Category Archives: Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

Stocking Memories, 1958 to 1960

Stockings and a girdle from Sears catalog for Fall 1958.

When I started high school around 1958, we wore stockings for dress-up occasions. Usually, those stockings had a seam up the back.

Seamed stockings from Sears, Spring 1960.

(Pantyhose became available in 1959, or so the internet tells me. Seamless nylon or rayon stockings were available — briefly — in the 1940s, but in 1958, seams were the norm for me and the adult women I knew.)

Seamless stockings advertised in Vogue, Aug. 15, 1943.

Of course, stockings are still available and worn by many women, but pantyhose have dominated the market for about 50 years now.

So, for those who never had the dubious pleasure of buying stockings in the 1950s….

A run in her stocking; Lux soap ad from October 1937. Runs looked the same in 1960: a hole with unraveled knit stocking above and below it.

At the Stocking Counter

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about stockings circa 1958 was how many choices you had to make. Faced with the stocking counter — at a department store or even a “five and dime store” — you would see rows and rows of distinctive shallow boxes, each originally holding 6 pairs of stockings. The pairs were separated by layers of tissue; you could buy one pair, incurring the barely concealed scorn of the clerk who waited on you, or two or three pairs of matching stockings (if you could afford them.) Buying the whole box was a wonderful extravagance. Stockings were so fragile that the clerks sometimes wore gloves.

For a young teen, it was a confusing process. You needed to know your size, your “proportion,” the denier, the color, “seam or no-seam,” reinforced heel and toe or sandal foot, knit or “run stop”mesh….

1958 stocking size chart from the Sears catalog.

“What size?” Stockings came in seven sizes. Your stocking size was related to your shoe size, but it wasn’t the same as your shoe size. [Shoes used to come in many sizes and widths, from AAAA (very narrow) to EEE (very wide.)  I wore a shoe size 7 1/2, B width, with a (double) AA heel [Yes, you could buy a wide shoe size with a narrow heel, or many other variations.] As you can imagine, shoe stores had to carry almost as much stock as stocking counters.]

In 1958, your stocking size depended on your shoe size and your shoe width: shoe size 7, width B = stocking size 10.

However, stockings were usually held up by garters (aka suspenders) attached to a garter belt or girdle.

Garter belts, Sears 1958. Also (more accurately) called suspender belts in England.

Top left is a girdle; all the others are panty-girdles. Notice that your stocking top would need to come quite high on the thigh to attach to these garters.

Stockings attach high on the leg, with one garter in front and one in back on this panty-girdle. Sears, 1958.

The suspender part was somewhat adjustable in length, but you had to buy stockings that were long enough to reach the garter comfortably.

Proportioned Stockings for tall women; Sears, 1958. “The extra length reduces garter pull and strain…”

Finding the right proportioned stocking for your height and weight. Sears chart, 1958.  At Sears, your four proportion choices were “petite, shapely, classic, or tall.” (7 sizes x 4 lengths = 28 choices!)

There were so many size variations because 1950s’ stockings did not have much “stretch.” To answer the question “What size?” you needed to know your stocking size and your “pattern” or proportion. (Or you could tell the clerk your height and weight.)

If you wanted long enough stockings, you might have to pay more.

Sears, 1958. The cheaper stockings came in 15 or 30 denier weight, but only one length.

College memory: A friend named Mary was standing in the doorway when my roommate said, “Mary, your stockings are all wrinkled around your ankles.” Mary said, “I’m not wearing stockings. My ankles are sagging.”

Before modern stretch knits, stockings might bag or sag. Worse, if the reinforced top wasn’t high enough, when you knelt down the pull of the suspender could put too much strain on the knee, and your stocking would run or “pop.” Cheap stockings didn’t come in a full range of lengths, so I sometimes came out of church with one or both knees bulging out of big holes in my stockings. All those sizes were necessary because stockings were not very stretchy.

Stocking runs: a tiny hole would unravel the stocking both up and down your leg. This was still true in the 1960s. Lux soap claimed to improve stockings’ elasticity. Ad from 1936.

The stocking clerk might ask, “What weight?” This meant, not your own weight, but the amount of sheerness or strength you needed in the stocking. Light weight 15 denier was very sheer. 30 denier was more durable for everyday wear, and even thicker stockings were available.

“Seams or seamless?” My first stockings had seams, but the seams on the soles of my feet sometimes gave me blisters, so once I discovered seamless stockings, I always bought those. Seamless stockings were available in 1958, but I didn’t discover them for a couple of years. (A vertical seam up the back would have been more flattering to my sturdy legs, but limping on blisters didn’t improve my looks or disposition, so I chose comfort over vanity.) Besides, it’s maddening to be down to your last two intact stockings when you’re dressing for work and find that one of them has a seam and the other doesn’t.

Seamed stockings with reinforced heel and toe (and a seam under the ball of your foot.) Sears, Spring of 1958.

“Reinforced toe and heel? Sandal heel? Sheer foot?” If you wore pumps, then you could buy longer-lasting stockings with reinforced heels and toes. (Toenails or rough heels were hard on stockings.) However, by the 1940s many women wore open-toed or strap-heeled shoes, making the less durable options necessary.

Nude heel or reinforced heel in seamless stockings, Sears, 1958.

“Run stop or regular?” Runs were always a problem. A tiny snag from a chair or a fingernail would start a run racing up and down your leg. Many women kept a bottle of clear nail polish in their purse or desk drawers, because it was the only thing that could stop a run from progressing. If you dabbed a bit on the run before it passed the hem of your skirt, then the stocking might be salvaged enough for future wear. Otherwise, sheer stockings couldn’t be mended. One reason for always buying several identical pairs at the same time: as long as you had two stockings that matched, you could wear them. Once you were down to one stocking, you would probably never find a matching color or knit again, (too many brands, too many choices) so the final stocking might as well be tossed out.

Rayon mesh stockings from Sears, 1944. “Lockstitch resists runs, snags.”

Run-proof stockings were usually a mesh knit. They did get holes, but they didn’t get runs. The holes, however,  kept getting bigger….

Mesh stockings did not run, but they did get holes. And the weave was rather coarse and noticeable. Sears’ seamless mesh stockings from 1942.

“What color?” Stocking manufacturers and fashion magazines urged women to buy stockings to match every outfit. However, the woman on a budget often stuck to one or two shades. We all had drawers full of not-qute-matching stockings (usually kept in a padded box within the drawer.) Sticking to just one color matching your skin tone (or the healthy tan color you wished your legs were) was the economical choice. However, those black or dark stockings for evening were so temptingly glamourous….

Stockings from Sears to match your skin tone or your dress. 1959 catalog.

If you bought the last pairs of stockings in the box, or the whole box (six pairs,) you would be given the box itself, and therefore you would know the brand and color when you needed to buy more stockings a few weeks later.  Otherwise, stockings were simply wrapped in tissue. It was easy to forget where you bought them, the brand, and the name of the color, so your supply of single, unmatched, surviving stockings continued to grow. (One maker’s “nude” or “taupe” was rarely the same as another’s, and “suntan” could mean anything from light golden brown (in expensive brands) to orange (cheaper brands) ….

One Christmas in the Sixties, my father gave me a nightgown set that I didn’t need, so I took it back to Macy’s and exchanged it for a dozen pairs of stockings — two whole boxes! I had several blissful months of not worrying whether I had a pair of stockings that matched. Such luxury!

Next: The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings.

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Seamless Stockings in 1930

Seamed stockings from Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1939.

Every costume design job is an opportunity to do more research, but there are some things that are just part of your general knowledge. For example, when I was hired to costume a college production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which takes place in 1937, I automatically put the adult female characters in seamed stockings.

I was surprised recently when I came across this image from 1930:

Seamless stockings could be purchased at department stores in 1930! This image is from Delineator, May 1930.

I simply hadn’t come across this information before, so I checked another source: the Sears, Roebuck catalogs. There they were:

“No-Seam” hosiery for women, Sears Roebuck catalog, Fall 1930, p. 171.

No-Seam stockings text, Sears catalog, Fall 1930.

And another source….

From a fashion editorial about accessories, Delineator, September 1930.

There are some typos in the original text, as you can see, but corrected, it says, “I made a new discovery a few days ago — stockings needn’t have seams in order to fit. You may remember the old seamless stockings … which went into Grecian drapery at the ankles after their first contact with soap and water. The new Guildmode hose is knitted in a special way so that it fits just as snugly as a full fashioned stocking. It is dull [matte] and very sheer.”

“Full-fashioned” meant stockings which were shaped like the outline of a leg, curving in at the ankle, and gradually curving out over the calf area.

Before stretchier knits became available, the seam at the back was necessary for a good fit. Full-fashioned stocking illustration from Sears, 1958.

A short history: Knitted stockings have been around for hundreds of years. The simple knitted tube naturally stretched — somewhat — to the shape of the leg, but a seam up the back permitted a closer fit.  As stockings became more sheer (and more visible under short skirts) in the Nineteen Twenties, women became aware of the way the vertical seam up the back created a slenderizing line on their legs.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/hosiery-nov-1928-mar-1929-apr-1929-may-1929.jpg

Gordon Hosiery ads from Delineator, Nov. 1928 through May 1929.

Seams and pointed heels made these stockings flattering. Sears, Fall of 1939.

“Notice how they follow the natural shadows of the ankle — to give you slenderness and grace.”

Skirt hems went down and then up again in the Nineteen Thirties, but seamed stockings were so much a part of normal dress that women couldn’t give up that seam line even when silk or nylon stockings became unavailable during World War II.

There were no nylon or silk stockings available from Sears in 1944 because nylon and silk were needed for the war. Sears catalog index, Spring 1944.

In Spring of 1945, before the War ended,  Sears offered these un-glamourous cotton stockings. Three pairs were guaranteed to last you three months. (I.e., you would have two wearable stockings left.)

But, back to the Thirties:

Chiffon [sheer] and Service Weight stockings from Sears, Fall 1930.

Seamed rayon stockings from Sears, Fall 1930. Rayon, a synthetic fabric based on cellulose, was cheaper than silk.

At the first dress rehearsal of Brighton Beach Memoirs, the director knelt down beside my chair and whispered, “Are those seams on their stockings?” He was clearly delighted. I whispered back, “Well, stockings with seams are too expensive for our budget,** so I taught the actresses to do it the 1940s’ way: we drew ‘seams’ up the backs of their hose with an eyebrow pencil.” (The lines didn’t come out completely when we washed their sheer tights, so they just had to retrace the previous line for the next performance.)

At first, I thought the director was impressed by the seamed stockings because I was much more detail-oriented than my predecessor. Later I realized that anyone who was a teen-aged boy in the 1950s probably feels a certain nostalgia for seamed stockings, which, along with high heels and garter belts, were often seen on pin-up girls.

This 1950s’ stocking ad, shared by Sally Edelstein at Envisioning the American Dream, shows the sex appeal of seamed stockings.

Being allowed to wear high heels (or even kitten heels,) and sheer stockings held up by a garter belt was a rite of passage for girls of my generation. (I think that my first heels and stockings were required for a school field trip to the ballet [or opera?] circa 1958, when I was in 8th or 9th grade.)

Garter belts, seamed stockings, high heels, and a bouffant “crinoline” petticoat in 1958: “Today I am a woman!”

At thirteen, I was finally old enough to ask, “Are my seams straight?”

To return to my costume design for Brighton Beach Memoirs, would this new (to me) information about the existence of seamless stockings*** in 1930 have made any difference? No, because the characters in the play are struggling financially, and because they are not fashionable women. They would have worn inexpensive stockings — probably cotton, rayon, or “service weight.”

Service weight silk stockings were not as sheer as “chiffon” ones. Sears, Fall 1930.

I settled for using sheer tights with added seams because at the time of the production that was the most affordable option. Also, in college productions, most of the actors are younger than the characters they play. The two “mothers” were actually about twenty years old, and the teenaged daughters were also played by twenty year old actresses. Putting the mothers in seamed stockings and the daughters in bobby socks helped to establish an age difference.

More of my own “Garter Belt and Seamed Stockings” Memoirs to come….

** Some very good costume shop supervisors have told me that a seam can be added to inexpensive modern hosiery with an overlock sewing machine, but I haven’t tried it myself.

*** If you need a research topic, note that some of the images make reference to seamless stockings earlier than 1930.

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A Visit to January 1920, from Delineator Magazine

Ice skaters in an ad for Ivory Flakes laundry soap. Delineator, January 1920, page 4.

One hundred years ago, the January Delineator offered Butterick patterns, advice for the working girl (and her mother), sketches of Paris couture, and all kinds of advertisements. Enter the time capsule:

French couture from Doucet and Paquin. January 1920.

Butterick sewing patterns inspired by French designer styles.

Butterick sewing patterns, January 1920.

These are not what we usually think of when we hear “Twenties’ style,” but the decade was just getting started. Page three began an essay on the dangers awaiting naive young women who went out to work in offices….

“A Warning for Business Women…”

The “young, ignorant girl” applies for a job….

Her boss tells her that “he would go mad unless he could find a young girl who could understand him and care for him….”

Here, he offers her alcohol….****

And then, he escorts her home….

Her mother needs to warn her…. (Author: Josephine Stricker)

It was 100 years ago, but all of this sounds painfully familiar in the 21st century. At least we now acknowledge that saying ‘no” isn’t always enough.

If you had to work as a housemaid, the difficulties might be considerable. This little article about the life of a housemaid in England shows that even Delineator was shocked by their working conditions:

Delineator was aimed at middle and (aspiring) upper class women, but the plight of British housemaids was shocking.

Back to fashion: These Butterick patterns for misses (age 14 to 19, in most cases) show a hint of what women wore in the later 1920s:

A selection of Butterick patterns for misses in their teens. The schoolgirl’s outfit at right shows the straight, low-waisted trend of the future.

Dresses for grown women also offered some styles without exaggerated hips:

Daytime styles for women from Butterick, January 1920.

The bare arms of evening dresses, even for girls in their teens, surprised me. For more “very bare” gowns from 1920, click here.

For young men returning from WW I, these uncorseted young women in bare-armed dresses must have been a pleasant surprise.

What did women do about underarm hair?

Ad for DeMiracle hair remover, January 1920.

A prized gift in 1920 was a “Spanish comb,” often made from celluloid, “the first synthetic plastic material.  In this ad, a celebrity endorsing fingernail powder (yes, nails were buffed to a shine by most women) wears a Spanish comb:

Actress Kitty Gordon wears a Spanish comb in her hair while endorsing Graff’s Hyglo powder nail polish.

More Spanish combs. These are from 1922.

You could order your camisoles, nightgowns, bloomers, and combinations from Dove and other companies.

Ad for Dove Undergarments, January 1920.

WW I had made knitting more popular than ever; this is an ad for Fleischer yarns:

Knit yourself this aqua sweater with Fleischer Yarns.

The obsession with boyish figures has not yet appeared.

You could wash your woolens and fine lingerie with Ivory Soap Flakes.

Well into the Twenties, women shaved their own soap flakes from bar soap, so this was a modern convenience product.

Also convenient: Rubber shoe covers.

Rubber shoe covers slipped on over your shoes in 1920. The shoes might be worn with gaiters that laced up the front. Some shoes had built-in gaiters.

Later in the 1920s, the B.F.Goodrich rubber company introduced a winter shoe cover with a slide fastener closing, giving us the word “Zipper.”

Mothers could find ads for maternity corsets in 1920:

The H & W maternity corset ad, January 1920.

And safety pins had been around for over a century:

Changing diapers was easier after the rust-proof safety pin became widely available. January 1920 ad.

It was appropriate that a magazine designed to sell sewing patterns should have ads for sewing machines.

The Davis sewing machine was portable and electric.

The Davis portable electric sewing machine was operated by a foot pedal. [I made clothes on a (non-electric) treadle sewing machine in the 1960s. Wish I still had one, even though it took up a lot of room.]

This ad should hold a special interest for all us who love Daphne DuMaurier’s novel Rebecca. In a scene often described as the most un-romantic marriage proposal ever, Maxim de Winter includes the information that “I prefer Eno’s.”

Ad for Eno’s Fruit Salts, a laxative. January 1920.

(Let’s hope it wasn’t the Washington Monument in this ad that attracted his attention.)

Eno’s Fruit Salts ad, January 1920.

To see the marriage proposal scene from the excellent (and faithful) 1979 TV adaptation of Rebecca, starring Joanna David and Jeremy Brett, click here.

**** I am irresistibly reminded of the limerick about “the young lady of Kent/ who said that she knew what it meant/ when men asked her to dine/ over cocktails and wine….” Perhaps her mother had explained it to her after reading the article in Delineator.

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Versatile Butterick Patterns from February 1912

These “dresses” are really made from separate bodice and skirt patterns.

This “evening gown” is also made from a waist pattern and a skirt pattern.

Butterick waist 5188 and skirt 5189 made a lovely evening gown or a chic day dress, depending on your fabric choices. Delineator, Feb. 1912.

In 1912 you could buy “dress” patterns, but Butterick still sold many separate “waist ” and skirt patterns — a combination that allowed for enormous variety and individualization. These eight patterns featured in Delineator magazine in February 1912 show how you could make a day and evening wardrobe from just a couple of waist (bodice) and skirt patterns.

To start with the evening look:

Butterick waist pattern 5188, made in soft, sheer fabrics and embroidered or beaded.

Back view of waist 5188 with knot embroidery (or beading) and an optional high collar for formal daytime occasions.

The high-collared chemisette was optional (as was the body lining). “Sleeves are in full or shorter length, and with or without the cuffs.” Above, the collar is a sheer fabric, but other soft, drape-y fabrics (even wool) could be used.

Two back views of Butterick waist 5188.

Three variations of Butterick waist 5188 with skirt 5189.  At right, it has a “clearing length” skirt, one of three possible lengths.

The variation on the right uses the chemisette and long sleeves (probably attached to the body lining,) but is made of a fabric appropriate for daytime, like linen or wool serge.  Buttons add interest to the “day” look, and the soft collar is omitted entirely.

Evening, day, and afternoon looks from one waist pattern, Butterick 5188.

The same skirt, Butterick 5189, in sheer evening and solid daytime variations. (The evening coat covers part of the skirt.)

These two patterns were clearly meant as a set and could be made as one garment; but not all Butterick waist and skirt combinations close in the same place!

Left: Waist 5196 is more blouse-like and could be worn with different skirts. Right: Waist 5180 has a side closing like its accompanying skirt.

Alternate views of waist 5196. Optional CF seam, optional body lining (to control the fullness,) optional long sleeves and optional peplum as seen in the color illustration.

Skirt 5197 is softly pleated, and could be worn with other waists.

Right: waist 5180 with skirt 5181. The side closing exposes an underskirt.

Waist 5180 could be plain, as in the color illustration, or enhanced with embroidery or soutache braid. Buttons could be visible or the closing could be concealed. Long or 3/4 sleeves were another variation.

It’s possible to attach a skirt like this to the bodice with hooks and bars, but most women probably sewed the waist to the skirt, at least part of the way around. The side-front closing would make it hard to use the bodice with other skirts, although the skirt could be combined with other waists.

Butterick waist 5176 and skirt 5177. 1912.

Alternate views of waist 5176 with skirt 5177.

Waist 5176 and skirt 5177 are another set of patterns that could be made in day, afternoon, or evening versions. The long “sash” or back panel is an optional part of the bodice. Bordered fabrics are recommended for the skirt.

Detail of skirt 5177. For evening, you could stop at the second tier and let an underskirt show. The back-closing skirt “may be made separately or attached to a waist in semi-princess style….

This skirt description offers many fabric and construction options, and also suggests that other waists can be used with it, allowing for even more variety.

Waist 5176 could have a high-necked chemisette, or a lower, round neckline, as in the color illustration, or bare the throat entirely as in the evening version at the right.

Here waist 5176 has a “French round neck.” You can see how easily this waist might be adapted for evening by omitting the fill at neckline and using sheer fabric or lace for the “frill sleeves” and bertha collar.

Waist 5176 in day and evening versions.

Tricks of the Trade

Seeing all these variations should give hope to the overworked costumer: you could dress an entire chorus with variations on three or four bodice patterns and three or four skirt patterns. Fabric and trim variations will multiply the looks without having to draft a new pattern for every costume. In fact, character recognition would be aided by deciding that sophisticated Mme X always wears dresses with assymmetric side front closings, sporty Mlle Y always wears sailor collar variations, and gentle Mlle Z favors lace and soft fabrics. If you do one “waist” pattern fitting and one skirt pattern fitting per actress, and design three costumes for each that are variations on those patterns, you might get 15 costumes from five first fittings…. Hours and hours saved!

P.S. 1912 was the year the Titanic sank; Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1912. The best production of Love’s Labour’s Lost I ever saw was set in 1914 (Royal Shakespeare Company, 1993, directed by Ian Judge with costume designs by Deirdre Clancy.)

Under These 1912 Clothes:

American Lady Corset ad; corset cover/petticoat for mature lady. Both: Delineator, February 1912.

Brassieres, Delineator, February 1912.

Corset cover and drawers, Delineator, February 1912.

Combination corset cover and drawers; narrow petticoat. Delineator, February 1912.

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Tunic Blouses, 1922

Three out of five dresses pictured are “Tunic Blouses” with matching slips. Butterick patterns in Delineator, January 1922. Page 30.

The outfit on the right in this illustration is a “Tunic Blouse” with matching slip. Butterick 3509 with slip 3489. February 1922.

Another simply cut but attractive tunic blouse appeared in this color illustration:

Right, Butterick Tunic Blouse 3530 with slip 2930. Delineator, February 1922, page 27.

We’ll take a closer look at that one in a minute…..  You may have guessed that “tunic” means an over layer that is shorter than the rest of the outfit. But the one below is not called a tunic blouse — it’s just a “dress.”

Butterick dress pattern 3456. Delineator, January, 1922, page 28.

It took me a while to realize that Delineator was selling patterns, so the patterns which included all the layers were described as “dress” patterns, and those that only contained the top layer were “tunic blouse” patterns. That way, the buyer knew she would have to buy a separate pattern (or use one she already had) for the longest layer, which was usually made as a slip — but with fashion fabric rather than lingerie fabric.

In spite of their overskirts, these are not tunics but “dresses.” Delineator, May 1921.

The Tunic look had been very important in the 1910s:

Tunic outfits in 1914. Delineator.

Then, the longer layer of the outfit might be part of the skirt pattern or part of a blouse (called a “waist”) pattern. Or it could be sold as a complete tunic dress pattern:

Alternative and back views of Butterick tunic dress 6779; 1914.

This version of the tunic look appeared in 1921:

Butterick sold this pattern as a tunic blouse; the skirt/slip pattern was sold separately. Google scan from Delineator, found at Hathitrust.org.

Another tunic blouse pattern from late 1921.

“A blouse of the sort with a suitable slip makes a complete costume. The Florentine neck and wide sleeves are particularly smart.”

In 1922, a variety of tunic blouses were on offer.

Butterick 3509 illustrated in January 1922.

Right, Butterick 3509 — again — as shown in February 1922. Delineator.

Butterick tunic blouse 3497 illustrated in February 1922, Delineator.

Detail of Butterick 3530 from February 1922.

I especially like the surprise of bright yellow lining on this black velvet tunic. The bands on the sleeves seem to be embroidered with birds.

Matching embroidered fabric shows through the slit at the neck.

That dress almost makes me forget that most women would look like a sack of potatoes in it — a beautiful, black velvet, embroidered sack ….

Some of these tunics have very deep slits at the sides. Butterick tunic blouses 3497 and 3507.

Those very wide sleeves were also typical of 1922 — they deserve (and will get) a post of their own.

Black chiffon over a black slip. Strips of coral red trim keep it from looking too bedroom-y.

Butterick tunic blouse 3462 over slip 3428. January 1922.

The simple tunic blouse pattern lent itself to different ornamentation.

“An elastic can be run through a casing at the low waistline. If transparent, the blouse is worn over a slip; otherwise a skirt will do.”

Teens and young women wore tunic blouses, too. Butterick 3462 from 1922.

I’ve written before on the tunic as a transition to shorter styles. These tunics are from January, 1925.

Tunics from Delineator, January 1925. The slit side was still seen.

A whole page of tunics in different lengths, from Delineator, March 1925.

As skirts rose to knee length in the later 1920s, the knee-length tunic became irrelevant.

This tunic blouse appeared in 1930, another time of hemline transition:

This tunic blouse with long skirt is from December, 193o. The tunic is the same length as dresses from 1929. Butterick 3560. December 1930; Delineator, p. 27.

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College Wardrobe for Women, 1929

Essentials of a perfect College Wardrobe; Delineator, September 1929.

It’s a bit late in the year to be planning an “off to college” wardrobe, but Delineator devoted several pages to this question in September, 1929.

Administrators at Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith colleges shared their observations on what college girls were wearing in 1929. Delineator, Sept 1929, pp. 29 & 104.

Administrators at three prestigious East Coast women’s colleges contributed their observations in an accompanying article, which was later quoted in the Butterick pattern descriptions.

In addition to Butterick patterns, several “college clothing” illustrations were sketched from clothes being sold at Lord & Taylor.

These “College Requirements” could be purchased at Lord & Taylor. Delineator, Sept. 1929, page 28.

At all three colleges, sportswear — rather than “city” clothing — was said to dominate.  (Vassar was literally “in the country.” In the case of Wellesley, Freshmen lived in the nearby town, so clothes suitable for walking and bicycling to campus were necessary.) Dressing for dinner usually required a change, but not into evening dress.  However, dances and Proms called for at least one formal evening gown.  [I attended a women’s college in California in the 1960s, and we often loaned or borrowed evening gowns for off campus dances, so having only one wasn’t a real problem. Our dates saw us in a different dress each time.] I also appreciated reading about a dorm at Smith where the girls grouped together to rent a sewing machine! All three writers agreed that sporty, casual clothing — home made or purchased — dominated the college wardrobe and to some extent erased class distinctions. (In the late Twenties, Vassar had 1150 undergraduate students, Wellesley 1500, and Smith 2000.)

Laura W. L. Scales, Smith College. Delineator,  Sept. 1929, page 29.

I’ll start with college clothes available from Lord & Taylor in 1929:

(A) A fur coat was practical on campus in snowy winters, but wool coats were equally acceptable.

(B) is an afternoon dress, suitable for formal daytime events (teas, concerts) or as a dinner dress at college.

Wool knits, jersey, and tweeds were practical and traditional “country” looks; most of these colleges were then in the country a few miles from big cities, although urban sprawl has changed that.

“Simulated suede raincoat”? Interesting.  Augusta “Bernard” and “Louiseboulanger” were top Paris designers,

A warm robe, pajamas for sleep and dorm lounging, plus “sports” underwear (J): the top and bottom are buttoned together. 1929.

Formal evening wrap and dress from Lord & Taylor. September 1929. The coat is short; the gown has a long dipping hem.

Note those stretchy bias diamond pieces at the hip of the gown. Pearl-covered handbag.

Butterick patterns for the young college woman, September 1929:

Butterick patterns for college women, Sept. 1929, p. 30.

This dress really is easier to make than it looks. The full, scalloped skirt is cut on the straight grain, lined with “skin” colored taffeta, and has a dipping hem because it is attached to a dipping bodice.

Intimate apparel for college girls:

The slip at right has built in panties, to save time while dressing ….

“No brassiere is necessary,” but some girls do “make this set with a bandeau brassiere instead of a vest.”

Fall and winter weather was another good reason for wearing sporty wool clothing with low heeled shoes and wool, instead of silk, stockings on campus.

Wool fabrics were suitable for campus or weekends in town:

More sporty patterns for college women, 1929. Butterick patterns, Delineator, page 31.

A tweed suit suitable for city or country, a chic two-toned jersey dress, and a princess line wool or jersey dress with flared panels. Butterick patterns from Delineator, September 1929, p. 31

A sporty tweed dress with laced trim (very popular in the 30s), a pleated wool dress with Deco lines (“staircase pleats,”) and a fur-trimmed tweed coat. Butterick patterns for college women, Delineator, Sept. 1929, p. 31.

It’s sad to realize that these attractive 1929 styles would be out of fashion just a year later — although many women would have no choice but to continue wearing them as the economy crumbled in the early nineteen thirties.

 

 

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Evening Gowns Held up with Straps, 1920

Butterick pattern 2690, evening gown with camisole top, Delineator, December 1920. This pattern was featured two months in a row.

Evening gowns for misses aged 14 to 19; Butterick patterns from February 1920. Delineator.

The 1920 name for these gowns, bare-shouldered and supported only by straps, was “camisole top.”

Paris fashion by Georgette, illustrated for Delineator in February 1920.

Actresses and couturiers introduced these very bare evening looks before 1920, but I am surprised by how many 1920 examples I found when I started looking — and in just one source, Butterick’s Delineator magazine. [I did find a Standard pattern from 1919 with a straight top, simple straps, and optional sheer, cape-like sleeves at the Commercial Pattern Archive: Standard 391, archive No. 1919.65 BWS]

There aren’t even visible straps holding this bodice up, just the beaded hem of the sheer drape:

Butterick evening waist pattern 2083, Delineator, January 1920.

Digression: Serendipity — here is a surprising discovery I made while reading the text of a 1924 corset ad:

Unfortunately, this corset ad mentioned a strapless brassiere but did not illustrate it. Bien Jolie ad, Delineator, September 1924.

The earliest strapless brassiere I found in the Sears catalog was Fall, 1939.

Only slim strands of beads are supporting this gown from 1920.  Delineator, March 1920, p. 128.

The text for this photo concerned the “coils over the ears hairstyle,” and didn’t even mention that very revealing dress. Nor did this photo of a messy “houpette” hairdo have much to say about the beaded straps of this young woman’s gown:

This photo caption did mention “braces over the shoulders,” but was really focused on the “houpette” hairstyle.

“We only meant to show her ‘houpette’ coiffure, but from the braces over her shoulders to the ribbons on her feet she is so utterly engaging that we could find no place to draw the line.”Delineator, March 1920.

While I recover from that admiring description, perhaps I should mention that the 1920s’ “camisole” was sometimes an undergarment for the top of the body, but also referred to the simple bodice that many 1920s’ skirts hung from.

Later 1920s’ skirts didn’t necessarily hang from the waist; a simple bodice (“camisole”) could be basted to skirts so they hung from the shoulder.  Butterick skirt patterns 6601 and 6588, 1926; Warren’s camisole skirt foundation ad, 1924.

One thing “camisole” seems to mean is “a bodice/undergarment suspended from [narrow] straps.” (In 1920, the word “chemise” might also describe an undergarment with narrow straps.)

The narrow straps of these French couture gowns are really minimal: just a strand or two of beads:

Don’t be distracted by her necklace; her dress is ends just above the bust and is suspended from strands of beads. By Drecoll, sketched for Delineator, May 1920.

Evening gown by Beer. Sketched for Delineator, October 1920.

Butterick patterns followed suit:

Butterick 2690, illustrated in November of 1920.

This camisole topped dress came in sizes 32 to 46 bust, and the skirt, embroidered with a spiderweb pattern, seems “vamp”-ish to me.

Butterick embroidery design 10741 is a pattern of spiderwebs.

[Lanvin showed a lacy spiderweb design like this in 1922 (French Vogue, January 1.) ]

The same 1920 issue of Delineator showed a more modest alternate version: sleeveless, with V-neck.

Butterick evening dress 2690, in a more covered-up version; illustrated in Delineator, November 1920.

Yes, this is the same dress as the black, very bare version at the top of this post; that illustration was from December 1920.

Butterick 2690 with the camisole top and the “pleated panels” skirt. December 1920. It seems to be black, but might be any dark color.

Delineator showed women how to make “Paris” trims for evening dresses:

“Making Paris Trims” article from Delineator, March 1920, p. 147. [Several of the dresses for misses have this high waist and a strap top.]

These very bare dresses for misses have beaded straps:

Butterick 2067 for young women aged 14 to 19, February 1920.

Butterick dress 2702-B is a camisole top dress. For misses 16 to 20.  Delineator, November 1920, p. 127.

Butterick 2702-B next to a V-necked dress more usual in the evening wear of the mid-1920s. Actually, they’re the same pattern…!

The “conservative” dress pattern (2702-A) also included a camisole top version (B); what’s more, No. 2702 is the “size 16 to 20 years” version of Butterick 2690! Butterick was really committed to these styles.

Butterick 2702 is a teens’ 16 to 20 version of 2690, illustrated in two camisole versions and a pale blue  sleeveless one earlier in this post! 2702-A is like the sleeveless version of 2690, but with an optional sheer sleeve.

Straps didn’t have to be beaded:

Butterick 2181; February 1920. Two different straps.

Party looks for “debs and sub-debs,” Delineator, Feb. 1920.

The contrast between the covered-up and very bare dress is striking, and reminds me that young men returning from war were more accustomed to the #2151 kind of party dress (above left) than the “nothing under this dress but me!” #2181 (center.)

Two dresses with strap tops, and a slightly more conservative one, right. #2130 is actually pretty revealing, too, since it has a very sheer layer over a camisole top.

The sheer-over-camisole-top versions were probably chosen by girls (or their mothers) who were not ready to show off so much bare skin. All these alternate views include a sheer sleeve.

Paris designer Elise Poret showed a sheer layer over her bare, camisole-strapped bodice in February 1920.

Party dresses for 14 to 19 year-old women. Butterick 2107 and 2238, March 1920.

The dress at left has a gathered sheer layer over a camisole top. Most 1920 evening dresses were not bare, camisole topped fashions. This pattern is another from February 1920.

Butterick evening waist pattern 2172 with skirt 2166. February 1920. The horizontal line of the camisole layer is partially covered by the V-shaped top layer.

This dress, Butterick 2682, does not have the dropped waist of the later nineteen-twenties, but the V-neck and sleeveless bodice are very typical of those years.

However, the popularity of camisole-topped dresses —  bare, revealing dresses — is shown by their appearance in these ads:

Ad for Woodbury soap, for “the skin you love to touch.” Delineator, March 1920.

From an ad for Cuticura soap, November 1920.

From an ad for Cutex nail polish. September, 1920. Two different straps.

From an ad for DeMiracle hair remover, “every woman’s depilatory.” Delineator, January 1920.

Detail, cover of Delineator Magazine, October 1920.

The initial shock of dancing with young women in scanty, revealing clothing didn’t happen in the “Roaring Twenties.” It began with the “lost generation” right after World War I. ” …Members of The Lost Generation had survived World War I but had lost their brothers, their youth, and their idealism.”  They didn’t “discover” sex, but they certainly discussed it more frankly than their grandparents had.

 

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