Category Archives: Underthings

The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 1, 1907 to 1910

Two W .B. Corsets: Left, 1907; right 1910. Both are “Reduso” corsets for stout women, pictured just three years apart.

I have quite a collection of corset ads from the backs of Delineator and Ladies’ Home Journal — but it’s just a sampling. Nevertheless, there seems to be a continuing message from advertisers to women, and that message is, “There is something wrong with your body.” In addition to being re-shaped, it needs to be “improved” and “confined.”

This is a selection of corset and padding advertisements from just one source, Delineator magazine.

1907: S-Bend and Padding

Ad for Set Snug Underwear, Delineator, October 1907.

Although that ad didn’t sell padding, it shows the nearly-impossible ideal figure of 1907.

This W.B. Nuform corset was designed to give the “chicness and charm of figure” of the Gibson Girl. September, 1907.

A chic figure might well require some padding, as well as distortion and an unnatural posture:

H & H Pneumatic Bust Forms were inflatable [and recommended as a flotation device.]  In a range of shapes, including “Round… Oblong, convex and concave….” July 1907.

[Note: The H & H “before” image shows a normal, youthful figure…. There is nothing “wrong” with it.]

“Are You Thin?” December 1907. Parisian Perfect Form padding for the “back” and hips. You can see it under the corset, especially in the back view.)

“When Nature Slips a Link, Art Steps In. Don’t be Ungracefully Slender a Day Longer….”

The Hip Form Health [!] Skirt will create a bulging bottom [below an unnaturally tiny waist.] November 1907. The text describes it an a petticoat.

And although these figures were presented as ideal…

American Lady Corset ad, September 1907. Delineator.

“Any woman can find a G.D. Justrite that will bring out the lines of her figure.” G.D. Corset ad, October 1907. Delineator.

… it was always possible to have too much of a good thing:

A Nemo Self-Reducing Corset ad. November 1907.

This ad for a Sahlin Perfect Form corset for slender women seemed to offer a less restrictive garment than those which depended on tight-lacing…

Ad for the Sahlin Perfect Form and Corset Combined, October 1907.

… but on closer inspection, what it really offers the slender woman is a curved, boned bodice which produces the effect of a larger, “stylish high bust” without padding.

It’s a bust improver that improves posture as well as creating a bulging bosom by the use of curved boning.

1910 Corsets: Straightening Out Some of Those Curves

In 1910, swaybacks were out, vertical was in. Two dress illustrations from Delineator, June 1910.

Two W. B. Corsets from March 1910. A mercifully straighter spine than 1907 is combined with a full bust and tiny waist.

Another ad for an inflatable bust improver. Ad for the Nature’s Rival Air Form corset waist, March 1910.

In contrast to an artificially tiny waist, a full bust was encouraged.

Ad for National Corsets, February 1910.

The disappearance of the 1907 sway-back style left some manufacturers off balance:

American Beauty corset ad, March 1910. Apparently a transitional style.

Ad for American Lady corsets, April 1910.

If your breasts were in danger of overflowing your corset top, a “confiner” could be stitched to the corset:

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

This J.C.C. corset from 1910 starts low on the bust, and extends far down the thighs. Notice the extension which supports the stocking garters.

These corsets are very long.

Two corsets from an ad for J.C.C. Corsets, March 1910.

Above: The corset was moving down, over the thighs, but in 1910 it still offered some bust support.

The front and back views of a Kabo Corset, March 1910. Delineator.

“The most stylish and serviceable corset made.” Kabo corset ad, March 1910.

To emphasize the change in corset shapes from 1907 to 1910:

Left, 1907 Gibson Girl shape and posture; right, a longer, more vertical corset from 1910.

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. All of these illustrations come from Delineator magazines.

Coming soon: Corsets continue to change from 1910 to 1914.

 

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Skirt, Blouse, and Hairstyle, December 1907

Butterick skirt 1624 and blouse-waist 1659 showing several possible versions. Delineator, December 1907 p. 885.

Just a single detailed illustration like this one gives a wealth of information about this blouse and skirt, with back and front views of the clothes and one of the hairstyles. I will break it down into close-ups of the details.

Starting with the skirt:

Front and back views of Butterick skirt 1624, from December 1907. The back view shows it without the band of lace trim.

This is a “circular” skirt, with one seam in front and one in back.

The skirt develops folds (or wrinkles) in front.

I think the folds of fabric in front are a result of the sway-backed posture she is forced into by her corset:

From an ad for a G.D. Corset, Delineator, October 1907.

In the three views of blouse-waist 1659, it is trimmed three different ways. However, the low-necked evening version is not illustrated.

Three views of Butterick 1659. December 1907.

The back view, left, shows ribbon trim on the collar, echoing the geometric pattern on the lace; the back view shows a striped lace or fabric on the foundation lining and scalloped lace trim.

A 1910 French lining similar to the one used under Blouse 1659.

The pattern description says the high neckline and sleeves are attached to the under lining, not to the parts of the blouse we see:

Notice that the armholes are not visibly connected to the sleeves. The sleeves are attached to the under-lining.

Another view of the same blouse, made in a dark color with a sheer, simple fabric filling the neckline. “The short puff sleeves are inserted in the foundation, the large armhole of the blouse being furnished with lace.”

The illustration also gives us back and front views of one (enormous) hairstyle…

… the one for evening is decorated with a roses and a plume on top.

These illustrations were obviously influenced by the work of Charles Dana Gibson. Gibson maintained that he was merely reproducing the women he saw on the streets of America.

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Time Traveling Again

This week I’ve been attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (seeing movies from the 1920s in a theater that opened in 1922!) and also visiting the Bound Periodicals collection at SF Main Library. Their earliest copies of Butterick’s Delineator magazine are July to December 1907.

One pleasant surprise: a 1907 monthly feature illustrated by fashion photos instead of drawings!

Shirt-waists and blouses (called waists) photographed for Delineator, July 1907. The article is from a series called “Dressing on Dimes.”

I’m also “visiting 1912” at the moment.

Butterick patterns from Delineator, July 1912, p. 23.

I’m trying to prioritize photographing color images, since color is what was lost when so many magazines were microfilmed (and then discarded by libraries) years ago. Even issues that have been scanned by Google and made available online lose a lot of information, because these old magazines used very small type with a serif font on very large pages; automated scanners have to make a choice between legible text, legible drawings, and accurate color illustrations — not always very successfully. [Link added 5/6/19] (Nevertheless, Hathi Trust makes many issues available that would otherwise be very rare and hard to find.) When I visit the bound copies of Delineator, I usually take 3 or 4 photos of each fashion page: whole page, top half, bottom half, and closeups of images. That allows a different camera exposure for text and images, but it’s not a fast process…. Even photographing a small ad requires an “establishing shot” with the page number on it, then a close-up.

I’m finding wonderful color illustrations…

Butterick pattern illustration, Delineator, April 1907, p. 27.

Butterick illustration for waist [bodice] 5188 and [separate] skirt 5189. Delineator, February 1912, p. 105.

… accompanied by useful line drawings…

Line drawings like these are easier to “figure out” for reproduction than full color paintings. Butterick waist 5514 with skirt 5515, showing front and back views. (Hard to realize this is not a dress! Bodice and skirt do not necessarily open in the same place.)  Delineator, July 1912, p. 24.

…and I photograph those (to me) irresistible ads for corsets, bust improvers, hip padding (!) and other products for women.

W.B. Corsets ad for the Reduso corset. Delineator, September, 1907.

Just looking at that corset makes my back ache! It seems that advertisers always think women are either too fat or too thin, and in need of “improvement:”

Ad for H & H Pneumatic Bust Forms, Delineator, July 1907, page 147.

Pneumatic seems to mean “inflated”– “For bathers at the sea-shore they are indispensable; … acts as a buoy to the bather and makes swimming easy.” [Unless you want to swim face-down?

Hats are always tempting me to photograph them:

Butterick waist 5312 with skirt 5313 and a hat that would keep people at arm’s length…. Delineator, April 1912.

Hat featured in fashion article for December 1907. I think it resembles the foliage from a Christmas Cactus….

Don’t sit behind her at the movies.

I do try not to photograph everything that captures my attention, but limiting myself to color images is not easy.

A suit photographed for the “Dress for Dimes” series. Delineator, October 1907.

Being able to see clothing, accurately dated, without the distorted proportions of fashion illustrations is a treat. Delineator‘s fashion photos from the 1920s were not as good as the ones from 1907.

On the other hand, this story illustration is lovely, and I’m surprised by that low-backed gown at left.

Painting illustrating fiction in Delineator, August 1912. Men in white tie: maximum formality.

Edited  5/7/19: A closer look at that low-backed blue-green evening dress hints that a layer of whitish lace was visible above the deep V.

Detail; I think / expect that sheer white or ecru lace covers her camisole and is visible above the deep V back. I also see ermine tails on the white-haired lady.

After seeing that [illustration], I’m thinking maybe 1912 would be a good year for My Fair Lady / Pygmalion.

Ladies’ coat and jacket outfits, Delineator, April 1912, p. 297.

As usual, it’s astonishing to see how rapidly fashions changed. Just two years later:

Butterick patterns from May 1914. The slender lines of 1912 are gone.

Once I have five or six hundred photos downloaded, I have to label them all (year, month, page, pattern numbers,) which takes quite a while. Of course I want to post as many as possible right away, but an orderly process is absolutely necessary to keep images and their information together. So I may be taking a week or so off from posting blogs!

Back soon!

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Butterick Wedding Dress, May 1910

Butterick 3784 illustrated as a wedding gown. Delineator, May 1910. Page 384.

The editors of Butterick’s Delineator magazine featured this pattern on at least three pages; a very illustration shows it not being used as a wedding dress:

The woman seated at right is wearing Butterick “princess dress” 3784, made with black lace and a burnt-orange fabric [described as tan.]  Delineator, May 1910. Page 385.

Butterick 3784 is a good example of the “princess” dresses that were so popular in 1910. When you consider how many Butterick illustrations from this era actually showed a separate, matching waist [i.e., bodice / blouse] and skirt (rather than a dress,) the one-piece princess dress that continued to the hem without any seam at the waist was distinctive. (A bodice/blouse that continued past the waist was often called “semi-princess,” like pattern 3843 at the left of the color illustration.)

Butterick 3784 is shaped by the vertical seams from bodice to hem which are still described as “princess seams.” (The princess-seamed dresses below are from the 1920s:)

But the topic today is princess dress 3784, in its bridal and evening versions:

Butterick princess-seamed bridal gown 3784, shown with a long train. Delineator, May 1910, page 384.

Butterick 3784 illustrated as part of a bridal trousseau article, May 1910, page 441. Here, it has a shorter train.

The black and “tan” version of 3784 is shown with a minimal (or no) train when worn as a day or evening dress. Page 385.

Below: Front and back views of 3784 show (left) “medium sweep or round train,” (center) a long or medium train, plus a very different bodice variation, with V-neck and decorative buttons. In this illustration, the sleeves reach just below the elbows.

Front and back views of 3784, showing an extreme train (90 inches from the waist) and a very different bodice variation with V-neck and decorative buttons. May 1910, page 384.

It could be made with long or short sleeves, with a high neck, a round neck or a square neck, and with or without the “bolero” of white or black lace.

Pattern description for Butterick bridal dress, evening dress, or day dress 3784, Delineator, May 1910.

The longer sleeves and high neck in the bridal version are probably part of an under lining, sometimes called a guimpe, which could be worn under other blouses. Butterick blouse 3647 illustrates how this works:

Butterick waist (blouse) 3647 has a scoop neck and open sleeves which end above the elbow. It is worn over a body-lining with long sleeves and a high collar. March 1910.

Here is the bridal version of 3784 with covered throat, covered arms, and a medium train (72 0r 63 inches from the waist.)

Butterick 3784 illustrated as part of a bridal trousseau article, May 1910, page 441.

This is text describing Butterick 3784:

Pattern descriptions for Butterick bridal dress or day dress 3784, Delineator, May 1910. The writer is Eleanor Chalmers.

A very practical (or economy-minded) bride might cut the train off of her wedding dress (“It should be made as simply as possible and in such a way that it may be worn with perfect propriety for other occasions which may come up after the wedding….”) and have the gown dyed, so that she could wear it for afternoon or evening — without the under-lining sleeves and high collar.

P.S. A gown like this would have boning along the torso seams, but it wouldn’t look historically accurate without one of these under it:

Kabo corset ad, detail, Delineator, March 19910 p. 262.

Ad for Kabo corsets, Delineator, March 1910, page 262.

 

 

 

 

 

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Less Familiar Designers of the 1920s, Number 1: Jenny (Part 1)

Evening dress by Jenny (Jeanne Adele Bernard Sacerdote) as sketched for Delineator, January 1926.

Some leading designers of the nineteen twenties have names that still sell fashion. Chanel comes to mind. Others were famous before and after the Twenties, like the House of Worth. Having a successful perfume brand helps: “Joy,” by Patou is still available. This is the first in a series about once-famous 1920s designers who are no longer well known.

Jenny (born Jeanne Adele Bernard, later Jenny Sacerdote) was ranked with those big names in the Twenties, but is not as well known today. I’ll be sharing a few of her designs, with links to help you find others.

These are merely a few of the designs by Jenny that were sketched for Delineator, *** and I do not have photos from every year between 1917 and 1930. Her ability to adjust to changes in fashion is admirable.  Born in 1868, she became famous in her fifties, showing 300 pieces in her collection of 1918.

Two sketches of couture by Jenny (Jenny Adele Bernard Sacerdote ) shows her ability to move with the times. Delineator, 1917 and 1927.

Left, a gown with a “tonneau” or “barrel” skirt — a fashion innovation from 1917. Right, a bare, narrow, fringed and beaded evening gown from 1927.

Jenny in 1917

Jenny was already being copied in 1915. The V&A collection has several color sketches of Jenny designs. London dressmaker Elizabeth Handley Seymour sketched hundreds of French couture gowns and coats which she was prepared to duplicate for her customers. She included this coat by Jenny, this evening gown, and this elegant afternoon or evening gown.

Jenny was such a “star” in 1917 that even her underwear collections were featured in “Reports from Paris.” She’s notable for her use of bright colors and print fabrics (!) in her lingerie:

This frothy undergarment was “sulphur-yellow ‘gaze’ trimmed with lace.” Delineator, August 1917.

On Jenny’s pink satin knickers, cream yellow lace is outlined with little roses or ‘cocardes’ [sic] of satin ribbon:

Doucet was a very well-established design house; Jenny is treated as his equal. Delineator, August 1917. Note the ribbon straps.

Print fabric lingerie by Jenny, 1917. Sketched for Delineator.

Jenny used “Flowered muslin in a quite indescribable design of white flowers outlined with pink on a blue background” for her pleated chemise, 1917. I remember how new and exciting print underwear was in the 1960s!

This pink chiffon Jenny dressing gown would have been called a “combing jacket” in an earlier era. (See “Peignoir.”)

A dressing gown by Jenny in Delineator, July 1917: “ruched pink chiffon over a pink satin skirt.”

Other Jenny designs from 1917 show that she had a sense of humor. She named this dress, amply trimmed with fur, “My hairy one.”

Jenny called this model “Mon Poilu” –“my hairy one.” Sketched for Delineator, December 1917.

However, her velvet skating dress seems a little impractical:

Jenny described this as a skating dress. Delineator sketch, December 1917. The tassels would be flying!

The coat below is actually sleeveless, worn over a matching gray silk dress. The geometric trim is stitching in green thread.

Short sleeveless coat over matching gray silk dress, green stitching. Jenny, sketched for Delineator, September 1917.

In June, 1917, Delineator showed a page full of couture designs which featured the new “barrel” silhouette. This was one from Jenny. Page 56.

Delineator claimed the barrel silhouette was chiefly the influence of Jeanne Paquin:

The barrel or tonneau skirt, sketched by Paquin’s own artist. Delineator, March 1917, p 56.

They look better to me when the model is sitting down.

Jenny created this dress for 1917. Delineator, March, p. 56. “Blue serge dress with eight box plaits over each shoulder. The square line at the neck appears in many of the new dresses.”

Left, a design by Jenny — in black satin under white chiffon embroidered with flowers — appears next to a design from the House of Worth. Delineator, March 1917.

I’m sure you could find many more Jenny designs: try searching for Delineator at Hathi Trust; select Journal, then choose a year, and search within the volumes you find. 1922 for example…

*** Note:  Butterick Publishing Company had offices in Paris, giving their pattern makers a chance to follow the very latest trends, which were reported on several times a year, often illustrated by Soulie. All the illustrations I’ll use in this “Less Familiar Designers” series come from Delineator‘s coverage. Caveat:  Pattern companies could sometimes buy couture items and copy them, but designers were not happy to be copied without any payment, so sketch artists attending fashion shows had to be quick and furtive, and sometimes had to work from memory. Read Fashion is Spinach, by Elizabeth Hawes for a sketcher’s real inside story.

Next: Jenny in the 1920s.

Tennis dress by Jenny, sketched for Delineator by Leslie Saalburg, February 1927.

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The Big Hem Drop: 1929 to 1930

Only one year separates these Butterick patterns from Delineator magazine. This is rapid fashion change.

The change in fashion that took place between Fall of 1929 and Spring, 1930 — just a few months — fascinates me. The fact that a completely different fashion silhouette was adopted during a time of economic crisis  — when pennies were being pinched — makes it even more astonishing.

Just to get our eyes adjusted and refresh our memories of 1929 before the change, here are several images of couture and of mainstream Butterick sewing pattern illustrations from July 1929.

French couture sportswear, illustrated by Leslie Saalburg in Delineator, July 1929. Short and un-fussy.

These fashions are unmistakably late 1920s. Note the hem length, which just covers the knees. There is a crisp, geometric quality about many of these outfits.

Couture sportswear illustrated by Leslie Saalburg for Delineator, July 1929.

Patterns for home use:

Spectator sportswear; Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator, July 1929. The dress at left is soft and flared, a hint of things to come. The dress at right is crisply geometric. Both are short.

1920’s day dresses, Butterick patterns 2697 and 2707. Delineator, July 1929. Mostly straight lines.

Butterick patterns for sportswear, Delineator, July 1929. Simple, pleated, short.

Whether we look at French couture or home sewing patterns, the silhouette and the length are  definitely “Twenties.”

In the 1929 Fall collections, couturier Jean Patou showed longer skirts — well below the knee — and took credit for changing fashion from the characteristic Twenties’ silhouette to the longer, softer, Thirties’ look. (A few other couturiers also showed longer dresses, but he took the credit for being first.)

French couture fashions sketched for Delineator, November 1929. The large illustration at left is an ensemble by Patou — noticeably longer than the other designers’ hems.

“Paris revolutionizes winter styles.” Compare the hem on the dress by Patou, second from left, with those from Molyneux (left, very “Twenties”) Cheruit (third from left,) and Nowitzky (also “Twenties” in spirit, far right.)

Below is the Fall 1929 version of Chanel’s famous black dress. (In the original, from 1926, hems had not reached their shortest length.)

This variation on Chanel’s famous little black dress — with a slightly different placement of tucks –falls just below the knees in 1929, the season when Patou was pioneering longer dresses.

By Fall of 1929, Chanel’s “little black dress” (a sensation in 1926) is just below the knee. It also has a natural waist.

You may have noticed that waistlines are rising as hems are falling; that’s a topic deserving an entire post, but….

Delineator, October 1929, p. 25. “Higher Waists, Longer Skirts.”

The flared dress at left has a softer, less geometric look, and shirring near the natural waist instead of a horizontal hip line. Delineator, October 1929. This dress seems to be “in the stores” rather than a Butterick pattern.

Between July couture showings and October, 1929: That is how fast commercial manufacturers picked up on the new trend for longer skirts and natural waistlines.

Butterick patterns in Delineator, October 1929.

Delineator (i.e.,Butterick Publishing Co.) had offices in Paris where the latest couture collections were sketched (and copied.) In this case, longer skirts appeared on patterns for sale very quickly. (The process of issuing a pattern took several weeks, and the magazine had a lead time of a month or so, as well.)

When these patterns appeared in April, 1930, nothing was said about their length. Old news!

Dresses for women, up to size 48. Butterick patterns from Delineator, April 1930, p. 31. From left, “tiny sleevelet,” “flared sleeves,” “white neckline,” and “short kimono sleeves.”

By April 1930, what was notable about these dresses, to the editors of Delineator, was the variety of their sleeves!

Back views of Butterick 3143, 3179, 3173, and 3180. Delineator, April 1930, p. 31.

Longer styles had been in the news for several months.

Butterick patterns from Delineator magazine, January 1930.

Butterick patterns from Delineator, February 1930. Hems have fallen. Waists are in transition.

The most interesting article I found about this change from “Twenties” to “Thirties” was in Good Housekeeping magazine, November 1929, pp. 66 and following.

In “Smart Essentials of the Winter Clothes,” fashion editor Helen Koues wrote:

“They differ from any we have had since the war…. To be sure, last season Patou and a few houses tentatively raised the waistline, and we talked about it and made predictions. But now the normal or above normal waistline is here, and anything remotely resembling a low waist is gone. We have had it a long time, that low waist and short skirt, and it is only fitting and logical that it should make way for some sort of revival. [“Directoire, Victorian, Princess….”] We have worn high waists and long skirts before — both higher and longer. But coming with a greater degree of suddenness than any change of line has come for some years, it is an inconvenient fashion.  What are we going to do with our old clothes? [My emphasis.]

“The new silhouette will be taken up just as fast as the average woman can afford to discard her old wardrobe…. The average woman will replace what she needs to replace with new lines, but she will take longer, because she will wear out at least some of her old clothes.  In three months, however, all over America the tightly fitted gown, the longer skirt, the high waist will have superseded the loose hiplines of another season. and the main reason for the speed of this change is that we are ready for it. We are bored with the old silhouette, for we have had it too long — so long, in fact, that… we were beginning to think that we would wear short skirts and low waists till we die…. The psychological moment has come….

“Skirt lengths are particularly interesting: for sports, three inches below the knee is the right length; for street clothes, four inches below, and for the formal afternoon gown about five inches above the anklebone. Evening, of course, right down to the ground… and probably with as much length in front as back…. These are the average lengths.

“Skirts are slimmer than ever, if that is possible, or at least the effect is slimmer, because with the added length the flare necessarily begins lower down. But the flare is still there in full force….”

Colors for Spring, 1930. Butterick patterns in Delineator, March 1930. Flares, softness, and a coat that is shorter than the dress.

Koues also noted that the new three-quarter coat, “that strikes the gown just above the knee” was in style, although she did not mention that this, at least, was a break for women who could afford a new dress but not a new winter coat. Koues recommended wearing longer knickers (underwear) in winter to make up for the shorter coat.

Short coats or long jackets, February 1930, Delineator.

Vogue, October 26, 1929 reminded readers “We told you so!”

If you have access to Vogue magazine archives you may enjoy a timeline of Vogue fashion predictions from October 26, 1929. It began, “We told you so! If you are one of the many women who are complaining that the new mode means a completely new wardrobe, that you were caught unawares, we take no responsibility. For two whole years, we have been reiterating and reiterating a warning of the change to come.”

Here are some highlights of Vogue‘s predictions:

JANUARY 1, 1928:  “The Waist-Line Rises as the Skirt Descends…”

JANUARY 13, 1928:  “Skirts ….. Will Be Longer” — “Waist-Lines Will Be Higher” — “Drapery and the Flare Will Be Much in Evidence.”

APRIL 13, 1929:  “What looked young last year looks old this season — all because longer, fuller skirts and higher waist-lines have been used so perfectly that they look right, smart, and becoming.”

JUNE 22, 1929: “The hemline is travelling and so is the waistline. One is going up, and the other is coming down.”

Vogue ended, “Need we say more? Surely, Vogue readers are well prepared.”

This is what designers in Paris were showing in Spring, 1930.

Paris Couture, sketched for Delineator, May 1930. Every one has a long skirt and a natural waist.

I began with several images of patterns and couture from July 1929. Here are some dresses from July 1930, showing how completely the Twenties’ look had been “superseded” by the Thirties — in one year.

The Twenties are over. The Thirties are here. Patterns from Delineator, July 1930.

Naturally, in 1929-1930 some women thought the new long skirts made them look “old” while some thought they looked “youthful;” but that is a story for another day!

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Winter Underwear, 1880s to 1920s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies’ shoes from Sears catalog, 1918.

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

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

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

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

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/1925-oct-p-27-500-dpi-whole-color-page.jpg

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

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

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

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

Evening dresses for teens, January 1925.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1910 ad for Kleinert’s dress shields. Delineator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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