Time Traveling Again

This week I’ve been attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (seeing movies from the 1920s in a theater that opened in 1922!) and also visiting the Bound Periodicals collection at SF Main Library. Their earliest copies of Butterick’s Delineator magazine are July to December 1907.

One pleasant surprise: a 1907 monthly feature illustrated by fashion photos instead of drawings!

Shirt-waists and blouses (called waists) photographed for Delineator, July 1907. The article is from a series called “Dressing on Dimes.”

I’m also “visiting 1912” at the moment.

Butterick patterns from Delineator, July 1912, p. 23.

I’m trying to prioritize photographing color images, since color is what was lost when so many magazines were microfilmed (and then discarded by libraries) years ago. Even issues that have been scanned by Google and made available online lose a lot of information, because these old magazines used very small type with a serif font on very large pages; automated scanners have to make a choice between legible text, legible drawings, and accurate color illustrations — not always very successfully. [Link added 5/6/19] (Nevertheless, Hathi Trust makes many issues available that would otherwise be very rare and hard to find.) When I visit the bound copies of Delineator, I usually take 3 or 4 photos of each fashion page: whole page, top half, bottom half, and closeups of images. That allows a different camera exposure for text and images, but it’s not a fast process…. Even photographing a small ad requires an “establishing shot” with the page number on it, then a close-up.

I’m finding wonderful color illustrations…

Butterick pattern illustration, Delineator, April 1907, p. 27.

Butterick illustration for waist [bodice] 5188 and [separate] skirt 5189. Delineator, February 1912, p. 105.

… accompanied by useful line drawings…

Line drawings like these are easier to “figure out” for reproduction than full color paintings. Butterick waist 5514 with skirt 5515, showing front and back views. (Hard to realize this is not a dress! Bodice and skirt do not necessarily open in the same place.)  Delineator, July 1912, p. 24.

…and I photograph those (to me) irresistible ads for corsets, bust improvers, hip padding (!) and other products for women.

W.B. Corsets ad for the Reduso corset. Delineator, September, 1907.

Just looking at that corset makes my back ache! It seems that advertisers always think women are either too fat or too thin, and in need of “improvement:”

Ad for H & H Pneumatic Bust Forms, Delineator, July 1907, page 147.

Pneumatic seems to mean “inflated”– “For bathers at the sea-shore they are indispensable; … acts as a buoy to the bather and makes swimming easy.” [Unless you want to swim face-down?

Hats are always tempting me to photograph them:

Butterick waist 5312 with skirt 5313 and a hat that would keep people at arm’s length…. Delineator, April 1912.

Hat featured in fashion article for December 1907. I think it resembles the foliage from a Christmas Cactus….

Don’t sit behind her at the movies.

I do try not to photograph everything that captures my attention, but limiting myself to color images is not easy.

A suit photographed for the “Dress for Dimes” series. Delineator, October 1907.

Being able to see clothing, accurately dated, without the distorted proportions of fashion illustrations is a treat. Delineator‘s fashion photos from the 1920s were not as good as the ones from 1907.

On the other hand, this story illustration is lovely, and I’m surprised by that low-backed gown at left.

Painting illustrating fiction in Delineator, August 1912. Men in white tie: maximum formality.

Edited  5/7/19: A closer look at that low-backed blue-green evening dress hints that a layer of whitish lace was visible above the deep V.

Detail; I think / expect that sheer white or ecru lace covers her camisole and is visible above the deep V back. I also see ermine tails on the white-haired lady.

After seeing that [illustration], I’m thinking maybe 1912 would be a good year for My Fair Lady / Pygmalion.

Ladies’ coat and jacket outfits, Delineator, April 1912, p. 297.

As usual, it’s astonishing to see how rapidly fashions changed. Just two years later:

Butterick patterns from May 1914. The slender lines of 1912 are gone.

Once I have five or six hundred photos downloaded, I have to label them all (year, month, page, pattern numbers,) which takes quite a while. Of course I want to post as many as possible right away, but an orderly process is absolutely necessary to keep images and their information together. So I may be taking a week or so off from posting blogs!

Back soon!


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Coats, Coats, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Dresses, Edwardian fashions, Foundation Garments, Musings, Shirts and Blouses, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

18 responses to “Time Traveling Again

  1. Wonderful post! Hathitrust is a godsend, but there’s no substitute for an actual copy of a magazine. I was surprised to find that even at the Library of Congress many magazines are available only on microfilm. As I looked at the pictures of “waists,” I wondered whether you’ve read any memoirs by textile factory workers. I read two for my 1918 reading—by Elizabeth Hasanovitz and M.E. Ravage—and found them fascinating.

    • Thanks for the tip about the memoirs!

      • I’m not sure whose memoirs you’re thinking of, but Ruth Gordon (My Side is my favorite) and Ethel Barrymore (Memories: An Autobiography) are good companions. Ruth Gordon has a great memory for what she was wearing in the 19-teens. I recently re-read all her books but haven’t gotten around to writing about them yet. Reading Ruth Gordon is like having lunch with an amazing old friend who is frank and funny and who had a wide circle of friends over many decades. Maude in Harold and Maude was a perfect role for her.

      • Ah, the memoirs were suggested by the wonderful My Year in 1918 blogger. https://myyearin1918.com/

    • When I wrote about the information lost when libraries were convinced to convert their magazines to microfilm or microfiche to save space, a reader suggested a wonderful book called“Double Fold” “about the systematic destruction of paper (newspapers and periodicals) and its substitution by microfiche etc.” To read it is painful, but important. Highly recommended. It seems incredible that the microfilms were considered (and sold as) complete when many of the pages were missing. There does not seem to have been an attempt to seek out the missing pages from other library collections. Sometimes every single physical copy of a newspaper was destroyed without being sure that there were no more complete copies available for microfilming. One thing that keeps me taking my camera to the library is the frequency with which the color pages are missing from the Delineators scanned by Google for Hathi Trust. No one seems to have noticed, but yesterday I tried to confirm a January 1912 pattern number by searching for the page it was on. Both color pages were missing. Thanks for the memoirs to seek!

      • Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll check it out. I found in my 1918 reading that several issues of Harper’s Bazar from that year are missing from Hathi Trust. Erte did the magazine’s covers at the time, and there are several I’ve been unable to find online. I hope they turn up at some point.

      • It’s easy to understand why Erte covers were stolen, as were so many color pages — even before eBay. It still makes me sad. I can’t bring myself to tell Google where they could find missing pages, (even if I knew how) because scanning a bound journal begins with slicing off the bindings with a circular saw and discarding the resulting pile of loose pages. P.S. I do love your 1918 essays and excellent images.

      • Interesting! I never thought about the magazines having to be destroyed to save the images. And thanks for the kind words.about my blog. I get new readers every week from your link.

  2. I am jealous of your time-travels. Especially the 1920s era movies!

    And, I am cracking up at the inflatable bosoms. I can picture a scene (in my head it’s at Selfridge’s because, well, that was a great PBS series) where a timid young lady is being fitted for a new gown and POP! go the bosoms.

  3. I was at the SF Silent Film Festival too, and it left me with new costume questions. Did you see the Baby Peggy short where she puts on the corset? I knew there were such things as children’s corsets, but I still really wondered about that one. Was the satire in the way that the put it on (presaging the scene in “Gone With the Wind”), or just in the fact that she was wearing it at all? (And did grownup women also tuck those long strings into their bosoms?) I also noticed that the little boy in “The Homemaker” had some kind of garter clips on his long stockings–what sort of garter-belt thing would a boy wear? I never came across that before.

    • I think the corset was a joke (and how about that Brownie! Smart dog!) The Ferris company made unboned corsets for children; click here to see them. I also think Peggy was too young at three to tie a bow at the waist in front with her long corset strings. However, I’ve seen re-enactors doing that on YouTube videos. It must have made quite a bulge over the tummy…. For children’s garters see the ad here. Always noce to hear from you — I didn’t realize we are “neighbors.”

      • Wonderful photos. Thank you for going to so much effort!

        FYI, some corsets had little hooks, facing downward, that held the tied strings below the waist, avoiding extra bulk at the waistline and hiding it within within the skirts.

        When I wrap and tie my corset strings, I do it off to the side a bit and try to catch the strings on one of the front hooks along the busk. I try to tie everything (corset, multiple petticoats, hoops when applicable, etc.) at slightly different heights, for the same reason — to avoid adding so much bulk that it defeats any waist-whittling effect. Also, tying each element in a different spot makes it easier to get out! Especially if you’re having a claustrophobia moment (yeah, it happens — especially if you are very tightly laced and eat too much).

        Children’s corsets were around for centuries. They weren’t meant (by sane parents) to bind the child up or create an hourglass shape, but to promote health and good posture. It was more like a “highly structured undershirt” of sorts.

        Even grown women didn’t lace their stays tightly except for when the hourglass look was popular and they wanted to be fashionable — really only a few decades, scattered through history (including the 1950s, although by then they wore cinchers rather than lacing corsets).

        For most of history, stays merely reshaped the torso to create the desired silhouette of the time (e.g. conical in the Colonial era, ridiculously high-busted in the days of Jane Austen) and to provide support. Most stays and corsets are quite comfy and non-squeeze-y, unless you opt to tight-lace. The super-long Titanic era corsets your 1912 ladies are wearing to create a long, smooth line are not particularly tight at the waist and the boning stops at the usual spot on the hips. The “trouble” is that the fabric keeps going, making them somewhat restrictive and harder to sit in that earlier models.

        I don’t yet have an S-bend corset. I’m guessing that’ll be less than comfortable, since it encourages a swayback posture. But I want one to make my Edwardian clothes look right. My standard late-Victorian model, and my soft-boned mid-Victorian model are both super comfy (way more comfortable than a bra, as they lift from below rather than pulling up via straps). I love them.

      • Thanks for sharing all your first-hand knowledge! One of the things that surprised me when I made “Diderot corsets” (18th c) for an opera was that the corset really helped take the weight of the skirts off the waist. The waistband was distributed over a boned area (those little tabs that splay out over the hips) and couldn’t dig into the waist. The more I look at pictures of Ferris corsets and childrens’s underwear, the more I realize that the soft corset was a way to support the stockings from the shoulder instead of from the waist or with a rolled garter on the leg. Some children’s underwear in ads seems to have reinforcements for that purpose. I’ll have to keep an eye out for ads. (I make notes of photos I intend to take, and then return to the library to actually take them at a later time, so sometimes I remember things I haven’t photographed yet…. 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for your great pictures. I’ve been trying to date vintage wedding pictures and seeing the everyday fashions with dates helps me determine the probable wedding date. Your blog keeps feeding my historical fashions addiction.

    • It’s so good to hear from you — I’m happy to be useful! You must have quite a collection of wedding headdress images. Would you be willing to share just a few for a blog post? If so, please email me: witness2fashion at gmail.com

  5. This is such important work, Susan. Thank you!

    • You’re very kind to say that. It seems so trivial to spend hours doing this when there are so many more practical ways to spend my time — but it’s a pleasure and always a learning experience. (P.S. I found a fashion illustration that puts an older women in among the younger models! Will send it to Americanagefashion when I get the photos cleaned up (they’re underexposed.)

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