Category Archives: Late Victorian fashions

Winter Underwear, 1880s to 1920s

Detail from and ad for Munsingwear knit undergarments, Delineator,  September, 1927.

Frau Buttonbox asked what women wore under those 1920’s dresses in the winter — and how they protected their dresses from sweat and body oils. I have some ads to share!

Just for vocabulary, in the U.S., a one piece knit suit like this was called a “union suit” (proper name) or “long johns” (common name.)

This wool union suit was recommended by dress-reformer Annie Jenness-Miller in 1888.

In 1880’s England, Dr. Jaeger’s theory that wearing wool next to the skin (instead of plant fibers like linen or cotton) was good for health was championed by dress reformers and George Bernard Shaw.

My uncle Bert (like Garrison Keillor’s “Norwegian Bachelor Farmers”) came from a generation (b. 1899) that believed that a hot bath would “open your pores” to admit disease, so he wore long johns from September to March. My stepmother insisted that he wash them (and himself) from time to time if he wanted to eat dinner with us. Whew!

Women’s union suit from Sears catalog, Fall 1918.
By 1916, skirts were getting shorter, but lace-up boots would have hidden the legs of this underwear. Notice the short sleeves.

Ladies’ shoes from Sears catalog, 1918.

Wool, needed for army uniforms, was hard to get in the U.S. in 1917-1918. Note the overlapping “open” back.

The problem with fashionable clothing is that it is usually the opposite of practical clothing — so women who want to be fashionable usually have to sacrifice some comfort — and common sense.

By the mid-1920s, skirts were reaching the knee, and bare arms were expected with evening dresses and dinner dresses. Nevertheless, many dining rooms (even in mansions) were unheated.

Ad for Forest Mills long underwear, Delineator, November 1925. The union suit on the left could be worn under day dresses. These models look like teens.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/1925-oct-p-27-500-dpi-whole-color-page.jpg

Winter clothes for teens and small women, October 1925. Delineator.

Under evening dress, your torso could be warm, but your arms had to be bare.

Combed cotton knit underwear from Sears, 1927 catalog. You could wear a silk or rayon slip over these, under your dress.

Butterick 5755, 5714, 5713, Delineator, January 1925, page 29.

Evening dresses for teens, January 1925.

“It s no longer necessary to shiver through the long winter months in order to be stylishly dressed.”

“Keep your body warm.” Ad for Forest Mills knit underwear, Delineator, November 1925. The ad doesn’t state fiber content, but knits made for a smooth, “no bumps” fit.

“Underwear that will not only absorb perspiration, but will keep your body from being chilled.”

The Forest Mills underwear shown in the photograph is not much different in style from silk underwear (slips, camisole and bloomers) sold by Sears, but knit underwear fit more smoothly.

Silk underwear from Sears catalog, Fall 1927. Silk or rayon bloomers came to just above the knee.

Carter’s, a company that made rayon knit underwear, ran a whole series of ads that showed couture fashions next to pictures of models (in the same poses) wearing Carter’s underwear. I don’t now how warm it was, but it did fit very closely.

Detail of an ad for Carter’s rayon knit underwear, Delineator, November 1926. Premet and Poiret were famous Paris Couturiers. That’s a Poiret model above.

Detail of 1927 ad for Carter’s underwear. The model wears Poiret; at right she poses in her Carter’s underwear.

“Poiret’s black and gold gown” and silk cape, pictured in an ad for Carter’s underwear, November 1927. Poiret was very influential in the 1910’s, but falling out of favor by the late 1920’s.

Detail from an ad for Carter’s knit underwear, November 1927. Smooth, one-piece fit.

Right, back view of a one-piece union suit; left, a camisole “vest” and bloomers. Carter’s rayon knit undergarments, ad from 1926.

Premet’s “Vampire” dress, with Carter’s combination underwear to go under it. April, 1928. That dress would have permitted a much warmer undergarment.

The gold and white brocade hostess gown is by Drecoll; the underwear is Carter’s “vest and bloomer” of rayon knit. Ad from May 1927. The House of Worth also participated in this ad campaign.

As to keeping clothes free of perspiration stains and odor, deodorants were available (and ruined the armpits of many a vintage garment….) A solution still used in theatrical costumes, and by those allergic to certain chemicals, is the dress shield.

1910 ad for Kleinert’s dress shields. Delineator.

Ad for OMO dress shields, a rival to Kleinert’s. March 1910, Delineator.

Dress shields were usually safety pinned or basted into place in the armholes of a dress or jacket.

1920 Kleinert’s dress shield ad. You can see that this shield is curved at the top to follow the shape of the bottom of the armhole; it folds over the underarm seam, extending into the dress and into the sleeve.

Costumers sew in snaps so the shields can be changed and washed.  Some women preferred to wear a bra or guimpe-like washable garment which included the shields.

Top of a Kleinert’s dress shield ad, Woman’s Home Companion, March 1937.

The Kleinert’s website (the company is still in business) explains:

“Before The Advent Of Deodorants & Antiperspirants The Dress Shield Was The Way To Protect Your Garments From Sweat & Odor. In 1869 Kleinert’s Invented the Dress & Garment Shield Category Which Is Still In Use Today Protecting Our Clothes & Saving Us From Embarrassing Situations Due To Sweat Stains & Odors. Trust Kleinert’s Quality & History To Keep You Dry Throughout The Day. Choose Below From Our Selection Of Fine Dress Shields.” Kleinerts.com

The shields come in different shapes for differently cut armholes. Now you can get disposable ones — and in a costume emergency I have cut self-adhesive pantiliners to stick in the underarms of a costume.

Bottom of Kleinert’s dress shield ad from March 1937, WHC.

I’ve mentioned this before: actors sweat, and stage actors have to wear their costume(s) for eight performances per week. It’s not good for a wool suit to be dry-cleaned every week; underwear protects the costume, but a changeable shield under each arm keeps the suit from getting wet at all. Undershirts and shirts, etc., are laundered daily — in fact, Equity actors have duplicates supplied so they don’t ever have to put on a shirt that is still damp from the matinee performance. (Ditto for all other items that touch the skin.)

Full page, full-color Kleinert’s ad, March 1924. Delineator.

Unsexy as a dress shield may be, it’s preferable to ruining a $2000 dress or destroying it by too-frequent dry cleaning. Bonus: you can raise your arms and never show a sweat ring.

Camisole and bloomers from Munsingwear ad, September 1927, Delineator.

P.S. [Edited 1/6/2019] Liza D at BVD sent a photo of the Kleinert’s dress shields she found in a vintage garment (Thanks, Liza!) :

Liza D found these used dress shields in a vintage garment. Those ugly stains would have been on the blouse if the woman who wore it hadn’t used these in the underarms. Click here for Liza’s post about it.

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Arctic Down Quilted Victorian Petticoat by Booth & Fox

A quilted, down-filled petticoat made by Booth & Fox, English, late Victorian era.

For those who wonder how Victorians survived the winter in badly heated houses (or snowy streets,) this down-filled petticoat is one answer.
I don’t know how this red, Victorian, quilted down petticoat from England found its way to California.  This week I found the pictures I took of it many years ago, before it was sold, and discovered that its older sister is in the Costume Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum!

Booth & Fox quilted petticoat, image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This one is circa 186o.

I only photographed the one in California for inventory purposes, but even a low resolution picture is better than none.

The “California” petticoat has a shape that is less like a crinoline, with the rows of down starting lower, and a flat yoke and down-free area in front.

Note how the rows of quilting taper in at the sides.

Deduction: This petticoat is later than the one in the V&A Museum, since skirt fullness began moving toward the back in the late 1860s.

1868 fashion plate from the Tessa collection at Los Angeles Public Library.

The Cut site has a good view of the back of the petticoat in the V & A. Click here.

There are two of these petticoats in the John Bright Collection, also located in the U.K. Click the site’s + sign for Additional Images.

The label (see Additional Images) in the John Bright Collection is also located center front, and is easier to read than the one I photographed.

Booth & Fox’s Down Skirt label from a petticoat in the John Bright Collection. The company won medals in London, 1862, and Dublin, 1865. This petticoat apparently cost 14 shillings and sixpence.

The label for the “California” petticoat, enhanced for legibility. It has a patent number. Is it possible that it cost 2 pounds, 4 shillings and…  I don’t recognize the number that looks like a “t” ….

The labels say the filling on the petticoats is “warranted pure Arctic down.” Red underwear doesn’t really keep you warmer, although several collections have quilted Victorian petticoats in various shades and patterns of red calico. My search for “Booth & Fox” led to a Scottish museum site about red calico, like the fabrics used in these down-filled skirts.

In Yorkshire, The Quilt Museum has one. Click here.

I wonder if the person who bought the “California” collection knows that one of the earlier Arctic Down Skirts made by Booth & Fox sold at auction in 2009?

The hem on the one I photographed had been repaired in back. You can see that the lining was a solid red, rather than printed calico, and a tiny feather was peeking out.

The hem had been mended in back, where it was most likely to drag on the ground.

It would certainly keep you toasty-warm from knees to hem.

Post Script: I received several emails from Patrick Murphy that shed new light on the Both and Fox company. He wrote:

“I came across your item on the Booth and Fox Petticoat when I was looking for some other information on Booth and Fox. As I know nothing about fashion and felt the item is probably now defunct I did not post a response. However, I thought you might be interested to know that the petticoat in question probably did not come from England but, surprisingly, from Ireland! I have attached a (poor quality) article from 1892 which confirms that Booth and Fox was founded and based in Cork City, Ireland (which, of course, at that time was part of the United Kingdom). You can see that it specifically refers to the manufacture of ladies down underskirts. As the article shows, the company did have extensive “branch establishments” in England but manufacturing was done in Cork.

I suspect that the other sites you reference may also be unaware of the true provenance of their garments.

I have some interest in Booth and Fox as Adam Fox (who was married to Mary Booth! – and, admittedly, was English) lived in the house next to mine in Cork City in 1842!”

In a later mail, he sent a PDF of the original article, which appears to be from a Merchant Directory for the city of Cork. Click here for the link. Thank you, Mr.Murphy!

 

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Binge-Watching The Pallisers: A Guilty Pleasure

From a late episode of The Pallisers, a 26 part TV series available on DVD. Picture copyright of BBC via the International Movie Database.

A Guilty Pleasure ….because I couldn’t watch just one!

I took a hard fall in September and wasn’t able to sit at a desk for several weeks. Fortunately, I had purchased the first six episodes of the 1974 BBC series The Pallisers and finally got around to watching them when I was spending my days in the recliner. After the first six, I definitely wanted more!

Thank heaven I eventually found the entire series on YouTube — all 26 glorious episodes.

If you want better picture quality, the 40th Anniversary reissued edition won’t fit in your Christmas stocking, but ask Santa, anyway. (Under $50 for over 20 hours of entertainment.)

It may take you a few episodes to get addicted to the plot; meanwhile the excellent costumes will keep you intrigued — although I was hooked by an early episode in which two horrible old Victorian ladies explain that, after her forced marriage produces an heir to the dukedom, a married woman is permitted to follow her own inclinations….

The novels on which the series is based cover several decades of fictionalized English history.  Anthony Trollope, who published them between 1864 and 1879, was as cynical about the workings of Parliament as he was about romance.

The costumes, therefore, progress from crinolines to bustles, and (surprisingly) through several pregnancies. Yes, the ladies have zippers down their backs — They are wearing costumes, and costumes are made to be re-used as rentals. But they are lavish and character oriented, as well as befitting a duchess and her circle of acquaintances. (And Susan Hampshire has always worn period costumes  — any period! — with complete naturalness.)  Raymond Hughes is the only costume designer credited. It was a massive undertaking.

Cover of the re-issued DVD series — 26 glorious episodes. Image copyright BBC and Acorn via Amazon.

Will passionate, romantic Cora give up the man she loves to marry the stiff, unemotional heir to a Dukedom, as their families have arranged? If so, will she be faithful? Will her husband survive a career in politics and marriage to Cora with his (and her) honor intact?

Can the son of an Irish country doctor afford to be a Member of Parliament — and how many women will be sacrificed to his ambition? (Money and Politics — still a timely topic! Ditto, Love and Loyalty.)

Will a slimy newspaper editor with political ambitions ruin men and women while paving his own way to power? (Long before the internet!)

Will the next set of costumes be even more lavish than the last?

I started watching for the costumes, and ended up unable to ration myself just one episode per day. (“I’ve been sitting her for three hours? even though I haven’t had dinner? How could I?”

But I regard those 20 hours in the recliner as time well spent. One quibble: not all the actresses were corseted properly. Nevertheless…. I loved it.

(P.S. I am walking normally now.)

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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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Patterns of Fashion Book Series Continues!

Cover image from Barnes & Noble website.

Very welcome news to costumers is that the great Patterns of Fashion book series begun by Janet Arnold, who died in 1998,  is being continued. Arnold wrote three gridded pattern books, (Patterns of Fashion 1660 to 1860, Patterns of Fashion 1860 to 1940, and Patterns of Fashion 1560 to 1620, and I just received information from the Costumers’ Alliance about a British source that is continuing her work.

Jenny Tiramani, principal of the School of Historical Dress in London said:

“Please tell people that we have decided not to use a distributor or to put the book for sale on Amazon. They take too much money and we need the funds to keep the school going and to publish Patterns of Fashion 6 & 7 which are both already in the pipeline!

We will be selling the book ourselves from our School of Historical Dress webshop and will try to give a good price for those people buying the book in countries far flung from the UK.

[Patterns of Fashion] 5 is in China being printed next week and published 31st October. …We need all the publicity we can get as the publisher of all future volumes of the series!”
Please support this incredibly rare and precious resource, the School of Historical Dress!! Here is where you can find their web site.

Click here to find out about current and upcoming volumes of Patterns of Fashion, plus other relevant publications.

Mantua, Late 17th century, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Other books include Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns (Vols. 1 & 2), and Waistcoats from the Hopkins Collection c. 1720-1950 “The waistcoats are shown with close-up details of its shape, construction and decoration, alongside images of people wearing similar styles from the same time period.” Janet Arnold’s other books are also available.

(One virtue of the Patterns of Fashion Series — aside from the meticulous research — is their large format: printed on extra wide paper, the scaled patterns are easy to refer to while you are working.)

Patterns of Fashion 4 covers body linens 1540 to 1660 — “the linen clothes that covered the body from the skin outwards. It contains 420 full colour portraits and photographs of details of garments in the explanatory section as well as scale patterns for linen clothing ranging from men’s shirts and women’s smocks, ruffs and bands to boot-hose and children’s stomachers.

 

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Trying to Put a Name to Forgotten Faces

I know where this picture was taken, but not when, or who it is. Monaco, Excelsior Art Gallery, 183 Main Street, Stockton, Cal. “The most artistic photographic work guaranteed, at moderate prices.” Ben Batchelder owned several photo galleries in Stockton from 1872 to 1891, but not necessarily the Excelsior at 183 Main…. So the picture is still undated.

Once a year (usually in December) I try to remind readers to use family get-togethers as an opportunity to bring out that box or scrapbook full of old family photos and go through them with the eldest members of the family. Try to put names to the faces. Someday, someone might thank you. (And you might hear some surprising stories….) If you’re lucky, more than one person will be able to put a name to the faces in the photos.

Photograph taken by Elliott and Harkness in Stockton, California. On the back the sitter has written, “Drunk when taken.” (I think he was kidding….)

I’d like to identify this man — he seems to have had a sense of humor. And he really was better looking than the “drunk” photograph implies:

Great hat. Now, who and when was he? A member of my family? or a friend who gave his picture to a pretty girl or to a member of the same fraternal organization? There’s no name on the back.

I’d also like to date his suit, hat, etc. If I knew his name, I could probably find out what he did for a living, and where he fit in the socio-economic scale. Did he live in Stockton, which was quite a large city by the 1880’s? Or was he a farmer who came into town so rarely that he had his picture taken to commemorate the event?

These children were also photographed in Stockton. I used Pioneer Photographers of the Far West to date these photos.

Two photographs taken at the Pioneer Gallery, 198 Main St., Stockton, CA.

A photographer named Ben Batchelder was active in Stockton from 1872 to 1891, but he only had the Pioneer Gallery at this address for three years: 1884 to 1887. It’s a clue; it eliminates some possible relatives because they were too old or too young to be this age in those years. It’s nice to be able to date these photos — but it would be nicer to know more about them. The date is not enough to identify this boy and girl.

Unknown boy in suit with short trousers, big bow. Photographed in Stockton, CA, between 1884 and 1887.

Unknown girl in a wool dress that looks home-made. Photographed in Stockton, CA, between 1884 and 1887.

By the 1980’s I had only one relative I could ask about family photos from the 1880’s and early 1900’s: my Aunt Dorothy, also known as Dot. (We can usually identify our close relatives, even if the picture was taken before we were born.) However, as I try to verify names and dates from public sources, I am discovering that — in the words of literary critics — she was an “unreliable narrator.” And, since I have been using photos she identified and dated to identify other photos, I made a serious error.

I had already figured out that some of the photos I inherited from Dot were probably labeled years after they were taken.

This photo — and many taken on the same weekend — says Monte Rio, July 4, 1921. Dot is 3rd from left, and my mother is on the far right.

She seems to have had many weekend getaways in 1921: in Monte Rio, in Santa Cruz, in Truckee, plus a trip to Washington State…. Or perhaps she just remembered having a good time in 1921, and wrote that on all of them (?)

Dot (back to camera) and The Gang from the Office, Truckee, CA, 1921.

Four women in Santa Cruz, CA, 1921. Dot is third from left. For more about their clothes, click here.

Dot in Granite Falls, Washington, 1921 (She wrote.)

I’m not blaming her — doesn’t everybody have a shoebox full of (pre-digital) photos that we finally get around to putting into a scrapbook years later? Her scrupulousness about writing dates on photos and on the scrapbook pages made me too trusting. I can recognize my Great Aunt Alice, because she was still alive (and lively) when I was a child. (That impish smile in the lower left photo captures the Alice I knew: shrewd and witty.)

Alice Barton: 1900’s, 1930s, 1950s.

My very young Aunt Dot is sitting on the steps with her brother Mel (in sailor suit.) The woman in stripes, center, is her Aunt Alice (my great-aunt.) But — is the woman in white her Aunt Cora or her Aunt Laura? I’m no longer sure.

Dot said this was Aunt Laura, but I’m no longer certain. Is it Laura or Cora? (That is a terrific coat — with an enormous hat — whoever is wearing them. Note the mud splashes around the coat’s hem.)

I believed that my Aunt Dot could tell the difference between her Aunt Laura and her Aunt Cora — they were still alive when she was an adult. But… trusting her identification of photos, I think I wrote a post about the wrong one!

I thought this was Great Aunt Cora, with an unknown man, and my Great Aunt Alice, in the 1930s. Their dresses are short and sleeveless, with belts at the waist: after 1925, probably close to 1930. (Other photos I have examined recently suggest that the man is their brother, John, who died in 1934. Three surviving siblings; that makes sense.)

My research in local sources [The San Mateo County Genealogical Society has amazing databases online!] finally located Cora and Laura’s death dates: Cora died in December of 1924; Laura lived until 1936. Therefore, the woman in glasses in this photo is probably Laura, the unmarried librarian, instead of Cora, the widow. (Oops!)

I subscribed to Ancestry.com a few years ago only because I wanted to access its collection of Sears, Roebuck catalogs. (And I would recommend this to anyone who needs to research “everyday clothing” instead of couture. You’ll get more information for $20 a month than from a dozen books.) But, once I noticed that Dot’s spelling of names was quite variable, I began using Ancestry.com to try to find the correct spelling of names for the people in her photos.

Azalia Dellamaggiore (as spelled on census records) on the courthouse lawn in Redwood City, CA, dated 1918. Dot’s shadow as she takes the picture is included.

Again, Dot did her best. If you asked me to spell the last names of everyone I have met in social situations, — well, I couldn’t. Also, after you meet people several times, and think of them as friends, it’s embarrassing to have to ask them what their last names are! What was Dot — a girl with an 8th grade education — to make of a name like Dale Lucchesi — or Luchese? or Luchassi… or Lucassi? (She pronounced it Loo chee’ zee.)

Dale Lucchesi [she wrote Lucassi here] sent this photo of himself to my aunt. Early 1920s.

Dale Lucchesi [she wrote Luchessis this time] sent this charming photo of “my little brother and I” to my aunt around 1921. (Look! A sleeve garter! and a tiny boy still in a dress!)

If Dale had given her a studio portrait with his signature on the back (as many of her old beaux did) she would have figured it out. Caston Popescul signed  his:

Studio portrait of Caston Popescul mailed from Columbus, Georgia, dated 1920. (He’s retained his WW I military haircut. For reasons I don’t understand, this haircut was back in fashion in 2017!) Caston was a soldier in the American Army when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1918.

C. Popescul and Dot Barton in Santa Cruz, 1921. (That’s what she wrote.)

Then there’s a military man sometimes identified as “Val:” Volowsky or Walasky or Walisky ….

“Volouskey” (or “Valowskey”?) changes a tire while Jack and Dot look on.

“Walasky” with a tank, on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, CA; dated 1920. There was a WW I military camp, Camp Fremont, in nearby Menlo Park.

Nick and “Walisky” at Neptune Beach. Dated 1920.

Dot and the soldier-with-the-hard-to-spell-name at Neptune Beach, Alameda, California. Dated 1920.

(Is that a box camera in her hand?)

Census Name Variations

I’m finding some wild spelling variations on census reports, too — possibly the fault of the census taker, or the person who happened to be at home to answer questions when the census taker knocked on the door — or a transcription error made when the hand-written census forms were typed into a database.

You wouldn’t think a four-letter name like Lipp would be a problem — but I found some Lipps under the name Siff. And Sipp. And Gipp.  Barton showed up as “Baldhoe” in 1940. So just imagine the variations I’ve found for the family of Augustus Feodorovich Moosbrugger, who emigrated from tzarist Russia at the age of 19 and married one of the Lipp girls; the name on her tombstone is “Alice Moosberger” — and my aunt Dot pronounced it “mooseburger.” Tasty!

I’m so glad someone identified this couple; it’s my mother’s father with Emma Emerson, whom he did not marry.

Dorothy’s father (b. 1862) with Emma Emerson — their names were written in pencil on the back. He married my grandmother in 1893, so this is earlier — probably 1880’s, as the dress suggests. [Taken in Stockton at Monaco Excelsior Art Gallery.]

It was a delight to find this picture:

Signed on the back, “Geo E. Meekins, Menlo Park, California.” It also says, “Age 25.” I found him in the Register of Voters: he was 25 in 1890. How satisfying!

The back of Meekins’ portrait is inscribed — in elaborate writing — “Geo. E. Meekins … Compliments to Miss Lillie M. Lipp,” Dorothy’s mother (my maternal grandmother.) Below, my Aunt Dot wrote, “Mama’s first fellow.” I think she got that one right.

Unknown woman in the snow, white fur muff and stole,  probably 1917 to 1922. I’m still looking for a photo that will identify her….

P.S. Thank you, Aunt Dorothy, for hundreds of photos!

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Great Aunt Cora: From Victorian to 1930s

EDITED 4/14/2018: Well, this is awkward…. Weeks after writing this post, based on photos identified by my late Aunt Dot, I finally located information about when my Great Aunt Cora and her sister Laura died. Cora, Mrs. McGarvey, died on December 31, 1924. Laura, the city librarian, died in an automobile collision in 1936. That means that the woman in glasses in this photo, whom I identified as Cora, is actually Laura.

Cora [Laura], an unknown man, and Alice, in the 1930s.

So it was Laura who wore short skirts in the 1920s, and horn-rimmed glasses, and worked outside the home for most of her life. Cora was not the merry — or at least, cheerful — widow that I thought she was. It was Laura who took road trips and adapted to changing fashions as shown in these photos.

This is definitely Cora, because she wrote the inscription on the back of the photo herself — “To Sister, From Aunt Cora.”

Cora as a young woman; there is a pretty comb or hair decoration in her bun. Her strong profile is one way I can distinguish her from her sister Laura, but it’s not always easy. [EDIT 4/17/18: No kidding! I often got it wrong — and so did my aunt, who still knew them when she was an adult.]

EDIT 4/17/18: Beyond this point — beware of unreliable identifications and deductions regarding Cora!

Left, my Great Aunt Alice; right, her older sister, Cora. Early 1900s. The unexpected bow in Cora’s hair may be an early indication of her un-stodgy fashion sense.

As I try to sort family photos, I am also trying to sort out their stories. At dinner last night, my husband gave me a strange look and said, “It’s hard to realize that you knew people born in 1875.” Well, I only knew them insofar as a child can know an adult, but I have vivid memories of my Aunt Alice in her seventies, still witty and clever. I wish I had known her older sisters, Cora and Laura.

Cora was the eldest, born in 1867.

Cora Barton as a child. She was born in California in 1867, the eldest child of five. [EDIT 4/17/18: this may not be Cora, in spite of what my aunt Dot wrote on the back of the photo. It was more common to photograph the firstborn child, especially if it was a boy: Cora’s brother Charles was born in 1862, when very young boys were sometimes dressed like this.]

When you think of the rapid change of Euro-American fashions in the 20th century (and before) it is extraordinary how often women had to adapt to new ideas — in clothing, and in concepts of modesty and propriety. [EDIT 4/17/18: At least this — the point of sharing all these photos — is true.]

Cora and Laura came into their teens in the era of outrageous 1880’s bustles. As the daughters of a Methodist Episcopal minister, they didn’t have a big budget, and it must have been important to look “respectable.” Here, they are reclining informally with a friend at a photographer’s studio:

Cora and Laura Barton with their friend Alice Mason. Probably late 1880s. [EDIT: No reason to doubt this photo — although the names of the sisters may not be in order….]

In 1920, she sent this old portrait photo of herself to her niece Dorothy, nicknamed “Sister” or “Sis” because she came along after two brothers. The back says, “To Sister, from Aunt Cora, July 1, 1920,” but the hair style is much earlier.

Cora as a young woman; there is a pretty jeweled comb or hairpin in her bun.

At the time of her marriage, the local newspaper reported that she had “had charge of the city library” for a number of  years. (Did they confuse her with her sister Laura, or did one replace the other as librarian?) [EDIT 4/17/18: Maybe everyone had trouble telling them apart?]

[Probably] Cora — who became Mrs. William McGarvey in 1896 — sitting on a porch hammock; probably early 1900’s.

She is wearing a shirtwaist with a collar that could accommodate a mannish, detachable stiff collar. They often appear on turn-of-the-century American women drawn by Charles Dana Gibson.

And she looks very sad.

Cora Barton McGarvey [EDIT: or this could be Laura….] in a shirtwaist blouse. I don’t have the expertise to date it precisely. This is one of the few pictures in which she looks like the eldest of the three sisters.

EDIT 4/17/18: Anything about Cora from this point on is suspect; she was married to Mr. McGarvey; the 1900 census information is correct; but she is not the woman identified as Cora in these photos.

I can’t say that her marriage was an unhappy one, but, as you will see, widowhood seemed to suit her. In the 1900 census, her two adult sisters were living at the same address as the McGarveys. William McGarvey, accountant, was listed as head of household, Cora as wife, and her sisters Laura and Alice as “servants.” There was one male “servant” or farmworker, and no mention of children. Cora’s husband died in 1918.

In the 1920 census, Cora was a widow, Laura was the city librarian, and Alice was a clerk at the county courthouse. Laura was listed as head of household, and her sisters were listed as her “partners.”

At 54, Cora [no, Laura], top left, looks quite fresh and modern in her checked dress in this photo from 1921. Her youngest sister, Alice, is holding their baby nephew. Do Cora and Laura [No, Cora] (in sweater) have cropped hair? It’s more likely that they have just cut bangs.

From this point on, Cora [Laura] wears glasses — and not “old lady” wire-rimmed glasses — “modern-in-the-twenties” horn rims.

Cora [No, Laura] eating watermelon on a road-trip vacation, 1920s.

Here’s another photo from the same vacation:

My mother, center, flanked by, on the left, her Aunt Alice (born in 1875) and right, her Aunt Cora, (born in 1867)  [EDIT: no, it’s Laura, born in 1869] climbing a hillside on their trip to Catalina Island, 1920’s. They don’t look at all like the stereotyped older women in 1920’s advertising or movies — no long skirts, no dark dresses, no lace collars. (However, their skirts are not as short as their 20-something niece’s.)

A reminder of the drastic changes in fashion they experienced —

Here are Cora [?] and Alice as they looked in their thirties:

The Barton sisters wearing the “pouter pigeon” look of the S-Bend era, probably before 1910.

And here they are in their fifties:

Left, Alice (b. 1875;) center, their sister-in-law, also born in 1875; and right, Cora, born in 1867 [EDIT: It is Laura, born in 1869.] These “late Victorian” women have all adopted short skirts and bobbed hair during the 1920’s.

And they kept right on wearing up-to-date clothing. Here, they have even adopted sleeveless dresses — these women who grew up wearing high collars, long sleeves, and floor length skirts.

Cora, an unidentified man, and Alice, in the 1930’s. [CORRECTION: Laura, probably her brother John, and Alice — the three surviving siblings. John died in 1934.]

They looked like they were having a good time on that vacation with my mother….

Cora [No, Laura], on the left, enjoying watermelon from a roadside stand, 1920’s. Cora/ Laura almost seems to be flirting with the camera. My mother is on the right.

I liked Cora’s playful pose so much that I tried to paint her:

“Watermelon Stop No. 2”

I wish I’d known her.

Cora, a sister-in-law, Laura, and Alice dressed as hoboes; note the little brown jug in Cora’s hand. Probably before 1910. [Edit: Or: Laura, a McGarvey sister-in-law, Cora, and Alice.]

P.S. If the story of fashion for older women interests you, be sure to visit the American Age Fashion blog.

 

 

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