Category Archives: Resources for Costumers

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

Whoopee Booties, 1929

Whoopee Booties, Sears catalog, Fall 1929, p. 63. They came in red with gray or black with red trim.

Last week The Vintage Traveler reminded me that shoe illustrations, being fashion illustrations, are not always truthful. As a vintage buyer and dealer, she observed that real 1920’s shoes generally do not have super-high heels. That sent me to the ever-useful Sears Roebuck catalogs at Ancestry.com. And that is where I was distracted by these “Whoopee Booties” from 1929.

Sears Whoopee Booties, 1929. “Modern as youth itself!” Do they lace all the way up, or do they “flap?” Rain boots from 1928 looked like this.

And before discussing heel height, I want to recommend one of the best articles on “Flappers” that I’ve ever seen; the Silent Film site Silent-ology devoted the month of March 2018 to Flappers and wrote this brilliant essay to set the theme. Click here for The History (and Mythology) of 1920s Flapper Culture.

And Now, Back to Heel Heights from 1929

Sears did offer one pair of 4 inch heels:

Four inch heels from Sears’ Fall catalog 1929, page 66. “Patent leather d’Orsay pump, made on the Follies last, featuring the new 4-inch covered spike heel and short vamp which make the foot look smaller.”

Women from the twenties (like my mother and my aunt) were proud of having small feet (or, more precisely, of wearing small shoe sizes, which is not quite the same thing….) It’s interesting that in 1929  “smaller feet,” not “longer legs,” was the selling point for higher heels.

But, as The Vintage Traveler predicted, in most of these ads showing high heels, the heel height — even when described as “spike heels” — is two and a half inches.

Two and a half inch “spike heels.” Sears catalog, Fall 1929, page 67.

Purple heels from Sears, Fall catalog , 1929, page 63. Available in Antique Purple kid or black patent leather; as illustrated, the heels look  high, but they are “2 1/2 inch covered spike heels.”

These pumps were available in black satin (for evening) or black patent leather. They have 2 1/2 inch “spike heels.” Notice the range of sizes.

The Savoy style was “an actual copy of a high priced model” — and these heels were only 2 inches high.

Ditto for The Parisian:

The Parisian shoe from Sears. Fall of 1929, p, 66.  These are actually 2 inch heels.

The heels of these green shoes are just 1 3/4 inches high, but they don’t aspire to be “spike” heels. Sears, Fall of 1929, p. 64.

These surprisingly asymmetrical shoes have a delicate braided T strap which seems to un-braid on to the toe of the shoe. The 1928 article in Delineator remarked on the unusual asymmetrical style of a shoe by Perugia.  These chic shoes also have a modest 2 1/2 inch spike heel.

And, to return to those youthful Whoopee Booties, they have a 1 and 3/4 inch “military” heel.

Whoopee Booties from Sears, 1929. They have 1 3/4 inch heels.

If you have any doubt what “whoopee” is …. There was a hit song about it in 1928:
“Another bride,
Another groom,
Another sunny honeymoon,
Another season,
Another reason
For making whoopee.”
“The chorus sings, “Here comes the bride.”
Another victim is by her side.
He’s lost his reason cause it’s the season
For making whoopee.”
“Another year or maybe less
What’s this I hear?
Well, can’t you guess?
She feels neglected so he’s suspected
Of making whoopee.”

Detail: ad from Delineator, May 1929.

“She sits alone most every night.
He doesn’t phone or even write.
He says he’s busy.
But she says, “Is he?”
He’s making whoopee.”

The song ends in the divorce court, where the judge says,

“You better keep her.
You’ll find it’s cheaper
Than making whoopee.”

You can see Eddie Cantor perform his 1928 stage hit song, “Makin’ Whoopee” in this movie clip from the 1930 color (!) film musical Whoopee!

Co-produced by Florenz Ziegfeld (Jr.) and Samuel Goldwyn, this film is as close as I’ll ever get to seeing a Ziegfeld show — with musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley. Set “out west,” the film quality is poor, the plot is silly, but the costumes are fabulous — if you can stand dozens of half-dressed women of European ancestry wearing enormous feather headdresses, and Eddie Cantor wearing blackface….(truly nauseating.) If you’re designing a revival of Will Rogers Follies, it’s a must-watch bit of research. Besides, tap-dancing cowboys!

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Shoes, Vintage Accessories

Twenties’ Styles for Burn-Out Velvet

Vintage Twenties’ dress in champagne-colored silk velvet chiffon (burn-out velvet.) Private collection.

Some people call this “cut velvet“; it’s also called “burn-out,” “voided,”or “devoure” (with an accent aigue on the final e: dev’-00r-ay.)  The places where there is no velvet pile can be sheer, like chiffon; or satin-y, as in this bustle-era cape or mantle (the leaves are plush velvet, and the spaces between feel like heavy satin:)

Victorian dolman cape made to fit over a bustle dress. Cut (voided) velvet/satin brocade with silk chenille fringe. Private collection.

Back view, vintage twenties’ cut velvet and chiffon evening or afternoon dress. The top looks lighter because the skirt lining has been lost.

A close-up shows damage to the vintage chiffon back drapery and the burn-out silk, but you can see how sheer and chiffon-like the burnt-out areas are. A silk or rayon lining in the sale color as the velvet makes the subtle effect seen at left.

I don’t have a really good photo of this twenties’ fabric, but, if I were trying to reproduce this dress, I would visit Thai Silks.  Currently, you can find convincing period fabrics like this one for $25 to $28 per yard. Multi-colored, printed burn-out velvets will make a glamorous Twenties’ dress, and work best with a very simple dress pattern: easy elegance. Thai Silk is also a good source for silk charmeuse, silk satin, crepe de chine, etc.

On this store-bought twenties’ vintage dress, designs in velvet form a border on sheer black chiffon.

Butterick 2125; suggested fabrics were satin, metal cloth, or lace, but rayon silk velvet would also look like this. Delineator, September 1928.

I don’t usually recommend businesses on this blog, but as a theatrical costumer — twenty years ago — I used to love the company called Thai Silks. I was close enough to shop there in person, but you can order (one yard minimum!) online. The online catalog is downloadable, and they will mail you a swatch or two before you commit to a purchase. Burn-out velvet (very 1920’s) is currently about $25 per yard. If you like Britex, you might love Thai Silks.

Butterick patterns for velvet dresses, Delineator, November 1928, p. 118. The printed velvet second from left is Butterick 1785, for sizes 34 to 48. Second from right is Butterick 2232. The print velvet on No. 2232 looks much like this one.  These velvet dresses are for afternoon wear.

Note: the “hand” of real silk or rayon/silk velvet is nothing like the stiff “decorator” velvet sold in many fabric chain stores. Thai Silks sells many rayon/silk blends, so asking for a swatch allows you to “feel” if it will behave properly for your pattern. Rayon and silk are both authentic 1920’s fabrics.

About rayon/silk velvet: one of the first synthetic fabrics, rayon is cellulose based, like cotton and linen. Silk, like wool, is protein based. Chemicals that make it possible to dissolve the protein (silk) and leave the cellulose (rayon) intact make it possible to create burn-out effects. (I’m working from memory here, so if you need more information, please look for a more knowledgeable source on devoure silk!)

These print dresses from Delineator, November 1928, could be made from printed velvet if you use silk velvet or a soft rayon/silk blend. Butterick 2335 and 2299. (Maybe this one?)

Printed silks in patterns suitable for the 1920’s (including “necktie silk”) are still being made, if you shop carefully.

It’s important to remember that the labor (or time) spent making a dress is almost always more “expensive” than the fabric. Three or four yards of quality silk or silk velvet fabric (under $100 total) will result in a dress worth hundreds of dollars, and putting all that work into a polyester dress will never give the same result. Luckily, the more interesting your fabric, the less complex your dress style should be, so that the fabric, not the trim, is the real star. [Be aware that stitching velvet requires careful pinning and basting, and practice.]

Two views of Butterick 1118, from Delineator, November 1926.

Delineator suggested transparent “night blue” velvet for this evening gown. White or plum or another color of velvet would be just as lovely. So would many other silks.

The Exotic Silks company offers basically the same products as Thai Silks, and offers a large sample set of velvet swatches for $12 (2017 price.) However, Exotic Silks is a wholesaler; (minimum order for silk is 15 yards and for velvet is 28 yards.) Thai Silks has a one yard minimum and will send you swatches of the fabrics you really are interested in; you can phone them. Thai Silks also offers several sets of swatches, $12 and up. (I believe Exotic Silks and Thai Silks are two branches of the same store, wholesale and retail.)

P.S. Here is the store label from this 1880’s cape; today, fabric similar to this is often sold as upholstery velvet:

1880’s dolman cape, front view. The “sleeves” are held in place with internal ties; this is a cape, not a jacket with fitted sleeves.

Label from bustle-era cape: “L.F.W. Arend & Co., Importers & Mfturers, Chicago.”

Click here for a Pinterest page full of late Victorian mantles like this.

 

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, evening and afternoon clothes, Resources for Costumers, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Dresses with Bows, December 1928

A bow at the hip, a bow on the shoulder, or both: Two Butterick dresses from December 1928. Delineator. The one at left even has bows at the wrist.

I confess, the dress at upper right is one of my favorites from the Twenties. Bows, and variations on bows, enhanced many dresses in 1928; here are a few from December of 1928. (Ninety-nine [CORRECTION: 89] years ago. [Thanks, Jacqueline!]  Let’s start with some bow variations:

Butterick 2373 has sections joined by fagoting, a detail attributed to Vionnet. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30.

It’s not a bow, but this tie appears to be part of the neckline, and is echoed on the back of the dress, as if a narrow scarf were part of the neckline.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/500-v166-faggoting-between-bias-panels.jpg?w=500&h=490

Two panels of a vintage dress joined by fagoting. 1920s. For more on Vionnet and fagoting, click here.

Butterick 2373, front and back views. December, 1928, Delineator. That long back tie helps narrow the rear view of hips.

Butterick 2378 has the snugly draped hips of 1928, with the interesting not-exactly-a-bow insertion at the shoulder creating a slenderizing vertical line, and four bows — two at the hips and two at the wrists. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30. If you look closely, you can see a side seam bust dart.

Front and back views of Butterick 2378. The “handkerchief girdle” is attributed to both Molyneux and the design team of Martial et Armand. Delineator, Dec . 1928, p. 30.

I like this dress so much that I wondered what it would look like on a more realistic figure. Imagine it in silk jersey:

Illustration of Butterick 2378 manipulated to appear on a more naturalistic figure. It still looks good to me!

Most Butterick patterns from the 1920’s were sized from bust 32″ up to a 44″ bust measure — that would be a modern pattern size 22, a reminder that not all women in the Twenties had “boyish” figures.  The next dress has a soft drape, rather than a bow, but it’s recommended for older (and larger) women, so I though it worth sharing:

Butterick 2381 has an interesting yoke and skirt, but no bows. Delineator, Dec. 1928, page 30. It was recommended for “the older woman.” Notice the gathers at the shoulder, which would provide some fullness over the bust.

Front and back views of Butterick 2381, which was available up to size 48″ bust (and proportionately larger hips.) Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30.

The vertical drapery and skirt panels in front would be flattering to a larger figure. The back view, with two horizontal hip bands? Probably not becoming to 52″ hips. Maybe it could use the clever, long, back tie from Butterick 2373.

This dress, which has a metallic (lame) bodice and velvet skirt, could be worn by misses 15 to 18 as well as women up to size 44″ bust.

Butterick 2346, a formal afternoon frock, has a tiered skirt with hip accent, and a big shoulder bow matching the skirt fabric. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 30.

Front and back views of Butterick 2346. Delineator, December, 1928, p. 30. I wish I could find another description of this pattern, because it was common for a very formal day dress like this to also have a sleeveless version for evening wear.

Two Formal Frocks from Delineator, December 1928. Butterick patterns 2379 and 2287.

Bows at the shoulder on evening frocks, December 1928.

Butterick 2359 has velvet bows at shoulder and hip, but it does not have the tight hip girdle seen in these other 1928 fashions.

The diagonal hip bow is appliqued to the dress and can be tied to fit the hips tightly. In back, it forms a band. The back of the dress is cut in one piece; the front panel dips well below the hemline.

Front and back views of Butterick 2359, from December 1928. Delineator, p. 31. [When I think about how I would make this dress, with the weight of the hip bow and the stress that tying it tightly would put on the crepe fabric where the velvet gaps in front…. The inside of this dress might need some engineering to make it stay bloused this perfectly when worn by an actor.**]

Illustrations are by M. Lages.

Perhaps too much of a good thing, Butterick 2312 has three bows in a line from shoulder to hip. Delineator, Dec. 1928, p. 28. This is a dinner dress for young or small women.

The hem is longer in back than in front — it has “the backward dipping flounce that marks the new mode.” The dress has the curve: the flounce is “straight.” It attaches to an upward curve in front and a downward curve in back. The shoulder bow ends in a long streamer.

Front and back views of Butterick 2312 from Dec. 1928.

** Unlike models, actors have to sit down and get up and move like normal people.  Costumers use the term “actor-proofing,” not as an insult to actors, but because it’s our job to prevent the costume from becoming a problem for the actor wearing it. “Mark Antony” shouldn’t have to worry about his toga falling off his shoulder — it took years of training for a Roman gentleman to master toga-wearing. Directors are always asking actors to do things that can’t be done in restrictive period clothing; it’s the costumers’ job to make the clothing look authentic but allow such movement 8 times a week, month after month. 1920’s two-piece dresses often suspended the skirt from an unseen bodice top (like a modern camisole.) That meant the skirt could hang straight from the shoulders, without being shaped to a waistband. If you want a blouson to stay bloused, you can attach it to that “skirt” so the blousing can’t slip down unevenly.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Hats, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

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

Exhibit of Brian Stonehouse Fashion Illustrations for Vogue

I’d never heard of illustrator and artist Brian Stonehouse until I saw this image in an ad for the exhibit, but if you are lucky enough to be in London between October 19 and December 22, 2017, you might want to visit the Abbott and Holder Gallery at 30 Museum Street for “the final group of works from the Artist’s Estate painted during his New York, American Vogue years.” Click here for a view of many fashion illustrations from the fifties and sixties, thanks to the Guardian newspaper’s Fashion section.
An eye-catching ad in the London Review of Books encapsulates the life of Brian Stonehouse, M.B.E. (1918 – 1998) this way:

“WW II SOE Agent, Concentration Camp Survivor and American Vogue Illustrator 1952-1963.”

As a British spy working with the French Resistance during WW II, Stonehouse was captured and sent to a concentration camp. After he was liberated, he moved to New York and did a series of lovely illustrations for Vogue.

If you can’t make a visit in person, you can page through the gallery’s full color exhibition catalog by clicking here.

 

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, Exhibitions & Museums, Resources for Costumers

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