Category Archives: 1830s -1860s fashions

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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Filed under 1800s-1830s, 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1930s, Early Victorian fashions, Hairstyles, Hats, Hats, Mid-Victorian fashions, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

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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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Early Victorian fashions, Exhibitions & Museums, Late Victorian fashions, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Men's Sportswear, Menswear, Mid-Victorian fashions, Resources for Costumers, Suits for Men, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Wedding Clothes

Victorian Era Maternity Clothing

A friend collected these vintage garments many years ago. She always had an interest in maternity fashions and other women’s issues, like active sports’ wear. I regret that I do not have better photos, but I suspect that these garments are not the kind that usually turn up in museums, so I’ll share what I have.

The one that I find most interesting is, sadly, the one with the worst photos.

Changeable taffeta basque bodice with fitted back and unfitted front, pagoda sleeves, Mid-Victorian. Private collection.

Changeable taffeta basque bodice with fitted back and unfitted front, pagoda sleeves, Mid-Victorian. Private collection. It this a maternity basque?

The changeable taffeta has tiny stripes, and photographs as brownish or bluish, depending on the angle.

For comparison, here is another Mid-Victorian basque from the same collection, also made of striped taffeta — but this one is definitely not suitable for maternity wear:

Mid-Victorian basque or bodice. The front closes in a V shape; the three-scalloped back is visible behind the V front as it lies on a table. Private collection.

Mid-Victorian basque or bodice. The front waist closes in a V shape decorated with ribbon; the three-scalloped back “tail” lined with self-fabric is visible behind the V front as it lies on a table. Private collection.

My friend believed the one with a very full front was a maternity basque, probably because there are two lines of hand stitching across its full front — once used to gather it in. You can see from the wrinkles in the taffeta that at one time it was gathered to a smaller size than it is now.

The "Maternity basque" has two lines of gathering threads, and the wrinkles show that it was gathered tightly at some point.

The “Maternity basque” has two lines of gathering threads across the front, and the wrinkles show that it was gathered tightly at some time.

Inside waist stitching of "maternity basque" -- it went through all layers. Here, the changeable taffeta on the outside appears blue.

Inside waist stitching of “maternity basque” — two lines of gathering went through all layers. Here, the changeable taffeta on the outside appears blue. The inside is cotton sateen, I think.

The hand-stitching it so tiny that only the occasional knot at the end of a thread betrays it.

The hand-stitching is so tiny that only the occasional knot at the end of a thread betrays it. This is quite different from the running-stitched gathers across the front.

The back lining, showing its tapered-to-the-waist fitted shape.

The back lining, showing its tapered-to-the-waist fitted shape.

Wrappers and Dressing Sacks, Late Victorian

Another option for the pregnant woman in a corseted, tight-waisted era was the wrapper. We would call it a robe, and the fancy versions for receiving callers were called “tea-gowns,” but they were made of many fabrics, from simple cotton prints to wool or luxurious silks. The cotton ones were often worn as house-dresses.

My friend probably bought this one because it might have been used by a pregnant woman. It is in the style of the 1890’s, with a black velvet yoke trimmed with black lace, a bow behind the high neck, and very full upper sleeves.

A lady's wrapper or house gown, late 1900's. This could be worn for breakfast, or for receiving visitors if necessary.

A lady’s wrapper or house gown, late 1800’s. This could be worn for breakfast, or for receiving visitors if necessary. It was so small it could not be buttoned on a size 2 mannequin.

I think the fabric is either wool challis or a wool-cotton blend. The back bodice is very fitted, the front very full.  Was it a maternity gown? I can’t be sure.

This is the way the garment would look on a tiny woman.

This is the way the garment would look when buttoned; it would only fit a tiny woman or adolescent girl.

Like many wrappers, it has a loose outer layer and a fitted inner bodice:

Under the loose, full front, there is a tightly fitted inner bodice.

Under the loose, full front, there is a tightly fitted inner bodice. The outer layer closes with hooks and eyes. The inner bodice held the back close to the body.

Wrappers from Sears (1900) were illustrated to show a similar inner lining — intended to take the place of a corset when breakfasting — or when you couldn’t wear a tight-waisted corset any more.

Wrappers from the Sears catalog, Spring 1900, show an inner bodice lining for support while not wearing a corset.

Wrappers from the Sears catalog, Spring 1900, show an inner bodice lining for support while not wearing a corset. Without the belt, the front would be loose and full.

The inner bodice seems to have adjustable lacing at the sides.

The inner bodice has lacing at the sides, for expansion as needed.

The inner bodice has lacing at the sides, for expansion as needed. The yoke probably fastens with hooks and eyes at one shoulder and armscye.

Of course, just because the hidden underbodice can be buttoned, that does not mean the wearer would have to button it completely. A woman could button just the outer yoke, or just the top buttons.

The tiny wrapper on a size 2 mannequin -- it won't close completely.

The tiny wrapper on a size 2 mannequin — it won’t close completely. When the yoke is closed, there is a great deal of fullness at center front.

A flannelette wrapper from Sears, 1896. This one has a Watteau back, a yoke, and characteristically huge 1895-6 sleeves.

A flannelette wrapper from Sears, 1896. This one has a full, Watteau back, a yoke, and huge Bishop sleeves. The waist [bodice] “is lined artistically.” The front yoke appears uninterrupted by an opening, so perhaps it lapped across and fastened at the shoulder like the one below.

This vintage wrapper is so worn that the velveteen yoke and collar are almost completely bald.

Late Victorian or ToC Wrapper, very worn.

Late Victorian Wrapper, very worn.

The fabric is heavy, and once went well with its rust red velveteen yoke, collar, and cuffs. This garment closes with hooks and eyes; possibly at the neck and shoulder under the yoke, and definitely under the back yoke. (I’m sorry I didn’t photograph it open; I have forgotten exactly how it worked.)

The yoke and collar wrap around to the back shoulder and close with hooks and eyes -- you would probably need help.

The yoke and collar wrap around to the back shoulder on one side and close with hooks and eyes — you would probably need help. The arrows point to bare patches on the fabric. There’s a narrow strip of rust-red plush neat the center arrow.

I love the fact that this shabby garment was collected, not for its beauty or condition, but because it is a record of an ordinary woman’s life.

Another possible maternity garment, in the days when middle-class women in an advanced stage of pregnancy remained at home, was the smock-like semi-robe known as a “dressing sack.” A descendant of the combing sacque, which was supposed to be worn while brushing or styling your hair, the one on the left is described as “made very loose at the waist. It is very comfortable and cooling.”

Two dressing sacks from Sears, Spring, 1900. The woman in the middle is showing the tight underbodice of her wrapper.

Two dressing sacks from Sears, Spring, 1900. The woman in the middle is showing the tight underbodice of her wrapper. “This wrapper is made with the celebrated corset waist [i.e., underbodice] as well as drawstrings around the waist. It s adjustable and can be fitted to any figure.” You can barely see the adjustable lacings.

Since, even in the 1930’s, maternity dresses were illustrated as if the women wearing them had no need for them, there is a lot of coded language in early descriptions. Perhaps the “celebrated corset waist” was merely a comfortable way to have breakfast before dressing for the day. But what about those expandable lacings, and that adjustable drawstring waist?

A wrapper style housedress with an internal corset and adjustable drawstring waist. Sears no. 63397, Spring 1900.

A wrapper style house dress with an internal corset and adjustable drawstring waist on the skirt lining. Sears No. 63397, Spring 1900.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Maternity clothes, Mid-Victorian fashions, Nightclothes and Robes, Uncategorized, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

The Persistence of Fashion

While looking through some family photos, I found a few good examples of the persistence of fashion — a reminder of the variety that can be found within a historical period.

Fashion doesn’t change overnight — and it changes very slowly for some people. There is a theory called “the persistence of fashion” which accounts for the fact that clothing which is twenty or even thirty years out of date can be seen in many illustrations and photographs.

Story illustration, Woman's Home Companion, Feb. 1936. Thw Woman on the right demonstrates the persistence of an older fashion.

Story illustration, Woman’s Home Companion, Feb. 1936. The hem length of the woman on the right, about right for 1917 or 1923, demonstrates the persistence of an older fashion.

In the 20th century, the persistence of fashion was often associated with older women. (An older man wearing a suit that is twenty years out of date is barely noticeable, because men’s styles change very slowly — and some styles for men have changed very little since the nineteenth century.)

But, in the 20th century, it was older women who were usually depicted as clinging to the styles of their youth — or, at least, of their middle age.

Jeanette Albers, Mrs. McLeod, and Nan Mc Leod, mid-1920's.

“Jeanette Albers, Mrs. McLeod, and Nan McLeod,” late 1920’s.

Mrs. McLeod doesn’t look impoverished, but her dress is probably several years old. (Hems this long were last in style  in 1923.) Jeanette Albers (left) has a hem which barely reaches her knees, suggesting 1927 or later. Nan McLeod (right) has a more conservative — or possibly two or three year old — outfit. It reminds me of this Chanel suit from January 1925 — which was not short.

Three generations. Probably World War I era, or a little later.

Three generations. This picture was in an album, and dated 1921.

Although the youngest woman wears a mid-calf skirt appropriate for teenagers, her mother and grandmother wear much longer dresses — the plaid one could have been seen on a wagon train; she’s dressed like the 19th century prairie pioneers!

Wearing out-of-date styles is sometimes caused by a lack of money, or a body that cannot be made to conform to the current fashion ideal, or conservatism and/or prudery, or the expectations of the local community (the wife of a small-town businessman had to dress “respectably.”) Ageism is also a factor — an older woman who dressed to compete with marriageable younger women was called “mutton dressed as lamb.” [Note: a mutton chop, which comes from a fully grown sheep, does not taste like a lamb chop….]

I captured these two late fifties’ dresses from a clip of the Groucho Marx quiz show, You Bet Your Life. The older woman, a schoolteacher, is wearing a longish, conservative 1950’s dress, probably new, but not very different in style from what she would have worn in the 1930’s. The other woman is a teenager in flat shoes (“flats”) and a full-skirted knee-length dress.

Teacher and teen-aged girl on You Bet Your Life. The oder wman has a longer skirt, sensible high heels, and longer sleeves. 1950s.

Teacher and teen-aged girl on You Bet Your Life, probably 1960. The older woman has a longer skirt, sensible high heels, and 3/4 sleeves that cover her arms. This episode is copyright 1961, the show’s last season.

Female contestants on You Bet Your Life, a TV quiz show which ran throughout the 1950s.

Female contestants on You Bet Your Life, a TV quiz show which ran from 1950 to 1960.

Mothers and grandmothers were not encouraged to present themselves as sexually attractive.

Persistence of Fashion: an Advertisement for Sealy Mattresses, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

Persistence of Fashion in an advertisement for Sealy Mattresses, Delineator, Sept. 1917. The younger woman wears a V-neck blouse, a relatively new fashion in 1917, but the older woman wears a high, 1890’s style collar.

The reasons for the persistence of fashion among older women are many. Magazine illustrations and advertisements make it clear that among prosperous older women, many who could afford to keep up with changing styles chose to have their new clothing made with the high collars and low hemlines of a previous decade. Sewing  patterns from 1918 allowed a choice of neckline.

Illustration of a restaurant, Delineator, Oct. 1924. Notice the persistence of fashion on the older woman in the foreground.

Illustration of women in a restaurant, Delineator, Oct. 1924. The young women are very stylish, with bare arms and necks. Notice the persistence of an earlier fashion on the older woman in the foreground.

The waitress in the background, and the young women in the foreground, are dressed for 1924.

The waitress in the background, and the young women in the foreground, are dressed for 1924, but the older woman would not be out of place in 1910.

The older woman has the hairstyle and the high-waisted dress of the previous decade, although she is clearly a prosperous member of the middle class. She is comfortable wearing an older style that she feels is becoming to her.

The woman on the left in this photograph is dressed up and proud of it — in new-looking clothes that are ten years out of date.

Helen Taylor in 1915. The young woman on the right is not wearing a shorter skirt because she is a girl, but because it is the fashionable length.

Left: Mrs. Taylor and Helen Taylor in 1915. The young woman on the right is not wearing a shorter skirt because she is a child, but because it is the fashionable ankle-baring length.

Obviously, it is not lack of money that prevents this hostess from dressing in the current fashion:

This lady, with her butler at her side, could afford to dress in chic clothes -- but she chooses not to. May, 1932 illustration by W. Morgan.

This lady, with her butler at her side, could afford to dress in chic clothes, like the lady on the right — but she chooses not to. May, 1932, illustration by W. Morgan.

The older woman’s long skirt is a relic of 1923 — or even earlier. She is conservative in hair and hem.

I found this interesting example of the persistence of fashion in an article about women who volunteered to sew for soldiers during World War I:

Full mourning -- circa 1898 -- in a photo from 1917. Ladies Home Journal, Nov., p. 22.

One woman wears “full mourning”– circa 1898 — in a photo taken in 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal, November, p. 22. Poor woman — has she been in mourning for 19 years? [Edit: 9/10/16: Christina reminds me that this woman may be mourning a son lost in the early months of WW I; I failed to consider naval losses.]

Mourning costumes, 1898, from Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazar.

Mourning costumes, 1898, from Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar.

The widow’s bonnet had a long black veil which could be pulled over the face for privacy, or to hide tear-swollen eyes. It’s a little surprising to see that Jacqueline Kennedy wore one at President Kennedy’s funeral — but it was over her normal pillbox hat.

Another extraordinary hold-over appears on the right in this photo:

Persistence of fashion: Right, a turn of the century dress beside a dress from the early 1920s.

Persistence of fashion: Right, a turn of the century dress (or “wrapper”?) beside a dress from the late teens or early 1920s. The older woman has shortened her dress to walking length for housework — or to expose her shoes, which look new. Her throat is exposed, too, so this is a fairly new dress made in an older style, and worn over petticoats!

The Lack of Ready-to-Wear Clothing and the Persistence of Fashion

Today, we take the existence of “off-the-rack” ready-to-wear clothing in a range of sizes for granted. If we need a new coat, we go to a store and buy one, from a range of prices to fit most budgets.

That was not possible until the latter part of the 19th century.  Suiting Everyone, published by the Smithsonian, was the book that made me aware of the importance of the U.S. Civil War (which ended in 1865) in developing the standardization of sizes. The urgent demand for hundreds of thousands of military uniforms, plus the development of industrial sewing machines, created a need for statistics about human measurements — and the war supplied them. For the first time it was possible to predict that a man with a 44 inch chest was statistically likely to have a 38 inch waist, and a man with a 38 inch chest was likely to have a 32 inch waist. Related back and sleeve lengths could also be calculated. [This is not to say that Civil War uniforms fit well!]

Elizabeth Ewing’s History of 20th Century Fashion makes it clear that standardized sizes for women happened later in England than in the U.S.; she says large-scale production of ready-to-wear in the early 20th century happened in America about ten years earlier than in Britain. (p. 122.) There, at the turn of the century, “The only dresses which were ready-made were those produced for window display.” (p. 40) At least one London department store would make up a dress, fully trimmed, and leave the back seam open, for easy “fitting” to the customer. [Note: this is the worst way to alter a dress!] Of course, the simplification of styles and the relaxed fit of women’s wear in the 1910’s and 1920’s made mass-produced clothing for women much easier to sell. A snug fit in the torso was not needed.

Unfitted styles like these, from Delineator, Sept. 1924, made ready-to-wear for women easier to manufacture and sell.

Unfitted styles like these, from Delineator, Sept. 1924, made ready-to-wear for women easier to manufacture and sell.

Before the 1860’s, most fitted clothing was custom made. If you could not afford to have your dresses and coats made for you, or make them yourself, second-hand clothing was all you could find. Sometimes, clothes had been passed through a long line of used clothing sellers and pawnbrokers. “The rag trade” was a literal description of the end of the line. The very poor wore rags. It was a “perk” of body servants in upper class houses to be given their masters’ and mistresses’ old and damaged clothing — sometimes after removing the re-usable trims and lace. The servants could not wear luxurious clothing themselves — at least, not where their employers could catch them in it — so it was sold. And sold, worn, pawned, sold, worn, and sold again. I recommend Diana de Marly’s book, Working Dress for an overview of what was and was not available ready-made before the late 1800’s. Ewing’s book discusses the earliest mass-produced items for women.

Clearly, the lack of ready-to-wear clothing at affordable prices used to have something to do with the persistence of fashion. However, there is a psychological element, as well.

As an older woman myself, I have lots of ten-year-old clothing in my closet. I haven’t reached the alarming proportions of my [Edited from “once beautiful” on 9/5/16] once fashionable great-grandmother, on the right, below:

Three generations, probably about 1910.

Three generations, probably about 1910. The woman on the right has clearly lost all interest in current fashion — and in corsets.

… but I have always worn classic,  straight-legged slacks. Sadly, I have them in sizes 12 through 16…. As I get closer to a healthy BMI, some barely-worn size twelves will return to the front of the closet. I’ll wear them, even if they were bought several years ago. [

Old Body, New Ideas

I’m retired. I don’t have to dress to impress anybody, because I no longer have a job telling other people how to dress. I no longer need to read WWD or fashion magazines, because I no longer design modern dress plays. I used to “shop” for a living (for clothing and fabrics,) so I don’t think of shopping as entertainment. Long ago, I met — and married — “Mr. Right,” so the fantasy of finding the perfect dress — “the one that will make me beautiful” — is over.

When I need something specific, like a new raincoat with a zip-out wool lining, I go to Nordstrom, just as I did when I was working. When I needed a dressy pair of water-and-snow-proof boots for a January vacation in New York City, I paid full price willingly — for the most expensive pair of shoes I have ever bought. (The vacation included reservations at a lot of good restaurants, plus an opera, plays, etc.) But in general I’m now much more likely to shop at Ross than at a major department store. When you prefer simple, classic styles in neutral colors, “last season” and “this season” aren’t very relevant. (And budget is a consideration — I am always saving up for a trip to Europe.)

Like the older women in these photos, I reject some new styles on sight. I’m not going to be buying any leggings or jeggings or any other tight-at-the ankle trousers, because I know from experience that, in them, I look really broad in the beam. I’ve been shopping for myself for 60 years; I know what to avoid by now. I already know what colors I should never wear (like yellow,) and which styles are most flattering to my narrow shoulders and wide hips. Plus, I am trying to get rid of “things,” not acquire them.

Buy Less, but Buy Better.

I admire people who try to limit their purchases of new clothing for ethical reasons. The excellent documentary The True Cost is a real eye-opener. In fact, it has me shopping for organic cottons — and it convinced me they are worth the price. Here’s a good idea: “Buy less, but buy better –” Better quality, and better for the world.

I realize I may end up as an example of the persistence of fashion, because I don’t own any up-to-the-minute fashions. But Fashion doesn’t own me.

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

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

Sunbonnets are a very old head covering, although the one on the left uses early 20th century fabric.

Sunbonnets are a very old form of head covering. And they protect the back of your neck. The Met has a corded sunbonnet slightly similar to the tan one — dated 1840.

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The Letty Lynton Dress, Adrian, and Joan Crawford’s Shoulders: Part 2

Part 1 of The Letty Lynton Dress, Adrian, and Joan Crawford’s Shoulders discussed one of the first movies Adrian designed for Joan Crawford:  Letty Lynton (1932,) and its fashion influence. Here’s the Letty Lynton dress again:

Joan Crawfrod in "the Letty Lynton dress" designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

Joan Crawford in “the Letty Lynton dress” designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

The legend is that, because Joan Crawford had very broad shoulders, costume designer Gilbert Adrian decided to exaggerate them, instead of trying to distract us with styling tricks, and incidentally started the fashion for padded shoulders on women. And it is true that broad, padded shoulders for women came into fashion in the 1930’s and lasted through the World War II years.

Butterick Fashion Flyer, April 1938. Broad, padded, shoulders on women.

Butterick Fashion Flyer, April 1938. Broad, padded shoulders for women — and impossible hips.

Butterick Fashion News, Sept. 1943. Broad, padded shoulders for women.

Butterick Fashion News, Sept. 1943. Broad, padded shoulders for women.

I’ve always been a little skeptical that Joan’s broad shoulders were ever a problem. This photo shows her in another evening dress from Letty Lynton.

Joan Crawford in another dress from Letty Lynton. Adrian often made bare- shoulder dresses for her.

Joan Crawford in another dress from Letty Lynton. Adrian often made bare-shouldered dresses for her. From Creating the Illusion.

You wouldn’t say she looks unattractive, or unfeminine…. In fact, she often wore costumes that bared her shoulders, like this one. from 1934.

Here she is in the 1920’s:

Joan Crawford in the 1920's. From Pinterest.

Joan Crawford in the 1920’s. From Pinterest.

Crawford had been making movies since the 1920’s, and the truth is, if you want your hips to look smaller, it’s a good idea to make your shoulders look wider. (Or stand sideways….) A woman’s hips are not — in nature — inches narrower than her shoulders, although that is the way women were drawn in fashion illustrations from the twenties and thirties.

Fashion illustration, July 1928. Delineator. Nobod has hips that narrow.

Fashion illustrations, July 1928. Delineator. Women don’t have hips that narrow.

Most women’s hips are as wide as, or wider than, their shoulders. Even Norma Shearer, “the Queen of MGM,” didn’t look fabulous photographed straight on in this twenties’ outfit.

Butterick fashion illustrations, Jan 1934. Delineator.

Butterick fashion illustrations, Jan 1934. Delineator. Even wearing a really tight girdle will not make normal, childbearing hips that small.

The ruffled shoulders of the famous “Letty Lynton” dress are twice as wide as her hips. In this film clip, as Crawford is seen from the back, standing against a ship’s railing, her waist and hips look very narrow — like a fashion illustration.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves were also used to enhance the illusion of a tiny waist in the 1830’s and the 1890’s.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves create the illusion of a tiny waist, in 1832 and in 1895. Left Casey Collection; right, Metropolitan Museum.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves create the illusion of a tiny waist, in 1832 and in 1895. Left Casey Collection; right, Metropolitan Museum.

The same “trick” reappeared in the 1980’s, to make waists and hips look smaller. Click here.

McCall's bridal pattern 9452 (1985) and Vogue 9816 (1987). Full sleeves, wide shoulders.

McCall’s bridal pattern 9452 (1985) and Vogue 9816 (1987). Full sleeves, wide shoulders.

I do believe another story that Adrian told — as quoted in Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers, by Jay Jorgensen and Donald L. Scoggins. They mention that Adrian designed the costumes for Joan Crawford in more than thirty-two movies, “…and in the process, created the padded-shoulder silhouette that defined the 1940s.”

“Crawford insisted on a free range of movement in her clothing. During fittings, she would rotate her shoulders with arms outstretched to ensure the fabric in her costumes could move with her. When Adrian was not designing in jersey or a fabric that stretched, he would let the clothes out across the back. He heavily padded Crawford’s shoulders to take up the slack in the fabric….” He said, “She is constantly in motion. When she is in the fitting room, she is always walking around, swinging her arms above her head to be sure she has freedom.” — Adrian, quoted in Creating the Illusion.

I’m certainly not in Adrian’s league, but I remember fitting an 1840’s bodice on an opera singer who kept crossing her arms in front of her body as far as possible, hunching her back, and popping the back of the muslin open.

“It fits all right, but I can’t do that!” she complained.

“Do you need to do that on stage?” I asked.

“Uh, no….” Luckily for me, she was a lot more reasonable than Joan Crawford.

Joan Crawford’s broad shoulders were probably an asset when she was wearing 1920’s styles.

Joan Crawford in the 1920's. From Pinterest.

Joan Crawford in the 1920’s. From Pinterest. If you want to look thin in a twenties’ dress, stand sideways.

Joan Crawford first rose to stardom playing a series of flappers in Our Dancing Daughters; Paris; Sally, Irene and Mary; The Taxi Dancer;  The Duke Steps Out, and Our Modern Maidens. This video shows scenes from Our Dancing Daughters. (Also Pre-Code! note the panties, and her break-away skirt.) In 1932 she starred in Letty Lynton and in Rain (as Sadie Thompson , a prostitute with few illusions,) and appeared in Grand Hotel.

I admire her most in Grand Hotel . She plays a sympathetic role as a stenographer/part time prostitute trying to survive during the Depression. In this clip, she makes her situation clear to John Barrymore.

Crawford wore a “show biz” version of the Letty Lynton dress when she danced with Fred Astaire in Dancing Lady (1933). Here she is in another  1933 version of the Letty Lynton dress.

In this Hurrell photo, from 1934, you can see the padded shoulders on her evening gown. In 1937, her jacket is definitely padded like a man’s. The effect is even broader when done in fur: click here. Finally, here she is with Adrian, in 1939, and in Humoresque, 1946.

Most of these links are to a wonderful site: the photo gallery at joancrawfordbest.com. It’s well worth a visit, because Joan Crawford’s costumes were very influential in the mass market, and because — no matter what the style was,  she could really wear a hat!

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CLOSED My January Celebration and Giveaway CLOSED

RESOLUTION: Husband: "Joan's just rung up -- wants us to dine there on Thursday." Wife: "Tell her I'm not eating anything this year."

RESOLUTION (from January, 1931): Husband: “Joan’s just rung up — wants us to dine there on Thursday.”
Wife: “Tell her I’m not eating anything this year.”

I’m celebrating two years as witness2fashion, and reaching over 200 subscribers. Thank you all for comments, expertise, and encouragement, and for sharing my peculiar obsession with what people wore!

I happen to have found an extra copy of one of my favorite books: The Way to Wear’em: 150 Years of Punch on Fashion, which is Christina Walkley’s wonderful history of 19th and 20th century costume as shown in English cartoons.

Title page of The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

Title page of The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

I keep recommending this book, not just because the cartoons are enjoyable, but because Walkley’s explanations and her many quotations from period sources are really informative.

A sample of text from Walkley's The Way to Wear'em. She gives background for the cartoons by drawing on many sources.

A sample of text from Walkley’s The Way to Wear’em. She gives background for the cartoons by drawing on many sources.

Every cartoon is dated, with month and year. Walkley includes exerpts from diaries and memoirs, and background information to explain the cartoons, when necessary.

Scholarship plus jokes! What could be better? (If only I didn’t need a magnifying glass to read some of the cartoon captions….)

Chapters include:
“Domestic Bliss,” which takes a humorous look at “the servant problem” and social class:

From the chapter on Domestic Bliss. The mistress does not want the maid wearing hoops while cleaning, since they lead to breakage. The maid says she would be ashamed to let the chimney sweep see her without them.

From the chapter on Domestic Bliss. The mistress does not want the maid wearing hoops while cleaning, since they lead to breakage. The maid says she would be ashamed to let the chimney sweep see her without them.

“The Venus of Milo,” chapter is about changing ideas of the “perfect figure.”
“Poetry in Motion,” has examples of highly impractical fashions (men’s wear included:)

Men's fashions in 1925: the trousers called "Oxford bags."

Men’s fashions in 1925: the super-wide trousers called “Oxford bags.”

“New Bits to Show,” is about changing erogenous zones:

1934: Mummy.... However do you manage to think of new bits to show?"

1934: Mummy…. However do you manage to think of new bits to show?”

“The Way to Wear’Em” chapter is about the reaction to women wearing traditionally male clothing; the book’s title comes from this 1899 cartoon:

Fair Cyclist: "Is this the way to Wareham, please?" Native: "Yes miss, yew seem to me to ha' got 'em on all right."

Fair Cyclist: “Is this the way to Wareham, please?” Native: “Yes miss, yew seem to me to ha’ got ’em on all right.”

“Trinity or Girton?” expands on perceptions of “masculine” and “feminine” clothing. These young ladies have adopted the Ulster coat, and are “mistaken” for men (1877); exchanging the large shawls of the 1860’s for a practical coat that keeps them warm and dry was seen as unwomanly.

In a cathedral,1877: "Don't you think those youths had better be told to take their hats off?"

In a cathedral, 1877: “Don’t you think those youths had better be told to take their hats off?”

“Seaside Costumes” [Speaking of the earliest two-piece bathing suits, this cartoon is from 1934:]

1934: "I'm sure your mother would be shocked if she saw you in that bathing costume." "I'm sure she would -- it's hers."

1934: “I’m sure your mother would be shocked if she saw you in that bathing costume.”
“I’m sure she would — it’s hers.”

“Protest Clothes” covers unconventional fashions into the late 20th century. These two extremes are from 1878:

"Aesthetic Young Geniuses" and "Gorgeous Young Swells" in 1878.

“Aesthetic Young Geniuses” and “Gorgeous Young Swells” in 1878.

Giveaway rules:  CLOSED If you would like a chance to own this book — a used but otherwise good copy — please add a comment to this post, including the words “Fashion Cartoons.” One entry per person, please.
I’ll pick a name from a hat and contact the winner. Contest closed at 9 p.m. PST, Friday, January 8th, 2016.

Happy New Year to all! (And yes, I do identify with the lady at the top of this post!)

NOTE:  Please do not copy any of these images; I have used them only to show why every clothing historian ought to have a copy of The Way to Wear’Em, by Christina Walkley.

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Museum Online: The Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg

Found via Two Nerdy History Girls:  The Online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg.

18th c. dress in the Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy.

18th c. dress #1975-340 in the Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy.

Williamsburg, Virginia, may be strongly associated with the American colonial era, but the museum has clothing from the 1600’s through the Victorian Era. Now, a sizeable portion of its collections has been photographed and put online.

The Online Collection gives us a chance to sample the Museum’s holdings without buying a plane ticket. The online collection is searchable: Click here:  http://emuseum.history.org/  You’ll find clothing and accessories, including shoes, fans, and children’s clothes; paintings, ceramics, silver and pewter; there are also quilts, furniture, “household necessaries,” etc.  — quite a treasure trove.

The online Costume Collection contains photos of 385 items — with excellent enlargements and alternate views in the Costume Collection, and the Costume Accessories Collection online shows 444 items: hats, shoes, gloves, buttons…. When you visit the site, you can enlarge the images to see details more clearly.

This man’s three piece suit from the colonial period has a vest with attached linen sleeves:

Man's suit, 18th c. from the Costume collection at Colonial Williamsburg, online. Please do not copy.

Man’s suit, 18th c. from the online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Search for # 1994-1862. Please do not copy. The breeches lace up the back, so their size is adjustable.

This child’s plaid Victorian dress can be seen more closely; search for # 1997-158.

Child's plaid Victorian dress, #1997-158 at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

Child’s plaid Victorian dress, #1997-158 at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

The Museum also has stays (a corset) for a child, circa 1740-1760. Search for #1964-405.

This roller printed dress is from the 1830’s:

Roller printed dress circa 1830s. Online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

Roller printed dress circa 1830s. # 1972-126. Online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

And this 1880’s bustle dress is # 1998-240.

1880's bustle dress, #1998-240, Colonial Williamsburg Costume Collection online. Please do not copy this image

1880’s bustle dress, #1998-240, Colonial Williamsburg Costume Collection online. Please do not copy this image

To see the collection, or any of these items in more detail, go to Costume Collection and search by the number.

Don’t forget to visit the Costume Accessories, like this pair of embroidered gloves dated 1630-1650.

Mid 17th c. gloves, # 1974-1101, in the Costume Accessories Collection at Colonial Williamsburg, online. Please do not copy this image.

Mid-17th c. gloves, # 1974-1101, in the Costume Accessories Collection at Colonial Williamsburg, online. Please do not copy this image.

 

 

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