Category Archives: Musings

Costume Shop Stories: The Muslin

Cartoon by Baumer from The Way to Wear’em. Please do not copy.

It sometimes seems that I am obsessed with styling tricks that help women look more slender than they really are. This is a chronic problem for theatrical designers; it’s true that people sometimes look a few pounds heavier in photos than in real life, and actors have to pay attention to their appearance. It’s a competitive business. In the early 1980’s I worked with a woman who was a costumer at a major motion picture studio. This is one of her stories:

Cartoon (dated 1877) from The Way to Wear’em. Please do not copy.

An actress who had a huge success on Broadway was (very wisely) cast to play the same part in the movie version of the musical. A very famous costume designer was hired. The initial designs were approved, but when the fittings began, they often ended badly.

The actress was nervous, and found fault with every costume. She was convinced they made her look fat. She knew all too well that she was not a conventionally pretty girl by Hollywood’s cookie cutter standards. And she really wanted to be a movie star….

Movie actor paper doll from Delineator, April 1917.

The actress kept rejecting her costumes, and the costume shop was falling behind schedule, while the Academy Award (TM) winning costume designer redesigned and redesigned….

What is a Muslin?

If you’ve never had a custom-made or couturier gown, you may not realize that the first version (called the toile, or muslin) is usually made of unbleached muslin — plain, off-white cotton fabric.
The fit and the design details are easily marked on the muslin — move a seam here, lower the waistline there, make the collar higher or wider, etc. Once the designer is satisfied, the costume shop uses the muslin to make a revised pattern before cutting into the real fabric. Then the white muslin is replaced by the actual costume materials — perhaps in dark blue, or rich brown, or crimson — for the second fitting.

But the nervous star rejected one muslin after another.

“We’re in the Movies Now;” article from Delineator, March 1934.

On stage, an actor is in constant communication with the audience.  The actor is in control of his performance. However, a film actor, unlike a stage actor, has much less control over her performance on screen. The director and the film editor choose what the audience will eventually see.

In the costume shop, however, a star can exercise a little power, and the more anxious he or she is, the more that anxiety sometimes gets displaced to the one area where control seems possible: the costumes. This process is stressful for the shop, but understandable, especially when the actor’s future career may be at stake.

Solution: When the actress left after another unsuccessful fitting, the costume shop supervisor grabbed several rolls of unbleached muslin and had them all dyed dark gray. The shop made a new set of muslins (actually the same designs as the last set) of dark, dark muslin — closer in value to the colors of the actual costumes.

When she saw herself in the mirror, wearing a slenderizing dark color instead of white — the anxious actress approved them all.

Cartoon (1929) from The Way to Wear’em. Please do not copy.

There is no “villain” in this story — just a problem and a solution.

P.S. If you haven’t read Christina Walkley’s wonderful fashion history illustrated by cartoons from Punch, I highly recommend The Way to Wear’em.

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Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade

Ollie

Can a dress change a life? Probably not, unless you’re Cinderella. But a dress can mark a turning point in your life…. I inherited many photos of a young woman named Ollie Cornelius. Often, there is an air of sadness about her.

Studio portrait of Ollie Cornelius, taken in Colusa, CA.

I’ve been trying to find out more about her from an ancestry site, with limited success. Ollie Cornelius and my mother became friends as young teenagers, and they were still writing to each other in 1950.

Ollie, left, and my mother, right (with ukelele) in a school playground, Redwood City, CA, circa 1918.

Ollie posing in a schoolyard. She is wearing a corduroy jacket over her school uniform. Circa 1918.

Young Ollie on a bench in Redwood City, CA. Although posing for a friend, she doesn’t look happy.

Ollie looks sad in the next photo because, having made friends in a new city — Redwood City, California — she was uprooted when her family moved again, to Colusa, 148 miles away.

Ollie in Colusa, CA, about 1919.

On the back she wrote, “When I had this picture taken I was thinking of Redwood City [That’s] why I look so sad.”

Today friends exchange photos instantly; then, people also kept in touch by mailing photographs back and forth. Luckily for us, these pictures often have writing on the back.

Ollie posing on a bridge, about 1919. This is not a period for flattering fashions…. but she knew how to wear an enormous black tam-o-shanter.

In her later teens, Ollie’s sadness had a more serious cause: she was diagnosed with tuberculosis — the “consumption” that killed so many in Victorian times.

On the back of the bridge photo, Ollie wrote, “This was taken before I was sick.”

Ollie is wearing the same dress in this photo taken at Weimar TB Sanatorium.

Ollie on the steps of her ward at Weimar Joint Sanatorium.

In 1919 there were no antibiotics; the usual treatment for TB was a move to a place with “better air” and complete rest for several months. Obviously, for working class people, quitting work and spending months in a private sanatorium was not an affordable option. Often, they continued working, incidentally spreading infection, until they literally dropped in their tracks.

Another tam-o-shanter. Ollie did not come from a wealthy family.

For a young office clerk like Ollie, TB could be a death sentence. Among men receiving treatment, the mortality rate was 50%.

Ollie and Claude (another TB victim) on the steps at Weimar Sanatorium.

Given America’s current attitude toward healthcare, it’s disconcerting to read that one hundred years ago, public health officials realized that an epidemic of this frequently fatal, contagious disease could only be prevented by treating the poor as well as the wealthy.

The Weimar Joint Sanatorium was created by the State of California and subsidized to give working class people the same chance of recovery as people who could afford private care.

Ollie at Weimar Sanatorium. The back of this photo says, “Where I used to live.” Dated 1919.

Fresh air was considered necessary for TB patients; Ollie is standing by a screened-in sleeping porch — unheated.

Three patients at Weimar; Ollie is on the right. The photo was dated 1919 by my aunt, who received it in the mail.

Ollie made friends with other women in her ward; in spite of their grim situation, they were still young and tried to cheer each other up.

Fellow patient Mrs. Alice Smith with Ollie Cornelius, about 1919.

On early photos, Ollie respectfully called her “Mrs. Smith.” “She was just married above a month,” [when she was diagnosed with TB] Ollie wrote. Apparently, Mr. Smith came to visit, still in his First World War military uniform.

Ollie with Mrs. Smith, who is clowning in her husband’s tunic and hat. “It is her husband’s uniform; her name is Mrs. Alice Smith.” I wonder if he took the photo.

Nevertheless….

Ollie and other young women at Weimar Sanatorium knew they might be facing death.

“…Patients frequently became depressed due to the severity of their infection and the hopelessness of a cure or because of separation from their families. In many cases it was difficult for families to visit either due to the cost of travel or because of the fear of becoming infected themselves. Seeing other patients die was another cause of despair.” — read more.

But a change came for Ollie. Was she really feeling well again? Had her doctors given her hope that she might be able to go home? These pictures of Ollie in a pretty new dress seem to mark a turning point:

Ollie next to her bed on the sleeping porch at Weimar Sanatorium.

Ollie modeling her new dress. Did it come from a catalog? Was it a gift?

Ollie reading in a common dining area. She still has dark circles under her eyes, but this is a different Ollie. She’s happy.

Ollie did recover, at least for many years. Trivial as it sounds, taking an interest in fashion may signal the end of her physical illness and resulting depression.

Ollie in Colusa, CA, about 1920.

Also, her friends had not forgotten her.

Ollie in a chic, sheer-brimmed hat, with my mother. About 1920.

My mother and her friend Ollie, 1920s.

Ollie fell in love:

Ollie and Lloyd Jennings, about 1920.

She got married:

Ollie and her husband. Note her Marcelle-waved hair. 1920s.

Ollie and my mother on a vacation, late 1920s.

Thanks to low-cost care during a public health crisis, Ollie survived TB and returned to active life:

Ollie, second from front, in the snow, circa 1931.

Ollie fashionably dressed (including necktie) for the snow; this photo was printed in February 1931.

Ollie with my Uncle Holt, 1930’s.

How wonderful that she had a future!

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Hats, Musings, Sportswear, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers, World War I

Rapid Change in Twenties’ Fashions: 1924 to 1927

Dresses for women; Butterick’s Delineator magazine, March 1924, p 27.

When we speak of “the Twenties,” most of us are picturing the short skirts and dropped waists of the later 1920s:

Two Butterick pattterns for women, March 1927.

But during the immediate post-war Twenties, women’s clothing actually became longer, although less bulky and more revealing of the body under the clothes.

These dresses are from 1918, the year the war ended. One has a slightly dropped waist:

Dresses, skirts and blouses, Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, July 1918, page 52.

Dresses, skirts and blouses, Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, July 1918, page 52.

And these — 6 years later — are from 1924:

Butterick patterns for women, Delineator magazine, March 1924, page 27.

A reaction to the trauma of the First World War created “the Lost Generation” as described by Fitzgerald (in The Great Gatsby, published in 1925) and Hemingway (in The Sun Also Rises, published in October 1926.) Both were writing in the post-war period from 1924 to 1926. Fashions from those years may not look like “the Roaring Twenties” as we often imagine them.

Left, a draped dress from March 1927 which looks very “Twenties” to a modern eye; right, a draped dress from March 1924 — just three years earlier. Both are Butterick patterns featured in Delineator.

Which changed first: the fashions, or the women?

Less formal clothing from 1927, left, and from 1924, right. Butterick patterns from Delineator. What a difference three years made!

More fashion contrasts from March 1924 and March 1927:

Butterick patterns for young women, March 1924. Delineator, page 29.

Clothes for young women and teens; Butterick patterns from March 1924. Delineator, page 29.

Clothes for young women and teens were usually a bit shorter than those for mature women, but not nearly as short as these adult styles from just three years later:

Buttterick patterns from Delineator, March 1927, page 22.

Butterick patterns for women, March 1927.

If you want more details about those eight dresses from 1927, click here.

These youthful outfits from 1924 look fussy and rather stodgy, compared to the streamlined styles of 1927.

Butterick patterns for teens and small women, March 1924. Delineator.

Three styles for teens, Butterick March 1927. [The illustration on the left is bizarrely elongated….]

For more about dresses that combined different shades of the same color, click here. For more examples of rapid change in 1920’s fashion, click here.

A coat (1318) and dress (1323) from Butterick patterns, March 1927. Delineator, page 25. They’re like shingled hairstyles: short and sleek.

 

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Filed under 1920s, evening and afternoon clothes, Hats, Musings, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories, World War I

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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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Bathing Suits, Boys' Clothing, Children's Vintage styles, Costumes for the 19th century, Hats for Men, Late Victorian fashions, Men's Sportswear, Menswear, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Sportswear, Suits for Men, Swimsuits, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Accessories, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers, World War I

Hair Styles for American Girls, World War I Era (Part 1)

Three hairstyles from Delineator, February 1917. One is very high, one has bangs and side-puffs, and one may be — but probably isn’t — a bob.

My usual approach to this blog is to collect a lot of images with something in common, and then thread them together — often with plenty of meandering into by-paths….

The top of a full page of hairstyles for women, Delineator, April 1917.

I  ended up with so many images of 1917 hair styles for European-American women that I’m having trouble dividing them into several posts.

One stream has to do with the remarkable height of some 1917 hairstyles. [And hats.]

A model for Paquin (1917) sports a hair style as extreme as any seen on a runway today.

Another has to do with bobbed hair — pre-1920’s — popularized by dancer Irene Castle and necessitated in Europe by women’s war work in munitions factories. (The U.S. was a late-comer to WW I, so American women didn’t need to adopt shorter hairstyles for safety until 1917.)

Mrs. Vernon Castle  (Irene Castle) was credited with setting the fashion for bobbed hair. From an ad campaign for Corticelli Silks, Delineator, October 1917.

Another view of Irene Castle’s famous bobbed hair; Delineator, ad for Corticelli Silks, November 1917. Both photos are probably from the same photo shoot; she is wearing the same dress.

A third idea I’m wrestling with is the gradual steps toward the bob — from a “fringe” (bangs) in the 1880’s to cutting some of the front hair short (1917) while retaining long hair in back. I suspect that most women took this conservative approach, making the change in increments.

From the Sears, Roebuck catalog, Fall 1917. From the front, the woman on the right appears to have bobbed hair, but her reflection in the mirror shows that her back hair is long and gathered into a bun, secured with a large, fan-shaped comb.

And then I have some ads for products related to hair styles….

The image used with this ad resembles the Paquin model above. It offers to transform your own hair combings into “switches” which could be used to increase the size of your hairdo. Anna Ayers ad from Delineator, March 1917.

A Digression About Hair Combings and Rats

One item often included in an early 20th century Vanity set — or dresser set — was a hair receiver.

A vanity set from Sears, Roebuck, 1917. The hair receiver is at upper right.

It was a jar with a hole in the lid, into which women put their “combings.”

Along with nail files, button hooks, brushes, and containers for cotton balls (No. 8K8744,) containers for hair combings (Nos. 8K8745 and 8K8723) appeared on a lady’s dressing table. Sears, 1917.

That is, when women cleaned hair out of their brushes and combs, they put it into the hair receiver, and, when they had collected enough, they made it into a “rat,” encasing it in a hairnet that matched their hair color and then combing their long hair over the rat to create huge turn-of-the-century hairstyles like those illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson.  The huge hairdos of the 1940’s used them too.

Those Tall 1917 Hair Styles

From an ad for Fashionette hairnets, Delineator, April 1917.

A similar conical style, called the “beehive,” was popular in the 1960s:

“The higher the hair, the closer to Heaven” was a popular saying when “bouffant” hairdos were in fashion. We supported these styles by “ratting” our hair (see “rats,” above). Hairdressers called it “back-combing,” but we always called it “ratting.” You took a strand of hair, pulled it up toward the sky, and, with your other hand, repeatedly ran a comb down it toward your scalp. Any loose hairs were pushed into tangles at the base. Spray with “Aquanette.” Repeat. When your ratted hair was a complete, tangled mess, you carefully brushed the outer layer smooth  and sealed it with a final layer of hairspray. I remember a classmate who had a conical “beehive” hairdo done before a prom. By carefully wrapping it in a scarf at night, she preserved it for several days. It gradually deflated, though, so by Friday, her light brown beehive looked like she had a cow patty on her head….

High Hair, 1917

High hair for evening, accented with a jeweled comb, from an article in Delineator, April 1917. The waves are probably a Marcel.

Back in 1917, you could also use Silmarine to set your hair — it probably increased volume, too.

Ad for Silmarine hair setting lotion, Delineator, March 1917.

The Sew Historically website has an extensive set of recipes for shampoos and for Bandoline, the 19th century predecessor to hair spray.  In 1917, you could wear an invisible hairnet:

Another big hair style from a Fashionette hairnet ad. Delineator, August 1917.

The blonde woman with a similar gravity-defying hairstyle is wearing a house dress, not an evening gown. Delineator, January 1917.

Two high hairdos flank a less extreme style in April 1917. Delineator magazine.

A high, conical hairdo from an article in Delineator, April 1917. “The high hair-dressing is new, and adds a generous cubit to your stature.” This was not just a style for evening, as seen from other illustrations.

Did any ordinary women get their hair to look like this? Yes.

This pretty girl with a lap full of kittens posed in the homely back yard of my grandmother’s house. Circa 1917.

Not all hairdos were tall enough to “add a cubit to your height.”

This woman’s long, Marcel-waved hair [her “crowning glory”] is worn close to her head, and caught in a large chignon at the nape of her neck. This style persisted into the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Delineator, April 1917.

The next photo contains a mysterious reference to eating “bread crusts to make your hair curl.”

Her low hair style has a cluster of curls in back. April, 1917. Delineator.

Are they real, or did she buy them?

A “switch” in the form of a “string of curls” was offered in this ad from Delineator, February 1917. Ad for Frances Roberts Co. –“The Mail-Order Hair House.”

Gradually Working Your Way Toward Bobbed Hair

Two women from a Sears’ catalog, Fall 1917. Although at first glance their hair appears as short as Irene Castle’s, a closer look shows a small bun at the back.

In the 1920’s the bun was eliminated:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/1924-oct-p-25-patterns-top.jpg?w=500&h=404

Short, “shingle” haircuts from October, 1925; Delineator. The front of the hairdo is much like that of 1917.

Short Hair on Women Marked a Social Change

Long hair used to be the only option for most women. Delineator, March 1917.

A woman’s long hair was said to be “her crowning glory.”  In Victorian times, cropped hair was often a sign that a woman had suffered a severe illness (as in Conan Doyle’s story, “The Copper Beeches.“)

Dresses for girls 8 to 15, Delineator, May 1924. The one on the left has long “Mary Pickford” curls, associated with innocence.

Men saw long hair paradoxically, as both sexy and innocent: young girls wore their hair loose and long, and young ladies “put up their hair” around sixteen, as a sign that they were now adults — and ready for marriage.

Cutting it all short at one time — like Irene Castle — took a lot of courage, especially in 1917. My mother and her best friend shocked their families when they bobbed their hair around 1922. They were the first girls in town to do it.  Back in 1918, my mother was working up to it gradually — and that is a story for another day. (Part 2)

My mother’s eighth grade graduation picture, circa 1918-19.

She has done her best to simulate the high hair and cheek puffs of fashion illustrations — without cutting her hair.

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1960s-1970s, Hairstyles, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, vintage photographs, World War I

The Great Depression Reflected in Ads from the Back of Women’s Magazines

Ad from Womans’ Home Companion, March, 1936.

“My husband is out of employment and has been for some time…. Our savings are gradually disappearing, and I am so helpless. I don’t know a thing I can do to earn money….” The Woman’s Home Companion invited her to sell magazine subscriptions.

One of the fascinations of vintage women’s magazines is their “time capsule” quality. While reading through them for fashion information, I can’t resist the advertisements, which give me a idea of the era’s preoccupations (zeitgeist is the correct word, I suppose.) What was new — from zippers to steam irons? What did advertisers want people to worry about, from halitosis and pyorrhea to underarm hair? In the Thirties, massive male unemployment found many women desperate to help support their families.

Women’s magazines had many such ads, promising that women could make money at home — “no experience needed.” Ad from Delineator, February 1931.

Before color photography was widespread, black and white photos were hand tinted — “We instruct you by our new simple Photo-Color process and supply you with work.”  Coloring printed images was already “women’s work.” In the 19th century, some women had earned money by hand-painting fashion plates with watercolor.

I realize that researchers tend to notice what they expect to find, so it’s not surprising that, as the child of people who married in 1933 — in the heart of the Great Depression — I noticed these little ads crowded into the backs of magazines.

A few ads from the back of Delineator magazine, October 1931.

Here is a selection of ads which promised women that they could earn money at home, with no experience or skills. Some of them were probably preying on the desperate — but perhaps I’m just cynical….

Top of an ad for Brown Bobbys, Delineator, February 1931.

Text of Brown Bobby ad, February 1931. Brown Bobbys were doughnuts. I suspect that the Food Machine Display Corp. was willing to sell families the equipment for a home doughnut business.

Women might also try to start a candy business….

Open your own candy business? “Making and sales equipment furnished.”  Delineator, February 1933. The American School of Home Economics was already publishing home economics study courses and books in the 1920’s, including Cooking for profit: catering and food service management.

Or sell clothing…

“Women — Sell Fashion Frocks…. Earn up to $22 a week and get all your own dresses without a penny of cost.” Ad from Delineator, April 1936.

Sell Silk Hose: “Startling money-making proposition…. enormous earnings…Your own hose free of cost.” Ad from Womans’ Home Companion, November 1936. Wilknit Hosiery Co. ad. [Do you think that guaranteed stocking replacement might be a problem?]

“Women wanted” to sell fabric, sheets, handkerchiefs, blankets… Mitchell & Church Club ad, Delineator, February 1934.

“Do  you want to make money? … Sell Fashion Frocks.” Ad from WHC, March 1937. “We are appointing a few more ambitious women to act as our representatives.”

[I don’t think it would be easy to sell dresses or anything else to your friends and relatives if you were all equally broke….]

October, 1934; Delineator. “Start earning at once. Thousands of prospects near you.” General Card Co., Chicago.

Was there really such a demand for hooked rugs? From a series of ads for Hollywood Studio Stores, Inc., Ltd., Delineator, December 1934. “Women… Earn extra money at home making beautiful hooked rugs…. Make money the first week! …We furnish complete instructions, tools, and materials.”

Another “Hooked rugs” ad, November 1936. “No experience necessary.”

Fireside Industries said there was a market for hand-painted decorative items:

“Make extra money at once” — after you learn to “decorate clever art gifts at big profit per piece. No experience needed … No tedious study… You don’t even have to leave the house.” October 1931, Delineator. Fireside Industries ad.

Fireside Industries ad, March 1935. Delineator. “Everything furnished including supply of Novelties, for you to decorate and Homecrafters outfit.” “Openings in every locality.” “FIRST LESSON FREE.” [And then?]

Selling greeting cards, stationery, and especially Christmas cards, was advertised as a way to make money.

Ad for Wallace Brown, Inc. greeting card sales, Delineator, February 1937. “Show samples to friends and neighbors. Everybody buys.”

Bluebird Studios ad, WHC, Sept. 1936. “Sells on Sight. Box on approval.” The text looks very similar to that Wallace Brown ad, above.

The words “Earn,” “Easy,” and “Extra Money” appear again and again, often with the promise that women can work from home..

Process Corporation ad, August 1931. ” Thousands of women — many without experience — turn their spare minutes into dollars…. Permanent, big-paying position, if you make good.”

Process Corporation sought women and men to sell greeting cards” imprinted to customer’s order.” October, 1931, Delineator. Jeanette Maumus of New Orleans “Earned $78.20 in 45 minutes. $87.50 just a day’s sales for Mrs. H.H. Castle, Burke, Idaho.”

Janes Art Studio ad for card sellers. Sept. 1934. This ad admits that the pay is on commission — which makes Mrs. H.H. Castle’s $87 in sales look a little less lucrative.

From my own experience in door-to-door sales, sometimes you have to sell a “quota” amount before you qualify for the commission. In 1967, if I didn’t sell enough children’s encyclopedias to meet my weekly sales quota, I didn’t get paid at all. I believe some car salesmen still face this problem.

Ad for John A. Hertel Co. Christmas card sales, September 1931. Delineator. “No experience needed.”

Other ads [which I regard less cynically] offered educational opportunities leading to a new career — in hotel management, dressmaking, or nursing.

Ad for Lewis Hotel Training Schools, October 1934, Delineator.

Women could “Be a Hotel Hostess” or possibly manage an apartment house — a good job for a single mother. Lewis Hotel Training School ad, October 1931. Delineator. In the ad just below, you could make $2 by tipping the Denver Optic Company off to potential artificial eye customers….

Back in the 1920’s, Lewis would teach you how to run a tea room, so this was an established business school:

Ad for the Lewis Tea Room Institute, Delineator, January 1924. “Fortunes are being made in this big new industry….”

Ads for nursing schools were also traditional, and little changed from 1924 to 1937 — except for the potential salary and the hats.

Ad for Chatauqua School of Nursing, January 1924. This school offered a home-study course.

Ad for Chicago School of Nursing, February 1935.  “You can learn at home in spare time.”

Ad for Chicago School of Nursing, WHC, March 1937. “High School not required. Easy tuition payments.”

Ads for the Woman’s Institute have a long history, but during the Depression, the ads emphasized using your sewing skills to earn money. March, 1934.

I have some respect for the ads that suggested professional training for women who, like this one from the ad I began with, had never expected to work outside the home.

“I am nearly 35 years old and have no business experience…. My husband is out of employment and has been for some time.” Woman’s Home Companion ad for subscription sellers, March 1936.

And I can’t resist sharing (again) the “ad from the back of a magazine” that startled me into collecting them:

Ad from Delineator, March 1937. Courtesy Remembered Summers. Who wouldn’t leap at the chance to raise giant frogs for the American Frog Canning Company?

Now, that is desperation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Woman's Institute

Quick Post: Theda Bara’s Bloomers

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Public domain image of Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917. From WikiMedia Commons. She was at ease in very revealing costumes.

Bonus sighting of Cleopatra’s knickers: The 1917 film of Theda Bara’s Cleopatra is lost, but an attempt to reconstruct it from surviving footage and still photos is being made. The lavish and daring costumes make up in craftsmanship what they lack in authenticity. I especially love this sequence, in which Cleopatra rises from her throne to reveal, under her see-through dress, a pair of very un-sexy 1917 knickers or bloomers. Click here.       (The inter-titles assume you’re a very slow reader; be patient and wait for it….) The elastic seems to have been removed from the legs.

Ladies drawers or bloomers from Sears, Spring 1917.

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“Mother was right: always wear nice underwear in case somebody sees it….” Public domain image of Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917.

Since posting about the confusing names for 1920’s undies, I received wonderful comments, including this from The Vintage Traveler:

“Here’s my take, and I could be wrong. I’ve been looking at catalogs from 1918 through 1925, and I’ve found all the terms you’ve mentioned. I have not found anything referred to as a “teddy”. We used that term in the 1980s when the camisole/panty combination had a comeback. I don’t know if it was used in the 1920s.

“From what I can tell using my own sources, an envelope combination is one that has the buttoning crotch flap, sort of in the way an actual envelope has a flap to close it. So the pictured green suit is an envelope combination.

“Step-in combinations are different in that they have to be literally stepped in to. The partition between the legs is sewn rather than buttoned and so the garment cannot be pulled over the head and onto the body. It’s easy to see why the combination was starting to be divided in two pieces. How on earth would one be able to use the toilet without completely undressing?

“For the life of me, I can’t see why Butterick 6194 was called knickers. I’ve read all kinds of explanations about why Americans used bloomers/panties/stepins while the British called the same garment knickers. From what I can see, “knickers” was rarely used in the US to denote an undergarment. But from your example we can see that it was, on occasion, used in that way.

“As for outerwear, bloomers are full, and they close at the bottom with elastic. Knickers are much less full, and close at the knees with a band that buttons.”

And this from Dee, who has a 1931 Home Economics textbook:

“I have a high school home economics book, Fabric and Dress, copyright 1931, which includes a table of materials suitable for underwear. It lists slips, teddies, step-ins, bloomers, shorts, brassieres, shirts, union suits, pajamas and gowns. Shirts and union suits are listed as uses for stockinette, and it is indicated just prior to the table that pajamas and gowns are nightwear. There are also references to previous styles of undergarments: Petticoats, camisoles, and this interesting one “Pettibockers (full bloomers drawn in below the knee) were popular when skirts were long. The style of short skirts changed this undergarment, by shortening it and taking out some of the fullness.”

“I also found it interesting that in the chapter which goes over a bit of fashion history, with an emphasis on the “follies of fashion”, (i.e., 18th century headdress, Elizabethan ruffs, 1860 hoopskirts) there is a reference to “Another more recent fashion, which will probably seem as absurd as many of these when it becomes long out-of-date, is the very short skirt of 1928 and 1929, which was about three inches above the knee.”

Sometimes I love the internet!

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc