Category Archives: Edwardian fashions

In the Swim, 1907 (Without a Skirt!)

Butterick bathing suit pattern 1245 is a one-piece, without a skirt.

This Butterick pattern from Delineator, July 1907, came as a surprise to me. “Where is the skirt illustration?” I was thinking. And then I read the text:

Pattern description, Butterick 1245, Delineator, July 1907.

This is a “swimming suit” rather than a “bathing suit.” Nice distinction!

Here is the bottom part of the description in bigger print:

The dress-like bathing suit in this story illustration [also from the July 1907 issue] is more typical (I think).

Story illustration from Delineator, July 1907. Page 56.

Love her beach shoes…. And what does his hat tell us about that character??? Looks like a college boy to me…. Or a guy who leaned forward to look in a store window and forgot he was wearing a hat. I wish I’d had time to read the story.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Bathing Suits, Edwardian fashions, Hats for Men, Men's Sportswear, Shoes, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Women in Trousers

Time Traveling Again

This week I’ve been attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (seeing movies from the 1920s in a theater that opened in 1922!) and also visiting the Bound Periodicals collection at SF Main Library. Their earliest copies of Butterick’s Delineator magazine are July to December 1907.

One pleasant surprise: a 1907 monthly feature illustrated by fashion photos instead of drawings!

Shirt-waists and blouses (called waists) photographed for Delineator, July 1907. The article is from a series called “Dressing on Dimes.”

I’m also “visiting 1912” at the moment.

Butterick patterns from Delineator, July 1912, p. 23.

I’m trying to prioritize photographing color images, since color is what was lost when so many magazines were microfilmed (and then discarded by libraries) years ago. Even issues that have been scanned by Google and made available online lose a lot of information, because these old magazines used very small type with a serif font on very large pages; automated scanners have to make a choice between legible text, legible drawings, and accurate color illustrations — not always very successfully. [Link added 5/6/19] (Nevertheless, Hathi Trust makes many issues available that would otherwise be very rare and hard to find.) When I visit the bound copies of Delineator, I usually take 3 or 4 photos of each fashion page: whole page, top half, bottom half, and closeups of images. That allows a different camera exposure for text and images, but it’s not a fast process…. Even photographing a small ad requires an “establishing shot” with the page number on it, then a close-up.

I’m finding wonderful color illustrations…

Butterick pattern illustration, Delineator, April 1907, p. 27.

Butterick illustration for waist [bodice] 5188 and [separate] skirt 5189. Delineator, February 1912, p. 105.

… accompanied by useful line drawings…

Line drawings like these are easier to “figure out” for reproduction than full color paintings. Butterick waist 5514 with skirt 5515, showing front and back views. (Hard to realize this is not a dress! Bodice and skirt do not necessarily open in the same place.)  Delineator, July 1912, p. 24.

…and I photograph those (to me) irresistible ads for corsets, bust improvers, hip padding (!) and other products for women.

W.B. Corsets ad for the Reduso corset. Delineator, September, 1907.

Just looking at that corset makes my back ache! It seems that advertisers always think women are either too fat or too thin, and in need of “improvement:”

Ad for H & H Pneumatic Bust Forms, Delineator, July 1907, page 147.

Pneumatic seems to mean “inflated”– “For bathers at the sea-shore they are indispensable; … acts as a buoy to the bather and makes swimming easy.” [Unless you want to swim face-down?

Hats are always tempting me to photograph them:

Butterick waist 5312 with skirt 5313 and a hat that would keep people at arm’s length…. Delineator, April 1912.

Hat featured in fashion article for December 1907. I think it resembles the foliage from a Christmas Cactus….

Don’t sit behind her at the movies.

I do try not to photograph everything that captures my attention, but limiting myself to color images is not easy.

A suit photographed for the “Dress for Dimes” series. Delineator, October 1907.

Being able to see clothing, accurately dated, without the distorted proportions of fashion illustrations is a treat. Delineator‘s fashion photos from the 1920s were not as good as the ones from 1907.

On the other hand, this story illustration is lovely, and I’m surprised by that low-backed gown at left.

Painting illustrating fiction in Delineator, August 1912. Men in white tie: maximum formality.

Edited  5/7/19: A closer look at that low-backed blue-green evening dress hints that a layer of whitish lace was visible above the deep V.

Detail; I think / expect that sheer white or ecru lace covers her camisole and is visible above the deep V back. I also see ermine tails on the white-haired lady.

After seeing that [illustration], I’m thinking maybe 1912 would be a good year for My Fair Lady / Pygmalion.

Ladies’ coat and jacket outfits, Delineator, April 1912, p. 297.

As usual, it’s astonishing to see how rapidly fashions changed. Just two years later:

Butterick patterns from May 1914. The slender lines of 1912 are gone.

Once I have five or six hundred photos downloaded, I have to label them all (year, month, page, pattern numbers,) which takes quite a while. Of course I want to post as many as possible right away, but an orderly process is absolutely necessary to keep images and their information together. So I may be taking a week or so off from posting blogs!

Back soon!

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Coats, Coats, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Dresses, Edwardian fashions, Foundation Garments, Musings, Shirts and Blouses, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Butterick Wedding Dress, May 1910

Butterick 3784 illustrated as a wedding gown. Delineator, May 1910. Page 384.

The editors of Butterick’s Delineator magazine featured this pattern on at least three pages; a very illustration shows it not being used as a wedding dress:

The woman seated at right is wearing Butterick “princess dress” 3784, made with black lace and a burnt-orange fabric [described as tan.]  Delineator, May 1910. Page 385.

Butterick 3784 is a good example of the “princess” dresses that were so popular in 1910. When you consider how many Butterick illustrations from this era actually showed a separate, matching waist [i.e., bodice / blouse] and skirt (rather than a dress,) the one-piece princess dress that continued to the hem without any seam at the waist was distinctive. (A bodice/blouse that continued past the waist was often called “semi-princess,” like pattern 3843 at the left of the color illustration.)

Butterick 3784 is shaped by the vertical seams from bodice to hem which are still described as “princess seams.” (The princess-seamed dresses below are from the 1920s:)

But the topic today is princess dress 3784, in its bridal and evening versions:

Butterick princess-seamed bridal gown 3784, shown with a long train. Delineator, May 1910, page 384.

Butterick 3784 illustrated as part of a bridal trousseau article, May 1910, page 441. Here, it has a shorter train.

The black and “tan” version of 3784 is shown with a minimal (or no) train when worn as a day or evening dress. Page 385.

Below: Front and back views of 3784 show (left) “medium sweep or round train,” (center) a long or medium train, plus a very different bodice variation, with V-neck and decorative buttons. In this illustration, the sleeves reach just below the elbows.

Front and back views of 3784, showing an extreme train (90 inches from the waist) and a very different bodice variation with V-neck and decorative buttons. May 1910, page 384.

It could be made with long or short sleeves, with a high neck, a round neck or a square neck, and with or without the “bolero” of white or black lace.

Pattern description for Butterick bridal dress, evening dress, or day dress 3784, Delineator, May 1910.

The longer sleeves and high neck in the bridal version are probably part of an under lining, sometimes called a guimpe, which could be worn under other blouses. Butterick blouse 3647 illustrates how this works:

Butterick waist (blouse) 3647 has a scoop neck and open sleeves which end above the elbow. It is worn over a body-lining with long sleeves and a high collar. March 1910.

Here is the bridal version of 3784 with covered throat, covered arms, and a medium train (72 0r 63 inches from the waist.)

Butterick 3784 illustrated as part of a bridal trousseau article, May 1910, page 441.

This is text describing Butterick 3784:

Pattern descriptions for Butterick bridal dress or day dress 3784, Delineator, May 1910. The writer is Eleanor Chalmers.

A very practical (or economy-minded) bride might cut the train off of her wedding dress (“It should be made as simply as possible and in such a way that it may be worn with perfect propriety for other occasions which may come up after the wedding….”) and have the gown dyed, so that she could wear it for afternoon or evening — without the under-lining sleeves and high collar.

P.S. A gown like this would have boning along the torso seams, but it wouldn’t look historically accurate without one of these under it:

Kabo corset ad, detail, Delineator, March 19910 p. 262.

Ad for Kabo corsets, Delineator, March 1910, page 262.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Corsets, Corsets, Edwardian fashions, Foundation Garments, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Wedding Clothes

In the Swim, 1910

The bloomers/under-layer and pattern variations for Butterick bathing-suit 3812; Delineator, May 1910.

Bathing suit patterns appeared in Butterick’s Delineator magazine in both May and June, so there are many images to share.

Butterick bathing suit patterns 3788, 3812, and 3839, from Delineator, May 1910, page 409.

Here, the central suit, 3812, has simple checked trim to match its pleated skirt…

Butterick bathing-suit 3812 has princess seams, a pleated skirt attached to the scalloped top, and is worn over a bodice with attached bloomers. 1910.

… but the alternate views show it with optional embroidery or soutache braid trim, or looking like a double breasted coat. The under layer also shows square, rounded, or high neckline variations as dotted lines:

The under-layer and two more “looks” for bathing suit 3812. 1910.

“Princess effect… exceptionally graceful model … the short sleeves …are more practical for the swimmer.” [No kidding!] Apparently the bloomers alone could be made from 2 yards of 36 inch material, with another 7/8 yard of a different material for the under-body/under bodice.

These four 1910 patterns include a skirt over bloomers with a bodice, and dresses over bloomers, with or without an under-bodice.

Bathing suit 3788 is gathered to a yoke.

Butterick 3788, a bathing suit from Delineator, May 1910,  p. 409.

Butterick 3788 is a separate skirt worn over a bodice with bloomers attached. May 1910. “Absolute comfort….”

The bloomers for Butterick 3839 are not attached to a bodice — they have their own waistband.

Butterick bathing-suit 3839 from Delineator, May 1910. The side closing gives “the popular Russian effect.”

Butterick 3839 is a dress over separate bloomers. Delineator, May 1910. The pleats on the skirt are top-stitched.

In June, Delineator showed a fourth bathing-suit for women (3925) and a bathing suit for men or boys (3870.) Men got to wear a lot less, while women who actually tried to swim were in danger of sinking under the weight of all that fabric.

Butterick bathing suit 3925 from Delineator, June 1910, p. 521. It was worn with bloomers, rolled stockings, and beach shoes tied like ballet slippers.

At right, you can see the bloomers peeking out from under the skirt of Butterick 3925. June, 1910. According to Delineator, American women preferred the bare-necked version of the sailor collar.

“This is the kind of bathing-suit (3925) which will appeal to a great many women, both those who go into the water for the real sport of the thing, and those who spend hours on the beach sitting around or promenading up and down…. The cord or belt which is fastened around the waist gives the effect of a blouse and short skirt…. Our English cousins favor the long sleeve and high neck when in bathing and so use the shield with the high collar. Here in America, however, women usually prefer a slightly open neck and either puff sleeves or just sleeve caps. The separate bloomers are arranged to be made with bands or elastics at the lower part. Flannel [i.e., wool flannel,] mohair, serge and taffeta are the best material for bathing suits….” [Butterick patterns were also sold in England.]

Men, on the other hand, wore one layer of fabric and no sleeves:

Butterick 3870, a bathing suit pattern in either men’s or boys’ sizes. Delineator, June 1910, page 516.

The CF placket closing would hide buttons, not a zipper. The fabric could be flannel (nice, water-absorbing wool) or “Stockinget [sic]” or serge. A wet, knit suit with no lining would be quite revealing when wet. Men and boys had long been accustomed to swimming in the nude, so this simple, often sleeveless bathing suit was a concession to mixed bathing.

Swimming was first included in the Olympics in 1896, but has only been open to women since 1912.” Think about competitive swimming in a water-logged wool swimsuit! (Kind of like swimming in a cardigan sweater….) What’s that saying about “everything a woman does must be done twice as well…?”

The Vintage Traveler is making a Timeline of Bathing Suits. Click here. (And try to imagine just staying afloat in those Victorian ones!)

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Bathing Suits, Boys' Clothing, Children's Vintage styles, Edwardian fashions, Hats, Hosiery, Hosiery, Men's Sportswear, Menswear, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Women in Trousers

Riding Habits, 1910

Horseback riding, cover of Delineator magazine, May 1910.

Riding coat pattern 3773, Butterick; from Delineator, April 1910. It is not very different from an ordinary suit jacket, except for the fuller skirt.

Butterick coat 3765, Delineator, April 1910.

This girl wears a long or 7/8ths coat to cover her riding breeches.

Riding coat (and breeches) for a teen-aged girl, left, and a sailor suit for her little brother. Butterick patterns in Delineator, March 1910.

A woman on horseback had formal and informal clothing choices in 1910. This riding habit in the Victoria and Albert Museum was made by a leading London tailor/designer in 1911:

A lady’s riding habit made by Redfern for Mrs. James Fraser, 1911. Courtesy V&A museum.

London Society Fashion is beautifully illustrated with garments from one young lady’s wardrobe: Heather Firbank. Read about the surprising life of Heather Firbank and see some of her designer clothing at the blog of Tessa Boase. Click here.

Detail of magazine cover by P. E (?) Williams, Delineator, May 1910. Notice the lady’s erect posture as opposed to the man’s forward slouch.

It’s possible that the illustrator of the magazine was more interested in the graphic possibilities of white than in accuracy, but Delineator did feature patterns for women’s riding habits in 1910.

Butterick riding suit for girls 8 to 16, pattern 3636. March 1910.

I find it interesting that this teenage girl is riding astride, while the adult woman shown in April is riding sidesaddle.

Riding coat and matching breeches, Butterick 3636 for girls 8 to 16.

The riding coat and skirt for adult women (up to size 42 bust) were sold separately:

Butterick riding coat 3773 was shown with a specialized skirt for riding sidesaddle.

Delineator, page 304, April 1910.

Delineator, page 304, equestrian skirt detail; April 1910:

Safety Equestrian Skirt 3717, for riding sidesaddle. Does it have a breakaway strap?

Detail of the inside of the safety equestrian skirt. Delineator, April 1910.

If you can figure out how this skirt appears very full (as in top image) and very narrow (as here,) you are way ahead of me. But then, I know nothing about riding sidesaddle! However, The Vintage Traveler shared this photo from a 1903 sports book. [Link added 2/27/19.)\]

Is it possible that she is wearing long underwear instead of riding breeches under the skirt? In that case, she will not be safe from embarrassment if she’s thrown. At any rate, no breeches are included in the pattern.

The boy shown riding a donkey is not actually dressed for riding — he is probably at a beach resort where donkey rides were a seaside attraction. The sailor suit in many variations was standard clothing for boys.

A boy enjoying a ride — presumably a slow, easy ride — on a donkey. Delineator, March 1910.

Butterick pattern 3688 shows two variations on a sailor or pseudo-military suit for boys ages 4 to 10. March 1910.

The swastika is an ancient symbol with religious meaning for people in India and for Native Americans. It’s used facing both directions on the back of the sailor collar. In 1910, it had no association with Nazis.

Here is my uncle, Harris Barton, in a sailor suit His father was a tinsmith, or plumber. (It might be my Uncle Mel, born a few years later….)

Probably Frank Harris Barton of California, born 1894.

(Yes, my uncle,  in spite of those luxurious curls!) Harris was born in 1894.

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French Lining

French lining pattern 6933 from Butterick. Delineator, June 1914, p. 74. It has princess seams and many neckline options.

As far as I can tell, a French lining is a closely fitting interior structure that is usually not the same shape as the finished garment we see. It is different from “flat lining,” or a “dropped in” lining shaped like the dress or skirt, or a coat lining that merely allows the coat to slide over other fabrics more easily.

“A French lining gives a perfection of fit that can be attained by no other means…. It makes an excellent foundation for the draped waists [blouses] now in vogue…. For stout figures a French lining is almost indispensable, and this design will prove most welcome, for it conforms to the newest lines. When made of thin material it may be used as a foundation for Summer dresses or waists, and when made of lawn or silk it is also an excellent foundation for the draped evening dresses now worn.” — Delineator, June 1914. p. 74

Delineator, June 1914, p. 74.

When you have a garment that is tightly fitted, “flat lining” [a lining whose pieces are the same shape as the fashion fabric and are sewed at the same time] will take some of the stress off the seams and the fashion fabric. But when you see a vintage garment that fits very closely in back, but appears to be loosely fitted in front, expect a French lining.

Inside this apparently loose-fitting bodice is a tight-fitting inner structure. Vintage garment.

This vintage bodice has no visible opening. The tight lining prevents “pull” on the fashion fabric’s concealed closure.

When you have a garment that is draped, or bloused, or which has complicated concealed closures, it will behave better with an invisible, body-hugging lining.

This vintage dress does not have a visible opening in front or down the back. It does not have a snap opening in the side seam.

How do you get into it?

Back of vintage lingerie dress. It doesn’t open down the back. Clue: There is a hook and eye closing on the left shoulder.

This sheer lingerie dress with a blouson top has a simple French lining made of net.

How do you get into this dress?

The bias cut lining, which takes the strain of the hooks and eyes, fastens at the center front.

The pattern for the inside of the dress is not the same shape as the pattern for the fashion layer. I would class this as a simple French lining.

The lining fastens at center front; the fashion fabric layer fastens with hooks and bars at the side and shoulder! The sleeves are attached to the French lining. The skirt opens at side front.

The “French Lining” pattern could be purchased separately, but was often included in a dress or blouse pattern.

The Commercial Pattern Archive has this Butterick pattern from 1914.

Butterick 7317; information from the pattern envelope, courtesy of CoPA (The Commercial Pattern Archive.) Notice how different the French lining pattern pieces (top center) are from the fashion fabric pieces (at the bottom.)

Left, the French lining is an 8 piece princess line pattern which fits closely to the body.

The French lining was meant to fit very tightly, and is the support for the fashion fabrics. It ensures that the weight of the dress is suspended from the shoulders, that the folds and blousing aren’t pulled out of place, and that the wearer always looks neat as a fashion plate. In No. 7317, the cross-over drape in front ties at center back.

Changing Body Shapes Seen in French Lining Patterns

These French lining patterns reflect the changing body shape as corsets changed.

1910: Butterick French lining pattern 3527, January 1910. Note the “sway back” shape caused by 1910 corsets. This princess seamed lining has 4 panels in front and 6 in back.

1914: Butterick French lining 6933 from June 1914. The lower bust and larger waist reflect a change in corset shape.

1917: Far right, French lining pattern 1042 from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917. The womanly torso is losing its curves.

1924: A French lining pattern from Butterick, July 1924. “…An excellent dress lining or… it can be used to cover a dress form.” It probably was intended for older or “stout” women, since 1920’s dresses were lighter and less structured than previous styles. It has a long, hip-length, waistless shape, like most Twenties’ dresses. Butterick 5361 came in sizes 32 to 48 bust.

French Lining Included in Patterns

The French lining is often based on a princess seamed pattern (like all of those above,) since this permits an extremely tight fit, perfectly contoured to the body. (A French lining also looks very much like the covering of a professional dressmaker’s mannequin.) When you are draping on a professional dress form, you can feel the underlying seams through your muslin — very handy for locating the exact bust point or side seam, or placing a dart.

Once the French lining was perfectly fitted to a woman’s body, she could also use it to figure out (Oops, accidental pun!) alterations to commercial patterns.

[I was taught to call an individually fitted basic pattern a “sloper;” they’re handy to have if you are making multiple costumes for the same actor — or several pairs of trousers for yourself! Fitting patterns are still sold.]

Butterick waist 6791; Delineator, April 1914.

Incredibly, the Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island has the pattern for this waist! (If you just create a Log-in, you can use this wonderful site  — over 64,000 patterns and growing! — for free.) There’s always a link to CoPA in my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar.

Pattern pieces for Butterick 6791; Commercial Pattern Archive.

It’s no surprise that Butterick 7971 includes a French Lining.

You can almost guess from the illustrations which garments need a French lining: if you think, “That dress defies gravity! How can that be possible?” or “How did she get into that?” you are probably looking at a dress that has a French lining.

Fashion Plate, 1888-1889 from Metropolitan Museum Costume Plate collection. Below the wrapped outer bodice is a concealed side-front closing.

There are no visible openings on these late 1880’s dresses. Met Museum collection.

They definitely did not have a zipper down the back! A tight fit in back and a concealed opening usually means a French lining; you can probably deduce the rest….

Vintage garment with very full front. The lace was accented with large French knots. It does not have a visible opening in front or in back.

Butterick 3816, Delineator, May 1910.

Butterick 3816, May 1910. The gathers are stitched to the lining; they won’t slide around or come untucked, and the V’s in back and front will never gape.

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Book Review: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism — Women’s Fight for Change, by Tessa Boase

Note: the accompanying images are not from this book, but much of what I learned, is. Any reflections about parallels with current events are mine, and mine alone. This book made me think.

The millinery and feather trades were a huge international business in 1910. Ad from Delineator.

I’m sorry I took so long to review this book; I loved reading it, and I’ve raved about it to friends, but it is so jam-packed with fascinating information that I was tempted to quote something from every other page — which would not be fair to other readers; it’s too much fun to discover surprising facts for yourself! [Even so, I couldn’t resist sharing a few. My enthusiasm carries me away. A shorter review can be found at The Vintage Traveler 🙂 ]

In her previous book, The Housekeeper’s Tale, Tessa Boase poured through old account books, legal proceedings, letters and diaries, and used her research to unearth the life stories of several women servants over a period of nearly two centuries. I confess that history was the class that bored me the most in high school — although I was a good student, I hated “history.” But history vividly told though the lives of ordinary women — that is fascinating, and suspenseful, reading.

This teenaged girl wears entire bird wings on her hat. Delineator, March 1910. In 1892, 800,000 pairs of wings were imported by one London dealer. [Boase, p. 87]

In Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, the women central to her story are not ordinary — most of them are women who achieved great things: They changed the laws of England in the early twentieth century. And they did it against all odds:

“Right up until the First World War, the idea of bird protection was as laughable to the general population as the concept of female emancipation.” — Boase, p. xiii

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst was the very vocal leader of the movement for women’s suffrage, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU.) Mrs. Etta Lemon was the primary founder of the Society for the Preservation of Birds (SPB,) seeking to prevent the extinction of birds which were being hunted for women’s hat trimmings. Both of them were up against an all-male parliament, male voters, and a public perception that women should stay home and keep their opinions to themselves.

But, surprisingly, the crusading Mrs. Lemon,  — like many of her supporters — was an “Anti:” she was opposed to women getting the vote.

Did you know? In 1913, the Antis had 33,000 members; “the Pankhurst’s WSPU just 2,000.” [Boase, p. 237.]

It’s very hard for a modern woman to identify with Etta Lemon, — and this conflict between two successful, activist women is the paradox that shapes Boase’s book. It twines together two stories about women: the campaign for wildlife conservation and the campaign for voting rights. [The large cast of characters is helpfully listed and described early in the book — a very good idea!]

Wisely, Boase uses the gripping story of working woman Alice Battershall, ” a lowly feather washer,” to plunge us into the very big business of millinery and the feather trade in late Victorian and Edwardian England (and the world.) Alice was tried for the crime of stealing two ostrich plumes from her employer.

The trade in feathers was world wide. Ad for South African ostrich, Delineator, April 1910.

Alice Battershall earned 5 shillings a week — not a living wage even by the sweatshop standards of 1885. Her employer would have sold the feathers for 7 shillings each. Alice sold them to a “fence” for 1 shilling apiece. I had to stop and think about these figures: one ostrich plume was worth more than a week’s wages. Even by selling them to so cheaply, Alice increased her starvation wages by 40% — a powerful temptation.

And ostrich plumes were not the most valuable; ostrich were farmed, and the ostrich didn’t have to be killed for its feathers.

A family of Snowy egrets. Photo By AdA Durden from Jacksonville, USA Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC , via wikipedia.

The bird that faced rapid extinction was the snowy egret. (Milliners called its feathers “Osprey.”) In 1903, a single ounce of Osprey feathers cost almost twice as much as an ounce of gold. [Boase, p.124] But snowy egrets only sported these long, delicate feathers (their nuptial plumage) while mating and raising their young. Egret nestlings need to be fed by both parents over a long period of time; whenever a plume hunter shot and skinned the parent birds, the next generation of snowy egrets died of starvation. When a colony was hunted two or three years in a row, it became extinct.

One famous hunter, David “Egret” Bennett, first wiped out egret colonies in Central America, then moved on to the colonies in Mexico and Baja California. He, too gets a chapter. He was aware that he was driving the species to extinction, but “I have never found any occupation as profitable,” he explained.

[Personally, I see a parallel with the fossil fuel industry today. For me, history — brought to life in Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Hat — keeps informing and illuminating the present.]

Mrs. Lemon and her friends began a campaign against the wearing of osprey; they sent letters to newspapers all over England; they wrote to parish newsletters and to clergymen citing biblical passages in support of their views; they wrote (and spoke) to other women and of course, to members of Parliament. But, while Mrs. Pankhurst was leading demonstrations and being arrested (repeatedly) for advocating votes for women — always while elegantly dressed and wearing hats bedecked with feathers,  the anti-suffrage ladies of the [eventually Royal] Society for the Protection of Birds hired men to carry the placards in their most effective education campaign. And, although Mrs. Lemon actually ran the SPB until she was forced out in 1939, on paper her husband Frank was its “honorary secretary.” She did not assume its leadership — officially — until he died.

Exotic birds, like the bird of paradise, were especially valued. This “Paradise Bird” was sold by Sears.

If you couldn’t afford the real thing, parts of many birds might be combined to make one. Sears catalog, 1910.

The sheer numbers of birds killed and skinned and transported to auction in New York and London boggles the mind. An undercover reporter from the American Ornithologists Union slipped into a plumage sale in London in 1888.

“Here were birds by the shipload,” writes Boase, listing about 7,000 parrots, 1,000 woodpeckers, 14,000 quail, grouse and partridge, 4000 snipes and plovers and other domestic birds like the 7,000 starlings, jays, and magpies. There were 5000 tanagers; hundreds (each) of birds of paradise, gulls, finches, orioles, larks, toucans; and 12,000 hummingbirds from all over the world. [It’s a mercy that my mind simply cannot picture a pile of 12,000 dead hummingbirds.]

Until I read this book I knew very little about Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst; I didn’t realize that she was a widow who had to support herself and her daughters, while trying to maintain the appearance of a respectable and “womanly” woman of the upper classes. Cartoonists often depicted suffragettes as mannish women with ties and cigars or as frustrated spinsters. Mrs. Pankhurst was determined to break that stereotype. As in all things British, social class came into it. She didn’t believe that the exclusively male Members of Parliament, who were middle class by virtue of inheritance and/or wealth, would pay attention to the pleas of working class women. This led to a painful break with her socialist daughter Sylvia, who championed “equal pay for equal work” and an end to the “sweating trades” (e.g., ostrich feather curlers) in 1918. [That was 100 years ago….]

The women who worked in the millinery and feather trades were exploited in wretched, health-destroying working conditions, and often reduced to prostitution during the regularly occurring months when their trades were dormant.

A child might have worked for days to “willow” this plume. Peckham’s ad in Delineator, June 1910.

This is an ostrich plume that has been “willowed.” An ordinary ostrich feather has been made longer, fluffier and more luxurious by having extensions tied to every flue — a job which the small and nimble fingers of children were good at.

“One women and two children might labour for a day and a third on a single ostrich plume — whose preparation required as many as 8,613 knots…. In 1910, this earned them 3 cents….”  — Boase, p. 13.

“Pulmonary tuberculosis was a slow and steady killer of women in the feather trade.” [Boase, p. 13]  Nevertheless, abolishing the trade was a political hot potato: workers often preferred the risk of slow death to unemployment and starvation. (Hunger was already part of their lives.)

[This is another dilemma we face today. Although Boase never mentions these parallels, this book offers plenty of food for thought. Silicosis and  pneumoconiosis kill coal miners, and mesothelioma kills asbestos workers; nevertheless, eliminating these trades means eliminating jobs — a problem in 1910 and in 2018.]

As the new century progressed,  some women — like Etta Lemon; Eliza Phillips; Emily Williamson; Virginia Woolf;  and Winifred, Duchess of Portland — campaigned against the extinction of entire species for hat trimmings.  Mrs Pankhurst, immaculately dressed but debilitated from her frequent protest fasts, saw her supporters’ demonstrations become increasingly violent. Then came World War I, and a great change in women’s lives….

As I have mentioned, Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is history told by a scholar with a novelist’s touch, focusing on the small detail and the personal story to bring its events vividly to life.  And, although the author does not mention their relevance to modern life, I can’t help being stimulated by many of the facts she shares.

Over 100 years ago, American Ornithologist Henry Oldys addressed the U.S. Congress on the topic of wildlife conservation, urging legislation to prevent the extinction of species:

The spirit of the age, was, he said, marked by ignorance, cupidity and supineness — a toxic combination that was steadily exterminating creation. “History will not listen to the plea, ‘It was not my business,’ ” he cried. ‘It will answer: “You were there and could have prevented it; therefore it was your business. You failed to do your duty. The only explanation is that you were corrupt, ignorant, or weak.” ‘ — from Boase, p. 226.

[In the light of my country’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the U.N.’s recent report that irreversible climate change is happening more rapidly than predicted, someone needs to say that to Congress again.]

Nevertheless, I also found hope from the fact that women, working together, can accomplish the near-impossible. Even the story of the troubling Mrs. Lemon gives me hope:

The RSPB began with a letter writing campaign organized by a few Victorian ladies — bird-lovers excluded from all-male ornithological societies because they were women.

“Within six months… this little ‘bird and bonnet’ society [grew] from 1,000 to 5,000 members.” In two years, it had almost 10,000, “most of them women.” [p. 74.] Today, “The RSPB is a behemoth — a charity with 1.2 million members, 200 nature reserves…, 2000 staff and 14,000 volunteers. It has an annual income of 100 million pounds and it wields great political power. Its business today is international nature conservation.” (p. xi.)

Reading that makes me feel a lot better about our chances.

Summary: By focusing her complex story on the lives of individual women, Tessa Boase has turned an extraordinary mass of scholarly research into a memorable and fascinating book, filled with surprises and startling details. I used to think history was boring. Not this one.

The publishers deserve praise, especially for the footnotes (actually endnotes) which are printed in two-column format. They never intrude, but if you want to check a source, they are easy to read without constant page flipping. Full index and bibliography; color plates; and Ms. Boase herself collected the illustrations for the end papers from period magazines. Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

Mrs. Pankhurst wore a purple feather because the Suffragette colors were purple (for freedom and dignity,) white (for purity,) and green (for hope.) Click here to see the (faded) feather that inspired this book.

Tessa Boase blogs at tessaboase.com/blog, where you can see more Edwardian feathered hats in full color (including eyes and beaks….)

Fashion sketch of a chic Parisienne; Delineator, May 1910. She is wearing a glorified chicken.

Four feathered hats. Delineator, February 1910.

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