Category Archives: Resources for Costumers

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

Some (Surprising) Smocked Vintage Garments

This vintage blouse uses hand smocking to control fullness at the shoulders, waist, and sleeves. Probably before 1920’s.

I’ve already shared some 1940’s patterns for smocked blouses, but I keep finding more examples of smocking.

Butterick smocked blouse pattern 4456, Butterick Fashion News flyer, March 1948.

It’s very similar to this pattern from McCall:

McCall smocked blouse pattern 1136 from 1944.

But those forties’ blouses have a peasant influence; they are based on smocked ethnic clothing.

An embroidered ethnic blouse with smocked neckline.

An ethnic peasant blouse with hand-smocked neckline and wrists.

An ethnic flavor was also very popular in the nineteen twenties.

This earlier blouse, however, bares little resemblance to “peasant” styles.

Vintage smocked blouse made of sheer fabric with woven stripes.

The collar covers much of the smocking across the shoulders. So-called “Armistice” blouses are usually short-wasted in back.

I flipped the collar up to show the hand smocking on the back of this blouse. It seems a shame to hide all that work!

I had forgotten about this vintage blouse — it is probably from the “teens.” It uses the stripes woven into the fabric as the grid for smocking, and uses smocking instead of machine-stitched tucks to control the fullness at shoulders, sleeves, and waist.

Detail of smocked shoulder.

The back waist is elegant, although the blouse would look better after ironing. (But smocking makes ironing more difficult.)

The sleeves have a smocked area near the wrist, creating a modest frill.

Smocking in the wrist area. There is a narrow dark stripe in the fabric next to each tightly woven white stripe.

I believe this is called honeycomb smocking:

McCall smocking pattern 441, from 1936.

Using striped fabric as a base for smocking produces interesting effects; this image from A-Z of Smocking, by Sue Gardner, shows how the stripes become part of the grid:

Striped fabric can be smocked in ways the either preserve the stripe, as here, or turn them into a “solid” color. Both effects are pictured in the book A-Z of Smocking, reviewed below. Image reproduced for purpose of review example only. Do NOT copy.

I found another — to me, unexpected — use of smocking on a black silk apron from an era when most older women were almost perpetually in mourning.

A black silk apron with a smocked bib. It’s shown over an unrelated turn-of-the-century blouse.

Perhaps this apron was worn for nothing more taxing than a little hand sewing — or pouring tea.

About the A-Z of Smocking, by Sue Gardner:

Cover of A-Z of Smocking, 2016 edition, by Sue Gardner.

I was fascinated by the many smocking patterns I found in 1940’s McCall catalogs, so I wanted to learn more about this old technique for fabric modification. If you want to find beautifully illustrated, step-by-step smocking instructions, this book couldn’t be clearer. If you are a beginner with an interest in the history of smocking, this may not be quite what you are looking for.

The text can be this brief because the illustrations are so informative and well organized.  Photo from A-Z of Smocking for purpose of review. Do Not Copy.

There is a whole series of A-Z books from Search Press. It’s my fault that I assumed “A-Z” meant “from beginning to end;” instead, it means that the book is organized in alphabetical order, so a lavishly illustrated section on “Honeycomb” smocking comes before an equally fine section on “Trellis” smocking. And an advanced technique, like smocking with Beads, appears before the basic stitches, because it begins with “B.”

On the other hand, because the book is illustrated with step-by-step photos instead of line drawings, it couldn’t be clearer:

A typical section from A-Z of Smocking will have at least two pages of careful and very clear instructional photos like this for every technique covered. Do Not Copy Image.

It even explained (and illustrated the steps to using) a machine that gathers the fabric for you. But the topics I was looking for — about the history of smocking, why it was used for work clothes, which stitches were stretchable and used for the wrist area, for example, were hard to find.

This is the entire passage about Traditional Smocking. No illustrations. A-Z of Smocking is not a history book. Do Not Copy This Image.

Some of the oldest smocking techniques — sometimes called English smocking from its use on shepherd’s smocks — depend on first gathering the fabric with several rows of identically spaced stitches, and then stabilizing them with the decorative smocking stitches. When I read that, in combination with seeing the many stitching examples, I realized that a smocking grid looks a lot like the grid used for cartridge pleating, which had been used to gather fabric in garments for centuries.

Illustration from the section on cartridge pleating in The Costume Technician’s Handbook, by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey. Do Not Copy Image.

If you’ve examined mid-nineteenth century dresses, or made Renaissance costumes, this technique for gathering fabrics evenly and stitching them to armholes, yokes, or waists will be very familiar.

Attaching cartridge pleated fabric — e.g., a skirt — to a waistband. From The Costume Technician’s Handbook. Do Not Copy Image.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/close-v005-cf-detail-500.jpg?w=500&h=382

Cartridge pleats produce tightly controlled gathers in this 19th century fan-fronted dress.

Typical cartridge pleated skirt, stitched to bodice binding. Inside of dress showing extra fabric at CF. You can also see that the front opening is boned.

Typical cartridge pleated skirt, stitched to bodice binding. Inside of dress showing extra fabric at CF. You can also see that the front opening is boned.

For me, this links two very useful books: The Costume Technician’s Handbook, which I cannot recommend frequently enough (the techniques are not limited to costumes,) and the A-Z of Smocking, which I would eagerly buy if I had a practical (rather than academic) interest in smocking.

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, Late Victorian fashions, Resources for Costumers, Shirts and Blouses, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, World War I

House Dresses from Ads, 1930s

Housewife in an ad for Cocomalt, Woman’s Home Companion, September 1936.

Possibly the best costume research advice I ever got was to read old magazines and pay attention to the ads. Fashion coverage rarely goes into the kitchen, but ads for soap, appliances, foods and other homely products will show you images that were credible to their readers. They’re not any more realistic than our TV ads with perfectly maintained kitchens and gardens, but they presented an ideal of normal life.

Did most housewives dress like this in the evening? I doubt it. Koehler furniture ad, WHC, Oct. 1936.

Ads are aspirational. They hold out the dream that, if you buy this product, your life will be transformed. So, for a view of everyday clothing, they aren’t perfect; they show the way people wanted to look. But they’ll help you to get into the mindset of the period.

Most women wore an apron while washing dishes. However, this wrap dress with its two sizes of polka dots and sheer ruffles might give you some good design ideas. S.O.S. Ad, March 1935. Delineator.

O.K., that’s more realistic. Under that clean apron, she’s wearing a dress with sheer ruffles on the sleeves. S.O.S. ad, Feb. 1935. Delineator.

Using an electric floor polisher. Appliance ad, Oct. 1934. Delineator.

Hmmm. White collars and cuffs seem to be a theme.

The next three housewives come from a series of Depression Era ads for Royal Baking Powder, in which their tight family budgets are given; the women may be wearing their best house dresses, freshly washed and ironed for the photographer, but the ads had to be believable to readers on tight budgets themselves:

This young housewife is living on $900 a year (about $17 per week.) Royal Baking Powder ad, March 1934. Delineator.

The housewife at right prides herself on spending just a dollar a day for her family’s food, but she manages to look neat and clean. Royal Baking Powder ad, January 1935.

She married on $20 per week. Interesting dress, with sheer white ruffles. It looks like her coordinating apron is pinned to her dress. Royal Baking Powder ad, February 1934. Delineator.

I was interested to see that some women sensibly adopted the sleeveless dress for housework:

Doing housework in a chic sleeveless dress. S.O.S. ad, May 1934. Delineator.

Sleeveless dress in an ad for Gerber’s baby food. August 1937. Delineator.

Mother in sleeveless dress with her children. Illustration for an article on child rearing, 1935. Delineator.

Ads for Scot paper towels show many pretty but credible house dresses. [It’s hard to imagine a time when we had to be taught what to do with a paper towel, but that is the purpose of this thirties’ ad campaign.]

Ad for Scot paper towels, March 1935. House dresses were often made of lively, small-scale, floral print fabrics.

Ad for Scot paper towels, July 1937. White collar and cuffs on a plaid dress.

Ad for Scot paper towels, March 1936. Woman’s Home Companion. White collar and cuffs again.

A loose-sleeved plaid house dress. Ad for Scot paper towels, February 1936. WHC.

Wrap dress, in small floral print with sheer ruffled accents. Ad for Scot [bathroom] tissue, Nov. 1936.

After teaching women to use Scot paper towels for drying hands, draining bacon, wiping greasy pans, cleaning glass, et cetera

Scot Paper towel ad, December 1936. New customers, unfamiliar with paper towels, would also need a holder.

… the ad campaign finally got around to a use that didn’t require a verbal description:

Ad for Scot paper towels, December 1936.

Oops! No house dress in that one. (I do get distracted by these little glimpses into the past….)

This woman’s clothing probably emphasizes the ease [no sweat, ladies!] of using this vacuum, rather than her normal working clothes.

A housewife and her Hoover. Nov. 1937, WHC. Women who wear high heels all the time find flat shoes uncomfortable, (my stepmother wore sturdy 2″ heels while cooking and cleaning) but these heels are rather high and thin for doing housework.

Whether women really vacuumed the house dressed like this is questionable. But I think that the dress worn by this woman demonstrating a washing machine is probably very close to realistic.

It was hard to use a mangle machine like this without getting wet. From an article about laundry, WHC, March 1936. That’s what I call a “wash dress.”

This isn’t.

From an ad for laundry soap — Fels Naptha. WHC, Sept. 1936. This woman’s dress says her laundry is done. It’s not the “wash day” dress she wears in the drawing.

This ad reminds us that work dresses were still very long in 1936. Large-scale plaid dress in an ad for Sun-Maid Raisins. WHC, March 1936.

Print dresses featured in many ads between 1934 and 1937:

An ad for Lux laundry soap shows a flowered print dress with sheer collar. August 1934, Delineator.

Lux laundry soap claimed to be easy on stockings. Lux ad, Oct. 1937. I can imagine this dress, with its cool neckline, becoming a house dress as it aged.

A crisp floral print dress in an ad for S.O.S. pads. December 1936. This dress could certainly leave the house.

That print dress resembles a “sport dress” available from Tom Boys:

This sport dress could be ordered for $3.95 in February 1937. Ad for Tom Boys; WHC. Hemlines are rising.

Life experience leads me to think that many comfortable, washable sports dresses began as “good” casual clothes but eventually became only “good enough for housework” when they were damaged or out of style.

Perhaps the most truthful ad showing what many women wore during the Depression is this one:

Photo of a healthy farm family, thanks to Nujol laxative. From a Nujol ad, April 1934, Delineator.

 

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Filed under 1930s, Hairstyles, Hosiery, Hosiery, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Sportswear, Uniforms and Work Clothes, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers