Category Archives: Hosiery

Prudery in Advertising Used to Confuse Me

Girdles from Sears Catalog, Fall 1958.

Costume researchers of the future, given only this image, might deduce that girdles were worn on the outside of our clothes…. And that the stocking suspenders/garters were purely decorative. There was a time when manufacturers who wanted to use the same ad in “family newspapers” and in women’s magazines had to be careful how they showed women’s underwear, lest they incite lustful thoughts and corrupt the young….

I’ve mentioned before that I was a “motherless child” — raised after her death by a loving father. We managed very well, except when it came to my clothing. Luckily my Aunt Shirley, and old (female) friends of our family, and sometimes the mothers of my school friends stepped in. Mrs. Betty P., who helped me sort through my mother’s closet when my father couldn’t bear to do it, eventually told him that it was long past time for me to start wearing a bra. (Fathers are often reluctant to admit that their little girls have grown up.) She was right. She took me to a department store (along with her own daughter) to have us fitted. My first bra (age 11) was a 34 B.
However, Betty’s daughter Janie and I used to puzzle over the lingerie ads in the backs of magazines, trying to make sense of them.

If the garters attach to your stockings, and you wear the garter belt over your bouffant petticoat…. How could that work? Sears catalog, Fall, 1958.

Full circle bouffant petticoat from Sears catalog, 1957. Janie and I knew you couldn’t bunch that up to make your garters reach your stocking tops….

This was 1957 or so — when huge crinoline petticoats were all the rage. Girls wore them in layers –preferably two bouffant petticoats at a time.
But this was also before pantyhose were available — women wore stockings held up by a garter belt, if they didn’t need “more control.”

Garter belts, 1958. Sears Fall catalog.

If you were going to wear a very fitted dress, a girdle or panty-girdle was needed so you would have a (relatively) smooth line from waist to thigh without bulges that outlined the garter belt.
But: my 11 year-old friends and I looked at ads like this one …

“How could this work?” my 11 year old self wondered.

… and asked each other how the garter belt could reach your stocking tops, if you wore it over your bouffant petticoat?

Advertising Undies Without Offending….

In the 1920s, advertising underwear was a tricky business. What did you do about that awkward top-of-thighs area at the bottom of the corset? Should the advertiser show the long bloomers (sometimes called knickers) which most women wore?

Ladies’ bloomers (also loosely called knickers or drawers), 1925. Butterick pattern 5705.

Would a family newspaper run an ad showing underpants? Or worse, a woman’s thighs or crotch? And isn’t it possible that, however they were shown in corset ads,  women sometimes wore their long underpants over their corsets, so they could be pulled down for a visit to the toilet (or outhouse, or chamberpot?)

Corsets illustrated as worn over bloomers, as shown in Sears catalogs, From Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the 1920s.

Well, 19th c. bloomers or drawers were often two separate legs, attached only at the waist. You could say Queen Victoria wore crotchless panties….

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing's Fashion in Underwear.

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear. You could wear these under a corset and still answer the call of nature.

 In the 20th century, many women’s underpants/drawers/knickers were made with an open crotch, or a crotch that opened with tiny buttons, so those could be worn under the corset/girdle.  Awkward, but do-able.)

1917 underwear choice: open-crotched drawers (left) or a long “envelope” chemise with a button crotch. Delineator.

Pretty vintage lingerie with a button crotch.

Lingerie from Delineator, June 1924. Left, a “step-in;” right, a button crotch “chemise.”

Keep in mind that the 1930s Motion Picture Production Code in the U.S.A. had been written by men who said, “If it’s objectionable to a child, it’s objectionable, period.” (My 12th grade term paper was about movie censorship — so I’m quoting from memory.) Among other forbidden things (as reported): the inside of a woman’s thigh could never be shown in films. (An idea parodied here.)  For context, here’s the article accompanying that image.

Too hot for the Motion Picture Production Code? Corset illustrations from Delineator, 1929

That nervousness about female anatomy made it difficult for advertisers show exactly how corsets and stockings were worn. Often they were shown as if the garters were purely decorative, and had nothing to do with holding up your stockings.

Message: “There are suspenders attached to our corsets.” Women would know the suspenders were for holding up stockings, but the ads didn’t show how.

Some advertisements showed the corset superimposed on a clothed figure.

Corsets over clothing, in ads from 1912 and 1924.

Note to the future: Ordinary 20th century women did not wear their corsets over their dresses. (Although a few performers and young women with a desire to shock eventually did….)

For corset ads, a nebulous frill or draped fabric was also useful for propriety.

Sketchy lace frills or a delicate drapery avoid showing bare thighs between corset and stocking.

Some ads did show suspenders attached to stockings — but, does this mean women tucked their underwear into their stockings, as shown?

Thighs covered by long bloomers or drawers. 1926.

More voluminous undergarments tucked into stocking tops, 1922.

This company went bold — The photographer blurred out the crotch area: (Yes, photos were being altered almost as soon as they were invented.)

The area at the top of the model’s thighs has been blurred in this photo. 1926. She may have been wearing tight knit undies to start with.

Remember, in the Fifties,  TV wouldn’t allow a married couple to occupy the same bed (see The I Love Lucy Show.) (And Lucille Ball, who really was expecting a child, was “Enceinte,” not “Pregnant.”)

But the 1958 Sears catalog wasn’t censoring its pages — some photos are realistic, with bare thighs appearing between girdles and stockings, as they were worn in real life. I suspect that it was up to the manufacturer to decide whether his customers were easily upset by women’s bodies…

Sorry, boys. Nothing titillating to see here!

… or not:

Models wearing bras and girdles, Sears catalog Fall 1958.

Girdle worn over bare skin, although the photo is poor quality. Inside of thigh visible! Sears catalog, 1958.

A Sears model shows how a girdle and stockings were really worn. 1958 Sears catalog.

 

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The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings

Pantyhose from Sears, Roebuck. 1960.

The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings

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

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

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

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

Also, really stretchy stockings didn’t exist yet.

Seamless stretch nylon stockings from Sears; Spring 1958.

Opaque tights from Sears, Fall 1959 catalog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotton Crotch Introduced

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

Thigh Bulge and Garter Bumps Eliminated

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

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

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

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

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

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

The metal garter was detachable and inserted through these loops.

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

 

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Colorful,Textured Hose in the 1960s

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

Opaque and fishnet-textured hose from Sears, 1968.

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

“Fishnet” mesh pantyhose from Sears, 1968.

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

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

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

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

Textured stockings from Sears, 1968 catalog.

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

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

Simplicity pattern 7622 from 1968.

Simplicity 7622 worn with heavily textured white pantyhose. 1968.

Simplicity 7755 from 1968.

Textured hose worn with Simplicity 7755. Stripes.

Even conservative “Jackie” style suits like this one …

McCall’s 7981 from 1965.

… could be worn with textured hose:

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

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

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

Textured hose from 1929. Delineator, April 1929.

So were wild colors:

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

McCall’s 8135 from 1965.

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

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

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

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

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

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Stocking Memories, 1958 to 1960

Stockings and a girdle from Sears catalog for Fall 1958.

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

Seamed stockings from Sears, Spring 1960.

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

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

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

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

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

At the Stocking Counter

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

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

1958 stocking size chart from the Sears catalog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings.

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Seamless Stockings in 1930

Seamed stockings from Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1939.

Every costume design job is an opportunity to do more research, but there are some things that are just part of your general knowledge. For example, when I was hired to costume a college production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which takes place in 1937, I automatically put the adult female characters in seamed stockings.

I was surprised recently when I came across this image from 1930:

Seamless stockings could be purchased at department stores in 1930! This image is from Delineator, May 1930.

I simply hadn’t come across this information before, so I checked another source: the Sears, Roebuck catalogs. There they were:

“No-Seam” hosiery for women, Sears Roebuck catalog, Fall 1930, p. 171.

No-Seam stockings text, Sears catalog, Fall 1930.

And another source….

From a fashion editorial about accessories, Delineator, September 1930.

There are some typos in the original text, as you can see, but corrected, it says, “I made a new discovery a few days ago — stockings needn’t have seams in order to fit. You may remember the old seamless stockings … which went into Grecian drapery at the ankles after their first contact with soap and water. The new Guildmode hose is knitted in a special way so that it fits just as snugly as a full fashioned stocking. It is dull [matte] and very sheer.”

“Full-fashioned” meant stockings which were shaped like the outline of a leg, curving in at the ankle, and gradually curving out over the calf area.

Before stretchier knits became available, the seam at the back was necessary for a good fit. Full-fashioned stocking illustration from Sears, 1958.

A short history: Knitted stockings have been around for hundreds of years. The simple knitted tube naturally stretched — somewhat — to the shape of the leg, but a seam up the back permitted a closer fit.  As stockings became more sheer (and more visible under short skirts) in the Nineteen Twenties, women became aware of the way the vertical seam up the back created a slenderizing line on their legs.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/hosiery-nov-1928-mar-1929-apr-1929-may-1929.jpg

Gordon Hosiery ads from Delineator, Nov. 1928 through May 1929.

Seams and pointed heels made these stockings flattering. Sears, Fall of 1939.

“Notice how they follow the natural shadows of the ankle — to give you slenderness and grace.”

Skirt hems went down and then up again in the Nineteen Thirties, but seamed stockings were so much a part of normal dress that women couldn’t give up that seam line even when silk or nylon stockings became unavailable during World War II.

There were no nylon or silk stockings available from Sears in 1944 because nylon and silk were needed for the war. Sears catalog index, Spring 1944.

In Spring of 1945, before the War ended,  Sears offered these un-glamourous cotton stockings. Three pairs were guaranteed to last you three months. (I.e., you would have two wearable stockings left.)

But, back to the Thirties:

Chiffon [sheer] and Service Weight stockings from Sears, Fall 1930.

Seamed rayon stockings from Sears, Fall 1930. Rayon, a synthetic fabric based on cellulose, was cheaper than silk.

At the first dress rehearsal of Brighton Beach Memoirs, the director knelt down beside my chair and whispered, “Are those seams on their stockings?” He was clearly delighted. I whispered back, “Well, stockings with seams are too expensive for our budget,** so I taught the actresses to do it the 1940s’ way: we drew ‘seams’ up the backs of their hose with an eyebrow pencil.” (The lines didn’t come out completely when we washed their sheer tights, so they just had to retrace the previous line for the next performance.)

At first, I thought the director was impressed by the seamed stockings because I was much more detail-oriented than my predecessor. Later I realized that anyone who was a teen-aged boy in the 1950s probably feels a certain nostalgia for seamed stockings, which, along with high heels and garter belts, were often seen on pin-up girls.

This 1950s’ stocking ad, shared by Sally Edelstein at Envisioning the American Dream, shows the sex appeal of seamed stockings.

Being allowed to wear high heels (or even kitten heels,) and sheer stockings held up by a garter belt was a rite of passage for girls of my generation. (I think that my first heels and stockings were required for a school field trip to the ballet [or opera?] circa 1958, when I was in 8th or 9th grade.)

Garter belts, seamed stockings, high heels, and a bouffant “crinoline” petticoat in 1958: “Today I am a woman!”

At thirteen, I was finally old enough to ask, “Are my seams straight?”

To return to my costume design for Brighton Beach Memoirs, would this new (to me) information about the existence of seamless stockings*** in 1930 have made any difference? No, because the characters in the play are struggling financially, and because they are not fashionable women. They would have worn inexpensive stockings — probably cotton, rayon, or “service weight.”

Service weight silk stockings were not as sheer as “chiffon” ones. Sears, Fall 1930.

I settled for using sheer tights with added seams because at the time of the production that was the most affordable option. Also, in college productions, most of the actors are younger than the characters they play. The two “mothers” were actually about twenty years old, and the teenaged daughters were also played by twenty year old actresses. Putting the mothers in seamed stockings and the daughters in bobby socks helped to establish an age difference.

More of my own “Garter Belt and Seamed Stockings” Memoirs to come….

** Some very good costume shop supervisors have told me that a seam can be added to inexpensive modern hosiery with an overlock sewing machine, but I haven’t tried it myself.

*** If you need a research topic, note that some of the images make reference to seamless stockings earlier than 1930.

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College Wardrobe for Women, 1929

Essentials of a perfect College Wardrobe; Delineator, September 1929.

It’s a bit late in the year to be planning an “off to college” wardrobe, but Delineator devoted several pages to this question in September, 1929.

Administrators at Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith colleges shared their observations on what college girls were wearing in 1929. Delineator, Sept 1929, pp. 29 & 104.

Administrators at three prestigious East Coast women’s colleges contributed their observations in an accompanying article, which was later quoted in the Butterick pattern descriptions.

In addition to Butterick patterns, several “college clothing” illustrations were sketched from clothes being sold at Lord & Taylor.

These “College Requirements” could be purchased at Lord & Taylor. Delineator, Sept. 1929, page 28.

At all three colleges, sportswear — rather than “city” clothing — was said to dominate.  (Vassar was literally “in the country.” In the case of Wellesley, Freshmen lived in the nearby town, so clothes suitable for walking and bicycling to campus were necessary.) Dressing for dinner usually required a change, but not into evening dress.  However, dances and Proms called for at least one formal evening gown.  [I attended a women’s college in California in the 1960s, and we often loaned or borrowed evening gowns for off campus dances, so having only one wasn’t a real problem. Our dates saw us in a different dress each time.] I also appreciated reading about a dorm at Smith where the girls grouped together to rent a sewing machine! All three writers agreed that sporty, casual clothing — home made or purchased — dominated the college wardrobe and to some extent erased class distinctions. (In the late Twenties, Vassar had 1150 undergraduate students, Wellesley 1500, and Smith 2000.)

Laura W. L. Scales, Smith College. Delineator,  Sept. 1929, page 29.

I’ll start with college clothes available from Lord & Taylor in 1929:

(A) A fur coat was practical on campus in snowy winters, but wool coats were equally acceptable.

(B) is an afternoon dress, suitable for formal daytime events (teas, concerts) or as a dinner dress at college.

Wool knits, jersey, and tweeds were practical and traditional “country” looks; most of these colleges were then in the country a few miles from big cities, although urban sprawl has changed that.

“Simulated suede raincoat”? Interesting.  Augusta “Bernard” and “Louiseboulanger” were top Paris designers,

A warm robe, pajamas for sleep and dorm lounging, plus “sports” underwear (J): the top and bottom are buttoned together. 1929.

Formal evening wrap and dress from Lord & Taylor. September 1929. The coat is short; the gown has a long dipping hem.

Note those stretchy bias diamond pieces at the hip of the gown. Pearl-covered handbag.

Butterick patterns for the young college woman, September 1929:

Butterick patterns for college women, Sept. 1929, p. 30.

This dress really is easier to make than it looks. The full, scalloped skirt is cut on the straight grain, lined with “skin” colored taffeta, and has a dipping hem because it is attached to a dipping bodice.

Intimate apparel for college girls:

The slip at right has built in panties, to save time while dressing ….

“No brassiere is necessary,” but some girls do “make this set with a bandeau brassiere instead of a vest.”

Fall and winter weather was another good reason for wearing sporty wool clothing with low heeled shoes and wool, instead of silk, stockings on campus.

Wool fabrics were suitable for campus or weekends in town:

More sporty patterns for college women, 1929. Butterick patterns, Delineator, page 31.

A tweed suit suitable for city or country, a chic two-toned jersey dress, and a princess line wool or jersey dress with flared panels. Butterick patterns from Delineator, September 1929, p. 31

A sporty tweed dress with laced trim (very popular in the 30s), a pleated wool dress with Deco lines (“staircase pleats,”) and a fur-trimmed tweed coat. Butterick patterns for college women, Delineator, Sept. 1929, p. 31.

It’s sad to realize that these attractive 1929 styles would be out of fashion just a year later — although many women would have no choice but to continue wearing them as the economy crumbled in the early nineteen thirties.

 

 

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Clothes for Active Sports, July 1926

Summer sports clothes for men and women, Delineator, July 1926.

Alternate views of Butterick patterns for golfers, July 1926. Knickers 4147 and 3496. The girl in a pleated skirt has a boyish shingle haircut.

Golf, tennis, swimming, riding, hiking, camping: there were Butterick patterns for most summer sports. A two-page layout in Delineator from July, 1926, gives an idea of what to wear and how to accessorize it.

Don’t forget some lively socks!

A necktie is also appropriate:

Women golfers wear neckties with their golf clothing. July 1926.

The presence of blazers on all ages is probably a British influence (Butterick sold patterns in England and other countries, not just the U.S.) or an exclusive “private school” signal.

Tennis: Blazer 4458 for a boy, with knickers 5950; blazer 5246 for a girl, over dress 6851, worn with stockings rolled. July 1926.

Man’s blazer 6033

Blouse 6876 and knickers 3496, for golf or hiking. And a necktie….

A gym suit (Butterick 4152) or a matching middy blouse and knickers (Butterick 4552) were appropriate for camping and hiking. Illustration from 1926, but pattern 4152 first appeared in 1922-23.**

I wrote more about the knicker outfit, with many photos of my aunt wearing similar clothing in the 1920s.

Young woman with her future husband and her mother, 1919

My aunt with her future husband and her mother, 1919.

Riding habit (Butterick 4004,) necktie [what, no monocle?] and a spectator sport dress (Butterick 6918.)

Bathing suits 5204, 6809, and 6822. Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator for July 1926.

Bathing suit 5204 has a higher waistline; the belt covers the seam where the “tights” are attached — and, although the other bathing suits were brand new in 1926, No. 5204 first appeared in 1924.**

** The range of pattern numbers on these two pages (Delineator, July 1926, pp. 34 & 35) show that many of these patterns were “standards” that had been in the catalog for several years. Numbers lower than 4988 pre-date 1924, and bathing suit 5204 first appeared in 1924. The riding habit dates to 1922. (Source: Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island. These specific patterns aren’t in their collection, but the number sequence is very clear. )

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In the Swim, July 1920

Butterick beach costumes or bathing suits in Delineator, July-August 1920, page 101.

I’ve been working on the year 1920, which contains some surprises for me. If you find a fringed “1920s flapper” dress with narrow shoulder straps in a thrift store, it’s probably a costume from the 1960s or later. But evening dresses held up by straps were around in 1920. (More about that in a later post.) The bathing suit pictured (above center) is part of that trend.

While we’re looking at all three suits, notice the different choices for stockings and beach shoes. Each has its own hat, too. First, Butterick 2442:

Butterick “beach or bathing suit” 2442, Delineator, 1920.

The label shows that even the editors of Delineator realized that this outfit might not be suitable for use in the water.

Those pocket-like openings would fill with water and inflict a lot of “drag” on the swimmer, even if they are open at the bottom.

This suit is truly sleeveless. The exaggerated hip width reflects the dresses worn that summer.

Strap-top bathing suit No. 2440 also has a lot of fabric in its dress and bloomers, but the shoulders and upper arms are as bare as in a modern swimsuit.

Butterick bathing-suit 2440, summer of 1920.

Button straps and a straight band form the top of this suit.

“This being the same cut as the evening bodice does away with the uneven showing of coloring if one tans and wears an evening dress.”

This is a very early 1920s’ reference to a suntan being desirable, and to the bare skin revealed in a strap-top evening dress:

Singer Anna Case, photographed for Delineator, February 1920.

The third bathing suit for women is more conservative (for sizes up to 46″ bust.)

Butterick bathing-suit 2445, Delineator, summer of 1920.

Rows of parallel stitching were often seen during the WW I years. The sleeves are also conservative, compared to the other — sleeveless — suits.

That great hat seems to be included.

Bathing suits for younger girls were also illustrated.

Bathing suits for teens and little girls also showed the bare-versus-conservative styling.

The one on the left resembles adult suit 2240, with straps, bare arms, and a belt that passes through the dress.

Styles for girls echo styles for women. 1920. No. 2438 was for “misses”/teens and also for ladies. No. 1718 was for girls 2 to 14 years old.

I have labeled this “circa” 1920, because the small girl’s suit is No. 1718, indicating that it was first issued in an earlier series. Note how the sleeves and parallel stitching echo women’s conservative bathing suit No. 2445.

Taffeta was a recommended fabric for most of these bathing suits. Don’t forget your parasol [1920] or sunscreen [2019] !

For bathing suits from other years, use the search term “in the swim” in the search box at top right.

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In the Swim, 1914

Three bathing suits for women, Delineator, May 1914.

Three “bathing-suits” for women and one for a girl were featured in Butterick’s Delineator, May 1914. They were illustrated and described again in June, 1914.

Part of page 75, Delineator, June 1914. Headdresses/caps were included in the patterns.

In May, the text was arranged around the illustrations, which means I will have to cut and paste to fit descriptions into a 500 dpi format.  I will use the shorter descriptions from June, and put the longer ones at the bottom of the post for anyone who’s interested.

Top of page 36, Delineator, May 1914. The center bathing suit had a “peg-top” skirt.

It’s entertaining to see how the “peg-top” fashion in dresses has been translated into a bathing-suit, however impractical!

A draped, peg-top skirt, very narrow at the bottom. The silhouette was said to resemble a child’s spinning top.

Butterick bathing-suit pattern 6894, Delineator, May 1914. The skirt has a “pannier effect.” The recommended fabric was silk, not wool.

Butterick 6891 from May 1914, Delineator. Tunic tops over longer skirts were a fashion in dresses, here echoed in bathing suit.

Butterick bathing-suit 6891, alternate views; the sleeveless-topped knickerbockers would be worn under any version of the overdress. Headdress included in pattern.

Butterick 6891 description, Delineator, June 1914. “Raglan shoulders;” “knickerbockers attached to an underbody and a cap complete the costume.” In sizes from 32 to 44 inch bust.

Butterick 6912, bathing suit from May 1914. Delineator, p. 36.

Brilliantine was a lustrous fabric in 1914; later it was the name of a men’s hair dressing lotion that gave that “patent leather” shine.

Description of pattern 6912, June 1914. Delineator. “The two-piece skirt shows the peg-top silhouette which is gained by having the top wider than the lower edge. Knickerbockers attached to an underbody are worn with this costume.

It’s notable that the under garment for bathing suits was called “bloomers” in 1910, but is called “knickerbockers” for women’s bathing suits in 1914.

A bathing suit for girls was also shown in May 1914: (Its under layer is still called “bloomers.”)

Left, a romper suit. Center and right: two views of Butterick 6860 bathing-suit for girls, May 1914.

Butterick bathing-suit for girls aged 2 to 14, Delineator, June 1914. Page 75.

“Body and bloomers are in one, and the two-piece skirt need not be used if one wishes a simple swimming suit …. The bloomers may be straight or gathered at the knee with or without a frill.”

It’s interesting that girls (2 to 14) could wear this suit without a skirt — so they could actually swim. See the boys’ and men’s bathing suits from 1910.

These bathing suits would be worn with a “cap to match the suit, stockings of medium weight and canvas bathing shoes…. It is advisable to wear a close-fitting rubber cap under the bathing-cap.”

This rubber bathing cap was advertised in Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917. Sadly, rubber degrades in storage, so vintage rubber caps are hard to find. Ad for Faultless Rubber Co.

These “In the Swim” posts were inspired by The Vintage Traveler’s bathing suit timeline. For In the Swim, 1910, click here. EDIT: Links added 4/4/19.

Full Bathing Suit Descriptions from Delineator, May 1914.

For those who want every detail, here are the longer bathing-suit descriptions which appeared in the May, 1914, issue of Delineator.

Butterick 6891 from May 1914, Delineator.

Text for Butterick 6891 from Delineator, May 1914.

Butterick 6894 from May 1914.

Text for Butterick 6894, Delineator, May 1914.

Butterick bathing-suit 6912 from May, 1914.

 

 

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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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