Category Archives: Woman’s Institute

More Ads for Woman’s Institute from 1920’s and 1930’s

1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Big, ruffled “Letty Lynton” sleeves became a huge fashion influence after the release of the movie in 1932.

In a previous post I wrote that Woman’s Institute ads were different every month, and that lining them up gives a mini-tour of fashions for each year. I have no photos from some years and some months, so there are big gaps in this little fashion show. I’ll just put the ones I have in chronological order. I love the captions, which repeat a few Woman’s Institute themes, like “It’s the prettiest dress I’ve ever had” and “I love to wear this dress.”

Woman’s Institute Fashions from the Twenties

February 1924 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress is basically a simple tube with neck and arm openings and a belt.

December 1924 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Except for the collar, this is a dress based on rectangles.

August 1925 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. 1920’s fashions are getting more complex.

August 1926 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Nothing will ever appear ‘home-made.’ “

By December 1926, Twenties’ styles are no longer simple tubes or rectangles.

December 1926 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

January 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Notice how short skirts have become in just 25 months.

Styles had changed a great deal between December 1924 and January 1927 — just two years:

A Woman’s Institute “One Hour Dress” from 1924; two years later, the Woman’s Institute ads showed much more complicated styles.

However, the possibility of making a dress in one hour, thanks to early 1920’s styles, probably inspired many women to try making their own clothing for the first time.

February 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress requires piecing curves; it’s not a project for beginners.

March 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course, “used by over 230,000 women and girls.”

August 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Now there are 250,000 users.

October 1927 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

February 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

June 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This is the most matronly outfit I’ve run across in these ads.

The reason many women sew for themselves is that they have non-standard-sized bodies or hard to fit figures. (Having an exceptionally small waist, broad shoulders, or tall body makes it hard to find store-bought clothes that fit, just as having a smaller or larger than average body does.) Oddly, the Woman’s Institute ads I’ve seen don’t seem to be aimed at hard-to-fit women.

October 1928 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This dress has a chic, asymmetrical collar and side drape.

Sending in the coupon from October 1928 would get you a 32 page booklet and a 60 page dressmaking lesson “which tells how to take correct measurements, select the right pattern, alter to your own measurements, cut and fit for all types of figures, etc.” Perhaps hard-to-fit women let their dressmakers alter patterns for them.

March 1929 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

Woman’s Institute Fashions from the Thirties

I have not collected many ads from 1929 or 1930, so my parade of fashions from Woman’s Institute ads has some big gaps.

February 1931 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This shows that not all hems dropped precipitately after 1929.

I have no photos from 1932, but the very long hemline on this dress was well established by 1933.

January 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “The new feminine fashions have created a big demand for dressmakers.”

February 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. 1930’s ads often showed evening gowns.

This marks a change to more evening gowns in the Institute’s advertising; 1933 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. Ads that said “Earn $20 to $40 a week at home” in 1924 said “Earn $10 to $35” in March of 1933:

March 1933 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. Scottie Dog (and fox fur stole) optional.

The number of women wearing furs during the Depression used to surprise me, but “In 1917, there were only four fur farms in the entire United States; by 1930, there were more than forty-five hundred.” This drove down the price of furs — and millions of animals were raised for slaughter. [See A Perfect Fit by Jenna Weissman Joselit.] Also, cheap furs from domestic animals like rabbits and dogs were sold as coney “seal” and “Manchurian wolf.”

March 1934 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. In 1934, “Letty Lynton” sleeves were still in style, and a dressmaker might earn a more optimistic “$20 to $50 a week.”

September 1934 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

Woman’s Institute ads seem to feature more evening dresses in the 1930’s, perhaps because the emphasis is changing to copying fashions, designing your own, and owning your own business or dress shop.

March 1935 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “You can earn a splendid income in a dressmaking business of your own.”

February 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Earn Money in Dressmaking and Designing.”

March 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. [What a lovely train!]

In addition to lessons in making dresses and hats, Woman’s Institute courses on Cookery and, now, Tea Room Management were available.

Traditionally, most 20th century women who had their clothes made by dressmakers started with a commercial pattern or a photograph from a fashion magazine, although they might ask for changes to suit their taste.

September 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. This ad is unusual because it shows a commercial pattern, Vogue 7403.

These 1930’s ads now introduce the idea of copying high fashion, designing dresses, and opening your own dress shop.

October 1936 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course.

February 1937 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. “Earn a fine income at home.”

The ability to work from home has always been important to women with children and other domestic responsibilities. And, of course, the overhead of a home business is lower than that of a shop.

October 1937 ad for Woman’s Institute dressmaking course. You can earn money at home . . . or have a good income in a smart dressmaking shop of your own.”

In 1938, Woman’s Institute placed this ad in a Butterick Fashion News Flyer, encouraging women who use commercial patterns to design and make their own clothes with the dressmaking skills learned from Woman’s Institute.

Woman’s Institute advertisement that appeared in the Butterick Fashion News Flyer for March, 1938.

“Be the smartest dressed woman in your town!” That’s almost what the ads said in 1917!

Testimonials from Woman’s Institute customers. There are now 300,000 of them. March 1938.

Coupon for Woman’s Institute, March 1938.

Mary Brooks Picken also published a quarterly magazine, Fashion Service. If you are researching Woman’s Institute ads, I found 1114 citations with a search on the Cornell University Home Archive.

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Woman's Institute

Advertising Mary Brooks Picken’s Woman’s Institute: Out Stepped Ann!

“Out Stepped Ann!” This full page ad in Delineator magazine looks like a story. It’s really an advertisement for the Woman’s Institute correspondence course in dressmaking. Delineator, May 1924, page 5.

While randomly reading through vintage magazines, I have collected quite a photo gallery of ads for Mary Brooks Picken’s Woman’s Institute, which was a very successful correspondence course in dressmaking from 1916 through the 1930’s. (It has no relationship to the Women’s Institute, an organization for women that’s been doing important work for a long time.)

As sometimes happens with great stuff you find on the internet, I can no longer locate the first helpful site I found about the Woman’s Institute and its founder, Mary Brooks Picken. But I owe it thanks for mentioning the brilliant ad campaign which contributed to the Institute’s success — which is why I photographed this full page ad when I saw it.

(The instruction books and booklets written by Picken were excellent; I used one many years ago, in graduate school. I learned a lot about making twenties’ dresses from her! In other words, the Woman’s Institute delivered what it promised. A page from her twenties’ book about designing by draping fashions could be a “light bulb” moment for you, too. ) But that “lost” site which mentioned the genius of Picken’s second husband, G. Lynn Sumner, “president of the advertising firm of G. Lynn Sumner Co. of New York” which was probably responsible for the Woman’s Institute ads, was the reason I saved this wonderful example of his story-telling technique. It was a full page ad — an expensive venture — that captures the psychological appeal of the Woman’s Institute courses.

Here is Ann at the climax of the story, stepping out from behind a curtain in the new dress she made herself. Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, May 1924, p. 5.

Ann’s tale is easy to relate to; she’s a popular girl, but she can’t afford to dress as well as her friends. “If I could only look in the mirror just once and be satisfied with what I see!” [Is there a  woman who can’t relate to that?]

Ann is so embarrassed by her shoddy old “good dress” that she deliberately spills a bottle of perfume on it rather than go to the party.

Determined to come up with something to wear to her best friend’s upcoming birthday party,  Ann ransacks her closet for old dresses that might be remade.

She consults the local dressmaker about remaking a dress, but she’s told that every dressmaker in town is already too busy with other orders. Ann goes window shopping, but can’t afford any of the dresses she sees, so she doesn’t even try them on.

At home, Ann leafs through a fashion magazine.

Ann tells her friends that she’s suffering from “nerves” and under doctors’ orders to stay at home and rest for a month. Her other friends don’t visit her, but Elizabeth tells them that Ann seems happy, especially since she is now getting lots of letters and packages in the mail. And Ann promises not to miss Elizabeth’s birthday celebration.

Ann arrives, wearing a coat and with a scarf covering her hair. She dodges into the cloak room, hidden by the curtains. Then …

Here is Ann, stepping out from behind a curtain in the new dress she made herself. Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, May 1924, p.5.

“Making Beautiful Clothes” booklet, from an ad for Woman’s Institute, Delineator, Feb. 1924, p. 79.

Doesn’t that make you want to send in your coupon?

Coupon for information and free booklet from Woman’s Institute. Feb., 1924.

Good News: Some of Mary Brooks Picken’s books on 1920’s dressmaking are available as paperback reprints.

The famous “one hour dress” book (1924 edition) by Mary Picken is available as a reprint. Since the styles of 1924 are still long, “tubular twenties,” you might prefer the 1925 edition, which is also available.

You can also download and print your own copy of her 1925 book The Mary Brooks Picken Method of Modern Dressmaking thanks to ///Columbia/// CORRECTION: Cornell University: click here. This is an illustrated sewing basics book which gives an indication of how thorough Picken was.  It is not a “one-hour dress” book. Picken also wrote the Singer Sewing Book in the 1950’s.

The Woman’s Institute had already been around for several years in the Twenties; its ads always emphasized both personal and professional dress making and millinery opportunities for women.

Many of the points made in “Out Stepped Ann!” were repeated in smaller monthly advertisements. Even early ads emphasized financial savings, a chance to learn a skill that could produce income, and a sense of accomplishment. The women in these ads were proud that they had made their own clothes.

“Yes, I Made It All Myself!” students of the Woman’s Institute proudly proclaimed in the ads. Delineator, July 1917.

These ads battled the stigma of wearing clothes that looked “home-made;” and, if a woman followed the instructions carefully, her clothes would in fact look well-made.

“She’s the Best Dressed Woman in Town” because she learned to make clothes and hats by taking a home study course from Woman’s Institute. Other women envy her. Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1917.

“I’m Making My Own Dresses This Summer,” and clothes for the children, too, brags this satisfied customer. Detail, Woman’s Institute ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

“I Make My Own Hats” says another proud Woman’s Institute student in this ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917. “I have four becoming, stylish hats where I used to have only one…. You can earn money making hats for your friends in spare time or open a millinery shop of your own. Pictures make everything clear….”

“It’s the prettiest dress I ever had…. And Just Think, Mother, How Much We Saved.” Ad for Woman’s Institute, Delineator, March 1927. [That hat really was chic in 1917.] In addition to saving half the cost of purchased clothing, “You can have clothes that are more becoming and better fitting, because they will be made of the materials and in the styles that you select, and to your own measurements.”

Making your own clothing and turning last year’s dresses into new styles was patriotic, too, during World War I. Click here.

“Now I Save Half on All My Clothes.” From an Ad for Woman’s Institute, Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1917. “You know the patriotic slogan among women this year is ‘Make Your Own Clothes!’

Making “New Clothes From Old” was a patriotic duty during World War I. “This year women are urged to economize, but economy need not mean fewer clothes.” Woman’s Institute ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

“This Year I Had Six Dresses Instead of Two.” Woman’s Institute ad from Delineator, February 1917. “Besides, I’ve made three skirts and half a dozen blouses and practically everything that the children are wearing. And a year ago I couldn’t make a buttonhole.

Aside from the occasional full page ad, Woman’s Institute inserted small advertisements into most women’s magazines every month — sometimes two ads in one issue. What is remarkable to me is that there was a new, different ad every month.

Collecting Woman’s Institute advertisements from the 1920’s and 1930’s will give you a mini-history of the fashions for each year.  I’m saving those for another post — but here’s a preview: (one from 1927, one from 1933)

Detail, Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, January 1927.

Detail, Woman’s Institute ad, Delineator, March 1933.

Fashions changed a lot in those six years.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Woman's Institute, World War I

Copies of Store-Bought Hats, 1917

After encouraging readers to make their own hats in July and September of 1917, in November The Ladies’ Home Journal sent a staff member to buy nine fashionable hats and then make her own copies — and compare the costs.

Article "What I Paid for Some Hats and What I Made Them for at Home." Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 1917, p. 134.

Article “What I Paid for Some Hats and What I Made Them for at Home.” Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917, top of page 134.

I have included larger images of all the individual hats, later in this post.

The article does not have a by-line, but readers could address inquiries to the Millinery Editor.

“NOTE — If you would like to learn how to make your own hats, the millinery lessons will help you:  “Hat-Frame Making,” “Covering a Velvet Hat,” and “Trimming a Hat.” They cost ten cents each. Descriptions of the hats pictured on this page and a list of the various articles used and their cost will be mailed upon receipt of four cents in stamps to cover the service. Inclose [sic] a stamped, addressed envelope to the Millinery Editor, The Ladies’ Home Journal, Independence Square, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with your request.”

Presumably, the photos show the originals, not the copies….

Hats bought and copied, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917. Center of page 134.

Hats bought and copied, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917. Center of page 134.

Hats Bought and Made, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917. bottom of page 134.

Hats Bought and Made, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917. bottom of page 134.

The purchased hats cost between $30 and $15.  Making them was cheaper, of course, but the Ladies’ Home Journal made it clear that these store-bought hats were not overpriced:

“You may think, upon comparison of these prices, that the profits of the milliner are overwhelming; but in all fairness to the milliner, the figures which signify the cost at which these hats were copied at home do not include the salaries paid to the high-priced designer and the assistants, nor the wages of the dainty model who so alluringly pictures to you how you will look in the hat [!], or those of the saleswoman who serves you. It does not include the rent for the salon in which you comfortably relax while trying hats on, nor the many other expenses incident to the final delivery of the hat.”

Dover’s Women’s and Children’s Fashions of 1917: The Complete Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog shows eight pages of ready-to-wear hats with loads of trimming; the most expensive is $6.49, and most can be purchased for between two and four dollars.  The Ladies’ Home Journal Millinery Editor must have thought her readers would be impressed by the idea of copying a $25 dollar hat for $5.

Here are larger images of the individual hats.

Toque, $25 in a store, and "a very new shape ... trimmed with gray vulture." $30 in store. LHJ, Nov. 1917.

Toque, $25 in a store, and “a very new shape … trimmed with gray vulture.” $30 in store. LHJ, Nov. 1917.

If you can read the words “trimmed with gray vulture” and not think of Neville Longbottom’s grandmother — or Professor Snape dressed in her clothes — where have you been? The position of the feathers reminds me of a skunk on alert….

Two "tam" style hats for women, Nov. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

Two “tam” style hats for women, Nov. 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal.

This hat style, with the brim rolled up on one side, was recommended for “matrons” in July.

Hats with rolled brims, Nov. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

The hat on the left is trimmed with a “smart hackle fancy.” Clusters of feathers, sometimes known as hackle pads, can be found online. Here is a large selection of hackles from the Zucker Feather company (a wholesaler.)

The wings on this hat are made of moleskin (a brushed cotton) and velvet — and it cost $12.25 to duplicate at home, more than any of the others.

A hat covered with moleskin and velvet. LHj, Nov. 1917, LHJ.

A hat covered with moleskin and velvet. LHJ, Nov. 1917.

Hats that required special navigational skills — hats which were extremely tall, or extremely wide — were often illustrated. I showed more 1917 hats in a previous post:  click here.

Delineator hat illustrations, May 1917.

Delineator hat illustrations, May 1917.

Delineator hat illustrations, September, 1917.

Delineator hat illustrations, September, 1917.

Hats in Delineator illustrations, May 1917.

Hats in Delineator illustrations, May 1917. Usually a sheer hat would have visible “spokes” supporting the brim.

The hat on the left, below, is quite wide, and has a very high crown, too.

Velvet covered hats, Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

Velvet-covered hats, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

The “rolled quills” are probably long feathers that have been trimmed to have short barbs. This was not a good time to be a bird (or a woman with an aversion to wearing parts of dead animals), although by 1913 the Audubon Society had succeeded in passing legislation to protect native and migrating birds. (Read a good account here. (“Mama, there’s a woman with a dead body on her hat who wants to see you.”)

Ladies Home Journal, Oct. 1917, 137. Hats for tailored clothes.

Ladies Home Journal, Oct. 1917, 137. Hats for tailored clothes.

May, 1917. Hats from Ladies' Home Journal.

May, 1917. Hats from Ladies’ Home Journal.

Hats which use old velvet and fur scraps. LHJ, Nov. 1917.

Hats which use old velvet and fur scraps (and bird parts). LHJ, Nov. 1917.

However, there are plenty of delightful 1917 hats to copy without looking like a taxidermist’s shop.

Hat in ADM ad, Oct. 1917 LHJ.

Hat in ADM ad, Oct. 1917 LHJ.

Cloth covered hats, Delineator illustration, May 1917.

Cloth-covered hats, Delineator illustration, May 1917.

Delineator, hats illustrated in May 1917. The one on the right uses wide striped ribbon for a band and cockade.

Delineator, hats illustrated in May 1917. The one on the right uses wide striped ribbon for a band and cockade.

Picture hat with a tassel on a long cord. LHJ, Oct. 1917.

Picture hat with a tassel on a long cord. LHJ, Oct. 1917.

If you were persuaded to make your own hats, and you wanted to learn the milliner’s craft, the Woman’s Institute was ready to help with a correspondence course:

Ad for hat making course from Woman's Institute, Ladies Home Journal, September, 1917.

Ad for hat making course from Woman’s Institute, Ladies Home Journal, September, 1917.

 

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Hats, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Accessories, Woman's Institute, World War I

New Clothes from Old, World War I

Ladies' Home Journal Cover by M. Giles, September 1917.

Ladies’ Home Journal Cover by M. Giles, September 1917. Her dress, with its 1860-ish pagoda sleeves, evokes the Civil War.

When the United States entered World War I, the “women’s magazines” communicated many of the new restrictions on food and fabric use to families all over the country.

“This Is What the Englishwoman Did.” Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

What the Englishwoman did was plunder her closet and convert out-of-fashion or worn-out clothing to new styles for herself and her family. She made children’s dresses from her old jackets (top left) and old petticoats (top right), put new, remade sleeves on old gowns, turned old suits into “new” dresses (center), and refurbished old hats.

Woman's Institute ad, Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

Woman’s Institute ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917. “This year women are urged to economize, but economy need not mean fewer clothes.” Woman’s Institute offered correspondence courses in sewing, etc.

Both Delineator (which targeted middle and upper middle class women) and Ladies’ Home Journal (which was aimed a little lower on the social scale) began runnning regular articles on how to convert old clothes to new; sometimes they even sold patterns intended to be used in this way.

Ladies' Home Journal pattern No. 9776 for boy's shirts made from worn out men's shirts. Aug. 1917.

Ladies’ Home Journal pattern No. 9776 for boy’s shirts made from worn out men’s shirts. Aug. 1917. “When a man’s shirt is perfectly good ‘all but,’ it may be made over into any one of these three garments pictured here.”

This blouse was made from an old evening dress:

How to use an old evening gown is solved by this dainty Georgette crepe waist made from the gown above.

You can see that the bands of trim from the evening gown, including ruffle, have been incorporated into the blouse. This may not be easy reading for Vintage Clothing Dealers; today, a lovely pre-war gown is more appreciated than a matronly blouse.

Dresses suitable for salvage, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Dresses suitable for salvage, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

” ‘ What shall I ever do with this old-fashioned eyelet embroidery gown? ‘ Combine it with that black satin dress you spilled acid on, select an up-to-date model and you will not believe your own eyes. Here the result is shown.”

Dress made from two old dresses, Sept. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

Dress made from two old dresses, Sept. 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal.

A reader of mystery novels might wonder why a woman wearing a black satin dress was handling acid . . . .

The dress below was made from an old dress and a long plaid skirt. The criss-cross belt was very fashionable in 1917.

Dress made from two old dresses, Sept. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

Dress made from an old skirt and dress, Sept. 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal. I’m not sure that “bite” out of the front showing an underskirt is a great idea….

When you ran out of old clothes, you could start on the curtains:

“Young girls fairly glow in fluffy things with ruffles, like this party frock made of dotted curtain mull.” Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

This young woman told a story of embarrassment solved by an ingenious remodel:

Remodelled coat, Sept. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

Remodeled coat, Sept. 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal. Illustration by Sheldon.

” ‘I cannot wear this old coat another season; everyone knows it by its plainness.’ A friend suggested a new collar, cuffs, pockets and sash of a self-toned material, all coarse-stitched with a heavy floss. Anyone would be proud to wear the coat after the ‘fixing.’ “

The result is much more stylish, indeed. coat remake

I had a chance to photograph a high-quality wool suit ( probably dated 1918) with similar “coarse-stitching” in silk floss; it’s a lovely detail.

“Coarse-stitching” on the pockets, belt, and center front opening of a vintage suit with labels from Hickson (New York & Boston)and E. E. Atkinson & Co., Minneapolis.

Thanks to B. Murray for the opportunity to photograph this suit.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Woman's Institute, World War I