photo from Erik A. Ruby’s book The Human Figure. If your sleeve was tight, raising your arm like this pulled your shirt up several inches.

Some cultures — like Japan — left the underarm seam open. Europeans wanting to wear tighter sleeves without losing the ability to raise a sword or a tool, wore a very full sleeved shirt underneath a tight outer sleeve that was attached only at the shoulder, or tied on just at the top.

A young man by Memlinc, and a young lade by Ghirlandaio. Both are late 1400s.

A young man by Memlinc, and a young lady by Ghirlandaio. Both are late 1400’s. Her sleeve is also open at the elbow, so she can bend her arm easily.

But the best solution was a square gusset (C), inserted in the underarm seams so that the bias stretch would accommodate movement.

Burnham's diagram of a 17th century shirt with underarm gussets. Please do not copy this image.

Burnham’s diagram of an early 19th century shirt with underarm gussets (C) and neckline gussets (F). Please do not copy this image.

The shirt above, diagrammed by Burnham, was one of several owned by Thomas Coutts (d. 1822); the survival of his large wardrobe is a boon to historians.

Victorian era Shirt with underarm gusset. It also has neckline gussets, like the Thomas Coutts shirt diagrammed.

Victorian era shirt with underarm gusset. It also has neckline gussets, like the Thomas Coutts shirt Burnham diagrammed.

Neck gusset in a Victorian era shirt.

Neck gusset in a Victorian era shirt.

Neglected Treasures

For the most part, shirts are not beautiful; they are not collected; they get worn out and used as cleaning rags; they get passed down to be worn as work clothes, instead of being wrapped in tissue and passed down as heirlooms. That is why very old shirts in very good condition are really, really rare! And a very old shirt with provenance can end up in a museum’s Costume Collection.

This wedding shirt from 1841 has a curved neckline; like a formal dress shirt, it opens down the back. It’s in the Victoria and Albert collection.

I’m not sure whether the dealer who bought my friend’s collection had any idea about how rare documented Victorian era shirts are. Here for example, is a lace embellished shirt that my friend was able to document, because it was made for a wedding and remained in one family.

A wedding shirt dated to 1871.

A wedding shirt of Davenfort Harrold, dated to 1871. The neckline curves and is deeper in front. A separate collar could be worn.

Eureka:  Shirts That Fit

I think the ultimate solution to making shirts that fit arrived along with the industrial revolution, when spinning and weaving became mechanized, lowering the price of cloth. Before that, as Dorothy Burnham says, “an extreme economy of material was practised in the cutting of traditional garments…. In ancient times, weaving far outstripped the techniques of cutting and sewing….”

Once people realized that cut cloth will not unravel after it’s been sewn, and that a certain amount of wastage is preferable to a poorly fitting shirt, the problems of the neck and trapezius fit were solved by a diagonally cut shoulder seam and a curved neckline that was cut deeper in front than in back. (The triangular neck gusset was, in a way, included in the new seam across the shoulders, which creates a triangle.) a seam across the shoulders

Using statistics collected for the manufacture of military uniforms, a range of sizes and a closer fit became possible.

Shirt diagram from the Cutter and Tailor.

Shirt diagram from the Cutter and Tailor. It is essentially a modern shirt.

This heavy cotton flannel shirt, made in Sherborne, England, ended up in California. It is factory made, with a curved neckline, sloping shoulders, and a double layer of fabric for warmth. But its one-size-fits-many sleeve length had to be adjusted with a tuck. (Office workers could shorten their sleeves with a sleeve garter.) Also, like earlier shirts, this one pulls on over the head.

Vintage flannel factory made work shirt made in Sherborne, England.

Vintage flannel factory-made work shirt, probably from Sherborne, England. The label says “N. E. Strickland & Co., Shirt Specialists, Sherborne.” Strickland shirts are still being made, but not necessarily by the same company.

There is a good review of Cut My Cote at The Perfect Nose. (Click here). It shows several different illustrations from the book and encourages the stitcher to dive in and use them instead of patterns — “mark it onto your fabric in chalk/ marker and have at it with ruler and rotary tool.”

I have done this (using a #2 pencil and muslin), and I learned a lot about the evolution of the shirt from making smocks, blouses, and shirts from Cut My Cote. My old copy was covered with measurements in pencil! You can find used copies for about $15.00 — Click here. — Or you could buy it new from The Royal Ontario Museum, which has kept it in print since 1973! Cut My Cote at ROM– Click Here.

For serious research into 18th century and early 19th century shirts, follow the links at 18th Century Notebook. An entire list of links to shirts in museum collections can be found by clicking here.

The TwoNerdyHistoryGirls wrote about 18th century shirts (and why the hems were so long — ick!) here.

It’s easy to see why this 1630  embroidered smock at the V & A Museum didn’t end up as a dishrag. And its
gorgeous blackwork embroidery probably saved this going-on-500-year-old Tudor shirt, circa 1540. It’s in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Read more Here.

But spare a thought for the uncollected, hand spun, hand woven, hand stitched, everyday shirts that were made and worn and finally worn out.

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 16th century, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Early Victorian fashions, Exhibitions & Museums, Late Victorian fashions, Menswear, Resources for Costumers, Shirts and Blouses, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing