Category Archives: 1960s-1970s

The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings

Pantyhose from Sears, Roebuck. 1960.

The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings

Further reading: I am indebted to this excellent article about the history of L’Eggs and pantyhose in general by Jake Rossen at Mentalfloss. For the story of how pantyhose were invented, see this article in Smithsonian.

1959: McCall 4936, maternity pattern. According to Smithsonian, panty hose were invented because pregnant women found the garter belt or girdle too uncomfortable.

Pantyhose (sheer, stretch tights) were available in 1959, but not in all markets, and not in all sizes. There wasn’t much demand for them, because skirt hems were still mid-calf in the late fifties, so the thick stocking tops and garters we wore were not likely to show.

Dresses this long hid the tops of our stockings and “garter bumps” quite adequately. No need for pantyhose.

Also, really stretchy stockings didn’t exist yet.

Seamless stretch nylon stockings from Sears; Spring 1958.

Opaque tights from Sears, Fall 1959 catalog.

Opaque tights from Sears, Fall 1959 catalog. Popular for winter sports and dance classes.

Opaque tights were available before 1959, but for most women of my generation (and those before) wearing sheer stockings with seams up the back marked the beginning of adulthood. In 1958, I was in eighth grade, and “dress up” clothing suddenly included seamed stockings (held up by a garter belt) and shoes with “high” heels.

If you were born in the 1960s or later, you may not believe how hard it was to buy stockings in the 1950s (and earlier.)

1) Most stores were not open on Sundays. In a country where most citizens were nominally Christian, Sunday was the official Sabbath, and most businesses (except for essential services like hospitals) did not buy or sell products or require employees to work on the Sabbath. Buying or selling on the Sabbath was generally against the law. Saturday had been the “market” day for centuries; weekdays were also shopping days, but not as they are now because….

2) Even in big cities, stores were not open after 5:30 or 6 p.m. “Designated shopping nite” was a very Big Deal in my childhood circa 1950 when all the major department and clothing stores in downtown San Francisco agreed to stay open until 8 p.m. — every Thursday night. (That’s right, they were open late once a week.)

Working women might have a chance to shop during their lunch break, if they worked near the stores. But a run in your last pair of stockings was a small crisis: When and where could you buy new ones?

“It was 1968, and the recently-appointed president of Hanes Hosiery Mill Co. observed a growing number of pantyhose customers were grabbing cheap stockings at grocery stores for the sake of convenience. While a woman might shop for food multiple times a week, she would likely only head to a department store once every month or two. Rather than wait, she would purchase undergarments when it was most convenient.” — Jake Rossen

When grocery stores and supermarkets began staying open at night, and they began to sell hosiery, the lives of working women took a turn for the better. This was mostly possible because improved technology gave us really stretchy stockings and tights.

Cling-alon seamless stretch pantyhose from Sears really were stretchy: only three women’s sizes were needed.

Cling-alon size chart, Sears, 1968. The women’s sizes are Petite, Average, and Tall. (The sizes at top are for girls.)

Improved stretch meant that stores no longer had to carry stockings in eighteen sizes.

Companies like Hanes made L’Eggs pantyhose specifically packaged to be sold in supermarkets. The improved stretch meant you no longer needed to sell stockings in seven sizes and four lengths. Basic L’Eggs came in just four sizes, but they fit a really big range of heights and weights. Stores were happy that a display of the full range of L’Eggs colors and sizes took up less shelf space than a display of canned olives or jelly. And working women like me could pick them up any night on the way home from work! No more Saturday trips to a department store. No more panicky mornings when I got a run in my last pair of hose.

Cotton Crotch Introduced

One problem: women who adopted the new stretch-nylon pantyhose soon began advising their friends that the nylon did not let moisture evaporate as silk or cotton underwear did. We advised each other to wear cotton briefs under nylon pantyhose to avoid unpleasant rashes and worse. Soon the manufacturers figured it out, and began making pantyhose with “cotton crotch” proudly specified on the package labels.

Thigh Bulge and Garter Bumps Eliminated

Pantyhose did eliminate a problem for women whose legs were not slim and muscular: with the old stocking suspended from one garter in front and one in back, the stocking top would sag, leaving an unpleasant bulge of flesh at the top.

Stocking tops sag at the sides in this illustration from 1930.

This model has lovely legs, but you can see how the stocking top is curving downward at the inside of the thigh. For women who didn’t have slim, firm thighs, the flesh bulged out over the stocking tops. In hot weather the bulges rubbed together, which was especially unpleasant.

Also, the garters themselves had a rubbery part that went inside the stocking, and a metal part that went outside the stocking.

When you sat, the metal dug into your leg at the back, and the rubber part created a bump in front that was visible through light-weight dress fabrics.

Garters could be purchased separately and attached to elastic loops on the girdle.

The metal garter was detachable and inserted through these loops.

With pantyhose: Bliss! — no more garter belts or panty-girdles.  And no bulges.

 

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Maternity clothes, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

Colorful,Textured Hose in the 1960s

Opaque, colored pantyhose shown in Elegance magazine, Fall/Winter 1965-66 issue.

Opaque and fishnet-textured hose from Sears, 1968.

1968: Sears was selling both textured stockings and textured pantyhose. And suggesting the layered look.

“Fishnet” mesh pantyhose from Sears, 1968.

Catniphill commented on a previous post: “I could sew, so I made all my own outfits for school. I was in Jr High from 1966 to 1968 and wore a garter belt with opaque hose covered with fishnet hose in a contrasting color. I certainly flashed a lot of elastic during those days and always crossed my legs and sat crosswise on the school attached chairs. Suddenly pantyhose was available and dubiously I tried wearing something that looked like it would fit a doll–but it stretched amazingly. So I switched to opaque tights with fishnet pantyhose for some outfits and regular pantyhose for others. One of my favorite outfits was a fine-wale yellow corduroy babydoll worn with brown tights with yellow fishnets. I had matching daisy jewelry for this outfit. I still have all my patterns.”

[Ah, yes: Daisy pins and other big, painted floral pins! I used to find lots of them in thrift stores — but when I wanted one for a play set in 1967, I couldn’t find one.]

Center: dark semi-opaque hose (probably pantyhose) went well with the rising skirts of 1969. Simplicity pattern 8365. [I wore my brown tights with a dress very like the one on the left.]

As skirt lengths rose to several inches above the top of the knee, stockings became more varied, and more attention-getting. Instead of “flesh” or “suntan” hosiery, brilliant colors and textures from lace to “chickenwire” appeared on women’s legs.

Textured stockings from Sears, 1968 catalog.

The textures here are “Fishnet, [2] ” “Chicken-wire [3],” and “Diamond [5]” pattern.

Sears’ colors included bright yellow, neon pink, bright orange, bright grass green, pale blue, light pink,  and more conservative navy, deep brown, and parchment white.

Simplicity pattern 7622 from 1968.

Simplicity 7622 worn with heavily textured white pantyhose. 1968.

Simplicity 7755 from 1968.

Textured hose worn with Simplicity 7755. Stripes.

Even conservative “Jackie” style suits like this one …

McCall’s 7981 from 1965.

… could be worn with textured hose:

Vogue pattern with textured hose, Elegance, Fall/Winter 1965-66.

Textured or patterned stockings had also been popular for casual wear in the 1920s, another “leg-conscious” era:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/textured-hose-from-an-article-about-rainwear-delineator-april-1929.jpg

Textured hose from 1929. Delineator, April 1929.

So were wild colors:

The dropped waists of the 1920s (and very long Twenties’ style necklaces) also reappeared in the Sixties.

McCall’s 8135 from 1965.

So it’s not surprising that colorful, attention-getting stockings reappeared, too.

Pink opaque pantyhose or tights, in Elegance, Fall/Winter 1965/66.

Simplicity 7236 dated 1967. Opaque white pantyhose or tights. (Good if your legs were thin….)

“Trapeze” dresses also went well with opaque pantyhose, although these models are wearing sheer pantyhose. Butterick 4873 from 1968.

In theory, men didn’t like the trapeze style because it concealed a woman’s shape. However, it was a great time for “leg” men. Click here for a photo of Sixties’ supermodel Twiggy in a shape concealing, thigh revealing dress. (Very modest, from the hem up….)

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Filed under 1960s-1970s, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

Skirt Lengths in the 1960s

I do intend to write about the way pantyhose changed our lives, but first I want to lead a brief tour through the 1960s’ skirt revolution that made pantyhose necessary.

Mary Quant was the quintessential “Youthquake” designer of the 1960s. You really could not wear traditional stockings with the skirt on the right.

In fashion there are very few absolutes, but I’ll share a group of images I’ve collected. Keep in mind that not all women follow fashion slavishly, and that even within one country, some areas will be more conservative than others.

Early Sixties:

Many people think that all the “short skirts” of the Sixties were mini-skirts. Not true. The skirts we wore in the early 1960s came in for some criticism because they were short in relation to the skirts of the 1950s. It was only near the end of the 1960s that skirt lengths exposed more leg (and thigh) than was ever before shown by fully dressed adult women.

Left: We sometimes forget how long skirts were in the late Fifties. Right: three years later.

It’s surprising to see how long the post-war “New Look” remained main-stream fashion. From 1947 to 1956, Dior’s influence dominated.

1956. This Butterick suit pattern is still long and tight-waisted, like Dior’s 1947 collection.

1956. These hems are several inches below the knee.

1957. Simplicity 2311 is four or five inches below the knee.

Then hems began to rise.

Left to right: 1957, 1958, 1959.

We can understand that the skirts of 1959 did look shockingly short after ten years of mid-calf fashions.

I started high school in 1958. Our school uniforms had brown wool skirts with stitched-down pleats, and came well below the knee. Skirts continued to rise in the early 60s, but in my school the line was drawn at the bottom of the kneecap. By 1961, if a teacher or hall monitor thought your skirt was too short, you would be asked to kneel on the floor. If the hem didn’t touch the floor while you were kneeling, you would be sent to the principal’s office where a seam ripper was waiting. (I mention this because it tells us that by 1961 girls were trying to wear mid-knee skirts.)

The skirts of Butterick 9082 would easily have passed the “kneeling test.”

1959. Butterick 9082.

1960. These women’s dresses (Butterick) cover the knee and then some.

However, in the same year other designs just covered the kneecap.

1960. A McCall’s dress that just covers the knee.

1958 to 1960: Skirts are getting shorter. It’s the Sixties, but they’re not mini-skirts yet.

In fact, hems that just covered the knee were the norm for a while:

1961. Vogue 5251 covers the knee — but may not when the wearer is walking….

Keep your eyes on this spot, where the curve of the calf bends in.

From now on, we’ll have to look for the spot where the curve of the calf indicates the bottom of the knee.

1963. Empire styes were an option. Kneecaps were hidden until you sat down.

1963. This Marian Martin pattern was aimed at conservative dressers. But it’s the same length as the Butterick pattern above.

Marian Martin pattern 9495 from 1963.

It’s good to look at patterns sold through newspapers, since they were aimed at rural and small town women — women who did not have access to department stores. I was surprised to see that the lengths are in step with fashion.

[My husband grew up in small-town Texas, while I grew up near fashionable San Francisco, California. We’re the same age. He and I kept disagreeing on what teenaged girls wore in the Sixties — until we realized that the girls he remembered lived in North Texas, which is still quite conservative.]

Later Sixties:

1964 was the year the Beatles came to America. British fashion, at least for young people, suddenly went from notoriously dowdy to trend-setting. Young women began to dress differently from their elders — and from sophisticated adult fashion models.

1964 fashions for women — hems rising slightly.

1964. Notice the “calf curve” point on the red one. The knee cap is appearing.

1964: Designer Mary Quant, Carnaby Street, Mods, a “Youthquake” in British-inspired fashion. This dress is girlish, not aspiring to womanly sophistication.

In 1964, teens no longer aspired to become sophisticated women. Youth was the new ideal.

1964. Coat and dress by Mary Quant for Butterick. It’s illustrated in two different lengths — one exposing the knee.

People waiting for the mini skirt to appear may feel that “now we’re getting somewhere!” However, this model’s Vogue pattern partially covers her knees even when she’s sitting. (I had a hat like that and those gloves designed for 3/4 sleeved coats, circa 1965.)

1964. Vogue pattern photographed for Elegance.

1965. Littell was another featured designer. These hems are mid-knee.

Those outfits by Deanna Littell are suitable for business or travel, but the ones below (not by Littell) are definitely for the young.

1965. These outfits are for teens and Junior sizes (“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!”)

1965. Butterick Fashion News. These are not teen dresses; they are suitable for office work or church. The one on the right would have struck my younger self as middle-aged!

By 1965, knees were bared.

1966. An entire wardrobe from Simplicity, No. 6882. Bare knees.

1966. Vogue patterns for adults. All  have bare knees.

1966. Vogue Designer patterns. Definitely not for teens, but they all show hems that bare the entire knee.

It appears that by 1966, a woman who did not bare her knees was out of fashion. (As a senior in college, I often wore these short skirts with opaque tights.)

1967. These basic Simplicity dresses were worn to school and to offices. This pattern is in teen/Junior sizes, but grown women wore the same clothes.

1967. I had a store-bought dress very like the one on the right, but not quite so short: it was light blue paisley linen blend, with a bow at the white collar. Notice the low-heeled shoes.

1967. The classic shirtdress was mini-length, too.

1967. Mary Quant continued to go shorter and shorter.

1967 was also famous for the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. It was getting hard to find dresses the weren’t this short! These were the years when I took every new dress straight to the fabric store and bought matching 2 inch hem tape so I could let the dress down before wearing it. Sitting on a cold cable car’s wooden seat in one of these was unpleasant…. Panty-hose or tights were a blessing.

1968. Mary Quant again. I wore drop-waisted dresses like the one on the right (without that scarf) to my job in a bank.

1968. A McCall’s dress that is definitely not aimed at teens, but at women. A good look for the office or for church; it’s rather dressy.

1968. Again, dress patterns sold through newspapers echo the short hems of the major pattern companies.

1969. Very short skirts that bare the knees and several inches above the knee (mini-skirts) are mainstream fashion.

But the very shortest skirts were yet to come…

1970. Butterick dress patterns expose knees and several inches of the thigh. These are true mini-skirts.

1970. A chart of all the possible skirt lengths being worn. From Butterick Fashion News, July 1970.

Even that chart didn’t include the shortest of the short skirts:

1970. A “micro-mini” with matching bikini briefs. Butterick Fashion News, July 1970.

It makes the mini-skirts of the 1960s seem tame by comparison.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that in 1970 the bank I was working for announced that female employees would finally be allowed to wear pant suits (or trousers with a matching top) to work. In the fall of 1970, I returned to teaching high school. I was glad that trouser suits were soon permitted in the classroom, too. It was a conservative (“men wear the pants in this family”) Central California community, but around 1970 we had reached the point where trousers were often less shocking than dresses.

It’s often hard for young teachers to maintain discipline in high school classes. I knew some young male teachers who grew beards or wore jackets and neckties just to look older. Here’s a piece of advice about classroom discipline and those very short 1960s’ and 70s’ dresses: turning your back to a class full of adolescent boys when you reach high to write on the chalkboard while wearing a mini dress is not conducive to the ideal learning environment…. Better to be a little out of fashion!

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Stocking Memories, 1958 to 1960

Stockings and a girdle from Sears catalog for Fall 1958.

When I started high school around 1958, we wore stockings for dress-up occasions. Usually, those stockings had a seam up the back.

Seamed stockings from Sears, Spring 1960.

(Pantyhose became available in 1959, or so the internet tells me. Seamless nylon or rayon stockings were available — briefly — in the 1940s, but in 1958, seams were the norm for me and the adult women I knew.)

Seamless stockings advertised in Vogue, Aug. 15, 1943.

Of course, stockings are still available and worn by many women, but pantyhose have dominated the market for about 50 years now.

So, for those who never had the dubious pleasure of buying stockings in the 1950s….

A run in her stocking; Lux soap ad from October 1937. Runs looked the same in 1960: a hole with unraveled knit stocking above and below it.

At the Stocking Counter

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about stockings circa 1958 was how many choices you had to make. Faced with the stocking counter — at a department store or even a “five and dime store” — you would see rows and rows of distinctive shallow boxes, each originally holding 6 pairs of stockings. The pairs were separated by layers of tissue; you could buy one pair, incurring the barely concealed scorn of the clerk who waited on you, or two or three pairs of matching stockings (if you could afford them.) Buying the whole box was a wonderful extravagance. Stockings were so fragile that the clerks sometimes wore gloves.

For a young teen, it was a confusing process. You needed to know your size, your “proportion,” the denier, the color, “seam or no-seam,” reinforced heel and toe or sandal foot, knit or “run stop”mesh….

1958 stocking size chart from the Sears catalog.

“What size?” Stockings came in seven sizes. Your stocking size was related to your shoe size, but it wasn’t the same as your shoe size. [Shoes used to come in many sizes and widths, from AAAA (very narrow) to EEE (very wide.)  I wore a shoe size 7 1/2, B width, with a (double) AA heel [Yes, you could buy a wide shoe size with a narrow heel, or many other variations.] As you can imagine, shoe stores had to carry almost as much stock as stocking counters.]

In 1958, your stocking size depended on your shoe size and your shoe width: shoe size 7, width B = stocking size 10.

However, stockings were usually held up by garters (aka suspenders) attached to a garter belt or girdle.

Garter belts, Sears 1958. Also (more accurately) called suspender belts in England.

Top left is a girdle; all the others are panty-girdles. Notice that your stocking top would need to come quite high on the thigh to attach to these garters.

Stockings attach high on the leg, with one garter in front and one in back on this panty-girdle. Sears, 1958.

The suspender part was somewhat adjustable in length, but you had to buy stockings that were long enough to reach the garter comfortably.

Proportioned Stockings for tall women; Sears, 1958. “The extra length reduces garter pull and strain…”

Finding the right proportioned stocking for your height and weight. Sears chart, 1958.  At Sears, your four proportion choices were “petite, shapely, classic, or tall.” (7 sizes x 4 lengths = 28 choices!)

There were so many size variations because 1950s’ stockings did not have much “stretch.” To answer the question “What size?” you needed to know your stocking size and your “pattern” or proportion. (Or you could tell the clerk your height and weight.)

If you wanted long enough stockings, you might have to pay more.

Sears, 1958. The cheaper stockings came in 15 or 30 denier weight, but only one length.

College memory: A friend named Mary was standing in the doorway when my roommate said, “Mary, your stockings are all wrinkled around your ankles.” Mary said, “I’m not wearing stockings. My ankles are sagging.”

Before modern stretch knits, stockings might bag or sag. Worse, if the reinforced top wasn’t high enough, when you knelt down the pull of the suspender could put too much strain on the knee, and your stocking would run or “pop.” Cheap stockings didn’t come in a full range of lengths, so I sometimes came out of church with one or both knees bulging out of big holes in my stockings. All those sizes were necessary because stockings were not very stretchy.

Stocking runs: a tiny hole would unravel the stocking both up and down your leg. This was still true in the 1960s. Lux soap claimed to improve stockings’ elasticity. Ad from 1936.

The stocking clerk might ask, “What weight?” This meant, not your own weight, but the amount of sheerness or strength you needed in the stocking. Light weight 15 denier was very sheer. 30 denier was more durable for everyday wear, and even thicker stockings were available.

“Seams or seamless?” My first stockings had seams, but the seams on the soles of my feet sometimes gave me blisters, so once I discovered seamless stockings, I always bought those. Seamless stockings were available in 1958, but I didn’t discover them for a couple of years. (A vertical seam up the back would have been more flattering to my sturdy legs, but limping on blisters didn’t improve my looks or disposition, so I chose comfort over vanity.) Besides, it’s maddening to be down to your last two intact stockings when you’re dressing for work and find that one of them has a seam and the other doesn’t.

Seamed stockings with reinforced heel and toe (and a seam under the ball of your foot.) Sears, Spring of 1958.

“Reinforced toe and heel? Sandal heel? Sheer foot?” If you wore pumps, then you could buy longer-lasting stockings with reinforced heels and toes. (Toenails or rough heels were hard on stockings.) However, by the 1940s many women wore open-toed or strap-heeled shoes, making the less durable options necessary.

Nude heel or reinforced heel in seamless stockings, Sears, 1958.

“Run stop or regular?” Runs were always a problem. A tiny snag from a chair or a fingernail would start a run racing up and down your leg. Many women kept a bottle of clear nail polish in their purse or desk drawers, because it was the only thing that could stop a run from progressing. If you dabbed a bit on the run before it passed the hem of your skirt, then the stocking might be salvaged enough for future wear. Otherwise, sheer stockings couldn’t be mended. One reason for always buying several identical pairs at the same time: as long as you had two stockings that matched, you could wear them. Once you were down to one stocking, you would probably never find a matching color or knit again, (too many brands, too many choices) so the final stocking might as well be tossed out.

Rayon mesh stockings from Sears, 1944. “Lockstitch resists runs, snags.”

Run-proof stockings were usually a mesh knit. They did get holes, but they didn’t get runs. The holes, however,  kept getting bigger….

Mesh stockings did not run, but they did get holes. And the weave was rather coarse and noticeable. Sears’ seamless mesh stockings from 1942.

“What color?” Stocking manufacturers and fashion magazines urged women to buy stockings to match every outfit. However, the woman on a budget often stuck to one or two shades. We all had drawers full of not-qute-matching stockings (usually kept in a padded box within the drawer.) Sticking to just one color matching your skin tone (or the healthy tan color you wished your legs were) was the economical choice. However, those black or dark stockings for evening were so temptingly glamourous….

Stockings from Sears to match your skin tone or your dress. 1959 catalog.

If you bought the last pairs of stockings in the box, or the whole box (six pairs,) you would be given the box itself, and therefore you would know the brand and color when you needed to buy more stockings a few weeks later.  Otherwise, stockings were simply wrapped in tissue. It was easy to forget where you bought them, the brand, and the name of the color, so your supply of single, unmatched, surviving stockings continued to grow. (One maker’s “nude” or “taupe” was rarely the same as another’s, and “suntan” could mean anything from light golden brown (in expensive brands) to orange (cheaper brands) ….

One Christmas in the Sixties, my father gave me a nightgown set that I didn’t need, so I took it back to Macy’s and exchanged it for a dozen pairs of stockings — two whole boxes! I had several blissful months of not worrying whether I had a pair of stockings that matched. Such luxury!

Next: The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings.

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Girdles, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

Learning from Browsing at CoPA

One of 64,000 pattern images you can find online at the Commercial Pattern Archive.

I know I recommend the online Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island too often, but it just keeps revealing new reasons to visit. (Online Inventory last time I checked: 64,681 sewing patterns; mostly 1840s through 1970s.)
I can’t link to CoPA images anymore, because users now need to create a login, but you just create a user ID name and a password, and log in to use a totally free website! I never get email from them.

Two Butterick patterns from February, 1922. Delineator.

I’ve been sorting through my Delineator photos from 1922, and happened to log in to CoPA to check construction details — not really expecting to find much. However, I found a surprisingly large number of Butterick patterns from 1922 archived — and that means images of both back and front of the pattern envelope. You can see the shape of the pattern pieces!

“Armistice” blouse 1922 pattern The Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) has put over 60,000 vintage patterns online.

If you are trying to replicate a vintage pattern, whether you use drafting or draping, seeing the shape of the original pieces is very helpful.  And if, like me, you have no intention of re-creating the pattern, (that used to be part of my job) you can still learn a lot about vintage clothing construction.

NOTE: The images from CoPA that I show here do not reflect the quality of CoPA images online.  Because I couldn’t download them directly, I printed them, scanned them, and put them into a “500 dpi on the longest side” format. Unfortunately, I scanned the prints at the “black & white” resolution instead of at the “photograph” resolution. Image quality was lost on my scanner, not CoPA’s.

This bad image is not what Butterick 4025 looks like at the CoPA site. (https://copa.apps.uri.edu/index.php)

Elastic in 1920’s garments

There was a time when I was suspicious of any so-called vintage 1920s’ garments that depended on elastic. That was just my ignorance, based on “book learning” and classroom generalizations. Once I started really paying attention to vintage pattern magazines and pattern envelopes, my mind opened a bit!

All of these 1922 patterns include casing for elastic at the (usually lowered) waist.

Tunic Blouse 3462

Butterick tunic blouse 3462 from Delineator, January 1922.

If you sew, you know that there is a lot of information on the pattern envelope that you won’t find in the pattern’s catalog description.

CoPA shows images from the front and back of the pattern envelope whenever possible. The version at top right shows the tunic with “cascades” at the sides.

Pattern 3462 included a variation with “cascade” panels on each side, and the information that the waist could have elastic.

I’m surprised that there is no elastic casing pattern included, but it was mentioned in Delineator magazine’s pattern description (January 1922, p. 26.)

Dress 3460

Butterick 3460, Delineator, January 1922, keeps its shape with elastic at the slightly dropped waist. (Left, a Spanish comb in her hair.)

The front of the pattern envelope, from the Commercial Pattern Archive.

“Ladies’ and Misses’ One-Piece Dress, “Closed at the Back, with or without Elastic in Casing at Low Waistline or Blouse Body Lining.”

The pattern pieces for Butterick 3460, from CoPA.

This detail shows an inside belt and length of elastic. It also reminds us that the 1920s’ blouson effect was sometimes achieved with an optional inner bodice lining. (With bust dart!)

Pattern description from Delineator, January 1922.

This simple dress was also illustrated with a matching cape:

Butterick dress 3460 with matching cape, Butterick 3589. Delineator, March 1922.

Coat 3594:  This coat, which I find bulky but oddly appealing, could be controlled with elastic at the waist:

Butterick coat 3594 is gigantic, but beautifully trimmed…. Delineator, March 1922.

Butterick coat 3594 in Delineator magazine illustrations.

The front of the pattern envelope. In the online CoPA archive, the image is much clearer (and they have several copies of this pattern!)

Pattern pieces from the envelope. CoPA will tell you how to print a larger image (See CoPA Help)

Rubber elastic tends to degrade faster than the other components of the garment, so the elastic itself may not be present in a vintage dress (or underwear.) But these patterns confirm its use.

I was surprised to see this “Armistice” blouse [Not what they were originally called] issued in 1922. It can have elastic in a casing at the waist:

The “Armistice blouse” was still available as a pattern in the 1920s. The center panel is the “vestee.”

Pattern pieces for Butterick 3672 from CoPA.

Searching CoPA for a specific pattern: “Search by Pattern Number”

After you create a log-in at CoPA, you can search for any pattern by number (e.g., type in “3672” and select “Butterick” from the pattern company pull-down list. Chose “Any” collection. Results will show you images and links to further information — including the date for every pattern they have!   Say you own Vogue 1556, by Yves St. Laurent? CoPA’s archive number will tell you it was issued in 1966. (If you have an approximate date, you can also date patterns which are not in the archive by finding where they would be in the company’s number sequence and checking their resemblance to other styles and envelopes from the same year….)

Browsing through a year or group of years: use “Complete Search”

Or you can click on “Complete Search” and search by year (or a period of several years, e.g. 1920 through 1926 — just hold down the shift key while selecting.) You can limit your search in many ways (e.g., “male” + “adult;” or  “1945” + “hat” +”McCall;” or “1877 + “Any”….)

One of hundreds of McCall patterns from the 1920s you can find at the Commercial Pattern Archive. McCall 5315 from 1928.

Trying CoPA: If you love a specific decade, start with one year (e.g., “1928” + “McCall”  + Collection: “Any”) By the mid-1920s, McCall pattern envelopes had beautiful, full color illustrations. New to CoPA? Start with McCall in the 1920s, or try McCall in 1958! Less well-known pattern companies are also well-represented. Scroll though the “Pattern Company” pull-down for Hollywood, Advance, La Moda, Pictorial Review, DuBarry, & dozens more.

TIP: Be sure you set the final category (Collection) to “Any” if you want to search the complete archive. Otherwise, you’ll miss some good stuff! Also, search more than one way. “Medical uniform” (Category: Garment) got 20 results; “Nurse uniform” (Category: Keyword) got 38. It’s not a complaint; just what happens when many people try to describe things for a spreadsheet.

Next: Pattern pieces for side drapes (“cascades”.)

The dress at right has a cascade at each side.

 

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Wrap-look Dresses from June, 1931

Butterick dress 3989, a pattern from July 1931.

Considering how popular and enduring a fashion Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dresses have been, this looks-like-a-wrap dress from 1931 got my attention. 1931 was the year when hems kept falling, so its proportions look odd, but the general impression is very much the same.

Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, Vogue pattern 1548, from 1976. Courtesy of the Commercial Pattern Archive.

Marie Claire ran a tribute to the DVF wrap dress (click here to read it) which includes a photo of the designer modeling her own dress. 1970s: DVF in this exact wrap dress . 2010: Michelle Obama in a classic wrap dress.  2014: The Duchess of Cambridge in her wrap dress . I think the wrap dress counts as a “classic,” especially since this look has been around since 1931!

The simple V neckline, the long sleeves, the slightly flared skirt — all those style elements were worn in 1931:

This 1931 dress was described as having a “surplice” closing at the side, often recommended in the 1920s as flattering to the figure.

It’s hard to tell without seeing the actual pattern, but this may be a long, asymmetrical wrapped bodice over a skirt.

Back view of Butterick 3989.

Fifty Dresses recently made Vogue 1610 (a DVF design circa 1977); the Fifty Dresses blogger uses vintage patterns to make 21st century clothing, and you can see that the classic DVF wrap dress still works. Click here.

Vogue 1610 (circa 1977) and 1548 (1977) by DVF are for stretchable knits only, while the 1931 wrap dresses probably depend on bias stretch for their fluid fit. In 1931 McCall offered No. 6681, which looks like a wrap but does not seem to open all the way down the side seam:

McCall wrap dress 6681 is in the collection of the Commercial Pattern Archive. It also dates to 1931.

Note the classic V neckline. Its skirt is suspended from a diagonal seam — in this case, straight rather than curved. Without being able to see the pattern pieces, it’s hard to tell how far the surplice opening continued into the skirt, but Butteick 3989, which was illustrated on the same page as 3960, below, does close with a tie at the side.

Also from 1931:

Butterick 3960 from July of 1931. The bodice doesn’t resemble a wrap but there’s definitely a tie at the side seam.

Note: wrap skirts were around in the 1920s:

Butterick wrap skirt 1480, from Delineator, June 1927. This suit was copied from Vionnet.

Click here for more 1920’s wrap skirts. Wrap dresses were also worn during World War I:

Back to 1931:

The plaid scarf doesn’t have much to do with the structure of this Butterick wrap dress from Delineator, February 1931.

It appears that the bodice wraps and ties at the side; the pleated section seems to be attached to the bodice and tied over a simple inner skirt. Is it a true wrap dress? The one below is.

Wrap/surplice dresses were often recommended for older figures:

Butterick “slenderizing” dress 4049, from Delineator, September 1931. Here, the front wrap clearly ties over an under layer, as in a classic DVF wrap dress.

For glamour — 1931 or now — it’s hard to improve on the long, wrap negligee:

Butterick’s wrap negligee No. 4224,from Delineator, December 1931.

Wow. And available for bust sizes 32 to 52! Gleaming, “icy pastel” satin for the shapely; deep burgundy velvet for more mature figures? Perfect for the Jean Harlow in every woman.

Jean Harlow in a wrap negligee, 1935. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

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Capris or Pedal Pushers? Pants Vocabulary from 1971

Image from 1971 Vogue booklet Everything About Sewing Pants and Jumpsuits. Courtesy of Lynn Mally.

Lynn Mally at American Age Fashion wrote about her “find” last week: a 1971 booklet from Vogue patterns, Everything About Sewing Pants and Jumpsuits. Since I had been wondering whether my memories of vocabulary from this era were correct (or possibly just regional) I was delighted by her blog on this very topic.

I asked if I could enlarge some of the images so the labels would be easier to read. Here are the results:

Stovepipe pants and “elephant pants.” 1971.

Lynn and I agree that we wouldn’t call them “elephant pants;” I opt for “palazzo pants” and Lynn offered “just wide legged pants today.”

Straight legs and “gangster” pants. 1971.  I never called them “gangsters.” “Classic” or “forties’ trousers,” maybe.

We agree that the “gangsters” are now “Hepburn style,” with a pleat in front. Lynn quoted advice that “Even the short, curvaceous woman could look good in pants, especially if she chose straight-legged styles to add height.” I am a tall “curvaceous” woman who always searches for straight legs — by which I mean that the circumference at the ankle is not obviously smaller than the circumference at the thigh. (Costumers’ fact: 16″ is the narrowest trouser cuff a man can take off without removing his dress shoes. Does the actor make a fast change? Choose trousers for him with at least a 16″ circumference at the ankle.)

Jeans are the classic Levis worn by working cowboys and generations of young people. They are similar to stovepipe trousers. These “Hipsters” seem also to have flared legs (wider than “Boot” legs.)

I called low-waisted jeans and trousers “hip-huggers;” “hipsters” were people.

Ski pants and a bell-bottomed jumpsuit from 1971.

Those ski pants, held taut by straps under the foot, had been around since the 1950s. Stretch gabardine was becoming available. “Bell-bottom” trousers were originally copied from sailors’ pants. For a few years the U.S. Navy was right in step with women’s street wear. (Old song: “Bell-bottom trousers, coat of navy blue; he’ll go skipping up the rigging like his daddy used to do.”)

Top: Culottes or a “pantskirt;” Bottom: gaucho pants. 1971.

Culottes (aka a pantskirt) usually had pleats, like the ones shown here; when you stood with your legs straight, they appeared to be a pleated skirt, rather than a “divided skirt.” Gaucho pants didn’t have pleats, so it was obvious that they were pants. (They look like the “elephant pants,” shortened, but were not made of soft, flowing fabric. [However: see culotte pattern 5586, far below.]

Pedal pushers stop at mid-calf; Capri pants just bared the ankle area.

In 2019, we are used to seeing skintight “leggings” worn without a covering tunic blouse or dress. These tight, close-fitting Capris probably look attractive if you’re used to our current tight clothes. However, these 70s’ versions did not benefit from stretch fabrics and were usually made of poplin or another non-stretch, non-knit fabric. Mary Tyler Moore looked great in them on the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, but they were controversial.

Deck pants and knickers, 1971.

If they were cuffed and rolled up, pants (the ones  now called “cropped”) might be described as “deck pants ” or “clamdiggers.” Knickers appeared until the 1980s, although they did not flatter many figures. I only saw them worn by very young women — they were rather “costumey.”

Bermudas stopped at the knee; Jamaicas were shorter.

This was a “Preppie” fashion (“yes, we are collegiate!”) and most people called any thigh-covering shorts “Bermudas.” For perfect 1960s’ Preppie shorts, Indian Madras plaid was the favored fabric — although the real thing ran (“bled”) when washed….

“Boy shorts,” a “skort” (skirt/shorts) and “shortpants.” 1971.

“Boy shorts” were the most modest option. If you bent over while wearing a “skort” or “hotpants,” your butt cheeks showed. I owned a skort in 1971, but quickly realized that I had to wear matching dance briefs when riding a bicycle. (It had looked modest enough standing still, in the dressing room….) I never heard the word “shortpants.” These are “hot pants.” If you made your hot pants by cutting the legs off a pair of jeans and leaving the edge frayed, you had “Daisie Maes” (after the character in the Li’l Abner cartoon strip) or “Daisy Dukes” (after a character on the TV show Dukes of Hazzard.

As a sidelight: when women proved not eager to trade their mini-skirts for midi-skirts, mid-calf skirts that buttoned down the front were sometimes worn open over hot pants as a sort of compromise. Not for the office!

As I said before, fashion nomenclature is variable. A quick flip through patterns produced these:

Simplicity 6450 dated to 1966. “Hip rider bell bottoms, Slim Knee Knockers, Slim Jamaicas.”

McCall’s 5586 from 1977. Right: “culottes.” So I was wrong about culottes and gauchos. Maybe.

Simplicity 8829, dated to 1970. “Misses’ dress and pantdress in two lengths.” I’d say version 4 has straight legs and is not a dress, but a jumpsuit! I would call version 3 a “playsuit.” I owned both (store-bought) in 1970.

Butterick 6888 from 1972. Left, jumpsuit; right, evening dress with front slit.

“Fashion is Spinach.” — Elizabeth Hawes.

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Balenciaga at the V & A : Museum Exhibitions Online

Design by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1965. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

The Vintage Traveler recently shared an FIT symposium on museum exhibitions of fashion.
That reminded me of some extraordinary videos that were part of “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition closed in February, 2018, but the V&A has generously posted the videos made for the exhibit online, so we can all enjoy them. [Note to other museums: Go, thou, and do likewise! Once the exhibition closes, put the videos online!] Unfortunately, the still photos from the exhibition are under copyright, as are most other museum pictures of Balenciagas — so please click on the links.

I didn’t see the exhibition in London, but it appears to have used technology to very good purpose. I’ve whiled away hours watching the V&A’s exemplary videos.
This link will take you to the V&A website, where you can read about Balenciaga and watch three marvelous videos illustrating exactly how his minimalist but extraordinary patterns come together into “Balenciagas.” Click here for Secrets of Balenciaga’s Construction

The museum took X-Ray photos of some of the Balenciagas on exhibit. This link includes another fascinating video. You can see hidden weights controlling the drape, and, occasionally, a straight pin!

A V&A video about the custom beading on a glittering evening coat is found here.

In “Learning from the Master: Deconstructing Balenciaga,” the Museum invited a group of advanced design students from the London College of Fashion to create patterns and toiles from Balenciaga gowns in the museum’s collection. If you sew or drape, this is for you! ( I’m thinking of you, Fifty Dresses….)

“Shaping Fashion: Balenciaga” is another well-done video from the V&A. You can watch designs by Balenciaga morph into designs by other famous couturiers. (I just wish all the V&A’s videos were together in one place online!)

A preview of the entire exhibit can be found in the AP Archives: click here.

Until I started searching museum collections for Balenciaga designs, I hadn’t appreciated how much he influenced my wardrobe in the late 1950s/60s. Not that I ever wore couture (ha!) but because the inexpensive clothes I did wear and saw worn everywhere were inspired by his work. My first wool suit (home-made) was a distant echo of this one. Party and prom dresses worn by my friends owed a debt to this simple & elegant flowered dress. (Note the shape of the skirt.) The shape of this coat was everywhere, and I bought a long formal in green brocade with soft pleats at the waist (circa 1964,) reminiscent of the dress under it.

More Online About this Exhibition

Many who visited the exhibition posted images or videos on YouTube; here are a few blogs or videos about it.

At 12 minutes long, this video from Stitchless TV gives a good idea of how well-thought-out this exhibition apparently was. Click here for a “walk through” that includes much besides the videos posted more clearly at the V&A site. It shows the “upstairs” part of the exhibit, which features designers who trained with or were inspired by “The Master.”

This video by Natalie (at Time with Natalie) gives a good “walk through” (starting at one minute in.)

Betty Raen at The London List captures some photos that show more of the exhibit.

For a quick taste, try Fashion Expedition’s report.

The Arcadia online blog previews the exhibit (with illustrations, of course.) Many designs by students of “the Master” are shown.

This link includes a photo of the pink “Tulip Dress” which is magically reconstructed in a V&A video.

As the late Anthony Bourdain said, “I’m still hungry for more.”

More Balenciaga exhibitions:

“Balenciaga and His Legacy:” was presented at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas on February 3, 2007 by the Texas Fashion Collection. Click here. This video is not too dark, unlike others; but it’s not really in focus, either…. However — you won’t see the same creations featured elsewhere. Worth a taste.

When you have had your fill of evening gowns, this video from the Museo Cristobal Balenciaga shows superb construction on wool suits and other daytime clothing. Some of the images are too dark, but other close-ups are superb.

If you still want more Balenciaga, this 2011 exhibition, “Balenciaga and Spain,” from The DeYoung museum in San Francisco is 17 minutes long and traces Balenciaga’s development and early influences  …. sadly, the lighting and photo quality are not good. Films of his showroom are good.

This short video of “Balenciaga: Spanish Master” exhibition from New York is different and definitely worth watching.

Also creative and interesting: this video from ICONIC.

When you have time to relax, pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, put your feet up, and enjoy these videos and blogs.

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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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Hair Styles for American Girls, World War I Era (Part 1)

Three hairstyles from Delineator, February 1917. One is very high, one has bangs and side-puffs, and one may be — but probably isn’t — a bob.

My usual approach to this blog is to collect a lot of images with something in common, and then thread them together — often with plenty of meandering into by-paths….

The top of a full page of hairstyles for women, Delineator, April 1917.

I  ended up with so many images of 1917 hair styles for European-American women that I’m having trouble dividing them into several posts.

One stream has to do with the remarkable height of some 1917 hairstyles. [And hats.]

A model for Paquin (1917) sports a hair style as extreme as any seen on a runway today.

Another has to do with bobbed hair — pre-1920’s — popularized by dancer Irene Castle and necessitated in Europe by women’s war work in munitions factories. (The U.S. was a late-comer to WW I, so American women didn’t need to adopt shorter hairstyles for safety until 1917.)

Mrs. Vernon Castle  (Irene Castle) was credited with setting the fashion for bobbed hair. From an ad campaign for Corticelli Silks, Delineator, October 1917.

Another view of Irene Castle’s famous bobbed hair; Delineator, ad for Corticelli Silks, November 1917. Both photos are probably from the same photo shoot; she is wearing the same dress.

A third idea I’m wrestling with is the gradual steps toward the bob — from a “fringe” (bangs) in the 1880’s to cutting some of the front hair short (1917) while retaining long hair in back. I suspect that most women took this conservative approach, making the change in increments.

From the Sears, Roebuck catalog, Fall 1917. From the front, the woman on the right appears to have bobbed hair, but her reflection in the mirror shows that her back hair is long and gathered into a bun, secured with a large, fan-shaped comb.

And then I have some ads for products related to hair styles….

The image used with this ad resembles the Paquin model above. It offers to transform your own hair combings into “switches” which could be used to increase the size of your hairdo. Anna Ayers ad from Delineator, March 1917.

A Digression About Hair Combings and Rats

One item often included in an early 20th century Vanity set — or dresser set — was a hair receiver.

A vanity set from Sears, Roebuck, 1917. The hair receiver is at upper right.

It was a jar with a hole in the lid, into which women put their “combings.”

Along with nail files, button hooks, brushes, and containers for cotton balls (No. 8K8744,) containers for hair combings (Nos. 8K8745 and 8K8723) appeared on a lady’s dressing table. Sears, 1917.

That is, when women cleaned hair out of their brushes and combs, they put it into the hair receiver, and, when they had collected enough, they made it into a “rat,” encasing it in a hairnet that matched their hair color and then combing their long hair over the rat to create huge turn-of-the-century hairstyles like those illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson.  The huge hairdos of the 1940’s used them too.

Those Tall 1917 Hair Styles

From an ad for Fashionette hairnets, Delineator, April 1917.

A similar conical style, called the “beehive,” was popular in the 1960s:

“The higher the hair, the closer to Heaven” was a popular saying when “bouffant” hairdos were in fashion. We supported these styles by “ratting” our hair (see “rats,” above). Hairdressers called it “back-combing,” but we always called it “ratting.” You took a strand of hair, pulled it up toward the sky, and, with your other hand, repeatedly ran a comb down it toward your scalp. Any loose hairs were pushed into tangles at the base. Spray with “Aquanette.” Repeat. When your ratted hair was a complete, tangled mess, you carefully brushed the outer layer smooth  and sealed it with a final layer of hairspray. I remember a classmate who had a conical “beehive” hairdo done before a prom. By carefully wrapping it in a scarf at night, she preserved it for several days. It gradually deflated, though, so by Friday, her light brown beehive looked like she had a cow patty on her head….

High Hair, 1917

High hair for evening, accented with a jeweled comb, from an article in Delineator, April 1917. The waves are probably a Marcel.

Back in 1917, you could also use Silmarine to set your hair — it probably increased volume, too.

Ad for Silmarine hair setting lotion, Delineator, March 1917.

The Sew Historically website has an extensive set of recipes for shampoos and for Bandoline, the 19th century predecessor to hair spray.  In 1917, you could wear an invisible hairnet:

Another big hair style from a Fashionette hairnet ad. Delineator, August 1917.

The blonde woman with a similar gravity-defying hairstyle is wearing a house dress, not an evening gown. Delineator, January 1917.

Two high hairdos flank a less extreme style in April 1917. Delineator magazine.

A high, conical hairdo from an article in Delineator, April 1917. “The high hair-dressing is new, and adds a generous cubit to your stature.” This was not just a style for evening, as seen from other illustrations.

Did any ordinary women get their hair to look like this? Yes.

This pretty girl with a lap full of kittens posed in the homely back yard of my grandmother’s house. Circa 1917.

Not all hairdos were tall enough to “add a cubit to your height.”

This woman’s long, Marcel-waved hair [her “crowning glory”] is worn close to her head, and caught in a large chignon at the nape of her neck. This style persisted into the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Delineator, April 1917.

The next photo contains a mysterious reference to eating “bread crusts to make your hair curl.”

Her low hair style has a cluster of curls in back. April, 1917. Delineator.

Are they real, or did she buy them?

A “switch” in the form of a “string of curls” was offered in this ad from Delineator, February 1917. Ad for Frances Roberts Co. –“The Mail-Order Hair House.”

Gradually Working Your Way Toward Bobbed Hair

Two women from a Sears’ catalog, Fall 1917. Although at first glance their hair appears as short as Irene Castle’s, a closer look shows a small bun at the back.

In the 1920’s the bun was eliminated:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/1924-oct-p-25-patterns-top.jpg

Short, “shingle” haircuts from October, 1925; Delineator. The front of the hairdo is much like that of 1917.

Short Hair on Women Marked a Social Change

Long hair used to be the only option for most women. Delineator, March 1917.

A woman’s long hair was said to be “her crowning glory.”  In Victorian times, cropped hair was often a sign that a woman had suffered a severe illness (as in Conan Doyle’s story, “The Copper Beeches.“)

Dresses for girls 8 to 15, Delineator, May 1924. The one on the left has long “Mary Pickford” curls, associated with innocence.

Men saw long hair paradoxically, as both sexy and innocent: young girls wore their hair loose and long, and young ladies “put up their hair” around sixteen, as a sign that they were now adults — and ready for marriage.

Cutting it all short at one time — like Irene Castle — took a lot of courage, especially in 1917. My mother and her best friend shocked their families when they bobbed their hair around 1922. They were the first girls in town to do it.  Back in 1918, my mother was working up to it gradually — and that is a story for another day. (Part 2)

My mother’s eighth grade graduation picture, circa 1918-19.

She has done her best to simulate the high hair and cheek puffs of fashion illustrations — without cutting her hair.

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1960s-1970s, Hairstyles, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, vintage photographs, World War I