Category Archives: Menswear

Book Recommendation: Three Books by Ruth Gordon, plus Vanity Fair

I am indulging an old addiction by re-reading all of Ruth Gordon’s non-fiction books. Most people know her from the movie Harold and Maude, (in which she is perfectly cast!) but she was already a well-known stage actress. (She started in 1915, flunked out of drama school, wouldn’t give up; by the 1930s she was a huge hit in London and on Broadway; she gave 1,078 performances as Dolly Gallagher Levi in The Matchmaker, and was nominated for a Tony award in 1956.)
She was a playwright (selling an autobiographical play to MGM for $100,000 in 1952 — it’s called The Actress, and Spencer Tracy plays her father;) a screenwriter (5 Oscar nominations with her husband Garson Kanin, including the Tracy/Hepburn comedies like Adam’s Rib.)
And she won her first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in Rosemary’s Baby in 1968-69. (She was 72 years old; she’d been acting since 1915.)  Accepting it, she said, “I can’t tell ya how encouragin’ a thing like this is….) See her acceptance speech here:
She published three books in her 70s and 80s; won an Emmy when she was 83 ….  In other words, a good role model for all of us!
I want some of her zest for life to rub off on me. (And her memory for funny stories. Among her many, many friends: Harpo Marx, Thornton Wilder, Charles Laughton, Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Parker, Walter Matthau …. A lot of laughter!)

Typical story: In the 1910s, Ruth was still a nobody, but she was friends with a Broadway star who asked her to keep her company on the way to a movie audition. The would-be movie actress was asked to improvise a scene. She was shown a movie set which contained a table with a vase of flowers, a letter, and a pistol. As Ruth described the try-out, (I’m paraphrasing:) The actress enters the room. She goes to the table. She sees the letter. She opens the letter. It’s bad news. It’s terrible news! She sees the gun. She picks up the gun. She shoots the letter.

And she didn’t get the part! I guess the studio already had a comedienne.

Another story: When Gordon was a Broadway star herself and a member of the Algonquin Round Table (along with writers and wits  Robert Benchley, Alexander Woolcott, Dorothy Parker…,) she was also a friend of silent movie and stage star Lillian Gish and her sister, Dorothy. The Gish sisters were living in an apartment in New York. The apartment was on an upper floor, and the Gish sisters had a pet parrot. Its wings were clipped, so it was free to wander around indoors. One summer day, they forgot that the window was open and let the parrot out of his cage. It hopped on to a chair, then on to the table, and then, to their horror, it hopped up on the windowsill and flew out the window — and immediately realized that it couldn’t fly.

“Oh, dear!” it cried, flapping its wings,
                                                                      “OH dear!,”
                                                                                                 “OOOOH DEAR!” all the way down.

Luckily it landed on a canvas-covered truck, rode to New Jersey, and was returned to the Gish sisters, a sadder but wiser bird.

Top left, Ruth Gordon, with Raymond Massie and Pauline Lord on Broadway in Ethan Frome, 1936. Photo by Steichen from Vanity Fair.

But I don’t read Gordon’s autobiographical books just for the laughs. She writes as if the reader is an old friend, so reading her is like chatting over lunch with a fabulous friend who is wise and shrewd and full of stories, with 80 years of life experience and still interested in everything.
She’s very honest about her life — triumphs and failures, happy memories and regrets. Her first husband died when he was only 36; (she was several years younger.) Later, after an affair with a married man,  she chose to raise her illegitimate son, rather than pretend he was adopted, as other stars did in the same situation. She was often broke, embarrassed by owing money to her more successful friends. When she was successful — as an actor and a writer — she wore couture and loved it. (Of course she wrote about the experience of shopping couture; the pink satin gown she wore while accepting her Oscar was a Givenchy.)
She has total recall of every dress her mother made for her or that she wore early in her career. (And I wonder, exactly what was “tango-colored” in 1913?)
But she also writes about poverty in her teens, when she and her factory-worker father sold everything — including her few childhood books — to pay for her mother’s care after a stroke. Struggling to get a start in her acting career, she was hungry enough to consider the “casting couch” route. If you want to know what it was like to tour with a play that opened in a different city every day, Ruth can tell you. (Some hotels didn’t accept actors, so she claimed to be a traveling saleswoman for Onyx Hosiery.)

Onyx Hosiery ad, 1910.

She made headlines during World War II:
“‘Actress forty-six marries film director thirty.” Her husband said he liked the headline. “If it said ‘Actress forty-five’ a lot of people would say ‘She’s fifty if she’s a day,’ but when an actress says she’s forty-six, you have to believe her.” It was a long, happy, successful marriage and writing collaboration. And the snappy exchange of dialogue in those Spencer Tracy/Kathrine Hepburn movies was the work of Ruth Gordon and her husband, Garson Kanin. (Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, etc.)
Incidentally, the only award she usually mentions was that Oscar in 1969.  In 1915, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts told her “Don’t come back. You don’t show any promise.” In 1968, they asked her to come back to give her an Award for Achievement and to make a speech to the students. Boy, did she!
Here’s Ruth:
“I think what it takes is don’t give up! DON’T GIVE UP! Just don’t give up and that sounds like a put-down, but it isn’t. And it sounds as though it’s easy and it isn’t. DON’T GIVE UP! I learned that at the Academy and it was all I did learn. It wasn’t what my father paid four hundred dollars [tuition] for, but it may be the best lesson I was ever taught. DON’T GIVE UP! …. At the end of the year [Mr. Sargent] said, “Don’t come back. You don’t show any promise….”
I was scared. I was scared I wouldn’t find out how to be an actress because in that year the school hadn’t taught me. I’m smart and I can learn, but the school hadn’t given me a clue. Four hundred dollars and all I got for it was fright, because even to myself I didn’t show any promise….  ‘Don’t come back,’ he said. That’s a terrible thing, you could drop dead…. You could kill yourself…. You could give up….
Or you could learn something. Isn’t that what we came to the Academy for? So I learned something and what I learned here was and is DON’T GIVE UP…. When somebody says to you,”You’re not pretty enough,” “You’re too tall,” You’re too short,” “Your personality’s not what we’re looking for,” DON’T GIVE UP!’ “
I bet she enjoyed saying every word of that! And she said a lot more, too…
“Most every moment along the way takes courage. Courage is like a strain of yoghurt culture, if you have some you can have some more.” (From An Open Book.)
Start by reading My Side, her autobiography. Published in 1976, available in paperback or hardback. Her style is conversational; she skips from topic to topic and memory to memory as if she was chatting with you, but once I decided to go with her flow, it was wonderful! And, if you want to know more about shooting movies, Ruth tells you the details of filming Harold and Maude.
Next, An Open Book,  published in 1980. (It includes that lecture at The Academy.}

Then, if you’re hungry for more,   Myself Among Others , published in 1971. You probably haven’t heard of many of the early 20th century celebrities Gordon knew well and writes about. Luckily for me, I bought an anthology of articles and celebrity photos from Vanity Fair magazine in the 1920s when I was a teenager in 1960 and didn’t own many other books. This photo of Leslie Howard permanently warped my idea of “an attractive man.”

How to wear a top hat, white tie, and tails: Leslie Howard photographed by Steichen for Vanity Fair, 1934.

Not only did this book prepare me for many of the plays I have designed costumes for, it acted as my first door into a different era, with jokes and essays by many writers and critics who were household names in the 1920s and 1930s.  If you love those decades, it’s full of photos and articles — not about the 1920s and 1930s but from the 1920s and 1930s. Many copies are available online, from under $4.

So, in addition to Ruth Gordon’s various memoirs,  I also recommend Vanity Fair: A Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s, edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee.

Clara Bow, photographed by Dyer for Vanity Fair in 1928.

And if you haven’t seen Ruth Gordon at work as an actress, forgive Harold and Maude for being so “Seventies” and just watch a genius at work. (It’s on YouTube and on Prime.) A big part of acting is listening — I just watched a brief clip and now I want to watch the whole movie again. Gordon also gave a Golden Globe-winning (and Oscar nominated) performance as Daisy Clover’s mentally ill mother in Inside Daisy Clover. (1966) It is not a good movie, but Gordon is truthful and real in every scene she has.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Musings

A Visit to January 1920, from Delineator Magazine

Ice skaters in an ad for Ivory Flakes laundry soap. Delineator, January 1920, page 4.

One hundred years ago, the January Delineator offered Butterick patterns, advice for the working girl (and her mother), sketches of Paris couture, and all kinds of advertisements. Enter the time capsule:

French couture from Doucet and Paquin. January 1920.

Butterick sewing patterns inspired by French designer styles.

Butterick sewing patterns, January 1920.

These are not what we usually think of when we hear “Twenties’ style,” but the decade was just getting started. Page three began an essay on the dangers awaiting naive young women who went out to work in offices….

“A Warning for Business Women…”

The “young, ignorant girl” applies for a job….

Her boss tells her that “he would go mad unless he could find a young girl who could understand him and care for him….”

Here, he offers her alcohol….****

And then, he escorts her home….

Her mother needs to warn her…. (Author: Josephine Stricker)

It was 100 years ago, but all of this sounds painfully familiar in the 21st century. At least we now acknowledge that saying ‘no” isn’t always enough.

If you had to work as a housemaid, the difficulties might be considerable. This little article about the life of a housemaid in England shows that even Delineator was shocked by their working conditions:

Delineator was aimed at middle and (aspiring) upper class women, but the plight of British housemaids was shocking.

Back to fashion: These Butterick patterns for misses (age 14 to 19, in most cases) show a hint of what women wore in the later 1920s:

A selection of Butterick patterns for misses in their teens. The schoolgirl’s outfit at right shows the straight, low-waisted trend of the future.

Dresses for grown women also offered some styles without exaggerated hips:

Daytime styles for women from Butterick, January 1920.

The bare arms of evening dresses, even for girls in their teens, surprised me. For more “very bare” gowns from 1920, click here.

For young men returning from WW I, these uncorseted young women in bare-armed dresses must have been a pleasant surprise.

What did women do about underarm hair?

Ad for DeMiracle hair remover, January 1920.

A prized gift in 1920 was a “Spanish comb,” often made from celluloid, “the first synthetic plastic material.  In this ad, a celebrity endorsing fingernail powder (yes, nails were buffed to a shine by most women) wears a Spanish comb:

Actress Kitty Gordon wears a Spanish comb in her hair while endorsing Graff’s Hyglo powder nail polish.

More Spanish combs. These are from 1922.

You could order your camisoles, nightgowns, bloomers, and combinations from Dove and other companies.

Ad for Dove Undergarments, January 1920.

WW I had made knitting more popular than ever; this is an ad for Fleischer yarns:

Knit yourself this aqua sweater with Fleischer Yarns.

The obsession with boyish figures has not yet appeared.

You could wash your woolens and fine lingerie with Ivory Soap Flakes.

Well into the Twenties, women shaved their own soap flakes from bar soap, so this was a modern convenience product.

Also convenient: Rubber shoe covers.

Rubber shoe covers slipped on over your shoes in 1920. The shoes might be worn with gaiters that laced up the front. Some shoes had built-in gaiters.

Later in the 1920s, the B.F.Goodrich rubber company introduced a winter shoe cover with a slide fastener closing, giving us the word “Zipper.”

Mothers could find ads for maternity corsets in 1920:

The H & W maternity corset ad, January 1920.

And safety pins had been around for over a century:

Changing diapers was easier after the rust-proof safety pin became widely available. January 1920 ad.

It was appropriate that a magazine designed to sell sewing patterns should have ads for sewing machines.

The Davis sewing machine was portable and electric.

The Davis portable electric sewing machine was operated by a foot pedal. [I made clothes on a (non-electric) treadle sewing machine in the 1960s. Wish I still had one, even though it took up a lot of room.]

This ad should hold a special interest for all us who love Daphne DuMaurier’s novel Rebecca. In a scene often described as the most un-romantic marriage proposal ever, Maxim de Winter includes the information that “I prefer Eno’s.”

Ad for Eno’s Fruit Salts, a laxative. January 1920.

(Let’s hope it wasn’t the Washington Monument in this ad that attracted his attention.)

Eno’s Fruit Salts ad, January 1920.

To see the marriage proposal scene from the excellent (and faithful) 1979 TV adaptation of Rebecca, starring Joanna David and Jeremy Brett, click here.

**** I am irresistibly reminded of the limerick about “the young lady of Kent/ who said that she knew what it meant/ when men asked her to dine/ over cocktails and wine….” Perhaps her mother had explained it to her after reading the article in Delineator.

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Filed under 1920s, Combinations step-ins chemises teddies, Maternity clothes, Menswear, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Underthings, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs

Learning from Browsing at CoPA

One of 64,000 pattern images you can find online at the Commercial Pattern Archive.

I know I recommend the online Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island too often, but it just keeps revealing new reasons to visit. (Online Inventory last time I checked: 64,681 sewing patterns; mostly 1840s through 1970s.)
I can’t link to CoPA images anymore, because users now need to create a login, but you just create a user ID name and a password, and log in to use a totally free website! I never get email from them.

Two Butterick patterns from February, 1922. Delineator.

I’ve been sorting through my Delineator photos from 1922, and happened to log in to CoPA to check construction details — not really expecting to find much. However, I found a surprisingly large number of Butterick patterns from 1922 archived — and that means images of both back and front of the pattern envelope. You can see the shape of the pattern pieces!

“Armistice” blouse 1922 pattern The Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) has put over 60,000 vintage patterns online.

If you are trying to replicate a vintage pattern, whether you use drafting or draping, seeing the shape of the original pieces is very helpful.  And if, like me, you have no intention of re-creating the pattern, (that used to be part of my job) you can still learn a lot about vintage clothing construction.

NOTE: The images from CoPA that I show here do not reflect the quality of CoPA images online.  Because I couldn’t download them directly, I printed them, scanned them, and put them into a “500 dpi on the longest side” format. Unfortunately, I scanned the prints at the “black & white” resolution instead of at the “photograph” resolution. Image quality was lost on my scanner, not CoPA’s.

This bad image is not what Butterick 4025 looks like at the CoPA site. (https://copa.apps.uri.edu/index.php)

Elastic in 1920’s garments

There was a time when I was suspicious of any so-called vintage 1920s’ garments that depended on elastic. That was just my ignorance, based on “book learning” and classroom generalizations. Once I started really paying attention to vintage pattern magazines and pattern envelopes, my mind opened a bit!

All of these 1922 patterns include casing for elastic at the (usually lowered) waist.

Tunic Blouse 3462

Butterick tunic blouse 3462 from Delineator, January 1922.

If you sew, you know that there is a lot of information on the pattern envelope that you won’t find in the pattern’s catalog description.

CoPA shows images from the front and back of the pattern envelope whenever possible. The version at top right shows the tunic with “cascades” at the sides.

Pattern 3462 included a variation with “cascade” panels on each side, and the information that the waist could have elastic.

I’m surprised that there is no elastic casing pattern included, but it was mentioned in Delineator magazine’s pattern description (January 1922, p. 26.)

Dress 3460

Butterick 3460, Delineator, January 1922, keeps its shape with elastic at the slightly dropped waist. (Left, a Spanish comb in her hair.)

The front of the pattern envelope, from the Commercial Pattern Archive.

“Ladies’ and Misses’ One-Piece Dress, “Closed at the Back, with or without Elastic in Casing at Low Waistline or Blouse Body Lining.”

The pattern pieces for Butterick 3460, from CoPA.

This detail shows an inside belt and length of elastic. It also reminds us that the 1920s’ blouson effect was sometimes achieved with an optional inner bodice lining. (With bust dart!)

Pattern description from Delineator, January 1922.

This simple dress was also illustrated with a matching cape:

Butterick dress 3460 with matching cape, Butterick 3589. Delineator, March 1922.

Coat 3594:  This coat, which I find bulky but oddly appealing, could be controlled with elastic at the waist:

Butterick coat 3594 is gigantic, but beautifully trimmed…. Delineator, March 1922.

Butterick coat 3594 in Delineator magazine illustrations.

The front of the pattern envelope. In the online CoPA archive, the image is much clearer (and they have several copies of this pattern!)

Pattern pieces from the envelope. CoPA will tell you how to print a larger image (See CoPA Help)

Rubber elastic tends to degrade faster than the other components of the garment, so the elastic itself may not be present in a vintage dress (or underwear.) But these patterns confirm its use.

I was surprised to see this “Armistice” blouse [Not what they were originally called] issued in 1922. It can have elastic in a casing at the waist:

The “Armistice blouse” was still available as a pattern in the 1920s. The center panel is the “vestee.”

Pattern pieces for Butterick 3672 from CoPA.

Searching CoPA for a specific pattern: “Search by Pattern Number”

After you create a log-in at CoPA, you can search for any pattern by number (e.g., type in “3672” and select “Butterick” from the pattern company pull-down list. Chose “Any” collection. Results will show you images and links to further information — including the date for every pattern they have!   Say you own Vogue 1556, by Yves St. Laurent? CoPA’s archive number will tell you it was issued in 1966. (If you have an approximate date, you can also date patterns which are not in the archive by finding where they would be in the company’s number sequence and checking their resemblance to other styles and envelopes from the same year….)

Browsing through a year or group of years: use “Complete Search”

Or you can click on “Complete Search” and search by year (or a period of several years, e.g. 1920 through 1926 — just hold down the shift key while selecting.) You can limit your search in many ways (e.g., “male” + “adult;” or  “1945” + “hat” +”McCall;” or “1877 + “Any”….)

One of hundreds of McCall patterns from the 1920s you can find at the Commercial Pattern Archive. McCall 5315 from 1928.

Trying CoPA: If you love a specific decade, start with one year (e.g., “1928” + “McCall”  + Collection: “Any”) By the mid-1920s, McCall pattern envelopes had beautiful, full color illustrations. New to CoPA? Start with McCall in the 1920s, or try McCall in 1958! Less well-known pattern companies are also well-represented. Scroll though the “Pattern Company” pull-down for Hollywood, Advance, La Moda, Pictorial Review, DuBarry, & dozens more.

TIP: Be sure you set the final category (Collection) to “Any” if you want to search the complete archive. Otherwise, you’ll miss some good stuff! Also, search more than one way. “Medical uniform” (Category: Garment) got 20 results; “Nurse uniform” (Category: Keyword) got 38. It’s not a complaint; just what happens when many people try to describe things for a spreadsheet.

Next: Pattern pieces for side drapes (“cascades”.)

The dress at right has a cascade at each side.

 

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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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Filed under 1920s, Bathing Suits, Boys' Clothing, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, Dating Vintage Patterns, Hosiery, Hosiery, Men's Sportswear, Menswear, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Accessories, Women in Trousers

What Made a Blouse a Shirt-Waist in 1909-1910? I Don’t Know.

Shirt-waist from Delineator article, February 1910, p. 97.

I wish I could give a definitive answer to “What’s the difference between a ‘shirt-waist’ and a blouse or ‘waist?’ ”

But: fashion writing…. (sigh.) It’s not the most precise art.

A mixture of “Shirt Waists” and “Waists” (sometimes called blouses.) Top of page 54, National Cloak & Suit catalog, 1909.

I thought I could pick out the “Shirt Waists” from this catalog at a glance. I was wrong. This page of women’s “waists” and “shirt-waists” from the National Cloak & Suit Company for 1909 (Dover Books: Women’s Fashions of the Early 1900s: An Unabridged Republication of New York Fashions, 1909) shows the confusion. (You can also find it as a PDF online.)

My instinct after pouring through books and magazines was to think that, if it unbuttons down the front, it’s a “shirt-waist.” But that’s probably because of the shirtwaist dresses I wore in the 1950s and 1960s. Those didn’t necessarily (or usually) button all the way down the front to the hem, but they always closed with buttons at least to the waist in front.

Left, Shirt Waist 4614. That’s what I was expecting.

I think most of us would recognize that No. 4614 (top left) is a “tailored shirt-waist,” “nattily mannish.” It visibly buttons down the front, and the collar opens in the center front, too. But what, exactly, makes it a Shirt Waist?

No. 4616 (on the same page) is also described as a “Shirt Waist.” [Although those buttons are purely decorative….]

No. 4616 is a “Tucked Shirt Waist of India Lawn.” “The front displays groups of tiny pearl buttons.” Does it actually open down the front? No. It “buttons in back.”  Does the collar open in front? No. (Collars were often connected to the garment at one side, and opened at the side neck or back neck, being finished and hanging free where not attached. So the collar opening is inconclusive.) What makes it a Shirt Waist?

Shirt Waist 4614 and “Waist” No. 4613. What’s the difference? I don’t know.

No. 4613 (right, next to Shirt Waist 4614) has a “visible button closing in front” and a “detachable turn-over linen collar.” But it’s a “Waist.” Apparently a stiff detachable collar isn’t the criterion, either.

Maye I’m putting too much faith in the copy writer…. Or maybe it has to do with tucked pleats…?

Right, Shirt Waist 4625. But No. 4630, left of it, is described as a “Waist.” Page 56. Both are pleated…. And both really do button down the front — somehow.

Above: No. 4625 (at right) is a “Shirt Waist of Pure linen… mannishly finished with detachable stiff linen collar….” This one looks like a shirt-waist to me, too!

Below: a blouse waist and a shirt waist.

Right, Shirt Waist No. 4633. Left, Waist 4635.  Yes! To me, No. 4635 looks like a blouse waist and 4633 looks like a shirt waist. (Page 57.) If only it were this simple.

No. 4633, above right, is a “Shirt Waist.” It “closes visibly with pearl buttons through a box-plait…..” and has “stiff link cuffs of the [striped shirt] material. Detachable linen collar.” And it’s pleated/tucked.

“Shirt Waist” No. 4641, from page 58.

No. 4641 is another “Shirt Waist” with button front opening and detachable collar. Embroidery and other feminine touches do not disqualify a “waist” from being a Shirt Waist. A Shirt Waist can even have a side front closing, like the one below. But it does seem to need full length sleeves, like a man’s business shirt.

No. 4611 — with its asymmetrical closing, is still a Shirt Waist. Page 53.

On the other hand….

“Waist” No. 4607, page 58.

No. 4607, which “closes visibly with pearl buttons ” down the tucked front, and has a “detachable stiff linen collar”  — [surely this is a shirt waist?] — is a “Waist of fine quality Linene.” A “Waist!”

At this point I began to consider the “all the news that fits the print” principle; the copy writer is required to squeeze the selling points into the available room for text, because this is a catalog. The word “Shirt” might be edited out to fit the space available. However, there seems to be plenty of room in that listing for more than one additional word! (That’s a long series of dots!)

So I went back to good old Delineator magazine. There, the same pattern may be described both ways, as is No. 3754, which is a “waist” in the illustration and a “shirt-waist” in the accompanying text.

Butterick waist 3754, Delineator, April 1910, p. 294.

Butterick 3754 pattern description, Delineator, April 1910, page 294. “A new style of shirt-waist. No. 3754….”

Alternate views of Butterick 3754. Delineator, April 1910, page 294. So many variations!

At least the Butterick “Waist” and “Shirt-Waist” patterns in Delineator have some justification for being described both ways: unlike a store-bought waist, a blouse/waist pattern could be made more than one way. The same blouse pattern might be made with the soft collar option or a stiff, detachable, turn-down collar. (And a collar like the one at left might be made separately and basted into place when wanted.) Other options were gathers instead of tucks, and either long or 3/4 sleeves.

Butterick shirt-waist pattern 3595; two versions from February 1910.

Two views of Butterick 3595: with attached collar (L) and ready for a detachable collar (R).

Notice the buttonhole in the back of the version on the right; it is ready to have a stiff, detachable collar secured with a collar button or stud, just like men’s business shirts.

Butterick Shirt-waist 3757, two views from April 1910. Page 297.

Another incarnation of Butterick Shirt-Waist 3757. The frill is probably a “button-in” option, as it was on No. 3754.

In this version, it opens down the front with a row of visible buttons, it has a stiff, detachable collar, it has stitched-down pleats or tucks, and long sleeves with French cuffs. But, as shown in its other views, … not necessarily!

One other thing to keep in mind: men’s shirts did not always open all the way down the front in the early 1900s. So the complete center front button opening on women’s waists may not be key to defining a “shirt waist.”

This man’s shirt has a CF button placket, but it doesn’t reach the bottom hem.

This man’s pull-on shirt has a striped bib with button placket, on a plain knit shirt.

Man’s knit shirt with striped fabric bib.

In conclusion (and confusion) I present:

Caption for illustration of Butterick 3716. Delineator, April 1910. p. 295.

Is that what they were thinking? Delineator, April 1910, p. 295.

I’m looking forward to comments from anyone who can definitively define the women’s “shirt waist” for me 🙂

Click here for the Fashion Institute’s essay on shirtwaists.   [EDIT 5/30/19;  I asked and I received: for some very helpful suggestions — and the information that men’s shirts could also be called “shirt-waists” — see the comments below from Peter Pane!]

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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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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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April 1914: Pygmalion Costumes and Stories

Most people know the play Pygmalion in its musical comedy version, My Fair Lady.

From the jacket of Huggett’s book, The Truth About Pygmalion. Left, Sir Herbert Beerbom Tree as Henry Higgins; Right, Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle.

George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion first opened in London in April, 1914. There are lots of photos of this production and of the original costumes.

1914 photos of Mrs. Pat as Eliza Doolittle. She was wearing the costume on the right (in Act III) when Eliza shocked London by uttering the phrase, “not bloody likely!”

Contemporary cartoons show Eliza wearing a feathered hat more like this one with that printed suit from Act III. Delineator, January 1914

Shaw directed the play himself; the stars were Herbert Beerbohm Tree (a successful actor-producer who owned the theatre where Pygmalion opened,) and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, known as “Mrs. Pat” (or, to Shaw, who was attracted to her, “Stella.”) A very entertaining account of this production is The Truth About Pygmalion, by Richard Huggett. Three massive egos were at work; at 49, the leading lady was much too old to be playing young Eliza Doolittle, which led to insecurity and bad temper; as Henry Higgins, Beerbom Tree hadn’t mastered his lines, so he pinned notes to the backs of furniture all over the set; and since both Shaw and Mrs. Pat were famous wits, the pre-production discussions and rehearsals were rather amusing [if you weren’t involved!] This 2004 article cites some of the backstage details (but does not mention Huggett’s book.) For example, Tree (and audiences ever since) expected a romantic ending for Eliza and Higgins. Shaw, writer and director, was adamant that his play did not end that way.

As Samantha Ellis wrote in The Guardian: ‘…Shaw returned for the play’s 100th performance, but was horrified to find that Tree had changed the ending; Higgins now threw Eliza a bouquet as the curtain fell, presaging their marriage. Now that [Shaw’s] affair with Campbell was over, the romantic ending was particularly galling. “My ending makes money; you ought to be grateful,” scrawled Tree. “Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot,” snarled Shaw.’ ***

At a time when Shaw and Tree were barely speaking, Shaw sent him a long letter filled with directorial suggestions. Tree wrote, “I will not go so far as to say that all people who write letters of more than eight pages are mad, but it is a curious fact that all madmen write letters of more than eight pages.”  Tree was not a bystander in the battle of wits.

Act III, making small-talk: Eliza (carefully pronouncing her ‘aitches’) is telling Mrs. Eynesford-Hill (left) and her daughter (right) about her suspicions that her gin-drinking aunt was “done in.”

In 2014, a century after that first night, the Guardian newspaper ran a 100th anniversary article showing photos from many productions. Click here. This photo is from the original 1914 production; it’s interesting because Shaw specified that Eliza is wearing a Japanese kimono when her father comes to call. (He’s actually hoping to extort money from Professor Higgins.) Her appearance in a kimono leads her father to assume that she is Higgins’ mistress. The shocking, undressed, quality of Mrs. Patrick Campbell’s luxurious  brocade costume is not obvious from the script:

Shaw wrote:

[(Doolittle) hurries to the door, anxious to get away with his booty. When he opens it he is confronted with a dainty and exquisitely clean young Japanese lady in a simple blue cotton kimono printed cunningly with small white jasmine blossoms. Mrs. Pearce is with her. He gets out of her way deferentially and apologizes]. Beg pardon, miss.

THE JAPANESE LADY. Garn! Don’t you know your own daughter?

DOOLITTLE [exclaiming] Bly me! it’s Eliza!

The photo shows that Mrs. Pat’s costume was not quite the prim cotton kimono which Shaw described!

Two original color sketches for Mrs. Pat’s Eliza Doolittle costumes are in the collection of the V&A museum. They were made by/designed by Elizabeth Handley Seymour. Click here for a color sketch of that Act III [yellow] suit, and here for Eliza’s Act V costume, adapted from a design by Poiret.) 

Photographs of Eliza’s first “flower girl” costume could be purchased by fans; this is a costume from later in the play.

Eliza’s evening gown is suggested in this sketch:

Eliza, in evening dress, throws a slipper at Higgins. In rehearsal, Mrs. Pat accidentally hit him. Tree had forgotten she would throw a slipper at him, and burst into tears.

Butterick evening costume made from waist (bodice) 6688 and skirt 6689. Delineator, Feb. 1914.

If you are interested in the long relationship between Shaw and Mrs. Pat, a “two-hander” play called Dear Liar, by Jerome Kilty, is based upon the letters exchanged by George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Pat at the time when he was in love with her, and for decades after.  (She had surprised him painfully by getting married to someone else two nights before Pygmalion opened.)  There is a good review of a 1981 Hallmark TV production here.

There are many anecdotes about Mrs. Pat; when she was young, beautiful, and at the height of her success, a playwright who wanted her to appear in his next production made the mistake of insisting that he read his entire script aloud to her. He had not lost all the traces of his Cockney accent. Mrs Pat listened for over two hours. When he finished and asked her opinion of the play, she said, “It’s very long… even without the ‘aitches.’ ”

When she was old and broke, she was devoted to her pet dogs, which she carried everywhere with her. When one of them left a mess on the floor of a taxi, she assumed her most impressive demeanor and said, in a voice that had once thrilled thousands, “It was me!

Sexually liberated, she is credited with saying (about a notorious divorce case,) “It doesn’t matter what you do [in the bedroom] as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”  When asked why she married George Cornwallis-West in 1914, she said, “He’s six foot four — and everything in proportion.” There is plenty of entertaining reading about Shaw, Beerbom Tree, and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

Eliza Doolittle sold bunches of violets, like this one. Delineator, 1914.

Many people only know the musical adaptation of this play, My Fair Lady by Lerner and Lowe, which was made into a movie with famous costume designs by Cecil Beaton. Beaton was inspired by the “black Ascot” of 1910, when all of high society wore black or white in mourning for King Edward VII. (This also allowed Beaton to avoid the wide-hipped gowns of 1914.) In fact, Shaw finished his original script of Pygmalion in 1911, so setting the play (or musical) a few years earlier than 1914 is perfectly logical. In 1914 it had to look fashionably up-to-date. That’s not a problem any more!

In case you are costuming either the straight play or musical version, I’ll share some inspiration from 1914, although you may prefer the styles of 1910…. It’s up to you (and the director….)

Two outfits from January, 1914. Butterick patterns from Delineator.

One of Mrs. Pat’s Pygmalion costumes had a dark mid-section rather like this one:

The dark “sash” at the waist would flatter a portly figure like Mrs. Pat’s. Butterick coat 667 with skirt 6664, February 1914.

A range of styles from March 1914; National Catalog. (The skirt on the green one? Arrrrgh!)

Below are real fashion photos from 1914. They may make you think twice about those 1914 silhouettes….

French couture fashions in Delineator, April 1914.

Dresses from 1910 are curvy — but perhaps a little stodgy…. On the other hand, those 1910 white lingerie dresses would be quite a transformation for Eliza.

Left, a lingerie dress. Butterick princess gowns “appropriate for dressy wear.” Delineator, January 1910.

1910 gowns and a suit from the National Cloak Co. catalog.

The two on the left could be Mrs. Eynesford-Hill and her daughter. Mrs. Higgins also has to show mature elegance. Butterick patterns, 1910.

In the 1992 production at London’s National Theatre (RNT,) Mrs. Higgins wore a marvelous, artsy teagown that epitomized the “Liberty” fashion reform/Arts and Crafts look (– the equivalent of being a “hippie” in the 1880s.) It made perfect sense that she could have accidentally raised a self-centered man-child like Henry Higgins. (Designer: William Dudley.) As Higgins, Alan Howard flew into tantrums like an overgrown 2-year-old. Very funny. Sadly, I can’t find that photo today.

Perhaps it’s just her pose that looks so self-assured. January 1910. Eliza could wear that skirt with a simple blouse in Act II.

This lace-trimmed ensemble is from a fabric ad: Himalaya cloth from Butterfield & Co. February 1910. Is that Eliza’s facial expression — asserting her independence — from Act V?

*** Once a play opens, the director moves on to other jobs and the stage manager is left to make sure every audience sees the same play that opening night critics saw. Probably my favorite story about the propensity of actors to “improve” the production as time goes by is: After a few weeks, the director returned to watch the play, standing quietly behind the audience. The leading man had expanded his role considerably. At intermission he received a telegram from the director: “Am watching the play from the back of the house STOP Wish you were here.”

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Vintage Photos for the Holidays

A little girl communicates with her “Paw Pa” through an ear trumpet. Family photo.

“Can you hear me now?”

It’s time for my annual reminder to keep a box of unidentified family photos and an acid-free pen or a pencil at hand for the quiet moments at family gatherings.

Gertrude, Mack, and Nina Holt with their mother “on her 70th birthday” (1938.) They lived in Pulaski, Tennessee, and sent this to their brother Leonard, in the Army in San Francisco. “I sure do wish Leonard was on here and then the 4 children and mother could all be together.”

Any time you gather with your eldest relatives and friends is a good time to chat about the past. Family stories need to be passed down. (Bonus: you won’t have to talk politics….)

If you think you’ve heard all the stories before, consider that now that you are fully adult, seniors may be willing to tell you things they wouldn’t speak of when you were a child:  failed marriages, lost loves, siblings who died young or were never mentioned for some other reason. (I certainly learned some surprising things when I asked as a adult!) Perhaps there is a terrific story behind one of those faces. Besides, sometimes the stories are funny — and just waiting to be told when the time is right.

Today’s photos come from a side of my family I never knew.  My aunt Dorothy’s husband, Leonard H. Holt, died suddenly a short time before I was born.

My uncle Leonard Holt, serving in World War II.

Dorothy, Holt, and Dorothy’s mother. Redwood City, CA, about 1919.

Dorothy is dressed in hiking clothes, and Holt is wearing “civvies” although he served at nearby Camp Fremont, an Army training camp during the First World War.

L. H. Holt standing in front of a Southern Pacific Railway building in San Francisco. Picture dated 1923.

Dorothy did tell me that Holt was very particular about his clothes, and had his army uniforms tailored to fit well. Look at his elegant shoes! After Dorothy died, I found some of Holt’s silk shirts (with white French cuffs and made for a detachable collar) stored in the cedar chest that once held her wedding linens — a “hope chest” as unmarried girls called them. Holt’s shirts were beautiful, in soft pastel colors or stripes that epitomized the Arrow Shirt man’s look.

I think they were married about 1925. In 1930, Holt was still in the Army, and the couple lived on the Presidio, a beautiful Army base in San Francisco.

Dorothy and Holt vacationing in the snow, early 1930s.

In spite of war-time travel restrictions, Holt’s nephew (?) Jody Holt (serving in an Army band at the time) was visited by his sweetheart “Miss Meek” and his mother (?) Sally Holt, in San Francisco. 1945.

Holt died of a heart attack not long after this happy family visit.

Dorothy was so grief-stricken that she had a sort of breakdown, and didn’t speak of him very often, but she kept up a correspondence with his large family, including the Garners (his mother’s family) in Tennessee. In 1975, someone sent her a photo of the old family home on the farm:

“The little old home on the farm, Pulaski, Tenn, Oct. 1975. Mack Holt’s Farm.”

Mack was still alive, and his new home was much larger.

Holt’s brother Mack apparently kept the old family farm, maintaining the tiny old farmhouse, and lived in a newer, larger house — a family success story. There is great information on the back of the photo, including “Mack J. Holt, Murry Drive” & “Leonard’s brother.”

The great thing about photos exchanged by mail is that they are often labeled or signed, including long notes on the back  — a treasure for genealogists.

Many of these children are Leonard and Dorothy’s nieces and nephews. The back of the picture is full of information.

The back of a photo of many Holt family children. It tells us that Holt’s sister Nina had five children, and that his sister Gertrude had children (one called Hickie) and grandchildren. I don’t know who Estelle was, but that’s a trail to follow.

This photo gave me the names of Nina and Gertrude’s husbands: (Oddly, there’s another Mahlon in the family, her uncle….)

“Nina + Howard” and “Gertrude + Mahlon”

This photo is so old that is has cracked, but luckily the faces and their names are intact: “Leonard’ s Father The Holt Boys John & Mahlon Holt.” JH is on the right.

Unfortunately,  not all the pictures mailed from Tennessee are labeled.

All I know about this couple is that they were photographed in Pulaski. Is this the same mustached man who appears far right in the large group photo below?

Perhaps there are folks in Pulaski, Tennessee, who will recognize their ancestors in this large, undated picture. (It’s 7.5 x 9″) I’d be happy to send it to someone who’d treasure it.

Studio photograph of the Holt family of Pulaski, Tennessee. There are no names on the back, but I think I recognize John Holt, standing 2nd from right, from another photograph. (He died in 1904.) I believe one of the young boys is Leonard H. Holt.

The woman seated center in this photograph appears to be wearing a mourning hat and black veil.

Detail of woman in widow’s cap.

Could the man seated in front, with a large mustache, possibly be this mystery man, photographed with both Holt and Dorothy, probably in the 1920s?

Unknown man with very large mustache, standing with Leonard H. Holt, probably at the Presidio in San Francisco, probably 1920s.

Mustached mystery man with Dorothy Barton Holt, probably at the Presidio in San Francisco, and, judging from her clothing, in the 1920s.

I believe this man was a visiting relative — there are many pictures of him. I could easily believe he’s from Tennessee….

[For any genealogist interested in the large group picture — or in any of these people, I believe these are relatives of Leonard H. Holt, born in Pulaski, Giles County, Tennessee on February 2, 1893 or (probably) 1894. His parents were John Richard Holt (1868-1904) and Metta Ann Garner (1868-1939).  Their other children included Gertrude “Mamie” Holt (1893-1986), Katrina “Nina” Holt (1897 – ?), and McCallum “Mack” Holt (1900-?) My Uncle Holt (his wife never spoke of him by any other name) died of a heart attack while serving in California in 1945. At the time of his death, according to his wife, he held the rank of captain. They were childless. I think he was a Freemason, and Dorothy belonged to the Eastern Star — for those who can search such records. I have many photos of Holt family relatives, and no one to give them to.] You can contact me through witness2fashion@gmail.com

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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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