Beautiful Blouses Circa 1917

Women’s blouses (called “Waists”) from the Sears catalog, Fall 1917, p. 122.

Because so many white vintage blouses from this era have survived, I needed this reminder that many brightly colored blouses were also worn in the nineteen “teens.” Perhaps the lacy white “lingerie blouses” have survived in greater numbers because most of the blouses pictured above were made of silk, which is more likely to shatter with age.

Blouse patterns from Butterick’s Delineator magazine, made up in colorful fabrics; June 1917.

These delicate white cotton voile or batiste blouses from the World War I era have survived nicely.

A sheer vintage blouse, circa 1918. Those deep tucks over the sleeve heads would flatter a woman with narrow shoulders.

The gathered back with twill tape ties is characteristic of WW I era blouses. All those pin tucks make a beautiful back.

A vintage V-necked blouse on embroidered Swiss cotton. The exposed throat came in around 1912.

Sheer cotton vintage “Armistice” blouse circa 1918. Inserted filet lace.

Detail of inserted filet lace and fagoting on vintage “Armistice” blouse.

Construction details like these would cost a fortune today — but they were mass-produced one hundred years ago.

Sheer cotton vintage blouse, circa 1918.

Detail of delicate work on a vintage cotton blouse, circa 1918.

Those last two blouses, which have a center front insert, are the style are often called “Armistice” blouses after a Folkwear pattern that was very popular.

Sears sold many versions of this style.

“Armistice” style blouse in white cotton voile from Sears catalog, Spring 1919. Valenciennes lace was so popular it’s often described as “Val lace.” [Or was that a way to avoid false advertising ?]

More white voile blouses (“waists”) from the Sears catalog, Spring 1919.

It seems extraordinary to me that such luxurious, embroidered items cost less than two dollars. (For perspective, manufacturing jobs paid about $0.53 per hour in 1918. ) Some blouses were even less expensive:

This pin tucked voile lingerie “waist” from the Knickerbocker catalog ad cost only 98 cents in 1917. Clusters of pin tucks, insertion lace, embroidery, many buttons and buttonholes…. You wouldn’t think a blouse like this could be manufactured and sold so cheaply. Delineator, Feb. 1917.

From an ad for Fern Waists, Delineator, May 1917. $1 or $2. “You’ll find the Fern at the Fine Stores.”

Fern waists came in two price categories, “Fern,” for $1 and “Fernmore” for $2.

“Oh, it’s a Fern!” Text of an ad for Fern brand waists, Delineator, May 1917. “Produced by the largest waist-makers of the world…. S. & L. Krohnberg” of New York.

These “Handmade Waists for Less Than $1” could be made (with your own hands) from Ladies’ Home Journal patterns. July 1917. Note the colored collars and trim on the three at right.

But why make your own blouses, when these could be bought so cheaply?

From an ad for Bellas Hess ready-to-wear blouses, Delineator, Jan. 1917. “Good quality washable voile.”

From an ad for Bellas Hess ready-to-wear blouses, Delineator, Jan. 1917. “Sheer, white, washable voile” with inserted lace.

From an ad for Bellas Hess ready-to-wear blouses, Delineator, Jan. 1917. In washable white voile with “Swiss embroidery” and “Val. lace.”

Women could also buy lacy blouses for about $1 from the Sears catalog.

Inexpensive blouses from Sears Roebuck & Co. Spring catalog, 1918; priced at 89 to 98 cents each. Those matronly flounces (bottom right) seem to have been popular.

Inexpensive blouses from Sears, Fall 1917. Although illustrated in black and white, these less-than-a-dollar blouses were colorful. Fall 1917.

The one at the bottom center, No. 27K2230, was available in three colors:

Sears blouse (waist)  No. 27K2230, from Fall 1917, was white with blue, rose, or heliotrope [violet] trim.

Compared to the dollar blouses from Bella Hess and Knickerbocker, Sears offered some “waists” at several times the price.

Colorful blouses from Sears, Spring 1918, p. 108. Priced from $2.98 (vertical stripe, center) to $6.98 (the gold/tan colored ones with embroidery.)

Blouses from Sears catalog, Spring 1918, p. 107; from $3.98 (top left) to $5.98 (black lace.)

The Sears catalogs for 1919 showed beautiful silk blouses — some costing nearly $9.00.

Silk blouses sold through the Sears catalog for Spring 1919. The brown-and-black one near the center cost $8.95.

Luxurious blouses from Sears, Spring 1919 catalog, p. 34.

features lovely embroidery. Sears, 1919.

This silk blouse, like others in the higher price range, features lovely embroidery on sheer fabric.

Colored blouses from Sears, Spring 1919, p. 108.

If you couldn’t afford the pink one with horizontal tucks, you could make your own from patterns offered by Ladies’ Home Journal or by Butterick..

Ladies’ Home Journal make-over blouse patterns. July 1918, p. 81. This magazine often suggested patterns that could be made using fabrics from  out-of style dresses. The skirt of that old striped dress might be turned into up-to-date blouse #9957.

Butterick blouse patterns 8768 and 8879, Delineator, January 1917.

I have many other World War I era blouse images to share, but I think that’s enough for today.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2018!





Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shirts and Blouses, Sportswear, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, World War I

8 responses to “Beautiful Blouses Circa 1917

  1. Sibyl

    All of these blouses are just beautiful. Would love to have any and all of them. The prices seem inexpensive with what we pay for items today, but if you take into consideration the inflation–a dollar of 1917 is the buying power of $20.81 in 2017 so those blouses that were close to $10.00 would have easily cost $208 which in my book is quit expensive. i see why making your own is so much more beneficial. Love the idea of using old clothing to make new garments. i wish people now days would go back to that mindset.

    Love your articles really enjoy reading them. Would love to dress in vintage/or vintage looking garments all the time if i could.

    • Thanks for the 1917 dollar equivalency information. The chart I linked to gave a rough idea of wages per hour. I was trying to think of prices in terms of how many hours you’d have to work to earn the money to pay for a blouse. At forty or fifty cents per hour, a Fern “dollar blouse” means two or three hours on the job — but some of those blouses from Sears would have required days of someone’s salary. A competent home stitcher can make a dress in about the same time as it takes to make a shirt with buttons, button holes, pockets, etc. — which is why I never made blouses for myself. I still think those elaborate blouses for a dollar were amazing.

  2. Great post. I so enjoyed seeing all the styles. So many I’d like to try on myself! Comment about the low prices — on the backs on immigrant, non-union labor working in sweatshops! The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC was a model of sweatshop efficiency. I found this really interesting article if anyone wants to know more about the famous fire in 1911.

    • Thank you for the link to the Smithsonian article; what an inspiring story of dogged research. Within that story is a link to the archives the author uncovered, now at Cornell’s Hearth site. Click here for Triangle Fire. One hundred and six years ago, and fatal fires in factories with the escape doors chained closed area still happening.

  3. What do you think made some shirts much more expensive than others? The quality of the material? The source of the lace? To my eye, those dollar shirts look every bit as fancy as the more expensive ones–but then I’m accustomed to seeing any detail work as “fancy.” Maybe this will be the year when I conquer pintucks!

    • Considering the complexity of the tucks and inserted lace on cheaper blouses, higher prices must reflect cost of materials — and that embroidery! There are ways to do machine pin tucks, but that silk or floss embroidery might have been done by hand. I do think that vintage blouse with the tucks gathered to a V shape in back looks very flattering. (That’s not to say I’ll be making one!)

  4. Where do you find the garments you photograph? And I have to wonder what the ladies were wearing under those very sheer blouses. I know they had camisoles (I have a couple reproduction 1915 catalogs). But they seemed awfully skimpy to just have something so sheer on top. Lovely stuff.

    • Many years ago I was hired to inventory a private collection of vintage garments, because it needed to be sold. I quickly realized that I needed to take photos as well as a written inventory, because so many garments were similar — and the photos helped sell the collection and document the condition of specific items. However, since I was in a hurry and had no thought of blogging, the photos are often not as good as they could be. And, yes, having grown up in an era (the fifties) when just having my slip strap show by accident was embarrassing, wearing clothes that show all the layers of your underwear seems weird to me!

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