Category Archives: Uncategorized

Musings for December 2019

Simplicity pattern 7734 included this Russian styled blouse. 1968.

I’ve mentioned before what a privilege it is to live in a city where many cultures mix and thrive. Lately I keep thinking about how much I have learned from casual meetings.

In the 1990s, one of my university students — a little older than the others — was a recent immigrant from Russia. One day, before class, I asked him how he wound up in California.

Ilya said, “I was born in Moscow. My parents were born in Moscow. But do you know what it said on my Russian passport? Under ‘nationality’ it said ‘Armenian/Jew.’ ”

“Two persecuted minorities!” I gasped. Ilya laughed and nodded vigorously. That’s why he decided to become an American.

Imagine going through life knowing that you would always be an “outsider,” never considered a “real” citizen, even after many generations. I told him, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Once again this week, the current President of the United States suggested that people of Jewish ancestry or belief owe their loyalty to the nation of Israel, rather than the United States. I urge you to read this post at Envisioning the American Dream, in which Sally Edelstein explains — yet again — that she is an American. As you read it, remember what was written on Ilya’s Russian passport.

French couturier Doucet described this jacket as “Russian” in 1917. Sketch from Delineator magazine, September 1917.

Around 2007, I joined a neighborhood society for artists. After a meeting, I found myself chatting with a painter named Marina — a Russian emigrant who was old enough to be Ilya’s grandmother.

Marina told me her story:  “I was always good at learning languages. By the time I was fifteen I was getting work as a translator. I used to work with foreign businessmen who needed help getting around in Moscow. One week I worked for an American businessman; after a few days he asked if it would be possible to visit a synagogue. He wanted to pray there. I told him ‘yes’ — that my family was Jewish, too. Then he said, ‘I want to show you something.’ He took out his passport and opened it. He said, ‘I’m a Jew, like you. But look what it says on my passport.’ Under ‘nationality,’ it said, ‘American.’ ”

“From that moment,” Marina told me, “I was determined to become an American. I finished school, I attended university, I worked…. But always in my mind I had this goal: I would be an American, no matter how hard or how long it took. And here I am, for many years now. I raised my family here.”

What can you say to a story like that? I say, “I’m glad you’re here.”

The side closing on this boy’s suit from 1924 qualified it for the “Russian” description. Butterick pattern 5202.

If you asked me fifty years ago whether I led a life of privilege, I would have said, “No.” My father did manual labor. Money was scarce. But my parents managed to build a little house, with a little apartment behind it, then buy the lot next door and build a little duplex on that…. Which eventually gave me the freedom to choose a career that didn’t provide much income. (You can work very hard in the theater and never make a living wage consistently.) So I was lucky. I was born in the U.S.A. (like my parents and their parents. They were lucky, too.) We never had to make the hard choices Ilya and Marina had to make. We didn’t have to leave everything behind and struggle to begin a new life.

Another story that I remembered today: My husband is an amateur violinist; about a decade ago his string quartet played a concert at  the Sherith Israel temple. I was amazed by the huge building, the beautiful dome, the stained glass windows, the balcony and all the polished wood that contributed to great acoustics. At intermission, in the ladies’ restroom, I found a woman bathing her face in cold water, trying to stop her tears. When I asked if I could help her, she told me that she was crying with joy. I don’t know if she was Russian or Ukrainian or what country she came from, but her accent suggested the former USSR.

“I’m crying because this place is so beautiful…. And because you can tell it’s been here for a long, long time….”

She was right. I just learned that Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. It was founded during the Gold Rush — before California became a state. Over the years its physical location changed, but the current building on California Street was begun in 1904.   The lady with tears running down her face was thinking of all the generations who worshiped freely, who were part of the larger community, who prospered and were able to build a place of worship equal to any in this city.

I don’t know where she came from, but clearly, her family had not experienced seven generations without persecution.

How lucky I am to take such freedom for granted. Perhaps you are that lucky, too.

I never want to see the day when an American citizen’s passport says “something /something” instead of “American.” ***

In case you’re wondering:  I don’t have any Jewish ancestors — that I know of. Genealogy is turning up surprises: a Methodist elder here, a suicide there, and quite a lot of relatives who were deliberately forgotten. I’m the product of parents who had no religious beliefs, but who started me on ten years of Catholic education, the last four at a college where everyone graduated with a minor in theology and philosophy. Let’s say I’m still open to new ideas.

In some towns, it’s easy to assume that everyone has the same background. Not here. Because I live in a large urban area, it’s possible for me to be friends with people for decades without ever hearing about their religious affiliations, unless it comes up in casual conversation. (I figure that, if you judge the tree by the fruit it bears, and the fruit is good, the name of the tree may be irrelevant.) At a dinner party, an old friend seated me next to her pastor, a Unitarian minister. [Deduction: Barbara is a Unitarian! Surprise!] A co-worker once mentioned that she was dreading Chinese New Year at her mother’s house, because she would have to spend hours on her knees, worshiping her ancestors. She also mentioned that she would have to dress in new — or at least, clean — clothes from the skin out. [Nice coincidence: Scrubbing the house and paying all your debts for the New Year is a Scottish tradition and a Chinese tradition.] Once, my father’s boss invited us to watch the Chinese New Year’s parade from the balcony at a large Buddhist church, where he was a Board Member. [He’d never mentioned his religion, but perhaps Buddhist compassion made him give my 65 year old father a job when no one else would hire him? Those eight extra quarters of work qualified my father for Social Security and Medicare, so it was a very big deal. Thank you, Mr. Yee.] My husband’s quartet had to reschedule their weekend practice day when the cellist was elected president of her [very] liberal Congregation. “I thought you were a Catholic,” my husband said. “I am,” she replied, “but my husband and my son are Jewish, so….” [So, she observes one Sabbath on Saturday, another Sabbath on Sunday….]

I love the way we all fit together. Incidentally, I’m one of those people who wishes strangers “Happy Holidays,” because around here you make friends with people from all over the world. I don’t assume that everyone celebrates the same holy days — or even the same “new year.” (I joke that, if I fail to keep the New Year’s resolutions I made on January 1st, I’ll get another chance on Chinese New Year, or even Nowruz (my dentist’s parents were born in Persia.)

So — Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate. Count your blessings.

*** Technically, the “nationality” line on my passport says “United States of America.”

 

 

 

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 3, 1912 to 1914

The corset of 1914 is well below the bust, and is not intended to make the waist look smaller.

There were two big changes in 1914. The corset is no longer expected to support the bust, and the days of the wasp waist are over.

American Lady corset ads from 1912 and 1914. Right: No tiny waist here.

The 1912 corset was higher and longer, and it made the waist smaller; the corset of 1914 is below the bust, and does not constrict the waist. These are both advertisements from the same corset company, less than 3 years apart.

Delineator ran an article about the corsets of 1914, and it may surprise you (as it did me) to see these early references to the natural, girlish figure.

From an article on corsets by Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914, p. 38.

“The corset of former years gave a woman a mature, well-developed, matronly figure. The corset of to-day makes her look like a very young girl.” [I find the 1914-1918 figure very un-girlish, but….”fashion writing.”]

“This is the day of the …drooping, boneless pose,” the body “as straight and yielding as a very young girl’s.” That sounds like the 1920s, but it was written before World War I. “The silhouette … for 1914 … is the straight figure, with small hips, large waist, and no bust.”

One big change is that the tiny waists of the Edwardian era are no longer fashionable.

These corsets “compress the hips as much as possible,” “leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its normal size….” “Practically unboned, …The softness of the material follows the natural curve of the abdomen, …and in many cases there is even a slight curve in the front bone.”

American Lady corset ad, July 1914.

“Among smart women the size of the waistline has increased three  inches in the past three or four years. Large women still cling to their waistlines, but the corset should only measure two inches less than the waist — a twenty-four inch corset for a twenty-six inch waist.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Back lacing of a 1914 corset. Delineator, April 1914. “If necessary you can wear a brassiere with it.”

As seen in the corset back illustration above, a gap between the sides of the corset was customary, so this corset did not decrease the waist measurement at all.

Since the 1914 corset started below the bust, some women felt the need to wear a brassiere. However, the brassiere of 1914 “confined” the bust, rather than supporting it.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. There is nothing natural about this silhouette. [“Breasts? What breasts?”]

The back waist of the brassiere was much higher than the front, reflecting the posture of the period, which was changing, but not yet completely natural. (The long center front tab attaches to the corset to keep the brassiere anchored down in front.)

Back view of the DeBevoise brassiere, May 1914. You can see the vertical bones or darts in the front, the front closing, and the tab.

Less constrictive brassieres were available, offering no support, just nipple coverage..

This DeBevoise low-backed brassiere was recommended under evening dresses, which were usually made of thin fabrics. June 1914, Delineator.

Not all women wore brassieres. These fashions suggest the “absolutely free,” natural bust of 1914:

These women are showing a natural bust, probably not wearing brassieres with their low corsets. Butterick pattern illustration, June 1914.

“The uncorseted effect is produced by leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its natural size and in the hip-confining sections of the corset using a very soft, pliable, practically unboned material that leaves the figure almost as soft and supple as if no corset were worn.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Butterick illustration from April 1914. The natural, uncorseted bust line.

However, stout women were advised to wear a brassiere with the low-waisted 1914 corset:

Stout women were advised to wear a brassiere to avoid looking “slovenly.” DeBevoise brassiere ad, June 1914.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. This ad is not necessarily aimed at stout women. That bust shape is an early version of the 1920s’ flattened chest.

“…Appear ‘uncorseted’ without looking slovenly…. Your corset will not make a ‘ridge’ in your gown.” Bulging flesh at the top of the corset (in front or in back) must have been a problem for many women.

La Camille “Ventilo” front-lacing corset ad, April 1917.

Three years after 1914, corsets were still higher in the back than in the front. A ridge of flesh above the corset was often a problem, except for the very slender. A brassiere helped control the back bulge, as well as a possible overflow in front.

The waistline is high and not especially small on these patterns from April 1914. “Slouch” pose at right.

Again, it’s hard to see why the corset of 1914 had to compress the hips during the “tunic” era. But the corset did affect posture. And some women chose a sleeker silhouette, without the tunic:

Butterick patterns in Delineator, January 1914.

Quick comparison 1907 to 1914:

Corset ads 1907, 1910, 1912, 1914. All from ads in Delineator.

Styles to come: The low, natural-waist-size corset of 1914 was still fashionable in 1917, but it was getting shorter and less rigid.

Corsets 1914 and 1917. The woman in the ad on the right has an almost “natural” figure.

For a previous post about the change in fashionable figures from 1914 to 1924, click here.

For corset change between 1907 and 1910, click here.

For corset change between 1910 and 1912, click here.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. I have chosen extremes for the sake of contrast, but women could choose from a wide range of styles, and many continued to wear their old corsets until they wore out.

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Bras, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uncategorized, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, World War I

All-American Cooking

I don’t usually talk about where I live, but I do appreciate San Francisco for more than the mild climate and the Silent Film Festival.

My husband, in Texas, late 1940s. Me, in California, about the same time.

I keep being reminded how lucky I am to have grown up in a part of the U.S. which was built and is constantly sustained by immigrants from all over the world. (It’s not just the great food, but sharing a meal is a traditional way of getting to know our neighbors.) My experiences growing up near San Francisco were different from my husband’s, who remembers attending segregated schools in a North Texas town. (My own schools were segregated not by official policy, but by neighborhoods in a “walking distance to school” approach. Definitely not ideal. And California — to our shame — was the leader in many anti-immigrant policies, like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — an extraordinary example of ingratitude, since it was chiefly Chinese workers who tunneled through the Sierra mountains in the 1860s –making the Union Pacific Railroad that linked California with the rest of the nation possible.)

Recently, I was reminded of one of the things I learned by living here. Our SF neighborhood movie theater showed Harold and Maude for Valentine’s Day. There is a glimpse — just a few seconds — of Maude’s wrist. In the sixties, in San Francisco, one customer of the bank where I worked — an admirable man, a pillar of the community — was an Auschwitz survivor. Whenever he wore a short-sleeved shirt, I saw his concentration camp tattoo; that’s not something you forget.  Maude has row of numbers on her arm, too; it’s a detail you might not understand, if you grew up in a town where most people have the same background, the same churches, the same politics.

My California parents (born in 1904) embraced diversity. They believed in the American “melting pot” idea — that the stew is more delicious if everyone puts something in. Speaking of stew…

Pozole is a sort of stew popular in the American Southwest. It uses many traditional Mexican ingredients. One day at the grocery store, a young woman in line behind me saw the tomatillos, the chiles, and the hominy I was buying. “Are you making pozole?” she asked, clearly surprised. When I said I was, she told me that her mother was born in Mexico, but her husband was from Palestine. Pork shoulder (on sale at $.99 per lb; one recipe makes a huge pot of pozole) is the usual meat for this dish, but her Muslim husband doesn’t eat pork. So she substitutes chicken thighs (which were also on sale at $.99 per lb., although mine weren’t halal.) I tried it and discovered that I much prefer the chicken version! How lucky I am that she spoke to me. That’s what I call All-American(s) cooking.

At a potluck party last year I met a woman who is active in a Jewish genealogy group. She has had amazing success exchanging information and photos with people around the world. [From a picture she posted, a stranger in Europe recognized the house her ancestors once lived in — it was next door to his ancestors’ home. In the 1920s, those close neighbors had exchanged photos — so he had photographs of her family that her own ancestors had lost in the Holocaust. Now she has copies.] In addition to being very helpful with genealogy advice,  she had brought to the party the best kugel (a noodle and dairy dish) I have ever tasted. I confess, I had three helpings over five hours! She said, “I like to experiment with Italian dairy products — sometimes I use ricotta, or mascarpone. This time, as I was putting in the spices, I added some cardamom.” Wow! It was exceptional. (When I told a Muslim friend whose father was born in India about the cardamom, she laughed with delight.) Another example of All-American(s) cooking.

From the food truck at a farmer’s market, I ordered a sort of soft taco: barbecued pork, plus a dash of Asian plum sauce (the kind you spread on your rice pancake with mu shu chicken or pork,) plus a handful of baby greens, rolled in a warm corn tortilla. Southern barbecue, Chinese sauce, wrapped in a corn tortilla: fabulous All-American(s) cooking.

San Franciscans sharing food, sharing stories: Just a few reasons why I love this town.

Two book critics at my breakfast table.

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, Boys' Clothing, Children's Vintage styles, Musings, Uncategorized

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

Beach Overalls: Butterick 3184

Left, overalls to wear on the beach — Butterick 3184, Delineator, June 1930.

These beach overalls deserve a blog post of their own.

Butterick 3184, June 1930.

“Sunburn” was the old way of describing “a tan.”

This editorial illustration from March 1932 shows a similar but not identical beach outfit. (These have a hip yoke.) Delineator. Illustrated by Leslie Saalburg.

The front view is shown at left. Butterick 3184, 1930. Note the three [?] bust darts.

The back is low to match the evening clothes of the 1930s — but that big “X” where you weren’t tanned would not be lovely.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/lhj-1936-feb-cover1.jpg

Ladies’ Home Journal cover, February 1936.

Wide legged overalls seen in an ad, Delineator, June, 1932.

You can find a picture of the pattern pieces for Butterick 3184 on pinterest. The pattern did include the “bodice like a working man’s shirt.”

Very wide-legged pajamas were also popular in 1931. See The Fascinating Pajama 1931.

 

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Filed under 1930s, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Women in Trousers

Hot Lips Cigarette Lighter, December 1930

The Hot Lips electric cigarette lighter — perfect for Christmas, 1930. Ad from Delineator, December 1930.

Part of the pleasure of reading vintage magazines is the advertisements I find. This ad ran from the top of the page to the bottom, so I have broken it into segments for legibility.
Here, from 1930, is a Christmas gift you might actually encounter at an antiques fair:

Top of ad. “The liquid, graceful beauty of this sculptured head will enhance your library table.” — It must be a high class item, huh?

Bottom of ad for a Townsend-Wulff, Inc. Hot Lips electric cigarette lighter. Delineator, December 1930, p. 91.

It looks like the button is on the back of her neck, so you just put your hand around her neck to pick her up and turn her on…. “Perfect prize for bridge tournaments and golf tournaments.”

In 1930, ten dollars was not cheap.

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Postcard #2 from My Vacation at the Library

Three fashions for daytime, Delineator magazine, March 1929, page 29. They have characteristic dropped waists, a horizontal line across the hip, and hems that barely cover the knee.

Less than a year later:

Fashions for daytime, Delineator magazine, January 1930. Butterick 3007 and 2984, on sale in January 1930, demonstrate the transition from 1920s to 1930s.

It’s obvious that by January 1930, the change from the low-waisted, short-skirted 1920’s silhouette was already well under way.
At a first glance, these suits do have a 1920’s look, but the return to the natural waistline and the move toward longer hems which they demonstrate is also illustrated on this catalog cover.

Ad for Butterick Quarterly from Delineator, January 1930, p 76.

It’s remarkable, when you consider the lead time for creating sewing patterns and for magazine publication: The design has to be approved, made into a prototype (muslin) and patterned,  made up in fabric, modeled for the illustrators, “graded” up and down to a full range of sizes, and set into mass production before being issued and publicized in magazines, etc. This suit was not designed in January 1930, but several months earlier.

Butterick 2984 took months to develop and have ready for sale in January of 1930.

It looks very much like the popular cardigan-jacketed suit of the Twenties, complete with a long neck tie, but the skirt has a natural waist and a seam line at the familiar 1920’s hipline. The jacket is long, falling well past that old hip-level design line, and the skirt falls three or four inches below the knee.

Butterick Quarterly cover, January 1930. Suit 2984 is on the right, and is shown in a different illustration below..

Butterick 3007 (L) and 2984 (R) from January 1930. No. 3007 has a low hip seam and unstructured bodice that allows the wearer to put the belt where she likes.

Two other observations: The three-quarter length coat was a popular 1930 option, and in 1930, a “sleeveless” dress really was sleeveless.

I’ve been curious about the transition from 1920s to 1930s; apparently it happened very fast!

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage patterns