Category Archives: 1920s

Loungewear, Hostess Gowns and Negligees, 1926

Left, “Hostess gown or Negligee” 6627; Right, negligee 6568. Butterick patterns in Delineator, May 1926.

What could a woman wear at home during her moments of leisure in the 1920s? AllWays in Fashion recently offered very good advice (for these weeks when we are “socially isolating” ourselves): Even if you don’t leave the house, get dressed. I’m a retiree whose arthritic knees have been complaining a lot recently, and it’s much too easy for me to stay in pajamas all day. (I do put on my medical compression hose, but loose, casual trousers and pajamas feel better over them than the static-prone, dressier fabrics I’d wear to a lunch date.) But I really ought to make more of an effort to dress nicely for my spouse!

Butterick negligee / robe 6568, from January 1926.

Negligees from Butterick patterns, May 1926. Left 6197, right, 6828.

Hostess gown (or negligee) 6393 from May 1926.

These 1926 robes or negligees  and “hostess gowns” are a little surprising. Some are descendants of the “tea gown,” but a little too much like sleepwear for me to wear while greeting invited guests! Let’s just consider them as robes or pajamas (but I’ll include their original pattern descriptions….)

These pajamas are rather fun, with their bias bound, pointy hems:

Pajama 6031 is easy to imagine on a beach….

The bottoms of the pants don’t have to be gathered — they have a pointed hem like the pj top.A bit like a masquerade costume is this Asian-influenced pajama set:

Embroidered “French pajama-negligee;” Butterick 6093 pictured in May 1926.

This “hostess gown” was featured repeatedly. It is actually a robe with a side-closing (“surplice” style.) I imagine a few concealed snaps down the front would be necessary!

No. 6627 from Delineator, March 1926.

No. 6627 illustrated in March 1926.

Left, No. 6627 illustrated in May 1926. Right, Negligee 6568, in sizes up to 52 inches!

Text for 6627, from April 1926.

One of my stranger 1926 discoveries, also featured in more than one month, was this “dressing sacque,” Butterick 6558.

Dressing sacque from Delineator, May 1926.

Dressing sacque 6558 from Delineator, April 1926.

Description of No. 6558 from May 1926.

The illustration below gives a good idea of when you’d wear a dressing sacque:  you’re dressed except for your dress and shoes; now’s the time to put your sacque on over your underwear and slip, and do your hair, powder your face, and apply mascara, eyebrow pencil, lipstick, and rouge, keeping your dress free of powder spills and stray hairs. Click here for an 18th century painting of two ladies, one dressing and one dressed.

Dressing sacque 6558 from Delineator, January 1926.

In previous centuries, women might own a “combing jacket”  or “peignoir,” [from “peigne,” the French for “comb”] worn while putting up their hair (or having their hair powdered in the 1700s.) Sew Historically posted about a lovely Edwardian combing jacket. Click here for an 1887 dressing sacque. “Negligee” is another word borrowed from the French; it’s come to suggest a fragile or see-through boudoir garment, but originally a lady might receive guests while “en negligee,” meaning she was dressed informally, rather than dressed to go out. In this painting by Hogarth, the lady of the house is having her hair styled, en negligee,  while entertaining a room full of visitors:

https://janeaustensworld.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/marriage-c3a0-la-mode-the-countesss-morning-levee1.jpg

“The Toilette,” by William Hogarth, from Marriage a la Mode, circa 1743. National Gallery, Via Wiki Media.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under 1920s, lingerie, Nightclothes and Robes, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Nose Shapers, 1920s

Detail of ad from Motion Picture Magazine, Dec 1921.

My local newspaper regularly runs large ads from a plastic surgery clinic, showing before and after photos. The ads that annoy me the most are ones suggesting that a tiny, turned-up nose on women is preferable to an “ethnic” nose — regardless of how it would relate to her other features.

This focus on the “perfect” nose isn’t new. I found ads for two competing “nose shapers” in the same issue of this Motion Picture Magazine from December, 1921.

Which is the “Before” and which is the “After?” Trilety ad from Motion Picture Magazine, Dec. 1921.

Other ads for the Trilety Nose Shaper clarify the problem: Pug noses were not in fashion with M. Trilety.

Ad from Motion Pictures Magazine, 1923. (To be fair, actor Michael Caine*** has also advised that no one wants to see inside your nostrils in a close-up on the giant screen.)

Trilety nose shaper ad, Motion Picture Magazine, 1923.

The Anita Nose Adjuster was not specifically concerned with pug noses:

Anita Nose Adjuster ad, December 1921. Motion Pictures Magazine.

“Refined features attract; misshapen features repel. Such is nature’s law. If your nose is ill-shaped, you can make it perfect with ANITA NOSE ADJUSTER. In a few weeks in the privacy of your own home and without interfering with your daily occupation, ANITA NOSE ADJUSTER shapes while you sleep — quickly, painlessly, permanently and inexpensively. There are many inferior imitations, but the ANITA NOSE ADJUSTER is the ORIGINAL and ONLY comfortable adjuster highly recommended by physicians for fractured or mis-shaped noses. Write to-day for free booklet, “Happy Days Ahead.” No obligations.

“SPECIAL SIZES FOR CHILDREN.”

Another Trilety ad from Motion Picture Magazine, 1923.

More from the “How the Shape of My Nose Delayed My Success” Trilety Nose Shaper ad, 1923.

Model 25 “has six adjustable pressure regulators, is made of light polished metal, is firm and fits every nose comfortably. The inside is upholstered with a fine chamois skin and no metal parts come in contact with the skin. Thousands of unsolicited Testimonials ….”

It’s incredible how long this company lasted, considering its offer of “your money refunded if you are not satisfied.”

One of the concepts that got me through my teen years was the realization that there is a difference between being pretty and being beautiful. The bust of Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin shows a woman who is beautiful by the standards of almost any nation and era.  Many girls are pretty, at least for a brief time when they have youth and health working for them. But mere prettiness is much more common than beauty, which may require a certain amount of maturity and experience of life. Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn were inspiring to me in the 1960s, because they were beautiful, rather than pretty. They didn’t have blonde hair or tiny, turned-up noses, or perfectly regular features. They were not “cute.” Neither was Greta Garbo. Maybe confidence, and feeling comfortable being who you are, is more important than trying to conform to “the norm.” Josephine Baker from St. Louis, MO, made herself the most glamourous woman in Paris — couturiers sent her free dresses and begged her to wear them.  Would Frida Kahlo have been more beautiful with a tiny nose and plucked eyebrows?

*** Sir Michael Caine has written more than one book about acting on film, as well as making an entertaining Video in which he explains why a simple thing like smoking a cigarette while delivering lines in a movie is much harder than you’d think.

12 Comments

Filed under 1920s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Failed Fashion? Fichus,1920

A collar resembling an 18th c. fichu is the focus of this dress pattern from 1920.

Sometimes a style appears that captures the mood of the times, and it becomes a dominant fashion. But sometimes a fashion misfires (wrong time, wrong look.) Example: The fichu dresses of 1920.

Another fichu dress pattern from 1920.

In 1920, young people had experienced the deaths and injuries of World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic, which killed young, healthy people rather than the old. “The Lost Generation” wasn’t in the mood for a return to the 18th century.

A “Martha Washington costume” from Butterick, 1924.

A scarf (fichu) was long enough to cross in front and tie in back. 1792, Met Museum costume plate.

The late 18th century fichus helped to cover the breasts which were pushed into view by the combination of stays and low necklines.

The 18th c. fichu could be tucked into the bodice, Met Museum Fashion plate collection.

A fichu crossed in front and tied in back, 1792. Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates Collection.

This tight-waisted, busty mode would not seem to have much in common with the nineteen twenties.

A fichu crossed in front and tied in back, 1793. Metropolitan Museum collection.

However, we can’t discount the possible influence of popular culture in 1920, such as novels and movies set in the late 1700s, like A Tale of Two Cities, which was filmed in 1911 and 1917. For whatever reason, Butterick thought women might like to wear fichu dresses in 1920.

The fichu/collar is part of the dress. Butterick 2408, June 1920.

Two dresses from June, 1920. Delineator.

Styles that tied in back, or were heavily ruffled, were not unusual in 1920.

Non-fichu styles from Butterick, summer of 1920. (Chi-chi balls on the left?)

Butterick 2364, a fichu dress from May, 1920.

This one has a three-layered skirt.

The waistline was in flux in 1920: sometimes near the natural waist, and sometimes very low-waisted.

Butterick 2470 ties its fichu at a low waist.

This graduation dress for teens 14 to 19 ties its fichu near the natural waist.

Two illustrations of Butterick 2408. On the left, the dropped waist is emphasized with trim.

Butterick 2192 has a fichu-shaped collar, but in darker colors.

Butterick 2192 was illustrated in February 1920…

…and again —  in color — in March, 1920.

The fichu also appeared on this dress for girls:

Butterick 2202 from March 1920.

Sometimes the fichu is referred to as a surplice, and sometimes (as here) what seems to me to be a surplice closing is called a fichu! [“Fashion is spinach.”]

Butterick offered this fichu dress pattern in 1922:

Butterick 3720 from June 1922.

This could mean that Butterick had some success with its 1920 fichu dress patterns after all….  (Also, another film of Tale of Two Cities was released in 1922….) The waist on 1922 pattern 3729 — like the other dresses on the same page — is definitely low.

Three Butterick patterns from June, 1922.

10 Comments

Filed under 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Musings

Scalloped Button Tabs, Early 1930s

Scallop-shaped button tabs from 1930. Sometimes they are bound with bias tape. The ones on the left may be topstitched, instead.

Sometimes a minor fashion detail will catch my eye as I browse through photos. I don’t think this one was a major fashion trend, but it does show up enough for me to make quite a collection of examples. Scalloped hems had been seen in the 1920s, but these button tabs seem to be a 1929  – 1931 feature. They are shown on women and children.

Scalloped button tabs on a woman’s tunic and a girl’s dress. Butterick patterns, 1930.

Sometimes they appear on skirts.

Scalloped button tabs on suit skirts. 1930 and 1931.

Sometimes they are bound with bias fabric contrasting with the dress; sometimes they are lined but not outlined. See above. (And sometimes it’s had to tell which from the illustrations….)

Scallops are a theme on the collar and button tabs of this dress from October 1930.

I think the dark outline of the scallops is not bias binding, but the artist’s attempt to show a shadow. The tabs on the skirt hold a pleat in place. They probably don’t unbutton.

A “tailored” wool dress. “Like many this season, it’s a buttoned frock with scallops used smartly.”

I’m not sure how popular bias-bound scalloped button tabs would have been with home stitchers…. It’s relatively easy to make a scalloped edge when it is finished with the garment’s lining, like the hem of this blue dress:

The blue dress on the left has a scalloped hem lined with gray taffeta. Butterick pattern from 1926.

Aprons and cotton dresses often had scalloped hems bound with contrasting bias tape.

Left: A day dress from 1929 has scallops at the waist, the collar, and the hem. The hem appears to be bound with bias tape.

This apron from 1931 uses bias tape for trim and to bind the edges of hem, neckline, armholes and waist ties.

A scalloped apron hem bound with bias tape. 1931.

The curved part of the scallop is easy to bind, but the points where the curves meet take some practice.

Scalloped button tabs appeared in Delineator in November, 1929:

Scalloped button tabs on a blouse and skirt, Butterick 2916. November 1929.

The blouse and skirt on the left, Butterick 2916, was illustrated on two pages of Delineator, November 1929. Note the natural waist (a new fashion) and the  knee-length hems (about to go out of style.)

There are subtle differences, like the color of the attached scarf and the size of the buttons.

Two versions of Butterick 2916. 1929. The blouse tucks into the skirt, which has matching scallops.

Two big scalloped button tabs on Sport dress 3257. June 1930. Bias binding adds a dash of color.

It’s likely that many of these scalloped button tabs were purely decorative, and the dresses opened under the arm, along the side seam.

Scallops showed up on house dresses…

Scalloped button tabs on a cotton wash dress. 1930.

And on suits…

A series of rounded button tabs on this suit are not actually scallops. The text commented on the natural waist of this suit. Butterick 3151, April 1930.

Scallops had long been popular on girls’ clothes.

Dresses for schoolgirls, 1930.

Scalloped button tabs make this simple coat very fancy. October 1930.

The next illustration gives us a combination of scallops and straight lines! Probably artistic license….

One armhole and one side of the neckline have scallops. The buttons have scalloped tabs. Illustration for an article on sportswear, Delineator, May 1930.

Occasionally the button tabs took on an angular, zig-zag quality:

Pointed button tabs instead of curved ones — a little variety. Left, 1930; right, 1929.

This stylish scalloped version comes from December, 1931:

Butterick 4231, Delineator, December 1931.

That’s all, folks!

13 Comments

Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, Sportswear, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

February Delights, 1920

100 years ago: A woman skier in an ad for Colgate cold cream, Delineator, February 1920.

Daggett & Ramsdell’s Perfect Cold Cream ad. Delineator, February 1920.

Cold cream to relieve chapped and chafed skin. 1920.

Winter weather provided a perfect reason to apply one of the many cold cream products available in 1920. This one was for faces, hands, and even babies. The same manufacturer also sold face powder in “flesh, white, or brunette.”

Another brand, Bourjois Java Face Powder (sold since 1860!) also based this 1920 ad on skiing:

A stylized ski outfit from an eye-catching ad. Delineator, February 1920.

Ad for Bourgeois Java Face Powder, February 1920. “For Youth and Beauty and for Charm.”

“Today fastidious femininity the world over regards Bourjois Java Powder as the indispensable finishing touch a l’art de la toilette.” “Also makers of the famous rouge “Ashes of Roses.”

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020!

 

2 Comments

Filed under 1920s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Women in Trousers

Seamless Stockings in 1930

Seamed stockings from Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1939.

Every costume design job is an opportunity to do more research, but there are some things that are just part of your general knowledge. For example, when I was hired to costume a college production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which takes place in 1937, I automatically put the adult female characters in seamed stockings.

I was surprised recently when I came across this image from 1930:

Seamless stockings could be purchased at department stores in 1930! This image is from Delineator, May 1930.

I simply hadn’t come across this information before, so I checked another source: the Sears, Roebuck catalogs. There they were:

“No-Seam” hosiery for women, Sears Roebuck catalog, Fall 1930, p. 171.

No-Seam stockings text, Sears catalog, Fall 1930.

And another source….

From a fashion editorial about accessories, Delineator, September 1930.

There are some typos in the original text, as you can see, but corrected, it says, “I made a new discovery a few days ago — stockings needn’t have seams in order to fit. You may remember the old seamless stockings … which went into Grecian drapery at the ankles after their first contact with soap and water. The new Guildmode hose is knitted in a special way so that it fits just as snugly as a full fashioned stocking. It is dull [matte] and very sheer.”

“Full-fashioned” meant stockings which were shaped like the outline of a leg, curving in at the ankle, and gradually curving out over the calf area.

Before stretchier knits became available, the seam at the back was necessary for a good fit. Full-fashioned stocking illustration from Sears, 1958.

A short history: Knitted stockings have been around for hundreds of years. The simple knitted tube naturally stretched — somewhat — to the shape of the leg, but a seam up the back permitted a closer fit.  As stockings became more sheer (and more visible under short skirts) in the Nineteen Twenties, women became aware of the way the vertical seam up the back created a slenderizing line on their legs.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/hosiery-nov-1928-mar-1929-apr-1929-may-1929.jpg

Gordon Hosiery ads from Delineator, Nov. 1928 through May 1929.

Seams and pointed heels made these stockings flattering. Sears, Fall of 1939.

“Notice how they follow the natural shadows of the ankle — to give you slenderness and grace.”

Skirt hems went down and then up again in the Nineteen Thirties, but seamed stockings were so much a part of normal dress that women couldn’t give up that seam line even when silk or nylon stockings became unavailable during World War II.

There were no nylon or silk stockings available from Sears in 1944 because nylon and silk were needed for the war. Sears catalog index, Spring 1944.

In Spring of 1945, before the War ended,  Sears offered these un-glamourous cotton stockings. Three pairs were guaranteed to last you three months. (I.e., you would have two wearable stockings left.)

But, back to the Thirties:

Chiffon [sheer] and Service Weight stockings from Sears, Fall 1930.

Seamed rayon stockings from Sears, Fall 1930. Rayon, a synthetic fabric based on cellulose, was cheaper than silk.

At the first dress rehearsal of Brighton Beach Memoirs, the director knelt down beside my chair and whispered, “Are those seams on their stockings?” He was clearly delighted. I whispered back, “Well, stockings with seams are too expensive for our budget,** so I taught the actresses to do it the 1940s’ way: we drew ‘seams’ up the backs of their hose with an eyebrow pencil.” (The lines didn’t come out completely when we washed their sheer tights, so they just had to retrace the previous line for the next performance.)

At first, I thought the director was impressed by the seamed stockings because I was much more detail-oriented than my predecessor. Later I realized that anyone who was a teen-aged boy in the 1950s probably feels a certain nostalgia for seamed stockings, which, along with high heels and garter belts, were often seen on pin-up girls.

This 1950s’ stocking ad, shared by Sally Edelstein at Envisioning the American Dream, shows the sex appeal of seamed stockings.

Being allowed to wear high heels (or even kitten heels,) and sheer stockings held up by a garter belt was a rite of passage for girls of my generation. (I think that my first heels and stockings were required for a school field trip to the ballet [or opera?] circa 1958, when I was in 8th or 9th grade.)

Garter belts, seamed stockings, high heels, and a bouffant “crinoline” petticoat in 1958: “Today I am a woman!”

At thirteen, I was finally old enough to ask, “Are my seams straight?”

To return to my costume design for Brighton Beach Memoirs, would this new (to me) information about the existence of seamless stockings*** in 1930 have made any difference? No, because the characters in the play are struggling financially, and because they are not fashionable women. They would have worn inexpensive stockings — probably cotton, rayon, or “service weight.”

Service weight silk stockings were not as sheer as “chiffon” ones. Sears, Fall 1930.

I settled for using sheer tights with added seams because at the time of the production that was the most affordable option. Also, in college productions, most of the actors are younger than the characters they play. The two “mothers” were actually about twenty years old, and the teenaged daughters were also played by twenty year old actresses. Putting the mothers in seamed stockings and the daughters in bobby socks helped to establish an age difference.

More of my own “Garter Belt and Seamed Stockings” Memoirs to come….

** Some very good costume shop supervisors have told me that a seam can be added to inexpensive modern hosiery with an overlock sewing machine, but I haven’t tried it myself.

*** If you need a research topic, note that some of the images make reference to seamless stockings earlier than 1930.

8 Comments

Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Accessories

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!)

17 Comments

Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1940s-1950s, Children's Vintage styles, Hairstyles, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, vintage photographs