Category Archives: 1920s-1930s

Women’s Shoes: 1929 versus 1936

These are Foot Saver Shoes from a February 1929 ad in Delineator. Foot Saver Shoes emphasized comfort over high fashion, but these shoes are also chic; the dressy shoe on the bottom has a delicate strap and gracefully curved heel.

Nineteen thirties’ shoes from the same company look “clunky” to me. Their thick heels drop straight from the arch to the ground, and the shoe covers much more of the foot.

These dressy shoes (one of them trimmed with sequins) are also Foot Saver Shoes, from an ad in Woman’s Home Companion, October 1936. To me, they look thick and chunky, with high vamps guaranteed to make a woman’s legs look shorter and thick ankles look thicker.

I see a big difference between the fashionable shoes of 1929 — most of which seem graceful and beautiful to me — and the chunkier, more covered-up shoes of 1936.

Styles from an ad for Dorothy Dodd Shoes, Delineator, March 1929. How delicate they seem.

In March 1929, Delineator ran a fashion article (by Lucile Babcock) on Spring shoes, which featured these six shoes, from different manufacturers. The following quotations come from Babcock’s article.

Black patent leather pump from Laird-Schober. Delineator editorial on Spring Shoes, March 1929. For clocked stockings, click here.

“Patent leather is most successful when combined with lizard or kid in a monotone.”

Foot Saver walking pump in brown lizard and calfskin. Delineator, March 1929.

A Queen Quality pump decorated with  “sunburn beige” lizard. Delineator, March 1929.

“Water-snake and lizard are carried over for the spring session, and those lovely gray-beige tones which blend so well with frocks of beige, gray, blue or green are witnessed everywhere…. Kid-skin colors hold a brief for the sunburn vogue, and all tones of beige are important.” (Suntanned skin was just becoming chic in the late twenties.)

This natural linen [spectator] sport shoe has an embroidered toe and delicate leather trim. Delineator, March 1929.

“The fabric shoe, essentially a sports style, is very definitely on trial for its acceptance by smart women…. In its best aspects, the fabric shoe is the prefect final note of gaiety for the white costume.”

A slate blue kid afternoon pump by J. & T. Cousins. Delineator, March 1929.

“Two blues demand attention, a slate blue and a deep bright blue called “commander.’ ”

This “Frosted calf” pump by Garside is silvery gray, with an enameled [Art Deco] buckle. Delineator, March 1929.

“A new leather called “frosted calf,” with a lustrous surface, is seen in gray (a deeply beautiful gun-metal hue) in beige, brown and black.”

Coordinating stocking colors were recommended for each featured shoe. “So specialized is the hosiery situation with its complexion tints and sunburn hues that the wise woman saves time and effort by selecting her hose wardrobe at the same time that she makes her shoe decisions.” [1929]

Shoes and stockings are coordinated to the clothing in this Arch Preserver shoe ad, June 1929.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/1929-oct-hosiery-ad-photo2.jpg?w=500&h=423

Stocking colors in this ad from October 1929 could match your gown, your shoes, or your skin tone.

By 1936, stocking colors were more natural, but still coordinated with shoes and/or clothes.

Arch Preserver shoes from April 1929. Delineator.

Foot Preserver shoe ad, March 1929. Delineator. The lace-up shoe on the bottom is similar to the “old lady shoes” of the 1930’s, shoes my grandmother still wore in the 1950’s.

The Foot Saver shoe at the top of the ad has a thick strap, but it’s trimmed with a fancy buckle and has a graceful curve on both sides of the heel. March 1929.

Arch Preserver shoe ad, Delineator, March 1929. Notice the high-vamped, Thirties-ish shoes worn by the model at left.

These shoes foreshadow the higher, chunkier shoes of the 1930’s, but the 1929 sport shoe (below at top left) still has thin, graceful trim.

Arch Preserver shoes ad, March 1929.

Speaking of sport shoes, this nineteen twenties’ ad for ZIP depilatory shows them worn with socks.

Sporty spectator shoes worn with diamond-patterned socks in a Zip depilatory ad, 1929.

In 1934 you could still buy Sandals (a Walk-Over brand) with straps almost as thin as 1920’s shoes:

Ad for Walk-Over Sandals shoes, December 1934. Delineator.

This ad for Rhythm Step shoes shows a delicate strapped shoe (top left) in 1936. Woman’s Home Companion.

But the lace-up shoe in the same ad was more in line with mainstream fashion by then, with a high heel and high vamp  covering most of the foot.

I love the Twenties’-look shoes used in this 1936 Lux soap ad:

Thin-strapped shoes in a Lux soap ad, WHC, Feb. 1936. (Lux claimed to prevent stocking runs.)

But fashion is a tyrant. Did they look old-fashioned to the eyes of 1936?

Queen Quality Shoes from April 1936, WHC.

One more look at 1928:

Queen Quality shoe ad from 1928. There was a big difference between sport shoes and dress shoes, but there’s also a big difference between these 1920’s shoes and 1930’s shoes from the same company.

Here are oxfords from 1936 versus 1928:

Different heel, different vamp on two lace-up shoes from Queen Quality, 1936.

Three generations, 1937. Can you tell which are the young woman’s shoes and which are her grandmother’s? Pattern illustration, WHC.

 

Three generations of fashionable women, 1937. Were you able to match the shoes to their ages?

Mother, daughter, grandmother.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Vintage Accessories

Bare Shoulders, December 1933

Butterick 5437, December 1933. Delineator.

Back in the nineteen nineties Donna Karan realized that, as women age, some become reluctant to bare their necks, or their upper arms, or their chests. Yet, for women, formal evening dress usually requires some bare skin. Karan cleverly exposed the shoulders! Shoulders rarely get wrinkled or flabby, and their skin never sags.

Click here for the “cold shoulders” dress as worn by then First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1993. Versions were also worn by Barbra Streisand and Liza Minelli.

Those Karan bare shoulders are back now: click here.  In 2017 they have worked their way into Bloomingdales, Macy’s, and even children’s clothing. But Donna Karan wasn’t the first to show bare shoulders, by sixty — or ninety — years.

Butterick 5415, a “cold shoulders” nightgown from December 1933. Delineator, p. 60. [“Cold shoulders” is not the 1930’s description.]

Film designer Howard Greer created a bare-shouldered dress for Katherine Hepburn in Christopher Strong, 1933.

Katharine Hepburn’s bare-shouldered dress, designed by Howard Greer for the film Christopher Strong, was available as a Butterick “starred” pattern in May, 1933. Delineator.

Butterick 5156 was a faithful copy of this 1933 movie costume.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/5156-5154-front-and-back-views-may-1933.jpg?w=500

In the 1930’s, patterns that had bare shoulders — or slit sleeves that revealed bare upper arms — were available. Butterick 5437 and Butterick 4944.

Right, Butterick evening dress pattern 5530. On the left, Butterick 5518. From 1934; Delineator.

From 1935, this gown for a young woman echoes the evening gowns of an earlier era.

Butterick 6061 from February 1935.  The text says,”Borrowed from another century, the robe de style is today’s evening news.”

However, the bodice evokes this Edwardian evening style:

Evening gown from the House of Worth, 1906-1908. Metropolitan Museum Collection.

The fitted hips of  the 1935 version bears no resemblance to the “robe de style” popularized by Jeanne Lanvin in the 1920’s. [Fashion writing…. as imprecise in 1935 as it is today.]

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/met-lanvin-1926-robe-de-style-62-166-2_front_cp3.jpg?w=357&h=500

Robe de Style, Jeanne Lanvin, 1926. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum. It’s hard to see any resemblance between this gown and Butterick 6061.

The bare shoulders of Butterick 6061 can be seen in 2017: click here.

More about this 1933 nightie:

Butterick 5415, a “cold shoulders” nightgown from December 1933. Delineator, p. 60.

The same article, about lingerie, showed a rather extreme velvet negligee:

Butterick negligee pattern 5413, December 1933. Delineator. [The play, which opened in 1932, as described in The Harvard Crimson as “one long bedroom scene.”]

It’s more fun than getting pajamas for Christmas.

Although I wouldn’t say no to these:

Lounging pajamas from 1933. Butterick 5410. [And, yes, in the 1960’s my college dorm still turned off the heat late at night.]

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Nightclothes and Robes, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns from the movies

Shoe Wardrobe, December 1927

Opera contralto Kathleen Howard, shown with some of the shoes that make up her wardrobe. Delineator, December 1927, p. 25.

In “The What and Why of My Shoe Wardrobe,” opera singer (and multi-talented actor/writer) Kathleen Howard shared her thoughts about the shoes and slippers she found necessary for private and public life. (She owned a lot more than nine pairs of shoes!)

Howard’s shoes illustrated by Dynevor Rhys. December 1927.

The illustration was also noteworthy for the bracelets she is shown wearing:

Text describing nine pairs of shoes, plus a view of Howard’s stacked bracelets. December 1929.

This is the 1920’s shoe I found most amazing:

“White satin sandal with strass (rhinestones) and seed pearls,” by Aubert. December, 1927.

Fashion advice from Kathleen Howard, Delineator, December 1927.

Kathleen Howard’s other shoes, from top left:

Bedroom slipper (mule) from Dec. 1927. “Rose and silver brocade mule with silver heel and rose ostrich [feathers.]”

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/netch-et-bernard-q-to-t.jpg?w=500&h=287

The laughing mask shoe at lower right ( T ) was attributed to Netch et Bernard by Delineator in October, 1928. Shoe R is a mule with wooden sole, like “sabot” mules by Perugia as described by Howard.

Click here to see Perugia mask shoes and other gorgeous Twenties’ shoes.

Some of Howard’s other “slippers” are pictured later.

White kid sandal, Dec. 1927. “A white kid sandal with yellow bands, heel, and tie ribbons” by Greco. (The original images were too small to enlarge well. The bands and heel are yellow lizard. )

“To wear with white clothes in the south there are oxfords of white lizard, the cleanest looking-things imaginable. Lizard has a peculiar neatness about it, caused, I suppose, by the tiny pattern of the poor little beast’s skin, which makes it most appealing. To wear with Southern clothes, Greco shows sandals in white kid trimmed with yellow or blue.” — Kathleen Howard

Slipper, 1927. “A scarlet, green, blue, or brown morocco boudoir slipper….” ” To wear with my house pajamas in the evening, … comforts for my tired extremities.”

Opera pump, 1927. “A black patent leather opera pump with cut-steel buckle.” “No shoe wardrobe is complete without patent leather so-called opera pumps.”

Slipper in dark blue kid, 1927. “Ducerf-Scavini slipper in dark blue kid with suede trimming and an enamel buckle.”

Patent leather, 1927. Two-strap “Ducerf-Scavini shoe of black perforated patent leather.”

Boudoir slipper, 1927. “Hellstern‘s hyacinth and silver brocade slipper with silver trimming and diamond and sapphire buckle.” “A pretty pair of brocade… to go with my prettiest negligee.”

I find the word” slipper” confusing. Howard says she wears some of these high-heeled slippers with her negligee, so they are bedroom/boudoir slippers. But perhaps “slipper” also refers to fabric dancing shoes, like this blue satin sandal with gold kid trim, or that jewelled, ankle strap, white satin shoe?

“A dark blue satin sandal with gold kid” trimming, by Greco. December, 1927.

Satin shoe, 1927. “White satin sandal with strass (rhinestones) and seed pearls,” by Aubert.

Not pictured were Ms. Howard’s golf shoes. It looks like she did not treat herself to that pair of alligator golf shoes by Perugia:

Wow, What a Woman!

In 1928, as her singing career wound down, Kathleen Howard (b. 1884?) started working as a fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar; she also wrote for the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal. (In 1918 she had written Confessions of an Opera Singer.) Several years after this 1927 Delineator article was published, Howard began another new career in the movies, most notably as a brilliant foil for W. C. Fields in several comedies, including It’s a Gift (1934) and Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935.) Sistercelluloid.com has written a delightful appreciation of the versatile Ms. Howard. Click here to read it.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Shoes, Vintage Accessories

Twenties’ Styles for Burn-Out Velvet

Vintage Twenties’ dress in champagne-colored silk velvet chiffon (burn-out velvet.) Private collection.

Some people call this “cut velvet“; it’s also called “burn-out,” “voided,”or “devoure” (with an accent aigue on the final e: dev’-00r-ay.)  The places where there is no velvet pile can be sheer, like chiffon; or satin-y, as in this bustle-era cape or mantle (the leaves are plush velvet, and the spaces between feel like heavy satin:)

Victorian dolman cape made to fit over a bustle dress. Cut (voided) velvet/satin brocade with silk chenille fringe. Private collection.

Back view, vintage twenties’ cut velvet and chiffon evening or afternoon dress. The top looks lighter because the skirt lining has been lost.

A close-up shows damage to the vintage chiffon back drapery and the burn-out silk, but you can see how sheer and chiffon-like the burnt-out areas are. A silk or rayon lining in the sale color as the velvet makes the subtle effect seen at left.

I don’t have a really good photo of this twenties’ fabric, but, if I were trying to reproduce this dress, I would visit Thai Silks.  Currently, you can find convincing period fabrics like this one for $25 to $28 per yard. Multi-colored, printed burn-out velvets will make a glamorous Twenties’ dress, and work best with a very simple dress pattern: easy elegance. Thai Silk is also a good source for silk charmeuse, silk satin, crepe de chine, etc.

On this store-bought twenties’ vintage dress, designs in velvet form a border on sheer black chiffon.

Butterick 2125; suggested fabrics were satin, metal cloth, or lace, but rayon silk velvet would also look like this. Delineator, September 1928.

I don’t usually recommend businesses on this blog, but as a theatrical costumer — twenty years ago — I used to love the company called Thai Silks. I was close enough to shop there in person, but you can order (one yard minimum!) online. The online catalog is downloadable, and they will mail you a swatch or two before you commit to a purchase. Burn-out velvet (very 1920’s) is currently about $25 per yard. If you like Britex, you might love Thai Silks.

Butterick patterns for velvet dresses, Delineator, November 1928, p. 118. The printed velvet second from left is Butterick 1785, for sizes 34 to 48. Second from right is Butterick 2232. The print velvet on No. 2232 looks much like this one.  These velvet dresses are for afternoon wear.

Note: the “hand” of real silk or rayon/silk velvet is nothing like the stiff “decorator” velvet sold in many fabric chain stores. Thai Silks sells many rayon/silk blends, so asking for a swatch allows you to “feel” if it will behave properly for your pattern. Rayon and silk are both authentic 1920’s fabrics.

About rayon/silk velvet: one of the first synthetic fabrics, rayon is cellulose based, like cotton and linen. Silk, like wool, is protein based. Chemicals that make it possible to dissolve the protein (silk) and leave the cellulose (rayon) intact make it possible to create burn-out effects. (I’m working from memory here, so if you need more information, please look for a more knowledgeable source on devoure silk!)

These print dresses from Delineator, November 1928, could be made from printed velvet if you use silk velvet or a soft rayon/silk blend. Butterick 2335 and 2299. (Maybe this one?)

Printed silks in patterns suitable for the 1920’s (including “necktie silk”) are still being made, if you shop carefully.

It’s important to remember that the labor (or time) spent making a dress is almost always more “expensive” than the fabric. Three or four yards of quality silk or silk velvet fabric (under $100 total) will result in a dress worth hundreds of dollars, and putting all that work into a polyester dress will never give the same result. Luckily, the more interesting your fabric, the less complex your dress style should be, so that the fabric, not the trim, is the real star. [Be aware that stitching velvet requires careful pinning and basting, and practice.]

Two views of Butterick 1118, from Delineator, November 1926.

Delineator suggested transparent “night blue” velvet for this evening gown. White or plum or another color of velvet would be just as lovely. So would many other silks.

The Exotic Silks company offers basically the same products as Thai Silks, and offers a large sample set of velvet swatches for $12 (2017 price.) However, Exotic Silks is a wholesaler; (minimum order for silk is 15 yards and for velvet is 28 yards.) Thai Silks has a one yard minimum and will send you swatches of the fabrics you really are interested in; you can phone them. Thai Silks also offers several sets of swatches, $12 and up. (I believe Exotic Silks and Thai Silks are two branches of the same store, wholesale and retail.)

P.S. Here is the store label from this 1880’s cape; today, fabric similar to this is often sold as upholstery velvet:

1880’s dolman cape, front view. The “sleeves” are held in place with internal ties; this is a cape, not a jacket with fitted sleeves.

Label from bustle-era cape: “L.F.W. Arend & Co., Importers & Mfturers, Chicago.”

Click here for a Pinterest page full of late Victorian mantles like this.

 

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, evening and afternoon clothes, Resources for Costumers, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Dresses with Bows, December 1928

A bow at the hip, a bow on the shoulder, or both: Two Butterick dresses from December 1928. Delineator. The one at left even has bows at the wrist.

I confess, the dress at upper right is one of my favorites from the Twenties. Bows, and variations on bows, enhanced many dresses in 1928; here are a few from December of 1928. (Ninety-nine [CORRECTION: 89] years ago. [Thanks, Jacqueline!]  Let’s start with some bow variations:

Butterick 2373 has sections joined by fagoting, a detail attributed to Vionnet. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30.

It’s not a bow, but this tie appears to be part of the neckline, and is echoed on the back of the dress, as if a narrow scarf were part of the neckline.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/500-v166-faggoting-between-bias-panels.jpg?w=500&h=490

Two panels of a vintage dress joined by fagoting. 1920s. For more on Vionnet and fagoting, click here.

Butterick 2373, front and back views. December, 1928, Delineator. That long back tie helps narrow the rear view of hips.

Butterick 2378 has the snugly draped hips of 1928, with the interesting not-exactly-a-bow insertion at the shoulder creating a slenderizing vertical line, and four bows — two at the hips and two at the wrists. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30. If you look closely, you can see a side seam bust dart.

Front and back views of Butterick 2378. The “handkerchief girdle” is attributed to both Molyneux and the design team of Martial et Armand. Delineator, Dec . 1928, p. 30.

I like this dress so much that I wondered what it would look like on a more realistic figure. Imagine it in silk jersey:

Illustration of Butterick 2378 manipulated to appear on a more naturalistic figure. It still looks good to me!

Most Butterick patterns from the 1920’s were sized from bust 32″ up to a 44″ bust measure — that would be a modern pattern size 22, a reminder that not all women in the Twenties had “boyish” figures.  The next dress has a soft drape, rather than a bow, but it’s recommended for older (and larger) women, so I though it worth sharing:

Butterick 2381 has an interesting yoke and skirt, but no bows. Delineator, Dec. 1928, page 30. It was recommended for “the older woman.” Notice the gathers at the shoulder, which would provide some fullness over the bust.

Front and back views of Butterick 2381, which was available up to size 48″ bust (and proportionately larger hips.) Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30.

The vertical drapery and skirt panels in front would be flattering to a larger figure. The back view, with two horizontal hip bands? Probably not becoming to 52″ hips. Maybe it could use the clever, long, back tie from Butterick 2373.

This dress, which has a metallic (lame) bodice and velvet skirt, could be worn by misses 15 to 18 as well as women up to size 44″ bust.

Butterick 2346, a formal afternoon frock, has a tiered skirt with hip accent, and a big shoulder bow matching the skirt fabric. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30.

Front and back views of Butterick 2346. Delineator, December, 1928, p. 30. I wish I could find another description of this pattern, because it was common for a very formal day dress like this to also have a sleeveless version for evening wear.

Two Formal Frocks from Delineator, December 1928. Butterick patterns 2379 and 2287.

Bows at the shoulder on evening frocks, December 1928.

Butterick 2359 has velvet bows at shoulder and hip, but it does not have the tight hip girdle seen in these other 1928 fashions.

The diagonal hip bow is appliqued to the dress and can be tied to fit the hips tightly. In back, it forms a band. The back of the dress is cut in one piece; the front panel dips well below the hemline.

Front and back views of Butterick 2359, from December 1928. Delineator, p. 31. [When I think about how I would make this dress, with the weight of the hip bow and the stress that tying it tightly would put on the crepe fabric where the velvet gaps in front…. The inside of this dress might need some engineering to make it stay bloused this perfectly when worn by an actor.**]

Illustrations are by M. Lages.

Perhaps too much of a good thing, Butterick 2312 has three bows in a line from shoulder to hip. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 28. This is a dinner dress for young or small women.

The hem is longer in back than in front — it has “the backward dipping flounce that marks the new mode.” The dress has the curve: the flounce is “straight.” It attaches to an upward curve in front and a downward curve in back. The shoulder bow ends in a long streamer.

Front and back views of Butterick 2312 from Dec. 1928.

** Unlike models, actors have to sit down and get up and move like normal people.  Costumers use the term “actor-proofing,” not as an insult to actors, but because it’s our job to prevent the costume from becoming a problem for the actor wearing it. “Mark Antony” shouldn’t have to worry about his toga falling off his shoulder — it took years of training for a Roman gentleman to master toga-wearing. Directors are always asking actors to do things that can’t be done in restrictive period clothing; it’s the costumers’ job to make the clothing look authentic but allow such movement 8 times a week, month after month. 1920’s two-piece dresses often suspended the skirt from an unseen bodice top (like a modern camisole.) That meant the skirt could hang straight from the shoulders, without being shaped to a waistband. If you want a blouson to stay bloused, you can attach it to that “skirt” so the blousing can’t slip down unevenly.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Hats, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

More Ads for Woman’s Institute from 1920’s and 1930’s

1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Big, ruffled “Letty Lynton” sleeves became a huge fashion influence after the release of the movie in 1932.

In a previous post I wrote that Woman’s Institute ads were different every month, and that lining them up gives a mini-tour of fashions for each year. I have no photos from some years and some months, so there are big gaps in this little fashion show. I’ll just put the ones I have in chronological order. I love the captions, which repeat a few Woman’s Institute themes, like “It’s the prettiest dress I’ve ever had” and “I love to wear this dress.”

Woman’s Institute Fashions from the Twenties

February 1924 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress is basically a simple tube with neck and arm openings and a belt.

December 1924 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Except for the collar, this is a dress based on rectangles.

August 1925 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. 1920’s fashions are getting more complex.

August 1926 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Nothing will ever appear ‘home-made.’ “

By December 1926, Twenties’ styles are no longer simple tubes or rectangles.

December 1926 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

January 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Notice how short skirts have become in just 25 months.

Styles had changed a great deal between December 1924 and January 1927 — just two years:

A Woman’s Institute “One Hour Dress” from 1924; two years later, the Woman’s Institute ads showed much more complicated styles.

However, the possibility of making a dress in one hour, thanks to early 1920’s styles, probably inspired many women to try making their own clothing for the first time.

February 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress requires piecing curves; it’s not a project for beginners.

March 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course, “used by over 230,000 women and girls.”

August 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Now there are 250,000 users.

October 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

February 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

June 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This is the most matronly outfit I’ve run across in these ads.

The reason many women sew for themselves is that they have non-standard-sized bodies or hard to fit figures. (Having an exceptionally small waist, broad shoulders, or tall body makes it hard to find store-bought clothes that fit, just as having a smaller or larger than average body does.) Oddly, the Woman’s Institute ads I’ve seen don’t seem to be aimed at hard-to-fit women.

October 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress has a chic, asymmetrical collar and side drape.

Sending in the coupon from October 1928 would get you a 32 page booklet and a 60 page dressmaking lesson “which tells how to take correct measurements, select the right pattern, alter to your own measurements, cut and fit for all types of figures, etc.” Perhaps hard-to-fit women let their dressmakers alter patterns for them.

March 1929 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

Woman’s Institute Fashions from the Thirties

I have not collected many ads from 1929 or 1930, so my parade of fashions from Woman’s Institute ads has some big gaps.

February 1931 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This shows that not all hems dropped precipitately after 1929.

I have no photos from 1932, but the very long hemline on this dress was well established by 1933.

January 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “The new feminine fashions have created a big demand for dressmakers.”

February 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. 1930’s ads often showed evening gowns.

This marks a change to more evening gowns in the Institute’s advertising; 1933 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. Ads that said “Earn $20 to $40 a week at home” in 1924 said “Earn $10 to $35” in March of 1933:

March 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Scottie Dog (and fox fur stole) optional.

The number of women wearing furs during the Depression used to surprise me, but “In 1917, there were only four fur farms in the entire United States; by 1930, there were more than forty-five hundred.” This drove down the price of furs — and millions of animals were raised for slaughter. [See A Perfect Fit by Jenna Weissman Joselit.] Also, cheap furs from domestic animals like rabbits and dogs were sold as coney “seal” and “Manchurian wolf.”

March 1934 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. In 1934, “Letty Lynton” sleeves were still in style, and a dressmaker might earn a more optimistic “$20 to $50 a week.”

September 1934 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

Woman’s Institute ads seem to feature more evening dresses in the 1930’s, perhaps because the emphasis is changing to copying fashions, designing your own, and owning your own business or dress shop.

March 1935 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “You can earn a splendid income in a dressmaking business of your own.”

February 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Earn Money in Dressmaking and Designing.”

March 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. [What a lovely train!]

In addition to lessons in making dresses and hats, Woman’s Institute courses on Cookery and, now, Tea Room Management were available.

Traditionally, most 20th century women who had their clothes made by dressmakers started with a commercial pattern or a photograph from a fashion magazine, although they might ask for changes to suit their taste.

September 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This ad is unusual because it shows a commercial pattern, Vogue 7403.

These 1930’s ads now introduce the idea of copying high fashion, designing dresses, and opening your own dress shop.

October 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

February 1937 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Earn a fine income at home.”

The ability to work from home has always been important to women with children and other domestic responsibilities. And, of course, the overhead of a home business is lower than that of a shop.

October 1937 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. You can earn money at home . . . or have a good income in a smart dressmaking shop of your own.”

In 1938, Woman’s Institute placed this ad in a Butterick Fashion News Flyer, encouraging women who use commercial patterns to design and make their own clothes with the dressmaking skills learned from Woman’s Institute.

Woman’s Institute advertisement that appeared in the Butterick Fashion News Flyer for March, 1938.

“Be the smartest dressed woman in your town!” That’s almost what the ads said in 1917!

Testimonials from Woman’s Institute customers. There are now 300,000 of them. March 1938.

Coupon for Woman’s Institute, March 1938.

Mary Brooks Picken also published a quarterly magazine, Fashion Service. If you are researching Woman’s Institute ads, I found 1114 citations with a search on the Cornell University Home Archive.

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Woman's Institute

Advertising Mary Brooks Picken’s Woman’s Institute: Out Stepped Ann!

“Out Stepped Ann!” This full page ad in Delineator magazine looks like a story. It’s really an advertisement for the Woman’s Institute correspondence course in dressmaking. Delineator, May 1924, page 5.

While randomly reading through vintage magazines, I have collected quite a photo gallery of ads for Mary Brooks Picken’s Woman’s Institute, which was a very successful correspondence course in dressmaking from 1916 through the 1930’s. (It has no relationship to the Women’s Institute, an organization for women that’s been doing important work for a long time.)

As sometimes happens with great stuff you find on the internet, I can no longer locate the first helpful site I found about the Woman’s Institute and its founder, Mary Brooks Picken. But I owe it thanks for mentioning the brilliant ad campaign which contributed to the Institute’s success — which is why I photographed this full page ad when I saw it.

(The instruction books and booklets written by Picken were excellent; I used one many years ago, in graduate school. I learned a lot about making twenties’ dresses from her! In other words, the Woman’s Institute delivered what it promised. A page from her twenties’ book about designing by draping fashions could be a “light bulb” moment for you, too. ) But that “lost” site which mentioned the genius of Picken’s second husband, G. Lynn Sumner, “president of the advertising firm of G. Lynn Sumner Co. of New York” which was probably responsible for the Woman’s Institute ads, was the reason I saved this wonderful example of his story-telling technique. It was a full page ad — an expensive venture — that captures the psychological appeal of the Woman’s Institute courses.

Here is Ann at the climax of the story, stepping out from behind a curtain in the new dress she made herself. Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, May 1924, p. 5.

Ann’s tale is easy to relate to; she’s a popular girl, but she can’t afford to dress as well as her friends. “If I could only look in the mirror just once and be satisfied with what I see!” [Is there a  woman who can’t relate to that?]

Ann is so embarrassed by her shoddy old “good dress” that she deliberately spills a bottle of perfume on it rather than go to the party.

Determined to come up with something to wear to her best friend’s upcoming birthday party,  Ann ransacks her closet for old dresses that might be remade.

She consults the local dressmaker about remaking a dress, but she’s told that every dressmaker in town is already too busy with other orders. Ann goes window shopping, but can’t afford any of the dresses she sees, so she doesn’t even try them on.

At home, Ann leafs through a fashion magazine.

Ann tells her friends that she’s suffering from “nerves” and under doctors’ orders to stay at home and rest for a month. Her other friends don’t visit her, but Elizabeth tells them that Ann seems happy, especially since she is now getting lots of letters and packages in the mail. And Ann promises not to miss Elizabeth’s birthday celebration.

Ann arrives, wearing a coat and with a scarf covering her hair. She dodges into the cloak room, hidden by the curtains. Then …

Here is Ann, stepping out from behind a curtain in the new dress she made herself. Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, May 1924, p.5.

“Making Beautiful Clothes” booklet, from an ad for Woman’s Institute, Delineator, Feb. 1924, p. 79.

Doesn’t that make you want to send in your coupon?

Coupon for information and free booklet from Woman’s Institute. Feb., 1924.

Good News: Some of Mary Brooks Picken’s books on 1920’s dressmaking are available as paperback reprints.

The famous “one hour dress” book (1924 edition) by Mary Picken is available as a reprint. Since the styles of 1924 are still long, “tubular twenties,” you might prefer the 1925 edition, which is also available.

You can also download and print your own copy of her 1925 book The Mary Brooks Picken Method of Modern Dressmaking thanks to ///Columbia/// CORRECTION: Cornell University: click here. This is an illustrated sewing basics book which gives an indication of how thorough Picken was.  It is not a “one-hour dress” book. Picken also wrote the Singer Sewing Book in the 1950’s.

The Woman’s Institute had already been around for several years in the Twenties; its ads always emphasized both personal and professional dress making and millinery opportunities for women.

Many of the points made in “Out Stepped Ann!” were repeated in smaller monthly advertisements. Even early ads emphasized financial savings, a chance to learn a skill that could produce income, and a sense of accomplishment. The women in these ads were proud that they had made their own clothes.

“Yes, I Made It All Myself!” students of the Woman’s Institute proudly proclaimed in the ads. Delineator, July 1917.

These ads battled the stigma of wearing clothes that looked “home-made;” and, if a woman followed the instructions carefully, her clothes would in fact look well-made.

“She’s the Best Dressed Woman in Town” because she learned to make clothes and hats by taking a home study course from Woman’s Institute. Other women envy her. Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1917.

“I’m Making My Own Dresses This Summer,” and clothes for the children, too, brags this satisfied customer. Detail, Woman’s Institute ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

“I Make My Own Hats” says another proud Woman’s Institute student in this ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917. “I have four becoming, stylish hats where I used to have only one…. You can earn money making hats for your friends in spare time or open a millinery shop of your own. Pictures make everything clear….”

“It’s the prettiest dress I ever had…. And Just Think, Mother, How Much We Saved.” Ad for Woman’s Institute, Delineator, March 1927. [That hat really was chic in 1917.] In addition to saving half the cost of purchased clothing, “You can have clothes that are more becoming and better fitting, because they will be made of the materials and in the styles that you select, and to your own measurements.”

Making your own clothing and turning last year’s dresses into new styles was patriotic, too, during World War I. Click here.

“Now I Save Half on All My Clothes.” From an Ad for Woman’s Institute, Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1917. “You know the patriotic slogan among women this year is ‘Make Your Own Clothes!’

Making “New Clothes From Old” was a patriotic duty during World War I. “This year women are urged to economize, but economy need not mean fewer clothes.” Woman’s Institute ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

“This Year I Had Six Dresses Instead of Two.” Woman’s Institute ad from Delineator, February 1917. “Besides, I’ve made three skirts and half a dozen blouses and practically everything that the children are wearing. And a year ago I couldn’t make a buttonhole.

Aside from the occasional full page ad, Woman’s Institute inserted small advertisements into most women’s magazines every month — sometimes two ads in one issue. What is remarkable to me is that there was a new, different ad every month.

Collecting Woman’s Institute advertisements from the 1920’s and 1930’s will give you a mini-history of the fashions for each year.  I’m saving those for another post — but here’s a preview: (one from 1927, one from 1933)

Detail, Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, January 1927.

Detail, Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, March 1933.

Fashions changed a lot in those six years.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Woman's Institute, World War I