More Ads for Woman’s Institute from 1920’s and 1930’s

1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Big, ruffled “Letty Lynton” sleeves became a huge fashion influence after the release of the movie in 1932.

In a previous post I wrote that Woman’s Institute ads were different every month, and that lining them up gives a mini-tour of fashions for each year. I have no photos from some years and some months, so there are big gaps in this little fashion show. I’ll just put the ones I have in chronological order. I love the captions, which repeat a few Woman’s Institute themes, like “It’s the prettiest dress I’ve ever had” and “I love to wear this dress.”

Woman’s Institute Fashions from the Twenties

February 1924 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress is basically a simple tube with neck and arm openings and a belt.

December 1924 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Except for the collar, this is a dress based on rectangles.

August 1925 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. 1920’s fashions are getting more complex.

August 1926 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Nothing will ever appear ‘home-made.’ “

By December 1926, Twenties’ styles are no longer simple tubes or rectangles.

December 1926 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

January 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Notice how short skirts have become in just 25 months.

Styles had changed a great deal between December 1924 and January 1927 — just two years:

A Woman’s Institute “One Hour Dress” from 1924; two years later, the Woman’s Institute ads showed much more complicated styles.

However, the possibility of making a dress in one hour, thanks to early 1920’s styles, probably inspired many women to try making their own clothing for the first time.

February 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress requires piecing curves; it’s not a project for beginners.

March 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course, “used by over 230,000 women and girls.”

August 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Now there are 250,000 users.

October 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

February 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

June 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This is the most matronly outfit I’ve run across in these ads.

The reason many women sew for themselves is that they have non-standard-sized bodies or hard to fit figures. (Having an exceptionally small waist, broad shoulders, or tall body makes it hard to find store-bought clothes that fit, just as having a smaller or larger than average body does.) Oddly, the Woman’s Institute ads I’ve seen don’t seem to be aimed at hard-to-fit women.

October 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress has a chic, asymmetrical collar and side drape.

Sending in the coupon from October 1928 would get you a 32 page booklet and a 60 page dressmaking lesson “which tells how to take correct measurements, select the right pattern, alter to your own measurements, cut and fit for all types of figures, etc.” Perhaps hard-to-fit women let their dressmakers alter patterns for them.

March 1929 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

Woman’s Institute Fashions from the Thirties

I have not collected many ads from 1929 or 1930, so my parade of fashions from Woman’s Institute ads has some big gaps.

February 1931 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This shows that not all hems dropped precipitately after 1929.

I have no photos from 1932, but the very long hemline on this dress was well established by 1933.

January 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “The new feminine fashions have created a big demand for dressmakers.”

February 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. 1930’s ads often showed evening gowns.

This marks a change to more evening gowns in the Institute’s advertising; 1933 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. Ads that said “Earn $20 to $40 a week at home” in 1924 said “Earn $10 to $35” in March of 1933:

March 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Scottie Dog (and fox fur stole) optional.

The number of women wearing furs during the Depression used to surprise me, but “In 1917, there were only four fur farms in the entire United States; by 1930, there were more than forty-five hundred.” This drove down the price of furs — and millions of animals were raised for slaughter. [See A Perfect Fit by Jenna Weissman Joselit.] Also, cheap furs from domestic animals like rabbits and dogs were sold as coney “seal” and “Manchurian wolf.”

March 1934 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. In 1934, “Letty Lynton” sleeves were still in style, and a dressmaker might earn a more optimistic “$20 to $50 a week.”

September 1934 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

Woman’s Institute ads seem to feature more evening dresses in the 1930’s, perhaps because the emphasis is changing to copying fashions, designing your own, and owning your own business or dress shop.

March 1935 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “You can earn a splendid income in a dressmaking business of your own.”

February 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Earn Money in Dressmaking and Designing.”

March 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. [What a lovely train!]

In addition to lessons in making dresses and hats, Woman’s Institute courses on Cookery and, now, Tea Room Management were available.

Traditionally, most 20th century women who had their clothes made by dressmakers started with a commercial pattern or a photograph from a fashion magazine, although they might ask for changes to suit their taste.

September 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This ad is unusual because it shows a commercial pattern, Vogue 7403.

These 1930’s ads now introduce the idea of copying high fashion, designing dresses, and opening your own dress shop.

October 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

February 1937 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Earn a fine income at home.”

The ability to work from home has always been important to women with children and other domestic responsibilities. And, of course, the overhead of a home business is lower than that of a shop.

October 1937 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. You can earn money at home . . . or have a good income in a smart dressmaking shop of your own.”

In 1938, Woman’s Institute placed this ad in a Butterick Fashion News Flyer, encouraging women who use commercial patterns to design and make their own clothes with the dressmaking skills learned from Woman’s Institute.

Woman’s Institute advertisement that appeared in the Butterick Fashion News Flyer for March, 1938.

“Be the smartest dressed woman in your town!” That’s almost what the ads said in 1917!

Testimonials from Woman’s Institute customers. There are now 300,000 of them. March 1938.

Coupon for Woman’s Institute, March 1938.

Mary Brooks Picken also published a quarterly magazine, Fashion Service. If you are researching Woman’s Institute ads, I found 1114 citations with a search on the Cornell University Home Archive.

 

 

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5 Comments

Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Woman's Institute

5 responses to “More Ads for Woman’s Institute from 1920’s and 1930’s

  1. A wonderful overview! I didn’t notice the shift from making your own clothes to dressmaking as an income source before.

  2. My mother attended the Darvas School of Fashion Arts In Cleveland, Ohio, graduating in 1934. This must have looked like a career choice to some, although my mother never used her coursework commercially. Have you heard of this school?

    • I haven’t come across an ad, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t find one. I found a mention of the Darvas school in the Cornell Hearth Home Economics site. “In October the Home Economics Club sponsored a style show by students of the Darvas School of Design in Cleveland who designed and made the gowns and ensembles shown.” Click here to see page 131. I once sent this 1937 ad for Woodbury College to a friend — a costume designer who works in film and television — and she told me it’s still in business in the Los Angeles area. (The ad — “Earn Good Money as a Costume Designer” — made us costume designers laugh.) I hope those links work!

  3. The Scottie on a leash really was the fashion accessory of the early Thirties!

  4. Thank you very much for this! I’m just reading “The lost art of dress” by Linda Przybyszewski, and this is a very nice addition on this subject.
    Maybe the idea of hard-to-fit figures wasn’t really an issue back then. After all, ready-to-wear clothing was not as common as it is now, so many dresses were fitted to the wearer anyway. Without standardised sizing there are no standards you can meet or not meet. Or it was just the goal to reach all kinds of women (and as many as possible), so you wouldn’t want to exclude anyone who feels “normal”?

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