Category Archives: Tricks of the Costumer’s Trade

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 Princess Line Dresses (and Styling Tricks) from the Nineteen Twenties

These princess line dresses from the 1920’s do not have the characteristic horizontal hip band of most twenties’ fashions.

In my post about Butterick styles for October 1927, I wrote,

Not all 1920’s dresses had a strong horizontal line across the hip. Princess-seamed dress patterns were available for several years and didn’t change much — except for their length.

Left, Butterick 1683, a princess line dress; Delineator, October 1927, page 31. These 1927 hemlines are just below the knee.

The rear view of the princess dress (1683) shows the characteristic princess seams, which can be shaped to follow the lines of  the body without any waist seam. The front and back are each divided into three panels. A princess line dress usually skims the body — at least, they did before the use of stretch fabrics and elasticated knits.

More Princess Line Dresses from the Nineteen Twenties

Here are some other princess line patterns from 1925 to 1928. Some combine fur and velvet for evening, but one is a day dress.

Left, Butterick princess line dress pattern 6424, Delineator, December 1925. For a young woman or teen.

Left, Butterick princess line dress pattern 6506, from December 1925.

Also from December 1925, Butterick princess line dress pattern 6428. Dresses for adult women were slightly longer than those for teens.

In 1928, the princess line evening gown has a hem that dips low in the back. So does the neckline.

Butterick princess line pattern 2257, from October 1928. Delineator.

Putting Twenties Styles on Modern Bodies

A chenille or ribbon shoulder decoration draws our eye up toward the face on these formal dresses from December 1927. Butterick patterns 1734 and 1753.

I think I’ve mentioned this before: a director once told me that he wanted “absolutely authentic 1920’s costumes” — but added, “Just don’t give me any of those dresses with the waists down around the hips!” In times (like the 1980’s) when contemporary fashion insists on narrow hips and wide shoulders, making an actress feel confident in a dress with natural shoulders and a horizontal line across her hips can be difficult — especially if she isn’t slim-hipped or is self-conscious about her figure.

Trim or fur leads your eye to focus on the top of the body in these styles from December 1928. Butterick patterns 1761 and 1757.

But theatrical designers also have to consider audience expectations — I would not do a twenties’ show in which every woman wore princess line dresses! However, the princess line dress is among the authentic possibilities for one or two characters, or for a re-creator who doesn’t have a “boyish” figure.

Illustration by Helen Dryden, Delineator cover, September 1928. A band of deep pink on the scarf lends a touch of bright color to her head and face area.

The most flattering twenties’ styles balance the hip interest with interest near the face. Butterick patterns 1745 and 1735, from December 1927.

For plays and operas, we try to draw attention to the face and upper body. (It sounds crazy, but audiences can’t hear the lines if they can’t see the faces. Humans lip-read much more than they realize.) Accessories that create a vertical line, such as lighter or brighter colors near the face, those looooong 1920’s necklaces, and those often-seen 1920’s shoulder decorations are flattering and authentic twenties’ tricks.

A scarf or bows with long ties add interest to the top of the body and, in the case of the bows, create a vertical line to balance the hip interest. June 1928, Delineator.

These three couture sketches are undoubtedly twenties’ styles, but they use a variety of styling tricks to move our attention up the body, toward the face, and to deflect interest from the hips.

French designer fashions from May 1928. 1) Renee, 2) Jane Regny, 3) Jenny. Sketches for Delineator. The coat by Jenny suggests princess lines.

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Filed under 1920s, evening and afternoon clothes, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns

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

The Second Dart: A 1920’s Pattern Alteration for Busty Women

“The Reason for the Second Dart,” by Sarah Churchill. From a series about sewing pattern alterations that appeared in Butterick’s Delineator magazine in the 1920’s. This is from the July 1927 issue, page 26.

We tend to think of nineteen twenties dresses as shapeless tubes, but that’s not necessarily true. Dresses might have shirring or smocking or pintucks to create a small amount of fullness over the bust, or they might have a small bust dart — or even two!

This brief article from Butterick’s Delineator magazine shows how to alter a dress pattern to accommodate a full breasted figure.

The woman with a lorgnette (!) advises her friend on the way to eliminate a fitting problem caused by a larger than average bust.

The cut out dress is pinned together and tried on inside out. You can see that the pattern does have a bust dart in the side seam, but the dress fits poorly. The side seam curves toward the front. (And the dart seems too high….)

” ‘I cut this dress by those instructions you are always cheering for,’ announced the young woman of the illustration, ‘but it scoops in under me in the back and sticks out in front, and whatever does this queer long wrinkle mean?’ It meant, that ‘queer’ wrinkle, running from the bust to the underarm seam in a long curving sweep, the the frock was pushed out of place by the bust. This in turn, meant that the bust is larger than is average. The type of figure which is very full in the bust is often correspondingly narrow through the back, and the sum total of inches registered by the tape measure will indicate an average size for a figure not actually average.” — Sarah Churchill

This reminds me of the fitting room saying that “The wrinkle points to the problem;” that long wrinkle starts at the side seam and points up, toward her bust point.

This woman does not have an “average” twenties’ figure. (And clearly, she is not wearing a bust flattener.)

The problem of buying patterns (or, worse, brassieres) by the measurement taken around the fullest part of the bust is not new to me. A friend who is 5′ 10″ and athletic wears a size 38 A bra. She has a big ribcage (37″), a broad back, and small breasts. But another woman who also measures 38 inches around the fullest part of the bust may have a narrow back, a 34 inch ribcage and large breasts. Her bra size would be 34 D. And that is the kind of figure that the woman in these illustrations has.

“However, all is not lost. The frock merely needs a little adjusting — another dart to the front at each side.”

The extra fabric that created the long wrinkle is pinched out by unpinning the side seam and creating a second bust dart, which pulls the side seam into a line perpendicular to the floor. Delineator article, July 1927.

“This gives the bust the room it needs and the frock falls as it should. The back is now an inch or so longer than the front. We shall cut this off with a free hand swing since it is a one-piece frock and no complications to be encountered, and all will be well. The frock now hangs smartly. In this case, chic depended on a little dart!” — Sarah Churchill, Delineator, July 1927, p. 26.

After the second dart is created, the side seam hangs correctly and the full bust does not distort the dress.

“To those who wonder why I did not deepen the dart already in the frock, I would point out that a second dart distributes the fullness with better effect. [W2F: I also suspect that, since the dress is already cut, there might not be enough seam allowance for one, deep dart.] However, if the frock had started out with two darts, I would have deepened both evenly…. For the depth of the dart, experiment until the frock hangs straight.” — Sarah Churchill

Churchill goes on to explain that, if the back of the dress were not one, simple piece — [if, perhaps, it had a hip girdle or a separate, pleated skirt piece] — then the whole back would need to be recut, eliminating the extra inch by placing the pattern on top of the fabric and recutting the neck, shoulder, and armholes to raise the back by an inch (or whatever length the extra dart had removed in front.)

Voila!

Before and after the dress alteration which added a second dart. Delineator, July 1927, p. 26.

For anyone who has ever struggled to recreate 1920’s styles — under the assumption that bust darts were never used — this advice from 1927 should make you feel better. Here’s a 1925 illustration of a suit from Chanel — with a bust dart.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/1925-jan-designers-chanel.jpg?w=500

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade

Big Pockets, Big Hips, Tiny Waists in the 1950s

A comment from Fabricated about the peculiar pockets of 1917 reminded me that big pockets, which visually widened the hips, were in style again in the late forties and through the nineteen fifties. But in the fifties, they emphasized a tiny waist.

Butterick 5529 uses big, decorated pockets to make the waist look smaller by contrast. Butterick Fashion News, January 1951.

Butterick 5529 uses big, decorated “stand” pockets to make the waist look smaller by contrast. Butterick Fashion News, January 1951. The bodice darts at front and back are visible in the small illustrations.

This is the influence of Dior’s 1947 collection, when he cinched in his models’ waists and padded their hips to achieve an exaggeratedly feminine shape. For several years, couturiers and even some ready-to-wear manufacturers built foundation garments into suits and dresses.

A Dior dress and Dior Suit, 1947. The jacket has padded hhips accented with large pockets. Sketches from the Bergdorf Goodman Sketch Collection at the Metropolitan Museum.

A Dior dress and Dior Suit, 1947. The jacket has padded hips accented with large pockets. Sketches from the Bergdorf Goodman Sketch Collection at the Metropolitan Museum.

Couture tip: When a bodice or jacket fits this tightly, an interior waistband of grosgrain ribbon is used. It fits very tightly around the waist, and closes with hooks and eyes or bars. You fasten the interior waistband, and then zip or button the garment. Since the ribbon waistband is attached to the seam allowances of the garment, often at the side and back seams, it takes the strain of the tight waist, so there is never any visible pulling at the buttonholes.

You can see one end of such a band inside this Dior dress dated 1955 on the label.

Interior waistband of grosgrain ribbon; you hook it before fastening the dress with the zipper. Christian Dior, 1955.

Interior waistband of grosgrain ribbon; you hook it before fastening the dress with the zipper. Christian Dior, 1955.

The bare topped, pleated dress had inch-wide straps, and could be worn with or without this cropped jacket.

Short jacket and pleated dress, Dior, Autumn-Winter 1955.

Short jacket and pleated dress, Dior, Autumn-Winter 1955.

A 1949 Dior dress with pockets reminiscent of 1917, and a Dior Suit, not dated, but from the period 1947 to 1949. Bergdorf Goodman Sketch Collection at the Metropolitan Museum.

A 1949 Dior dress with pockets reminiscent of 1917, and a Dior Suit, not dated, but from the period 1947 to 1949. Bergdorf Goodman Sketch Collection at the Metropolitan Museum.

I have added a link to the large collection of couture sketched for the Bergdorf Goodman store between 1930 and 1950 to my “Sites with Great Information” Sidebar.

I don’t have a a good collection of 1950’s illustrations, but here are a few images I’ve assembled:

A pattern sold through newspapers in 1956: Anne Adams pattern 4803. Big pockets visually widen the hips.

A pattern sold through newspapers in 1956: Anne Adams #4803. Big “stand” away-from-the-body pockets visually widen the hips.

The Anne Adams pattern is similar to Butterick 5718 from 1951. Mail Order patterns were usually conservative, and a little behind the times.

Even the pockets on aprons got bigger: McCall pattern 1532, from a 1950 Needlework catalog.

Even the pockets on aprons got bigger: McCall pattern 1532, from a 1950 Needlework catalog.

McCall 1579 could be worn as a sundress or an apron. Needlework catalog, November 1950.

McCall 1579 could be worn as a sundress or an apron. Needlework catalog, November 1950. There is a “fitted bodice option;” when a full skirt is used to make the waist look smaller, only a very slender figure can get away with a loosely gathered bodice. The figure in blue is not realistic. In fact, both illustrations show impossible waist size.

McCall's 1451 has cap sleeve to balance the pocket size, and to create an hourglass figure. 1950.

McCall 1451 has cap sleeves to balance the pocket size, and to create an hourglass figure. 1950. Notice the bodice darts. The slightly shorter version (A) was recommended as a coverall apron, and the longer one as a sundress.

Butterick skirt 4460 from March 1948; Butterick Jumper 505o from November 1949. Butterick Fashion News flyers.

Big pockets on Butterick skirt 4460 from March 1948, and Butterick jumper 505o from November 1949. Butterick Fashion News flyers.

Below: The curves and decorated pockets of this 1948 suit lead your eye from hip to waist. A similar style,  Vogue pattern 1096, by Molyneux, was issued in 1950. It has hip pads and double curved pockets, one on top of another.

Butterick jacket 4616 combines with skirt 4600 to make a suit. August 1948.

“Long lissome” Butterick jacket 4600 combines with skirt 4604 to make a suit. BFN, August 1948.

Another hip-widening style was the peplum, which flared out from the waist of a jacket or blouse. The patch-pocketed jacket below was illustrated repeatedly in 1948; the back of this jacket gives a “peplum effect.”

Butterick 4571, a jacket with fitted front and full back, appeared in Butterick Fashion News July and August 1948.

Butterick 4571, a two-piece dress with fitted front and full flared back on the jacket, appeared in Butterick Fashion News in July and August, 1948. Although the back is loose, the front is tightly fitted. A couture version might have had a fitted back bodice inside the loose one.  On the striped versions, the pocket stripes run horizontally, increasing the impression of width.

Below: The three tops on the left have hip-widening peplums;  not a pocket but “drapery tied in the back gives hipline emphasis to the blouse top” of the two-piece dress on the right.

Three two piece dresses with prplum tops, and one with draped hipline emphasis. Butterick patterns from summer 1948.

Three two-piece dresses with peplum tops, and one with draped hipline emphasis. Butterick patterns from summer 1948.

Peplums give the impression of a wider hip and tiny waist on these Simplicity patterns for April, 1948.

Peplums give the impression of a wider hip and tiny waist on these Simplicity patterns for April, 1948. (An impression furthered by the illustrator’s artistic license….) Simplicity patterns 2413, 2414, and 2393.

The fashion for exaggerated hips and tiny waists continued  through the 1950’s. This coat-dress from 1956 has a very full skirt accented by large pockets:

Coat-dress from Butterick pattern 7814, from Butterick Fashion News, October 1956.

Coat-dress from Butterick pattern 7814, from Butterick Fashion News, October 1956. Tiny waist, full skirt and big pockets.

This 1956 suit has a shorter jacket than the peplum fashions of 1948, but it still creates a strong horizontal line at the hip, accented with horizontal, decorative pocket flaps.

Butterick suit 7928 has one jacket and two skirt options, narrow or full. BFN, October 1956.

Butterick suit 7928 has one jacket with two skirt options, narrow or full. BFN, October 1956.

In 1959 and 1960, big pockets and small waists were still appearing on patterns:

Butterik skirt pattern 9082, from 1959. The big pockets were optional.

Butterick skirt pattern 9082, from 1959. The big pockets were optional.

If you’re considering the “wider hips will make my waist look smaller” concept, there are a few caveats.

One:  A normal human being does not look like these fashion illustrations. These fashions are flattering if you have a normally proportioned figure, or are slender. A full skirt will also conceal disproportionate hips. But, if you carry your extra pounds around your midriff, the illusion may not work, unless…. (See “Two.”)

Two:  The dressy fashions were designed to be worn over a foundation, a “merry widow” corset, or a waist cinch, all of which reshape the natural figure. Tight bodices which didn’t have built-in corsetry looked better when worn over elastic and boning that created a figure more like the ideal.

We called this kind of starpless corset a "Merry Widow." If you want to wear vintage fashions from the late forties or fifties, they were designed to be worn over one of these.

When I was in high school, we called this kind of zip-closing strapless corset a “Merry Widow.” Sears catalog, Spring 1954. If you want to wear tightly fitted vintage fashions from the late forties or fifties, remember that they will fit better over a lightly boned foundation like these.

The Sears catalog calls the garment on the left a "waist whittler." We called it a "waist cinch" in the fifties.

The Sears catalog calls the garment on the left a “waist whittler.” We called it a “waist cinch” in the fifties. Some well-made garments had a boned waist cinch, without the garters, built into the dress.

Of course, I didn’t wear such foundation garments under my shirtwaist school dresses.  I didn’t want a tight fit or a tiny waist, anyway.

I don’t think ordinary women expected to look like couture models or the women in movies.  But the dress forms used for clothing design were not the same as a natural, uncorseted body. Bodices were made to be very tight over a firm, fat-free ribcage, and shaped with many darts. (And dress mannequins’ posteriors were pushed down and flattened like the backside of a woman wearing a girdle.)

Notice how many darts were needed to shape the bodice to the ideal fifties figure.

Notice how many darts were needed to shape the bodice to the ideal fifties figure.

Four darts in front and and four in back were usually the minimum on a simple dress, like the cap-sleeved white and blue one. Six darts in front (like the three jackets top and right) were not unusual.  The plaid dress at top left also has two darts each side of the center seam (and probably, hidden by the shawl, a dart pointing from each side seam to the bust points.) The darkest blue suit is shaped by princess seams, but still has three additional waist darts on each side!

All those darts were necessary to transition from the bust (say, 34 inches around) to the waist (say, 26″ or less) without any unflattering looseness or gathers (or bulges showing.) This dress from 1960 has big hip pockets and a tight waist, but all three dresses have just one bust dart at each side to control that bodice fullness:

Left, Butterick 9357 from BFN, May 1960.

Left, Butterick 9357 from BFN, May 1960. Eliminating the waist-to-bust darts made a dress cheaper to manufacture, but this style was not flattering except to slim figures. (The greater the difference between bust and waist, the more fabric puffed out above the belt, for a “sack tied in the middle” look.)

If you have a yen to see more big pockets and fifties fashions, I recommend Wade Laboissonierre’s full color, generously illustrated book, Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1950s.

 

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Corsets, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage patterns

Remembering Costume Designer Willa Kim

Years ago, I was lucky to be a “fly on the wall” when Willa Kim was in town, designing dance costumes. I didn’t deal with her directly, but I watched her interacting with the costume shop, and I heard stories….

Willa Kim was so completely focused on her work that her age (80-ish) seemed irrelevant — except when you remembered that she won her first Tony award for Costume Design when she was in her sixties and her second, for Will Rogers Follies, in 1991 — ten years later. She was completely professional, she was funny, she loved dance and theatre and the people who worked there, and she really knew her stuff. (I heard that, when a lighting designer tried putting intense red light on dance costumes that were white, red and green, the metaphorical fur flew. Red light makes green appear black, and white appear red, which would have destroyed her designs; although petite, Willa could be very assertive when necessary!)

In fact, although I knew how famous she was, and had looked her up in Pecktal’s Costume Design: Techniques of Modern Masters, I learned a lot from reading her obituaries, because Willa Kim lived in the present — being much more interested in her current projects than in past glories. In 2003, Willa did a half-hour interview for the Women in Theater Project — in which she explains how she came to be the first costumer to make dance costumes out of Lycra stretch fabric, among other things. Click here to watch the interview, via Playbill magazine online. (And watch her reaction when asked about lighting design….)

Click here for her full obituary, as printed in The Seattle Times. She said her costume designs for the opera Turandot, at Santa Fe Opera (2005,) were the most interesting of her career. You can see a slide show of those, plus her deliciously witty design sketches for other projects, by clicking here, where there is a slide show from a curated exhibit honoring her work.

The book Designs of Willa Kim is available through Amazon.

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Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf, Exhibitions & Museums, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uncategorized

Formal Frocks for the Holidays, December 1928

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

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

If you love a challenge in sewing chiffon, Butterick 2287 looks like a great opportunity. (I believe those flounces were were curved, which means they’d start stretching the minute you removed them from the pattern paper.) Hems were still short in 1928, but some formal evening gowns were long — in places:

Butterick evening patterns 2347 and 2367, Delineator, December 1928

Butterick evening patterns 2347 and 2367, Delineator, December 1928.

Many late twenties’ hemlines combined long and short looks. (Click here for more examples.) For young women, a fuller skirt was also an option.

Butterick 2366, evening or bridesmaid's gown for young women. Dec. 1928.

Butterick 2366, evening or bridesmaid’s gown for young women. Dec. 1928.

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The shorter, close-to-the-body under layer is visible through the sheer tulle top layer. This dress is also notable for the bareness of its shoulders.

2366 has "lingerie straps;" usually these slip straps were only visible when veiled by a more substantial chiffon or lace dress shoulder, as in Butterick 2287.

Butterick 2366 has “lingerie straps;” usually such thin straps were only visible when veiled by a more substantial chiffon or lace dress shoulder, as in Butterick 2287. December, 1928.

Such thin straps were previously seen on slips and chemises, so using them to hold up a dress was provocative. The girl who wore No. 2366 as shown was presumably not wearing any underwear above the waist, although she could opt for the more conservative, sleeveless version of the dress as shown in the back view. A metallic tulle (see-through) skirt with a metallic tissue lame bodice would have made a less demure gown than the model’s expression suggests. Another lingerie strap evening dress was illustrated in February of 1929.

Butterick 2387 is meant to flutter. Dark fabrics are suggested, which does not rule out red....

Butterick 2387 is meant to flutter. Dark fabrics are suggested, which does not rule out shades of red…. December 1928.

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The ripple of such flounces is achieved by cutting them on a curve.

Butterick 2379 , with a long “bustle” drape in back, supposedly shows the influence of Chanel.

Butterick formal evening gown pattern 2379; Dec. 1928.

Butterick formal evening gown pattern 2379; Dec. 1928. Note the very low back.

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The long end of the bow “gives the one-piece frock an uneven hem and a down-in-back movement…. The low flare of the tiers [is] in the Chanel manner.” Such bustle bows were seen in 1928 and into the early thirties; The Vintage Traveler recently shared a photo of one originally made in 1932.

Also influenced by Chanel was this “minaret” gown (which looks more like a pagoda to me):

Starched lace stands away from the body in Butterick formal evening dress No. 2347. December 1928.

Starched lace stands away from the body in Butterick formal evening dress No. 2347. December 1928.

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Delineator had illustrated a similar tiered lace dress by Chanel in November:

Lace dress by Chanel, illustrated in Delineator, Nov. 1928, p. 114.

Lace dress by Chanel, “stiffened at the edges,” illustrated in Delineator, Nov. 1928, p. 114.

It’s interesting to think that some (now) droopy, vintage lace gowns might once have been stiffened like these.

Butterick 2367 is asymmetrical, long in places, shown in a metallic brocade fabric, and graced with two enormous, back-to-back fabric flowers at the hip. (Note the very short, close-to-the-head hairstyles in some of these illustrations.)

Butterick evening gown 2367 from December 1928. Delineator.

Butterick evening gown 2367 from December 1928. Delineator.

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This dress seems to be gathered — or more probably ruched, like its flowers — at the side seam under the bow. (Perhaps an underslip supported the weight of this trim?)

The same December issue of Delineator magazine illustrated many beautiful evening shoes to wear with these gowns. Click here for “Dancing Shoes, December 1928.”  And I never get tired of Designer watches from the late twenties. Click here for diamond evening watches, and here for sporty Art Deco Designer watches in color.

Best wishes to everyone who plans to party like it’s 1928! (Oh, wait…. 1929 wasn’t such a good year…. Let’s just set the time machine to 1928.)

Note: I have shown some of these dresses before, but without the details or accompanying descriptions.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Hairstyles, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns