Category Archives: 1920s-1930s

White Dresses for Summer, July 1931

“First Comes White — Then White with Color;” page 25 of a two-page article in Delineator, July 1931.

White dresses — and white with color accents — were the topic of a two page article in Delineator magazine in July 1931. It even included a white coat for summer:

Butterick coat pattern 3964 was a double-breasted polo coat with raglan sleeves. Delineator, July 1931, page 25.

It was described as a polo coat, and camel’s hair twill was suggested, although pale beige or pastels could be substituted for natural camel color.

1931 is not far from the late 1920’s, so it’s not surprising to see a lot of nineteen twenties’ hipline interest combined with a nineteen thirties’ natural waist.

This summer dress, Butterick 3949, combines white with color. I thought the tennis racket just signalled “summer,” but she’s wearing athletic shoes, too. Delineator, July 1931, page 24. The “white for tennis” idea didn’t apply to casual games.

Butterick 3979 has an unusually long, curved yoke on the skirt front. Delineator, July 1931, page 24.

This skirt was only pleated and yoked in front; the entire back of the dress is one piece.

This dress has a clever horizontal line (yoke and short sleeves) making the upper body look wider, in contrast to narrow 1930’s hips, accented with strong vertical lines in the skirt.

The curving seams on Butterick 3993 give it a dressy look to me, and in spite of the tennis racket, she is wearing pumps, not tennis shoes. Delineator, July 1931, page 24. The elaborate cut of this skirt is repeated in back.

“It is the perfect frock either for playing or spectating;” I think silk shantung would be a “spectating” fabric.

Butterick 3999 is sleeveless, double-breasted and loosely bloused. Delineator, July 1931, page 24. The back view shows short sleeves.

On this dress, the flares of the six gored skirt are repeated in the back.

Financial constraints during the Depression made Delineator magazine switch to smaller and less elaborate illustrations than the glorious full color fashion pages of the mid-1920’s.

Butterick 3956 has a 1920-ish look, with its long “weskit” style bodice and yoke, but it is from Delineator, July 1931, page 25. Optional short sleeves.

“…For any sporting event — for action or the sidelines. It’s all-whiteness fairly cries for the addition of the boldly bright accessories that will ring changes in the simplest little outfit this year.” Transforming a dress with accessories was a frequent theme in the Thirties.

Butterick 3995 has a surplice-line wrapped front. Delineator, July 1931, page 25. There is a long sleeved version, too.

A vestee (a partial blouse) is usually separate from the dress, and the colored cuffs might be detachable for laundering.

All of these patterns were available in what was then the normal range of sizes for women: bust 32 to 44 inches, with hips correspondingly bigger.

Butterick 3954 shows some vestiges of 1920’s styles. Delineator, July 1931, page 25.

Butterick 3973, a simple “utility” dress, accessorized with a golf club. Delineator, July 1931, page 25. Optional short sleeves.

Butterick 3981, a white dress accented with nautical embroidery, a colorful striped scarf and matching belt. Delineator, July 1931, page 25.  Does it have a dark binding around the neckline and armholes? From the small drawing, it’s hard to tell. Short sleeve option,

It’s undeniable that white accents a summer suntan (chic in 1931) and looks cool and fresh on hot days.

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Sportswear, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Whoopee Booties, 1929

Whoopee Booties, Sears catalog, Fall 1929, p. 63. They came in red with gray or black with red trim.

Last week The Vintage Traveler reminded me that shoe illustrations, being fashion illustrations, are not always truthful. As a vintage buyer and dealer, she observed that real 1920’s shoes generally do not have super-high heels. That sent me to the ever-useful Sears Roebuck catalogs at Ancestry.com. And that is where I was distracted by these “Whoopee Booties” from 1929.

Sears Whoopee Booties, 1929. “Modern as youth itself!” Do they lace all the way up, or do they “flap?” Rain boots from 1928 looked like this.

And before discussing heel height, I want to recommend one of the best articles on “Flappers” that I’ve ever seen; the Silent Film site Silent-ology devoted the month of March 2018 to Flappers and wrote this brilliant essay to set the theme. Click here for The History (and Mythology) of 1920s Flapper Culture.

And Now, Back to Heel Heights from 1929

Sears did offer one pair of 4 inch heels:

Four inch heels from Sears’ Fall catalog 1929, page 66. “Patent leather d’Orsay pump, made on the Follies last, featuring the new 4-inch covered spike heel and short vamp which make the foot look smaller.”

Women from the twenties (like my mother and my aunt) were proud of having small feet (or, more precisely, of wearing small shoe sizes, which is not quite the same thing….) It’s interesting that in 1929  “smaller feet,” not “longer legs,” was the selling point for higher heels.

But, as The Vintage Traveler predicted, in most of these ads showing high heels, the heel height — even when described as “spike heels” — is two and a half inches.

Two and a half inch “spike heels.” Sears catalog, Fall 1929, page 67.

Purple heels from Sears, Fall catalog , 1929, page 63. Available in Antique Purple kid or black patent leather; as illustrated, the heels look  high, but they are “2 1/2 inch covered spike heels.”

These pumps were available in black satin (for evening) or black patent leather. They have 2 1/2 inch “spike heels.” Notice the range of sizes.

The Savoy style was “an actual copy of a high priced model” — and these heels were only 2 inches high.

Ditto for The Parisian:

The Parisian shoe from Sears. Fall of 1929, p, 66.  These are actually 2 inch heels.

The heels of these green shoes are just 1 3/4 inches high, but they don’t aspire to be “spike” heels. Sears, Fall of 1929, p. 64.

These surprisingly asymmetrical shoes have a delicate braided T strap which seems to un-braid on to the toe of the shoe. The 1928 article in Delineator remarked on the unusual asymmetrical style of a shoe by Perugia.  These chic shoes also have a modest 2 1/2 inch spike heel.

And, to return to those youthful Whoopee Booties, they have a 1 and 3/4 inch “military” heel.

Whoopee Booties from Sears, 1929. They have 1 3/4 inch heels.

If you have any doubt what “whoopee” is …. There was a hit song about it in 1928:
“Another bride,
Another groom,
Another sunny honeymoon,
Another season,
Another reason
For making whoopee.”
“The chorus sings, “Here comes the bride.”
Another victim is by her side.
He’s lost his reason cause it’s the season
For making whoopee.”
“Another year or maybe less
What’s this I hear?
Well, can’t you guess?
She feels neglected so he’s suspected
Of making whoopee.”

Detail: ad from Delineator, May 1929.

“She sits alone most every night.
He doesn’t phone or even write.
He says he’s busy.
But she says, “Is he?”
He’s making whoopee.”

The song ends in the divorce court, where the judge says,

“You better keep her.
You’ll find it’s cheaper
Than making whoopee.”

You can see Eddie Cantor perform his 1928 stage hit song, “Makin’ Whoopee” in this movie clip from the 1930 color (!) film musical Whoopee!

Co-produced by Florenz Ziegfeld (Jr.) and Samuel Goldwyn, this film is as close as I’ll ever get to seeing a Ziegfeld show — with musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley. Set “out west,” the film quality is poor, the plot is silly, but the costumes are fabulous — if you can stand dozens of half-dressed women of European ancestry wearing enormous feather headdresses, and Eddie Cantor wearing blackface….(truly nauseating.) If you’re designing a revival of Will Rogers Follies, it’s a must-watch bit of research. Besides, tap-dancing cowboys!

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Shoes, Vintage Accessories

Work Clothes: Bib Overalls and Coveralls

Story illustration by George Giguere, Delineator, February 1924. A young man in bib overalls receives a visit from two pretty girls. Notice the house across the street. This is not necessarily a farm.

When I began writing witness2fashion, I wanted to focus on everyday clothes, clothing for working class people. All the men in my family did manual labor — skilled labor, but impossible to do without getting dirty.

My mother (in light dress) with her older sister and her two brothers. About 1913, judging from their ages. My Uncle Harris, wearing a coverall on the right, would have been working in his family’s ice house by then.

I grew up seeing bib overalls on my father and my uncles. This is not a scholarly history of overalls, but a little tribute to a 20th century classic.

Both overalls [the word I use to refer to bib overalls] and coveralls [by which I mean mean a one piece garment with sleeves which covers the body from neck to ankle] have been around for a very long time. Early Levi jeans were called “waist overalls.”

Waist overalls from Sears, Spring 1896. The construction is like that of men’s wool trousers, with a high back and a buckle for adjusting the waist fit. “Overalls” meant a work pant — with or without an “apron” or “bib,” front. The top two were also available in a bib version: “Same as above, with apron front … and strap suspenders.”

For farmers and other men (and sometimes women) doing manual labor, the bib overall was almost synonymous with “work clothes.” It was also an ideal garment for active children.

My great-aunt with my Aunt Dorothy, my Uncle Mel, and my Uncle Harris. Dorothy was born in 1901, so this is probably before 1906. My grandmother has very sensibly dressed her boys in bib overalls.

Sears Roebuck sold overalls for children “4 to 14” as early as Spring of 1896. They called them “Brownie suits.” The model is not wearing a shirt: “Let your boy play in the healthy outdoor air this summer, dressed in a Brownie Suit. They are all the style this season.”

In 1907 the style had changed slightly.

From a Sears catalog, 1907. Overalls were made of durable fabrics and allowed a boy to “play without being afraid of spoiling his best clothes.”

The pockets seem a bit small to me, but a boy wearing these could answer the call of nature without adult assistance, since the bib suspenders unhooked from the front.

In 1907, the boy who didn’t wear overalls might wear something like this:

Clothes for boys from Sears catalog, 1907. Not really suitable for playing in the dirt.

Since overalls were made of heavy fabrics, and available at low prices from catalogs, I was a little surprised to see Butterick sewing patterns for them:

Butterick pattern 5410, for men’s overalls/coveralls, and Butterick 5365, a very similar “play suit” for young boys. Both from Delineator, 1924. Note: the word “jumpsuit” dates to World War II and is American in origin; in England they were called siren suits.

Butterick pattern 5780 for men’s bib overalls [also called apron overalls,] Delineator, January 1925. This man is a mechanic carrying a pipe wrench. My Uncle Mel, a plumber, still wore striped overalls in the 1940s and 1950s.

Overalls for boys two to twelve; Butterick 5258 from June 1924. He may be gardening, but professional farmers wore overalls, too. [And, more than 20 years later,  my Grandma bought me sandals exactly like those he is wearing. Mine were always red, bought new at the start of each summer.]

Some children wore overalls as a matter of course:

A farm family in 1934; photo from a Nujol ad in Delineator, April 1934.

For a well-illustrated article on bib overalls, as worn by farmers and others, click here.

Overalls for a “youth” and a grown man, from Sears, Spring 1929. “Fellows! The real thing! … just like Dad’s!” Left, bib overalls and a matching jacket in “Sturdy 2.20 white back denim.”

My uncle, the plumber, wore dark, denim, indigo blue overalls with narrow white stripes — and a matching jacket — in 1950. Unlike modern plumbers who wear jeans, he could crawl under a sink without exposing cleavage in back.

Sears overalls and matching jacket, Spring catalog, 1929.

“Heavy reinforcements where reinforcements are needed. Securely bar tacked at all points of strain.”  Levi Strauss used rivets to reinforce stress points — and held a patent.

One of the great things about bib front overalls was the specialized pockets.

From the Sears Catalog, Spring, 1950. Carpenters overalls, left, have ample pockets for nails, a carpenter’s rule, carpenters’ pencils, and a loop on the side seam of the leg for carrying a hammer. Painters’ and paperhangers’ overalls have room for paint rags, etc. House painters traditionally wore white overalls.

Sears overalls for painters and paperhangers, 1897. “Two pockets and knife pocket.”

If you’ve ever hung wallpaper, you’ll appreciate the knife pocket.

My father wears [once white] carpenter’s overalls in 1950. His foreman, at left, preferred dungarees and a blue work shirt. Note the foreman’s felt hat.

1956: Sears’ coveralls and overalls from Everyday Fashions of the Fifties. Coveralls were favored by auto mechanics; they had to lie on their backs to reach the undersides of cars. There’s not a baseball cap to be seen on these working class men from the 1950’s — they are wearing their old “good” felt hats.

In this illustration, a traveling salesman shows his wares to a woman he (understandably) mistakes for the farmer’s wife:

Story illustration, Delineator, February 1936.

However, overalls could be beach pajamas or play suits for women in the 1930s:

Masthead illustration by Leslie Saalburg for Delineator, March 1932. She’s not wearing a top under her overalls.

These pajamas were suggested for tennis in an ad from Delineator, June, 1932. They look like a trip hazard to me.

Women had worn men’s overalls when doing factory work in the First World War.

American woman in Ladies' Home Journal, August 1917.

American woman, Ladies’ Home Journal, 1917.

They also wore them during World War II, but this 1940’s sewing pattern is for work or play:

Anne Adams sewing pattern 4350 circa 1942.

My father still wore overalls from time to time after he retired in the 1970’s. This striped pair have big, removable pockets attached with a zipper.

Striped overalls worn on a fishing trip, 1970s — better than gutting fish in your good trousers and shirt!

He’s  standing in a basement laundry room. Automatic washing machines may explain why many workers now wear chinos or jeans instead of overalls.

Here are some overalls for children from the 1940’s:

Overall-styled play suit (with matching jacket) from Butterick Fashion News, October 1943.

An overall/play suit very like the back-baring beach pajamas of 1932, with narrower legs. Butterick Fashion News, August, 1948.

Overalls for children continue to be popular. These brand new striped overalls from OshKosh are faded and aged before being sold.

I don’t remember these, but here’s proof that I used to wear overalls, too:

Witness2fashion in overalls, early 1950s. The curls and the hair bow were my mother’s idea.

What’s with the dirt piles? My father was a housemover; the house behind me is “up on blocks” and on its way to a new location.

A house being moved from one location to another, California, 1950s.

In England, “housemovers” move furniture, but in my part of the world, where wooden houses survive earthquakes better than stone or brick ones, housemovers could separate a house from its foundation and move it to a new location, often miles away, while keeping it perfectly intact. It was definitely skilled work.

P.S. The Vintage Traveler supplied a link to the article in Paris Review: The Jumpsuit That Will Replace All Clothes Forever. We’re not convinced.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Boys' Clothing, Children's Vintage styles, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers, World War I

Paris Shoes for April, 1928

All shoe illustrations are by Dynevor Rhys, from Delineator magazine, April 1928. Black patent leather high heel with gold piping, by Ducerf-Scavini.

All these shoes have rather high heels, but similar shoe styles are shown in the Butterick pattern illustrations in Delineator for April 1928, too.

High heels resembling the Paris shoe designs are shown with these Butterick pattern illustrations, also from the April, 1928 Delineator magazine.

Another high heel for afternoon. In smoke gray trimmed with narrow bands of black kid. By Ducerf-Scavini.

The extremely delicate trim and piping on these shoes signal designer craftsmanship, and couture prices.

This “street shoe” has a silver buckle to accent its silvery gray goat skin. By Ducerf-Scavini.

A putty gray-beige high heel with two straps for “a foot with a very high instep.”

You can see the whimsical signature by artist Dynevor Rhys just below the heel.

Black patent leather accents this black antelope shoe, a play on texture by Ducerf-Scavini.

The very high instep in this shoe reminds me of some “gladiator” variations from the 2010s. I have no idea how anyone got a foot into this shoe, but it’s stylish…. And it must have been gorgeous in rose and silvered gray. By Perugia.

This shoe has a leather tab instead of a buckle. In silvered leather, by Perugia.

An evening shoe with two bands of rhinestones over the instep, by Hellstern.

The accompanying article mentioned that actresses in Paris were wearing shoes with rhinestoned heels, off stage as well as on.

High style for evening, in these shoes with “diamond” on heels and straps. By Perugia.

A less dramatic look from Perugia, with a tiny open triangle where the T-strap meets the band. In “Opalescent pink kid” they would have complemented a pink chiffon frock,

Here is the text that accompanied the two-page shoe article.

A colorful pair of shoes by Ducerf-Scavini is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, and the Met has many examples of shoes by Perugia. This gold and silver pair –with quite unusual heels — dates to 1928-29.

 

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

A Trip to Mount Lowe, 1920’s

I found this souvenir group photo of a trip up the Mount Lowe electric railway, apparently taken in the late 1920s.

A group photo of visitors to Echo Mountain, on the Mount Lowe scenic railroad. Late 1920s.

“At the top of the incline was perched Charles Lawrence, the official photographer, on a special scaffold from which he would take pictures of the arriving visitors.[30] For 25 cents, visitors could purchase a souvenir photo of their arrival on the incline car, with everyone else aboard, of course.” — From Wikipedia, which has a thorough history and some excellent images. Click here.

Front cover of Mount Lowe souvenir photo from the late 1920’s.

The scenic railway provided views of Los Angeles, thousands of feet below. Between 1925 and 1936, there was a restaurant/tavern on the summit. (It burned down.)

Inside cover of Mount Lowe photograph. Late 1920’s.

Parts of the rail trip would definitely result in an adrenaline rush: click here.

Of course, what fascinates me are the faces and clothes of this group of ordinary people on holiday — even if it’s just a day trip. Thanks to the magic of computer scanning and photo enlargement, (and the sharpness of Lawrence’s original photo) we can see them in some detail.

I’ve cropped the picture to show just the people. Echo Mountain, Mount Lowe, 1920’s.

I was about to mention that all the women are wearing hats — until I saw one who isn’t: my mother.

Top row, from left, my mother’s mother, her aunt Alice, and, Marcelle-waved but hatless, my mother.  Notice her “bee-stung” lips. The woman in the pale cloche wears a necktie, and so do other women, as you’ll see.

A group from the top right side of the photo. We see several women wearing horn-rimmed glasses, which were replacing glasses with thin gold or silver rims — or no rims at all. The woman at center wears the older stye of glasses.

It’s apparently summer, since many men wear light colored hats or boaters. Women are evenly divided between cloche hats and hats with brims. Love that striped sweater!

The center of the photo. The boy in the front row also wears a lively, patterned sweater.

At the back, we see a boy in a cloth cap (a big one) next to a woman in a turban-like hat; 1920’s printed dress fabrics include the Art Deco one at right. The man’s tie is short, stopping inches above his waist.

Another short necktie, and a pleasant-looking woman wearing horn rim glasses and a ribbon-trimmed dress.

A good sample of hats — and a woman who clearly wore large sized dresses. The striped hat on the right is my favorite — and it’s worn by a mature lady in a print coat.

I like this dignified older couple. (The girl in the middle doesn’t seem to be having a good time.)

The gray-haired woman in the light-colored cloche at lower right must have seen many changes in fashion during her lifetime — and she’s adapted well.

In the front row we can see a variety of hem lengths, depending on age and taste. Late 1920s.

The older woman at left has a long hemline (and I think her slip is showing,) while the mature but stylish woman on the right shows her legs up to the kneecap.

In this group, the woman on the right wears a shorter skirt than the oldest woman pictured above, but not as short as the woman in the Art Deco print dress. The young girl has bare legs and exposed knees. The boy proves that not all great sweater and knicker combinations were reserved for the golf course.

Hope you enjoyed the trip! Visitors to Mount Lowe in the late 1920’s.

A similar crowd photo, found on Flicker, is dated 1922. It includes four young women woman (front row, far left) in hiking trousers and boots. The ruins of the Mount Lowe Railway are a hiking trail today. It is near the city of Altadena, California.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Hats, Hats for Men, Men's Haberdashery & Accessories, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Work Clothes Patterns: Doctors and Dentists

An artist’s idea of an operating room, Delineator, Sept. 1934.

Anyone who grew up — as I did — watching the 1931 movie Frankenstein every time it was on TV will probably associate these long surgical gowns with Colin Clive shrieking, “It’s alive! It’s aliiiiive!

But it never occurred to me that Butterick would offer sewing patterns for surgical gowns and dentists’ smocks. We now order such things from specialty uniform supply houses.

Butterick pattern 5306 is a doctor’s operating gown and cap. From Delineator, June 1924.

I hope no doctor operated in his spats…. And — maybe it’s the test tube — but there’s a touch of Gene (Young Frankenstein) Wilder in his eyes.

Butterick suggested it was “much less expensive” to make gowns like this than to buy them.

During World War I, Red Cross Volunteers made surgical gowns, robes for hospitalized soldiers, specialized pajamas for hospital and convalescent use, hot water bottle covers, bed linens, and surgical dressings, among other things.

Patterns for these officially approved hospital supplies were available for ten cents; this article ran in Ladies Home Journal, Delineator, and other women’s magazines in the fall of 1917. These images are from Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1917.

LHJ, Dec. 1917. The urgent need for such hospital supplies brings home some of the horror of the war, in spite of government censorship at the time.

From LHJ, December 1917.

“Already the needs are greater than the supplies available….” American women wanted to help, but their efforts needed to be directed toward the most urgent medical needs in 1917 and 1918.

So the idea of sewing home-made operating gowns was not at all strange in 1924.

A pattern for a dentist’s gown was also offered by Butterick:

Butterick 5426, a pattern for a dentist’s gown from Delineator, August 1924.

The basic dentist’s gown didn’t change much, except that short sleeves were introduced….

A dentist and his nurse in an ad for citrus fruits. Delineator, June 1934.

Although Butterick assumed that dentists were male in 1924, my friend Barbara collected this interesting vintage garment for a woman, thinking it would have suited a pharmacist or other woman working in a medical field:

This looks like a woman’s work uniform top; the 3/4 sleeves suggest the World War I era. The neck is plain, and it’s easy to wash and iron.

Do you think she was right?

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shirts and Blouses, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, World War I

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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Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Costumes for the 19th century, Hairstyles, Late Victorian fashions, vintage photographs