Category Archives: Tricks of the Costumer’s Trade

Costume Shop Stories: The Muslin

Cartoon by Baumer from The Way to Wear’em. Please do not copy.

It sometimes seems that I am obsessed with styling tricks that help women look more slender than they really are. This is a chronic problem for theatrical designers; it’s true that people sometimes look a few pounds heavier in photos than in real life, and actors have to pay attention to their appearance. It’s a competitive business. In the early 1980’s I worked with a woman who was a costumer at a major motion picture studio. This is one of her stories:

Cartoon (dated 1877) from The Way to Wear’em. Please do not copy.

An actress who had a huge success on Broadway was (very wisely) cast to play the same part in the movie version of the musical. A very famous costume designer was hired. The initial designs were approved, but when the fittings began, they often ended badly.

The actress was nervous, and found fault with every costume. She was convinced they made her look fat. She knew all too well that she was not a conventionally pretty girl by Hollywood’s cookie cutter standards. And she really wanted to be a movie star….

Movie actor paper doll from Delineator, April 1917.

The actress kept rejecting her costumes, and the costume shop was falling behind schedule, while the Academy Award (TM) winning costume designer redesigned and redesigned….

What is a Muslin?

If you’ve never had a custom-made or couturier gown, you may not realize that the first version (called the toile, or muslin) is usually made of unbleached muslin — plain, off-white cotton fabric.
The fit and the design details are easily marked on the muslin — move a seam here, lower the waistline there, make the collar higher or wider, etc. Once the designer is satisfied, the costume shop uses the muslin to make a revised pattern before cutting into the real fabric. Then the white muslin is replaced by the actual costume materials — perhaps in dark blue, or rich brown, or crimson — for the second fitting.

But the nervous star rejected one muslin after another.

“We’re in the Movies Now;” article from Delineator, March 1934.

On stage, an actor is in constant communication with the audience.  The actor is in control of his performance. However, a film actor, unlike a stage actor, has much less control over her performance on screen. The director and the film editor choose what the audience will eventually see.

In the costume shop, however, a star can exercise a little power, and the more anxious he or she is, the more that anxiety sometimes gets displaced to the one area where control seems possible: the costumes. This process is stressful for the shop, but understandable, especially when the actor’s future career may be at stake.

Solution: When the actress left after another unsuccessful fitting, the costume shop supervisor grabbed several rolls of unbleached muslin and had them all dyed dark gray. The shop made a new set of muslins (actually the same designs as the last set) of dark, dark muslin — closer in value to the colors of the actual costumes.

When she saw herself in the mirror, wearing a slenderizing dark color instead of white — the anxious actress approved them all.

Cartoon (1929) from The Way to Wear’em. Please do not copy.

There is no “villain” in this story — just a problem and a solution.

P.S. If you haven’t read Christina Walkley’s wonderful fashion history illustrated by cartoons from Punch, I highly recommend The Way to Wear’em.

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Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade

Sport Clothes for Travel: January, 1929

What to wear on your Florida vacation; Delineator, January 1929, p. 24. Coat lengths varied, but wearing a coat shorter than your skirt was chic.

When magazines wanted to show summer fashions in winter, they ran a “travel”or “resort” article. The following outfits aren’t especially summery, but they are very attractive, sporty casual looks from 1929.

Right, a matching 3/4 (or 7/8) length coat and striped dress. From an ad for the Butterick pattern catalog. Delineator, Jan. 1929.

“The Seasoned Traveler Wears Sports Clothes.” From Delineator, January 1929, page 28.

People used to travel dressed more formally than they do now, that’s for sure! Even today, a lot depends upon your destination — city or country. These outfits from 1929 are sporty — but they are suitable for dining out, shopping, attending theatre matinees, etc. (In modern times, they would be dressy enough for just about any urban activity, since “sporty” now means “for active sports.”)

“The travel ensemble:” A coat lined to match the trim on the dress. Butterick coat 2385 with dress 2377. Delineator, Jan. 1929, pg. 28.

“The seasoned traveler wears an uncrushable ensemble of straight, three quarter length coat with scarf collar and patch pockets, and a simple, tailored frock with selvedge bow-knots at neck, wrist and waistline, pleated skirt attached across the front, and a one-piece back.”

[I took these photos years ago, before I developed a system for taking photos from bound magazines at the library, so their quality is not what it should be!]

“The selvedge border costume.” Butterick three quarter length coat 2386 with pattern 2423, a blouse and wrap skirt. Jan. 1929, p. 28.

That outfit and the one above use “selvedge borders” as trim. I do wish this was explained in detail.

Butterick jacket/coat 2419 coupled with skirt 1760 creates a classic suit. Jan, 1929, pg 28.

The coat (2419) is double-breasted and has three patch pockets trimmed with one button each. The skirt is box-pleated across the front but plain in the back — pattern 1760 first appeared in 1927.

“The coat frock of wool.” The coat dress, Butterick 2345, has separate white pique collar and cuffs (easy to remove and wash). “The fabric should be tweed, checks, etc.” The  wide belt is leather; there are bust darts at the shoulders to “perfect the fit.” In sizes from 15 years to 48 inch bust. From January 1929.

“The runabout frock.” Butterick 2410 from January 1929, Delineator, pg. 28. “The simplest of the little tailored woolen frocks are button trimmed.” This one-piece dress “has buttons on its new, longer blouse…. A third group of buttons is on the wrap-around skirt that has a wide box plait in front and is one piece and set on a yoke.”

The following page showed more dresses; these were for lighter fabrics than wool.

“The button frock,” Butterick 2421, attributes the use of sets of buttons to Chanel. The frock has a one-piece front that wraps around and is laid in plaits at the last turn of the zig-zag closing.” A matching point trims the sleeve. In sizes 32 to 44 inches. Delineator, January 1929, pg. 29.

Butterick’s “tailored frock” 2382 was shown on page 29 with silk or cotton dresses, but tweed or linen were also options. The collar matches the turn-back cuffs. The cord laced through the center front is very sporty, and the belt carriers are clever. Delineator, January 1929, p. 29.

The groups of four tucks at the shoulders of 2382 remind us that breasts were no longer being flattened.

The following three “Palm Beach” outfits include light coats or jackets; this was January.

“Summer Fashions for Winter” are resort clothes. Delineator, January 1929, pg. 24.

From left:

Butterick 2398 (the sheer coat) and dress 2076. Delineator, January 1929.

The sheer coat is 7/8 length, with a long scarf built into the collar. It’s worn over a printed frock with long sleeves.

A cardigan is worn over a simple top and pleated skirt. Butterick pattern 2392 included all three pieces; the cardigan jacket is not knitted, but made of a woven fabric. Delineator, January 1929.

“The [bias plaid] blouse has a scarf collar, the straight skirt is on a yoke and the open cardigan is belted. The jacket and blouse are in the new slightly longer length.”

“Runabout frock” 2410 also has this longer bodice — a slight change that happened just before the waist returned to its natural position in the 1930’s. As charming as this cardigan outfit is, I doubt that the “bias plaid” fabric would have looked like that when knife pleated!

“The printed ensemble.” Butterick 2390 uses matching fabric for the coat and dress. “The plaited skirt is sewed to the sleeveless body to give a two-piece effect.” January, 1929.

Here’s another 1929 outfit with chevrons and bows down the front:

Center: Butterick blouse 2565 from Delineator, April 1929.

Styling tricks: The chevrons on blouse 2565 point down, and the four bows line up to draw our eyes to the center of the torso, which creates a slenderizing optical illusion. But the two chevrons on 2390 draw our eyes to the sides of the dress, making the figure look broader, and two bows are not enough to create a line. The bows and the chevrons fight for our attention.

Left: Chevrons and bows, 1929. I think blouse 2565 is a better design.

The outfit on the right, Butterick 2359, has a series of horizontal bars which get wider as they approach the hip.  When the jacket is almost closed in front, they would create a long, narrow, vertical center of interest. Without the jacket, they would create a triangle with its base at the widest part of a woman’s body. In an era that valued slim hips, that’s not a good design 🙂

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Sportswear, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Accessories

Replacing Your Sleeves to Update Your Dress (and Sometimes Widen Your Shoulders)

This post started with sleeve patterns as its subject, but it grew into one about the widening of shoulders in the 1930’s…. If that’s your interest, just scroll down to 1930’s Sleeve Patterns.

Sleeve pattern 5113 from Delineator, Butterick, March 1924.

Butterick periodically offered sleeve patterns as a way to give your dress a new look without much expense.

Renew your old coat with new sleeves or collars; Butterick patterns from Delineator, October 1933.

Changing the sleeves on an old garment doesn’t make any sense to me, because you would rarely have enough of the original dress material left over to make a pair of long sleeves…. Nevertheless, here is an assortment of sleeve patterns from 1917 to 1933:

1910’s Sleeve Patterns

Butterick sleeve pattern 9220, June 1917; Delineator.

“Design 9220 is a splendid set which will quite transform a dress that is slightly worn.” Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the whole paragraph.

Butterick sleeve pattern 8954 from February 1917. There is a little visible gathering at the sleeve head — probably to be sure it would fit an existing armhole.

Here are some fashions from 1917 and 1918; would changing the sleeves have made much of a difference?

Summer fashions from Butterick, Delineator, February 1917.

Butterick patterns, July 1918. The sleeves are varied, including some that are wide at the cuffs, and one version (top right) is slit.

Butterick patterns from July 1918. The green blouse has sleeves that partly cover the hand, like those in the “update your sleeves” pattern 9220 from 1917.

1920’s Sleeve Patterns

Sleeves in the 1920’s were usually simple, fitted without fullness at the shoulder and close to the arm. However, some sleeves were sheer from the wrist to below the elbow, some widened, and some were split.

These dresses from 1926 have attention-getting sleeves. Delineator, July 1926.

Butterick sleeve pattern 5113, April 1924. Adding these to a dress from the early Twenties would update it — but by 1926, shortening the dress would update it more effectively!

Sleeve pattern 6544 from Butterick; Delineator, January 1926.

1930’s Sleeve Patterns: The Silhouette Begins to Change

Sleeves from the early 1930’s were often long but simple:

These dresses from February of 1931 have narrow, fitted sleeves. Delineator.

This 1931 pattern included some fluttery “capelet” sleeves, which really were a coming fashion. Delineator, April 1931. However, these sleeves start high on the natural shoulder, and don’t exaggerate its width.

A sheer evening jacket, Delineator, April 1933.

Ruffles created a wider shoulder on many evening dresses after 1932. This ad for Lux laundry soap appeared in Delineator, June 1934. (Blame the fad for ruffles on the 1932 movie Letty Lynton.)

This writer saw a connection between smaller hats and bigger sleeves:

Article from Delineator, November, 1931. This pre-dates Adrian’s designs for Letty Lynton.

However, back in 1931, this article noted that as hat styles changed, they looked better with “period clothes, clothes such as were worn with them originally. Period styles have appeared, but they are mostly evening dresses. Something else happened, however, to make the new clothes look right with the new hats… wide sleeves and puffed sleeves.”

Sleeve variations, reported by Marian Corey in Delineator, Nov. 1931. “The puffs may occur anywhere on your arm — at the shoulder, at the elbow, at the wrist….But … There are still more frocks with straight sleeves than frocks with puffed sleeves.” [A ratio of 12:1.]

We can trace a slow increase in shoulder width from the 1930’s to 1940, but from my small sample it appears that wide shoulders and gathered sleeves (except for the frilly ones on formal dresses) were a gradual style change between 1931 and 1937, starting with evening and outerwear.

Delineator reported the return of the Gibson Girl sleeve as early as April 1933, pg. 73.

Also in 1933, coats and jackets with fur accents or extensions at the shoulders were being featured, and not necessarily to accomodate fuller sleeves on dresses:

Winter coats with extended shoulders or sleeve heads. Delineator, September 1933.

Winter coats with wider sleeves, Delineator, September 1933. “Pillowcase” sleeves at bottom.

1933 coat pattern 5347 has wide shoulders and a modified, droopy leg-o-mutton sleeve.

Butterick coat pattern 5347 from Oct. 1933. If you didn’t want to make an entire coat, you could make new sleeves (right) or a new collar (left) from pattern 5351.

Butterick 5351 included sleeves and collars. Delineator, Oct. 1933.

These 1933 jackets also show the “Gibson girl” influence:

Big sleeves on short coats from Butterick, Delineator, Oct. 1933.

By 1935, even dresses appear to have wider shoulders — it would be hard to get this silhouette without using shoulder pads:

Two Butterick dress patterns from February, 1935.

A selection of Butterick dress patterns from February, 1936; Delineator. Shoulders are definitely broader, at least as illustrated.

By 1937, exaggerated shoulders with sleeves that are full at the top are standard features, as these patterns from a Butterick store flyer illustrate.

Dress patterns from Butterick News Flyer, December 1937. These sleeves are not droopy, but probably supported from the inside with a pad or ruffle.

Shoulders, 1940:

Very wide shoulders, achieved with shoulder pads rather than “Gibson girl” puffed sleeves. Butterick Fashion News, Feb. 1940.

The natural shoulder of the 1920’s and early 1930’s is completely out of style.

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Accessory Patterns, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage patterns

Two Piece Dresses from 1926

Two-piece dresses from Butterick, Delineator, February 1926. These are for teens and small women.

Iin 1926, as far as Butterick patterns were concerned, a dress could be either one piece or a separate top and matching skirt. In fact, some one-piece dresses were made to look like they were two-piece!

The dress on the right, Butterick 6575, has a deep band near the hip (with buttons), simulating the look of a separate blouse and skirt.

“Many slip over one-piece frocks give the effect of a two-piece costume….” Delineator magazine, February 1926.

The pattern on the right, Butterick 6637, is another dress pretending to be a skirt and blouse. Notice the line of stitching that marks a deep tuck at the hip.

Left: one-piece dress 6533 pretends to be a two-piece. Both these dresses make good use of use border prints.

Real two-piece dresses were available for all ages, from pre-teen to adult.

On the right, Butterick two-piece dress pattern 6582. The separate skirt has a lively flare. (6605 is a one-piece dress.)

“The circular skirt is attached to an underbody.” The underbody (also called a “camisole body or yoke”) was one of the tricks of making a Twenties’ skirt and top work well together. I’m going to re-show the two outfits that started this post so you can compare them easily with two very similar skirt patterns that have underbodies:

Two-piece dresses from Butterick, Delineator, February 1926. Left, Butterick 6545; right, Butterick 6562. For misses 15 to 20 and small women.

If you could see through their blouses, you’d see that the skirts have no waistband. They hang from the shoulders, like this:

Butterick skirt patterns 6601 and 6658, also from the February issue of Delineator.

The circular skirt (6588) “may be worn under blouses or as a slip under frocks.” It’s for ladies 35 to 52 inch hip –quite large.

Alternate views of Butterick skirts 6601 and 6588 show a “hanging from the waist” option, with the underbody option shown in dotted lines.

Although some nineteen-twenties’ skirts did have a waistband, the skirt with underbody didn’t need darts or other shaping for a natural waist that might be ten inches smaller than the hips. In fact, the woman aiming for a boyish figure tried to pretend that she had no waist.

Foundation garments (or corselets) designed to minimize the difference between waist and hip. Delineator, February 1926, p. 24.

Obviously, if you turn your figure into a tube shape, any skirt which hangs from your waist will tend to slide down. (And twist around as you sit and walk.) The underbody solved this problem by making the skirt and top move independently of each other. However, as seen above, pattern illustrations did show a waistband option for those who still had a waist….

Alternate views of Butterick skirts 6601 and 6588. Feb. 1926. These are skirt patterns, but 6588 has several lines of stitching at the hem, which would make it stiffer when used as a petticoat.

I’ve been looking for a good underbody illustration for some time. Making a Twenties’ costume this way means that the actors’ clothes will fall neatly into place when they stand after sitting.

Now for some more Twenties’ two-piece dresses:

Butterick 6522 is simple and charming (don’t forget those important long ribbon ties!) Designed for a youthful wearer, 15 or under, the skirt is shorter than for a mature woman — giving it the knee-length proportions that look “right” to modern eyes. The skirt looks much like No. 6601 (and  dress 6545.)

The use of the word “juniors” surprised me.

The dress featured with this girl’s coat is pattern 6582, illustrated in blue above.

You could make this entire outfit from Butterick patterns: Coat 6609, two-piece dress 6582, and hat 5952. February 1926. Butterick also sold the embroidery transfer, No. 10383.

A closer look at that coat and hat:

Butterick coat pattern 6609 with hat embroidered to match.

Butterick two-piece “dress” 6577 uses double-sided, reversible fabric:

Butterick two-piece dress pattern 6577, from February 1926. “The straight skirt, with its inverted plait at each side front and at the center back, is attached to an underbody with a camisole top.” For teens and small women.

Having grown up wearing cotton flannel pajamas, I have to remind myself that flannel can mean wool.

Right, two-piece dress 6597. Left, a simple one-piece dress that uses a border print for impact. February 1926.

Butterick two-piece dress 6581. The stripes are probably a border print. For teens and small women.

“Its straight skirt, attached to an underbody,” has inverted pleats. This particular skirt style keeps reappearing. Dress skirts from the early 1920’s often had all the pleats or fullness in the front, with a perfectly “plain back,” but now the back of the skirt is also pleated or gathered.

Right, the two-piece dress for average-sized women is shown a few inches longer than dresses for under-twenties. These stripes are definitely a border print (See description of its color illustration, below.) Butterick 6608, February 1926, p 32.

The same pattern was illustrated in color on page 29, and without the stripes:

Butterick 6608 from page 29. “The straight skirt, gathered at the front, is attached to an underbody.”

It has a plain back:

Oops: I never supplied the pattern descriptions for these dresses.  Back views of other patterns appear at the end of the post.

Butterick 6545 and 6562 from February 1926. You might not want to include the cutesy animal embroidery, but those decorative pocket hankies appear constantly in fashion illustrations from 1925 and 1926, including several shown in this post.

Bois de rose (rosewood) was a popular color introduced in couture; it’s a neutralized, slightly tan, rose pink — hard to photograph!

Back views of dresses for girls 15 or under. 1926. 658s is a girl’s version of 6562, above.

Back views of one-piece dresses pretending to be separates. Delineator, February 1926.

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Filed under 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Sportswear, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

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