Category Archives: Bras

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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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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From Curved to Straight and Back Again: Corsets 1917 to 1929

Ad for Bien Jolie Corsette, an all-in-one bust flattener and corset. Delineator, March 1926.

Corsets, 1907 and 1926. The garment on the right is a “corsette,” very lightly boned — if boned at all.

I took a detour from corsets to brassieres before writing this post, because brassieres became necessary when corsets became so low that they couldn’t offer bust support.

The female shape as seen in corsets advertised in Delineator: 1907, 1917, and 1924.

American Lady corset ad, April 1917.

In 1918, this Kabo corset and brassiere ad pairs a corset with a brassiere. The two were often worn together. Kabo made both.

Most brassieres of this era did not have two “pockets,” or “cups” as they were later called; they did not lift the breasts, but “confined” them. Click here for bust confiners.

Ad for the Kabo “Flatter-U” brassiere and bust flattener. Delineator, November 1920. “It makes a flatter you.”

DeBevoise brassiere ad, June 1920. Delineator. This mesh brassiere (some would call it a bandeau) produces a low bust with a very gentle curve.

Warner’s Rust Proof Corset ad, February 1922. These corsets are being worn without a brassiere.

These dresses from 1922 are nearly unstructured, like a tube with a belt and sleeves. Butterick patterns. Low busts, slouching posture.

[How were those busts possible? Read on.] The smooth, tubular lines of the Twenties demanded a smooth, all-in-one garment, brassiere plus girdle, and the corsette or corselette was born.

Article in Delineator, February 1924.

This Treo “brassiere girdle” — “a combination garment” appeared in May, 1925.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, October 1924, Delineator.

Some women (especially young or slender ones) wore a girdle without a brassiere. Below, left: a “hip-confiner” of glove silk.

Left, a glove-silk hip-confiner was almost not there. Right, a corset for those who needed more control. Delineator, February 1924.

Some wore neither.

Some slim women wore a girdle or corset with a brassiere…

Brassiere patterns from Butterick’s Delineator, July 1926.

…  or a bandeau.

Bust-flattening bandeaux from Sears catalog, 1928.

However, for those larger women who wore a bust-flattening brassiere with a corset, the brassiere needed to come down over the corset to prevent an ugly bulge between them:

Long Brassiere. From fashion advice article in Delineator, February 1924.

Ad for the H & W brassiere with diaphragm control. March 1924. It won’t “Push up” the “flesh.”

Dress patterns from Butterick, April 1924; Delineator.

Those who wanted a completely smooth, no curves, flexible shape under their dresses could wear a corselette.

This corsette gives a perfectly flat silhouette in front. 1924.

(There were many spelling variations: Corsette, Corselet, Corselette, Corsolette….) Most corselettes did not use metal bones, but depended on seams and elastic to shape the body into something resembling an oblong test tube — the “boyish” shape suited to Twenties’ fashions.

Left, a corset; right, a bust flattening bandeau over a waist-high corset. April 1925. DeBevoise ad.

Article in Delineator, February 1926, p. 24.

This corsette is trying to turn a mature figure into a boyish one…. Bien Jolie ad, February 1926.

Corselette for large figures, “boned in the modern manner.” The bottom may be boned, but the top is soft silk jersey! Warner’s ad, April 1925.

A very flat posterior was as important as a flat bosom:

Back view, Bon Ton Corset ad, April 1925.

More corsettes/corselettes from 1925:

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, April 1925.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, June 1925.

Casual dresses from Butterick patterns, June 1925; Delineator, p. 29.

Although you might not see it in these ads, (perhaps because corsette ads were probably aimed at women old enough to have “figure problems”) by 1926 a change was taking place.

Article in Delineator, February 1926. p. 24.

“The younger woman who can keep slim and firm… either wears no corset at all or a tiny girdle of satin or glove silk with an equally ephemeral bust-supporter of lace or net.” Interesting that in 1926 1) the bust is supported, not flattened; and 2) the girdle supports a curve under the bottom. (The illustration does not quite match this description.)

Illustration for article in Delineator, February 1926, p. 24.

Research by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in 1924 and 1925 discovered that younger patrons, dubbed “flappers” by buyers and the JWT staff, “were looking for uplift styles of brassiere, in contrast to older women who wanted the flattening styles.” (Uplift, p. 40.)

Curves gradually returned. For me the interesting thing about these Butterick brassiere patterns from 1926 is that both the flatteners and the brassiere with breast separation are on the same page:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/1926-july-p-38-500-undies-top-left-bras-flattener.jpg

At top, two bust flatteners, pattern 6964. At bottom right, pattern 6961 for a brassiere that separates and does not flatten the breasts. Delineator, July 1926, p. 38. [It does not offer any support, just coverage.]

Bien Jolie corset ad, July 1926, p. 80. Delineator.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, September 1926. (Quite interesting fabric!)

Gossard corset ad, February 1927.** Note the curvy hips and the division between the breasts.

The bust was being worn in a more natural position:

Couture evening dresses by Boulanger and Paquin, illlustrated for Delineator, February 1927. p. 18. Note the high bust.

Modart’s combination, March 1928. Notice her curved bust silhouette. (Not helped by that garment!)

Modart ad, March 1928. Bandeau and girdle, bottom of same ad as above.

This brassiere isn’t even mentioned, but it has separation and a supportive band. Modart ad, March 1928.

Transition: two “foundation garments” featured in the same corset advice article; Delineator, March 1929.

The return of the curve, 1929:

Fashions that show off the female shape: (Butterick patterns) September, 1929. Delineator.

Light, non-restrictive foundation garments, October, 1929. Delineator.

Soft, flexible undergarments from Nemo-flex. Illustration from Delineator, October 1929.

Improvements in elastic, made possible by new Lastex fabrics, came just in time for the change to 1930s fashion.

** Gossard corsets had an ad campaign praising the curve (Hogarth’s “line of beauty”) as early as 1924.

Ad for Gossard “Line of Beauty” corsets, praising the curved figure, Delineator, February 1924.

If you’ve read all the way to here:  sorry this post was so long, but there was a lot I needed to get off my chest…!

 

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More “WTFashion?” Ads from Delineator: Bust Confiners (1900s) to Brassieres (1920s)

Ad for Gossard Bust Confiners, Delineator, March 1910, p. 250.

As discussed in the wonderful book Uplift, for centuries the breasts were supported from below, by a corset which pushed them up.

In the mid-twenties the uplift brassiere was invented, which supported the breasts from the shoulder (with the combination of bra straps and an elastic band below the breasts.)

No drooping breasts (see the “BEFORE” dotted line) when you wear the A.P. Uplift bra.**** Ad from Delineator, April 1930.

But until the modern brassiere was invented,** women’s breasts were often subject to exaggeration (pushed up and padded in the early 1900s) or suppression — “confined” and flattened. All aboard for the history herstory tour…. *****

Women’s corsets for regular figures, 1907 and 1926. Both from Delineator magazines.

In 1907, the “big bust, big hips” S-curve figure was supported by a corset which covered only the bottom of the breasts.

The Nemo Self-Reducing Corset for stout women, Delineator, November 1907.

This was a problem for large- (even slightly large-) busted women. If the corset hits just a little too low, your breasts droop over the top, or slip out of the corset when you raise your arms. So, like wild beasts or prisoners, breasts needed to be “confined.” Something stronger than the chemise or camisole (worn under the corset) was needed

This Corslette provided boned support to large breasts. Ad, Delineator, November 1907,  p. 856. Corslette made by Arthur Frankenstein & Co. [no, seriously.]

“It holds the bust high or low ….”

Text of the Corselette ad, 1907.  It could be worn without the corset for outdoor sports.

“A boon for the stout. Reduces Bust Measure 3 to 4 inches [OMG– Is this the first Minimizer bra ad?] ….Holds the bust high or low and prevents the flesh overriding the corset…. Double Boned Special deep back for Stout and Long Waisted.”

Front view of boned Corslette bust supporter, 1907. The shadow shows where her corset stops.

Elastic back of Corslette Back and Bust Supporter. 1907.

By 1910, a straight, slim silhouette was coming into fashion, and the top of the corset was getting too low to support the breasts.

Lower corsets appeared in this National Cloak Co. ad. February 1910.

Bust confiners to the rescue!

Gossard Bust Confiner ad, Delineator, March 1910.

Detail, Gosssard Bust Confiners, 1910.

Text of Gossard Bust Confiner Ad, 1910.

“The most striking change in the new corsets this season is the lower bust, which to many women will be a grateful improvement. With the low corset, a bust confiner is indispensable to give graceful contour and the desired straight, slender figure….”

Gossard “bust confiner” Style 54 was made to be sewn over the top of the corset, as shown here.

This Gossard Bust Confiner fastens in the front, like a corset cover, with hooks and eyes.

Unlike a corset cover,*** it was heavily boned.

In 1912, the spelling of the new “brassiere” was flexible. Ad for the Siegel-Cooper catalog. Delineator, September 1912.

“Brassiere” is not what a bust-supporting garment was called in France, but American advertisers chose that word to describe this new garment.

Ad for De Bevoise brassieres, “far superior to any corset cover.” June 1910.

The hook at the center front waist of the brassiere attached it to the corset.

In 1912, Paul Poiret was very influential, introducing a long, straight silhouette with a very high waistline and a raised bust. In 1815, women wore a bust-supporting corset under Empire fashions. This photo of a model wearing a high-waisted fashion by Paul Poiret gives an idea of the problem of a corset without bust support. (Her dress and chemise are doing whatever supporting there is.)

One of Poiret’s models, photographed in 1912. Delineator, June 1912. Her breasts seem to be hanging over the top of her corset.

In his book, En Habillant l’Epoque, Poiret told a story about one of his models (not necessarily this one) that has stuck with me for years:

“Am I the only one to know that this bird of paradise concealed the vilest of bodies, … that her breasts, empty and unspeakably awful, had to be rolled up like pancakes in order that they might be packed into her majestic bodice?” — Quoted and translated by Quentin Bell in his book, On Human Finery.  [I imagine that Poiret originally said they were rolled like “crepes.”]

OK, the brassiere needed to be invented! But…. The brassieres of 1914 through the early 1920s treated breasts as something which needed to be confined, suppressed, and compressed…. (I wish I could come up with a joke about the monobosom and “solitary confinement.”)

DeBevoise Brassiere ad, May 1914. Delineator.

The silhouette … for 1914 … is the straight figure, with small hips, large waist, and no bust,” wrote Eleanor Chalmers. Delineator, April 1914, p. 38. (Surprise: this fashion didn’t start in the 1920s.)

1917 fashion illustrations often show a very low bust (a fashion which would be appreciated by some women.)

By 1917, the low bust was an option for chic women.

The natural, uncorseted look meant that breasts could be worn low, although “stout” women were always advised to wear a brassiere.

Famous dancer and fashion icon Irene Castle, an early adopter of bobbed hair, is obviously choosing to go without a brassiere.

Irene Castle’s breasts are not “confined” in this photo from 1917.

Nevertheless, some young women with naturally high busts would choose to wear a breast-flattening brassiere.

Butterick pattern illustrations, September 1917.

It’s hard to believe that young models could achieve a bust this low and flat without a flattening brassiere.

Couture evening dress by Doeuillet, sketched for Delineator, September 1917. Young face; low, flat bust.

That is not a “natural” figure silhouette for a woman.

By 1917,  advice was that “With a low corset even a slender woman requires a brassiere or bust confiner.”

Delineator article, Sept. 1917.

This DeBevoise low backed brassiere (like the one in the Delineator illustration above) was recommended under thin evening dresses [probably to prevent nipples from showing.] June 1914, Delineator.

Model brassiere ad, Aug. 1917. From Ladies’ Home Journal.

This “Model” brassiere gives a more natural silhouette (although it implies one wide, single breast rather than a pair.) It has seams over the bust points, so it would flatten the bust somewhat.

A [monobosom] brassiere was recommended for all stout women. It supports the breasts by smashing them and pushing flesh toward the sides. Delineator, February 1917.

Sketch of a couture dress by Paquin, Delineator, December 1917. This model’s bust is oddly low, even though her arms are raised.

1920: This DeBevoise brassiere produces a low curve with no separation between the breasts.

As early as 1920, bust-flattening brassieres and bandeaux, designed for that purpose, were being sold. I was excited to find an ad for the “Flatter-U” brassiere, which I had read about but never seen:

Ad for the Kabo “Flatter-U” brassiere and bust flattener. Delineator, November 1920.

“Especially designed to flatten any unlovely bulge at the diaphragm, bust or shoulders. It really does flatter you, and it makes a flatter you.”

The Flatter-U brassiere, 1920.

This “snugly fitting” bust confiner from 1920 came with a lacy camisole. Kabo Corset Co. ad from Delineator, November 1920.

In the same ad:

Kabo brassiere, ad from November 1920. Delineator.

Ad for Warner’s Brassieres and Bandeaux, November 1920, Delineator. For more about bandeaux, click here.

“…From the slim girlish thirty-two to the full figure of mature lines. It retains the flesh in trim, youthful smoothness….”

[“Youthful smoothness?” How “youthful,” exactly? Age ten?] It’s 1920 — not yet what we think of as “the Twenties,” but the “boyish” figure is already starting. (“Boyshform” was another punning brand name like “Flatter-U.”)

The change didn’t happen overnight. These ads are also from 1920:

Ad for Treo Paraknit Elastic Brassiere. Delineator, February 1920. It’s something like a modern sports bra….

“Model” brassiere ad, Delineator, April 1920. It shows a natural curve but promises “slenderized girlish lines.”

Not all 1922 fashion illustrations show this bust shape, but they were the shape of the future in 1922. Delineator, March 1922.

Long brassiere, from an article in Delineator, February 1924.

Left, a bust-flattening “corselette;” right, a long, flattening bandeau worn with a girdle. Detail from ad for DeBevoise corset company, April 1925.

Buttterick brassiere patterns, Delineator, July 1926. For 36 to 52 inch bust.

Girdle, corselette, and brassiere/bandeau with girdle, Delineator, February 1926.

** Not long after the uplift brassiere became popular in the 1930s,  bust padding was reintroduced. (Corset, 1932.) You could buy “Indestructible Breast Forms” in 1939. In 1947, the “push-up” bra was invented by Frederick Mellinger, who started Frederick’s of Hollywood — which is still selling padding to those who think they need it.

*** A corset cover, 1914:

Corset cover, 1914. It is smooth and princess seamed, but it buttons down the front over the corset, so it would have to be very tight to prevent the breasts from popping out over the corset top.

**** By 1926, patents were applied for by at least three “uplift” companies: Model, A.P. (G.M. Poix & Co.) and Maiden Form. (source, Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau.}

***** This post generalizes based on images from Delineator and Ladies’ Home Journal — just two sources. [Not good scholarship!] For a scholarly history of brassieres in this period (including patented devices) I recommend the well-researched book Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau.

NOTE: Most of these images are ones I discovered recently, but some appeared in previous posts. I shared many 1920s’ undergarments in “Brassieres, Bandeaux and Bust Flatteners” (click here), “Underpinning Twenties Fashion: Girdles and Corsets” (click here), “Garters, Flappers & Rolled Stockings” (click here.) And “Corsets and Corselets.” For what happened after the Twenties, see “Changing the Foundations of Fashion, 1929 to 1934.”

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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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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 2, 1910 to 1912

Left, corset ad from 1910; right, corset ad from 1912.

1912: Longer and Lower Corsets

Cover image from Delineator magazine, November 1912.

The ideal woman seemed to be elongated in 1912, and the waist of her dress was rising, while her corset extended far down her thighs.

Ad for American Lady corsets, March 1912. Delineator.

This corset starts below the bust and is so long that there is a cut-out in the center front to permit walking.

From an article on corsets by Eleanor Chalmers, Delineator magazine, April 1912.

Two Justrite brand corsets, one from 1907 and one from 1912, show a drastic change in the ideal figure.

This change in the fashionable figure (and corset) is extreme, and happened in just five years. (Imagine being 17 years old in 1907, and 22 years old in 1912. Your body wouldn’t have changed, but whether you had a “perfect figure” certainly would have.)

The C/B a la Spirite corset ad from Delineator, August 1912. An unrealistic fashion figure and no real bust support.

Once again, the perfect figure is an impossible ideal.

Ad for Spirella corsets, April 1912. [A flexible spiral corset bone surrounds the illustration.]

“The Corset of Style, Health, and Comfort…. The doctor and the dressmaker both endorse it. 2,000,000 Satisfied Women Wear It.” [And none of them looked like this!]

Detail of Spirella Corset ad, April 1912. [No pesky hipbones here!]

Looking at some of the fashions of 1912, one wonders why the hips needed to be so narrow:

Skirts often had hip-concealing draperies, a trend that continued in 1914.

These 1912 blouse/waist and skirt outfits do show a long-looking, high-waisted figure, but the hips are not especially slim:

Skirt and blouse (waist) combinations from Butterick patterns; Delineator, September 1912.

The waistline of dresses and suits was rising:

The suit on the left suggests a rising waistline with a seam just under the bust; a relatively natural waistline is shown at center; the fashionably high waistline can be seen in the purple ensemble at the right.

An April 1912 article on the new corsets (Delineator, page 341) showed one on a real human being:

Left: “The new corset, medium low in the bust, large in the waist, and small in the hips.” April 1912.

Notice the difference between the real (above) and the ideal (below:)

Ad for a C/B corset, October 1912. Delineator.

As corset tops got lower, the need for bust support led to the wide-spread use of the brassiere.

A “Brassier” advertisement in the Siegel-Cooper catalog ad, Delineator, September 1912.

“Brassiers for full figures, corset cover and bust supporter combined.” But I’ll save brassieres and “bust confiners” for another post.

The corsets of 1912 still straightened the front of the body while tilting the pelvis toward the back, which made clothes short-waisted at the back. Anyone familiar with so-called “Armistice blouses” knows they are shorter in back than in front, and will pop out of the skirt if you aren’t wearing a correct period corset.

The 1912 corset still tilted the pelvis up in back, as these pattern illustrations show.

The characteristic body tilt of 1912 (and several years after…) made the back waist higher than the front waist.

To review early Twentieth century corsets so far…

Corset ads from Delineator magazine, 1907, 1910 and 1912.

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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Steps on the Way: 1914 to 1924

How did fashion get from here …

Fashion image from Delineator, March 1910.

… to here …

Fashion illustrations from Delineator, August 1920.

… in just ten years?

This is not a definitive answer — just a large collection of intriguing and sometimes contradictory tidbits I collected last month.

“Facts and Figures;” about the new corsets, from Delineator, April 1914. The author is Eleanor Chalmers. Page 38.

I was reading this article on corsets (1914) when I saw a sentence that leapt out:

That’s what it says: “Among smart women the size of the waistline has increased three inches in the past two or three years.”

I’ve been going through magazines from 1910, 1914, and 1920, and there is no doubt that a big change in the ideal figure happened between 1910 and 1914. This 1914 corset article will make more sense if we first look at some images from 1910.

Cover illustration, Delineator magazine, March 1910.

Full  breasts, narrow waist, wide hips: a classic hourglass figure. This is a voluptuous, grown woman in the prime of life.

Two curvaceous women wearing Butterick patterns from May 1910.

The 1910 beauty ideal is a mature woman, not a teen-aged girl. Of course, not all women looked this way without help.

Two 1910 corsets in a “Nuform”/ “Reduso” corset ad. Delineator, March 1910.

Even slender women were expected to be curvy:

The Sahlin Perfect Form and Corset Combined was lightly structured, but promised the small-waisted, big-busted look of 1910.

“For the Slender Woman… The only garment that, without padding or interlining, produces the stylish high bust, straight waist, and long hip…. Braces the shoulders, expands the chest naturally.”

If pulling your shoulders back didn’t do the trick, you could resort to a different sort of help:

Nature’s Rival promised a Perfect Bust: “the full rounded bust form of a finely built woman” — very large in relation to the tiny waist. Ad from Delineator, June 1910.

A slender but curvy woman (with an ideal figure for 1910) models a lingerie frock. Fashion illustration, Delineator, April 1910.

Shapely — but not necessarily girlish — women, March 1910; Delineator. Even the older woman has a tiny waist.

The woman at left is curvy; the woman in the suit at right has the hips of a corset ad.

Ad for American Lady corsets, April 1910.

The corset Chalmers recommended in 1914 created a very different shape: it doesn’t support the bust at all; it has — preferably — a stretchy rubberized waist, and its stated goal is to make the hips look narrower while making the waist look larger. (“Unless your waist is large, your hips will not be small….”)

Front and back views of a recommended corset, April 1914.

“The waistline no longer exists… You obviously can’t have the new straight lines with a curve at the waist and hips.” I was surprised to read this in an article from 1914. It seems to prefigure (no pun intended) the fashion ideal of the nineteen twenties.

“The silhouette that the corset makers and manufacturers are working on for 1914, and which is the basis for all the present styles, is the straight figure, with small hips, large waist, and no bust. ” [This is 1914, but it could be 1920-something!]

First paragraph of Eleanor Chalmer’s corset advice.”The face alone, no matter how pretty, counts for nothing unless the body is as straight and yielding as a very young girl.” Delineator, April 1914.

“If a woman clings affectionately to the high bust, the small drawn-in waist and the big hips of a few years ago, she is going to look not only old-fashioned, but old. 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.”

American Lady Corset ad from April 1914. It seems to meet the large waist requirement, but young?

Compare two corsets from the same manufacturer, 1910 and 1914. Ads from Delineator.

“If necessary, you can wear a brassiere with it.”

Since the ideal was now a small, low bust, this brassiere for a full-breasted woman confined her breasts rather than supporting them.

Ad for a De Bevoise brassiere, June 1914.

Of course, what fashion writers tell readers they are looking at, and what we actually see, are not always the same thing.

Thomson’s corset ad, February 1914. Her hips are bizarrely long and thin.

Ms. Chalmers and the corset makers are selling the idea of a slender, girlish hip. But for other fashion writers in the same year, this was the headline :

“New Skirt Models That Widen the Figure at the Hip.” Delineator, March 1914.

These skirt patterns were shown in the same issue as the corset advice article which emphasized the importance of slender hips. Delineator, April 1914, p 26.

It hardly seems worth the trouble of wearing a corset under those skirts. “Saddlebag thighs?” Very chic!

However, the waist was definitely getting thicker — and higher. Hard to believe, but the following six outfits are all for girls 14 to 19 years old.

Patterns for teens 14 to 19. Delineator, April 1914, p. 37. [These skirts are wide at the hip and very narrow at the ankle.]

The 1914 ideal of a slender, girlish figure does not look as we might expect.

More patterns for teens 14 to 19 years old. April 1914. Tiny waists are out of style. Wide hips seem to be in… regardless of that corset article in the same magazine.

Even though I’ve written about the Tubular Twenties, I was looking for the arrival of the dropped waist; I missed the arrival of the thick waist. Maybe I should have been asking, “When did the waist disappear?” It looks like the answer is earlier than I realized. In 1914, the new style was usually high-waisted, but look at the girl at far left, above. Her waist is almost Twenties….

Skirts began to rise during World War I, but the wide hips and thick waists of the pre-war era continued into 1920:

Butterick fashions for May, 1920. Delineator, p. 151. The wide, loose sash actually adds bulk to the waist.

Maybe the thickening waist is how we got from this …

Butterick patterns 3828 and 3789, May 1910

… to this …

Butterick patterns for March 1914 show a thick-waisted, wide-hipped silhouette.

… to this:

Butterick patterns for January 1924. The line is long and narrow; there is no hint that women have waists.

In 1925, another Delineator writer suggested that women had let their figures go during these years of bulky fashions. “A Few Years Ago Women Took Off Corsets . . . and Let Their Figures Go.” — Evelyn Dodge, Delineator, July 1925.

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