Category Archives: Musings

Conventions of Mourning, 1910

“The Conventions of Mourning,” an article by Eleanor Chalmers which appeared in Delineator magazine in March, 1910.

Costumers often need information about etiquette and social conventions for the era they are researching. I’m happy to have found this article from March, 1910. I’ve broken it up into segments for legibility. One of the interesting things it mentions is the difference between mourning customs in England and the United States. This magazine, Delineator, was published in both countries and aimed at a middle class or upper middle class reader in the United States, with regular reports on French couture.

The conventions of mourning are different depending on relationship to the deceased. Notice that these three women probably represent three generations; complete mourning dress for a younger girl was shown on the next page.

These women in mourning are different ages, with the early-middle-aged one at the left, the youngest in the center, and the eldest at right. Perhaps the one on the right is the mother, and the one in the middle is her grown daughter. Their clothes would be black, but have been illustrated in shades of gray so the details are more visible.

“The deepest mourning is that worn by a widow for her husband. A widow should wear deep mourning for a year or eighteen months….”

This woman appears to be wearing the widow’s “Marie Stuart bonnet of black crepe with a ruching of white crepe near the face.”

This appears to be the widow. Her veil is bordered in black and very long. Her hat has a touch of white.

Collars and cuffs for widows. 1910. White organdy was lined with stiff black buckram or crinoline.

[Presumably your ladies’ maid would be responsible for making new organdy collars and cuffs every day!]

“One can wear pearls and diamonds, … but no gold, silver, or colored jewels…. Black furs…. Sable has always been accepted as the equivalent of black.” [Well, that must have been a relief….]

In America, black “bands on the sleeves are only worn by servants or people too poor to afford proper mourning.”

I would not describe this hat as a toque. I defer to wiser writers…..

It’s sometimes not clear whether the word “for” refers to the deceased or to the wearer of mourning. “For a young child may mean “worn by a young child” but the context suggests that a mother is not expected to mourn as long for a young child as for a grown child. [My own great-grandmother had twelve children, but only three survived her.]

Young girls might wear all white mourning instead of all black.

All white, especially for [i.e., on] young girls, is considered full mourning…. A girl of 12 or 14 might wear black for a parent or sibling, but it wasn’t obligatory.

“Black and white mourning is only half mourning; in fact, it is worn so much nowadays by smartly gowned women that it hardly suggests mourning at all.”

“For a brother or sister full mourning is worn for a year…. If mourning is worn at all for a grandparent, it is worn for six months; for an aunt or uncle, three months [unless that relative was acting in loco parentis….]

“Mourning means a withdrawal from society, and no formal entertaining or visiting is done throughout its duration.”

“I have said nothing about mourning [to be worn by] children, as there is a very strong feeling against it in this country…. With men, too, mourning is never emphasized as it is for women.”

So, when the husband dies, the wife mourns for 18 months. When the wife dies, the husband wears black for a year, and a black hatband. “Many American men do not wear mourning at all….” [Of course, the widower is expected to “go into society” looking for a replacement after six months or so….]

Mourning hats and veils, 1910. Delineator, March 1910; pp. 243 & 244. Black fur and diamonds were acceptable, but gold or silver jewelry was not.

 

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Hats, Menswear, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Vintage Accessories

Snapshots from a Time Traveler

Ta-dah! The big reveal from February 1920. Delineator.

I’m still having fun in the library. This week I traveled to 1914 and 1920, and I couldn’t wait to share a few snapshots.

High life: wearing Butterick patterns in February 1914. Delineator.

“Does this dress make my hips look big enough?” Delineator, June 1920.

Of course, I’m still labeling photos from 1910, too.

A Big Hat from January, 1910. Delineator.

Another Big Hat:

“No, I’m not a fortune teller: why do you ask?” From Delineator, February 1910.

However, I predict your bust will be improved….

Nature’s Rival: You can have a Perfect Bust thanks to the Air-Form Corset Waist. Ad from Delineator, February 1910. [Inflated with what?]

From Big Hats to High Hats:

It can’t have been easy getting out of a cab in one of these — in the hat or the skirt. Delineator, April 1914.

A High Hat from May 1914. Delineator.

“See you real soon….” With lots more images from the colorful past.

Seriously, I’m trying to prioritize color images, because there is simply not enough time to photograph everything that interests me in these old magazines. But it’s not easy!

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Corsets, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, World War I

Postcard #3: Bette Davis Eyes, 1910; Migratory Bird Act Threatened, 2018

Models wearing enormous hats; Delineator, June 1910. Note the feathers — probably not from endangered species — on the left.

The model on the right appears in the 1910 Delineator magazines several times; I couldn’t help noticing her resemblance to Bette Davis, who was only two years old in 1910.

A Bette Davis look-alike models a blouse with square neckline and bare throat (Butterick 3872;) Delineator, June 1910.

The bare throat on this model was not unique in the 1910 magazines I’ve been reading.

The other thing on my mind today is the Migratory Bird Act.

Hat decorated with entire bird wings, Delineator, February 1910.

I’ve just finished reading Tessa Boase’s fascinating book, Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, which draws comparisons between the British women who led the fight for woman’s suffrage and the equally successful British women who fought for the protection of birds, and eventually achieved widespread environmental protections.

Boase reminds us that, in the United States, plumage from endangered species was outlawed a decade earlier than in Britain.

I just learned that “the Audubon Society and other organizations named 2018 the year of the bird.” Sadly, the article in The Washington Post which I just quoted describes an attack by the Trump Administration on the Migatory Bird Act of 1918.

A huge hat trimmed with feathers — and possibly entire taxidermied bird wings. Delineator, February 1910. In the U.S., such wings could not come from endangered species.

In 1910, British women praised the United States’ leadership in conservation of species and preservation of the natural world. In the U.S., the Lacey Act of 1900 made it a crime to sell protected species, and the Plumage Act of 1912 also forbade the importation of skins and feathers from endangered birds. In the U.S., women wearing Paris hats trimmed with prohibited feathers — like those from the snowy egret — could have them confiscated.

In April 2018, however, according to Washington Post reporters Darryl Fears and Dino Grandoni,

“In an opinion issued Wednesday to federal wildlife police who enforce the rule, the Interior Department said “the take [killing] of birds resulting from an activity is not prohibited by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when the underlying purpose of that activity is not to take birds.”

The implication is that deforestation, oil spills, and careless disposal of hazardous waste — actions which can kill wildlife but are not specifically intended to kill wildlife — will no longer be prohibited.

In 2016, thousands of migrating snow geese died when they landed on a pond filled with toxic mine waste. (This is another report from The Washington Post, but verified by other sources.) The Fish and Wildlife Service has information on why and how to prevent oil fields from becoming deathtraps for birds and other species.

One lesson from Tessa Boase’s book — which I will be reviewing soon — was how much can be accomplished by determined women writing letters to newspapers, elected representatives, even parish newsletters.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Hats, Musings, Vintage Accessories

Vacation Needed

Illustration from Delineator, 1925. This rural schoolteacher was tired out.

I’m not quitting — but after more than 500 posts, I do need a vacation!

I started writing witness2fashion in 2013, partly inspired by my discovery of more than 400 bound copies of Butterick’s Delineator magazine in storage at my public library. I was stunned by the color illustrations, and fascinated by the pattern illustrations and the advertisements. Very few of these magazines have been digitized or microfilmed — the latter is a blessing, in a way, because so many color magazines were preserved in black and white and then discarded by libraries during a wave of microfilming that took place just before digitization in full color became possible. That seems incredible, but…. [Recommended reading: Double-Fold: Libraries and the Asssault on Paper, by Nicholson Baker.] 

Hikers. Color illustration from an ad for Ivory Flakes soap, Delineator; October 1928.

Because of my interest in “everyday” fashions and working class clothing, Butterick’s “middle-class,” Paris-oriented Delineator would not have been my first choice — I was hoping to find McCall’s magazines. I used to own a few from the 1930’s, so I know they had color illustrations. But my last inquiries — assisted by a reference librarian — didn’t turn up any actual bound volumes of old McCall’s within 200 miles of me (and I am surrounded by universities!) The Los Angeles public library seems to have some from the 1920’s — but whether they are actual, bound magazines or black and white films, the librarian couldn’t tell me — and I’d have to take a vacation to visit them.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/1933-feb-cover-500.jpg?w=382&h=500

Delineator cover by Dynevor Rhys, 1933. Who knew green and orange could look so sophisticated?

So, it’s time for me to spend a few weeks visiting the bound periodicals I love so much right here in San Francisco — a working vacation, but overdue.  I particularly want to research and document the sudden transition in styles between 1929 and the early thirties — but if you have a favorite year between 1900 and 1920 I could dip into, I do enjoy a bit of variety! Please use the comments section for suggestions (no promises, but….)

Meanwhile, Oldies but (I Hope) Goodies

Five years ago I found those magazines were full of things that really excited me, so I shared them — not just patterns, but articles and ads about everything from breast flattening corsets to family budgets, and new items like Knee-High stockings (1930s) and paper towels (people had to be taught what to do with them!) If you’re curious about a woman’s clothing budget in 1924 and in 1936, click here. For a family budget in 1925, click here. From the Great Depression year of 1936, I found a budget and related items about “Living on $18 per Week.” Click here.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/whc-feb-1937-p-81-run-in-stocking.jpg?w=500

I’m hoping that new followers (bless you, every one!) will enjoy getting links and brief introductions to some of those blog posts from the past — so I will post a group of links regularly instead of writing entire new posts for August. I’ll try to group them by topic.

For a start, here are a few posts that highlighted the unexpected color combinations of the 1920’s:

A Lament for Bound Periodicals  (posted in February, 2015)

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/1924-oct-p-27-bride-5447-mofh-5513-maids-5548.jpg?w=500&h=375

A bridal party in shades of orange, 1924. Delineator magazine.

Orange and Blue in the Mid-Twenties  (posted in December 2015)

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/del-1925-feb-orange-and-black.jpg?w=359&h=500

Blue and orange are complementary colors — they make each other look more intense, as in this illustration. Right, orange and black are combined in a young woman’s dress; Delineator, February, 1925.

1920’s Orange and Black: Not Just for Halloween   (from October 2014)

Colorful Fashions for April, 1926  (from April 2017)

This "Aztec" pattern hand painted shawl was made in the Samuel Russel Studio, New York, and illustrated by Katharine Stinger for an Ivory Soap Flakes ad. Delineator, March 1927.

The Colorful Past  (from February 2014)

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/1928-nov-ivory-soap-ad-colorful-nightwear.jpg?w=500

And so to bed…. Do you dream in color? I do.

I’ll have many new images to share by September!

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Musings, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories

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