Category Archives: Costumes for the 19th century

A Mystery Corset: 1820’s ?

NOTE: I thought this post was published on Sept. 16, 2017; I even received helpful  comments and updated it — but it’s not listed as published on my dashboard — so, forgive me if you received two notifications on it. Mysterious, indeed. I added links and categories in October, 2017.

This corset is stiffened by many rows of parallel channels. A busk can be inserted in the center. Parallel rows of diagonal cording flatten the midriff, which, to me,  suggests a date after the 1810s.

When I first saw this corset in a collection that was being readied for sale, I was fascinated by its beauty and its fine state of preservation. At first, I couldn’t believe it was not a reproduction.

Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fit a child, but no child would have a bust like this.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I took a few quick photos and sought advice, but the collection was sold before I realized that I needed more pictures. I can’t even find detailed notes — just the letter I wrote asking for advice — so apparently I never had a chance to return to this garment, or to photograph several other intriguing corsets.

Back detail of the corset near shoulder.

I believe it was completely hand stitched with shiny brown thread. The stitching is so regular that it looks, at first, like it was done by a machine; however, I believe it is perfectly spaced back-stitching, with visible starts, stops, and knots on the inside of the corset. [Update: it is not back-stitched; Cynthia Baxter suggested that is was stitched with a running stitch, and then stitched on the opposite side with running stitches using the same holes. I have seen this technique used by shoemakers and leather workers, so it makes sense for a corset.]

Inside of the corset. An occasional thread knot implies hand stitching.

The state of the fabric, except for a few spots, was remarkable — if it is as old as I think it is (before 1840.)  It could have been collected anywhere.

Channel stitching, detail of right midriff front. The busk channel is at right of photo.

Detail of front of corset.  The midriff area is stitched from below the bust to just below the natural waist. I think the channels hold cording.  I do wish I’d had time  to photograph the inside!

The corset has a dropped shoulder in the back, tiny close-fitting bound armholes, and an extended shoulder line.

In general, the collection did not include many items of this rarity and quality. However, the collection did include a fine 18th century man’s vest, as well as this dress, from early in the 1800’s.

An early 19th century dress from the same collection as the mystery corset. The chemise under it is unrelated.

Empire dress, early 1800’s, with wool embroidery at hem in three shades of brown.

The corset worn under a dress like this created a very high bust, but a woman’s waist and hips didn’t need to be re-shaped.

Back to the mystery corset: I only took one photo of the back, with a gigantic, modern black lace obscuring the eyelets.

Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed.

Were the holes hand worked or were they metal grommets?  In my ignorance, grommets would have been a red flag to me; if there were metal grommets, I would have assumed that the corset was a reproduction or had been altered to be worn in modern times. But — I would have been mistaken. This English corset from the Museum at FIT is dated 1815. It has metal grommets down the back.

I looked online for Regency Era reproduction patterns; I didn’t find any pattern for this corset. A yahoo search turns up several images of Regency Era corsets. Click here.

There’s a nice overview of early 19th century corsets at Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion. Click here.

A Regency style corset made by sidneyeileen.com has similarities to our mystery corset.

A corset (1830 to 1840) in the Los Angeles County Museum has a similar high waisted (but not Empire) silhouette.

This corded corset, with a channel for a front busk, is at the Metropolitan Museum: it is described as 1820’s. The waist is a little above the wearer’s natural waist. The front straps are spaced as far apart as possible.

Corset from the 1820’s in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

corset met 1815 to 1825

I was going to leave it at that, but couldn’t resist trying to relate the shape of the corset to the clothing that would have been worn over it.

All the following fashion plates are from the online Casey Collection of Fashion Plates at the Los Angeles County Museum.

1800 fashion plate from Ladies’ Museum, in the Casey Collection. The early 1800’s corset pushes the breasts up to a rather unnatural position, high on the chest.

The neckline of our corset is too high for these fashions — and it does not push the breasts up this high.

Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fit a child, but no child would have a bust like this.

Early in the 1800’s, the Empire waist was very high and the dress was often gathered in the front. The fullness moved to the back a few years later, which would call for a smoother midriff area. By 1811, the waist was moving lower:

April 1811, fashion plate from La Belle Assemblee, Casey Collection. A ball dress.

However, not every woman immediately adopted the lower waist, as this mourning evening dress from 1818 shows:

Evening dress for a woman in mourning, 1818. From British Ladies’ Magazine, December 1818. in Casey Collection.

The mourning dress and the Parisian evening dress below might have been seen at the same ball, although one has a much lower waist.

A high bust and a descending waist line, from La Belle Assemblee, January 1820.

These dresses from 1822 show a high bust with a lower, fitted waist, which is still above the natural waistline.

1822: a plate from the Ladies’ Monthly Museum, October 1822. Casey Collection. The shape of the midriff is becoming important, no longer concealed by fullness in the dress.

Bodices from La Belle Assemblee, December 1822. Casey Collection. The trend for wider shoulders and a narrow below-the-bust area is beginning. Belts accent the waist, which is still higher than nature designed.

Fashion plates from 1825 show higher necklines and lower waists, with a widening (and highly decorated) hem.

January 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames. Casey Collection.

February 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames, Casey Collection. The silhouette is wider at top and hem, emphasizing a tiny waist.

November 1825, Ladies’ Magazine. Casey Collection.

By 1829, a tiny waist, rather than a high, full bust, is the focus of fashion:

September 1829, La Belle Assemblee. Casey Collection.

April 1830, La Mode. Sleeves are enormous, the shoulder is widened and extended over the upper arm; a woman is wider everywhere — except her waist. Casey Collection.

So:  where does our mystery corset belong?

High neckline, relatively natural bust, flat midriff, slightly dropped shoulders.

Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed. Notice the line of the shoulders.

I can imagine it being worn under this dress — but that’s only my guess.

Dress from the late 1820’s; Metropolitan Museum.

 

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Filed under 1800s-1830s, Corsets, Costumes for the 19th century, Foundation Garments, lingerie and underwear, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Underwear and lingerie, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Paper Dolls from Silent Movies, 1917

“Who Are They?” paper dolls of movie stars with costumes from their roles. Illustrated by Corwin Knapp-Linson for Delineator magazine, April 1917.

I’m sorry I didn’t photograph the first in this series, which combines paper dolls (in color) with a “Name the Actors” contest. Of course, the silent films of 1916 and 1917 would have been black and white [although sometimes the whole image was tinted:  yellow for day, or blue for night, etc.] so the colors of the doll costumes are sometimes just the illustrator’s “colorization.”

Patten Beard Presents Peter Pan’s Movie Contest, Delineator, April 1917. “The dolls on this page represent two of the most popular moving-picture actors. Who Are They and in What Plays Are They Shown Here?” Note that the films are called “plays.” And the prizes are quite generous, for a children’s contest.

If you are interested in silent films, as I am, trying to name the actors in these monthly contests is quite a challenge. The majority of silent films have been lost, some leaving not even still photos behind. A knowledge of costume history does supply some hints to the period represented in the film — Renaissance, modern dress, fantasy, 18th century, etc., which suggests (or at least eliminates) some movie titles from 1915-1917.  If you want to play — no prizes, I’m afraid — please contribute your comments! You can find lists of film titles, by year, in several places, including wikipedia: 1917  1916  and  1915 MoviesSilently is currently running many centenary articles about 1917 films.

Delineator, which ran this contest, was a large format magazine, so showing a whole page on this blog doesn’t provide enough detail; I’ve isolated some images for improved visibility.

One actor, three costumes. Can you identify the man and his movies?

Who is this “popular moving picture actor?” Delineator, April 1917.

Around 1917, he played an academic, a man of the Renaissance, and a 20th century soldier.

He wore both renaissance costumes and modern dress.

Reader suggestion [8/22/17:]  Francis X. Bushman played Romeo in 1916.

The very petite young lady beside him (who sometimes seems to be dressed as a boy) may or may not have shared a wedding scene with him:

Center bottom of page, Delineator, 1917. Wedding dress or Confirmation dress?

She also seems to have worn a sort of Titania/Queen of the Fairies costume, a wild child of the woods costume, and to have filled the boots of a Renaissance boy.

Who is this changeling?

Reader suggestion: Marguerite Clark, who played Prince Edward in The Prince and the Pauper in 1915. She also played Snow White in 1916. [added 8/22/17]

I was half-way successful with the paper dolls from May, 1917.

The Patten Beard Peter Pan Paper Doll movie contest from Delineator, May 1917. The lady at right is Geraldine Farrar.

The costumes clearly representing Joan of Arc led me to Joan the Woman, a Cecil B. DeMille silent released in 1915. Geraldine Farrar was a very successful opera singer who made several silent (!) movies between 1915 and 1920.

Geraldine Farrar’s costumes for Joan the Woman include a suit of armor, with helmet, and a short, crudely cropped wig for her execution. What modern dress movie did she make between 1915 and 1917?

Perhaps her skirt and blouse outfit is from The Devil-Stone (1917.) Farrar played a “fishermaid” who finds a cursed emerald….

Her paper-doll costume for Carmen includes a fan (but no cigarette…. Do click to see this image!)

Left, a costume for Carmen (1915); right, St. Joan as a peasant girl.

The movie poster shows Joan’s dress as scarlet, but blue worked better for this illustration, since Carmen wears red.

Delineator explained that “these pictures are based upon photographs supplied by courtesy of the motion-picture producers….”

Movie contest actors for May 1917, Delineator. He looks sooooo familiar…

I have not identified this actor:

Can you name this actor? He played a 16th c. soldier and also worked in modern dress by May, 1917.

It’s possible that the 16th century costumes are from the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (1572) scenes in Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages  (1916). I did see it once, but I’m not willing to sit through it again this week….

The same actor can be found under that beard; he seems to be an explorer dressed in a dustcoat & solar topee (and spats,) and wearing a holster for the pistol at his left. On the far left, a swashbuckling 16th c. costume with round hose and wide-brimmed hat. From Intolerance?

From the July issue, I was able to identify William Farnum (Dustin Farnum was his brother) in A Tale of Two Cities (1917) and in one of his many westerns. The actress pictured with him does not have a matching 18th century wardrobe, so she’s probably not his frequent leading lady, Jewel Carmen.

Paper Doll “name these actors” contest, Delineator, July 1917. Top of page 18.

Paper Dolls from bottom of page 18, Delineator, July 1917.

Actor William Farnum and an actress who is still a mystery to me. Does anyone recognize her?

Reader suggestion [8/22/17:] Pauline Frederick. Only 15 of her 65 movies survive. She was an established stage star when she made her first film in 1915, and was still making movies in the 1930’s.

The 18th century costumes for this actor led me to A Tale of Two Cities. Here he is wearing the dark costume, with the buckle-banded hat, although the doll instructions say it goes with the yellow coat.

William Farnum made many westerns; he seems to be wearing this suit in at least two of them. It’s tan in the movie poster.

Here is a color poster for The Man from Bitter Roots (1916). He seems to have worn the same costume in True Blue (1918.)

The actress drawn in a green evening gown also wore these costumes:

A Civil War era costume and a sort of female Uncle Sam outfit.

Any costume with a Civil War flavor suggests Birth of A Nation (1915), but that was not the only pre-1918 film set in that era. (And she doesn’t resemble its female star, Lillian Gish.) She also wears a green brocade evening gown and a “peasant-ish” red ensemble.

Evening dress and peasant attire. Paper Doll costumes from the movies, 1917.

In August, there were three actors to identify: child actors.

Paper dolls based on three child stars of 1917. Delineator, August 1917, p. 18.

“The paper dolls on this page represent three of the most popular moving-picture actors. The costumes are those they wore while being filmed in their latest plays. Who are they?”

Three silent film stars from 1917.

Children were often the stars of shorter films, which makes finding their titles less likely. The boy seems to have played both princes and peasants — but were they in the same movie?

A child star in an elaborate uniform, plus two less exalted costumes. August 1917.

This character stands next to a sword:

Does the sword go with this gray costume, or the white uniform? If we saw the movies, we’d know.

Sometimes child stars were filmed in parodies of well-known films, in which they mimicked adult actors. That may explain the pink evening gown worn by this young actress:

One costume for this child actor is a lavish, pink, adult evening gown. August  1917. She has a rather impish look in the image at right.

A simple, possibly 19th-century dress for the young star with bobbed hair. Delineator, August 1917.

Baby Marie Osborne had this hairstyle; famous for playing Little Mary Sunshine (1916), she was earning $1000 a week and made about 28 films before retiring at age 8. Unfortunately, her parents mis-spent her earnings; she made a second career for herself as a movie costumer, including The Godfather, Part II. I can’ t confirm her identification using these costume illustrations — can you?

The curly-haired child star at the upper left of the page carries a doll that evokes another of her costumes:

Left, the young star, barefoot, in a simple, shift-like dress; center, a more prosperous look, probably intended for the mid-1800s; right, an up-to-date dress, trimmed with lace and accompanied by a matching hair bow. Delineator, August 1917.

A visit to the Young Hollywood Hall of Fame shows how many young actors there were; some even grew up to be adult actors, like Dolores Costello,  Bebe Daniels, and Mary Miles Minter.

Please comment if you recognize any of these actors & costumes from a film you’ve seen!

Added: August 22, 2017: Fritzi Kramer (via  MoviesSilently.com) suggested some answers: “Very cool collection! The first unidentified gentleman is Francis X. Bushman, who made Romeo and Juliet around this time. My guess for the brunette changeling is Marguerite Clark. I believe the woman in the green dress next to William Farnum is Pauline Frederick. Hope this helps! [It certainly does, especially since Marguerite Clark played a boy in Prince and the Pauper.]

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Fashion Plates (for Men and Women) from the Met Costume Institute

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

The Metropolitan Museum continues its generous policy of sharing images online; “Fashion plates from the collections of the Costume Institute and the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art” are now available (and searchable) at http://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15324coll12

Click here, and scroll down for a lengthy list of sub-collections of fashion plates: menswear, children, wedding, women, headgear, etc., organized by date or range of dates.

What really excited me is the large number of men’s fashion plates, many dated very precisely, like these tennis outfits from 1905-06.

Men's tennis outfits, 1905 1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates collection. Plate 029.

Men’s tennis outfits, 1905-1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates Collection. Plate 029. For full image, click here.

If you need to skim through a year or a decade of men’s fashion, this is a great place! It’s also going to be very helpful to collectors who are trying to date specific items of men’s clothing. Sometimes the date range given is very narrow (e.g., 1905-06) and sometimes it’s rather broad (e.g., 1896 to 1913) but menswear is neglected by many costume collections, so this is a terrific resource.

Vintage vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help to date them from reference materials

Vintage evening vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help the collector to date them from reference materials.

In addition to full outfits, like these evening clothes …

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

… individual items like vests can also be found:

Men's vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category "1900-1919 men"

Men’s vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category “1900-1919 men.” The vests on the left have five buttons.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons instead of six.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons and one has six. You could probably date them from the Met’s Fashion Plate Collection.

Men's vests 1896 to 1899. The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves.

From “Men 1896 to 1899.” The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves. The red one with vertical stripes may be a footman’s or other servant’s vest. This plate is dated February 1898.

Of course, fashion plates that have been separated from their descriptions in text are less useful than a complete magazine or catalog. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the chance to see these rare collections, especially because the men are not forgotten.

This delightful plate reminds me of an Edward Gorey vamp — like the ones dancing through the credits on Mystery on Public Television.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Collection Fashion Plate.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Institute Fashion Plate.

I’ll add a link to the collection to my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar. (There are other treasures to explore there….)

 

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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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Martha, Is That You?

George and Martha Washington in illustration for article in Delineator, February 1925, p. 19.

George and Martha Washington in an illustration for an article in Delineator, February 1925, p. 19.

I was making an inventory of a vintage costume collection for a friend, trying not to spend too much time on items with little resale value. I found a section of bustle dresses, or parts of them, that were clearly “the real thing.”

Vintage bustle dress, skirt missing.

Vintage bustle dress, skirt missing. Too small to fasten on the mannequin.

Vintage bustle dress , embroidered buttons. Details.

Vintage bustle dress, embroidered buttons. Details. The fabric is substantial.

Vintage brown taffeta bustle dress top; skirt missing.

Vintage brown taffeta bustle dress top; skirt missing. The long overdress fitting snugly at the hips, with gathers almost over the pelvis, can be seen in 1879-1880.

I never had time to photograph that one on a mannequin. The front with long, low gathering is very distinctive.

Back detail of late Victorian overdress. Skirt missing.

Back and fabric detail of late Victorian overdress. Brocade, satin, and velvet.

Front of long dress in autumn colors, satin underskirt.

Front of long dress in autumn colors, satin underskirt.

Late Victorian bustle dress, side view.

Late Victorian bustle dress, side view. Changeable taffeta.

A vintage bustle dress with back draperies pulled up, rather like a 19th century version of an 18th century polonaise.

A vintage bustle dress with back draperies pulled up, rather like a 19th century version of an 18th century polonaise. Skirt missing; a petticoat is visible.

All those crisp fabrics — and then I reached into the “bustle era” hanging storage and put my hand on this one:

A polaise -- sort of. Print cotton fabric, soft and droopy, rather too small in circumference....

Not a bustle, but a polonaise — sort of. It has elements of the robe a la francaise. Print cotton fabric, soft and droopy, rather too small in circumference…. for a moment, I thought it might be a “Dolly Varden dress.” (An 1870’s fad based on an 18th c. character in a Dickens novel.)

But, no, it’s a masquerade costume — meant to be 18th century — from a period that favored soft, droopy fabrics, no boning, and a skirt less full than the 1780’s.

 Martha Washington costume pattern, Butterick, 1924.

Martha Washington costume pattern 4258, Butterick, 1924.  (It is not this exact dress, but shows the effects of 1920’s style on the perception of 1780’s fashions.)

The front of the costume was never photographed on a mannequin, but you can see, as it hangs on a coat hanger (that’s how I found it) that the sheer ruffles on each side of the front are long enough to be worn crossed like the “Martha Washington” costume’s fichu:

Top of a masquerade or theatrical costume made in the the 20th century, but suggesting the Colonial period.

Top of a masquerade or theatrical costume made in the the 20th century, but suggesting the Colonial period. The sheer ruffles on the front are very long, probably meant to cross over the breast and waist. The machine stitching on the sleeve flounces is crude.

It has an interior bodice made of netting — a practice I have seen in dresses of the nineteen-teens.

The inner bodice of costume is made of netting. A theatrical costume would be lined with a strong fabric, like muslin, to take the strain off the seams -- and to allow for a tight fit over a period corset.

The inner bodice of costume is made of netting. A theatrical costume would normally be flat-lined with a strong fabric, like muslin, to take the strain off the seams — and to allow for a tight fit over a period corset.

All the sewing is a bit sloppy — and  why not, for a costume that might be worn only once?

These pieces of twill tape inside the skirt hold up the poufs of the polonaise.

These pieces of twill tape inside the skirt hold up the “Polonaise” poufs of the overskirt.

At the time when I found it, I wondered why my friend had collected something so clearly not “the real thing.”

But, many years afterward, I remembered it when I realized that pattern companies have been making “colonial lady” and “Marie Antoinette” patterns for costume parties, Halloween parties, centennials and local history pageants, 4th of July parties, and amateur theatricals for a very long time.

A Martha Washington costume from Butterick, February 1924. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, but dressing up in a masquerade costume like this was more glamorous and romantic than many other options.

A “Martha Washington” costume from Butterick, February 1924. As far as historic accuracy goes, it is pretty awful, but dressing up in a masquerade costume like this was more glamorous and romantic than many other options.

Click here for another Butterick  “Martha Washington”  pattern, circa 1941, No. 1695. The dress my friend collected does a better job of interpreting the back of an 18th century dress than either of the Butterick patterns.

Martha Washington Costume pattern 4258 and Continental suit costume pattern, Delineator, Feb. 1925, p. 37.

Martha Washington costume pattern 4258 and Continental suit costume pattern 4262, Delineator, Feb. 1925, p. 37.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1700s, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, Late Victorian fashions, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uncategorized, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Victorian Era Maternity Clothing

A friend collected these vintage garments many years ago. She always had an interest in maternity fashions and other women’s issues, like active sports’ wear. I regret that I do not have better photos, but I suspect that these garments are not the kind that usually turn up in museums, so I’ll share what I have.

The one that I find most interesting is, sadly, the one with the worst photos.

Changeable taffeta basque bodice with fitted back and unfitted front, pagoda sleeves, Mid-Victorian. Private collection.

Changeable taffeta basque bodice with fitted back and unfitted front, pagoda sleeves, Mid-Victorian. Private collection. It this a maternity basque?

The changeable taffeta has tiny stripes, and photographs as brownish or bluish, depending on the angle.

For comparison, here is another Mid-Victorian basque from the same collection, also made of striped taffeta — but this one is definitely not suitable for maternity wear:

Mid-Victorian basque or bodice. The front closes in a V shape; the three-scalloped back is visible behind the V front as it lies on a table. Private collection.

Mid-Victorian basque or bodice. The front waist closes in a V shape decorated with ribbon; the three-scalloped back “tail” lined with self-fabric is visible behind the V front as it lies on a table. Private collection.

My friend believed the one with a very full front was a maternity basque, probably because there are two lines of hand stitching across its full front — once used to gather it in. You can see from the wrinkles in the taffeta that at one time it was gathered to a smaller size than it is now.

The "Maternity basque" has two lines of gathering threads, and the wrinkles show that it was gathered tightly at some point.

The “Maternity basque” has two lines of gathering threads across the front, and the wrinkles show that it was gathered tightly at some time.

Inside waist stitching of "maternity basque" -- it went through all layers. Here, the changeable taffeta on the outside appears blue.

Inside waist stitching of “maternity basque” — two lines of gathering went through all layers. Here, the changeable taffeta on the outside appears blue. The inside is cotton sateen, I think.

The hand-stitching it so tiny that only the occasional knot at the end of a thread betrays it.

The hand-stitching is so tiny that only the occasional knot at the end of a thread betrays it. This is quite different from the running-stitched gathers across the front.

The back lining, showing its tapered-to-the-waist fitted shape.

The back lining, showing its tapered-to-the-waist fitted shape.

Wrappers and Dressing Sacks, Late Victorian

Another option for the pregnant woman in a corseted, tight-waisted era was the wrapper. We would call it a robe, and the fancy versions for receiving callers were called “tea-gowns,” but they were made of many fabrics, from simple cotton prints to wool or luxurious silks. The cotton ones were often worn as house-dresses.

My friend probably bought this one because it might have been used by a pregnant woman. It is in the style of the 1890’s, with a black velvet yoke trimmed with black lace, a bow behind the high neck, and very full upper sleeves.

A lady's wrapper or house gown, late 1900's. This could be worn for breakfast, or for receiving visitors if necessary.

A lady’s wrapper or house gown, late 1800’s. This could be worn for breakfast, or for receiving visitors if necessary. It was so small it could not be buttoned on a size 2 mannequin.

I think the fabric is either wool challis or a wool-cotton blend. The back bodice is very fitted, the front very full.  Was it a maternity gown? I can’t be sure.

This is the way the garment would look on a tiny woman.

This is the way the garment would look when buttoned; it would only fit a tiny woman or adolescent girl.

Like many wrappers, it has a loose outer layer and a fitted inner bodice:

Under the loose, full front, there is a tightly fitted inner bodice.

Under the loose, full front, there is a tightly fitted inner bodice. The outer layer closes with hooks and eyes. The inner bodice held the back close to the body.

Wrappers from Sears (1900) were illustrated to show a similar inner lining — intended to take the place of a corset when breakfasting — or when you couldn’t wear a tight-waisted corset any more.

Wrappers from the Sears catalog, Spring 1900, show an inner bodice lining for support while not wearing a corset.

Wrappers from the Sears catalog, Spring 1900, show an inner bodice lining for support while not wearing a corset. Without the belt, the front would be loose and full.

The inner bodice seems to have adjustable lacing at the sides.

The inner bodice has lacing at the sides, for expansion as needed.

The inner bodice has lacing at the sides, for expansion as needed. The yoke probably fastens with hooks and eyes at one shoulder and armscye.

Of course, just because the hidden underbodice can be buttoned, that does not mean the wearer would have to button it completely. A woman could button just the outer yoke, or just the top buttons.

The tiny wrapper on a size 2 mannequin -- it won't close completely.

The tiny wrapper on a size 2 mannequin — it won’t close completely. When the yoke is closed, there is a great deal of fullness at center front.

A flannelette wrapper from Sears, 1896. This one has a Watteau back, a yoke, and characteristically huge 1895-6 sleeves.

A flannelette wrapper from Sears, 1896. This one has a full, Watteau back, a yoke, and huge Bishop sleeves. The waist [bodice] “is lined artistically.” The front yoke appears uninterrupted by an opening, so perhaps it lapped across and fastened at the shoulder like the one below.

This vintage wrapper is so worn that the velveteen yoke and collar are almost completely bald.

Late Victorian or ToC Wrapper, very worn.

Late Victorian Wrapper, very worn.

The fabric is heavy, and once went well with its rust red velveteen yoke, collar, and cuffs. This garment closes with hooks and eyes; possibly at the neck and shoulder under the yoke, and definitely under the back yoke. (I’m sorry I didn’t photograph it open; I have forgotten exactly how it worked.)

The yoke and collar wrap around to the back shoulder and close with hooks and eyes -- you would probably need help.

The yoke and collar wrap around to the back shoulder on one side and close with hooks and eyes — you would probably need help. The arrows point to bare patches on the fabric. There’s a narrow strip of rust-red plush neat the center arrow.

I love the fact that this shabby garment was collected, not for its beauty or condition, but because it is a record of an ordinary woman’s life.

Another possible maternity garment, in the days when middle-class women in an advanced stage of pregnancy remained at home, was the smock-like semi-robe known as a “dressing sack.” A descendant of the combing sacque, which was supposed to be worn while brushing or styling your hair, the one on the left is described as “made very loose at the waist. It is very comfortable and cooling.”

Two dressing sacks from Sears, Spring, 1900. The woman in the middle is showing the tight underbodice of her wrapper.

Two dressing sacks from Sears, Spring, 1900. The woman in the middle is showing the tight underbodice of her wrapper. “This wrapper is made with the celebrated corset waist [i.e., underbodice] as well as drawstrings around the waist. It s adjustable and can be fitted to any figure.” You can barely see the adjustable lacings.

Since, even in the 1930’s, maternity dresses were illustrated as if the women wearing them had no need for them, there is a lot of coded language in early descriptions. Perhaps the “celebrated corset waist” was merely a comfortable way to have breakfast before dressing for the day. But what about those expandable lacings, and that adjustable drawstring waist?

A wrapper style housedress with an internal corset and adjustable drawstring waist. Sears no. 63397, Spring 1900.

A wrapper style house dress with an internal corset and adjustable drawstring waist on the skirt lining. Sears No. 63397, Spring 1900.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Maternity clothes, Mid-Victorian fashions, Nightclothes and Robes, Uncategorized, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

The Persistence of Fashion

While looking through some family photos, I found a few good examples of the persistence of fashion — a reminder of the variety that can be found within a historical period.

Fashion doesn’t change overnight — and it changes very slowly for some people. There is a theory called “the persistence of fashion” which accounts for the fact that clothing which is twenty or even thirty years out of date can be seen in many illustrations and photographs.

Story illustration, Woman's Home Companion, Feb. 1936. Thw Woman on the right demonstrates the persistence of an older fashion.

Story illustration, Woman’s Home Companion, Feb. 1936. The hem length of the woman on the right, about right for 1917 or 1923, demonstrates the persistence of an older fashion.

In the 20th century, the persistence of fashion was often associated with older women. (An older man wearing a suit that is twenty years out of date is barely noticeable, because men’s styles change very slowly — and some styles for men have changed very little since the nineteenth century.)

But, in the 20th century, it was older women who were usually depicted as clinging to the styles of their youth — or, at least, of their middle age.

Jeanette Albers, Mrs. McLeod, and Nan Mc Leod, mid-1920's.

“Jeanette Albers, Mrs. McLeod, and Nan McLeod,” late 1920’s.

Mrs. McLeod doesn’t look impoverished, but her dress is probably several years old. (Hems this long were last in style  in 1923.) Jeanette Albers (left) has a hem which barely reaches her knees, suggesting 1927 or later. Nan McLeod (right) has a more conservative — or possibly two or three year old — outfit. It reminds me of this Chanel suit from January 1925 — which was not short.

Three generations. Probably World War I era, or a little later.

Three generations. This picture was in an album, and dated 1921.

Although the youngest woman wears a mid-calf skirt appropriate for teenagers, her mother and grandmother wear much longer dresses — the plaid one could have been seen on a wagon train; she’s dressed like the 19th century prairie pioneers!

Wearing out-of-date styles is sometimes caused by a lack of money, or a body that cannot be made to conform to the current fashion ideal, or conservatism and/or prudery, or the expectations of the local community (the wife of a small-town businessman had to dress “respectably.”) Ageism is also a factor — an older woman who dressed to compete with marriageable younger women was called “mutton dressed as lamb.” [Note: a mutton chop, which comes from a fully grown sheep, does not taste like a lamb chop….]

I captured these two late fifties’ dresses from a clip of the Groucho Marx quiz show, You Bet Your Life. The older woman, a schoolteacher, is wearing a longish, conservative 1950’s dress, probably new, but not very different in style from what she would have worn in the 1930’s. The other woman is a teenager in flat shoes (“flats”) and a full-skirted knee-length dress.

Teacher and teen-aged girl on You Bet Your Life. The oder wman has a longer skirt, sensible high heels, and longer sleeves. 1950s.

Teacher and teen-aged girl on You Bet Your Life, probably 1960. The older woman has a longer skirt, sensible high heels, and 3/4 sleeves that cover her arms. This episode is copyright 1961, the show’s last season.

Female contestants on You Bet Your Life, a TV quiz show which ran throughout the 1950s.

Female contestants on You Bet Your Life, a TV quiz show which ran from 1950 to 1960.

Mothers and grandmothers were not encouraged to present themselves as sexually attractive.

Persistence of Fashion: an Advertisement for Sealy Mattresses, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

Persistence of Fashion in an advertisement for Sealy Mattresses, Delineator, Sept. 1917. The younger woman wears a V-neck blouse, a relatively new fashion in 1917, but the older woman wears a high, 1890’s style collar.

The reasons for the persistence of fashion among older women are many. Magazine illustrations and advertisements make it clear that among prosperous older women, many who could afford to keep up with changing styles chose to have their new clothing made with the high collars and low hemlines of a previous decade. Sewing  patterns from 1918 allowed a choice of neckline.

Illustration of a restaurant, Delineator, Oct. 1924. Notice the persistence of fashion on the older woman in the foreground.

Illustration of women in a restaurant, Delineator, Oct. 1924. The young women are very stylish, with bare arms and necks. Notice the persistence of an earlier fashion on the older woman in the foreground.

The waitress in the background, and the young women in the foreground, are dressed for 1924.

The waitress in the background, and the young women in the foreground, are dressed for 1924, but the older woman would not be out of place in 1910.

The older woman has the hairstyle and the high-waisted dress of the previous decade, although she is clearly a prosperous member of the middle class. She is comfortable wearing an older style that she feels is becoming to her.

The woman on the left in this photograph is dressed up and proud of it — in new-looking clothes that are ten years out of date.

Helen Taylor in 1915. The young woman on the right is not wearing a shorter skirt because she is a girl, but because it is the fashionable length.

Left: Mrs. Taylor and Helen Taylor in 1915. The young woman on the right is not wearing a shorter skirt because she is a child, but because it is the fashionable ankle-baring length.

Obviously, it is not lack of money that prevents this hostess from dressing in the current fashion:

This lady, with her butler at her side, could afford to dress in chic clothes -- but she chooses not to. May, 1932 illustration by W. Morgan.

This lady, with her butler at her side, could afford to dress in chic clothes, like the lady on the right — but she chooses not to. May, 1932, illustration by W. Morgan.

The older woman’s long skirt is a relic of 1923 — or even earlier. She is conservative in hair and hem.

I found this interesting example of the persistence of fashion in an article about women who volunteered to sew for soldiers during World War I:

Full mourning -- circa 1898 -- in a photo from 1917. Ladies Home Journal, Nov., p. 22.

One woman wears “full mourning”– circa 1898 — in a photo taken in 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal, November, p. 22. Poor woman — has she been in mourning for 19 years? [Edit: 9/10/16: Christina reminds me that this woman may be mourning a son lost in the early months of WW I; I failed to consider naval losses.]

Mourning costumes, 1898, from Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazar.

Mourning costumes, 1898, from Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar.

The widow’s bonnet had a long black veil which could be pulled over the face for privacy, or to hide tear-swollen eyes. It’s a little surprising to see that Jacqueline Kennedy wore one at President Kennedy’s funeral — but it was over her normal pillbox hat.

Another extraordinary hold-over appears on the right in this photo:

Persistence of fashion: Right, a turn of the century dress beside a dress from the early 1920s.

Persistence of fashion: Right, a turn of the century dress (or “wrapper”?) beside a dress from the late teens or early 1920s. The older woman has shortened her dress to walking length for housework — or to expose her shoes, which look new. Her throat is exposed, too, so this is a fairly new dress made in an older style, and worn over petticoats!

The Lack of Ready-to-Wear Clothing and the Persistence of Fashion

Today, we take the existence of “off-the-rack” ready-to-wear clothing in a range of sizes for granted. If we need a new coat, we go to a store and buy one, from a range of prices to fit most budgets.

That was not possible until the latter part of the 19th century.  Suiting Everyone, published by the Smithsonian, was the book that made me aware of the importance of the U.S. Civil War (which ended in 1865) in developing the standardization of sizes. The urgent demand for hundreds of thousands of military uniforms, plus the development of industrial sewing machines, created a need for statistics about human measurements — and the war supplied them. For the first time it was possible to predict that a man with a 44 inch chest was statistically likely to have a 38 inch waist, and a man with a 38 inch chest was likely to have a 32 inch waist. Related back and sleeve lengths could also be calculated. [This is not to say that Civil War uniforms fit well!]

Elizabeth Ewing’s History of 20th Century Fashion makes it clear that standardized sizes for women happened later in England than in the U.S.; she says large-scale production of ready-to-wear in the early 20th century happened in America about ten years earlier than in Britain. (p. 122.) There, at the turn of the century, “The only dresses which were ready-made were those produced for window display.” (p. 40) At least one London department store would make up a dress, fully trimmed, and leave the back seam open, for easy “fitting” to the customer. [Note: this is the worst way to alter a dress!] Of course, the simplification of styles and the relaxed fit of women’s wear in the 1910’s and 1920’s made mass-produced clothing for women much easier to sell. A snug fit in the torso was not needed.

Unfitted styles like these, from Delineator, Sept. 1924, made ready-to-wear for women easier to manufacture and sell.

Unfitted styles like these, from Delineator, Sept. 1924, made ready-to-wear for women easier to manufacture and sell.

Before the 1860’s, most fitted clothing was custom made. If you could not afford to have your dresses and coats made for you, or make them yourself, second-hand clothing was all you could find. Sometimes, clothes had been passed through a long line of used clothing sellers and pawnbrokers. “The rag trade” was a literal description of the end of the line. The very poor wore rags. It was a “perk” of body servants in upper class houses to be given their masters’ and mistresses’ old and damaged clothing — sometimes after removing the re-usable trims and lace. The servants could not wear luxurious clothing themselves — at least, not where their employers could catch them in it — so it was sold. And sold, worn, pawned, sold, worn, and sold again. I recommend Diana de Marly’s book, Working Dress for an overview of what was and was not available ready-made before the late 1800’s. Ewing’s book discusses the earliest mass-produced items for women.

Clearly, the lack of ready-to-wear clothing at affordable prices used to have something to do with the persistence of fashion. However, there is a psychological element, as well.

As an older woman myself, I have lots of ten-year-old clothing in my closet. I haven’t reached the alarming proportions of my [Edited from “once beautiful” on 9/5/16] once fashionable great-grandmother, on the right, below:

Three generations, probably about 1910.

Three generations, probably about 1910. The woman on the right has clearly lost all interest in current fashion — and in corsets.

… but I have always worn classic,  straight-legged slacks. Sadly, I have them in sizes 12 through 16…. As I get closer to a healthy BMI, some barely-worn size twelves will return to the front of the closet. I’ll wear them, even if they were bought several years ago. [

Old Body, New Ideas

I’m retired. I don’t have to dress to impress anybody, because I no longer have a job telling other people how to dress. I no longer need to read WWD or fashion magazines, because I no longer design modern dress plays. I used to “shop” for a living (for clothing and fabrics,) so I don’t think of shopping as entertainment. Long ago, I met — and married — “Mr. Right,” so the fantasy of finding the perfect dress — “the one that will make me beautiful” — is over.

When I need something specific, like a new raincoat with a zip-out wool lining, I go to Nordstrom, just as I did when I was working. When I needed a dressy pair of water-and-snow-proof boots for a January vacation in New York City, I paid full price willingly — for the most expensive pair of shoes I have ever bought. (The vacation included reservations at a lot of good restaurants, plus an opera, plays, etc.) But in general I’m now much more likely to shop at Ross than at a major department store. When you prefer simple, classic styles in neutral colors, “last season” and “this season” aren’t very relevant. (And budget is a consideration — I am always saving up for a trip to Europe.)

Like the older women in these photos, I reject some new styles on sight. I’m not going to be buying any leggings or jeggings or any other tight-at-the ankle trousers, because I know from experience that, in them, I look really broad in the beam. I’ve been shopping for myself for 60 years; I know what to avoid by now. I already know what colors I should never wear (like yellow,) and which styles are most flattering to my narrow shoulders and wide hips. Plus, I am trying to get rid of “things,” not acquire them.

Buy Less, but Buy Better.

I admire people who try to limit their purchases of new clothing for ethical reasons. The excellent documentary The True Cost is a real eye-opener. In fact, it has me shopping for organic cottons — and it convinced me they are worth the price. Here’s a good idea: “Buy less, but buy better –” Better quality, and better for the world.

I realize I may end up as an example of the persistence of fashion, because I don’t own any up-to-the-minute fashions. But Fashion doesn’t own me.

It's the 1930s. The woman on far right is wearing trousers. Her mother, far left, wears a sunbonnet.

It’s the 1930s. The woman on far right is even wearing trousers. Her mother, far left, wears a sunbonnet.

Sunbonnets are a very old head covering, although the one on the left uses early 20th century fabric.

Sunbonnets are a very old form of head covering. And they protect the back of your neck. The Met has a corded sunbonnet slightly similar to the tan one — dated 1840.

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1950s-1960s, Costumes for the 19th century, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes