Category Archives: 1860s -1870s fashions

Curling Iron Memories

A curling iron like this one was not heated with electricity. Illustration from Delineator, February 1934.

A curled hair style with ringlets over the ears, from 1838. From La Mode, in the Casey Collection.

Novelist and fashion historian Mimi Mathews has written another wonderful post about Victorian women’s hairstyles and beauty products. Click here for her latest, and then follow the links at the bottom of that post for the answer to many other “how did they do that?” questions about beauty and hair styling products from the 1800s.

In 1920, Silmerine hair curling liquid, applied with a toothbrush, was used to set curls in women’s hair.

Ad for Liquid Silmerine hair setting lotion, 1920. It could probably be used to set hair in rag curls.**  The chemicals it contained varied, but some would have been cousins to the Victorian hair preparations Mimi Matthews researched.

The Silmerine ad says that “You’ll never again use the hair destroying heated iron.”

I have personal knowledge of the heated curling irons — sometimes called curling tongs — like the ones below, because my mother used them on me almost daily until I was about eight years old.

An old fashioned curling iron (in three sizes) from  An Illustrated History of Hairstyles, by Marian I. Doyle.

Ad for the Lorain gas stove, 1926. The stove we had in the 1940s was similar.

This kind of curling iron didn’t plug into an electric outlet; my mother turned up the flames on one burner of the gas stove in our kitchen and stuck the metal part of the tongs into the fire for a while.  (Our curling iron had wooden handles.)  I was sent to the bathroom to bring her several sheets of toilet paper. I sat on a stool in the middle of the kitchen. If the curling iron curled the paper, but did not burn it, it was ready for my hair. (Our toilet paper was not soft and quilted.)

I hated the ordeal of the curling iron, and I hated having to wear a bow in my hair to school every day, too. This picture is probably 1952 or 1953 — and these curls were not in style!

Girls in the combined 2nd & 3rd grade class, Redwood City, CA, 1952-53. Only one (me) with long sausage curls. My best friend, Arleen, wasn’t fussed over; her Mom had 5 daughters to get off to school.

Once I started school and discovered that other girls — like my friend Arleen — did not have long ringlets, this daily ordeal became an ongoing battle. I hated it. But my mother’s idea of how her perfect child should look was unshakeable. We fought, I cried, I begged, but I was only allowed to leave for school once — that I remember — without being curled with that hated hot iron. (I remember skipping with joy, and then feeling the ringlets bounce into their usual shape before I had gone half a block.)

My mother frequently told me, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”  I doubt that the saying originally referred to curling irons.

[I should make it clear that I wasn’t especially afraid of getting burned, although my squirming must have made it more likely. Getting snarls combed out of my hair was worse, as my mother got increasingly exasperated with me. It was the whole, time-consuming, pointless (to me) process that I hated.  At least I often got out of the house with just a brushing and a barette on the weekends.]

Once, I was allowed to stay overnight with my Uncle Mel and his beautiful wife, Irene. Aunt Irene had naturally bright red hair that fell in waves to below her waist. She coiled her thick braids on top of her head for the office, but one night Uncle Mel brought me to her house just after she had washed her hair. She was sitting on the sofa in a pale blue satin robe, brushing her red hair as it dried. It was so long she could sit on it. She told me about having her hair set with rags when she was a girl my age, and that night she offered to give me rag curl.** In the morning, when she brushed my hair, I was amazed and happy to have curls without any pain! I told my mother about this wonderful way we could stop using the curling iron. She wasn’t impressed — and I was never allowed to stay overnight with Aunt Irene again.

My mother as a teenager, with her own Mary Pickford curls.

Maybe Mary Pickford was to blame for our battles about the curling iron.  And Shirley Temple.

I was an only child, born after twelve years of marriage to parents who were forty years old. My mother had had a long time to dream about the child she hoped for. I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to her that her child, and especially her daughter, would not be exactly like her — a perfectible extension of herself. She was always surprised — and saddened or angered — by every sign that I was my father’s daughter, too. I remember her disappointment when she discovered that my skin, even where the sun never touched it, was not as milky white as hers, but halfway between the whiteness of hers and the cream-white of his.  And the lunch when she suddenly exclaimed, “Dammit, Charles! She’s got your mouth!” (instead of her shapely one.)  My mother was so worried that I would take after his family and be taller than the boys in my class, that she lied about my age and enrolled me in first grade instead of kindergarten. I heard her tell a friend that she had decided to do it after driving past a school and seeing my older cousin in the playground with other children: “She looked like a G**-dammed giraffe!”  So instead of being the youngest child in kindergarten, I was (secretly) the youngest child in first grade and in every grade until high school.  It was lucky that reading came easily to me, and I had plenty of experience in being quiet and obedient, so my first teachers never realized that I was so young in other ways.

My mother had been pretty and popular; she loved to dance; so she never noticed that I was bookish and uncoordinated. I certainly never asked to be entered in a Beautiful Baby contest!

“Crowned Supreme Royal Princess Better Baby Show, Dec. 7, 1947.” I hope I didn’t wear the cape and tinsel crown to the contest! (She was sure I’d win.)

I came in second, but she made this outfit and put this picture on her Christmas cards. (The trophy said that I was “99 1/2 % perfect….)

She was certainly proud of me — or, proud of herself for having me. Relatives have told me that she treated me like a doll. She kept me dressed in frilly dresses that she washed and ironed and starched, and changed twice a day. (I got my first pair of jeans when I stayed with her mother, because Uncle Mel said Grandma was too old to cook and clean and look after a child AND do all that extra laundry.) I was completely happy at Grandma’s house. And Grandma didn’t try to turn me into Shirley Temple or Mary Pickford.

Mary Pickford shows her famous long curls in this ad for Pompeiian face cream. Delineator, November 1917.

In the 1920s, movie star Mary Pickford played little girls with long curls well into her thirties. Here she is in “Little Annie Rooney” in 1925. Pickford was born in 1892, and was only five feet tall. (She was also a formidable movie producer.) It was big news when she finally bobbed her hair in 1928, partly because she wanted to play an adult role for a change.

She would have been a megastar when my mother was a teenager.  (Pickford made 51 silent movies in 1910 alone!) These pictures of hairstyles for girls from 1917 show the kind of ringlets Pickford wore, probably achieved with a curling iron. Did my mother always dream of having a child who looked like these girls?

Hair styles for girls, Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917.

Hair in ringlets; Ladies Home Journal, November 1917.

Girl with ringlets, Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917.

The disadvantage of curling irons was that you couldn’t curl the hair closest to your scalp — the hot iron would burn you.

My 1920s’ curling iron ringlets, done in the late 1940s.

Ringlets from 1924. Delineator, May 1924.

The Pickford influence can be seen in these fashion illustrations from 1924, when my mother was twenty.

Fashion illustrations of girls, Delineator, February 1924.

Perhaps my mother formed her idea of the perfect little girl back then, although she was forty when she finally had a baby. That’s a long time, but she still had her curling iron and knew how to use it….

My curling iron curls, late 1940s.

By 1933, when my parents were married, there was a new super-star named Shirley Temple, age 5. Shirley was famous for her curls, although hers were shorter than Mary Pickford’s.

Shirley Temple in Rags to Riches, 1933. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Shirley Temple could sing. I could sing.   Shirley Temple could tap dance. I suffered through lessons in “Tap, Ballet, and Acrobatics.” Shirley Temple had a full head of curls. Click here for a picture of Shirley Temple in Curly Top (1935.) And I was given a permanent wave as soon as the beautician said I was old enough ….

These curls were the result of a permanent wave, although they needed to be kept in shape with a curling iron.

What I remember about this trip to the beauty parlor was how incredibly heavy the rollers were.

This is what getting a permanent looked like in 1932. The process was similar when I was a child in the late 1940s.

This Nestle home permanent machine had only one curling device. It took “a few” hours!

But the professional Nestle machine could curl a whole head in an hour … or three….

Professional Nestle permanent waving machine, from  An Illustrated History of Hairstyles, by Marian I. Doyle.

I was fortunate that the home permanent arrived around 1950. The smell was so terrible that my mother once took me to the Saturday matinee show at the movies just to get that smell out of the house! Ah, Peter Pan in 1953! My one happy memory associated with those hated curls.

There were other, much more serious problems poisoning our relationship,  but I sometimes wonder: if my mother had known that she would die when I was nine, would we still have spent morning after morning after morning fighting about my hair?

[Sorry to write such a personal post, but I mention this as something for other mothers to think about….]

** Putting your hair up in rags required some strips of clean cloth four or five inches long. You wrapped your moistened hair around a finger, slid the finger out, put the rag strip through the center of the coil, and tied it. No hairpins were needed. And you didn’t have to sleep on wire rollers, as we did in the 1960s. Sleeping on rollers should have proved that suffering doesn’t guarantee beauty!)

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Learning from Browsing at CoPA

One of 64,000 pattern images you can find online at the Commercial Pattern Archive.

I know I recommend the online Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island too often, but it just keeps revealing new reasons to visit. (Online Inventory last time I checked: 64,681 sewing patterns; mostly 1840s through 1970s.)
I can’t link to CoPA images anymore, because users now need to create a login, but you just create a user ID name and a password, and log in to use a totally free website! I never get email from them.

Two Butterick patterns from February, 1922. Delineator.

I’ve been sorting through my Delineator photos from 1922, and happened to log in to CoPA to check construction details — not really expecting to find much. However, I found a surprisingly large number of Butterick patterns from 1922 archived — and that means images of both back and front of the pattern envelope. You can see the shape of the pattern pieces!

“Armistice” blouse 1922 pattern The Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) has put over 60,000 vintage patterns online.

If you are trying to replicate a vintage pattern, whether you use drafting or draping, seeing the shape of the original pieces is very helpful.  And if, like me, you have no intention of re-creating the pattern, (that used to be part of my job) you can still learn a lot about vintage clothing construction.

NOTE: The images from CoPA that I show here do not reflect the quality of CoPA images online.  Because I couldn’t download them directly, I printed them, scanned them, and put them into a “500 dpi on the longest side” format. Unfortunately, I scanned the prints at the “black & white” resolution instead of at the “photograph” resolution. Image quality was lost on my scanner, not CoPA’s.

This bad image is not what Butterick 4025 looks like at the CoPA site. (https://copa.apps.uri.edu/index.php)

Elastic in 1920’s garments

There was a time when I was suspicious of any so-called vintage 1920s’ garments that depended on elastic. That was just my ignorance, based on “book learning” and classroom generalizations. Once I started really paying attention to vintage pattern magazines and pattern envelopes, my mind opened a bit!

All of these 1922 patterns include casing for elastic at the (usually lowered) waist.

Tunic Blouse 3462

Butterick tunic blouse 3462 from Delineator, January 1922.

If you sew, you know that there is a lot of information on the pattern envelope that you won’t find in the pattern’s catalog description.

CoPA shows images from the front and back of the pattern envelope whenever possible. The version at top right shows the tunic with “cascades” at the sides.

Pattern 3462 included a variation with “cascade” panels on each side, and the information that the waist could have elastic.

I’m surprised that there is no elastic casing pattern included, but it was mentioned in Delineator magazine’s pattern description (January 1922, p. 26.)

Dress 3460

Butterick 3460, Delineator, January 1922, keeps its shape with elastic at the slightly dropped waist. (Left, a Spanish comb in her hair.)

The front of the pattern envelope, from the Commercial Pattern Archive.

“Ladies’ and Misses’ One-Piece Dress, “Closed at the Back, with or without Elastic in Casing at Low Waistline or Blouse Body Lining.”

The pattern pieces for Butterick 3460, from CoPA.

This detail shows an inside belt and length of elastic. It also reminds us that the 1920s’ blouson effect was sometimes achieved with an optional inner bodice lining. (With bust dart!)

Pattern description from Delineator, January 1922.

This simple dress was also illustrated with a matching cape:

Butterick dress 3460 with matching cape, Butterick 3589. Delineator, March 1922.

Coat 3594:  This coat, which I find bulky but oddly appealing, could be controlled with elastic at the waist:

Butterick coat 3594 is gigantic, but beautifully trimmed…. Delineator, March 1922.

Butterick coat 3594 in Delineator magazine illustrations.

The front of the pattern envelope. In the online CoPA archive, the image is much clearer (and they have several copies of this pattern!)

Pattern pieces from the envelope. CoPA will tell you how to print a larger image (See CoPA Help)

Rubber elastic tends to degrade faster than the other components of the garment, so the elastic itself may not be present in a vintage dress (or underwear.) But these patterns confirm its use.

I was surprised to see this “Armistice” blouse [Not what they were originally called] issued in 1922. It can have elastic in a casing at the waist:

The “Armistice blouse” was still available as a pattern in the 1920s. The center panel is the “vestee.”

Pattern pieces for Butterick 3672 from CoPA.

Searching CoPA for a specific pattern: “Search by Pattern Number”

After you create a log-in at CoPA, you can search for any pattern by number (e.g., type in “3672” and select “Butterick” from the pattern company pull-down list. Chose “Any” collection. Results will show you images and links to further information — including the date for every pattern they have!   Say you own Vogue 1556, by Yves St. Laurent? CoPA’s archive number will tell you it was issued in 1966. (If you have an approximate date, you can also date patterns which are not in the archive by finding where they would be in the company’s number sequence and checking their resemblance to other styles and envelopes from the same year….)

Browsing through a year or group of years: use “Complete Search”

Or you can click on “Complete Search” and search by year (or a period of several years, e.g. 1920 through 1926 — just hold down the shift key while selecting.) You can limit your search in many ways (e.g., “male” + “adult;” or  “1945” + “hat” +”McCall;” or “1877 + “Any”….)

One of hundreds of McCall patterns from the 1920s you can find at the Commercial Pattern Archive. McCall 5315 from 1928.

Trying CoPA: If you love a specific decade, start with one year (e.g., “1928” + “McCall”  + Collection: “Any”) By the mid-1920s, McCall pattern envelopes had beautiful, full color illustrations. New to CoPA? Start with McCall in the 1920s, or try McCall in 1958! Less well-known pattern companies are also well-represented. Scroll though the “Pattern Company” pull-down for Hollywood, Advance, La Moda, Pictorial Review, DuBarry, & dozens more.

TIP: Be sure you set the final category (Collection) to “Any” if you want to search the complete archive. Otherwise, you’ll miss some good stuff! Also, search more than one way. “Medical uniform” (Category: Garment) got 20 results; “Nurse uniform” (Category: Keyword) got 38. It’s not a complaint; just what happens when many people try to describe things for a spreadsheet.

Next: Pattern pieces for side drapes (“cascades”.)

The dress at right has a cascade at each side.

 

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Arctic Down Quilted Victorian Petticoat by Booth & Fox

A quilted, down-filled petticoat made by Booth & Fox, English, late Victorian era.

For those who wonder how Victorians survived the winter in badly heated houses (or snowy streets,) this down-filled petticoat is one answer.
I don’t know how this red, Victorian, quilted down petticoat from England found its way to California.  This week I found the pictures I took of it many years ago, before it was sold, and discovered that its older sister is in the Costume Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum!

Booth & Fox quilted petticoat, image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This one is circa 186o.

I only photographed the one in California for inventory purposes, but even a low resolution picture is better than none.

The “California” petticoat has a shape that is less like a crinoline, with the rows of down starting lower, and a flat yoke and down-free area in front.

Note how the rows of quilting taper in at the sides.

Deduction: This petticoat is later than the one in the V&A Museum, since skirt fullness began moving toward the back in the late 1860s.

1868 fashion plate from the Tessa collection at Los Angeles Public Library.

The Cut site has a good view of the back of the petticoat in the V & A. Click here.

There are two of these petticoats in the John Bright Collection, also located in the U.K. Click the site’s + sign for Additional Images.

The label (see Additional Images) in the John Bright Collection is also located center front, and is easier to read than the one I photographed.

Booth & Fox’s Down Skirt label from a petticoat in the John Bright Collection. The company won medals in London, 1862, and Dublin, 1865. This petticoat apparently cost 14 shillings and sixpence.

The label for the “California” petticoat, enhanced for legibility. It has a patent number. Is it possible that it cost 2 pounds, 4 shillings and…  I don’t recognize the number that looks like a “t” ….

The labels say the filling on the petticoats is “warranted pure Arctic down.” Red underwear doesn’t really keep you warmer, although several collections have quilted Victorian petticoats in various shades and patterns of red calico. My search for “Booth & Fox” led to a Scottish museum site about red calico, like the fabrics used in these down-filled skirts.

In Yorkshire, The Quilt Museum has one. Click here.

I wonder if the person who bought the “California” collection knows that one of the earlier Arctic Down Skirts made by Booth & Fox sold at auction in 2009?

The hem on the one I photographed had been repaired in back. You can see that the lining was a solid red, rather than printed calico, and a tiny feather was peeking out.

The hem had been mended in back, where it was most likely to drag on the ground.

It would certainly keep you toasty-warm from knees to hem.

Post Script: I received several emails from Patrick Murphy that shed new light on the Both and Fox company. He wrote:

“I came across your item on the Booth and Fox Petticoat when I was looking for some other information on Booth and Fox. As I know nothing about fashion and felt the item is probably now defunct I did not post a response. However, I thought you might be interested to know that the petticoat in question probably did not come from England but, surprisingly, from Ireland! I have attached a (poor quality) article from 1892 which confirms that Booth and Fox was founded and based in Cork City, Ireland (which, of course, at that time was part of the United Kingdom). You can see that it specifically refers to the manufacture of ladies down underskirts. As the article shows, the company did have extensive “branch establishments” in England but manufacturing was done in Cork.

I suspect that the other sites you reference may also be unaware of the true provenance of their garments.

I have some interest in Booth and Fox as Adam Fox (who was married to Mary Booth! – and, admittedly, was English) lived in the house next to mine in Cork City in 1842!”

In a later mail, he sent a PDF of the original article, which appears to be from a Merchant Directory for the city of Cork. Click here for the link. Thank you, Mr.Murphy!

 

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Binge-Watching The Pallisers: A Guilty Pleasure

From a late episode of The Pallisers, a 26 part TV series available on DVD. Picture copyright of BBC via the International Movie Database.

A Guilty Pleasure ….because I couldn’t watch just one!

I took a hard fall in September and wasn’t able to sit at a desk for several weeks. Fortunately, I had purchased the first six episodes of the 1974 BBC series The Pallisers and finally got around to watching them when I was spending my days in the recliner. After the first six, I definitely wanted more!

Thank heaven I eventually found the entire series on YouTube — all 26 glorious episodes.

If you want better picture quality, the 40th Anniversary reissued edition won’t fit in your Christmas stocking, but ask Santa, anyway. (Under $50 for over 20 hours of entertainment.)

It may take you a few episodes to get addicted to the plot; meanwhile the excellent costumes will keep you intrigued — although I was hooked by an early episode in which two horrible old Victorian ladies explain that, after her forced marriage produces an heir to the dukedom, a married woman is permitted to follow her own inclinations….

The novels on which the series is based cover several decades of fictionalized English history.  Anthony Trollope, who published them between 1864 and 1879, was as cynical about the workings of Parliament as he was about romance.

The costumes, therefore, progress from crinolines to bustles, and (surprisingly) through several pregnancies. Yes, the ladies have zippers down their backs — They are wearing costumes, and costumes are made to be re-used as rentals. But they are lavish and character oriented, as well as befitting a duchess and her circle of acquaintances. (And Susan Hampshire has always worn period costumes  — any period! — with complete naturalness.)  Raymond Hughes is the only costume designer credited. It was a massive undertaking.

Cover of the re-issued DVD series — 26 glorious episodes. Image copyright BBC and Acorn via Amazon.

Will passionate, romantic Cora give up the man she loves to marry the stiff, unemotional heir to a Dukedom, as their families have arranged? If so, will she be faithful? Will her husband survive a career in politics and marriage to Cora with his (and her) honor intact?

Can the son of an Irish country doctor afford to be a Member of Parliament — and how many women will be sacrificed to his ambition? (Money and Politics — still a timely topic! Ditto, Love and Loyalty.)

Will a slimy newspaper editor with political ambitions ruin men and women while paving his own way to power? (Long before the internet!)

Will the next set of costumes be even more lavish than the last?

I started watching for the costumes, and ended up unable to ration myself just one episode per day. (“I’ve been sitting her for three hours? even though I haven’t had dinner? How could I?”

But I regard those 20 hours in the recliner as time well spent. One quibble: not all the actresses were corseted properly. Nevertheless…. I loved it.

(P.S. I am walking normally now.)

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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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Great Aunt Cora: From Victorian to 1930s

EDITED 4/14/2018: Well, this is awkward…. Weeks after writing this post, based on photos identified by my late Aunt Dot, I finally located information about when my Great Aunt Cora and her sister Laura died. Cora, Mrs. McGarvey, died on December 31, 1924. Laura, the city librarian, died in an automobile collision in 1936. That means that the woman in glasses in this photo, whom I identified as Cora, is actually Laura.

Cora [Laura], an unknown man, and Alice, in the 1930s.

So it was Laura who wore short skirts in the 1920s, and horn-rimmed glasses, and worked outside the home for most of her life. Cora was not the merry — or at least, cheerful — widow that I thought she was. It was Laura who took road trips and adapted to changing fashions as shown in these photos.

This is definitely Cora, because she wrote the inscription on the back of the photo herself — “To Sister, From Aunt Cora.”

Cora as a young woman; there is a pretty comb or hair decoration in her bun. Her strong profile is one way I can distinguish her from her sister Laura, but it’s not always easy. [EDIT 4/17/18: No kidding! I often got it wrong — and so did my aunt, who still knew them when she was an adult.]

EDIT 4/17/18: Beyond this point — beware of unreliable identifications and deductions regarding Cora!

Left, my Great Aunt Alice; right, her older sister, Cora. Early 1900s. The unexpected bow in Cora’s hair may be an early indication of her un-stodgy fashion sense.

As I try to sort family photos, I am also trying to sort out their stories. At dinner last night, my husband gave me a strange look and said, “It’s hard to realize that you knew people born in 1875.” Well, I only knew them insofar as a child can know an adult, but I have vivid memories of my Aunt Alice in her seventies, still witty and clever. I wish I had known her older sisters, Cora and Laura.

Cora was the eldest, born in 1867.

Cora Barton as a child. She was born in California in 1867, the eldest child of five. [EDIT 4/17/18: this may not be Cora, in spite of what my aunt Dot wrote on the back of the photo. It was more common to photograph the firstborn child, especially if it was a boy: Cora’s brother Charles was born in 1862, when very young boys were sometimes dressed like this.]

When you think of the rapid change of Euro-American fashions in the 20th century (and before) it is extraordinary how often women had to adapt to new ideas — in clothing, and in concepts of modesty and propriety. [EDIT 4/17/18: At least this — the point of sharing all these photos — is true.]

Cora and Laura came into their teens in the era of outrageous 1880’s bustles. As the daughters of a Methodist Episcopal minister, they didn’t have a big budget, and it must have been important to look “respectable.” Here, they are reclining informally with a friend at a photographer’s studio:

Cora and Laura Barton with their friend Alice Mason. Probably late 1880s. [EDIT: No reason to doubt this photo — although the names of the sisters may not be in order….]

In 1920, she sent this old portrait photo of herself to her niece Dorothy, nicknamed “Sister” or “Sis” because she came along after two brothers. The back says, “To Sister, from Aunt Cora, July 1, 1920,” but the hair style is much earlier.

Cora as a young woman; there is a pretty jeweled comb or hairpin in her bun.

At the time of her marriage, the local newspaper reported that she had “had charge of the city library” for a number of  years. (Did they confuse her with her sister Laura, or did one replace the other as librarian?) [EDIT 4/17/18: Maybe everyone had trouble telling them apart?]

[Probably] Cora — who became Mrs. William McGarvey in 1896 — sitting on a porch hammock; probably early 1900’s.

She is wearing a shirtwaist with a collar that could accommodate a mannish, detachable stiff collar. They often appear on turn-of-the-century American women drawn by Charles Dana Gibson.

And she looks very sad.

Cora Barton McGarvey [EDIT: or this could be Laura….] in a shirtwaist blouse. I don’t have the expertise to date it precisely. This is one of the few pictures in which she looks like the eldest of the three sisters.

EDIT 4/17/18: Anything about Cora from this point on is suspect; she was married to Mr. McGarvey; the 1900 census information is correct; but she is not the woman identified as Cora in these photos.

I can’t say that her marriage was an unhappy one, but, as you will see, widowhood seemed to suit her. In the 1900 census, her two adult sisters were living at the same address as the McGarveys. William McGarvey, accountant, was listed as head of household, Cora as wife, and her sisters Laura and Alice as “servants.” There was one male “servant” or farmworker, and no mention of children. Cora’s husband died in 1918.

In the 1920 census, Cora was a widow, Laura was the city librarian, and Alice was a clerk at the county courthouse. Laura was listed as head of household, and her sisters were listed as her “partners.”

At 54, Cora [no, Laura], top left, looks quite fresh and modern in her checked dress in this photo from 1921. Her youngest sister, Alice, is holding their baby nephew. Do Cora and Laura [No, Cora] (in sweater) have cropped hair? It’s more likely that they have just cut bangs.

From this point on, Cora [Laura] wears glasses — and not “old lady” wire-rimmed glasses — “modern-in-the-twenties” horn rims.

Cora [No, Laura] eating watermelon on a road-trip vacation, 1920s.

Here’s another photo from the same vacation:

My mother, center, flanked by, on the left, her Aunt Alice (born in 1875) and right, her Aunt Cora, (born in 1867)  [EDIT: no, it’s Laura, born in 1869] climbing a hillside on their trip to Catalina Island, 1920’s. They don’t look at all like the stereotyped older women in 1920’s advertising or movies — no long skirts, no dark dresses, no lace collars. (However, their skirts are not as short as their 20-something niece’s.)

A reminder of the drastic changes in fashion they experienced —

Here are Cora [?] and Alice as they looked in their thirties:

The Barton sisters wearing the “pouter pigeon” look of the S-Bend era, probably before 1910.

And here they are in their fifties:

Left, Alice (b. 1875;) center, their sister-in-law, also born in 1875; and right, Cora, born in 1867 [EDIT: It is Laura, born in 1869.] These “late Victorian” women have all adopted short skirts and bobbed hair during the 1920’s.

And they kept right on wearing up-to-date clothing. Here, they have even adopted sleeveless dresses — these women who grew up wearing high collars, long sleeves, and floor length skirts.

Cora, an unidentified man, and Alice, in the 1930’s. [CORRECTION: Laura, probably her brother John, and Alice — the three surviving siblings. John died in 1934.]

They looked like they were having a good time on that vacation with my mother….

Cora [No, Laura], on the left, enjoying watermelon from a roadside stand, 1920’s. Cora/ Laura almost seems to be flirting with the camera. My mother is on the right.

I liked Cora’s playful pose so much that I tried to paint her:

“Watermelon Stop No. 2”

I wish I’d known her.

Cora, a sister-in-law, Laura, and Alice dressed as hoboes; note the little brown jug in Cora’s hand. Probably before 1910. [Edit: Or: Laura, a McGarvey sister-in-law, Cora, and Alice.]

P.S. If the story of fashion for older women interests you, be sure to visit the American Age Fashion blog.

 

 

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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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Mystery Dresses

This vintage dress has been altered and patched. It raises many questions.

The patches on this faded dress hint at a life of hardship. If I had photographed the back, dating it might be possible — but a poor woman might not have had access to current fashions. It’s a mystery to me.

Many collectors are interested in the beauty of vintage dresses. But the woman who collected these dresses saw them as windows into women’s lives. Sadly, neither dress had documentation, so we don’t know anything about the women who made them, wore them, patched them, and tried to make them last a few more months or years. I’m sharing them because such dresses rarely survive to be collected — they end in the rag bag, not a museum. I don’t have the expertise even to date them securely (and how I wish I had had time to take more pictures!) Comments and conjectures about them are very welcome.

A mystery dress circa 1930?

Back of red dotted dress with a puzzling insert at the waist.

Here’s the front again:

Is this a late twenties dress, lengthened as much as possible for the 1930s? Or is it a thirties dress, lengthened and altered for a new wearer?

It is very long, suggesting early 1930s. There’s no fading to mark a previously shorter hem line, but this hem is as skimpy as possible. Was it a hand-me-down from a shorter woman?

A tiny rolled hem.

This dress was home-made, and not by a very accomplished seamstress. Here’s the sheer collar:

The rolled hem on this collar is machine stitched, but quite uneven.

Maintaining even tension around the curve of a soft, sheer material isn’t easy.

Someone who worked on this dress didn’t cut perfectly on grain, so the skirt sags towards its right side. You can see that the vertical pattern of dots on the front of the dress lined up originally. Was there always a waist seam? It doesn’t look like it.

The slightest sag at the waist seam (the dots don’t line up evenly) affects the hang of the skirt. Did this happen originally, or when the wide piece was inserted? Was the front of this dress one piece from shoulder to hem before it was altered?

The pattern of dots isn’t straight because the skirt is off grain at the waist.

There are seams in the back of the dress:

Vertical back seams suggest that the dress always had a waist seam in back — or do they? I’m asking….

Again, this pattern matching is not the work of an experienced dressmaker. On the other hand, I once bought cheap  printed flannel plaid for a nightgown and discovered that it was printed off grain, so it was possible to make perfectly matched seams on one side but not on the other. Maybe it was hard to fold this material for cutting and make the dots line up.

Aside from the question of why this dress has a wide band inserted at the waist, it’s clear that the person doing the alterations had barely enough material for the band — not enough to match the dots and line them up inconspicuously. In fact, the stripes on the dress run vertically and those on the band run horizontally. It’s made from scraps.

Scraps were also needed for alterations to the armholes. Either they tore while the dress was being worn, or they had to be enlarged for a different wearer:

On each side, the armhole was made larger and a patch was placed underneath. The repairs to the sheer ruffle are not symmetrical. Did one side tear?

Presumably there wasn’t enough fabric to match the pattern — or the person making the alternations wasn’t skilled enough to try (these are very large patches, secured with another line of large hand stitches.

I’m not belittling the people who made and altered this dress. I’m suggesting that they did not have the luxury of perfectionism. They had to make do with what they had, and I think that whoever owned this dress, new or second-hand, had to wear it and hold her head high. Poverty limits choices.

Another mystery dress, probably 19th century (?)

The front of a long dress with fitted bodice and many patches.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this dress is that the patches accumulated over time. It appears to be patched with scraps of the original fabric, but the dress, the large patch, and the smaller patch are not faded equally. The fabric is lightweight, so the cream colored bodice lining contributes to the impression of fading there, but not on the sleeves.

How I wish I had had a mannequin available, and the time to photograph the back and the interior structure. The back seams would tell us something about the date when it was made. The waist seems to be cartridge pleated, but, again, I have no photo of the construction. The shoulders don’t look dropped, but it’s hard to tell on a big, padded coat hanger!

The neckline is crudely done, using fabric that matches the band on the skirt.

The hem is very worn, and the fabric at the shoulders is faded and worn through in one place.

It is possible to see two bust darts on the left side of the bodice (on its right, they are hidden by a patch.)

You can see characteristic Victorian bust darts which are not covered by the dark patch.

But the dress is a mystery as to date, especially because, if it was made and worn by a rural woman, she could have been using a much older dress as her only guide. Machine stitched or hand stitched? Or both? I don’t know.

Someone may recognize the fabric, or be able to date the dress from old photographs — for me, it’s a nagging mystery — and I wish I knew about the woman who wore it. To me, the dress says that she was strong and brave while enduring years of hardship.

 

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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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