Category Archives: Tricks of the Costumer’s Trade

Costume Communicates

College students, Woman’s Home Companion, October 1936.

Many years ago, I finally had time to take a life drawing class. During a break, the woman next to me introduced herself. She was a psychologist. When I told her I was a costume designer, she shared this story — one that taught her the importance of dress, and how much it communicates.

When she was completing her post-graduate degree, starting to look for jobs, she was also asked to do group counseling with high school students who were having behavior problems.

As it happened, on the day of her first group session with the students she also had a very important job interview. She dressed in her best (and only) suit, with high heels she would never have worn on campus for a usual day; she got up early to do makeup and style her hair (instead of pulling it back into her usual “no-time-to-do-my hair” ponytail,) and she carried a briefcase instead of her backpack. She wanted to look as grown-up and professional as possible for the job interview.

Two dressy suits made from Butterick 7928, October 1956, Butterick Fashion News.

She went straight from the interview to her first session with the high school students. It went really well. She felt that they were glad to participate and have a chance to get help with their problems.

A week later, she went straight from attending her own university classes to the high school. That session did not go so well. The students didn’t volunteer or participate as they had. They became quiet, sullen, obviously bored. Every week, every session felt worse. The students who had been so eager were almost hostile now. The young psychologist stayed up nights trying to figure out how to get the group sessions back to that promising first day.

Finally she realized she had to deal with the problem openly; she asked, “What changed?” One girl was willing to answer:

“That first day you came, you seemed to really be interested in us; you listened to us, and we thought maybe you could help make things better. You were all dressed up, and we thought ‘Somebody important cares about us!‘ But then you saw that we was just poor kids, and the next time you came here looking just any-old-way because we didn’t matter.”

“Oh, dear god,” thought the young psychologist. It hadn’t occurred to her that dressing as what she really was — a graduate student in college — would send that signal to them. She realized that being dressed formally had given her extra authority, and built confidence that she was really a doctor. But she hadn’t considered the reverse. She had never thought to carefully explain her real status:  she was a student, like them; poor, like them.  And being honest months later — “I really needed that job, so I tried to look professional and grown-up for the interview” — didn’t help, because it still meant she hadn’t thought it was equally important to dress professionally for them — clients who didn’t pay.

It’s a sad story that has stuck with me all these years. The shaman’s feathers and paint, the doctor’s white coat, the banker’s suit: clothes establish our identity. Whatever we wear tells other people something about who we are, what they can expect from us, and how we expect to be treated. Like it or not, costume communicates.

Doctor, nurse, and baby in an ad from 1937. Delineator.

We know at a glance that this is not a family; and we know these people are trying to help the baby — because we can “read” their clothes, without any conscious thought about what is going on here. We read each other all the time.

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Filed under 1930s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uncategorized

Balenciaga at the V & A : Museum Exhibitions Online

Design by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1965. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

The Vintage Traveler recently shared an FIT symposium on museum exhibitions of fashion.
That reminded me of some extraordinary videos that were part of “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition closed in February, 2018, but the V&A has generously posted the videos made for the exhibit online, so we can all enjoy them. [Note to other museums: Go, thou, and do likewise! Once the exhibition closes, put the videos online!] Unfortunately, the still photos from the exhibition are under copyright, as are most other museum pictures of Balenciagas — so please click on the links.

I didn’t see the exhibition in London, but it appears to have used technology to very good purpose. I’ve whiled away hours watching the V&A’s exemplary videos.
This link will take you to the V&A website, where you can read about Balenciaga and watch three marvelous videos illustrating exactly how his minimalist but extraordinary patterns come together into “Balenciagas.” Click here for Secrets of Balenciaga’s Construction

The museum took X-Ray photos of some of the Balenciagas on exhibit. This link includes another fascinating video. You can see hidden weights controlling the drape, and, occasionally, a straight pin!

A V&A video about the custom beading on a glittering evening coat is found here.

In “Learning from the Master: Deconstructing Balenciaga,” the Museum invited a group of advanced design students from the London College of Fashion to create patterns and toiles from Balenciaga gowns in the museum’s collection. If you sew or drape, this is for you! ( I’m thinking of you, Fifty Dresses….)

“Shaping Fashion: Balenciaga” is another well-done video from the V&A. You can watch designs by Balenciaga morph into designs by other famous couturiers. (I just wish all the V&A’s videos were together in one place online!)

A preview of the entire exhibit can be found in the AP Archives: click here.

Until I started searching museum collections for Balenciaga designs, I hadn’t appreciated how much he influenced my wardrobe in the late 1950s/60s. Not that I ever wore couture (ha!) but because the inexpensive clothes I did wear and saw worn everywhere were inspired by his work. My first wool suit (home-made) was a distant echo of this one. Party and prom dresses worn by my friends owed a debt to this simple & elegant flowered dress. (Note the shape of the skirt.) The shape of this coat was everywhere, and I bought a long formal in green brocade with soft pleats at the waist (circa 1964,) reminiscent of the dress under it.

More Online About this Exhibition

Many who visited the exhibition posted images or videos on YouTube; here are a few blogs or videos about it.

At 12 minutes long, this video from Stitchless TV gives a good idea of how well-thought-out this exhibition apparently was. Click here for a “walk through” that includes much besides the videos posted more clearly at the V&A site. It shows the “upstairs” part of the exhibit, which features designers who trained with or were inspired by “The Master.”

This video by Natalie (at Time with Natalie) gives a good “walk through” (starting at one minute in.)

Betty Raen at The London List captures some photos that show more of the exhibit.

For a quick taste, try Fashion Expedition’s report.

The Arcadia online blog previews the exhibit (with illustrations, of course.) Many designs by students of “the Master” are shown.

This link includes a photo of the pink “Tulip Dress” which is magically reconstructed in a V&A video.

As the late Anthony Bourdain said, “I’m still hungry for more.”

More Balenciaga exhibitions:

“Balenciaga and His Legacy:” was presented at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas on February 3, 2007 by the Texas Fashion Collection. Click here. This video is not too dark, unlike others; but it’s not really in focus, either…. However — you won’t see the same creations featured elsewhere. Worth a taste.

When you have had your fill of evening gowns, this video from the Museo Cristobal Balenciaga shows superb construction on wool suits and other daytime clothing. Some of the images are too dark, but other close-ups are superb.

If you still want more Balenciaga, this 2011 exhibition, “Balenciaga and Spain,” from The DeYoung museum in San Francisco is 17 minutes long and traces Balenciaga’s development and early influences  …. sadly, the lighting and photo quality are not good. Films of his showroom are good.

This short video of “Balenciaga: Spanish Master” exhibition from New York is different and definitely worth watching.

Also creative and interesting: this video from ICONIC.

When you have time to relax, pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, put your feet up, and enjoy these videos and blogs.

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Capes, Coats, Exhibitions & Museums, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

The Interior Belt in Vintage Styles

Janet Arnold’s illustration of the interior of a woman’s dress, circa 1896. From Patterns of Fashion 2. Notice the belt, attached only at the center back seam.

If you are trying to reproduce a vintage garment, you need all the information you can get. Information about how a vintage dress looks on the inside is invaluable, and I don’t know of any source better than the series of Patterns of Fashion books by the late Janet Arnold

… even when you have primary source information, like this photograph.

Fashion Photograph from 1896. Met Museum. We can see from the photo that the skirt at left is probably flat-lined — those tell-tale wrinkles would have been omitted in a drawing.

It’s better than a drawing, but the answer to “how did they do that?” requires inside information.

Cream brocade gown from the House of Worth, 1896. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Museums and books sometimes provide close up photos showing details of construction …

Detail of Worth gown from 1896, showing several rows of cartridge pleating on the sleeve and lace-shaped beading on the brocade bodice. Met Museum.

But to reproduce a vintage garment and have it “behave” properly, we need to know where the seams (and the bones) are, how the garment was lined, where the hidden closures were located, what made those sleeves stand up like that***, etc. Also, sometimes we discover a “trick” that made the garment easier to put on, or made it fit better. For costume purposes, we don’t need to follow the original slavishly (sometimes all those difficult hidden closures are not practical for a costume,) but we can make informed decisions.

One device that I have seen on vintage garments — and used on costumes — is the interior waistband or belt. This turn-of-the-century vintage bodice had one.

Elaborate lace and ribbon trimmed this ToC bodice (with a strangely skimpy skirt.)

Inside, a belt (never meant to be seen) was attached to the seams at center back. It closed at center front, and would be the first thing the wearer fastened when getting dressed.

Interior belt or waistband on a Turn of Century [ToC] bodice.

As Janet Arnold sketched the insides and outsides of museum garments, she drew many bodices that used an interior belt.

Interior waistband or belt, drawn by Janet Arnold.

Notice that the belt is only secured to the center back seams, with characteristic X stitches. It closes with hooks and bars at center front. It anchors the bodice to the wearer’s waist, so the bodice cannot ride up. It also holds the bodice in place while the many concealed hooks, eyes, and tapes are fastened. It takes some of the strain at the tightest spot, so the wearer doesn’t have to exert much pull on the more delicate fabrics to fasten them.

The interior belt works well on corsets.

I have seen and used these belts on the inside of corsets — what a great difference they make!

When you lace your own corset after fastening the front busk, you can’t be sure of getting it the same size every time. (Corsets rarely meet in the back.) Delineator,  April 1914.

First, the interior belt closing gives a constant size for the corset. You can’t accidentally lace it looser by mistake. If your dresses have been made to fit perfectly over your corset, but the corset lacing never actually meets at the waist, there’s always a chance that you will tighten your laces, put on your dress, and find that the dress doesn’t fit properly, because you pulled the laces too tight — or allowed yourself a bit more room than you did at the dress fitting.

Janet Arnold’s illustration of the interior of a woman’s dress, circa 1896. From Patterns of Fashion Vol 2. [***Fun fact: Arnold discovered that those huge leg-o-mutton sleeves were stuffed with paper!]

Secondly, when there is a waist belt inside your corset, the belt contracts your waist to the right size for fastening the front busk. The belt takes the strain (and keeps your corset from falling to the floor), giving you two hands free to hook the busk at the waist. Once the corset is fastened there, hooking it the rest of the way up and down is relatively easy. You may not need to deal with the laces at all.

The interior belt is can be made of a non-stretchable ribbon, like grosgrain.

The belt is also a great help in supporting the weight of the skirt; in many period dresses most of the skirt fullness is at the back, so the skirt of the dress can be quite heavy, and hard to wrestle with when its weight pulls the bodice crooked as you try to deal with dozens of fastenings.

Interior of dress from 1913-14 drawn by Janet Arnold. The skirt is sewn to the bodice only at one side. A row of hooks and bars connects the skirt to the bodice on the other side. (You can see two bars below “CF.” Arnold drew every hook.)

This circa 1913 dress (which combines lace, fur, chiffon and other materials) has an elaborate arrangement of closures, all of which would be hidden when the dress is worn. Notice that the skirt is only sewn to the bodice on its right side. The interior belt holds the bodice in the correct place and helps to support the weight of the skirt, while the left side of the skirt is slowly attached, hook by hook, to the left side of the bodice! [I think this one needed the help of a maid to deal with the skirt back and that big bow.]

Detail of Arnold’s drawing of the dress from 1913-14; no closures are visible, as the built-in sash hides the places where the skirt is only hooked to the bodice. The skirt is fur-trimmed.

The use of an interior belt is not restricted to the Victorian era. It remains part of the interior structure on couture when needed. It might be used, for example, to prevent tight jackets’ buttons straining against buttonholes at the waist, or to prevent too much strain on a zipper.

I can’t swear this famous Christian Dior New Look suit’s interior structure uses a belt, specifically, but something is preventing “pull” on the buttons. Click here for a great essay on “New Look” construction techniques.

You can see an interior belt — sewn in, not hanging free — on the waist of this gray dress from Dior’s fall-winter collection of 1955:

This Dior dress from 1955 is lying open on a table, positioned so you can see one end of the interior waistband; it matches the gray of the dress, which is flat-lined with gray organza.

At the place where the dress fits most tightly, the strain is taken by the belt rather than the zipper, which is visible to the right of the belt.

Christian Dior label, “Automne-Hiver 1955.” Charcoal gray dress with matching bolero jacket. Photographed from a private collection. The owner mentioned that this dress was made during Dior’s lifetime.

Digression: [I can’t not show you other pictures of this ensemble, even though I’m straying from my “interior belt” topic!]

You can see the unusual seam lines and darts on the jacket, which also has an interesting vertical buttonhole treatment.

Bolero jacket from Christian Dior, 1955. The matching dress has a full skirt pleated at the waist.

With the bolero jacket unbuttoned, the use of a separate panel to create “buttonholes” can be seen.

No, this buttonhole construction is not as care-free as it may look:

Inside view of Dior buttonhole in the bolero from 1955. The seams on the front of the jacket are not the same as those on the inside, and the buttonhole is reinforced like this.

Here, the interesting seams of the cap sleeve are visible. The back of the dress, with zipper, is visible at right.

Back to the topic of researching the insides of clothes you need to re-create, and the interior belt….

Arnold studied this dress from 1915-16 inside and out. If you were planning to copy it, you might think the outside tells the whole story — bodice and skirt both gathered at the waist.

A circa 1915 dress in a museum collection, drawn and its construction analyzed by Janet Arnold. Note the way a series of tiny tucks curves the sleeve forward.

Text describing the dress mentions that is would have been worn over a corset like this one.

The interior, drawn by Janet Arnold, shows that the scalloped dress in not as simple as it looks.

It has an under bodice, a hidden closure in front, a skirt that is partially attached to the bodice and partially hung from hooks and bars, and an interior belt that is boned and tightly fitted.

Arnold gives you a scale drawing of every part of the dress. This is what the under bodice of net looks like:

Like many vintage dresses which are bloused, this one has an under bodice. See French Linings. The bodice itself has kimono sleeves without armhole seams.

Arnold’s scale drawing of the interior belt on the scalloped dress. “The Petersham is shrunk in at the top to 26 1/2 inches, the bottom edge measures 27 1/2 “

Petersham ribbon looks much like grosgrain, but grosgrain cannot be stretched with steam and pressure. Petersham is often used in hat bands because it can be shaped into a slight curve with a steam iron.

I cannot praise Arnold’s Pattern of Fashion books too highly. Even if you choose not to duplicate her scaled patterns exactly, you will gain insight into period (and couture) construction that is invaluable.

I used to watch 1950s’ movies and wonder how a slender belt with no practical buckle could dig into an actress’s waist to compress it even more than her “merry widow” corset. Here is Elizabeth Taylor in a dress that really squeezes her waist. Janet Leigh’s wedding dress has a belt that might squeeze her that hard — although eventually the hole in the belt would start to tear…. Unless there was an even tighter belt inside those dresses….  “Ya think?”

 

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1940s-1950s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Dresses, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Proportions: Dresses from January 1926 and 1927

Fashions for teens and small women, January 1926. Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator, bottom of page 27.

One year later, young women were wearing their dresses much shorter, and fashions looked more youthful because of a subtle change in proportions.

Day wear for teens (15 to 20) and small women, January 1927. Butterick patterns in Delineator, page 24. I see knees.

When looking at designs from 1926, we need to make allowance for the exaggerated length of the 1926 fashion [illustration] figure.

Here’s the original 1926 image again — tiny heads on very long bodies:

Fashions for teens and small women, January 1926.

To make a point, I altered this image rather crudely to show that the biggest change from 1926 illustrations to 1927 illustrations is in the torso length:

The proportions of the 1926 dresses have been altered near the waist in this image, not at the hem. I just cut and pasted the lower part of the 1926 dresses higher on the body.

Left, original illustration; right, with the lower half of the dress moved higher on the torso. The result is also a more realistic human figure.

1920’s dress patterns had to be altered at the waist, not just at the hem, to make the proportions look “right” — and to match the later 1920’s styles. (Click here for alteration advice from December 1926.)

"We pinned half of the pattern together and put it on . . ."The fact that many late Twenties’ dresses had a horizontal seam at the mid-hip must have made it much easier to restyle 1926 dresses into 1927 dresses!

Conjecture: A thrifty woman could use the bottom of a 1926 dress as the skirt of a 1927 dress:

The skirt portion of a 1926 dress might be cut off below the waist and sewed to a shorter bodice to become the skirt of a shorter 1927 outfit….

Or she might shorten the dress three or four inches at the 1920’s dropped waist level and cover the resulting seam with a belt….

This dress from January 1927 was altered at the waist while still in the pattern stage, but that belt could also cover a dress alteration….

I suspect that, when skirts got shorter in 1927, many “little dressmakers” must have been busy doing simple alterations like these.

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

Paris Ideas, Butterick Pattern, 1926

Soulie’s sketches of Paris designer fashions, Delineator, January 1926.

Two designers showing strongly banded dresses were featured in Delineator‘s January report from Paris. And a strongly banded Butterick pattern appeared in the same issue.

Butterick dress pattern 6543 (right) shows Paris influence.

The designer dress by Lanvin has a “silver girdle” molding the hips and its “divided front tunic” is trimmed with silver, perhaps silver stitching. (Custom embroidery is still a mark of couture.)

A closer look at the Lanvin design, which features silver bands on a black dress. Winter, 1925-1926.

Striking, contrasting bands down the center front give impact to this Butterick pattern (right) from January 1926:

Butterick 6543, right, offers a charming solution to “authentic Twenties style” for women who don’t want to exaggerate the width of their hips.

“Crepe satin used with its reverse side” would give a very subtle effect; here, chiffon velvet seems to be suggested, although applying those straight bands to velvet would not be easy sewing. Heavy crepe de Chine would be an easier-to-handle choice.

Right, a good example of the subtle effect of reversible crepe satin; this 1927 dress uses the matte and shiny sides of the same fabric.

The flared sleeves of Butterick 6543 are very like the Lanvin couture design, although the bands ate placed differently.

Here is the alternate view of patterns 6561 and 6543:

Alternate views of Butterick patterns 6561 and 6543.

Note the short-sleeved summer version of 6543; the suggested border print fabric would make a dress that looked very different from its dark winter version.

Happy New Year, 1926!

This banded evening dress by Jenny was also illustrated in January 1926 — It’s not for the timid:

A banded evening design by Jenny, a very successful couturier in the 1920’s. For more about those deep armholes, click here.

In “orchid pink crepe satin embroidered with pink pearls and blue flowers worked at hip and shoulder,” it would be modified to suit the woman who ordered it. It was probably available in other color choices — and with a sheer “modesty” insert in the deep V neckline, if required.

Click here for another daring neckline by Jenny. UK vintage clothing dealer and blogger Blue 17 wrote a good, illustrated Jenny tribute: Click here to read it.

For a much less elaborate Butterick dress from 1926 — which used a slimming contrast tie to good effect, see 6553, at right:

Butterick 6559 and 6553, Delineator, January 1926. Cape optional.

The long ties are important to the effect of these dresses, distracting from the horizontal line at the hips, adding the illusion of width to the shoulders and drawing our eyes up, closer to the face.

Butterick 6559 (left) makes good use of a border print.

Wishing you a very happy 2019!

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Filed under 1920s, evening and afternoon clothes, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Party Dresses for January 1926

Afternoon and evening dresses for women, Delineator, January 1926, page 28.

Evening dresses for teens (ages 15 to 20) and small women. Butterick 6535 and 6482, Delineator, January 1926, p. 27.

Details of evening dresses for young women. The proportions of the blue dress — and its flaring circular skirt — do not scream “Twenties.”

The lower edge of the “two piece circular skirt” stands out because it is scalloped and bound with bias. This dress has an underarm closing in the side seam, which would have used a row of snaps with a hook and bar at the top and at other points of stress.

Pattern magazines like Delineator came out ahead of the month on the cover, so you probably could have made these dresses in time for New Year’s Eve parties in 1926.  Dresses for adult women were shown longer than those for teens. If you want to make a Twenties’ dress shorter, you should shorten the pattern at the waist, not the hem. Click here for a 1926 article about dress alterations.

Butterick 6498, 6497, and 6527, Delineator, January 1926.

Butterick 6498, January 1928. The model is holding a huge feather fan that matches the  trim on her dress. The dress is as simple as they get! Notice the easing in the side seam instead of a bust dart. The side panel is sheer Georgette.

Details of Butterick 6497 and 6527, January 1928.

A slip with optional sleeves and a higher neckline would convert this to an afternoon dress as seen in the back view. It was illustrated in a “Lanvin green” border print.

This dress would be super-easy to copy using modern patterns. (Yes, bust darts were used in the 1920s! But they didn’t come so far toward the bust point. [Busts weren’t pointed.] Click here.) The circle skirt is attached to an under slip, so the skirt does not start at the waist, but at the hip.

The very long top on the”pervenche blue” metallic brocade dress was also seen on this pattern with “troubadour sleeves,” 1926.

Another very long-torsoed pattern from 1926. They were not as popular as the usual mid-hip waistline.

Butterick 6549, January 1926. (A good style for those who don’t appreciate a hip band.) This is an afternoon dress, with embroidered sleeves. Perhaps they have sheer appliques on them. The shirred godets go all around the dress — nice for tea dances. Bois de rose (rosewood) was a chic tan/rose pink color, not as orange as it looks here.

If made sleeveless, it would be an evening dress.

Butterick dresses 6517 and 6531; Delineator, January 1926.

“Princess dress” in the Twenties doesn’t mean it’s close-fitting, as in some other periods. The gold lining on an “Amazon green” dress below adds interest to the attached circular flare.

Details of Butterick 6517 and 6531. The vertical “circular frills” on 6517 were often used in the 1920s.

If you are wondering why the vertical frills are called “circular,” I’ll explain.

This is one of those things that made pattern making — draping and drafting patterns — such an interesting class. I urge you to experiment with it, because, although you can learn this principle, every tiny change you make to the pattern will change the way the fabric behaves, drastically!

The basic idea is this: if you want to create a cascade of ripples in a jabot or a flounce or a frill or whatever you want to call it, you need to cut the fabric with a curve on the side you will attach to the garment. It has to be cut to the right length, but not in a straight line. When you force that curve into a straight line, as has been done on Butterick 6517, ripples will form!

The “circular frills” at left and the overskirt at right are both based on circles.

Twenties’ dresses that depend on the “cut a curve and straighten it out” principle. Delineator, July 1925.

The long drape on the left is probably just a long rectangle. If cut on a curve, I think it would ripple more. The skirt on the right is based on a section of a circle. The ruffled V shaped neckline trim in the middle shows the soft ripples you get when you attach a curved frill in a straight line.

The more curved the line is, the more ripples you get when you straighten it out.

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

The curves in these diagrams are greatly exaggerated, just to give the general idea!

A flounce based on a fairly tight curve.  When the blue half circle was straightened out, the flounce would have many ripples.

The gentler the inside curve, the fewer ripples the flounce will have.

That is the basic pattern for a 1920s dipping hem. (Of course, the waist is not really a circle…. This is just the starting point for a muslin.)

Left, a typical dipping hem for evening, September 1928; Butterick pattern.

Evening gown by Lelong, sketched for Delineator, May 1929. Getting all those flounces right took a lot of experiments in muslin! (Draping at 1/2 or 1/4 scale saves a lot of money.)

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Filed under 1920s, evening and afternoon clothes, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Winter Underwear, 1880s to 1920s

Detail from and ad for Munsingwear knit undergarments, Delineator,  September, 1927.

Frau Buttonbox asked what women wore under those 1920’s dresses in the winter — and how they protected their dresses from sweat and body oils. I have some ads to share!

Just for vocabulary, in the U.S., a one piece knit suit like this was called a “union suit” (proper name) or “long johns” (common name.)

This wool union suit was recommended by dress-reformer Annie Jenness-Miller in 1888.

In 1880’s England, Dr. Jaeger’s theory that wearing wool next to the skin (instead of plant fibers like linen or cotton) was good for health was championed by dress reformers and George Bernard Shaw.

My uncle Bert (like Garrison Keillor’s “Norwegian Bachelor Farmers”) came from a generation (b. 1899) that believed that a hot bath would “open your pores” to admit disease, so he wore long johns from September to March. My stepmother insisted that he wash them (and himself) from time to time if he wanted to eat dinner with us. Whew!

Women’s union suit from Sears catalog, Fall 1918.
By 1916, skirts were getting shorter, but lace-up boots would have hidden the legs of this underwear. Notice the short sleeves.

Ladies’ shoes from Sears catalog, 1918.

Wool, needed for army uniforms, was hard to get in the U.S. in 1917-1918. Note the overlapping “open” back.

The problem with fashionable clothing is that it is usually the opposite of practical clothing — so women who want to be fashionable usually have to sacrifice some comfort — and common sense.

By the mid-1920s, skirts were reaching the knee, and bare arms were expected with evening dresses and dinner dresses. Nevertheless, many dining rooms (even in mansions) were unheated.

Ad for Forest Mills long underwear, Delineator, November 1925. The union suit on the left could be worn under day dresses. These models look like teens.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/1925-oct-p-27-500-dpi-whole-color-page.jpg?w=398&h=500

Winter clothes for teens and small women, October 1925. Delineator.

Under evening dress, your torso could be warm, but your arms had to be bare.

Combed cotton knit underwear from Sears, 1927 catalog. You could wear a silk or rayon slip over these, under your dress.

Butterick 5755, 5714, 5713, Delineator, January 1925, page 29.

Evening dresses for teens, January 1925.

“It s no longer necessary to shiver through the long winter months in order to be stylishly dressed.”

“Keep your body warm.” Ad for Forest Mills knit underwear, Delineator, November 1925. The ad doesn’t state fiber content, but knits made for a smooth, “no bumps” fit.

“Underwear that will not only absorb perspiration, but will keep your body from being chilled.”

The Forest Mills underwear shown in the photograph is not much different in style from silk underwear (slips, camisole and bloomers) sold by Sears, but knit underwear fit more smoothly.

Silk underwear from Sears catalog, Fall 1927. Silk or rayon bloomers came to just above the knee.

Carter’s, a company that made rayon knit underwear, ran a whole series of ads that showed couture fashions next to pictures of models (in the same poses) wearing Carter’s underwear. I don’t now how warm it was, but it did fit very closely.

Detail of an ad for Carter’s rayon knit underwear, Delineator, November 1926. Premet and Poiret were famous Paris Couturiers. That’s a Poiret model above.

Detail of 1927 ad for Carter’s underwear. The model wears Poiret; at right she poses in her Carter’s underwear.

“Poiret’s black and gold gown” and silk cape, pictured in an ad for Carter’s underwear, November 1927. Poiret was very influential in the 1910’s, but falling out of favor by the late 1920’s.

Detail from an ad for Carter’s knit underwear, November 1927. Smooth, one-piece fit.

Right, back view of a one-piece union suit; left, a camisole “vest” and bloomers. Carter’s rayon knit undergarments, ad from 1926.

Premet’s “Vampire” dress, with Carter’s combination underwear to go under it. April, 1928. That dress would have permitted a much warmer undergarment.

The gold and white brocade hostess gown is by Drecoll; the underwear is Carter’s “vest and bloomer” of rayon knit. Ad from May 1927. The House of Worth also participated in this ad campaign.

As to keeping clothes free of perspiration stains and odor, deodorants were available (and ruined the armpits of many a vintage garment….) A solution still used in theatrical costumes, and by those allergic to certain chemicals, is the dress shield.

1910 ad for Kleinert’s dress shields. Delineator.

Ad for OMO dress shields, a rival to Kleinert’s. March 1910, Delineator.

Dress shields were usually safety pinned or basted into place in the armholes of a dress or jacket.

1920 Kleinert’s dress shield ad. You can see that this shield is curved at the top to follow the shape of the bottom of the armhole; it folds over the underarm seam, extending into the dress and into the sleeve.

Costumers sew in snaps so the shields can be changed and washed.  Some women preferred to wear a bra or guimpe-like washable garment which included the shields.

Top of a Kleinert’s dress shield ad, Woman’s Home Companion, March 1937.

The Kleinert’s website (the company is still in business) explains:

“Before The Advent Of Deodorants & Antiperspirants The Dress Shield Was The Way To Protect Your Garments From Sweat & Odor. In 1869 Kleinert’s Invented the Dress & Garment Shield Category Which Is Still In Use Today Protecting Our Clothes & Saving Us From Embarrassing Situations Due To Sweat Stains & Odors. Trust Kleinert’s Quality & History To Keep You Dry Throughout The Day. Choose Below From Our Selection Of Fine Dress Shields.” Kleinerts.com

The shields come in different shapes for differently cut armholes. Now you can get disposable ones — and in a costume emergency I have cut self-adhesive pantiliners to stick in the underarms of a costume.

Bottom of Kleinert’s dress shield ad from March 1937, WHC.

I’ve mentioned this before: actors sweat, and stage actors have to wear their costume(s) for eight performances per week. It’s not good for a wool suit to be dry-cleaned every week; underwear protects the costume, but a changeable shield under each arm keeps the suit from getting wet at all. Undershirts and shirts, etc., are laundered daily — in fact, Equity actors have duplicates supplied so they don’t ever have to put on a shirt that is still damp from the matinee performance. (Ditto for all other items that touch the skin.)

Full page, full-color Kleinert’s ad, March 1924. Delineator.

Unsexy as a dress shield may be, it’s preferable to ruining a $2000 dress or destroying it by too-frequent dry cleaning. Bonus: you can raise your arms and never show a sweat ring.

Camisole and bloomers from Munsingwear ad, September 1927, Delineator.

P.S. [Edited 1/6/2019] Liza D at BVD sent a photo of the Kleinert’s dress shields she found in a vintage garment (Thanks, Liza!) :

Liza D found these used dress shields in a vintage garment. Those ugly stains would have been on the blouse if the woman who wore it hadn’t used these in the underarms. Click here for Liza’s post about it.

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