Category Archives: Vintage Accessories

1929 and 1930 Side by Side

Two very similar suit patterns illustrate the big change in fashion between late 1929 and 1930. Both images from Delineator magazines.

I was struck by the similarity — and the difference — between these two Butterick patterns, issued in 1929 and 1930. Both have bolero jackets, which stop above the “waist” of the suit. Both have blouses with a line of buttons down the front, prim collars, deep cuffs, and are accented with frills. Both have a girdle around the hips. Both are shown in print fabrics. Both are worn with cloche hats.

But…. the return to the natural waist has completely changed the proportions that look “right.”

1929 bolero suit with dropped waist: Butterick 2576, Delineator, April 1929.

1930 bolero suit with natural waist: Butterick 3378; Delineator, August 1930.

Side by side again:

Delineator published these illustrations less than a year and a half apart.

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, Dating Butterick Patterns, Hats

Boleros Through the 1930s (Boleros Part 4)

Butterick bolero pattern 7459, from July 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

When I went looking for 1930’s boleros, I found that I had many more images of them than I realized! (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) What started as one post turned into four — so far. And I am limited to the images I happen to have photographed from Delineator Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion and various store flyers from a few pattern companies.

To backtrack a bit, with the low waist of the 1920s, boleros might be quite long:

A “youthful” bolero from Butterick, Delineator, April 1929.

A Butterick bolero outfit from August 1929. Butterick 2749, from Delineator magazine.

As waists rose, boleros began to get shorter.

Bolero outfit from October, 1931. Butterick 4122. Illustrated in Delineator magazine.

The width of the bolero was thought to minimize the waist — recommended for women whose waists had expanded during the 1920s. I’ve shown many boleros from the early 1930s (click here or here.) This one, from 1936, is trimmed with pleated ruffles:

It’s similar to a store-bought outfit from 1937:

This bolero covers a sheer, lace bodice. WHC, March 1937.

As a way to stretch your wardrobe with very little money, boleros in different colors could be worn over most dresses. This set of inexpensive additions is Vogue pattern 7250, from Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1936.

Simplicity offered this bolero pattern,  (along with other accessories) in a store flyer, August 1939. Simplicity accessory pattern 3155.

This bolero covers a low-backed sundress; Companion-Butterick pattern 7296, WHC , April 1937.

The bows are part of the dress, not the jacket.

Companion-Butterick pattern No. 7296 shows a low-backed summer dress with matching bolero jacket. Woman's Home Companion, April 1937.

Butterick pattern 7303 from WHC, April 1937.

Companion-Butterick jacket dress pattern 7359; Woman’s Home Companion, May 1937.

This illustration of 7359 shows how many outfits you could get from one pattern in the price-conscious 1930s. [E.g., wearing the white jacket with the brown dress would change it from “fall” to summer….]

In that pattern, the bolero tied in a bow at the high waist. The traditional bolero jacket stopped inches above the waist:

Companion-Butterick pattern 7459 would make three different jackets — or the same jacket in several colors. July 1937.

Economy wardrobe: A jacket took less fabric than a dress, and jackets could be worn with several dresses, if you coordinated carefully.

“…Sure to give you a reputation for having lots of evening clothes….”

Elsa Schiaparelli was credited with popularizing the bolero in the 1930s. She was still using them in fabulous ways in 1940.

Butterick 7804 from a Butterick Fashion News flyer, April 1938. “The bolero (in printed silk) says Schiaparelli is top news….”

And “The beer jacket in denim is still headline material [!]”  Beer jacket? Apparently a “college craze” ( click here ) which, in this case, extended to women students.

You could make four different jackets from Butterick 7804 — including a “beer jacket” and the fitted, zipper-front jacket at bottom right. Zippers were already common in sportswear, but 1937-38 was the year they began to be featured in dressier clothing for women.

Butterick 7803, from a BFN flyer, April 1938. Boleros were definitely getting shorter.

Butterick 7788 has a very brief bolero. BFN flyer, April 1938. Triangular pockets are a couture touch.

A very high-style bolero, Butterick 8805 from August, 1938. Butterick Fashion News. Next to it is a variation of the tied bolero, here called a bloused jacket — the line between “bolero” and “jacket”becomes blurred.

You may have noticed that sleeve heads got puffier, and then shoulders got wider, as the Thirties progressed.

Three jackets from Butterick pattern 8367; BFN, May 1939. These jackets require shoulder pads.

Butterick bolero outfits 8391 and 8355, BFN, May 1939. These are not just for teens. [There is no “apron” explanation.]

Shoulders were getting wider as skirts got shorter:

In May, 1939, we probably can’t attribute the shorter skirts to wartime regulations.

Right, a wide-shouldered, rather matronly bolero outfit. Butterick 8472 from BFN flyer, July 1939.

This wide-shouldered, cropped jacket with frog closings is Simplicity 3203, from October 1939. Only its length says “bolero” to me. Those horizontal darts (or tucks) in the sleeve head exaggerate shoulder width even more. A very “late Thirties” detail.

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Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Coats, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories

Boleros Part 3: Day and Evening, 1930s

A bolero jacket tops an evening gown, center, in this editorial illustration by Leslie Saalburg, Delineator, November 1931. The Nineteen Thirties’ bolero was often used with evening wear…. [But boleros continued to be a daytime option, too.] If not actually used as a separate jacket, a bolero might be suggested….

Left, Butterick 4093 from October 1931; right, a vintage dress circa 1929 -31 has the same bolero effect built into its bodice.

Butterick 4093: the width of the bolero enhances the slenderness of the waist and hips. This bolero “runs to a point at the back, is split and tied with a bow.”

A bolero built into the dress contrasts with the slender hips and belted waist. Butterick 3696 from Delineator, February 1931.

This pattern for a tied bolero reminded me of a vintage tied jacket (not a bolero) that I also love.

Right, a bolero for evening is tied at the waist. (Usually, but not always, daytime boleros were tied near their neckline.) Butterick 3460, Delineator, October 1930.

Although this vintage velvet jacket is hip-length, not a bolero, the tie at the waist has the same effect.

Vintage 1930s evening jacket with front-waist tie and dolman sleeves.

The sleeves taper from very full to tight at the lower arm.

This 1931 lamé evening jacket stops at the waist, like a bolero, and has curved fronts, like many boleros — but the word “bolero” is not used:

Another glamorous, but simple, waist-length evening jacket. Butterick 4076 from September 1931. Delineator.

The fad for huge, ruffled “Letty Lynton sleeves” can be seen in this bolero from 1933:

Bolero illustrated for a fashion column, Delineator, April 1933.

In 1936, boleros over evening gowns added versatility to the fashions, which could be worn with or without the jacket, creating two different looks.

A bolero with a long, twisted tie changes this evening gown from daringly bare (left) to chic but modest; the covered-up look was suitable for dinner and night-clubs. Vogue 7507, from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1936.

[It’s also a reminder that a gown which appears to be black and white in a movie might really be green, or some other intense color.]

A white gown could be “dressed down” for dinner by a colorful bolero jacket. LHJ, July 1936.

This gown in soft silk or chiffon with printed green organza [or some other fairly stiff fabric] has a low back, covered on a cruise ship by a hooded bolero. Convenient for moments when you step out onto the deck in the moonlight. LHJ, February 1936.

Another article on cruise wear also emphasized the bolero jacket — by packing several boleros, you only needed to pack one long evening gown.

Butterick 7407 shows a halter dress in sheer blue printed fabric — topped with a white bolero. Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937.

From a fashion editorial describing a Companion-Butterick cruise wardrobe. WHC, June 1937.

Below right: this sheer bolero over an evening gown appeared in Ladies Home Journal, July 1936:

Vogue 7403, 7369, and 7386. LHJ, July 1936. A corsage doesn’t have to be worn on the shoulder…. Click here for a closer view of the bolero.

Right, a dignified lace dress with matching bolero; Butterick 7998 from 1938. Butterick Fashion News flyer.

That lace gown is probably for mature women, since the size range is 34 to 52 inches (bust.) But evening gowns for teens also showed them with bolero tops.

A bolero tops a prom dress; WHC, May 1937.

A long dance dress for teens, with bolero jacket. Butterick 7354.

This reminds me that wedding dresses for church ceremonies — and prom dresses in conservative schools — could not reveal bare arms (at Roman Catholic weddings) or have strapless tops or “spaghetti straps” as late as the 1960s, so this jacket would satisfy the chaperones. A girl could take it off when she was alone with her date….

Butterick evening gowns, August 1938 pattern flyer.

Butterick 8004, left, and Butterick 7997, right, with removable bolero top. The bodice of 8004 (“molded to slim your waist”) has a sort of false bolero effect, being larger than the gown below it.

Buttterick 8004, 7997, and 8010. BFN, August 1938. No. 8004 was available in sizes for teens and for women up to 44″ bust. The two on the right are for Junior Misses, up to bust 38.”

Another bolero with coordinating evening gown, left, Butterick 8461, from July 1939. BFN.

A Junior Miss evening gown with bolero jacket. From Butterick Fashion News flyer, July 1939. ” ‘Straps’ on the dress tie in a halter effect….”

However, older women might also buy a pattern that included the versatile bolero in 1939.

Right, Vogue 4128, Vogue Fashion Flyer for May 1939.

Designer Lucile Paray was featured in an article about Paris fashion revivals (i.e., “retro-inspired) — like leg-o-mutton or “Directoire” sleeves — in 1937. Paray’s evening suit was inspired by the turn of the century garment (with bolero) illustrated beside it.

Lucile Paray designer evening suit; illustrated for Woman’s Home Companion, December 1937.

The bolero doesn’t get much simpler than this one, from June, 1937:

Butterick 7405, an evening ensemble with bolero jacket, Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937.

Meanwhile, bolero jackets for daytime use were also seen throughout the Thirties.

In fact, Butterick 7405 had many casual and sporty variations for daytime!

Boleros were not just for evening wear in the 1930s. Click here for more about 7405.

To be continued as “Boleros Through the 1930s, Part 4.”

 

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Coats, Coats, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

How to Make Gray Hair Look Its Best, 1910

This post is for Lynn, who writes American Age Fashion, a blog dedicated to a usually neglected topic: “what older American women wore, 1900 to now.” (Lynn does not have white hair, but I do.)

Side and back views of a hair style for older women; Delineator, January 1910. The ornament implies that this is a style for evening, although the model is not wearing an evening dress.

Bottom of a full page of hair styles for gray-haired women. From the article, “How to Make Gray Hair Look Its Best,” Delineator, January 1910.

Here is the accompanying text:

“If there is any poetry in hair, it exists quite as truly in the silver tresses of our mothers as in the much-lauded golden and Titian tints.

“Because hair is gray does not mean that it has lost its beauty. On the contrary, many a woman finds white hair her crowning glory, while the possibilities for becoming arrangement provided by present styles allow her to appear quite as well coiffured as any younger woman. A variety of ways in which she may arrange her hair is shown.

A coil at the back of the head….” This one is kept in place by a large, curved comb.

“Where the hair is worn parted….”

“A coil at the back or top of the head, where [when] the hair is worn parted, has all of the charm of such simple arrangement, while the braid-coil is equally pleasing.

“…The braid coil is equally pleasing ….” This is a pompadour style, with softly curled bangs.

“Many find the pompadour becoming, and the short bangs curled across the forehead are not only fashionable but very softening in effect.

A smaller pompadour, also with bangs.

“A few puffs may be prettily arranged at the top or back of the head.

“A few puffs may be arranged at the top or back of the head….”

The sides are not enormous, but the “puffs” give height. I can imagine this hairstyle being possible without the use of purchased hair.

“Thin hair may be matched and supplemented with a braid, some curls, or bangs.

Thin hair may be supplemented….” [You think?] “Big Hair” like this required some invisible padding and/or purchased hair pieces.

“As to adornments which the elderly woman may use, gray combs, a simple knot of ribbon, or small jetted ornaments are always in good taste.”

Parted hair, wide at the sides; a comb, rather than hair, adds height.

This hair ornament is not quite a “simple knot of ribbon….” Since many older women wore mourning, black jet hair ornaments were often worn, but these appear more glittery.

The back view of this hair-do with ornament shows a cluster of curls — and a surprising amount of hair!

Women needed a huge mass of hair to fill in under — and sometimes to support — the gigantic hats of 1910.

Big hair at the back under a big hat. 1910.

Styles which had a huge mass of hair low at the back were worn by young and old. 1910.

Although it is very full and thick everywhere, this young woman’s hair extends quite far in back.

A coil or braid worn low on the neck worked with big hats….

Hair fills in the space under a big turban hat. Delineator cover, detail, March 1910.

A young model wears most of her hair at the back of the head, with a ribbon securing it. This was a style copied from classical statues.

Photograph of Mrs. Clara E. Simcox, Paris fashion columnist for Delineator magazine, 1910.

Although my hair is both white and long, I have never had that much hair!

Neither did they.

Hair Goods for Big Hairstyles

Women could buy a “turban braid” of real hair from Mrs. Negrescou. Ad, 1910. “Very fashionable and largely worn with the new turban hats…. Can be braided, puffed, or curled.”

A hair braid could be ordered by mail — on approval.  Ad for Anna Ayers hair goods, “high grade switches, pompadours, wigs, puffs, etc.” Delineator ad, Jan 1910.

Hair switch from a Paris Fashions hair goods ad, Delineator, February 1910. On offer: “Chignon Coiffure, full back piece, curly hair, dresses in 14 puffs” and “Pompadour, Natural Curly.”

Buying a switch on approval guaranteed you could return it if the color didn’t match.

Ad for Burnham’s 30 to 36 inch long hair switches, turban frame,  pads, etc. Delineator, June 1910. “We can match your hair exactly.”

Ad for the Austin-Walker patented Hairlight Turbanette, May 1910.

By brushing your own hair over a frame like the Hairlight Turbanette, or a “rat” or pad made by stuffing your own hair combings into a hairnet, a huge pompadour could be created.

Ad for E. Burnham hair goods, January 1910.

“The ‘fullness’ of this headdress is produced by the “Puffer-Fluffer,’ $10.”  Also available: Billie Burke curls, Pompon curls, Daphne Puffs, the new Turban Braid… “Gray and extra shades cost 50% more.” [edited 12/16/18 — I should have put that in boldface, because several ads had the same “gray hair costs more” message in the fine print.]

Hair Styles for Young and Old

I wondered whether the hair styles for gray haired women were different from those for younger women and girls. Of course, only young girls and early teens wore their hair down:

Schoolgirls often wore huge ribbons (top center), increasing the size of the head area. Usually girls didn’t put their hair up (off the neck) until they were 16 or older. The hair style at lower left would be easy to transform into a style with the braid coiled at the back.

The older teens at right and left have put their hair up in adult hair styles. The schoolgirl wears a really wide bow.

But women in the prime of life certainly did wear huge pompadours, sometimes with bangs, braids, puffs, etc.

Pompadour hair styles illustrated in Delineator, early 1910.

Young and old wore styles that massed their hair low in back. 1910 illustrations, Delineator.

Very wide hairstyles, and styles with a center or side part were worn.

Often the hair style was necessary to the hat styles:

Photos of fashionable hates, complimented by big hair-dos. 1910, Delineator.

In this advertisement, left, a woman is working in her kitchen, in a hair style that is in fashion, but of a believable size. I suspect that the woman on the right is also wearing a practical, everyday style — which may be all her own hair.

Left, illustration from an Ivory Soap ad; right, hairstyle for gray hair, both 1910.

Speaking of working women — these nurses show that big hair was also worn with tiny nurses caps!

Three nurses in an ad for the Chautauqua School of Nursing. April, 1910.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Hairstyles, Hats, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Poiret and Tunic Dresses, 1914

Paul Poiret’s “Sorbet” gown. Illustrated by Georges Lepape, September 1913. Image from Irene Lewisohn Collection, Metropolitan Museum.

I saw Poiret’s famous “Sorbet” gown at the V & A years ago.  It’s sometimes referred to as “the lampshade dress,” because of the rigid bottom of the tunic.

I expected to laugh; instead, I haven’t found a picture that does it justice. It’s ridiculous. It’s impractical. And it’s couture: what doesn’t show in the photos I’ve found is that the stylized roses are made from thousands of subtly glittering beads. The silk has the soft gleam of quality. It is lovely.

Perhaps because this is clearly a “wear it once” dress (except for the version without a boned tunic,) it has survived in at least three public collections (V & A, Chicago History Museum,  & FIT. ) And, being couture — custom made for every client —  each rendition is slightly different. Sometimes only the skirt is different (one version has harem pants;) in one, the tunic falls softly instead of being rigid; in the collection at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the dark parts are not black, but mauve (or raspberry sorbet?)

Randy Bigham has written a fascinating essay comparing the three versions.

I called “Sorbet” a “wear it once” dress because it would make a grand entrance, be highly memorable, and also be highly impractical. How would the wearer sit at a dinner table, or travel to a party in a carriage or car? How would she dance in it, since the hoop would pop up in the back as soon as her partner embraced her? [Imagine it flipping around during a tango!]

Butterick pattern 6639 seems to be influenced by Poiret’s “Sorbet” gown, which has black fur at the rigid hem of the tunic in the V&A version. Delineator, January 1914.

The New Flaring Tunics, Delineator, March 1914. In 1914, a “tunic” was an overskirt.

But …. Poiret caught the spirit of the times, even if he didn’t create the tunic fad; by 1914 his dress was influencing Butterick patterns and being imitated elsewhere. I found it in advertisements, too — usually a sign that a style has penetrated the common culture.

Ad for McCallum Hosiery, Delineator, March 1914.

A suit with a flaring tunic and wide sash is seen in an ad for American Woolen, March 1914, Delineator.

This ad for Suesine silk fabric uses Butterick 6639, with the hoop-like tunic.

A flaring tunic dress goes dancing in this ad for Kleinert’s Dress Shields. April 1914; Delineator.

Tunic Dress Patterns from 1914

An outfit with the tunic look might be a dress, or a skirt and “waist” combination.  [A “waist” was a blouse or separate bodice.] The flared part of the tunic might be part of the blouse/waist) …

Waist 6639. Butterick pattern from January 1914. Delineator.

… Or it might be part of the skirt:

Butterick skirt pattern 6719, March 1914. Delineator.

Butterick waist 6718 with skirt 6719. The flared tunic is part of the skirt. Note the fur or velvet border at right, which makes the hem stand out more.

Wearing the tunic over an elaborately draped skirt increased bulk over the hips — and narrowing at the ankles exaggerated it.

Tunic dress; Butterick pattern 6779 from April 1914 has optional ruffles to help the tunic’s hem stand out a bit. Delineator.

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

These are many one-piece tunic dresses, rather than waist and skirt combinations:

Tunic dresses for women to size 44 bust; Delineator, April 1914.

Alternate views of tunic dress 6820, April 1914.

Alternate views of tunic dress 6832, April 1914. Seeing it without the tunic tells us more about how it was made.

A group of hip-widening fashions from April, 1914. Delineator. The one in color is a waist & skirt combination. [Fun hat!]

Butterick waist 6791 with skirt 6733. The tunic is part of the skirt; waist 6791 is not long at all.

Other views of Butterick waist 6791. From 1914.

However, tunic outfit 6797 is a dress:

Butterick dress 6797, April 1914. In the illustration at left, the diagonal closing is barely noticeable.

To my eyes, accustomed to slender, athletic bodies, the fashions of the World War I period are hard to understand, since they add the appearance of many pounds around the hips. [Poiret also took credit for the 1908 “hobble skirt,” still affecting fashion in 1914.]

“What Your Girl Will Want for Easter” 1914: Wide hips and narrow hems. These are styles for teens age 14 to 19. Did teen girls really want to look like they had big, low-slung bottoms? Well…”fashion.”

With dresses like those, you’d hardly need this corset….

Nubone corset ad, March 1914, Delineator.

The tunic styles were for recommended for women (including larger sizes) and for teens:

Butterick 6684 was for teens aged 14 to 19. February, 1914.

Butterick 6651 for teens 14 to 19 and small women. This one has fur trim.

That headdress deserves a closer look:

Lace, fur, chiffon, flowers, and a rather exotic jeweled headdress. January 1914.

For large women, this modified tunic with more vertical lines was recommended.

Left, Butterick 6809 “For Matronly Figures; New styles that are becoming to them.” Delineator, June 1914.

Buttrick 6809 was not a true tunic; this back view is much more slenderizing. “Matronly figures” went up to size 46 bust. Note the ( ) shaped silhouette.

The tunics and draped skirts that increased hip width were apparently popular, but women did have other choices:

Left, a tunic-style outfit made from waist 6627 and skirt 6613; right, distinctly un-fussy shirtwaist 6619 with slim, tailored skirt 6620. Both of these skirts were described as “peg-top.” January 1914.

(I’m still not clear on what “peg-top” actually meant — but now I know where to look….)

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with this long post!

The tunic look from Delineator, May 1914.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Hats, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, World War I

Found Online, October 2018

Cover of Delineator magazine, June, 1914. The illustrator is Neysa McMein.

First, a new site for reading vintage magazines; next, a 1969 comic book about sewing classes for girls.

The Hathi Trust (working with Google) has been digitizing and posting vintage magazines, including Delineator, as soon as they fall out of copyright in the U.S.  The Hathi Trust is up to 1922 now. That’s the good news.

You can flip through the magazines (select the two page layout from the icons at the far right) until something catches your eye. You can download pages or more as Pdfs. Some pages are in color.

Niggling details: The quality of the scans is very variable, sometimes overexposed, sometimes with blurry text.

We can’t expect perfection on every page — I feel lucky the pages are there at all.

Bound copies of Delineator. The larger one is from 1920; the smaller format is from 1922. These are the bound magazines in my public library which I use for research.

Before 1921-22, Delineator was a large format magazine, 16 inches high, often with tiny, serif fonts that are hard to read even when I’m holding the original magazine in my hands, and even harder to photograph because the font is thin and low contrast.

I took this full page photo at a very high resolution from the March 1910 Delineator at my public library.This photo gives a fair idea of how hard to read the original is.

If you look at the same page on the Hathi Trust, at least you can magnify it greatly.

I sympathize with how challenging it is to get these resources online at all.

The Hathi Trust digitizes materials from the libraries of member universities. They are bound volumes, usually containing January through June or July through December, so they are cataloged as one book rather than six issues. You may need a little patience to find what you want, although the text of each volume is searchable, which is very convenient. In 1910, Delineator numbered all the pages in a volume sequentially, so that January began with page numbers in the single digits and June reached the 400s. That’s not hard to navigate.

By 1914, (I don’t have the intervening years yet) each issue began with page 1 — which means you have to search for February, March, April, etc., and the “go to page” function only works within one issue at a time — not the whole volume. Tip: just to the right of the “GO” button is an icon for “sections” of the volume. You can figure out when a new “section” begins — i.e., a new month.

Getting the right exposure for an entire page with images and text isn’t easy. Image from Hathi Trust and Google.

Two images of the same cape from Delineator, April 1920, from Hathi Trust and Google. I printed them, scanned them, and adjusted them.

I have successfully downloaded images from the Hathi trust site, printed them, scanned them and used them in this blog — and I now can search for patterns by number (the same pattern often appears more than once, illustrated in different views.) I used this search function for the capes I wrote about recently. I had only photographed the alternate view of cape 2319; I found the other views on Hathi Trust.

[EDIT 2/5/19: One shouldn’t look a gift online magazine source in the mouth, but I am finding that the color fashion pages have often been excised from the Delineator issues Google photographed,  sometimes without anyone noticing that the pages are missing. Exactly the same problem occurred years ago when many libraries replaced their bound periodicals with microfilm: the companies that photographed (and destroyed) the originals they worked from decided to describe a magazine with 90% of its original content to be “complete.” And librarians bought it — microfilms — and discarded magazines that could have supplied the missing content.  At least Hathi does sometimes photograph journals from more than one source. Nevertheless, I’m now prioritizing color pages from Delineator when I take photos for my own use.]

“How To” Lessons in Delineator:

Just in: Delineator ran a series of articles on dressmaking and millinery making. For example, in 1910, Delineator Vol. 75, page 241 (and following pages) illustrates and describes the steps for making a Spring hat — from the wire frame to the finished hat. Click here. (There are more milinery lessons in 1910.) A search of 1909 (Vol. 74) will turn up more hat-making instructions. Other issues simply describe the newest hats and show photographs of them…. Like these gravity defying hats from 1905, Vol. 66.

To find more, search for Delineator and the year (e.g. “Delineator 1907”;) then narrow the list by selecting “Journals” from the column at left.

I have been so absorbed in Delineator that I’ve just begun to see what other magazines are available.  Godey’s Lady Magazine for 1832 is there. Frank Leslie’s Ladies’ Magazine is there. Who knows what wonders you may find at Hathi Trust? I’ve added it to my sidebar list of Sites with Great Information,

Today’s second find is from a British site, The House of Mirelle, in Hull, England. It shares a glimpse of a comic book series aimed at teenaged girls in the sixties.

Bunty image from House of Mirelle article; image copyright D.C.Thompson. Please do not copy.

The 1969 Bunty Annual about Sewing Classes for Girls post will be nostalgic for some of us.

“The House of Mirelle was a high end fashion house that existed in the UK city of Hull between 1938 and 1978.” The website archives materials from these glory days of a thriving Hull city center.

Perfectionist sewing teachers probably caused a lot of tears over the years. San Francisco artist Dolores R. Gray has done a series of works using old sewing patterns and mannequins in remarkable ways. She told me there were uncut threads dangling from this one because, when she finished a dress she was really proud of, the only thing her teacher noticed was one uncut thread.

How perfect that the Bunty story was about a girl who really wanted to be an artist!

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1920s, Hats, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, World War I

Book Review: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism — Women’s Fight for Change, by Tessa Boase

Note: the accompanying images are not from this book, but much of what I learned, is. Any reflections about parallels with current events are mine, and mine alone. This book made me think.

The millinery and feather trades were a huge international business in 1910. Ad from Delineator.

I’m sorry I took so long to review this book; I loved reading it, and I’ve raved about it to friends, but it is so jam-packed with fascinating information that I was tempted to quote something from every other page — which would not be fair to other readers; it’s too much fun to discover surprising facts for yourself! [Even so, I couldn’t resist sharing a few. My enthusiasm carries me away. A shorter review can be found at The Vintage Traveler 🙂 ]

In her previous book, The Housekeeper’s Tale, Tessa Boase poured through old account books, legal proceedings, letters and diaries, and used her research to unearth the life stories of several women servants over a period of nearly two centuries. I confess that history was the class that bored me the most in high school — although I was a good student, I hated “history.” But history vividly told though the lives of ordinary women — that is fascinating, and suspenseful, reading.

This teenaged girl wears entire bird wings on her hat. Delineator, March 1910. In 1892, 800,000 pairs of wings were imported by one London dealer. [Boase, p. 87]

In Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, the women central to her story are not ordinary — most of them are women who achieved great things: They changed the laws of England in the early twentieth century. And they did it against all odds:

“Right up until the First World War, the idea of bird protection was as laughable to the general population as the concept of female emancipation.” — Boase, p. xiii

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst was the very vocal leader of the movement for women’s suffrage, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU.) Mrs. Etta Lemon was the primary founder of the Society for the Preservation of Birds (SPB,) seeking to prevent the extinction of birds which were being hunted for women’s hat trimmings. Both of them were up against an all-male parliament, male voters, and a public perception that women should stay home and keep their opinions to themselves.

But, surprisingly, the crusading Mrs. Lemon,  — like many of her supporters — was an “Anti:” she was opposed to women getting the vote.

Did you know? In 1913, the Antis had 33,000 members; “the Pankhurst’s WSPU just 2,000.” [Boase, p. 237.]

It’s very hard for a modern woman to identify with Etta Lemon, — and this conflict between two successful, activist women is the paradox that shapes Boase’s book. It twines together two stories about women: the campaign for wildlife conservation and the campaign for voting rights. [The large cast of characters is helpfully listed and described early in the book — a very good idea!]

Wisely, Boase uses the gripping story of working woman Alice Battershall, ” a lowly feather washer,” to plunge us into the very big business of millinery and the feather trade in late Victorian and Edwardian England (and the world.) Alice was tried for the crime of stealing two ostrich plumes from her employer.

The trade in feathers was world wide. Ad for South African ostrich, Delineator, April 1910.

Alice Battershall earned 5 shillings a week — not a living wage even by the sweatshop standards of 1885. Her employer would have sold the feathers for 7 shillings each. Alice sold them to a “fence” for 1 shilling apiece. I had to stop and think about these figures: one ostrich plume was worth more than a week’s wages. Even by selling them to so cheaply, Alice increased her starvation wages by 40% — a powerful temptation.

And ostrich plumes were not the most valuable; ostrich were farmed, and the ostrich didn’t have to be killed for its feathers.

A family of Snowy egrets. Photo By AdA Durden from Jacksonville, USA Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC , via wikipedia.

The bird that faced rapid extinction was the snowy egret. (Milliners called its feathers “Osprey.”) In 1903, a single ounce of Osprey feathers cost almost twice as much as an ounce of gold. [Boase, p.124] But snowy egrets only sported these long, delicate feathers (their nuptial plumage) while mating and raising their young. Egret nestlings need to be fed by both parents over a long period of time; whenever a plume hunter shot and skinned the parent birds, the next generation of snowy egrets died of starvation. When a colony was hunted two or three years in a row, it became extinct.

One famous hunter, David “Egret” Bennett, first wiped out egret colonies in Central America, then moved on to the colonies in Mexico and Baja California. He, too gets a chapter. He was aware that he was driving the species to extinction, but “I have never found any occupation as profitable,” he explained.

[Personally, I see a parallel with the fossil fuel industry today. For me, history — brought to life in Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Hat — keeps informing and illuminating the present.]

Mrs. Lemon and her friends began a campaign against the wearing of osprey; they sent letters to newspapers all over England; they wrote to parish newsletters and to clergymen citing biblical passages in support of their views; they wrote (and spoke) to other women and of course, to members of Parliament. But, while Mrs. Pankhurst was leading demonstrations and being arrested (repeatedly) for advocating votes for women — always while elegantly dressed and wearing hats bedecked with feathers,  the anti-suffrage ladies of the [eventually Royal] Society for the Protection of Birds hired men to carry the placards in their most effective education campaign. And, although Mrs. Lemon actually ran the SPB until she was forced out in 1939, on paper her husband Frank was its “honorary secretary.” She did not assume its leadership — officially — until he died.

Exotic birds, like the bird of paradise, were especially valued. This “Paradise Bird” was sold by Sears.

If you couldn’t afford the real thing, parts of many birds might be combined to make one. Sears catalog, 1910.

The sheer numbers of birds killed and skinned and transported to auction in New York and London boggles the mind. An undercover reporter from the American Ornithologists Union slipped into a plumage sale in London in 1888.

“Here were birds by the shipload,” writes Boase, listing about 7,000 parrots, 1,000 woodpeckers, 14,000 quail, grouse and partridge, 4000 snipes and plovers and other domestic birds like the 7,000 starlings, jays, and magpies. There were 5000 tanagers; hundreds (each) of birds of paradise, gulls, finches, orioles, larks, toucans; and 12,000 hummingbirds from all over the world. [It’s a mercy that my mind simply cannot picture a pile of 12,000 dead hummingbirds.]

Until I read this book I knew very little about Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst; I didn’t realize that she was a widow who had to support herself and her daughters, while trying to maintain the appearance of a respectable and “womanly” woman of the upper classes. Cartoonists often depicted suffragettes as mannish women with ties and cigars or as frustrated spinsters. Mrs. Pankhurst was determined to break that stereotype. As in all things British, social class came into it. She didn’t believe that the exclusively male Members of Parliament, who were middle class by virtue of inheritance and/or wealth, would pay attention to the pleas of working class women. This led to a painful break with her socialist daughter Sylvia, who championed “equal pay for equal work” and an end to the “sweating trades” (e.g., ostrich feather curlers) in 1918. [That was 100 years ago….]

The women who worked in the millinery and feather trades were exploited in wretched, health-destroying working conditions, and often reduced to prostitution during the regularly occurring months when their trades were dormant.

A child might have worked for days to “willow” this plume. Peckham’s ad in Delineator, June 1910.

This is an ostrich plume that has been “willowed.” An ordinary ostrich feather has been made longer, fluffier and more luxurious by having extensions tied to every flue — a job which the small and nimble fingers of children were good at.

“One women and two children might labour for a day and a third on a single ostrich plume — whose preparation required as many as 8,613 knots…. In 1910, this earned them 3 cents….”  — Boase, p. 13.

“Pulmonary tuberculosis was a slow and steady killer of women in the feather trade.” [Boase, p. 13]  Nevertheless, abolishing the trade was a political hot potato: workers often preferred the risk of slow death to unemployment and starvation. (Hunger was already part of their lives.)

[This is another dilemma we face today. Although Boase never mentions these parallels, this book offers plenty of food for thought. Silicosis and  pneumoconiosis kill coal miners, and mesothelioma kills asbestos workers; nevertheless, eliminating these trades means eliminating jobs — a problem in 1910 and in 2018.]

As the new century progressed,  some women — like Etta Lemon; Eliza Phillips; Emily Williamson; Virginia Woolf;  and Winifred, Duchess of Portland — campaigned against the extinction of entire species for hat trimmings.  Mrs Pankhurst, immaculately dressed but debilitated from her frequent protest fasts, saw her supporters’ demonstrations become increasingly violent. Then came World War I, and a great change in women’s lives….

As I have mentioned, Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is history told by a scholar with a novelist’s touch, focusing on the small detail and the personal story to bring its events vividly to life.  And, although the author does not mention their relevance to modern life, I can’t help being stimulated by many of the facts she shares.

Over 100 years ago, American Ornithologist Henry Oldys addressed the U.S. Congress on the topic of wildlife conservation, urging legislation to prevent the extinction of species:

The spirit of the age, was, he said, marked by ignorance, cupidity and supineness — a toxic combination that was steadily exterminating creation. “History will not listen to the plea, ‘It was not my business,’ ” he cried. ‘It will answer: “You were there and could have prevented it; therefore it was your business. You failed to do your duty. The only explanation is that you were corrupt, ignorant, or weak.” ‘ — from Boase, p. 226.

[In the light of my country’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the U.N.’s recent report that irreversible climate change is happening more rapidly than predicted, someone needs to say that to Congress again.]

Nevertheless, I also found hope from the fact that women, working together, can accomplish the near-impossible. Even the story of the troubling Mrs. Lemon gives me hope:

The RSPB began with a letter writing campaign organized by a few Victorian ladies — bird-lovers excluded from all-male ornithological societies because they were women.

“Within six months… this little ‘bird and bonnet’ society [grew] from 1,000 to 5,000 members.” In two years, it had almost 10,000, “most of them women.” [p. 74.] Today, “The RSPB is a behemoth — a charity with 1.2 million members, 200 nature reserves…, 2000 staff and 14,000 volunteers. It has an annual income of 100 million pounds and it wields great political power. Its business today is international nature conservation.” (p. xi.)

Reading that makes me feel a lot better about our chances.

Summary: By focusing her complex story on the lives of individual women, Tessa Boase has turned an extraordinary mass of scholarly research into a memorable and fascinating book, filled with surprises and startling details. I used to think history was boring. Not this one.

The publishers deserve praise, especially for the footnotes (actually endnotes) which are printed in two-column format. They never intrude, but if you want to check a source, they are easy to read without constant page flipping. Full index and bibliography; color plates; and Ms. Boase herself collected the illustrations for the end papers from period magazines. Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

Mrs. Pankhurst wore a purple feather because the Suffragette colors were purple (for freedom and dignity,) white (for purity,) and green (for hope.) Click here to see the (faded) feather that inspired this book.

Tessa Boase blogs at tessaboase.com/blog, where you can see more Edwardian feathered hats in full color (including eyes and beaks….)

Fashion sketch of a chic Parisienne; Delineator, May 1910. She is wearing a glorified chicken.

Four feathered hats. Delineator, February 1910.

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