Category Archives: Tricks of the Costumer’s Trade

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.

2366-text1928-dec-p-33-formal-evening-text-2347-2367-2379-chanel-2287-2366-lingerie-strap

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.

2287-text-1928-dec-p-33-formal-evening-text-2287

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.

2379-text-1928-dec-p-33-formal-evening-text2379-chanel

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.

2347-text1928-dec-p-33-formal-evening-text-2347

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.

2367-text1928-dec-p-33-formal-evening-text-2367

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

Beaded Roses in 1920’s Style

The stylized roses of the 1920’s are lovely, and putting just one on a simple dress can really make it look authentic.

A wedding dress with a single, large beaded rose at the hip. Butterick 6224 from October 1925. Delineator.

A wedding dress with a single, large beaded rose at the hip. Butterick 6224 from October 1925. Delineator. It would be equally attractive (and authentic) in black or gold beads on black satin, or white beads on pink, silver beads on pale blue, etc.

Butterick dress pattern 7047, beaded using transfer pattern 10472. Delineator, Sept. 1926.

The Robe de Style from 1926 has two spiraling beaded flowers on the skirt, and a band of beading on the cape-like collar. Butterick embroidery transfer 10472, on dress pattern 7047.

I’m not suggesting that you make a dress like this one for your first beading project:

Butterick 6227, October 1925.

Butterick 6227, October 1925.

However, here is the beading pattern that was used. It appeared in Delineator in May of 1925. It is Butterick embroidery design 10340.

Butterick beading transfer 10340 offered the stylized rose in several variations.

Butterick beading transfer 10340 offered the stylized rose in several variations — a single rose, a rose with tendrils, and the large repeating pattern used on wedding dress pattern  No. 6227.

Butterick transfer 10341, May 1925.

Butterick transfer 10340, May 1925. Work it in beads or in French knots.

You can actually count the beads. Putting a rose like the one in the center on the ends of a chiffon sash or the neckline of a dress would not really take very long. For that matter, you could do it in rhinestones on a T-shirt or in studs on the back of a leather jacket!

A photograph of one beaded rose. Delineator.

A photograph of one beaded rose. Delineator. A larger rose would take more beads or bigger beads.

In a smaller scale — or with bigger beads — this rose could also decorate the side of a cloche hat. You can play with designs, like this….

Top, the pattern turned sideways; bottom, used as a applique with two sets of tendrils.

Top, the pattern turned sideways; bottom, used as a applique with two sets of tendrils.

… Moving or combining them, enlarging them as needed. Sometimes an applique was beaded.

Here is another Butterick rose beading pattern:

Embroidery transfer

Embroidery transfer 10378, Delineator, October 1925.

Butterick embroidery transfer pattern 10378, October 1925. Delineator.

Butterick embroidery transfer pattern 10378, October 1925. Delineator. “For dresses, blouses, scarfs, coats, etc.”

It’s easy to envision the large motif embroidered on a pillowcase with a scalloped edge, but it would also be perfect beaded on the hem of a 1920’s chiffon dress, or even on the front and back panels of a wedding gown:

Bridal dresses, April 1925. Butterick patterns 5719 and 5447.

Bridal dresses, April 1925. Butterick patterns 5719 and 5447.

You could work these embroidery patterns in beads or shiny silk embroidery floss on dresses, or in cotton on pillowcases, although French knots do make quite an impression on your cheek!

This circa 1920 blouse it trimmed with shiny silk floss embroidery, appliques of orange fabric, and beading on top of the appliques.

This late teens or early twenties blouse is trimmed with shiny silk floss embroidery, appliques of orange fabric, and beading plus embroidery on top of the appliques. Rows of French knots in apricot and ice blue silk look like beading, but they are not. They’re knots :).

I once beaded just the bust area on a 1950’s cocktail dress for a play — enhancing the existing champagne colored brocade with small pearls and gold sequins and beads. I was amazed by how much a few hours of beading while watching (OK, listening to) TV enhanced the actress’ figure. (A new mother, she was self-conscious about the size of her post-delivery hips. The beading helped to balance her hips by making the top part of the dress more interesting.)

The neckline and hip band on this blouse were trimmed with clear beads.

The yoke and hip band on this vintage blouse were trimmed with pale, translucent beads for a subtle effect.

It’s is also possible to use lace trim and ornament it with just a few beads for sparkle. Look at the impact that made on this satin dress from earlier in the 20th century:

Lace was appliqued to the satin and then enhanced with matching gold-bronze beads.

Lace was applied to the satin and enhanced with matching gold-bronze beads. Lots of impact, but very little hand beading.

I’m sure there are plenty of “how to apply beads” videos available. I’m no expert, but what I recommend is:

Use a beading needle. Attach each bead or group of 3 or 4 beads using a backstitch. (Backstitch through the beads.) Do not use a running stitch, or a pull on one bead will pucker your material. Knot off every two or three inches, so a single broken thread won’t dump all your beautiful beading onto the floor. (Don’t cut the thread, just continue after stitching in a knot.)  A free-standing embroidery hoop is useful, so you can work with your more skillful hand underneath and your less skillful hand on top, where you can see what it’s doing. ( Q:  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” A:  ” Practice.”)

In spite of the blurred photo, you can appreciate the white beading on this pale pink dress.

In spite of the blurred photo, you can appreciate the opaque white and pink beading on this peachy pink vintage dress. The pieces were probably professionally beaded before being assembled into a dress.

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Dresses, Musings, Shirts and Blouses, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, Wedding Clothes

Martha, Is That You?

George and Martha Washington in illustration for article in Delineator, February 1925, p. 19.

George and Martha Washington in an illustration for an article in Delineator, February 1925, p. 19.

I was making an inventory of a vintage costume collection for a friend, trying not to spend too much time on items with little resale value. I found a section of bustle dresses, or parts of them, that were clearly “the real thing.”

Vintage bustle dress, skirt missing.

Vintage bustle dress, skirt missing. Too small to fasten on the mannequin.

Vintage bustle dress , embroidered buttons. Details.

Vintage bustle dress, embroidered buttons. Details. The fabric is substantial.

Vintage brown taffeta bustle dress top; skirt missing.

Vintage brown taffeta bustle dress top; skirt missing. The long overdress fitting snugly at the hips, with gathers almost over the pelvis, can be seen in 1879-1880.

I never had time to photograph that one on a mannequin. The front with long, low gathering is very distinctive.

Back detail of late Victorian overdress. Skirt missing.

Back and fabric detail of late Victorian overdress. Brocade, satin, and velvet.

Front of long dress in autumn colors, satin underskirt.

Front of long dress in autumn colors, satin underskirt.

Late Victorian bustle dress, side view.

Late Victorian bustle dress, side view. Changeable taffeta.

A vintage bustle dress with back draperies pulled up, rather like a 19th century version of an 18th century polonaise.

A vintage bustle dress with back draperies pulled up, rather like a 19th century version of an 18th century polonaise. Skirt missing; a petticoat is visible.

All those crisp fabrics — and then I reached into the “bustle era” hanging storage and put my hand on this one:

A polaise -- sort of. Print cotton fabric, soft and droopy, rather too small in circumference....

Not a bustle, but a polonaise — sort of. It has elements of the robe a la francaise. Print cotton fabric, soft and droopy, rather too small in circumference…. for a moment, I thought it might be a “Dolly Varden dress.” (An 1870’s fad based on an 18th c. character in a Dickens novel.)

But, no, it’s a masquerade costume — meant to be 18th century — from a period that favored soft, droopy fabrics, no boning, and a skirt less full than the 1780’s.

 Martha Washington costume pattern, Butterick, 1924.

Martha Washington costume pattern 4258, Butterick, 1924.  (It is not this exact dress, but shows the effects of 1920’s style on the perception of 1780’s fashions.)

The front of the costume was never photographed on a mannequin, but you can see, as it hangs on a coat hanger (that’s how I found it) that the sheer ruffles on each side of the front are long enough to be worn crossed like the “Martha Washington” costume’s fichu:

Top of a masquerade or theatrical costume made in the the 20th century, but suggesting the Colonial period.

Top of a masquerade or theatrical costume made in the the 20th century, but suggesting the Colonial period. The sheer ruffles on the front are very long, probably meant to cross over the breast and waist. The machine stitching on the sleeve flounces is crude.

It has an interior bodice made of netting — a practice I have seen in dresses of the nineteen-teens.

The inner bodice of costume is made of netting. A theatrical costume would be lined with a strong fabric, like muslin, to take the strain off the seams -- and to allow for a tight fit over a period corset.

The inner bodice of costume is made of netting. A theatrical costume would normally be flat-lined with a strong fabric, like muslin, to take the strain off the seams — and to allow for a tight fit over a period corset.

All the sewing is a bit sloppy — and  why not, for a costume that might be worn only once?

These pieces of twill tape inside the skirt hold up the poufs of the polonaise.

These pieces of twill tape inside the skirt hold up the “Polonaise” poufs of the overskirt.

At the time when I found it, I wondered why my friend had collected something so clearly not “the real thing.”

But, many years afterward, I remembered it when I realized that pattern companies have been making “colonial lady” and “Marie Antoinette” patterns for costume parties, Halloween parties, centennials and local history pageants, 4th of July parties, and amateur theatricals for a very long time.

A Martha Washington costume from Butterick, February 1924. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, but dressing up in a masquerade costume like this was more glamorous and romantic than many other options.

A “Martha Washington” costume from Butterick, February 1924. As far as historic accuracy goes, it is pretty awful, but dressing up in a masquerade costume like this was more glamorous and romantic than many other options.

Click here for another Butterick  “Martha Washington”  pattern, circa 1941, No. 1695. The dress my friend collected does a better job of interpreting the back of an 18th century dress than either of the Butterick patterns.

Martha Washington Costume pattern 4258 and Continental suit costume pattern, Delineator, Feb. 1925, p. 37.

Martha Washington costume pattern 4258 and Continental suit costume pattern 4262, Delineator, Feb. 1925, p. 37.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1700s, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, Late Victorian fashions, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uncategorized, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Chic Wigs for September, 1927

Transformations in the mode of the present day.... All the pictures are of the same charming woman. Top of page 37, Delineator, September, 1927.

Transformations in the mode of the present day…. All the pictures are of the same charming woman. Top of page 37, Delineator, September, 1927.

Yes, fashion wigs, or “transformations,” as they were called, allowed a woman to change her hair color and hairstyle to suit her mood in the 1920’s. This full page of transformations, from Delineator, September, 1927, shows five wigs, all on the same model.

"A deep wave accents the gold in blonde hair." Delineator, Sep.t 1927, p. 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“A deep wave accents the gold in blonde hair.” Delineator, Sept. 1927, p. 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

She doesn’t seem blonde to me, but that is a lovely hairstyle, and no one would guess it wasn’t her own hair.

500 blond hair wig 1927 sept p 37 transformations one model many wigs white silver page

“At the top of the page is a blonde bob, the only bob in the group. The other transformations all have the small knot at the neck. This transformation is parted far on the left, drawn low on one side of the forehead and low over the ears.”

text of article delineator sept 1927 p 37

“In the center, dark brown hair, parted a little on the right is brought low on the forehead in the curled fringe one sees so often on the smart Parisienne. Faintly serious, a  little demure, there is yet a piquancy about this transformation.”

A dark brown wig with "curled fringe." Delineator, Sept 1927. Photo by Johnston.

A dark brown wig with “curled fringe.” Delineator, Sept 1927. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“The silver head is so lovely that we couldn’t resist showing you two views of it.”

A silver wig for women sixteen or sixty, Delineator, Sept. 1927, p 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston

A silver wig for women of sixteen or sixty, Delineator, Sept. 1927, p 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston

“There is an enchantment and coquetry in silver locks. Whether one is sixteen or sixty, pure white hair deepens the color and adds brilliance to eyes, and the skin becomes more delicately pink and glowing. [18th century aristocrats wore white wigs, or powdered their hair, to get this look.] Here the wave is very wide so that the shadows will not lose their subtlety.”

A white wig worn by a young woman, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

A white wig worn by a young woman, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

A dark wig with a tiny bun low on the neck in back. September, 1917, Delineator, page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

Formal elegance: A dark wig with a tiny bun low on the neck in back. September, 1917, Delineator, page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“…A transformation is arranged with simple elegance for a formal occasion. The contour of the head is closely followed and an air of extreme dignity is attained.”

A chestnut wig, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

A chestnut wig, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“… A soft chestnut coiffure is very graceful. It has a flattering soft bang, covers the ears and has the small chignon, which is most attractive.”

Credits for the "transformations" photo shoot.

Credits for the “transformations” photo shoot in 1927.

Wig tips for costumers:  If you have ever worn a wig, you’ll know that it will look most realistic if the hair is not swept straight back from the hairline, but has at least a few hairs covering the forehead where the wig begins — something all these “transformations” have in common. They were intended to be worn in private life, and seen from inches away.  “Movie wigs” and good theatrical wigs have a delicate flesh-toned mesh at the front, with individual hairs “ventilated” into the mesh — The process is much like making a hooked rug (a very tiny one, with hairs instead of yarn.) This mesh can then be glued to the actor’s forehead, and looks very realistic — although I don’t know how HDTV is affecting that! Sean Connery’s crew-cut gray wig in the movie Red October was amazingly convincing — My husband and I came out of the movie talking about that wig!

If you can’t afford a high quality wig to wear with your off-the face-Gibson girl updo, try positioning a Gibson styled wig the same color as your hair slightly behind your hairline. Use a rat-tailed comb to pull about a quarter inch of your own hair out from under the wig cap, and carefully brush it into the hair of the wig before spraying it.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Hairstyles, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Accessories, vintage photographs