Category Archives: Costumes for the 17th Century

Beauty Spots, Court Plasters, and Patches

A package of gummed black beauty spots, from Johnson and Johnson, circa 1915-1927.

A package of gummed black beauty spots, from Johnson and Johnson, between 1912 and 1927.

When I inherited my Aunt’s house, I found this little envelope, about three inches wide. It originally contained “100 Assorted Beauty Spots manufactured by Johnson and Johnson.”
There are quite are few left in the envelope.

Gummed beauty spots in the shape of circles, stars, crescent moons, triangles, etc.

Gummed beauty spots in the shape of circles, stars, crescent moons, squares,  triangles, etc.

According to the very helpful Kilmer House website, Johnson and Johnson first made this item in 1912, and continued to sell Beauty Spots until 1927. You can read a very good article from Kilmer House about court plasters, beauty spots, and their relationship to Band-Aids (TM) by clicking here.

Butterick pattern 4298 for a "Martha Washington" costume. February, 1924.

Butterick pattern 4298 for a “Martha Washington” costume. Delineator, February, 1924.

When I was writing about this vintage masquerade costume pattern a few days ago, I noticed that “Martha Washington” had beauty spots on her face, and remembered the little package that belonged to my Aunt Dot. (no pun intended.)

Pattern for an 18th century costume, from 1924. Accessories: a white wig, a small mask, and beauty spots.

Pattern for an 18th century costume, from 1924. Accessories: a white wig, a small mask, and beauty spots.

The satirists Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, writing in their magazine, The Spectator in 1711, produced a much quoted satire on ladies wearing beauty spots (then called “patches.”) You can read it by clicking here. (It’s followed by a satire on the size of petticoats in 1709.)

The young man has a patch on his neck; the woman is wearing at least two patches. Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, Plate III. From Engravings by Hogarth, Sean Shesgreen, Ed.

The young man has a patch on his neck; the woman is wearing at least two patches. Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, Plate III, 1745. From Engravings by Hogarth, Sean Shesgreen, Ed.

These little black patches (called “mouches” in France) could be stuck to the face to draw attention to an attractive feature (like the natural mole near Cindy Crawford’s lips.) A small black star near the eye might give importance to that feature, while  distracting us from a missing tooth, or a pimple on the nose. In fact, Steele mentions a lady who used a patch to cover a pimple, which made people misjudge her political affiliation. (He says patches on the right or on the left cheek proclaimed a lady’s politics in 1711.)

There is a wonderful gallery of 17th and 18th century images featuring beauty marks and patches at Poor Little Rich Girl by Boudoir Queen. Click here to enjoy them.

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette, Costumed by Adrian in 1938. From Creating the Illusion, by Jorgenson and Scoggins,, p. 144.

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette, Costumed by Adrian in 1938. From Creating the Illusion, by Jorgenson and Scoggins, p. 144.

Here is 1930’s star Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette wearing beauty patches. Her costumes, by Adrian, were many yards over the top (and the movie was in black and white!)

Here is an Italian diagram for the placement of beauty spots.

Marilyn Monroe sometimes accented her mole, or beauty mark.

This Pictorial Review cover from 1927 shows a woman in an 18th century white wig and a beauty spot.

Men wore beauty patches, too.  According to The Encyclopedia of Fashion,

“Beginning in the late sixteenth century, fashionable men and women imitated this natural mark by sticking black beauty patches on their faces. These patches were eventually used to send signals to members of the opposite sex in flirtatious courtship rituals, but they had a practical use as well. Carefully shaped black patches could be applied to hide blemishes and scars on the face, especially the deep round scars left on those who survived the frequent outbreaks of smallpox.” Read more here.

The historical film spectacle Orphans of the Storm (the storm was the French Revolution) opened in 1921. Rudolf Valentino’s movie Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) may also have prompted some people to wear 18th century masquerade costumes in the twenties. In this poster,  both Valentino and his female co-star wear “patches.” Here is another view.

There  was even a language of patches, just as there was a language of fans and a language of flowers. With three patches you could day “I am married” but “I entertain propositions” and “I know how to keep a secret, ” among other things.

In novels of the early twentieth century, a small cut may be treated with a self-adhesive “court plaster,” which you cut to size as needed. Practical big sisters often carried court plasters in their pockets.  Kilmer House — the history division of Johnson and Johnson —  explains the name:

“Johnson & Johnson made Beauty Spots out of materials left over from making plasters.  Since 1887, Johnson & Johnson had been making Court Plasters, which had the same origins but were the more practical cousin to Beauty Spots.  To confuse matters, Beauty Spots were sometimes referred to as Court Plasters, a name that goes back to their origins in the royal courts of Europe.  They had been used by court women, who set the fashions in their day.  According to Fred Kilmer, Court Plasters started out as fashion statements, before being used by the masses to cover small cuts and scratches. “

Into the Gloss wrote a nice summary of attitudes toward moles and beauty marks over the years.

My Aunt Dot, sitting on a roof as a teenager in 1919. She like costume parties. I wonder when she bought that package of beauty spots.

My Aunt Dot, sitting on a roof as a teenager in 1919. She liked costume parties. I wonder when she bought that package of beauty spots, and how she used them.

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

A Gentleman’s Morning Coat, 1930’s Weddings

Groom, bride, guest (in checked trousers) Best man (?) and usher. I think the father of the bride is the beaming man with white hair; the man with the blazer and red carnation is presumable a guest. Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

Formal Wedding Party, Daytime Wedding, Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

The "morning coat", or "cutaway" is the most formal daytime outfit for men. "Morning coat" refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126.

The “morning coat”, or “cutaway” is the most formal daytime outfit for men. “Morning coat” refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126.

In the Spring and Summer of 1934, Esquire magazine ran several articles about wearing the morning coat. The morning coat, or “cutaway” had long been a correct choice for formal daytime events, but in 1936, by royal decree, it officially replaced the “frock coat” as formal daytime clothing in the English court. (I found this date  in Diana de Marly’s book, Fashion for Men. )

In the early 20th century, in spite of the acceptance of sack suits for most business purposes. . .

What the sack suits looked like by 1934. Double breasted or single breasted, they were standard business clothing. Esquire, Feb. 1934.

What sack suits looked like by 1934. Double breasted or single breasted, they were standard business clothing. Esquire, Feb. 1934.

. . . the frock coat was still correct formal daytime wear for diplomats and other men for whom a casual appearance was not acceptable.

A little background on the frock coat:

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1861. He wears a frock coat, vest and trousers. Photo by Mayall, courtesy of V and A museum.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1861. He wears a frock coat, vest and trousers. Photo by Mayall, courtesy of V and A Museum.

The frock coat — and the man’s three piece suit — can be said to have originated with Charles II of England, who abolished the clothing worn at the French court . . .

A french courtier, 1660, from costumer Nicole Kipar's archives.

A French courtier, 1660, from costumer Nicole Kipar’s archives.

and commanded, in 1666, that the more manly “Persian” suit of clothes be worn in his presence. Eventually, the combination of knee length coat, breeches, and vest evolved into normal business wear for men. The 19th century frock coat really did resemble the full-skirted dresses of the 1820’s and 30s….

Frock coat in French Fashion Plate, 1829. Courtesy of V and A Museum/

Frock coat in French Fashion Plate, 1829. Courtesy of V and A Museum

Frock coats, 1828, Journal des Dames. Thanks to TwoNerdyHistoryGirls for finding this plate.

Frock coats, 1828, Journal des Dames. Thanks to TwoNerdyHistoryGirls for finding this plate.

Young lady with gentleman in Frock coat, London, 1861. Courtesy V & A Museum.

Young lady with gentleman in Frock coat, London, 1861. Courtesy V & A Museum.

The photo below, from the early 20th century, shows the King of England, George V (at left), wearing a frock coat, which he favored for official daytime menswear. It was worn by lawyers, bankers, and other successful men, not just at court. He is with his son, Prince Edward (b. 1894, later the Duke of Windsor), who is wearing a formal black or dark gray cutaway.

Left, King George V in Frock coat; right, Edward Prince of Wales, wearing a cutaway or morning coat. Photo: Flash and Footle .

Left, King George V in frock coat; right, Edward, Prince of Wales, wearing a cutaway or morning coat. Photo: Flash and Footl

During the few months when he was king — before abdicating — Edward, who really preferred to wear a sack suit, abolished the frock coat at court in favor of the cutaway, or morning coat. By the 1930s, the bands of braid on the cutaway had disappeared. (Around the turn of the century a cutaway could be part of a casual three piece suit.)

During the early 1930’s, Esquire treated its readers to at least two articles about the morning coat — timed for the Summer wedding season. (On June 3, 1937, Edward, now the Duke of Windsor, was married — appropriately, in a morning suit.)

This ad from men’s clothier Rogers Peet shows attire for a wedding:

Rogers Peet ad for menswear. Esquire, April 1934.

Rogers Peet ad for menswear. Esquire, April 1934. (The curvature of the page distorts it.)

Esquire, April 1934, p. 126.

Esquire, April 1934, p. 126.

The Floorwalker at a posh department store. He says, --and think of us when you think of panties," while handing an elderly lady her package. Esquire, April 1934, p. 32.

The Floorwalker at a posh department store. While handing an elderly lady her package, he says, “–and think of us when you think of panties.”  Esquire, April 1934, p. 32.

Esquire felt obliged to explain that — even though classy store employees wore them — there really was justification for a gentleman to buy a set of morning clothes.

Reasons to won a morning suit, Esquire, April 1934.

Reasons to own a morning suit, Esquire, April 1934.

The "morning coat", or "cutaway" is the most formal daytime outfit for men. "Morning coat" refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126.

“Morning coat” refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126. Illustration by Fellows.

Article from Esquire, April 1934. p. 126. It refers to the image at top of this post.

Esquire morning coat article, April 1934.

Esquire morning coat article, April 1934.

vest 1934 april p 126 wedding morning coat clothes formalwear color image fellows illus

In June, Esquire spelled out the groom’s obligations regarding gifts to the ushers, flowers, and how to avoid blunders when dressing for a formal daytime wedding — with many choices of gray, white, or natural linen waistcoat, and a variety of collars and ties.

Wedding Etiquette and Dress Article by Sturart Howe, Esquire, June 1934.

Wedding Etiquette and Dress Article by Stuart Howe, Esquire, June 1934.

Illustration accompanying Esquire's June article on clothes for a formal wedding, p. 139.

Illustration accompanying Esquire’s June article on clothes for a formal wedding, p. 139.

Which man wears wears what at a formal daytim wedding. Article from Esquire, June 1934.

Which man wears wears what at a formal daytime wedding. Article from Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 138.

I believe that the man with a mustache, standing left of the bride, and wearing a white vest and stiff wing-collar shirt, is the groom, partly because his boutonniere is lily of the valley, rather than a white carnation or gardenia.

The groom is responsible for flowers worn by the usher, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

The groom is responsible for flowers worn by the ushers, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

Gifts from the groom to the ushers, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

Gifts from the groom to the ushers, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

Waistcoats/vests to wear to a wedding with your cutaway or morning coat. Esquire, June 1934. p. 138.

Waistcoats/vests to wear to a wedding with your cutaway or morning coat. Esquire, June 1934. p. 138.

Wedding guest in cutway coat and spats. Ad for Talon zippers, Esquire, April, 1934.

Wedding guest in cutway coat,with spats over his shoes. Ad for Talon zippers, Esquire, April, 1934.

The wedding party wears spats, too:

Groom, bride, guest (in checked trousers) Best man (?) and usher. I think the father of the bride is the beaming man with white hair; the man with the blazer and red carnation is presumable a guest. Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

Groom, bride, guest (in checked trousers & shoes with light colored tops). An usher in white-striped trousers. Is that the best man wearing herringbone trousers and a wing-collared shirt? Esquire doesn’t mention him. I think the father of the bride is the beaming man with white hair and two-button cutaway; the man in the blazer, solid gray trousers, and red carnation is presumably a guest, not part of the wedding party. Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

For the man whose social schedule did not include participating in the Easter Parade, attending Royal Ascot or signing treaties, there was another occasion, besides weddings, when a morning coat could be worn:

Cartoon by Hoff, Esquire, June 1924.

Cartoon by Hoff, Esquire, June 1924.

There is an excellent history of the morning coat at the Morning Dress Guide blog, with the added advantage of a European point of view (and photo collection) from its author, Sven Raphael Schneider.

Even in the thirties, when many men owned a tuxedo to wear to dances, nightclubs, dinners, concerts, and the theatre, morning dress was more  likely to be rented than purchased, in spite of Esquire‘s advice.

P.S. What would costumers do without Stacy Adams shoes? This company still sells black shoes with white tops, although they have snaps, rather than buttons…. The Gentleman’s Emporium has a surprisingly wide selection of spats.

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Filed under 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Men's Haberdashery & Accessories, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Shirts for men, Shoes, Shoes for Men, Suits for Men, Uniforms and Work Clothes

To Tan or Not to Tan 1920s – 1930s

Elizabeth I, the Rainbow Portrait, in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Elizabeth I, detail of the “Rainbow Portrait” in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Three centuries after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, American women still believed that beautiful skin should be pale.

Advertisement, 1917.

Advertisement, 1917. “So tanned, so colorless …. However unattractive exposure to the summer sun may have made” your face….

“Fair and tender ladies” with “peaches and cream” complexions — that was the fashion ideal promulgated for thousands of years, and not just in Europe. (Click here for the disturbing “White Skin: A Chinese Obsession.

"So tanned, so colorless -- What shall she do?" Ad from Ladies' Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

“So tanned, so colorless — What shall she do?” Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

Then came the nineteen twenties…. When chic American and European women wanted to be sun-tanned.

"Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!" Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

“Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!” Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

One of the many bizarre ideals of beauty — one that has given pain to as many women as the fashions for impossibly thin bodies or bound feet — is the crazy idea that beauty requires a light or pale skin tone. The Ancient Egyptians and Etruscans often portrayed women in a lighter shade of paint than men. “The feminine ideal during the Han period (2000 years ago) for women of the court was almost unearthly white, white skin. Moon-like roundish faces, long black hair,” writes Ann Rose Kitagawa.  Cosmetics that were supposed to lighten your skin have been around for thousands of years. For women of color, there are plenty of depressing  vintage ads for preparations that are supposed to lighten or bleach your skin. (And plenty of modern ones, too….)

“The Greeks favored light complexions, which they maintained using white lead. This was later replaced by chalk powder (around 1000 BCE) due to the many deaths caused by slow lead poisoning.” [White lead, which was also used in cosmetics by the Elizabethans, is a form of arsenic.]— read more at annmariegianni.com.

At a time when almost all people worked out of doors (that is, for most of human history,) tanned skin was the mark of a peasant, and lighter skin the mark of higher social status: the educated, the administrators, and the aristocrats. This idea was turned upside down between the 1920’s and the 1930’s, when more people worked indoors, and only wealthy people could afford to vacation at beach resorts during the winter months. Suddenly, a winter tan became a status symbol for Americans and Europeans, influencing dress, as explained in this 1929 magazine article:

"Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion." Article in Delineator Magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

“Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion.” Article in Delineator magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

This article even mentions artificial tanning: “Last summer’s tan, acquired on the Lido or American Beaches, conserved during the winter months with a sun machine and ready to deepen now at Palm Beach or Bermuda…,” could be maintained with a tanning lamp like this one.

"Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;" ad for a Health Developer Tanning Lamp, 1929.

“Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;” ad for a Health Developer Twin-Arc Tanning Lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Applliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Appliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

To be fair, the “health” claims were related to the relatively recent discovery of Vitamin D, its part in calcium absorption, and the need for sunshine to prevent the bone-deforming disease, rickets, in children. But the sunlamp was undoubtedly as much a fashion item as a health item in 1929.

It’s not surprising that women were confused in the late twenties and early thirties — To tan, or not to tan? [Personal note:  I am very pale, as California girls go, but my mother, who prized her extremely white skin, was terribly disappointed that her little girl was not as fair-skinned as she was. Apparently, some women who lived through this “tan/not tan” era were never enthusiastic about the new fashion.]

Even in the thirties, not every woman chose to get a tan. Story illustration from Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

Even in the thirties, not every fair-skinned woman chose to get a tan. Two blondes in a story illustration from Woman’s Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

I was amused to find these two ads facing each other in the pages of Delineator in 1924, before tanning became chic.

Left, an ad advising a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a bleaching cream. Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Left, an ad suggesting a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a skin bleaching cream.   Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Nadinola “whitens the skin to milky purity. It bleaches freckles, sun-tan and wind-tan.”

Absorbine, Jr. promised that “the next day,” users would have “only a slightly deeper coat of tan as a reminder of the day’s sport.”  In 1924, getting a tan was an accident that called for a remedy like Nadinola Bleaching Cream, which promised “The Lure of Southern Loveliness.” [Hmmmm.]

In 1928, the unlucky girl who accidentally got a tan could buy Gouraud’s Oriental Cream to cover it up:

"A Sunproof Complexion" -- or the illusion of one -- could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream. Ad, July 1928.

“A Sunproof Complexion” — or the illusion of one — could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream, which “renders an entrancing film of pearly beauty….”  Ad, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, a makeup which covered up a tan. Delineator, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, a face and body makeup which covered up a tan, and theoretically prevented one. “You appearance will not be blemished by the sun or wind.” Delineator, July 1928.

Bottom of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, apparently a liquid body makeup. July 1928

Bottom of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, which seems to be a liquid body makeup. July 1928. Delineator.

Apparently a liquid body makeup, Oriental Cream was available in “White, Flesh and Rachel.” “Rachel” was a dark-ish makeup color for olive or tanned complexions. Here is a “don’t fear the beach, use Apex Bleach” ad aimed at women of color in the 1920’s.

[I can’t read “Flesh” color without thinking about comedian and civil rights leader Dick Gregory‘s sixties’ joke (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that he really thought we were making progress towards racial equality — until he “tried to buy a flesh colored bandaid.” Dick Gregory opened some windows in my little, white world. And guess what? — that joke is still valid.]

However, by 1929 suntanned faces and bodies were in style, according to fashion magazines:

500 title 1929 feb tan article p 25

Beginning of text of suntans and fashions article in Delineator, February, 1929.

Beginning of article about fashions and colors to flatter a suntan in Delineator, February, 1929.

Notice the references to American and European resorts: Palm Beach, Antibes, the Lido (Venice), Bermuda…. French resorts like Deauville and Biarritz– where Chanel started her rise to eminence — were part of the phenomenon. “It has become smart to look healthy, smart to go in for tan, and smart to dress expressly for it.”

A sports suit with "sunburn back" used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929.

A sports suit with “sunburn back” used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929. Her back is bare, but wrinkled by the model’s pose.

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 top lower

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 lower rt end

“Even the southern evening frock is deliberately more decollete than ever so as to reveal the extent of the day’s tan.”

“The necessity of being true to your tan and its outline,” e.g., U shaped, V shaped  or square-shaped, is important, since your bathing suit line would dictate the other clothes you could wear to show off your tan. “Tan is truly the maker of fashion.”

A deep U shape in front. Feb, 1929 Delineator.

A deep neckline in front and intense flower prints to go with a tan. Feb, 1929, Delineator.

Low-cut evening gowns also exposed your tan, front and back.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator Fe. 1929.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator, Feb. 1929. It “Follows the design of the sports suit” with the very deep “sunburn” back.

That’s not to say that women were not conflicted by contradictory advertising.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931. “Ten nights — and you’ll be a ravishing, fair skinned beauty!”

Note that these skin bleach ads from Delineator magazine were primarily aimed at women with Caucasian/European ancestry. Many other products that claimed to bleach or lighten skin were advertised to women with naturally dark complexions.

B. Vikki Vintage has written a well-illustrated review of  Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African-American Women, 1920-1975 by Susannah Walker. Visit her blog here.

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream. That is a low cut bathing suit!

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream.  This extremely low-cut bathing suit matches some equally low cut evening dresses of the 1930’s. Click here.

"Sunshine weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it."

“Sunshine in moderation is good. Severe sunburn, however, weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it.” Ad for Hinds Cream.

“To prevent that fiery sunscorch in the first place, — before going on the beach, smooth on Hinds Cream, and powder over it.”

“Powder over it?” In 1931, Dorothy Gray offered a product that claimed to prevent sunburn by “absorbing ultra-violet rays.” (It probably did work better than powder over moisturizer):

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit.

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit, which the model has obviously not worn before. Judging by her legs and midriff, she tanned her arms and upper back while wearing a dress.

Text of Dorothy Gray ad, July 1931.

Text of Dorothy Gray Sunburn Cream ad, July 1931. $2.00 was not an insignificant amount of money. In 1924 and in 1936, a working woman paid about $20 per month for a rented room.

The fashion for tanning was not necessarily long, or universal, and like all fads … It faded.

Illustration from "Keeping Up and Making Up," Delineator, June 1934. "When Skins Change Their Color, It's News."

Illustration from “Keeping Up and Making Up,” Delineator, June 1934. Dark tan in 1932, lighter tan in 1933, and a big beach hat and cover-up in 1934.”When Skins Change Their Color, It’s News.”

“News” seems to suggest that very deep tans were losing their cachet by 1934. But this cartoon from 1936 contradicts it — at least for an English humorist:

"Don't worry, darling. You'll look quite respectable in a day or two." Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

“Don’t worry, darling. You’ll look quite respectable in a day or two.” Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

I’m afraid, from the dismay on the dark-suited girl’s face, that the cartoonist did not agree that a dark tan was “respectable.” The old “peasants versus aristocrats” stereotype had not died.

Sadly, millions of women in third-world countries are still using skin bleach products that contain mercury and other toxic ingredients in the quest for lighter skin. Click here to read The Global Phenomenon of Skin Bleaching: A Crisis in Public Health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Costumes for the 17th Century, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits

More Costume Research Online Resources

You can either read, preview, buy or download over 1500 publications, including museum catalogs, from the Metropolitan Museum! Many can be read for free.

Metropolitan Museum Publication: Haute Couture

Metropolitan Museum Publication: Haute Couture. Read it online.

Seriously! Click here for a preview. (Thank you, Eva at Dressful.com.)

Click here to go to the Met’s Publications website. (1556 results from all departments.) And “Thank You!” to the Met and all the other museums which are generously photographing and digitizing their collections.

American Ingenuity Sportswear online from Metropolitan Publications

American Ingenuity: Sportswear can be read online from Metropolitan Publications.

You can narrow your search at the Met Publications site; for instance, I got 55 results when I limited my search to The Costume Institute (click here), and 47 when I asked for Exhibition Catalogs and The Costume Institute. (Click here.) 25 of those catalogs can be read online.

Christian Dior exhibition catalog, available from MetPublications.

Christian Dior exhibition catalog, can be read online at MetPublications.

You may also want to limit your search by Format:  books that can be read online, or those that can be downloaded, or those that can be printed in pdf format. Some have to be purchased, but often you can read a generous preview.

Chanel, from Metropolitan Museum Publications, is still for sale.

Chanel, from Metropolitan Museum Publications. The Met will give you a link to libraries that have a copy.

When I hear about a great resource, I usually add it to the sidebar on the right under Sites With Great Information. (Scroll down till you see it.) If you hover over the name of a site, you’ll get a description of what you’ll find there. Then, click and go.

Thanks also to Cass from the Costumers’ Alliance for passing on this information. (Check out their links!) You can also find the Costumers’ Alliance on Facebook. That site led me to . . .

Plains Cree shirt, 1876, at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Plains Cree shirt, 1876, at the Royal Ontario Museum.

. . . An extensive listing of museum costume collections that have been digitized, from all over the world! The site is Demode: [with an accent aigu on each ‘e’] Historical Costume Projects and Research Resources, Specializing in the 18th Century. Thank you, Demode, for sharing all this work!

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Filed under 1700s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 17th Century, Exhibitions & Museums, Musings, Resources for Costumers

Museum Online: The Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg

Found via Two Nerdy History Girls:  The Online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg.

18th c. dress in the Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy.

18th c. dress #1975-340 in the Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy.

Williamsburg, Virginia, may be strongly associated with the American colonial era, but the museum has clothing from the 1600’s through the Victorian Era. Now, a sizeable portion of its collections has been photographed and put online.

The Online Collection gives us a chance to sample the Museum’s holdings without buying a plane ticket. The online collection is searchable: Click here:  http://emuseum.history.org/  You’ll find clothing and accessories, including shoes, fans, and children’s clothes; paintings, ceramics, silver and pewter; there are also quilts, furniture, “household necessaries,” etc.  — quite a treasure trove.

The online Costume Collection contains photos of 385 items — with excellent enlargements and alternate views in the Costume Collection, and the Costume Accessories Collection online shows 444 items: hats, shoes, gloves, buttons…. When you visit the site, you can enlarge the images to see details more clearly.

This man’s three piece suit from the colonial period has a vest with attached linen sleeves:

Man's suit, 18th c. from the Costume collection at Colonial Williamsburg, online. Please do not copy.

Man’s suit, 18th c. from the online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Search for # 1994-1862. Please do not copy. The breeches lace up the back, so their size is adjustable.

This child’s plaid Victorian dress can be seen more closely; search for # 1997-158.

Child's plaid Victorian dress, #1997-158 at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

Child’s plaid Victorian dress, #1997-158 at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

The Museum also has stays (a corset) for a child, circa 1740-1760. Search for #1964-405.

This roller printed dress is from the 1830’s:

Roller printed dress circa 1830s. Online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

Roller printed dress circa 1830s. # 1972-126. Online Costume Collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Please do not copy this image.

And this 1880’s bustle dress is # 1998-240.

1880's bustle dress, #1998-240, Colonial Williamsburg Costume Collection online. Please do not copy this image

1880’s bustle dress, #1998-240, Colonial Williamsburg Costume Collection online. Please do not copy this image

To see the collection, or any of these items in more detail, go to Costume Collection and search by the number.

Don’t forget to visit the Costume Accessories, like this pair of embroidered gloves dated 1630-1650.

Mid 17th c. gloves, # 1974-1101, in the Costume Accessories Collection at Colonial Williamsburg, online. Please do not copy this image.

Mid-17th c. gloves, # 1974-1101, in the Costume Accessories Collection at Colonial Williamsburg, online. Please do not copy this image.

 

 

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The Evolution of the Shirt and Cut My Cote: Book Recommendation

I’v been wanting to recommend this little book, Cut My Cote, for a long time, and, since I showed some Victorian era men’s shirts in a recent post, this seems like a good time to share some things Cut My Cote taught me about the evolution of the shirt.

Shirt spun, woven and stitched by Elizabeth Hitchings in 1816. Metropolitan Museum.

Shirt made by Elizabeth Wild Hitchings in 1816. Metropolitan Museum Collection.

“This shirt was created, from the linen fiber to the finished garment, by the donor’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Wild Hitchings, for her husband Benjamin Hitchings, a sea captain, in 1816.”

Cut My Cote, by Dorothy K. Burnham, is more of a pamphlet than a book, but its 36 pages are packed with useful diagrams and thought provoking information. For me, it was one of those “whack on the side of the head” books, because I had simply never considered how precious cloth was in the pre-industrial age, or how garment construction was influenced by the size of the handwoven cloth available. Making clothes from Burnham’s diagrams is a real education.

This book expands on  some themes from Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Barber. Barber, an archeologist and a weaver, estimated that it takes a woman seven hours to hand spin enough thread to weave for one hour. For the woman spinning and weaving and sewing a linen shirt like the one above, every scrap would represent days of labor. You can understand why “zero waste” clothing is not a new idea.

Diagram of Man's shirt, by Dorothy Burnham, showing how none of the handwoven linen was wasted. From Cut My Cote. Pleas do not copy this image.

Diagram of 16th c. man’s shirt, by Dorothy Burnham, showing how not a single inch of the handwoven linen was wasted. From Cut My Cote. Please do not copy this image. The cloth was 27 inches wide.

In the shirt above, the sleeves (B) narrow from below the elbow to the wrist. The triangles of fabric (C) trimmed from the lower part of the sleeves are used to widen the upper part. The neckline is slit straight across, and gathered into the collar at front and back. This gives ease across the back. (Modern shirts have a center back pleat for the same reason.) Notice how similar it is to that shirt made by Elizabeth Wild Hitchings nearly three hundred years later.

“I shall cut my cote after my cloth.”

Burnham examines this proverb and finds it true:  “I shall cut my cote after my cloth.” ( Haywood’s Proverbs, published in 1546) You may have heard a variant of the proverb:

“You must cut your coat to fit your cloth.”

The size of the cloth often dictates the shape of the garment. Using her measurements of rare surviving garments, Burnham charts their cutting patterns. In examples that trace the development of the European shirt, for instance, you can see how reluctantly the cloth is cut at all, and how every inch is utilized.

The Loom and The Shirt

Burnham explains the various types of looms used from place to place, and how the physical requirements of the loom (width, portability, number of weavers) dictates the width of the cloth. Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt [all slave-owning societies, as it happens] used very wide, vertical or horizontal looms; some needed two weavers passing the shuttle back and forth. The Greeks wove big, wide pieces of cloth, and wore them sideways, wrapped around the body with one selvage as a hem and the other at the top, usually pinning (rather than sewing) the garment at the shoulders. Excess length was controlled with belts, or by folding the top down, or both (below right.) It didn’t need cutting or sewing.

Greek charioteer, ca 475 BC; Roman dancing girl, before 79 AD.

Greek charioteer, ca 475 BC; Roman dancing girl, before 79 AD.

Nomadic societies had to use looms that were portable and easy to set up. Sometimes a waist strap (or back strap) loom was used (Click here to see one being used.) When fabrics began to be worn vertically, instead of having the selvage as a hem, their width was dictated by the weaver’s reach when passing the shuttle from one side of the loom to the other. Since shirts made from narrow cloth were also worn very long, added width was needed for walking, so the sides had to be open at the hem, or the front and back were slit and godets inserted, as below. The fabric for this 13th century shirt was only 22 inches wide. Fabric (C) left over from the sleeves (B), which narrow toward the wrist, is used for godets (C) to widen the bottom of the shirt.

Burnham's diagram for a 13th century French shirt. The wedges cut off the fabric used for sleeves have been inserted into the bottom of the shirt front and back. Please do not copy this image.

Burnham’s diagram for a 13th century French shirt. The wedges (C) cut off the fabric used for sleeves have been inserted into the bottom of the shirt front and back. Please do not copy this image.

This drawing of a medieval farm worker shows a similar garment, with tapered sleeves and a very full skirt.

Harvesting barley in a long, belted, shirt-like garment. Late 1300's c. From 20,000 Years of Fashion, by F. Boucher, p. 199.

Harvesting barley in a long, belted, shirt-like garment. Late 1300’s. From 20,000 Years of Fashion, by F. Boucher, p. 199.

Shirts for the 1700’s

Late 18th c. shirt in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Late 18th c. shirt in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I have made late 18th century shirts like this one using Cut My Cote as one source, and, while perfectly authentic, they did not always behave well on sweaty actors and singers.  You can see that the shoulders of the shirt are much wider than the shoulders of the wearer, and in the diagram there is no shoulder seam. Even on a motionless mannequin, the shoulders fall forward, twisting the sleeves.

Also, when the neckline is cut as a straight line, like this one …

Shirt, late 16th c. Diagram by Burnham. Please do not copy.

Shirt, late 16th c. Diagram by Burnham. Please do not copy.

… it doesn’t take into account some facts about the human body. First, flat rectangles of cloth are relatively two dimensional; we are three dimensional. Second, we are not symmetrical when seen from the side.

Left, and illustration from Walt Reed's book The Figure; Right, an illustration from Drawing the Head & Figure by Jank Hamm.

Left, based on  an illustration from Walt Reed’s book The Figure; Right, based on an illustration from Drawing the Head & Figure by Jack Hamm.

Our necks are lower on the body in front than in back. The measurement from the base of the neck to waist (CF measurement) is always shorter than our Center Back measurement (CB). If you cut your shirt’s neck opening in a straight horizontal line, the opening will be forced down in the front, and the shirt will twist on the body. The shoulders of the shirt will want to move forward, while the back rides up. (Actors will be more comfortable with a modern curved neckline on an otherwise “period” shirt.”)

Another problem that had to be solved was the trapezius — the muscle that connects your neck with your shoulder.

Geometrical stick figures (top) and a more complex figure, bottom.

Geometrical stick figures (top) and a stick figure adjusted to treat the neck and trapezius more realistically (bottom). Photo from Walt Reed’s book The Figure.

It took a long time for most shirt makers to solve these problems, although this woman’s smock from 1630 has a triangular gusset at the side of the neck; that was part of the solution.

This shirt, which belonged to British banker Thomas Coutts, has triangular pieces at the neck, either side of the collar.

Early 19th c. shirt belonging to Thomas Coutts, Metropolitan Museum Collection.

Early 19th c. shirt belonging to Thomas Coutts, Metropolitan Museum Collection.

This 19th century shirt with a neck gusset was collected by a friend.

Linen shirt, 19th century. The collar has a gathered triangular gusset at each side.

Linen shirt, 19th century. The collar has a gathered triangular gusset at each side. inserted in the straight, slit neckline.

The triangular gusset is an attempt to solve the problem of the trapezius.

The triangular gusset is an attempt to solve the problem of the trapezius. It just didn’t go far enough.

The collar, hand sewn, of a finer fabric than the shirt's body.

The collar, hand sewn, is a finer fabric than the shirt’s body.

This shirt, from the same collection, has a shoulder yoke and a different way of using a triangular gusset:

Yoke across the shoulders and a gusset below the yoke.

19th century shirt with a yoke across the shoulders and a gusset below the yoke. Apparently the shirt body was cut straight across, but did not match the shape of the yoke without piecing. The neckline seems to be curved in front.

These collars with a wide gap between the wings were seen from the 1820s through the 1850s, persisting among older men. They could be starched and worn turned up, or worn turned down.

Shirt collars with a wide gap in front: a fashion plate, 1849, a sketch by Ingres, 1826, an older man, 1859, and Ingre's self portrait at age 79, 1859.

Shirt collars with a wide gap in front: a fashion plate, 1849, a sketch by Ingres, 1826, an older man, 1859, and Ingre’s self portrait at age 79, 1859.

This shirt, also owned by Thomas Coutts, has a yoke. So did the shirts worn by Mississippi boatmen in the 1840’s and 50’s, as painted by George Caleb Bingham; their shoulder seams drop far down the arm. (Shirts were one of the few ready-made garments available. But they were not sized to fit before the Civil War, when statistics that made standard sizing possible were collected.) The boatmen’s shirt size was probably dictated by the width of the cloth available.

The Jolly Flatboatmen, painting by George Bingham

The Jolly Flatboatmen, painting by George Caleb Bingham, 1846.

The problem of the too-high-in-front neckline was solved by wearing the shirt unbuttoned at the throat. There are no other buttons, except at the wrists, and shirts were pulled on over the head.

Mississippi Boatman by George Caleb Bingham, 1850.

Mississippi Boatman by George Caleb Bingham, 1850.

Another problem for shirtmakers was that, if the sleeves were tight, it was hard to raise your arm.

Photo from Erik A. Ruby's book The Human Figure. If your sleeve was tight, raising your arm like this was difficult.

Photo from Erik A. Ruby’s book The Human Figure. If your sleeve was tight, raising your arm like this pulled your shirt up several inches.

Some cultures — like Japan — left the underarm seam open. Europeans wanting to wear tighter sleeves without losing the ability to raise a sword or a tool, wore a very full sleeved shirt underneath a tight outer sleeve that was attached only at the shoulder, or tied on just at the top.

A young man by Memlinc, and a young lade by Ghirlandaio. Both are late 1400s.

A young man by Memlinc, and a young lady by Ghirlandaio. Both are late 1400’s. Her sleeve is also open at the elbow, so she can bend her arm easily.

But the best solution was a square gusset (C), inserted in the underarm seams so that the bias stretch would accommodate movement.

Burnham's diagram of a 17th century shirt with underarm gussets. Please do not copy this image.

Burnham’s diagram of an early 19th century shirt with underarm gussets (C) and neckline gussets (F). Please do not copy this image.

The shirt above, diagrammed by Burnham, was one of several owned by Thomas Coutts (d. 1822); the survival of his large wardrobe is a boon to historians.

Victorian era Shirt with underarm gusset. It also has neckline gussets, like the Thomas Coutts shirt diagrammed.

Victorian era shirt with underarm gusset. It also has neckline gussets, like the Thomas Coutts shirt Burnham diagrammed.

Neck gusset in a Victorian era shirt.

Neck gusset in a Victorian era shirt.

Neglected Treasures

For the most part, shirts are not beautiful; they are not collected; they get worn out and used as cleaning rags; they get passed down to be worn as work clothes, instead of being wrapped in tissue and passed down as heirlooms. That is why very old shirts in very good condition are really, really rare! And a very old shirt with provenance can end up in a museum’s Costume Collection.

This wedding shirt from 1841 has a curved neckline; like a formal dress shirt, it opens down the back. It’s in the Victoria and Albert collection.

I’m not sure whether the dealer who bought my friend’s collection had any idea about how rare documented Victorian era shirts are. Here for example, is a lace embellished shirt that my friend was able to document, because it was made for a wedding and remained in one family.

A wedding shirt dated to 1871.

A wedding shirt of Davenfort Harrold, dated to 1871. The neckline curves and is deeper in front. A separate collar could be worn.

Eureka:  Shirts That Fit

I think the ultimate solution to making shirts that fit arrived along with the industrial revolution, when spinning and weaving became mechanized, lowering the price of cloth. Before that, as Dorothy Burnham says, “an extreme economy of material was practised in the cutting of traditional garments…. In ancient times, weaving far outstripped the techniques of cutting and sewing….”

Once people realized that cut cloth will not unravel after it’s been sewn, and that a certain amount of wastage is preferable to a poorly fitting shirt, the problems of the neck and trapezius fit were solved by a diagonally cut shoulder seam and a curved neckline that was cut deeper in front than in back. (The triangular neck gusset was, in a way, included in the new seam across the shoulders, which creates a triangle.) a seam across the shoulders

Using statistics collected for the manufacture of military uniforms, a range of sizes and a closer fit became possible.

Shirt diagram from the Cutter and Tailor.

Shirt diagram from the Cutter and Tailor. It is essentially a modern shirt.

This heavy cotton flannel shirt, made in Sherborne, England, ended up in California. It is factory made, with a curved neckline, sloping shoulders, and a double layer of fabric for warmth. But its one-size-fits-many sleeve length had to be adjusted with a tuck. (Office workers could shorten their sleeves with a sleeve garter.) Also, like earlier shirts, this one pulls on over the head.

Vintage flannel factory made work shirt made in Sherborne, England.

Vintage flannel factory-made work shirt, probably from Sherborne, England. The label says “N. E. Strickland & Co., Shirt Specialists, Sherborne.” Strickland shirts are still being made, but not necessarily by the same company.

There is a good review of Cut My Cote at The Perfect Nose. (Click here). It shows several different illustrations from the book and encourages the stitcher to dive in and use them instead of patterns — “mark it onto your fabric in chalk/ marker and have at it with ruler and rotary tool.”

I have done this (using a #2 pencil and muslin), and I learned a lot about the evolution of the shirt from making smocks, blouses, and shirts from Cut My Cote. My old copy was covered with measurements in pencil! You can find used copies for about $15.00 — Click here. — Or you could buy it new from The Royal Ontario Museum, which has kept it in print since 1973! Cut My Cote at ROM– Click Here.

For serious research into 18th century and early 19th century shirts, follow the links at 18th Century Notebook. An entire list of links to shirts in museum collections can be found by clicking here.

The TwoNerdyHistoryGirls wrote about 18th century shirts (and why the hems were so long — ick!) here.

It’s easy to see why this 1630  embroidered smock at the V & A Museum didn’t end up as a dishrag. And its
gorgeous blackwork embroidery probably saved this going-on-500-year-old Tudor shirt, circa 1540. It’s in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Read more Here.

But spare a thought for the uncollected, hand spun, hand woven, hand stitched, everyday shirts that were made and worn and finally worn out.

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My Costumer’s Library: Getting Started

A page from 20,000 Years of Fashion: Packed with primary sources, photos, information.

A page from 20,000 Years of Fashion: Packed with primary sources, photos, information — in color and black & white.

I’ve been seeing some comments, on The Vintage Traveler and other blogs, from people asking for costume research book recommendations, and I couldn’t resist offering some suggestions.

Of course, a library is a very personal thing, and depends on its owner’s personal interests and goals. I helped a good friend list her library on Amazon when it came time for her to move to assisted living. She was a vintage clothing collector, a docent, and a lover of ethnic textiles.  I was a theatrical costume designer. I’ve taught costume design, construction, and costume history classes; I’ve worked as a designer, a cutter/draper (i.e., a pattern maker), and a costume technician. Together, we had between five and six hundred books in our personal / professional libraries, but we had very few books in common!

I, too, sold most of my professional library when I thought I had retired. Ironically, helping to inventory my friend’s clothing collection for sale made me realize that this is the field I know best, and I still have a lot information and experience to share, so here I am . . . .

There are a few books I couldn’t bear to part with (20,000 Years of Fashion, The Costume Technician’s Handbook) — and many I wish I’d kept, like Everyday Fashions of… since I keep checking them out of the library now.

For an Overview of Fashion in the Western World: 20,000 Years of Fashion

For a quick overview / refresher of periods, (American and European) loaded with primary source illustrations — one of the first costume books I bought and one I still have on my shelf 40 years later:  20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, by Francois Boucher. I have the 1973 edition — available online in used condition for under $20. A 1987 edition is also available. A big, heavy, wonderful, information-packed book, densely illustrated in color and black & white.

For Clothing Worn by Ordinary People: the Everyday Fashions series.

For twentieth century American fashions that were worn by ordinary people (not high fashion): Dover’s series of books that began with Stella Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the Twenties (and Everyday Fashions of the Thirties) from the pages of Sears and other catalogs. The series — trustworthy, dated, primary source material — is being continued by JoAnne Olian, with Everyday Fashions 1909-1920, Everyday Fashions of the Forties, Everyday Fashions of the Fifties, Sixties, etc.) These books are packed with period illustrations and photos of women’s clothing, some children’s clothing, menswear, undergarments, hats, shoes, and other accessories, with prices. Every professional costume designer I know refers to these books constantly. Used, less than $10 each.

For Constructing Historic Clothing: Books by Norah Waugh or  Janet Arnold

For an understanding of how period garments were made, as well as some interesting costume history: Norah Waugh’s classic books The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930, & The Cut of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900. For a long time, The Cut of Men’s Clothes was the reference for patterning period menswear. If you want to study the construction of authentic historical garments, these books are a good place to start. The pages are not gridded, however, so the pattern layouts are most helpful when you’re draping on a mannequin. There is a measurement scale on each page — I ended up copying the scale and pasting it to a stiff card / bookmark so I could move it around on the drawings and then pencil in measurements all over the pages. Also, these books are not cheap, even in used condition. I’d say, borrow Waugh’s books from a library and buy Janet Arnold’s books:

If you want to study vintage clothing and/or recreate authentic period garments: Janet Arnold wrote three superb books, all in paperback and relatively inexpensive: the series is  Patterns of Fashion, by Janet ArnoldPatterns of Fashion is available in three volumes. Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660 to 1860 (women’s clothing), Patterns of Fashion 2: 1860 to 1940 (women’s clothing), and Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620. A fourth volume on shirts, smocks, ruffs, hats, etc., is available, but I haven’t seen it. Arnold has produced detailed patterns, on scaled grids, with copious notes on the construction and trims, taken from actual garments in museum collections. Another virtue: these books are ringbound, so they lie flat when open! I was able to produce some terrific 1890s costumes (with the help of my high school students) using just this book (P of F 2) plus my own home sewing experience (which included volunteering as a stitcher for a very good costume designer — so I knew about flat lining!) You can find used copies of Patterns of Fashion 1 & 2 online at $20 to $30 each; the later books cost a bit more. If you’re dealing in vintage clothing, understanding period construction — knowing what the insides should look like — is very important.

Primary and Secondary Sources

You’ll notice I keep using the words “Primary Sources.” A primary source is a text or illustration (or garment or photograph) made at the time the fashion was current.

Clothing from Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli, drawn and published in November, 1928. Delineator Magazine.

Clothing from Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli, drawn and published in November, 1928. The Delineator magazine.

A secondary source is usually a drawing of an authentic garment, painting, statue, or photo, made at a later date. An example would be John Peacock’s Fashion Sketchbook: 1920-1960 , first published in 1970. Drawings like this can give details not visible in photographs, and are very useful when combined with primary sources. However, not only our ideals of beauty, but our styles of fashion illustration can affect the accuracy of secondary sources in subtle ways. For example, many fashion fabrics in the 1960s and early 70s were stiffer than fabrics from the 1920s. Photos of 1920s dresses show them looking a little droopy, like that Vionnet jacket above, rather than crisp like these.

Suits for 1927-29, drawing by John Peacock. From his Fashion Sketchbook 1920-1960, pb. 1977. Image for review purpose only. Do not copy this image.

Suits for 1927-29, drawing by John Peacock. From his Fashion Sketchbook 1920-1960, pb. 1977. Image for review purpose only. Do not copy this image.

Also, illustrators will tend to select the clothing that is most attractive according their own era’s fashion ideal.

Beware of Using Only Secondary Sources! Anne Hollander has written a big, fascinating book about the difficulty of putting aside our own, modern ideas of beauty and drawing exactly what we see.  Even very scholarly fashion histories that are illustrated with secondary sources can be affected by this unconscious bias. The Mode in Costume, by Ruth Turner Wilcox, is carefully researched, but the illustrations, drawn in the 1940s, sometimes seem to show an uncorseted 1940s figure. The drawings of corsets from Elizabeth Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear are also secondary sources, but they are technical drawings, not noticeably distorted to a 1970s figure ideal.

1940s Drawing of 1879 dress (The Mode in Fashion), and technical drawing of 1879 corset by Elizabeth Ewing, 1971

1940s Drawing of 1879 dress (The Mode in Costume), and technical drawing of an 1879 corset by Elizabeth Ewing, 1971.  Notice the natural bust curve on the dress drawing, impossible in this corset. The bulging “spoon” belly of the period is also minimized.

Straight fronted 18th c. corset (Ewing) and 1940s drawing of 18th c. gown (The Mode in Fashion.)

Straight-fronted 18th c. corset (Ewing) and 1940s drawing of 18th c. gown (The Mode in Costume.) I have made versions of similar 18th century corsets from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, published in the mid-to-late 18th c. They flatten the bust and push it quite high. See below.

Secondary sources can be helpful, but only when used in addition to plenty of primary sources.

An 18th century fashion plate, from Encyclopedie Illustree du Costume et de la Mode

An 18th century fashion plate, from Encyclopedie Illustree du Costume et de la Mode. To be fair, this is later than the black gown above.

We’ve all seen western movies from the 60s and 70s in which the women wear thick, black false eyelashes and have bodices with plenty of breast separation, cut to cling to a modern merry widow or “torpedo” bra. Of course, both the makeup and the clothing looked attractive when the movies were made, but now look obviously “wrong” to anyone who has studied photos of the Old West.

Bette Davis wore lavish costumes both times she played Elizabeth I, but Hollywood just couldn’t commit to authentic, flat-fronted underwear.

Bette Davis in Elizabeth and Essex, 1939; Queen Elizabeth I

Bette Davis in Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939; Queen Elizabeth I

Once I was visiting a “Great House” in England. The tour guide was proud of all the portraits of the owner’s Elizabethan ancestors displayed in the front hall. I thoughtlessly blurted, “Aren’t these Victorian paintings of people in Elizabethan dress?” “How did you know that?” the guide said, shocked that the secret was out. Well, they were wearing Elizabethan clothes, but their faces and hair(and corsets) were Victorian.  Those pictures were not primary sources for Elizabethan dress.

One More Book I Couldn’t Part With:  The Costume Technician’s Handbook
I wore out my copy of The Costumer’s Handbook. The Costume Technician’s Handbook, by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey, is a revised edition of that book. When you’re exhausted and you need to put in hook and eye tape including a casing for the bone, or a side seam zipper, or you need to cartridge pleat a skirt (or ruff), or want to show someone the right way to sew on a snap, this book’s clear and easy-to-follow diagrams are life –or at least, sanity– savers. There are lots of procedures that costumers need to know, but sometimes many months go by before the next time you need to put in a corset busk, or draft some gussets, etc. The Costume Technician’s Handbook covers everything from flat pattern drafting and fitting problems and alterations, to dying and fabric painting, making hats and shoes and sword carriers, how to tie neckties, health and safety issues, etc. There’s a big bibliography and a list of suppliers. There’s even a website that updates all these sources and includes a shopping guide, links to costume societies, etc. The book is available in paperback. You can find an older edition, used, for under $10. A gem. (Caution: It is not about re-creating historically accurate clothing. It’s about creating well-made costumes for the theatre using sewing machines and modern supplies. Actors generally appreciate zippers.)

These are some old favorites — basics — the books I would pack if I could just carry a few for working out-of-town for the summer. I’ll be thinking of more really useful books for another post.

 

 

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