Category Archives: 1800s-1830s

Mutton Dressed as Lamb?

Youthful puffed sleeves, McCall’s pattern 4547 circa 1975.

Last month, I received a letter which posed some interesting questions about fashion and age:

“I would like to ask you a question: In which era did the idea develop
that women after a certain age are not supposed to wear very feminine
designs such as puffed sleeves, slim waists, lots of lace, pastel
colours or patterns with flowers? As far as I know, there have almost in
every era been ideas about what women are supposed to wear at which age.
I know designs from the 1930s and 1940s showing dresses for different
ages, with wider waists for elder ladies. But I guess this just
corresponds to larger sizes, and probably a slim lady of 70 years could
then have worn dresses with slim waists.

“Anyway, it must have been an era when feminine designs were considered
attractive and youthful – perhaps the 1950s?

“I am 39 years old and I cannot imagine myself not wanting to wear these
designs anymore, when I will be older….”

Well, I can start by noting that men have been making fun of older women who didn’t dress their age for a long time.

Padded bottoms from Pinterest. 18th c. cartoon.

Historically, and in cartoons and literature (mostly made by men,) older women who dress as if they were sexy young things are ridiculed. The British expression (going back at least 200 years) for such a woman is “Mutton dressed as lamb.”

(A mutton is a fully mature sheep. Mutton chops have a strong, gamy taste and smell that lamb chops do not have. On the day when Lizzie Borden did or did not murder her parents, her breakfast was cold mutton soup….)

I.e., mutton dressed as lamb is not a good thing to be.

The old woman at left is ridiculed for attempting to dress as a young woman. Note the old man with a young beauty at far right….

The blog “Americanagefashion” is devoted to the topic of clothing for American women over 55.

“Dressing your age” is a thorny problem. The goal of using makeup and dressing to express your personality is always to look like your current self at your best. If we cling to the fashions and hair and makeup styles that made us look our best when we were 18 or 25, eventually we will look ridiculous to people who are actually that age.

Do Adjust Your Makeup

The idea is NOT to look like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Maybelline ad, April 1929. My Aunt Dot still had a marcel wave in 1980.

In the 1980s, I used to see women on the bus who were still applying their makeup as they did in 1929.

Maybelline ad, December 1929.

Thinly penciled dark eyebrows (unrelated to hair color,) coal black eyeliner and tons of mascara (often applied badly, because they couldn’t see well without glasses [I now have this problem, myself,] dark red lips in a Cupid’s bow (extending far above their upper lip line) — these were women who were living in the past, and sadly oblivious to the changes in their faces and to the fact that “the fashion in faces” changes, too.

After teaching so many actors how to do an “age makeup” (including one actor in his 60s who was playing a 90 year old man,) I’m all too aware of the changes that come with age.  Cartilage continues to grow, so old people’s noses are often larger than they once were. Our lips tend to turn in with age, making them appear thinner. The space between the nose and upper lip may seem longer, and our eyebrows get closer to our eyes. The flesh above the eyes gets puffy and sometimes sags until it touches our eyelashes. In some cases, it impairs our vision. Some of us get under-eye bags or dark areas. Uneven skin tones and blotches may appear. (And I haven’t even mentioned how hard it is to apply eye makeup to wrinkled skin….) At 75, I currently need a 15X magnifying mirror to see what I’m doing, and that means I won’t see both eyes at the same time until I finish and put on my glasses. Often, I have to do some correcting to make both eyes look symmetrical!)

In short, we have to take a fresh look at ourselves every few years, and learn to apply makeup to the face we have now, not the face we remember.

Do Rethink Your Wardrobe Occasionally

As for dressing at sixty as you dressed at 27, well, if you always preferred classic styles and modest hemlines, you’ll probably be fine. (And I do consider jeans and shirts or knit tops to be as classic as suits and dresses.) However, extreme fashions don’t always age well.

Really wide padded shoulders from Givenchy. Vogue 2303, 1989.

I had some really flattering clothes in the 1980s & early 90s. But I gained 12 lbs one year, and by the time those clothes fit again, their huge shoulder pads were laughable. I could not possibly wear them to work — not when my job was telling other people —  actors — what to wear!

On the Other Hand

We’re probably lucky to be in an almost-anything-goes fashion era now, when hem length is not rigidly fixed, and mixing vintage and new is OK. Also, a woman with confidence and joie de vivre can often break the rules and look fabulous.

Twenty years ago, I was was waiting for a light to change when I saw a man and a woman walking together with their backs to me. She was wearing a black, brimmed hat (maybe crocheted?) with a black mini-dress, black hose, and knee high black suede boots. Her shining platinum blonde hair hung half-way to her waist. She was the embodiment of prosperous Hippie chic, circa 1967 -68. Suddenly she took a few dance steps, flung out her arms and twirled around. When I saw her face, I realized that her hair was not platinum. It was silver-white. She was a happy, smiling woman in her sixties. She was lively, flirtatious, and beautiful. She was breaking some of the “rules:” ‘dress your age, not younger’ and ‘don’t wear the styles that you wore when you were young.’ She was very attractive — because she was confident and joyous. Ari Seth Cohen would have photographed her if he saw her.

When and Why Dress in Black?

But to get back to the “when” part of the question, I have a lot of conjectures, and allowance for different cultural attitudes must be made. (E.g., are widows allowed to remarry in your culture? Is wearing trousers modest or immodest behavior in your country? Etc.) Also, many people are uncomfortable thinking of their parents and grandparents as sexually active….

Discouraging older women from wearing pastel colors or brightly flowered textiles may go back to Victorian/Edwardian mourning customs. By the time a woman was fifty, there was a very good chance that someone in her immediate family had died within the year. Grandparents, parents, aunt & uncles, possibly her husband…. Since wearing plain, black clothing for a year after the death of a close relative was customary, some women never got out of mourning. First a grandparent, then a parent, perhaps a sister or a child, …. Consequently, many older women just wore black all the time. I attended a church-sponsored Greek Picnic in the 1960s, and all the older women were wearing black. So were some teenagers.

[Lavender was the one pastel worn by Victorians and Edwardians while transitioning from black mourning to normal dress. But “lavender and old lace” were associated with age.]

Poor women don’t have a lot of clothing, so once they dyed all their clothes black after a death, they wore them until they wore out.

As for slim waists, I don’t think older women ever padded them! However, our bodies do change, and a thickening of the waist and loss of height are common. Multiple childbirths will also change a woman’s figure. Lynn Mally at Americanagefashion.com has written a lot about “half sizes” for aging female bodies.

When you’re older and you lose weight, it may come off in unexpected places. Even though I dropped many pounds a few years ago, my formerly hourglass waist is now bigger in relation to my hips and bust than it ever was before age 60 — but I had to alter some sagging trousers in back because my butt had disappeared!

Short puffy sleeves from Woman’s Home Companion, March 1936.

As for sleeves, many older women are self-conscious about our “bat wings:” just read a bit of this blog and you’ll know why older women prefer longer sleeves to sleeves that show our upper arms. When I lost 40 pounds at age 13, my skin shrank to fit immediately. Ditto when I lost weight at 40. But after a lifetime of gaining and losing weight, we can’t expect that automatic skin shrinkage in our 60s and 70s.  Now, if I want to fill out the loose skin on my arms, I need to build some muscles! So — short puffy sleeves lose their appeal. And elbow length puffy sleeves just remind me of the 1980s….

Laura Ashley pattern 8432 for McCall’s, dated 1983.  Been there, done that….

Of course, sex appeal comes into this problem. I’m old, now; but I have never consciously dressed with the hope of picking up a stranger and having sex with him that night. In fact, whenever a clearly intoxicated man “hit on me” at a party or in public, I usually wondered what I had done to send the wrong signal. (I usually concluded that he must have been wearing “Beer Goggles,” because I generally wore clothes that were entirely appropriate for office work or teaching school. My rare low-cut dress was strictly for parties at friends’ houses.)  So, how does a woman in her 60s or 70s dress “sexy” without seeming ridiculous? Well, I didn’t try to dress sexy in my 20s, so I’m not qualified to tell you how to do it at 75!  That said, good grooming, a positive attitude, and a sincere interest in the other person are always attractive…. but those qualities attract friends. Sexual attraction may be a different problem.

A book that helped me adjust to my changing role was Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style. I loved the first book he did, although by the time he made the film, some of his favorites (women with plenty of money) became stars who started to overshadow the many women who looked fabulous on a limited budget. Wearing fabulous and massive jewelry isn’t an option for most of us.

But a positive attitude doesn’t cost a cent.

 

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Edwardian fashions, Late Victorian fashions, Makeup & Lipstick, Musings

Birth of the Three Piece Suit: October, 1666

How did men go from wearing suits like this:

Petticoat breeches, British, 1660. Victoria and Albert Museum; image from Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion.

… to wearing suits like this?

Man’s three piece suit illustrated in Esquire, Autumn, 1933.

Suit with petticoat breeches, from Boucher; 1666. You couldn’t have too many ribbons….

There aren’t many changes in fashion which can be dated to a specific moment, but the change from petticoat breeches to the trio of coat/jacket, matching breeches, and a matching or coordinating vest was inaugurated in England on Monday, October 15, 1666. It is considered to be the birth of the Three Piece Suit.

When Charles II was restored to the throne of England after years of Puritanical rule, the king brought with him the extravagant styles worn in European courts.

English King Charles II with his queen, 1662. Source: Cunnington: Costume in Pictures.

In October, 1666, Charles declared his intention to start a new fashion for men. Diarist Samuel Pepys held an official position in government and was present at the court of King Charles II on that day. When Pepys went home, he wrote in his diary for October 8:

“The King hath yesterday in Council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes, which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how; but it is to teach the nobility thrift, and will do good.”

NOTE: About the word “vest:” The gulf between British and American English may be more confusing than usual, because clothing vocabulary is very subject to change. (For example, a “bodice,” i.e., the top section of a dress, began as “a pair of bodies,” meaning the two sides of a corset.) In 20th c. England, “vest” came to mean a sleeveless undergarment worn by men, while they called the garment which goes over the shirt but under the coat a “weskit” or “waistcoat.” However, in 1666, even in England, although the vest was worn under a coat, a “vest” was meant to be seen, and through the 18th century, a vest might even have sleeves. Perhaps we should think of Charles II’s “Persian vest” as a “vestment” or “clothing” rather than the waist-length garment the “vest” later became, especially in America.

 After a few years in England (and perhaps in a spirit of competition) Charles decided to break with the distinctly un-thrifty French fashions of Louis XIV’s court. (One way Louis kept his nobles from becoming too powerful was by forcing them to live at court and spend lavishly….) Here is King Louis in his petticoat breeches and cropped top:

King Louis XIV receiving Swiss Ambassadors, 1663 painting by Van Meulen. From Boucher’s 20,000 Years of Fashion.

Why a “Persian vest?” The English writer (and courtier) John Evelyn had returned from travels in the East in 1666, filled with enthusiasm for the men’s clothing he saw there. (See Barton’s Historic Costume for the Stage.)

Once King Charles II had declared his intention of starting a new fashion for men, his courtiers literally tried to “follow suit.” On Saturday, October 13, Pepys visited the Duke of York, who had just returned from hunting and was changing his clothes. “So I stood and saw him dress himself, and try on his vest, which is the King’s new fashion, and will be in it for good and all on Monday next, and the whole Court: it is a fashion, the King says; he will never change.”

On Monday, October 15, Pepys recorded “This day the King begins to put on his vest, and I did see several persons of the House of Lords and Commons too, great courtiers, who are in it; being a long cassocke close to the body, of black cloth, and pinked with white silke under it, and a coat over it, and the legs ruffled with black riband like a pigeon’s leg; and, upon the whole, I wish the King may keep it, for it is a very fine and handsome garment.

A gentleman in knee-length coat, long vest, and breeches, 1670. Source: Cunnington.

Fashion — even by royal decree — doesn’t change instantly, but after about 1670, petticoat breeches and short jackets were being replaced by the knee length coat, less voluminous breeches, and a waistcoat or vest that gradually got shorter — in relation to the coat — over the 18th century.

King Louis XIV and Family, painted in 1711. From Boucher: 20,000 Years of Fashion. The King’s vest matches his brown coat and breeches; the man at right wears a brocade vest with a red coat and matching red breeches.

“Attempts have been made to trace to Persia the origin of the coat which about 1670 ousted the short doublet from fashionable wardrobes. It is true that the first coats closely resembled the contemporary Persian garment, which in its turn had not changed much from the ancient Persian coat …. It is true also that Sir John Evelyn returned from Persia in 1666 enthusiastic about the native costume. (Pepys made an entry about it in that year.) Nevertheless it was four years after that date when the new garment actually replaced the short doublet at both French and English courts…. Be that as it may, here was a coat, and the history of masculine dress from that day to this is largely a record of the changes rung up on that essentially unchanged garment.” — Lucy Barton, Historic Costume for the Stage, page 276.

The progress of the three piece suit introduced by Charles II in 1666 is a gradual evolution. The vest gradually got shorter:

The vest or waistcoat of 1735 was still quite long, although not nearly as long as the coat. Cunnington.

This gentleman’s vest is still thigh length in 1785. (Boucher.)

During the French Revolution and the Directory, vests approached the waist. (Kybalova et al: Encyclopedie illustree du Costume and de la Mode.)

In the drawing above, the coat is cut away to show more of the legs — still in knee breeches. But the radical Revolutionaries were called thesans culottes,” because they didn’t wear breeches. They wore long trousers (pantalons.)

A “sans culotte” revolutionary drawn in 1793. Note his wooden shoes, or “sabots.” Source: Kybalovna, et al.

An actor dressed as a revolutionary, dated 1792 by Kybalova.

The coat is cut away to show just a bit of vest (stopping at the waist) and to expose tight, pale-colored breeches. (Cunnington) This is the ancestor of the modern “White Tie and Tails” formal wear.

After the revolution, when there was once again a French court, a gentleman might wear knee breeches for formal occasions and pantalons for more casual dress.

Two gentlemen, circa 1810 1811, from Kybalova’s Enc. illustree du Costume. The vest/waistcoat at right just reaches the waist. The pantalons are very tight.

In this illustration from 1872, Charles Dickens (left) wears a short frock coat with a waistcoat of different fabric and long trousers. Benjamin Disraeli (right) is wearing a suit of “dittoes:” a three piece suit made from one fabric.

Victorian gentlemen. The “suit” could be all one fabric (right) or two or three different fabrics. 1872. Cunnington.

These suits from 1933 came with matching vests. Esquire magazine.

But, for less formal or country occasions, a contrasting vest could be worn:

Gray suit worn with contrasting vest. Esquire, April 1934.

The King of Denmark also wore a contrasting vest — in 1785. (Styles worn at royal courts tended to be slow to change. Knee breeches were still worn at the British court in the 1900s, as this cigarette card from 1911 shows.

Clothing actually worn by King Frederick of Denmark, 1785. From Boucher. (museum photo, Rosenborg Castle.)

There’s a very good article about King Charles II and the introduction of the “Persian vest” here.

Sources for images in this blog post: 

Francois Boucher: 20,000 Years of Fashion

Phyllis Cunnington: Costume in Pictures

Lucy Barton, Historic Costume for the Stage

Ludmila Kybalova et al, Encyclopedie illustree du Costume et de la Mode (1970)

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Menswear, Suits for Men

Recommended Reading: Seeing Through Clothes, by Anne Hollander

NOTE: This post is illustrated with many drawings and paintings of nude figures. If you would be offended, Please Stop Reading NOW!

I put off writing about this very influential book (first published in 1978) because I don’t currently have a copy. I kept buying Seeing Through Clothes in paperback and giving it away to friends! (And my public library is currently closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.) (For a range of other opinions and reviews of Seeing Through Clothes, click here.)

Artist drawing a model while using a grid. By Albrecht Durer, via Wikimedia. From a book published in 1538.

For costume (and art) historians, Hollander’s book is fascinating because one of her chief topics is the difficulty of ever “seeing” a person or image without screening what we see through our own cultural bias. To some extent, we automatically “correct” a human face or body as we draw it, to conform to our learned ideas of beauty. We usually realize that “fashion figures” — and especially editorial drawings — are exaggerated. But even “realistic” drawings of human beings can be influenced by current fashions.

About Life Drawing
My own two bits: Remember, we don’t just see with our eyes; we see with our brains. The lens of the eye turns the image upside down; our brains turn the image right side up, and also interpret what we’re looking at. For example, many years ago a small part of my retina was damaged. The eye doctor assured me that my brain would be able to “fill in” the tiny blank near the center of vision in my right eye — and after a few weeks, it did. It’s like a computer program deducing from other clues what “belongs” in the blank spot.
If my brain does something that complex without my being aware of it, imagine how powerfully our learned, cultural conceptions of beauty (or normalcy) may be re-interpreting what we see.

Sketch from a Life Drawing class. I didn’t intend to generalize her face as if I were making a fashion sketch, but that’s what I did.

I have also spent many hours in “life study” art classes, so I do know something about the process of drawing or painting the human body from a live model. David Hockney has pointed out that we are always drawing from memory; we look at the model, and then we have to look at the paper when we make our marks: a few seconds looking, a few seconds drawing; repeat; repeat; repeat…. Yes, artists do practice “blind drawing,” i.e., looking at the model without looking at the drawing they are making. This practice teaches them to match the speed of their pencil moving across the paper to the speed of their eye traveling along the object. It’s hard, especially since our glance normally skips rapidly from place to place. But few artists do all their drawing by this method. In practice, we look; we draw the tiny bit we remember; repeat.

The apparently pregnant belly and wide hips of the woman at left (drawn by Durer, 1493) echoes the fashion silhouette of the 1400s, painted by Van Eyck. (1434.)

Since I can’t share the images from Hollander’s book, I’ll fill in with a few of my own — and “Thank you!” to all the museums now making paintings available online! (For images not in public domain, I linked to them, so please do follow the links.)

Hollander uses many paintings from Western culture to support her thesis. Nudes are especially interesting, because — once she points it out — we can see that artists working from a live model will unconsciously adjust the figure to reflect the silhouette of current fashions. Waists become as narrow as if the model were wearing a corset. This painting from the 1840s reminds me that the full skirt (below a tiny waist) covered big bottoms and hips. (Plumpness was admired, to some extent.)

Tiny waist, wide hips. Fashion plate from Casey Collection, dated May 1840.

Busts sometimes become impossibly high — again reflecting the influence of the corset. (We might quibble that wearing a corset from childhood on will deform the body somewhat, but not in defiance of gravity!) Nude hips may also become wider or narrower as fashion dictates.

Dress dated 1747, from Metropolitan Museum collection. The corset pushes the bust up, flattens the bottom of the breasts, and elongates the waist.

The torso may be lengthened to match an 18th century fashion silhouette, as in this painting. Note the distance between the high breasts and the waist. In the two “Graces” at the sides, the lower body, hidden by 18th century skirts, is not nearly as slender as the upper torso. Also, take a good look at the breast of the woman at left. It might as well be corseted.

Detail of The Three Graces by Carl van Loo, dated 1765. Public domain in US et al, via wikimedia.

Legs may be longer, shoulders may droop, depending on the ideal “beauty” of the era. There are fashions in faces, too. Full, natural eyebrows go in and out of fashion. Mouths are sometimes exaggeratedly full (as now) or tiny and heart shaped, as in the early Victorian period or the 1920s.

Tiny, “Cupid’s Bow” lips, from a Kleenex ad, 1925.

My mother with “Cupid’s Bow” lips. 1920s.

Once wearing makeup became respectable, women could alter their natural lip shape and eyebrows. Even the fashion in faces is subject to change.

All this influence of fashion on drawing is important for costume historians, because we only have about 190 years of photographs for research. Before that, everything we see in historical research was filtered through an artist’s eyes. [And the cost of being painted means we mostly see rich people. There’s a problem with accuracy there, too: if the portrait does not show the sitter as he or she wants to be seen, the consequences for the painter of kings and queens and dictators can be more serious than just not getting paid!]

Contemporary image of the Queen of the Eglinton Tournament, 1839. Click here to see it larger.

One especially obvious era when secondary sources cannot be trusted is the Early Victorian period. There was a great interest in the Middle Ages because of the very popular novels of Sir Walter Scott, especially Ivanhoe, set in the reign of Richard Lionheart. The Eglinton Tournament of 1839 was an excuse for members of the upper classes to commission costumes to wear for the re-enacted Tournament and to many costume balls. Many aristocrats had their portraits painted while wearing fancy dress. (Click here for Victoria and Albert in “medieval” dress.)

Detail of 1839 Tournament of Eglinton. Note the Victorian silhouettes, hairstyles, and ruffles. (Not to mention kilts….)

The Queen of the Tournament and her attendants (behind her) wear gowns with the drooping shoulders of 1839.

Evening dress fashion plate; May 1840.

Many “great houses” now open to the public contain portraits which were painted ( or “restored”) in the Victorian period. This portrait of Louisa Anne Berenson was painted in 1859-1860. It’s a Victorian idea of Renaissance dress — not to be mistaken for a primary source in 16th century costume research!

Some 19th century actors strove for authentic costuming, but they didn’t have access to the research materials we have today. And adaptations were made to keep the actor looking attractive to the audience, as defined by contemporary styles. Here is an evening gown from 1824:

1824 fashion plate from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum.

The high waist and long, relatively narrow skirt with a decorative band around the bottom influenced the following costume illustration for a Tudor queen; in 1828, Sara Siddons (who retired in 1812) was illustrated in the role of  Queen Catherine, wife of Henry VIII, in Shakespeare’s play.

Mrs. Siddons as Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, divorced by Henry VIII circa 1529.

Portraits of Catherine made during her lifetime do not show a high waistline, even through she was rather portly.

Costumes for the theatre sometimes show bizarre adaptation to fashions: to conform to Victorian notions of modesty, Mrs. Charles Kean wore a hoop or crinoline under her “Roman” costumes! Here she is playing Lady Macbeth in 1858. ( The historic Macbeth died in 1057. No crinolines!) **

Mrs. Charles Kean plays Lady Macbeth opposite her husband, Charles Kean. The Keans were proud of their historic accuracy…. 1858; public domain image.

Click here for a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots painted in her lifetime; this is how she was portrayed in 1885.

If Dover’s Historic Costume in Pictures sometimes looks a little “off” to you, consider that its plates were drawn between 1861 and 1890.

** The subject of costumes for Shakespeare’s plays is long and complex. After all, “Contemporary dress” can mean “contemporary with the date when the play was written, [Macbeth circa 1606]” or “contemporary with the date when the play is set, [Macbeth circa 1050]” or even “contemporary as in ‘right now.’ ”  [modern dress.]”  I gave a lecture on how Shakespeare’s plays were costumed over four centuries for a meeting of the Costume Society in Ashland, Oregon, many years ago. If I am ever able to convert my slides into digital form, I may post it here, someday!

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Directoire Sleeves, 1929 and 1930

Butterick dress pattern 3196 from May, 1930; Delineator. The sleeves were a new style.

I was so fixated on waistlines rising and hemlines falling in the short time period 1929-1930 that I was overlooking other fashion changes. One is the short (i.e., mid-bicep length) or “one-quarter” sleeve (click here); another is the introduction of a short, puffy sleeve on dresses for adult women.

The dress on the right, Butterick 3141, has sheer sleeves which are smooth at the shoulder and puffed at the cuff. Delineator, April 1930.

These sleeves were sometimes described as “Directoire.”

Butterick 3227, from May, 1930. Delineator, p. 32. It was available in sizes for both teens and women.

“Directoire” refers to the period of French history called the Directory, which was brief: 1795 to 1799. It ended with the rise of Napoleon to political power. However, fashion vocabulary is often used very loosely. For many writers, “directoire” and “empire” are used interchangeably.

Portrait of Empress Josephine Bonaparte by Massot, 1812, courtesy of The Hermitage. To see the full painting, click here.

The gigantic painting of the Coronation of Napoleon, by Jacques-Louis David, shows Josephine and other ladies of the Imperial court wearing sleeves that are puffed at the shoulder as well as the cuff, but this may reflect an attempt to evoke earlier royal outfits, or as a result of the painting being completed in 1807, three years after the coronation took place (and seven years after the Directory ended.) By 1807, the trend for puffy gathered sleeves was in progress.

I recommend tiffanyslittleblog for excellent close-up views and identification of the characters in the painting. She shows a preliminary sketch of Josephine wearing sleeves that are puffed at the bottom, but not at the top, as well as a close-up of her coronation dress, for comparison. Napoleon’s sisters also wear puffed sleeves.

Which brings me back to the description of this image:

Butterick dress pattern 3196 from May, 1930; Delineator. The sleeve is “the Directoire pouf.”

American women were already wearing these sleeves, as seen in this advertisement which ran in April, 1930:

“Women of America” in an ad for Air-Way, April 1930.

It appears that the sleeve which is not noticeably gathered at the shoulder is closer to the original “directoire sleeve.”

English fashion plate dated 1796, courtesy of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum.

Another directoire sleeve from May 1930. Butterick 3231, for sizes 32 to 44. Delineator.

“The position of the high waistline depends on how you wear your belt.” For women who were reluctant to abandon the low waistline of the 1920s, some dresses were made without a waist seam.

This blouse, which could be made with long sleeves, still has a 1920’s silhouette — except for its sleeves. Butterick 3185 from April, 1930.

Because I grew up in the 1950s, I associate the puffy sleeve with dresses for little girls. This is how I was dressed for elementary school:

Dresses for little girls, Butterick Fashion News flyer, January 1951.

Older girls also wore puffy sleeves to school in the Fifties. BFN flyer, 1951. I remember a wearing a plaid dress with puffy sleeves in 1954.

However, except for “peasant” influenced smocked dresses, little girls didn’t usually wear puffed sleeves in the Nineteen Twenties.

1926 fashions for very young children. Delineator, September 1926.

Dresses for schoolgirls, May, 1926. Delineator. They do not have puffy sleeves.

I did find a few examples of puffed sleeves on girls’ dresses from the late 1920’s:

Puffed sleeves on a party dress for girls 8 to 15, from January 1928.

A 1920’s dress with puffed sleeves for a girl 6 to 10. January 1929, Delineator.

Nevertheless, the reintroduction of the puffed sleeve for women, teens, and little girls was called “new” in 1930.

The girl on the left has “quaint” “old-new” sleeves. Delineator, June 1930.

Even in 1930, puffed sleeves could be associated with youth.

The puff sleeved dress on the left is recommended for a sixteen year old. Butterick 3254, June 1930.

Another dress with directoire sleeves for young women. Butterick 3298, from July 1930.

The dress on the left is definitely for a teen rather than a sophisticated adult. Butterick 3202, May 1930.

This dress, Butterick 3120 from March 1930, is for teens 14 to 20. Delineator.

Right, Butterick 3572 from December 1930. “A frock from Kate Greenaway’s Almanac.” Kate Greenaway wrote picture books for children, often dressing them in  empire styles.

The alternate view shows dress 3572 made sleeveless.

This little flower girl definitely shows the Kate Greenaway influence:

An Empire dress for the flower girl at a wedding in September 1930 “makes her look like a miniature nineteenth century belle.” It wouldn’t look out of place at a wedding today.

But these sleeves were also worn by older members of the wedding:

From blouses to evening gowns, the “quaint” directoire sleeve made a modest appearance around 1930.

Blouse 3111, from March 1930, has short puffed sleeves –“very new and … having a tremendous vogue.” In sizes 32 to 44.

Butterick 3988 from September, 1931.

Puffed sleeves on a “simple frock” at a picnic; advertisement, July 1930.

Sleeve heads became enormous later in the thirties — especially after the 1932 movie Letty Lynton. Did their inflation start with these “quaint” styles from 1930?

Butterick Fashion News flyer, cover, May 1938.

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Patterns of Fashion Book Series Continues!

Cover image from Barnes & Noble website.

Very welcome news to costumers is that the great Patterns of Fashion book series begun by Janet Arnold, who died in 1998,  is being continued. Arnold wrote three gridded pattern books, (Patterns of Fashion 1660 to 1860, Patterns of Fashion 1860 to 1940, and Patterns of Fashion 1560 to 1620, and I just received information from the Costumers’ Alliance about a British source that is continuing her work.

Jenny Tiramani, principal of the School of Historical Dress in London said:

“Please tell people that we have decided not to use a distributor or to put the book for sale on Amazon. They take too much money and we need the funds to keep the school going and to publish Patterns of Fashion 6 & 7 which are both already in the pipeline!

We will be selling the book ourselves from our School of Historical Dress webshop and will try to give a good price for those people buying the book in countries far flung from the UK.

[Patterns of Fashion] 5 is in China being printed next week and published 31st October. …We need all the publicity we can get as the publisher of all future volumes of the series!”
Please support this incredibly rare and precious resource, the School of Historical Dress!! Here is where you can find their web site.

Click here to find out about current and upcoming volumes of Patterns of Fashion, plus other relevant publications.

Mantua, Late 17th century, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Other books include Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns (Vols. 1 & 2), and Waistcoats from the Hopkins Collection c. 1720-1950 “The waistcoats are shown with close-up details of its shape, construction and decoration, alongside images of people wearing similar styles from the same time period.” Janet Arnold’s other books are also available.

(One virtue of the Patterns of Fashion Series — aside from the meticulous research — is their large format: printed on extra wide paper, the scaled patterns are easy to refer to while you are working.)

Patterns of Fashion 4 covers body linens 1540 to 1660 — “the linen clothes that covered the body from the skin outwards. It contains 420 full colour portraits and photographs of details of garments in the explanatory section as well as scale patterns for linen clothing ranging from men’s shirts and women’s smocks, ruffs and bands to boot-hose and children’s stomachers.

 

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A Mystery Corset: 1820’s ?

NOTE: I thought this post was published on Sept. 16, 2017; I even received helpful  comments and updated it — but it’s not listed as published on my dashboard — so, forgive me if you received two notifications on it. Mysterious, indeed. I added links and categories in October, 2017.

This corset is stiffened by many rows of parallel channels. A busk can be inserted in the center. Parallel rows of diagonal cording flatten the midriff, which, to me,  suggests a date after the 1810s.

When I first saw this corset in a collection that was being readied for sale, I was fascinated by its beauty and its fine state of preservation. At first, I couldn’t believe it was not a reproduction.

Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fit a child, but no child would have a bust like this.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I took a few quick photos and sought advice, but the collection was sold before I realized that I needed more pictures. I can’t even find detailed notes — just the letter I wrote asking for advice — so apparently I never had a chance to return to this garment, or to photograph several other intriguing corsets.

Back detail of the corset near shoulder.

I believe it was completely hand stitched with shiny brown thread. The stitching is so regular that it looks, at first, like it was done by a machine; however, I believe it is perfectly spaced back-stitching, with visible starts, stops, and knots on the inside of the corset. [Update: it is not back-stitched; Cynthia Baxter suggested that is was stitched with a running stitch, and then stitched on the opposite side with running stitches using the same holes. I have seen this technique used by shoemakers and leather workers, so it makes sense for a corset.]

Inside of the corset. An occasional thread knot implies hand stitching.

The state of the fabric, except for a few spots, was remarkable — if it is as old as I think it is (before 1840.)  It could have been collected anywhere.

Channel stitching, detail of right midriff front. The busk channel is at right of photo.

Detail of front of corset.  The midriff area is stitched from below the bust to just below the natural waist. I think the channels hold cording.  I do wish I’d had time  to photograph the inside!

The corset has a dropped shoulder in the back, tiny close-fitting bound armholes, and an extended shoulder line.

In general, the collection did not include many items of this rarity and quality. However, the collection did include a fine 18th century man’s vest, as well as this dress, from early in the 1800’s.

An early 19th century dress from the same collection as the mystery corset. The chemise under it is unrelated.

Empire dress, early 1800’s, with wool embroidery at hem in three shades of brown.

The corset worn under a dress like this created a very high bust, but a woman’s waist and hips didn’t need to be re-shaped.

Back to the mystery corset: I only took one photo of the back, with a gigantic, modern black lace obscuring the eyelets.

Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed.

Were the holes hand worked or were they metal grommets?  In my ignorance, grommets would have been a red flag to me; if there were metal grommets, I would have assumed that the corset was a reproduction or had been altered to be worn in modern times. But — I would have been mistaken. This English corset from the Museum at FIT is dated 1815. It has metal grommets down the back.

I looked online for Regency Era reproduction patterns; I didn’t find any pattern for this corset. A yahoo search turns up several images of Regency Era corsets. Click here.

There’s a nice overview of early 19th century corsets at Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion. Click here.

A Regency style corset made by sidneyeileen.com has similarities to our mystery corset.

A corset (1830 to 1840) in the Los Angeles County Museum has a similar high waisted (but not Empire) silhouette.

This corded corset, with a channel for a front busk, is at the Metropolitan Museum: it is described as 1820’s. The waist is a little above the wearer’s natural waist. The front straps are spaced as far apart as possible.

Corset from the 1820’s in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

corset met 1815 to 1825

I was going to leave it at that, but couldn’t resist trying to relate the shape of the corset to the clothing that would have been worn over it.

All the following fashion plates are from the online Casey Collection of Fashion Plates at the Los Angeles County Museum.

1800 fashion plate from Ladies’ Museum, in the Casey Collection. The early 1800’s corset pushes the breasts up to a rather unnatural position, high on the chest.

The neckline of our corset is too high for these fashions — and it does not push the breasts up this high.

Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fit a child, but no child would have a bust like this.

Early in the 1800’s, the Empire waist was very high and the dress was often gathered in the front. The fullness moved to the back a few years later, which would call for a smoother midriff area. By 1811, the waist was moving lower:

April 1811, fashion plate from La Belle Assemblee, Casey Collection. A ball dress.

However, not every woman immediately adopted the lower waist, as this mourning evening dress from 1818 shows:

Evening dress for a woman in mourning, 1818. From British Ladies’ Magazine, December 1818. in Casey Collection.

The mourning dress and the Parisian evening dress below might have been seen at the same ball, although one has a much lower waist.

A high bust and a descending waist line, from La Belle Assemblee, January 1820.

These dresses from 1822 show a high bust with a lower, fitted waist, which is still above the natural waistline.

1822: a plate from the Ladies’ Monthly Museum, October 1822. Casey Collection. The shape of the midriff is becoming important, no longer concealed by fullness in the dress.

Bodices from La Belle Assemblee, December 1822. Casey Collection. The trend for wider shoulders and a narrow below-the-bust area is beginning. Belts accent the waist, which is still higher than nature designed.

Fashion plates from 1825 show higher necklines and lower waists, with a widening (and highly decorated) hem.

January 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames. Casey Collection.

February 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames, Casey Collection. The silhouette is wider at top and hem, emphasizing a tiny waist.

November 1825, Ladies’ Magazine. Casey Collection.

By 1829, a tiny waist, rather than a high, full bust, is the focus of fashion:

September 1829, La Belle Assemblee. Casey Collection.

April 1830, La Mode. Sleeves are enormous, the shoulder is widened and extended over the upper arm; a woman is wider everywhere — except her waist. Casey Collection.

So:  where does our mystery corset belong?

High neckline, relatively natural bust, flat midriff, slightly dropped shoulders.

Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed. Notice the line of the shoulders.

I can imagine it being worn under this dress — but that’s only my guess.

Dress from the late 1820’s; Metropolitan Museum.

 

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Cloth Bonnets for Sun or Indoors

A vintage sunbonnet, which shows signs of wear.

I know next to nothing about millinery. However, a recent conversation with Linda Rahner about sunbonnets reminded me that I photographed several from a collection that has since been sold. The same collection had Victorian cloth bonnets which may have been made to be worn alone indoors, or under a hat, and it seems logical that their construction would inspire the cloth bonnets used for sun protection. So here are a few sunbonnets and — perhaps — some of their antecedents.
[Tip: If you ever try to search for sunbonnets online, be sure to limit your search by adding “-sue -baby.” Otherwise, Sunbonnet Sue quilts will dominate your results…. ]

This American photo from the late twenties or early 1930’s shows a woman, on the left, wearing a sunbonnet; on the right, her daughter wears trousers.

It's the 1930s. The woman on far right is wearing trousers. Her mother, far left, wears a sunbonnet.

Trying to date vintage sunbonnets must be a nightmare, because sunbonnets are still being made and sold. The needs of re-enactors, docents at historic sites, and participants in local history days have resulted in many commercial patterns for sunbonnets.

I’m pretty sure this one is “the real thing,”  because it is almost worn out.

A threadbare sunbonnet in grayish brown cloth. Its brim is stiffened with padding and diagonal machine quilting and sticks out quite a way to shade the face.

A close up of the worn sunbonnet. Some white selvedge shows in the ruffle.

Back of the worn brownish sunbonnet. The neck cover is not very long. I have no idea about its date except that it’s machine stitched.

This checked gingham sunbonnet is in very good condition — which makes me wonder if it was really worn for working outdoors.

This sunbonnet is made from striking fabric, so perhaps a reader can identify when it was probably made. It does appear to have been worn more than once. It is stiffened with padding and parallel rows of stitches.

Even this blurred photo shows that it would give the back of your neck good protection.

The rickrack trim on this blue sunbonnet makes me think it may be from the 1930’s — but other opinions are welcome!

This crisp sunbonnet is made of blue chambray and trimmed with rickrack. Perhaps it was a gift — “too good to wear” for yardwork.

Little girls continued to wear variations on sunbonnets in the 1940s.

My friend’s collection also included some white bonnets, definitely vintage, which I am utterly unqualified to date. However, some have long back flaps (like sunbonnets;) some have been stiffened with parallel rows of cording or quilting; and the basic coif shape goes back a long, long way. If you recognize the period for any of these, feel free to share your knowledge:

The simplest white bonnet or house cap:

One piece of fabric forms the front; another is gathered into a back. The stripes are woven into the cloth. The seam between the front and back is piped.

The front has a single ruffle trimmed with lace framing the face.

A closer view of the lace and fabric. Is it machine lace?  The ruffle is actually pleated into place rather than gathered.

Here’s a close up of the fabric — badly mended in one spot:

The fabric looks like linen to me. A hole was badly mended.

There is a drawstring in the back casing (and a French seam.)

Like the front, the back is trimmed with a single ruffle.

A more complex cap or bonnet looks similar from the front:

The front of this bonnet or cap is very simple . . .

But from the side, it’s another story:

Parallel rows of cording stiffen this cap. It also has a long flap in back, pleated rather than gathered.

A closer view of the cording.

The cording appears to be hand stitched.

I just discovered that a similar bonnet was illustrated in Godey’s Lady’s Magazine in 1857.

Is a cap like that one the ancestor of those sunbonnets?

This one — perhaps a house cap? — is too elaborate for farm work:

Definitely meant to be seen, this bonnet has ruffles and cording everywhere — even running down its back.

The be-ruffled bonnet seen from the front. If it was intended to be starched, what a nightmare to iron!

This is the ruffled bonnet seen from the rear. It has a long neck flap, too.

For all I know, one or more of those is really a night-cap….

It’s not quite fair to judge this last masterpiece (and it is one!) without starch, but, since starch attracts insects, it was washed thoroughly before being put into storage. Try to imagine the hand-embroidered lace freshly ironed and standing crisply away from the face:

A front view. The ties are very long.

A closer look at the hand-embroidered cutwork lace.

The same hat viewed from above; in addition to the long ties that go under the chin, there are ties ending in a bow on top.

A close up of the quilting which stiffens the brim.

A very chic cap or bonnet in profile — I’ll go out on a limb and say “probably late 1830s.”

The voluminous crown suggests that it was made to be worn over a hairstyle like this one:

Fashion plate from La Mode, Sept. 1838. The Casey Collection.

Back view of a tulle bonnet trimmed with marabou, The Lady’s Magazine, Feb. 1837. Casey Collection.

An assortment of bonnets from World of Fashion, Nov. 1838. Casey Collection.

An earlier cloth bonnet or coif can be seen in The Bonnet Maker, Costumes d’ouvrieres parisiennes, by Galatine, 1824. (Zoom in to see the details of her embroidered bonnet, and the corded bonnets in her hand.)

I no longer own my Godey’s  or Harper’s fashion plate anthologies, so I present all these photos for the enjoyment of those who do. Happy hunting.

P.S. If you have never visited the Casey Collection of Fashion Plates, there’s a link in my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar.

 

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Fashion Plates (for Men and Women) from the Met Costume Institute

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

The Metropolitan Museum continues its generous policy of sharing images online; “Fashion plates from the collections of the Costume Institute and the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art” are now available (and searchable) at http://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15324coll12

Click here, and scroll down for a lengthy list of sub-collections of fashion plates: menswear, children, wedding, women, headgear, etc., organized by date or range of dates.

What really excited me is the large number of men’s fashion plates, many dated very precisely, like these tennis outfits from 1905-06.

Men's tennis outfits, 1905 1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates collection. Plate 029.

Men’s tennis outfits, 1905-1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates Collection. Plate 029. For full image, click here.

If you need to skim through a year or a decade of men’s fashion, this is a great place! It’s also going to be very helpful to collectors who are trying to date specific items of men’s clothing. Sometimes the date range given is very narrow (e.g., 1905-06) and sometimes it’s rather broad (e.g., 1896 to 1913) but menswear is neglected by many costume collections, so this is a terrific resource.

Vintage vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help to date them from reference materials

Vintage evening vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help the collector to date them from reference materials.

In addition to full outfits, like these evening clothes …

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

… individual items like vests can also be found:

Men's vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category "1900-1919 men"

Men’s vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category “1900-1919 men.” The vests on the left have five buttons.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons instead of six.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons and one has six. You could probably date them from the Met’s Fashion Plate Collection.

Men's vests 1896 to 1899. The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves.

From “Men 1896 to 1899.” The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves. The red one with vertical stripes may be a footman’s or other servant’s vest. This plate is dated February 1898.

Of course, fashion plates that have been separated from their descriptions in text are less useful than a complete magazine or catalog. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the chance to see these rare collections, especially because the men are not forgotten.

This delightful plate reminds me of an Edward Gorey vamp — like the ones dancing through the credits on Mystery on Public Television.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Collection Fashion Plate.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Institute Fashion Plate.

I’ll add a link to the collection to my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar. (There are other treasures to explore there….)

 

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Beauty Spots, Court Plasters, and Patches

A package of gummed black beauty spots, from Johnson and Johnson, circa 1915-1927.

A package of gummed black beauty spots, from Johnson and Johnson, between 1912 and 1927.

When I inherited my Aunt’s house, I found this little envelope, about three inches wide. It originally contained “100 Assorted Beauty Spots manufactured by Johnson and Johnson.”
There are quite are few left in the envelope.

Gummed beauty spots in the shape of circles, stars, crescent moons, triangles, etc.

Gummed beauty spots in the shape of circles, stars, crescent moons, squares,  triangles, etc.

According to the very helpful Kilmer House website, Johnson and Johnson first made this item in 1912, and continued to sell Beauty Spots until 1927. You can read a very good article from Kilmer House about court plasters, beauty spots, and their relationship to Band-Aids (TM) by clicking here.

Butterick pattern 4298 for a "Martha Washington" costume. February, 1924.

Butterick pattern 4298 for a “Martha Washington” costume. Delineator, February, 1924.

When I was writing about this vintage masquerade costume pattern a few days ago, I noticed that “Martha Washington” had beauty spots on her face, and remembered the little package that belonged to my Aunt Dot. (no pun intended.)

Pattern for an 18th century costume, from 1924. Accessories: a white wig, a small mask, and beauty spots.

Pattern for an 18th century costume, from 1924. Accessories: a white wig, a small mask, and beauty spots.

The satirists Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, writing in their magazine, The Spectator in 1711, produced a much quoted satire on ladies wearing beauty spots (then called “patches.”) You can read it by clicking here. (It’s followed by a satire on the size of petticoats in 1709.)

The young man has a patch on his neck; the woman is wearing at least two patches. Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, Plate III. From Engravings by Hogarth, Sean Shesgreen, Ed.

The young man has a patch on his neck; the woman is wearing at least two patches. Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, Plate III, 1745. From Engravings by Hogarth, Sean Shesgreen, Ed.

These little black patches (called “mouches” in France) could be stuck to the face to draw attention to an attractive feature (like the natural mole near Cindy Crawford’s lips.) A small black star near the eye might give importance to that feature, while  distracting us from a missing tooth, or a pimple on the nose. In fact, Steele mentions a lady who used a patch to cover a pimple, which made people misjudge her political affiliation. (He says patches on the right or on the left cheek proclaimed a lady’s politics in 1711.)

There is a wonderful gallery of 17th and 18th century images featuring beauty marks and patches at Poor Little Rich Girl by Boudoir Queen. Click here to enjoy them.

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette, Costumed by Adrian in 1938. From Creating the Illusion, by Jorgenson and Scoggins,, p. 144.

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette, Costumed by Adrian in 1938. From Creating the Illusion, by Jorgenson and Scoggins, p. 144.

Here is 1930’s star Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette wearing beauty patches. Her costumes, by Adrian, were many yards over the top (and the movie was in black and white!)

Here is an Italian diagram for the placement of beauty spots.

Marilyn Monroe sometimes accented her mole, or beauty mark.

This Pictorial Review cover from 1927 shows a woman in an 18th century white wig and a beauty spot.

Men wore beauty patches, too.  According to The Encyclopedia of Fashion,

“Beginning in the late sixteenth century, fashionable men and women imitated this natural mark by sticking black beauty patches on their faces. These patches were eventually used to send signals to members of the opposite sex in flirtatious courtship rituals, but they had a practical use as well. Carefully shaped black patches could be applied to hide blemishes and scars on the face, especially the deep round scars left on those who survived the frequent outbreaks of smallpox.” Read more here.

The historical film spectacle Orphans of the Storm (the storm was the French Revolution) opened in 1921. Rudolf Valentino’s movie Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) may also have prompted some people to wear 18th century masquerade costumes in the twenties. In this poster,  both Valentino and his female co-star wear “patches.” Here is another view.

There  was even a language of patches, just as there was a language of fans and a language of flowers. With three patches you could day “I am married” but “I entertain propositions” and “I know how to keep a secret, ” among other things.

In novels of the early twentieth century, a small cut may be treated with a self-adhesive “court plaster,” which you cut to size as needed. Practical big sisters often carried court plasters in their pockets.  Kilmer House — the history division of Johnson and Johnson —  explains the name:

“Johnson & Johnson made Beauty Spots out of materials left over from making plasters.  Since 1887, Johnson & Johnson had been making Court Plasters, which had the same origins but were the more practical cousin to Beauty Spots.  To confuse matters, Beauty Spots were sometimes referred to as Court Plasters, a name that goes back to their origins in the royal courts of Europe.  They had been used by court women, who set the fashions in their day.  According to Fred Kilmer, Court Plasters started out as fashion statements, before being used by the masses to cover small cuts and scratches. “

Into the Gloss wrote a nice summary of attitudes toward moles and beauty marks over the years.

My Aunt Dot, sitting on a roof as a teenager in 1919. She like costume parties. I wonder when she bought that package of beauty spots.

My Aunt Dot, sitting on a roof as a teenager in 1919. She liked costume parties. I wonder when she bought that package of beauty spots, and how she used them.

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Redingotes in the 20th Century

Women's Redingotes, Circa 1805, 1931 and 1926.

Women’s Redingotes, circa 1805, 1931 and 1926.

A Very Generalized Brief History of the Redingote
The redingote, as the French called this fashion based on heavy overcoats worn by men for riding and coaching, appeared in the early 1700’s as a man’s coat, often split in back from waist to hem in order to fit easily over the back of a horse. By the late 1700’s there were both male and female garments called “redingotes.” [see Boucher, esp. p. 429] The woman’s redingote could open all the way down the front, but some variations were cut away in front at the waist, either partly or almost to the side seam.

 redingote circa 1776 and a halg redingote circa 1786, from Francois Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion, p. 302.

Redingote circa 1776, and a half redingote circa 1786, from Francois Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion, p. 302.

Redingote, circa 1790. Collection of the LACMA.

Woman’s Redingote, circa 1790. Collection of LACMA. Click here  for more information about it.

A good source of information about both men’s and women’s redingotes is Francois Boucher’s 20,000 Years of Fashion. Via the frock coat, the redingote was an ancestor of both the man’s cutaway (or “morning coat”) and the tailcoat — both still worn by men today for very formal occasions.

By the 1800’s, “redingote” usually referred to any lady’s over-garment that could be opened from neck to hem, exposing the dress beneath.

A redingote circa 1800-1805, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert museum collection.

A woman’s redingote circa 1800-1805, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert museum collection. Like the male redingote, this one has several cape-like collars.

No longer made chiefly for warmth and weather protection, the woman’s redingote was a popular Regency style.

Redingote, French, 1817 to 1820, collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Redingote, French, 1817 to 1820, collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Obviously, this was no longer a riding outfit. One enduring (and slenderizing) feature of the woman’s redingote was that it could be worn partially unfastened, revealing a long sliver of the garment underneath. Patterns of History has a good set of early images in its history of the redingote. Click here. The “redingote” persisted into the 1830‘s, and resurfaces periodically as a description of any overdress that can be worn open from neck to hem in front to reveal another garment which is intended to be seen.

Redingotes in the 1920’s

The dress in the middle is a redingote. Butterick pattern in Delineator, Nov. 1924.

“Redingote Effects,” nineteen twenties. The open dress in the middle, sandwiched between other 1924 fashions, is not a true redingote, but has an attached pseudo-underdress. Butterick pattern 5632 in Delineator, Nov. 1924. It was available in large sizes, too.

1924 nov p 35 embroidered dress large sizes coat btm

Couturiers had continued to use the open coat or overdress occasionally, but in the 1920’s, the redingote officially reappeared, worn open over an underdress or costume slip.

Butterick pattern 5626 for a redingote, Nov. 1924. Delineator, p. 21.

Butterick pattern 5626 for a redingote, Nov. 1924. Delineator, p. 21.

Butterick pattern 5626 description, Nov. 1924.

Butterick pattern 5626 description, Nov. 1924.

The open redingote created a long vertical line from top to bottom; it should have been very appealing to women who were not flattered by the low, horizontal belt of the 1920’s.

Butterick pattern 1958, from April of 1928, was recommended for the larger woman.

Butterick pattern 1958, from April of 1928, was recommended for the larger woman.

Pattern no. 1958 came in a very wide range of sizes, from age 15 years to bust measure 52 inches.

This redingote style was also available for larger women up to size 52:

Butterick pattern 2048, from May 1928. Delineator magazine.

Butterick pattern 2048, from May 1928. Delineator magazine. “A separate one-piece slip is worn under the dress.”

The next two nineteen twenties’ redingotes, both Butterick patterns, were made of sheer fabrics and worn over an opaque undergarment. They were not described as redingotes, but as coat-dresses. However, the dress and coat are separate garments.

A coat dress redingote style, for young women, from September 1926. Butterick pattern 7024.

On the left, a coat-dress in redingote style, for young women, from September 1926. Butterick pattern #7024.

butterick 7024 pattern in fo sept 1926 delin

[“Bois de rose” — rosewood — was a chic 1920’s brownish-pink color. The matching satin slip of a coat-dress would never have been worn by itself.]

A sheer coat dress for young women, Butterick 6904. July, 1926, Delineator.

A sheer coat-dress for young women, Butterick 6904. July, 1926, Delineator.

1926 july p 82 pattern 6904 info

An "ensemble costume" with a sheer coat open down the front to reveal a polka-dotted dress. Butterick 6952, Delineator, July 1926.

An “ensemble costume” with a sheer coat open down the front to reveal a polka-dotted dress. Butterick 6952, Delineator, July 1926. This under dress (“slip-over frock”) could be worn separately.

Back view and description of Buttereick ensemble 6952, 1926.

Back view and description of Butterick ensemble 6952, from 1926.

If you’re afraid that you’d look like a sack of potatoes in a 1920’s dress, consider a twenties’ ensemble like this one — perfectly authentic. The print collar draws our eyes up toward the face; the belt is not tight enough to cause a blouson effect.

Redingotes in the 1930’s
The redingote continued into the 1930s, and was made in see-through materials later in the decade.

Delineator, April 1931: "The Redingote

Delineator, April 1931: “The Redingote … comes up every few years and each time is is an immediate success.” The redingote on the left “has its bolero only in front — the back is made in one piece — bloused at the waistline.” The coats of these redingotes fasten only at the waist.

Redingote fashion described n Delineator, April 1931.

Redingote fashion described in Delineator, April 1931.

“It looks so different from anything we have seen for a long time.” In Delineator magazine, “a long time” was apparently about three years, but the 1930’s fitted waist and long hem are quite different from 1928’s redingotes. Here are Butterick redingotes 3837 and 3850 without their coats:

The dresses worn under Butterick redingotes Nos. from April 1931.

The dresses worn under Butterick redingotes Nos. 3837 and 3850 from April 1931. Back views of the coats are at left.

Butterick redingotes 3897 and 3850, April 1931.

Butterick redingotes 3897 and 3850, April 1931. The largest size available for No. 3837 was 40″, but No. 3850 was available up to bust measure 44 inches.

A redingote was again recommended for its slenderizing properties in 1938:

Butterick redingopte pattern 7853 from August, 1938 Butterick Fashion News.

Butterick redingote pattern 7853 from August, 1938 Butterick Fashion News. This pattern was “for shorter, heavier figures” up to bust measurement 52 inches.

But the redingote below, from the same issue, was part of a fashion for sheer summer clothing:

A sheer redingote: Butterick 7991, from Butterick Fashion News flyer for August 1938.

A sheer redingote: Butterick 7991, from Butterick Fashion News flyer for August 1938. Available in bust measurements from 30 to 40 inches.

And now it’s time to thank Lynn at American Age Fashion for showing us this photo by Ben Shahn from the Library of Congress archives:

Two ladies celebrating the Fourth of July, 1938, from the Library of Congress. Photo by Ben Shahn.

Two ladies celebrating the Fourth of July, 1938, in Ashville, Ohio. From the Library of Congress. Detail of a photo by Ben Shahn.

It was Lynn’s post about these older women wearing sheer dresses that made me wonder, “Is that a redingote on the left?” (I’m still not sure, since it doesn’t fall open below the waist.)

And, now that I’ve lightened the image, I see that the dress on the right is only closed at the midriff, exposing the under slip. Could it be called a redingote, too? If it opens down her back, or at the side, no. But if those buttons are not purely decorative, and it opens down the front, yes.

Both ladies have secured the collars of their dresses, one with a bar pin and the other with a flower pinned in place.

Thanks, Lynn, for inspiring my 20th century redingote quest!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes