Category Archives: 1930s-1940s

A Mother’s Day Meditation on My Mother’s Hair (and Maternity,) 1940s

An evening hairstyle from a Vogue fashion flyer, May, 1939.

My mother’s friends joked about her vanity, calling her “glamourpuss,” but she stayed with this 1939 hairstyle for at least ten years.

My mother’s hair, worn in two rolls over her forehead from the late 1930s until about 1950.

I’ll admit, it suited her. In this picture, she’s dressed for the Fourth of July, always a big occasion in our town, with a parade and rodeo.

Her hair, without a hat.

If you’re interested in World War II era hairstyles, I can tell you  how she did hers:  she parted it down the center from forehead to nape, then sectioned off the front. In back, her very long hair was braided into two braids, each long enough to wrap over the top of her head, or around the base, from ear to ear and back, where the ends were tucked neatly under the wide part of the braid. The braids were kept in place with both bobby pins and hairpins, as needed. The rolls were curled in toward the center and secured with pins.  Oddly, I never saw hairspray until the 1950s. She didn’t use it.

The style worked well with hats, and, until I came along, she worked as a secretary for a tobacco company in San Francisco, so she wore a hat to work every day, commuting by train.

My mother in a wide hat, during World War II

Although she had been one of the first girls in town to bob her hair in the early 1920s, she didn’t adopt a short 1950’s Toni perm until a radical mastectomy made it impossible for her to raise both arms over her head.  She couldn’t manage this braided hairstyle any more. Although she hated to cut her long hair, in fact the perm made her look much more youthful because it wasn’t an outdated style, but the latest thing. But that’s not why I’m writing this for Mother’s Day.

While looking through old photos for examples of this hairstyle — which I was stunned to actually find illustrated in that Vogue fashion flyer…

My mother wore her hair in the style illustrated with this 1930’s evening gown pattern from Vogue.

… I was equally surprised to find this photograph of my mother (and me.) I’ve been writing about maternity fashions of the twenties, thirties, and forties. And here is my mother wearing a smock, a few months before I was born:

Maternity wear, 1945. Before motherhood, her hair was a long pageboy in back. Once she had a baby to take care of, she grew long braids and pinned them up.

The fact that this photo exists surprises me. I remember overhearing her bragging that out-of-town friends who came to visit her when she was six months pregnant didn’t realize that she was expecting a baby. (My cynical adult self wonders if they were too polite to mention her weight gain.) On the other hand, no one expected her to have her first child at the age of forty. Also, this was a period when fashion magazines still advised pregnant women to be “inconspicuous” — it wasn’t until Lucille Ball wore maternity clothes on America’s most popular TV show in 1952 that the media stopped being embarrassed by visible pregnancy. The Post-War baby boom ushered in attractive maternity clothing — clothing that celebrated instead of concealing. But that’s a topic I mentioned in my last post.

Probably because my existence put a new financial strain on the household, I don’t think my mother — now that she didn’t have an office job in The City — allowed herself many fashion extravagances. Nevertheless, here we are around 1946. She still looks good in a hat:

My mother, a proud parent at age 41. Her hat has a veil, her knee-length coordinating dress is decorated with metal studs, her figure is back to normal, and her love of pretty new clothing seems to be directed at her offspring’s outfit. 1946 or 1947.

To everyone who makes those willing sacrifices — Happy Mother’s Day.

 

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Filed under 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Hairstyles, Hats, Maternity clothes, Musings, vintage photographs

Spring Prints, 1938

Maybe it was the result of seeing flowers in bloom that made women dress in print fabrics every Spring. In 1938, the flowers on the dresses were often big ones:

Two dresses for May, 1938. Butterick Fashion News flyer. Butterick 7847 and 7839.

Pattern descriptions and back views for Butterick 7847 and 7839, May 1938.

These (mostly floral) print dresses appeared in the Butterick Fashion News flyer in April and May of 1938.

Print dresses for Spring, 1938. Butterick store flyer, April 1938. Butterick 7813, left, and 7801, right.

 

Butterick dress pattern 7809 illustrated in a large-scale print fabric. Butterick store flyer, April 1938. Available up to bust size 44 inches.

Butterick patterns 7786, 7784, 7817, and 7795. Store flyer for April 1938.

Patterns for older and larger women were also illustrated in print fabrics. Butterick patterns 7802, 7799, and 7815; store flyer, April 1938. These were available up to size 50 or size 52.

Smaller and younger women could also find patterns — and print fabrics — to meet their needs.

Butterick 7862 was for women 5′ 4″ and under. Store flyer, May 1938.

7830, 7836, and 7828.

The “jacket frock” in the center is for Junior Miss figures up to bust size 38. Companion-Butterick patterns 7830, 7836, and 7828, from May 1938. The one on the right has print lapels and sash.

The dress on the cover for May 1938 was polka-dotted. Butterick 7857.

Left, a big floral print on Companion-Butterick 7829. Next, No. 7823 has a floral print sash. Its neckline is attributed to Vionnet’s influence. The dress with bows, No. 7827, is shown in a smaller, widely spaced white floral print. Right, No. 7825. All were available in a wide range of sizes, to fit either  young and small women (Sizes 12 to 20) or women up to bust 44″. Butterick store flyer, May 1938.

Bold border print fabrics were suggested for these “Beginners'” sewing patterns.

These patterns for inexperienced dressmakers use 52″ border prints. One has a zipper front, and neither has set-in sleeves. Butterick 7838 and 7864. May 1938.

Print fabrics were also suggested for Spring of 1939 — but there was a more youthful silhouette:

Butterick dresses for Spring, 1939. Patterns 8366, 8387, and 8372. Butterick Fashion News flyer, May 1939.

These sleeves and shoulders resemble those of the previous year, but in 1939, skirts were being worn much shorter — just at the bottom of the kneecap:

Butterick dress patterns from May 1938 (left) and May 1939 (right.) Butterick store flyers.

For May, 1939, a suit jacket and bodice are piped with the same polka-dotted fabric that makes the “pancake” hat, worn very far forward on the head. The hat is Butterick pattern 8359. The suit, with knee length skirt, is Butterick 8351.

 

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, Zippers

Vintage Fur and Feather Update with Useful Links

Ad for Albrecht fur coats, Delineator, Nov. 1917.

Just because a fur coat is 100 years old does not necessarily mean that you can sell it without a permit. And you need to know your bird species if you are selling vintage hats. In fact, you need to know your animal products, from feathers to ivory to crocodile to tortoiseshell, snakes — and more.

I have updated my recent post about a Vintage Store that was raided by California and U.S. Federal agencies last year. The owner is currently facing prosecution. After posting, I found a useful factsheet from the U.S. government. Click here: it is a two page pdf that can be printed and posted for reference.

If you sell or collect vintage clothing, you may not realize that “antique” or vintage status does not exempt all furs, feathers, and other animal products from regulation. Some vintage items made from listed animals can be sold if you have a permit. But for some items made from endangered species, there are no permits and very limited exceptions.

“Some wildlife laws prohibit all sale or purchase of products made from a protected species. Examples include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (which protects more than 1,000 wild birds native to the United States) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.” — U.S Fish and Wildlife Service “Can I Sell It?” Factsheet.

Here is what the “Can I Sell It?” factsheet says about feathers from endangered and threatened species:

“Taxidermied migratory birds or migratory bird feathers and parts: With some limited exceptions, sale of any type prohibited regardless of age of the specimen. (Exceptions involve limited purchase and sale of certain captive-reared and sport-taken migratory waterfowl.)
Examples: Victorian songbird collections, vintage women’s hats, and feather boas. [My boldface]
Of course, you have to be able to recognize which feathers and furs are on the endangered or threatened list (a very long list, called CITES Appendix 1). Identifying them on vintage clothing is complicated by the very old practice of altering fur and feathers from common domestic species to resemble rare or exotic species. Is that a bald eagle feather [“Sale prohibited regardless of age”]  or a turkey feather that has been doctored to look like one? Could that vintage “jaguar skin” coat really be jaguar [prohibited,] or is it rabbit fur cleverly dyed?
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service says,
“For us to answer your questions accurately, you must be able to tell us the species involved, including the scientific name, if possible.” — “Can I Sell It?” Factsheet.
 What kind of “wolf” fur is this? Hint: It’s probably not Manchurian, and definitely not wolf. More like Rin Tin Tin.

Manchurian Wolf Dyed Dog Fur trimmed coat from Sears, 1931.

At least it’s not a member of an endangered Canis Lupus (i.e., wolf) family….

My mother, around 1945. Was she literally “putting on the dog?” (That expression — meaning “dressing to make a display of wealth” — dates to the 19th century.)

Another passage from the “Can I Sell It?” factsheet:

“Grizzly bear, jaguar, or other U.S. species listed as endangered or threatened: No interstate or international sale of any type regardless of age, without a permit. Sale within a State allowed unless prohibited under State law. Examples: Taxidermied specimens, rugs, clothing, and other fur articles.
Sometimes a permit is needed to sell products made from protected species. Trade is regulated by state, federal, and international agencies — so you need to check with all that apply.  Investigators from both the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted the raid on Cicely Ann Hansen’s vintage clothing store.
If only it were possible to ask “The Bird on Nellie’s Hat” what species it is!
Women's hats with feathers, Delineator, Nov. 1917.

Women’s hats with feathers, Delineator, Nov. 1917. The mania for egret feathers on hats eventually led to the formation of the Audubon Society, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Read about it here.

In 1905, George Bernard Shaw complained to the management of an opera house about having to sit behind women who wore dead birds on their hats. To read his entertaining letter, click here.

Some Useful Links About Threatened and Endangered Species

Here is an endangered and threatened species list from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s alphabetized by Latin names, but the common names are also given.
Birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act include several kinds of egrets; a full endangered and protected birds list can be found by clicking here (common English and scientific names are given.)
Click here for an overview of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) program. Unfortunately, the CITES appendices are in scientific classification format, so look up the scientific name for your problematic animal before visiting CITES. For example, search “Latin name for gray wolf” and you will find it is Canis Lupus. Then you will be able to find out if the animal is on an endangered species list.
But first, before you think of buying or selling, you need to identify what the garment or object is made of. The Vintage Fashion Guild Fur Resource can help you identify furs, crocodile, alligator, etc. The listings will expand if you click on the {…} symbol. Then, checking if you need a permit to sell your garment is up to you.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Hats, Late Victorian fashions, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Freckles and Freckle Creams, 1920s and Later

Top of an ad for Othine Double Strength Freckle cream, Delineator, May 1925, p 29.

I’ve already written about skin bleaches from the 1920’s and 1930’s. I’ve also collected a number of ads for freckle removers, from several different makers, ranging from 1917 to the 1940’s. They use a standard advertising strategy: First, make women feel self-conscious about something that’s perfectly normal, then sell them something to “fix” it.

“Your freckles ruin your appearance;” ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, Aug. 1924.

“Are you one of the 14,695,000 folks who wish they could get rid of freckles?” Ad for Othine cream, Redbook magazine, 1949.

Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, July 1917. “Freckles are ‘as a cloud before the sun’ hiding your brightness, your beauty.”

Freckles were O.K. on boys, apparently, but not on their sisters.

The freckled face of child actor Mickey Daniels was an asset to his career in the Our Gang Comedies.  Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, Sept. 1924. Delineator.

“Your freckles always attract attention, no matter how well you dress.” Stillman’s promised to “dissolve away” freckles and whiten, refine and beautify your skin. “Guaranteed to remove freckles or money refunded.”

Stillman’s ad from Chatelaine, a Canadian magazine, August, 1939. p. 31.

Probably the creepiest anti-freckle ads were for a product called Mercolized Wax. “Better than trying to hide or cover up such disfigurements. Simply apply the wax at bedtime and wash off in the morning. This actually peels off the freckled cuticle, gently, gradually, without harm or inconvenience. Unveils the young, healthy, beautiful skin underneath. Unequaled as a blemish remover and complexion rejuvenator.”

Mercolized Wax seemed to promise to lift the freckles right out of your skin. Ad from 1924.

In that ad, freckles were equated with “disfigurements” and “blemishes” — I began to wonder whether they were talking about blackheads or freckles. Pulling the freckles out of your skin would not be a pleasant or beautifying act.

Astonishingly, Mercolized Wax was was still running ads in 1942!

Mercolized wax ad, Redbook magazine, September 1942. I found this ad via Pro-Quest. “Mercolized Wax Cream flakes off the surface skin in tiny, almost invisible particles, revealing a fairer, fresher, more attractive underskin. Start bleaching skin now.”

At least, by 1942, the ads no longer imply that freckles will be yanked right out of your face; it’s more like a “skin peel.” Use according to directions, indeed.

This 1934 ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream is almost identical to an ad Stillman’s ran in 1924. They even used the same photo. Delineator, June 1934.

Here’s a more lyrical Stillman’s ad from 1921:

Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream in Vogue magazine, August 15, 1921.

Ad for Othine Freckle Remover, August 1926, Delineator.

“Don’t try to hide your freckles or waste time on lemon juice [used for its acidic bleaching properties] or cucumbers; get an ounce of Othine and remove them.”

Amazingly, both Stillman’s and Othine offered a money-back guarantee. In addition to freckle creams like Stillman’s, Othine, and Mercolized Wax, bleach creams like Golden Peacock were also touted for freckle removal.

1933 ad for Golden Peacock skin bleach, Delineator, Aug. 1933. The “before” photo is very unconvincing!

I’ve been watching a lot of young artists on YouTube lately; I’m happy to see some of them drawing women with freckles. One of my favorites, Minnie Small (aka SemiSkimmedMin.com,) sketched this freckled beauty.  I like the way her freckles are intrinsic to her look. (If you like, you can watch a 3 minute video of this sketch being created. Just click on the image.)

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Vintage Store Raided; Vintage Furs from Endangered Species Confiscated

NOTE: This post was updated on 3/3/17 to include a link to the “Can I Sell It? Factsheet, A Guide to Plant and Wildlife Protection Laws” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In some cases, even the “100 years = an Antique” rule does not apply.

A model wears an exotic fur coat in this ad for Selby Arch Preserver shoes from Woman’s Home Companion, December 1936.

Models wearing clothes trimmed with fur, Woman’s Home Companion, March 1936. Ad for Arch Preserver shoes.

Selling vintage furs may be more complicated than you think.

A long-established vintage clothing store in San Francisco was raided in 2016 and about 150 items made from species that are now on the endangered species list, but which were not classified as “endangered” before 1973, were taken. Read the article here.

Butterick patterns for hats and fur collars, Delineator, November 1934. Let’s hope the fur was dyed rabbit, and not a species that has since been declared endangered.

In a follow-up article on March 26, 2017, the San Francisco Chronicle gave the store-owner’s side of the story. “Investigators from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted … a raid on Feb. 25, 2016.” Store owner Cicely Ann Hansen, 68, owner of the Haight Street vintage clothing store Decades of Fashion since 2005, told reporters that she believed it was legal to sell the clothes if they had been made before 1972. “The Endangered Species Act took effect in 1973, so at the time those clothes were made, the animals were not technically ‘endangered,’ as that classification did not yet exist.” Hansen has been charged with nine misdemeanor counts of illegal possession for sale of an endangered species, according to the San Francisco district attorney’s office.

Hansen says she stored much of her personal collection in the basement of the store, and those furs were confiscated, too. Apparently the folks from the Wildlife departments and the SF District Attorney did not accept Hansen’s protest that those items were not for sale, and that the furs she does sell were taken from animals that were killed long before they were declared endangered. (At some point, will the defense call in other fashion historians to date the vintage furs?)  Hansen pointed out that furs make up “a tiny portion — 1 percent — of the store’s business, and she would not have risked the store and the livelihood of her nine employees had she known the laws changed.”

I’m not in favor of wearing fur or feathers from protected species (or from animals raised for slaughter,) but furs and feathers were fashion staples in less enlightened eras. Many aspects of history are disturbing, including fashion history.

Sellers of vintage clothing will need to follow this case through the courts. Will feathered Edwardian hats — which led to the founding of the Audubon Society — be next? Edited 3/30/17: Yes. From the “Can I Sell It?” U.S. government Factsheet:

“Taxidermied migratory birds or migratory bird feathers and parts:
With some limited exceptions, sale of any type prohibited regardless of age of the specimen. (Exceptions
involve limited purchase and sale of certain captive-reared and sport-taken migratory waterfowl.)
Examples: Victorian songbird collections, vintage women’s hats, and feather boas”
[Question: Does “examples” mean “you need to check”, or “Forbidden?”
“Grizzly bear, jaguar, or other U.S. species listed as endangered or threatened:
No interstate or international sale of any type regardless of age, without a permit. Sale within a State allowed unless prohibited under State law
Examples: Taxidermied specimens, rugs, clothing, and other fur articles.”

Ads for Imperial fur coats, 1937; “seal dyed coney” meant that no seals were killed for these coats — but a great many rabbits (coney) were.

You could read about the fur coats being worn in Paris (left, Delineator, 1928) and buy a cheaper American fur coat from Sears Roebuck (1930). The Sears coat was made of muskrats.

There is an interesting chapter on furs, feathers, and the founding of the Audubon society in A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America, by Jenna Weissman Joselit.

If you are a vintage clothing seller, please read the comments below. If you are not in the United States, or buy and sell internationally, you should find out more about the CITES treaty. See comments below.

 

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

More Fashions from McCall, July 1938

It’s such a pleasure to see full-color pattern illustrations; here are some more.

McCall coat pattern 9809, McCall dresses 9807 and 9815. McCall’s Magazine, July 1938.

Surprisingly, the gold colored garment on the left is a coat for summer; it could be made with longer sleeves for other seasons.

McCall coat pattern 9808, from 1938. It has a “petal neckline.” Available in sizes 12 – 18 and 36 to 42.

McCall dress pattern 9807 from 1938. A dress “anyone can wear,” it was available in sizes 12-18, and 36 to 46.

McCall pattern 9815 from 1938. These floral striped fabrics were very popular that year. Available in sizes 12 through 20 years, but not in woman’s sizes.

For more stripes and flowers from 1938, click here.

Dresses to make your waist look smaller. McCall 9792, 9790, 9791, from McCall’s Magazine, July 1938.

McCall dress pattern 9792 from 1938. It was only available in young women’s sizes 12 to 20.

McCall dress pattern 9790 is described as a new kind of  princess line, shaped with tucks instead of princess seams. 1938. Sizes 12 to 20.

McCall pattern 9791 looks like a dress and bolero jacket, but it is really a dress made from two fabrics. 1938. Sizes 12 to 20.

Three dresses intended for average and larger women appeared together, at left:

McCall dress patterns available up to size 46: 9817, 9805, 9789; right, 9795. McCall’s Magazine, July 1938.

As usual, they were not illustrated on a different body type than the dresses for younger or smaller women, and these 1938 styles do not seem especially matronly. They were not only for larger sizes.

McCall dress pattern 9817 was available in sizes 12 – 18 and 36 to 46. 1938. I would think this dress was more slenderizing than the pink “hourglass” one (No. 9790) above.

McCall dress pattern 9805 was available in sizes12 to 18 and 36 to 46. 1938.

McCall dress pattern 9795 was available in the normal range of sizes, 12 to 18 and 36 to 42. 1938.

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

How to Do Laundry, 1920’s and Later (Part 2)

"The punishment your clothes get in an ordinary washing is harder on them than all the wear you give them the rest of the week. You can't afford to let the old hard laundry soap wear out any more clothes in the washing." From a Lux ad, Delineator, August 1926.

“The punishment your clothes get in an ordinary washing is harder on them than all the wear you give them the rest of the week. You can’t afford to let the old hard laundry soap wear out any more clothes in the washing.” From a Lux ad, Delineator, August 1926.

Modern Methods of Laundering, article from Delineator magazine, July 1927.

"Modern Methods of Laundering," Delineator, page 40, July 1927.

“Modern Methods of Laundering,” Delineator, page 40, July 1927.

This full-page article described the way to do laundry in 1927, with step-by-step illustrations. I will show the images and text, from number 1 to number 11, with occasional comments or explanations. (Even if you’re hauling your laundry to a laundromat every week, reading this article may make you glad it’s not 1927.)

The horizontal washer used in the “Methods” illustrations is less familiar than this upright “Mangle washing machine,” but the steps would be the same.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

First, Prepare Your Soap

Laundry soap options in 1927. They included grating your own soap from a bar. Fels Naptha soap, in a big bar, was rubbed on difficult stains and rings around the collar.

Laundry soap options in 1927. They included purchasing flakes, chips, or powder; liquifying your soap ahead of time(right); and (left) grating your own laundry soap from a bar. Fels Naptha soap, which came in a big bar, was rubbed on difficult stains and rings around the collar.

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Hook Up the Hose

Filling the washing machine. There wa wide variety in washing machine styles; this one is cylindrical. 1927.

Filling the washing machine. There was wide variety in washing machine styles; this one is cylindrical. 1927. She is filling it by hand with a hose attached to her sink’s faucet, and presumably has a hot water heater. Earlier washers were filled bucket by bucket, with water heated on the stove.

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Weigh the Clothes

Weighing a load of clothes. The Savage brand washer could handle 10 lbs.

Weighing a load of laundry. The Savage brand wringerless washer could handle ten lbs. With wringer type washers, clothes were constantly being removed from the washer, and others were being added.

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In 1927, too big a load could burn out your motor. White clothes were pre-soaked or pre-washed with borax and soap. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that converts some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide — which is increasingly being used instead of chlorine bleaches.

Adding soap to a 1927 washer.

Adding soap to a 1927 washer. You were supposed to dissolve the soap before putting it in the machine, to be sure it would dissolve completely. Even in the 1950s, laundry soap didn’t always dissolve in cold water.

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Find the Electric Switch (and the Emergency Stop)

This power switch is inconveniently located near the floor. Notice the faucet for draining the washing machine.

This power switch is inconveniently located near the floor. Notice the faucet for draining water out of the washing machine.

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Another article mentioned the importance of having an easy-to-reach emergency shut-off for the electric wringer. Just the other day I met a woman who remembered getting her braid caught in the wringer when she was a girl. Luckily, she could reach the switch before her head was pulled up against the wringer. Serious injury was possible if you couldn’t reach the wringer switch. Since you used your fingers to guide the laundry into the wringer, you had to pay attention.

Watch It Make Suds

You could not trust the soap to dissolve evenly.

You could not trust the soap to dissolve evenly, and women didn’t trust a soap unless it made lots of suds.

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Here, you can see the wringer, in profile, next to the woman’s head. Presumably, this control lever is also the safety switch.

Load Washer, Set Alarm Clock

Adding the clothes while the washer is running.

Adding the clothes while the washer is running.

(The wooden rod was also used for moving laundry around in the washer.)

(The wooden rod was also used for moving laundry around in the washer.)

Uh-oh:  the overnight soak or preliminary washing, and the first run through the wringer, apparently had to be done ahead of time.

Before the kitchen timer.... Once the alarm clock was set, the laundress hurried to do other tasks.

1927: Before the kitchen timer or automatic wash cycle…. Once the alarm clock was set, the laundress hurried to do other tasks.

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Make Starch on the Stove

While the machine was washing sturdy fabrics, delicate silks and hosiery awaited hand washing. And liquid starch had to be made. I don’t know what “tinted” means in this context, but fabrics were not always colorfast. And some whites had to be “blued.” This would  also be a chance to lug a heavy basket of wet laundry out to the yard and hang it on the washline with clothes pegs or clothes pins. In Spring and Fall, the wash had to be hung out earlier in the day.

Ad for Quick Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Ad for Quick Elastic Hot Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936. It was “quick” because you didn’t need to cook it — just dissolve it in cold water and then add hot water. Stir.

“It parallels the advance in … automatically heated irons. Practically self-cooking….. Thin it down to give any degree of gloss or delicate “sizing.” Clothes which needed to be starched were dipped in liquid starch while damp, and wrung out  before ironing.

Tending the washing machine, hand-washing delicates, boiling the whites on a low laundry stove. Fels Naptha soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Tending the washing machine (L), hand-washing delicates (C), boiling the whites on a low laundry stove (R.) Fels Naptha soap ad, Delineator, March 1927. Boiling hankies and diapers controlled germs. Boiling long underwear killed lice.

In 2017, I when set my high efficiency, low-water use washing machine, it weighs the load, does the pre-soaking, one or two rinses as desired, and “wrings” out the wash water and the rinse water in a spin cycle — while I leave the room and do something else. In 1927, even with an electric washer — which not everyone had — doing the laundry meant tending the wash constatntly.

Put Through the Wringer

clothes werefished out of the sudsy water and "put through the wringer." In 1950, My grandmother had a special pole, about three feet long, for fishing clothes out of the hot water, or insuring that the load stayed evenly distributed.

Clothes were fished out of the sudsy water and “put through the wringer one at a time.” In 1950, my grandmother had a special wooden pole, about three feet long, for lifting clothes out of the hot water, or insuring that the load stayed evenly distributed.

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Boiling and Blueing

The use of scalding hot water explains the importance of Sanforized, pre-shrunk fabrics in shirts and other clothing.

Ad for Sanforized-Shrunk dresses, Delineator, Sept. 1933.

Ad for Sanforized-Shrunk dresses, Delineator, Sept. 1933. The “Sanforized” process was introduced around 1930.

About blueing:  As explained in RememberedSummers, “Laundry had to be hung out to dry in your yard, in fresh air, which meant that it was exposed to public view. Most back yards contained two tall posts (picture small, square telephone poles) with four or more clotheslines  strung between them from the crossbars…. Of course, in the old days, all of your neighbors hung out laundry on the same day you did (Monday), so there was some competition as to who had the whitest sheets. In the 1940s , my grandmother always put blueing in her final rinse [to get the yellow out.]” (And yes, some “blue-haired old ladies” used it on their hair! Don’t!)

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Ad for Cube Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Ad for Staley’s Gloss Starch Cubes, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Without starch, inexpensive fabrics became limp. If you wanted to keep cottons looking new, you needed to starch them before you ironed them.

But, before you were ready to iron the rest of the laundry, you had to dry it. This is not what I think of when I read the word “dryer:”

A heated cupboard for indoor drying. 1927.

A heated cupboard for indoor drying. 1927.

500-11-text-drying-1927-july-p-40-laundry-step-by-step-page

Hung Out to Dry

I have never visited a house with a dryer like this, but then, I live in sunny California. Clothes were normally dried out of doors …

Dryig clothing in the air, Borax ad, 1924.

Drying clothing in the air, Borax ad, 1924. A solar and wind powered dryer.

Solar and wind powered drying, the laundry line worked well for at least half of the year. But air drying doesn’t get the wrinkles out of modern permanent press clothing. Some modern planned communities even forbid laundry lines as unsightly.

My Texas-born husband tells me that in really cold weather, laundry will freeze dry — or at least, dry enough to be ironed. Rainy weather meant hanging your laundry to dry in the house — a messy and inconvenient necessity.

I have never known life without a washing machine, or at least a laundromat where I could wash and dry three loads at a time and be home within two hours. In 1927, that could take two days. No wonder many women “sent out” their laundry.

However, we ought to remember that, in the nineteen twenties, many American women were enjoying labor-saving inventions that have still not been introduced in many parts of the world. It’s time to remember how lucky I am.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture