Category Archives: 1940s-1950s

Random Images, Random Thoughts….

Alice Eating Watermelon, 1929. Watercolor painting by S. Grote. The watermelon eater is my Great Aunt  Alice.

I’m feeling grouchy today. I was getting tired of 1930’s boleros, so I dropped into my 1914 photo files for a bit of a change. Wrong choice!

A bolero pattern, Butterick 6627; Delineator, January 1914.

Butterick bolero 6747, Delineator, March 1914.

Bolero pattern 6821, Butterick’s Delineator magazine, April 1914.

Butterick waist pattern 6862 imitates a bolero. Delineator, May 1914.

No. 6862 could even be adapted for evening.

Obviously, 1914, with its high-waisted fashions, was not the year to get away from boleros!

So, what follows isn’t about fashion history — but what’s the point of a blog if I can’t just blather occasionally? 🙂

Butterick 6686 looks like a tied bolero in front. February 1914.

I Am Tired of Seeing Icy Landscape Photos

Every time I turn on my laptop, Bing gives me a different photograph screensaver, and asks if I like it or not. I realize that Bing is probably using my responses to improve their AI algorithms, but I’m also conducting a little experiment with them: How long will it take their AI to catch on? It would definitely be simpler if Bing just asked me what kind of photos I prefer. Multiple choice, perhaps…. (Villages, yes. Hummingbirds, yes. Deserts, yes. Ancient artifacts? yes. Landscapes that make me want to get up and put on a sweater? No.) Yes, I could buy or create my own screensavers, but where would the challenge be?

My experiment is to always reject icy-cold landscapes with jagged rocks and distant mountain climbers, and to always like images of animals and flowers. I deliberately liked a toucan, and a field of tulips in bloom — that ought to be a pretty broad hint that I prefer intense colors. But no, they keep sending me isolated hikers in glacial terrain. Brrrrr. And not enough birds and animals for me to really express my preference. So my experiment goes slowly. (I do realize I’m in a minority when it comes to landscapes — but Bing invites me to express a preference….)

A Rose for Georgia, from a series of watercolors in homage to women artists, by S. Grote.  I love O’Keefe’s face and that wise, humorous expression.

Blue Landscapes Make Me Blue

A fascinating — and depressing — survey, if you know an artist who is trying to sell paintings, is the work of artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid, who made a statistical study of the best loved (vs. least wanted) paintings, nation by nation. The winners, hands down, were “blue landscapes.” You know, a landscape with blue skies and blue water…. Maybe with some mountains, a few clouds…. Personally, I always prefer a hike through wooded, rolling hills that ends at the village teashop or pub or bistro. Wildflowers are appreciated.  If I spot a fox that isn’t roadkill, or lambs wagging their tails and frolicking, or hear a cuckoo, it makes my day. But far-off people standing on a precarious cliff, overlooking a raging river far below — not so enjoyable for an acrophobe who had to approach the rim of the Grand Canyon on her butt…. inching forward.

Bobby Hargen in his cowboy outfit, circa 1920s.

Hitting the Target:

The general incompetence of online advertising does intrigue me. A few years ago my husband leased an electric car — over my objections to its limited range. But he got a great deal — about $118 per month. The week after he signed the lease, the very dealership he signed it with began sending him almost daily emails offering the same car for $98 a month.  That is no way to create a satisfied customer.

Delineator cover, April 1914, detail.

I bought a very satisfactory charger for household batteries from Office Depot — online. For many weeks thereafter, I got emails offering to sell me exactly the charger I had bought.  Of course, I didn’t need one; I had already bought one! The thing is, I really needed more rechargeable batteries — AA , AAA, etc. Somehow the idea of selling me related items — accessories, if you will — never occurred to them. (I hunted the batteries down at Home Depot, instead.)

I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic….

I do love a pair of teal blue eyeglass frames I got online — but, really how often am I likely to buy frames for prescription glasses? Once every two years. So, cool it, Cool Frames!

And why did Microsoft Solitaire spend weeks sending me Spanish language ads for anemic looking American beers? I never bought any beer online — in any language!

Delineator Cover, detail, March 1920.

The artist of this cover seems to be C (or E?) Deane.

Signature on Delineator cover, March 1920. The last name is Deane.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1940s-1950s, Boys' Clothing, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, World War I

The Interior Belt in Vintage Styles

Janet Arnold’s illustration of the interior of a woman’s dress, circa 1896. From Patterns of Fashion 2. Notice the belt, attached only at the center back seam.

If you are trying to reproduce a vintage garment, you need all the information you can get. Information about how a vintage dress looks on the inside is invaluable, and I don’t know of any source better than the series of Patterns of Fashion books by the late Janet Arnold

… even when you have primary source information, like this photograph.

Fashion Photograph from 1896. Met Museum. We can see from the photo that the skirt at left is probably flat-lined — those tell-tale wrinkles would have been omitted in a drawing.

It’s better than a drawing, but the answer to “how did they do that?” requires inside information.

Cream brocade gown from the House of Worth, 1896. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Museums and books sometimes provide close up photos showing details of construction …

Detail of Worth gown from 1896, showing several rows of cartridge pleating on the sleeve and lace-shaped beading on the brocade bodice. Met Museum.

But to reproduce a vintage garment and have it “behave” properly, we need to know where the seams (and the bones) are, how the garment was lined, where the hidden closures were located, what made those sleeves stand up like that***, etc. Also, sometimes we discover a “trick” that made the garment easier to put on, or made it fit better. For costume purposes, we don’t need to follow the original slavishly (sometimes all those difficult hidden closures are not practical for a costume,) but we can make informed decisions.

One device that I have seen on vintage garments — and used on costumes — is the interior waistband or belt. This turn-of-the-century vintage bodice had one.

Elaborate lace and ribbon trimmed this ToC bodice (with a strangely skimpy skirt.)

Inside, a belt (never meant to be seen) was attached to the seams at center back. It closed at center front, and would be the first thing the wearer fastened when getting dressed.

Interior belt or waistband on a Turn of Century [ToC] bodice.

As Janet Arnold sketched the insides and outsides of museum garments, she drew many bodices that used an interior belt.

Interior waistband or belt, drawn by Janet Arnold.

Notice that the belt is only secured to the center back seams, with characteristic X stitches. It closes with hooks and bars at center front. It anchors the bodice to the wearer’s waist, so the bodice cannot ride up. It also holds the bodice in place while the many concealed hooks, eyes, and tapes are fastened. It takes some of the strain at the tightest spot, so the wearer doesn’t have to exert much pull on the more delicate fabrics to fasten them.

The interior belt works well on corsets.

I have seen and used these belts on the inside of corsets — what a great difference they make!

When you lace your own corset after fastening the front busk, you can’t be sure of getting it the same size every time. (Corsets rarely meet in the back.) Delineator,  April 1914.

First, the interior belt closing gives a constant size for the corset. You can’t accidentally lace it looser by mistake. If your dresses have been made to fit perfectly over your corset, but the corset lacing never actually meets at the waist, there’s always a chance that you will tighten your laces, put on your dress, and find that the dress doesn’t fit properly, because you pulled the laces too tight — or allowed yourself a bit more room than you did at the dress fitting.

Janet Arnold’s illustration of the interior of a woman’s dress, circa 1896. From Patterns of Fashion Vol 2. [***Fun fact: Arnold discovered that those huge leg-o-mutton sleeves were stuffed with paper!]

Secondly, when there is a waist belt inside your corset, the belt contracts your waist to the right size for fastening the front busk. The belt takes the strain (and keeps your corset from falling to the floor), giving you two hands free to hook the busk at the waist. Once the corset is fastened there, hooking it the rest of the way up and down is relatively easy. You may not need to deal with the laces at all.

The interior belt is can be made of a non-stretchable ribbon, like grosgrain.

The belt is also a great help in supporting the weight of the skirt; in many period dresses most of the skirt fullness is at the back, so the skirt of the dress can be quite heavy, and hard to wrestle with when its weight pulls the bodice crooked as you try to deal with dozens of fastenings.

Interior of dress from 1913-14 drawn by Janet Arnold. The skirt is sewn to the bodice only at one side. A row of hooks and bars connects the skirt to the bodice on the other side. (You can see two bars below “CF.” Arnold drew every hook.)

This circa 1913 dress (which combines lace, fur, chiffon and other materials) has an elaborate arrangement of closures, all of which would be hidden when the dress is worn. Notice that the skirt is only sewn to the bodice on its right side. The interior belt holds the bodice in the correct place and helps to support the weight of the skirt, while the left side of the skirt is slowly attached, hook by hook, to the left side of the bodice! [I think this one needed the help of a maid to deal with the skirt back and that big bow.]

Detail of Arnold’s drawing of the dress from 1913-14; no closures are visible, as the built-in sash hides the places where the skirt is only hooked to the bodice. The skirt is fur-trimmed.

The use of an interior belt is not restricted to the Victorian era. It remains part of the interior structure on couture when needed. It might be used, for example, to prevent tight jackets’ buttons straining against buttonholes at the waist, or to prevent too much strain on a zipper.

I can’t swear this famous Christian Dior New Look suit’s interior structure uses a belt, specifically, but something is preventing “pull” on the buttons. Click here for a great essay on “New Look” construction techniques.

You can see an interior belt — sewn in, not hanging free — on the waist of this gray dress from Dior’s fall-winter collection of 1955:

This Dior dress from 1955 is lying open on a table, positioned so you can see one end of the interior waistband; it matches the gray of the dress, which is flat-lined with gray organza.

At the place where the dress fits most tightly, the strain is taken by the belt rather than the zipper, which is visible to the right of the belt.

Christian Dior label, “Automne-Hiver 1955.” Charcoal gray dress with matching bolero jacket. Photographed from a private collection. The owner mentioned that this dress was made during Dior’s lifetime.

Digression: [I can’t not show you other pictures of this ensemble, even though I’m straying from my “interior belt” topic!]

You can see the unusual seam lines and darts on the jacket, which also has an interesting vertical buttonhole treatment.

Bolero jacket from Christian Dior, 1955. The matching dress has a full skirt pleated at the waist.

With the bolero jacket unbuttoned, the use of a separate panel to create “buttonholes” can be seen.

No, this buttonhole construction is not as care-free as it may look:

Inside view of Dior buttonhole in the bolero from 1955. The seams on the front of the jacket are not the same as those on the inside, and the buttonhole is reinforced like this.

Here, the interesting seams of the cap sleeve are visible. The back of the dress, with zipper, is visible at right.

Back to the topic of researching the insides of clothes you need to re-create, and the interior belt….

Arnold studied this dress from 1915-16 inside and out. If you were planning to copy it, you might think the outside tells the whole story — bodice and skirt both gathered at the waist.

A circa 1915 dress in a museum collection, drawn and its construction analyzed by Janet Arnold. Note the way a series of tiny tucks curves the sleeve forward.

Text describing the dress mentions that is would have been worn over a corset like this one.

The interior, drawn by Janet Arnold, shows that the scalloped dress in not as simple as it looks.

It has an under bodice, a hidden closure in front, a skirt that is partially attached to the bodice and partially hung from hooks and bars, and an interior belt that is boned and tightly fitted.

Arnold gives you a scale drawing of every part of the dress. This is what the under bodice of net looks like:

Like many vintage dresses which are bloused, this one has an under bodice. See French Linings. The bodice itself has kimono sleeves without armhole seams.

Arnold’s scale drawing of the interior belt on the scalloped dress. “The Petersham is shrunk in at the top to 26 1/2 inches, the bottom edge measures 27 1/2 “

Petersham ribbon looks much like grosgrain, but grosgrain cannot be stretched with steam and pressure. Petersham is often used in hat bands because it can be shaped into a slight curve with a steam iron.

I cannot praise Arnold’s Pattern of Fashion books too highly. Even if you choose not to duplicate her scaled patterns exactly, you will gain insight into period (and couture) construction that is invaluable.

I used to watch 1950s’ movies and wonder how a slender belt with no practical buckle could dig into an actress’s waist to compress it even more than her “merry widow” corset. Here is Elizabeth Taylor in a dress that really squeezes her waist. Janet Leigh’s wedding dress has a belt that might squeeze her that hard — although eventually the hole in the belt would start to tear…. Unless there was an even tighter belt inside those dresses….  “Ya think?”

 

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1940s-1950s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Dresses, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Chiquita Banana Costume, 1951

Butterick 5971 suggests making matching mother and daughter Chiquita Banana costumes. Butterick Fashion News flyer, December 1951.

This costume is nostalgic for me. I can still sing the first line of the Chiquita Banana song: “I’m Chiquita Banana and I’ve come to say….” But I had to look up what it was that she said!

You would be gathering and bias-tape-binding yards of ruffles if you opted for a “Chiquita” costume. The “banana” doesn’t seem to come into it.

Text for the Butterick pattern. It was not issued in time for Halloween, but I bet lots of amateur theatricals had “Latin” numbers.

Butterick apparently licensed the rights to call its costume pattern by this name, although it bore very little resemblance to the original, which had a bolero top with ruffled sleeves.

Alternate view and Chiquita brand logo, 1951. Chiquita’s was meant to suggest a basket of fruit — with her stem sticking up through the center.

The Chiquita company still uses a ruffle-clad woman in its logo.

The song first appeared as a radio advertisement in 1944 — and its purpose was to tell people how to recognize a ripe banana, and to remind them not to store bananas in the refrigerator.

“I’m Chiquita banana and I’ve come to say – Bananas have to ripen in a certain way – When they are fleck’d with brown and have a golden hue – Bananas taste the best and are best for you – You can put them in a salad – You can put them in a pie-aye – Any way you want to eat them – It’s impossible to beat them – But, bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator – So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator.” — Chiquita Company Jingle

By 1951, when this pattern was issued, people could see the animated commercial in movie theaters and on TV. The tune was embedded in my brain by the time I was six. The Chiquita Company says, “At its peak, the jingle was played 376 times a day on radio stations across the United States.”

Thanks to YouTube, you can watch the original animated Chiquita ad by clicking here.

Astonishingly, a version of the song with less obviously instructive lyrics became a huge hit, covered by many singers. Here is one such version. Inevitably, the song was linked to Carmen Miranda in the public mind. If you search for a Chiquita banana costume today, you’ll find lots of Carmen Miranda costumes instead. A documentary about her is called Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business. [I just learned that she has been credited with popularizing platform shoes!]

Many internet sources say that Miranda wrote the ad jingle. She didn’t.

According to the Chiquita company’s Jingle page the original ad was the work of three men: “Chiquita Banana” (words and music by Garth Montgomery, Leonard Mackenzie, William Wirges) under license to Chiquita Brands L.L.C. © 1945 Shawnee Press Inc.

Sarah Skwire wrote delightfully on this topic, so I recommend you click here to read her essay on the wildly popular Chiquita Banana song. She is right about the wartime scarcity of bananas; I remember reading a memoir of British writer Evelyn Waugh in which his children watched him eat the first banana they had seen in years. They remembered it because he ate it in front of them and did not share even a bite.

has written about the commercial’s resultant “Latina” stereotyping in her essay “Miss Chiquita Banana: Here to Stay, for Better or Worse.”

All things considered — history-wise — I wouldn’t rush to make a nostalgic Chiquita Banana Halloween costume today — even though it does look much better in this red, yellow, and black version used on the pattern envelope.

Color image from A History of the Paper Pattern Industry by Joy Spanabel Emery. Please do not copy.

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Children's Vintage styles, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage patterns

Patterns of Fashion Book Series Continues!

Cover image from Barnes & Noble website.

Very welcome news to costumers is that the great Patterns of Fashion book series begun by Janet Arnold, who died in 1998,  is being continued. Arnold wrote three gridded pattern books, (Patterns of Fashion 1660 to 1860, Patterns of Fashion 1860 to 1940, and Patterns of Fashion 1560 to 1620, and I just received information from the Costumers’ Alliance about a British source that is continuing her work.

Jenny Tiramani, principal of the School of Historical Dress in London said:

“Please tell people that we have decided not to use a distributor or to put the book for sale on Amazon. They take too much money and we need the funds to keep the school going and to publish Patterns of Fashion 6 & 7 which are both already in the pipeline!

We will be selling the book ourselves from our School of Historical Dress webshop and will try to give a good price for those people buying the book in countries far flung from the UK.

[Patterns of Fashion] 5 is in China being printed next week and published 31st October. …We need all the publicity we can get as the publisher of all future volumes of the series!”
Please support this incredibly rare and precious resource, the School of Historical Dress!! Here is where you can find their web site.

Click here to find out about current and upcoming volumes of Patterns of Fashion, plus other relevant publications.

Mantua, Late 17th century, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Other books include Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns (Vols. 1 & 2), and Waistcoats from the Hopkins Collection c. 1720-1950 “The waistcoats are shown with close-up details of its shape, construction and decoration, alongside images of people wearing similar styles from the same time period.” Janet Arnold’s other books are also available.

(One virtue of the Patterns of Fashion Series — aside from the meticulous research — is their large format: printed on extra wide paper, the scaled patterns are easy to refer to while you are working.)

Patterns of Fashion 4 covers body linens 1540 to 1660 — “the linen clothes that covered the body from the skin outwards. It contains 420 full colour portraits and photographs of details of garments in the explanatory section as well as scale patterns for linen clothing ranging from men’s shirts and women’s smocks, ruffs and bands to boot-hose and children’s stomachers.

 

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Summer Dresses, 1948

“Sunback” dresses and jackets, Butterick Fashion News, July 1948.

Are you ready for summer?
Summer dresses from 1948 often included a matching jacket or bolero cover-up.

Simplicity 2401 has an interesting lowered waistline; both dresses have jackets with flared peplums. Simplicity store flyer, April 1948.

Summer dresses from Simplicity, April 1948 are versatile because of their jackets. Left, strapless 2345; right, 2397, with appliqued flowers, is ready for picnics or shopping.

In 1948, strapless dresses were not suitable for church, but you could wear the little jacket to services and then head for an afternoon picnic or barbecue party without changing. Simplicity 2397 had a matching girl’s pattern, for mother-daughter dressing.

Right, Simplicity 2415 for girls. The jacket made this sundress more formal and also might limit sunburn.

The 1947 Dior influence is strong in many of these summer styles:  long skirts, nipped waists, wide hips, and flared jackets.

Butterick 4564 was illustrated with a photo in the August 1948 store flyer.

Butterick 4564 as illustrated in the BFN flyer, July 1948. Without the jacket, it’s ready for dancing. (I wonder if it was ever used for the bridesmaids at informal weddings?)

Butterick 4493 is strapless, like Simplicity 2345, but the fitted Butterick jacket is more labor intensive.

“Wear it with the bolero for traveling to town.”

Another strapless dress, Butterick 4527. Butterick Fashion News, July 1948.

Notice the subtle advice: “with a jacket [4527] can gad about the city;” in daytime,  a strapless or very bare look was for private events, not public transportation or city streets.

Butterick 4611, for teens, has straps attached at center front and a jacket with flared peplum. BFN, August 1948. Note the gloves.

Butterick 4569, from July 1948, was still in style in the 1950s. I remember sundresses like this one, with a “cuff” over the breasts.

It “travels from country to town” because of the cover-up jacket. Here is is again (at right, below):

Left, coat dress 4574, July 1948. The jacket of the very severe suit on the right, Butterick 4569 (here in a different illustration) covers the sundress.  Both of these styles were available in petite sized patterns.

Butterick 4574 was also illustrated twice in the July flyer:

Butterick 4574, a “bare-back camisole” dress, has narrow straps. Even in the late 1950s, dresses with very thin “spaghetti straps” were not allowed at my high school dances. However, the redingote makes it look “middle-aged” to me.

A bolero jacket with all-in-one sleeves was faster and easier to make, and worn by adults as well as children:

Butterick offered this ruffled sundress, No. 4497, with a cover-up bolero for girls; August 1948; BFN flyer.

A simple bolero for women from Simplicity, April 1948.

A jacket with sleeves is also nice at a backyard party when the sun goes down and the mosquitoes are biting…. Ah, those summer nights.

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, Children's Vintage styles, Sportswear, Vintage patterns

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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Smocking for Girls and Boys, Forties’ and Fifties’ Patterns, Part 1

McCall 692, a smocked dresses for toddlers, dates to 1939, but this image is from a 1946 catalog. It was in the needlework catalog for November 1950, too, eleven years after it was issued.

Smocking was a part of traditional dress long before it became associated with clothes for children. However, as a way of expressing devotion through hand sewing, smocking patterns like these remained popular: most of these patterns were featured in the McCall Needlework catalogs year after year.

McCall 692 is one of the few patterns that mentions the pleasure to be had from smocking: “Fascinating to do and very attractive….”

Very loose, full dresses with smocked yokes were made for young children in the 1920’s, too:

Butterick smocked dresses 1963 and 1955, Delineator, April 1928. “Handwork is the only trimming in good taste for very small frocks even when they will be worn to dancing school.”

This pattern is from 1936 –and was still for sale in  1950.

McCall smocked dress pattern 442, for very young children. It appeared in 1936 and was still in catalogs for 1946 and 1950 — perhaps longer.

Smocks for toddlers were often loose, but smocked dresses for older girls followed the lines of adult fashion in the nineteen twenties and in the nineteen forties:

At top left, a young girl is in a pale blue dress smocked with blue thread; right, an older girl’s smocked dress has a 1920’s hip band in red and black. Delineator, July 1925.

Butterick smocking pattern 16046 is used at the yoke, wrists, and low waistline of a girl’s dress from 1929. “This is the first time a  modernistic design has appeared in smocking.” — Delineator, June 1929.

McCall 786, a smocked dress for toddlers, dates to 1940, but was in the catalogs for at least ten years after that.

Honeycomb is one of the oldest smocking techniques, with many variations.

McCall 705, originally from 1940, shows a more fitted smocked dress — a style I remember from the 1950s.

McCall 705 was suitable for a “sub-teen” — up to age 10 — in the 1940s.

Also suitable for schoolgirls was this dress using honeycomb smocking — I believe this is one of the stitches that has some horizontal stretch. It gives interesting effects when worked on stripes or checks.

McCall 857, early 1940s. “For little girls, omit the waistline smocking, if desired….”

Detail of McCall 857. “Schoolgirl simplicity.”  For sizes 4, 6, 8, 10, 12.

McCall 878 for toddlers, from 1941. In the catalog for May, 1950.

McCall 1125 smocked dress for girls, 1944. Image from May, 1946. For ages 2, 4, 6.

McCall 1164, a smocked dress for toddlers, circa 1945. The sunbonnet was still a common feature of girls’ clothing.

Another toddler dress with smocked yoke and loose fit: McCall 1189, from 1945, still in the needlework catalog for Nov. 1950. “Smocking and small clothes just naturally ‘belong.’ “

McCall 1175 for school-age girls. 1945. “Send her off to school with a shining face and a smocked two-piecer…. The button-on skirt is pleated back and front.” Sizes 4, 6, 8, 10.

Detail of McCall 1175.

Boys — very young boys — could wear smocked outfits, too.

McCall 1195, a smocked suit for young boys from 1945 (Image from Dec. 1946.) Buttoning shorts or a skirt to a young child’s blouse (at ages when the tummy is about the same size as the hips) was seen in the 1920’s, too. For sizes 6 months to 3 years.

Mid-forties’ dresses for girls old enough to attend school were fitted at the waist. This horizontal yoke echoes the wartime wide shouldered-look for women.

McCall 1234 for girls, image from 1946. A “school-ager’s classic” for ages/sizes 6 through 12.

McCall’s 1270, image from 1946 catalog. Note the shoulder-widening yokes and puffed sleeves.

A similar style was offered for younger girls:

McCall 1308 for toddlers and “nursery-school age” girls, 1946.

McCall 1350, a smocked dress for girls, with a fitted bodice, a yoke, and puffy sleeves. Ages/sizes 2 through 8.

Detail of elaborate smocking on McCall 1350. Image from May, 1950.

A doting parent or grandmother could even smock a coat for her toddler — or a blouse, or a combination sunsuit/pinafore.

McCall 1311 is smocked coat for a toddler, 1946-1950.

McCall 1259 is a smocked blouse for toddlers, from the catalog for December 1946, also in Nov. 1950.

This “sunsuit” could also be made as a pinafore to wear over a dress. McCall 1245, from 1946. It includes patterns for panties and a sunbonnet.

I confess that I am charmed by the illustrations, as well as the smocking. More about smocked dresses for girls, and smocking patterns, in Part 2.

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