Category Archives: Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

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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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Coats, Coats, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Dresses, Edwardian fashions, Foundation Garments, Musings, Shirts and Blouses, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

April 1914: Pygmalion Costumes and Stories

Most people know the play Pygmalion in its musical comedy version, My Fair Lady.

From the jacket of Huggett’s book, The Truth About Pygmalion. Left, Sir Herbert Beerbom Tree as Henry Higgins; Right, Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle.

George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion first opened in London in April, 1914. There are lots of photos of this production and of the original costumes.

1914 photos of Mrs. Pat as Eliza Doolittle. She was wearing the costume on the right (in Act III) when Eliza shocked London by uttering the phrase, “not bloody likely!”

Contemporary cartoons show Eliza wearing a feathered hat more like this one with that printed suit from Act III. Delineator, January 1914

Shaw directed the play himself; the stars were Herbert Beerbohm Tree (a successful actor-producer who owned the theatre where Pygmalion opened,) and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, known as “Mrs. Pat” (or, to Shaw, who was attracted to her, “Stella.”) A very entertaining account of this production is The Truth About Pygmalion, by Richard Huggett. Three massive egos were at work; at 49, the leading lady was much too old to be playing young Eliza Doolittle, which led to insecurity and bad temper; as Henry Higgins, Beerbom Tree hadn’t mastered his lines, so he pinned notes to the backs of furniture all over the set; and since both Shaw and Mrs. Pat were famous wits, the pre-production discussions and rehearsals were rather amusing [if you weren’t involved!] This 2004 article cites some of the backstage details (but does not mention Huggett’s book.) For example, Tree (and audiences ever since) expected a romantic ending for Eliza and Higgins. Shaw, writer and director, was adamant that his play did not end that way.

As Samantha Ellis wrote in The Guardian: ‘…Shaw returned for the play’s 100th performance, but was horrified to find that Tree had changed the ending; Higgins now threw Eliza a bouquet as the curtain fell, presaging their marriage. Now that [Shaw’s] affair with Campbell was over, the romantic ending was particularly galling. “My ending makes money; you ought to be grateful,” scrawled Tree. “Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot,” snarled Shaw.’ ***

At a time when Shaw and Tree were barely speaking, Shaw sent him a long letter filled with directorial suggestions. Tree wrote, “I will not go so far as to say that all people who write letters of more than eight pages are mad, but it is a curious fact that all madmen write letters of more than eight pages.”  Tree was not a bystander in the battle of wits.

Act III, making small-talk: Eliza (carefully pronouncing her ‘aitches’) is telling Mrs. Eynesford-Hill (left) and her daughter (right) about her suspicions that her gin-drinking aunt was “done in.”

In 2014, a century after that first night, the Guardian newspaper ran a 100th anniversary article showing photos from many productions. Click here. This photo is from the original 1914 production; it’s interesting because Shaw specified that Eliza is wearing a Japanese kimono when her father comes to call. (He’s actually hoping to extort money from Professor Higgins.) Her appearance in a kimono leads her father to assume that she is Higgins’ mistress. The shocking, undressed, quality of Mrs. Patrick Campbell’s luxurious  brocade costume is not obvious from the script:

Shaw wrote:

[(Doolittle) hurries to the door, anxious to get away with his booty. When he opens it he is confronted with a dainty and exquisitely clean young Japanese lady in a simple blue cotton kimono printed cunningly with small white jasmine blossoms. Mrs. Pearce is with her. He gets out of her way deferentially and apologizes]. Beg pardon, miss.

THE JAPANESE LADY. Garn! Don’t you know your own daughter?

DOOLITTLE [exclaiming] Bly me! it’s Eliza!

The photo shows that Mrs. Pat’s costume was not quite the prim cotton kimono which Shaw described!

Two original color sketches for Mrs. Pat’s Eliza Doolittle costumes are in the collection of the V&A museum. They were made by/designed by Elizabeth Handley Seymour. Click here for a color sketch of that Act III [yellow] suit, and here for Eliza’s Act V costume, adapted from a design by Poiret.) 

Photographs of Eliza’s first “flower girl” costume could be purchased by fans; this is a costume from later in the play.

Eliza’s evening gown is suggested in this sketch:

Eliza, in evening dress, throws a slipper at Higgins. In rehearsal, Mrs. Pat accidentally hit him. Tree had forgotten she would throw a slipper at him, and burst into tears.

Butterick evening costume made from waist (bodice) 6688 and skirt 6689. Delineator, Feb. 1914.

If you are interested in the long relationship between Shaw and Mrs. Pat, a “two-hander” play called Dear Liar, by Jerome Kilty, is based upon the letters exchanged by George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Pat at the time when he was in love with her, and for decades after.  (She had surprised him painfully by getting married to someone else two nights before Pygmalion opened.)  There is a good review of a 1981 Hallmark TV production here.

There are many anecdotes about Mrs. Pat; when she was young, beautiful, and at the height of her success, a playwright who wanted her to appear in his next production made the mistake of insisting that he read his entire script aloud to her. He had not lost all the traces of his Cockney accent. Mrs Pat listened for over two hours. When he finished and asked her opinion of the play, she said, “It’s very long… even without the ‘aitches.’ ”

When she was old and broke, she was devoted to her pet dogs, which she carried everywhere with her. When one of them left a mess on the floor of a taxi, she assumed her most impressive demeanor and said, in a voice that had once thrilled thousands, “It was me!

Sexually liberated, she is credited with saying (about a notorious divorce case,) “It doesn’t matter what you do [in the bedroom] as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”  When asked why she married George Cornwallis-West in 1914, she said, “He’s six foot four — and everything in proportion.” There is plenty of entertaining reading about Shaw, Beerbom Tree, and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

Eliza Doolittle sold bunches of violets, like this one. Delineator, 1914.

Many people only know the musical adaptation of this play, My Fair Lady by Lerner and Lowe, which was made into a movie with famous costume designs by Cecil Beaton. Beaton was inspired by the “black Ascot” of 1910, when all of high society wore black or white in mourning for King Edward VII. (This also allowed Beaton to avoid the wide-hipped gowns of 1914.) In fact, Shaw finished his original script of Pygmalion in 1911, so setting the play (or musical) a few years earlier than 1914 is perfectly logical. In 1914 it had to look fashionably up-to-date. That’s not a problem any more!

In case you are costuming either the straight play or musical version, I’ll share some inspiration from 1914, although you may prefer the styles of 1910…. It’s up to you (and the director….)

Two outfits from January, 1914. Butterick patterns from Delineator.

One of Mrs. Pat’s Pygmalion costumes had a dark mid-section rather like this one:

The dark “sash” at the waist would flatter a portly figure like Mrs. Pat’s. Butterick coat 667 with skirt 6664, February 1914.

A range of styles from March 1914; National Catalog. (The skirt on the green one? Arrrrgh!)

Below are real fashion photos from 1914. They may make you think twice about those 1914 silhouettes….

French couture fashions in Delineator, April 1914.

Dresses from 1910 are curvy — but perhaps a little stodgy…. On the other hand, those 1910 white lingerie dresses would be quite a transformation for Eliza.

Left, a lingerie dress. Butterick princess gowns “appropriate for dressy wear.” Delineator, January 1910.

1910 gowns and a suit from the National Cloak Co. catalog.

The two on the left could be Mrs. Eynesford-Hill and her daughter. Mrs. Higgins also has to show mature elegance. Butterick patterns, 1910.

In the 1992 production at London’s National Theatre (RNT,) Mrs. Higgins wore a marvelous, artsy teagown that epitomized the “Liberty” fashion reform/Arts and Crafts look (– the equivalent of being a “hippie” in the 1880s.) It made perfect sense that she could have accidentally raised a self-centered man-child like Henry Higgins. (Designer: William Dudley.) As Higgins, Alan Howard flew into tantrums like an overgrown 2-year-old. Very funny. Sadly, I can’t find that photo today.

Perhaps it’s just her pose that looks so self-assured. January 1910. Eliza could wear that skirt with a simple blouse in Act II.

This lace-trimmed ensemble is from a fabric ad: Himalaya cloth from Butterfield & Co. February 1910. Is that Eliza’s facial expression — asserting her independence — from Act V?

*** Once a play opens, the director moves on to other jobs and the stage manager is left to make sure every audience sees the same play that opening night critics saw. Probably my favorite story about the propensity of actors to “improve” the production as time goes by is: After a few weeks, the director returned to watch the play, standing quietly behind the audience. The leading man had expanded his role considerably. At intermission he received a telegram from the director: “Am watching the play from the back of the house STOP Wish you were here.”

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Hats, Menswear, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, World War I

Balenciaga at the V & A : Museum Exhibitions Online

Design by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1965. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

The Vintage Traveler recently shared an FIT symposium on museum exhibitions of fashion.
That reminded me of some extraordinary videos that were part of “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition closed in February, 2018, but the V&A has generously posted the videos made for the exhibit online, so we can all enjoy them. [Note to other museums: Go, thou, and do likewise! Once the exhibition closes, put the videos online!] Unfortunately, the still photos from the exhibition are under copyright, as are most other museum pictures of Balenciagas — so please click on the links.

I didn’t see the exhibition in London, but it appears to have used technology to very good purpose. I’ve whiled away hours watching the V&A’s exemplary videos.
This link will take you to the V&A website, where you can read about Balenciaga and watch three marvelous videos illustrating exactly how his minimalist but extraordinary patterns come together into “Balenciagas.” Click here for Secrets of Balenciaga’s Construction

The museum took X-Ray photos of some of the Balenciagas on exhibit. This link includes another fascinating video. You can see hidden weights controlling the drape, and, occasionally, a straight pin!

A V&A video about the custom beading on a glittering evening coat is found here.

In “Learning from the Master: Deconstructing Balenciaga,” the Museum invited a group of advanced design students from the London College of Fashion to create patterns and toiles from Balenciaga gowns in the museum’s collection. If you sew or drape, this is for you! ( I’m thinking of you, Fifty Dresses….)

“Shaping Fashion: Balenciaga” is another well-done video from the V&A. You can watch designs by Balenciaga morph into designs by other famous couturiers. (I just wish all the V&A’s videos were together in one place online!)

A preview of the entire exhibit can be found in the AP Archives: click here.

Until I started searching museum collections for Balenciaga designs, I hadn’t appreciated how much he influenced my wardrobe in the late 1950s/60s. Not that I ever wore couture (ha!) but because the inexpensive clothes I did wear and saw worn everywhere were inspired by his work. My first wool suit (home-made) was a distant echo of this one. Party and prom dresses worn by my friends owed a debt to this simple & elegant flowered dress. (Note the shape of the skirt.) The shape of this coat was everywhere, and I bought a long formal in green brocade with soft pleats at the waist (circa 1964,) reminiscent of the dress under it.

More Online About this Exhibition

Many who visited the exhibition posted images or videos on YouTube; here are a few blogs or videos about it.

At 12 minutes long, this video from Stitchless TV gives a good idea of how well-thought-out this exhibition apparently was. Click here for a “walk through” that includes much besides the videos posted more clearly at the V&A site. It shows the “upstairs” part of the exhibit, which features designers who trained with or were inspired by “The Master.”

This video by Natalie (at Time with Natalie) gives a good “walk through” (starting at one minute in.)

Betty Raen at The London List captures some photos that show more of the exhibit.

For a quick taste, try Fashion Expedition’s report.

The Arcadia online blog previews the exhibit (with illustrations, of course.) Many designs by students of “the Master” are shown.

This link includes a photo of the pink “Tulip Dress” which is magically reconstructed in a V&A video.

As the late Anthony Bourdain said, “I’m still hungry for more.”

More Balenciaga exhibitions:

“Balenciaga and His Legacy:” was presented at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas on February 3, 2007 by the Texas Fashion Collection. Click here. This video is not too dark, unlike others; but it’s not really in focus, either…. However — you won’t see the same creations featured elsewhere. Worth a taste.

When you have had your fill of evening gowns, this video from the Museo Cristobal Balenciaga shows superb construction on wool suits and other daytime clothing. Some of the images are too dark, but other close-ups are superb.

If you still want more Balenciaga, this 2011 exhibition, “Balenciaga and Spain,” from The DeYoung museum in San Francisco is 17 minutes long and traces Balenciaga’s development and early influences  …. sadly, the lighting and photo quality are not good. Films of his showroom are good.

This short video of “Balenciaga: Spanish Master” exhibition from New York is different and definitely worth watching.

Also creative and interesting: this video from ICONIC.

When you have time to relax, pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, put your feet up, and enjoy these videos and blogs.

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Capes, Coats, Exhibitions & Museums, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

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

The Interior Belt in Vintage Styles

Janet Arnold’s illustration of the interior of a woman’s dress, circa 1896. From Patterns of Fashion 2. Notice the belt, attached only at the center back seam.

If you are trying to reproduce a vintage garment, you need all the information you can get. Information about how a vintage dress looks on the inside is invaluable, and I don’t know of any source better than the series of Patterns of Fashion books by the late Janet Arnold

… even when you have primary source information, like this photograph.

Fashion Photograph from 1896. Met Museum. We can see from the photo that the skirt at left is probably flat-lined — those tell-tale wrinkles would have been omitted in a drawing.

It’s better than a drawing, but the answer to “how did they do that?” requires inside information.

Cream brocade gown from the House of Worth, 1896. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Museums and books sometimes provide close up photos showing details of construction …

Detail of Worth gown from 1896, showing several rows of cartridge pleating on the sleeve and lace-shaped beading on the brocade bodice. Met Museum.

But to reproduce a vintage garment and have it “behave” properly, we need to know where the seams (and the bones) are, how the garment was lined, where the hidden closures were located, what made those sleeves stand up like that***, etc. Also, sometimes we discover a “trick” that made the garment easier to put on, or made it fit better. For costume purposes, we don’t need to follow the original slavishly (sometimes all those difficult hidden closures are not practical for a costume,) but we can make informed decisions.

One device that I have seen on vintage garments — and used on costumes — is the interior waistband or belt. This turn-of-the-century vintage bodice had one.

Elaborate lace and ribbon trimmed this ToC bodice (with a strangely skimpy skirt.)

Inside, a belt (never meant to be seen) was attached to the seams at center back. It closed at center front, and would be the first thing the wearer fastened when getting dressed.

Interior belt or waistband on a Turn of Century [ToC] bodice.

As Janet Arnold sketched the insides and outsides of museum garments, she drew many bodices that used an interior belt.

Interior waistband or belt, drawn by Janet Arnold.

Notice that the belt is only secured to the center back seams, with characteristic X stitches. It closes with hooks and bars at center front. It anchors the bodice to the wearer’s waist, so the bodice cannot ride up. It also holds the bodice in place while the many concealed hooks, eyes, and tapes are fastened. It takes some of the strain at the tightest spot, so the wearer doesn’t have to exert much pull on the more delicate fabrics to fasten them.

The interior belt works well on corsets.

I have seen and used these belts on the inside of corsets — what a great difference they make!

When you lace your own corset after fastening the front busk, you can’t be sure of getting it the same size every time. (Corsets rarely meet in the back.) Delineator,  April 1914.

First, the interior belt closing gives a constant size for the corset. You can’t accidentally lace it looser by mistake. If your dresses have been made to fit perfectly over your corset, but the corset lacing never actually meets at the waist, there’s always a chance that you will tighten your laces, put on your dress, and find that the dress doesn’t fit properly, because you pulled the laces too tight — or allowed yourself a bit more room than you did at the dress fitting.

Janet Arnold’s illustration of the interior of a woman’s dress, circa 1896. From Patterns of Fashion Vol 2. [***Fun fact: Arnold discovered that those huge leg-o-mutton sleeves were stuffed with paper!]

Secondly, when there is a waist belt inside your corset, the belt contracts your waist to the right size for fastening the front busk. The belt takes the strain (and keeps your corset from falling to the floor), giving you two hands free to hook the busk at the waist. Once the corset is fastened there, hooking it the rest of the way up and down is relatively easy. You may not need to deal with the laces at all.

The interior belt is can be made of a non-stretchable ribbon, like grosgrain.

The belt is also a great help in supporting the weight of the skirt; in many period dresses most of the skirt fullness is at the back, so the skirt of the dress can be quite heavy, and hard to wrestle with when its weight pulls the bodice crooked as you try to deal with dozens of fastenings.

Interior of dress from 1913-14 drawn by Janet Arnold. The skirt is sewn to the bodice only at one side. A row of hooks and bars connects the skirt to the bodice on the other side. (You can see two bars below “CF.” Arnold drew every hook.)

This circa 1913 dress (which combines lace, fur, chiffon and other materials) has an elaborate arrangement of closures, all of which would be hidden when the dress is worn. Notice that the skirt is only sewn to the bodice on its right side. The interior belt holds the bodice in the correct place and helps to support the weight of the skirt, while the left side of the skirt is slowly attached, hook by hook, to the left side of the bodice! [I think this one needed the help of a maid to deal with the skirt back and that big bow.]

Detail of Arnold’s drawing of the dress from 1913-14; no closures are visible, as the built-in sash hides the places where the skirt is only hooked to the bodice. The skirt is fur-trimmed.

The use of an interior belt is not restricted to the Victorian era. It remains part of the interior structure on couture when needed. It might be used, for example, to prevent tight jackets’ buttons straining against buttonholes at the waist, or to prevent too much strain on a zipper.

I can’t swear this famous Christian Dior New Look suit’s interior structure uses a belt, specifically, but something is preventing “pull” on the buttons. Click here for a great essay on “New Look” construction techniques.

You can see an interior belt — sewn in, not hanging free — on the waist of this gray dress from Dior’s fall-winter collection of 1955:

This Dior dress from 1955 is lying open on a table, positioned so you can see one end of the interior waistband; it matches the gray of the dress, which is flat-lined with gray organza.

At the place where the dress fits most tightly, the strain is taken by the belt rather than the zipper, which is visible to the right of the belt.

Christian Dior label, “Automne-Hiver 1955.” Charcoal gray dress with matching bolero jacket. Photographed from a private collection. The owner mentioned that this dress was made during Dior’s lifetime.

Digression: [I can’t not show you other pictures of this ensemble, even though I’m straying from my “interior belt” topic!]

You can see the unusual seam lines and darts on the jacket, which also has an interesting vertical buttonhole treatment.

Bolero jacket from Christian Dior, 1955. The matching dress has a full skirt pleated at the waist.

With the bolero jacket unbuttoned, the use of a separate panel to create “buttonholes” can be seen.

No, this buttonhole construction is not as care-free as it may look:

Inside view of Dior buttonhole in the bolero from 1955. The seams on the front of the jacket are not the same as those on the inside, and the buttonhole is reinforced like this.

Here, the interesting seams of the cap sleeve are visible. The back of the dress, with zipper, is visible at right.

Back to the topic of researching the insides of clothes you need to re-create, and the interior belt….

Arnold studied this dress from 1915-16 inside and out. If you were planning to copy it, you might think the outside tells the whole story — bodice and skirt both gathered at the waist.

A circa 1915 dress in a museum collection, drawn and its construction analyzed by Janet Arnold. Note the way a series of tiny tucks curves the sleeve forward.

Text describing the dress mentions that is would have been worn over a corset like this one.

The interior, drawn by Janet Arnold, shows that the scalloped dress in not as simple as it looks.

It has an under bodice, a hidden closure in front, a skirt that is partially attached to the bodice and partially hung from hooks and bars, and an interior belt that is boned and tightly fitted.

Arnold gives you a scale drawing of every part of the dress. This is what the under bodice of net looks like:

Like many vintage dresses which are bloused, this one has an under bodice. See French Linings. The bodice itself has kimono sleeves without armhole seams.

Arnold’s scale drawing of the interior belt on the scalloped dress. “The Petersham is shrunk in at the top to 26 1/2 inches, the bottom edge measures 27 1/2 “

Petersham ribbon looks much like grosgrain, but grosgrain cannot be stretched with steam and pressure. Petersham is often used in hat bands because it can be shaped into a slight curve with a steam iron.

I cannot praise Arnold’s Pattern of Fashion books too highly. Even if you choose not to duplicate her scaled patterns exactly, you will gain insight into period (and couture) construction that is invaluable.

I used to watch 1950s’ movies and wonder how a slender belt with no practical buckle could dig into an actress’s waist to compress it even more than her “merry widow” corset. Here is Elizabeth Taylor in a dress that really squeezes her waist. Janet Leigh’s wedding dress has a belt that might squeeze her that hard — although eventually the hole in the belt would start to tear…. Unless there was an even tighter belt inside those dresses….  “Ya think?”

 

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1940s-1950s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Dresses, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Serendipity: 1933 Wedding Gown & Its Rare Pattern

Left, Butterick Starred Pattern 5299, a copy of the wedding dress worn by actress Helen Twelvetrees in Disgraced; right, a vintage wedding dress made from this pattern.

Some time ago I wrote about Butterick Starred Patterns. As far as I know, only twelve Starred Patterns were issued; they were exact copies of movie costumes by top film designers.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/1933-june-p-63-bette-davis-500-5204-5215-5212-5214-page-top1.jpg

Left, still photos from a Bette Davis movie; lower right, two Butterick “Starred” sewing patterns that are exact copies of her costumes. Delineator, 1933.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/1933-aug-p-53-helen-twelvetree-500-top-5297-5299-wedding-travis-banton-des-ctr.jpg

Star Helen Twelvetrees modeled a wedding gown designed by Travis Banton in this Paramount movie. Delineator, 1933.

Wonderful Liza D at Better Dresses Vintage recently acquired a vintage wedding gown …

Vintage wedding gown discovered by Liza D, photographed on a very tall mannequin.

…along with the Butterick pattern used to make it.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5299, from 1933. Someone wrote “Dots Wedding Dress” on it. (Dot = Dorothy)

Back of Butterick pattern 5299, used with permission of Better Dresses Vintage.

Image from the Deltor (sewing instructions sheet) inside the pattern envelope. The corsage hides the shirring (“gathers”) on the bodice.

Shape of pattern pieces from the back of the envelope.

I am very grateful that Liza shared these photos with me! As if that connection with a rare Butterick pattern weren’t enough, this was the “cherry on the cake:” the bride had torn a page from Delineator magazine on which this wedding dress was illustrated, and saved it inside the pattern envelope!

Liza D found this page from Delineator, September 1933, folded inside the pattern envelope.

Here is a clearer image of that wedding gown illustration.

Butterick 5299 wedding dress illustration from Delineator, September 1933.

It was originally featured in an article which showed the gown as worn in the movie — these illustrations come from Delineator’s August 1933 issue:

5299 pattern illustration from August, 1933.

Helen Twelvetrees models the wedding gown designed by Travis Banton. Delineator, August 1933.

Liza realized that “Dot’s Wedding Dress,” as it says on the pattern envelope, was made for a small woman, not the six-foot fashion mannequin she originally photographed it on. (Look at the sleeve length:)

The dress on a too-tall mannequin; those sleeves should be wrist length.

… so she asked her 14-year-old daughter to try it on. Her daughter is 5’2″ and the dress is lovely on her:

The 85-year-old dress on a model the right size is still beautiful. Cream colored satin dresses were a chic Thirties’ choice.

Puffy “Directoire” sleeves made a comeback in the early 1930s.

It’s not often that a vintage gown can be dated this precisely when we don’t even know the full name of the bride, or her wedding date. [Edit 1/27/19: Liza says, “I know the bride’s name and who she was, because I asked the family I acquired it from. She was their mom’s cousin. Yes, I’ve asked them to share a photo of her in it if they come across one.”  We can hope!]  We do know that she read Butterick’s Delineator magazine 🙂

Butterick 5299 was used for this 1933 wedding dress, beautiful enough for a movie star.

Liza D says it was made without a train, “perhaps for an in-home or informal wedding? There was no veil included.”

I am very grateful that Liza D remembered reading about Butterick Starred Patterns in this blog, and that she was willing to share these photos of her unusual vintage find! Check out this dress (and the pattern) and her other items for sale by clicking here. Thanks to her daughter, too.

P.S. If you missed my five posts on Starred Patterns, here they are: (Sorry I about the font size!)

Butterick Starred Patterns: Actual Fashions from the Movies (Part 1)

Bette Davis wears designs by Orry-Kelly.

Butterick Starred Patterns Part 2: Kay Francis in The Keyhole

Also designs by Orry-Kelly.

Butterick Starred Patterns Part 3: Mary Astor

More designs by Orry-Kelly.

Butterick Starred Patterns Part 4: Katharine Hepburn and Helen Chandler

Designs by Howard Greer.

Butterick Starred Patterns Part 5: Helen Twelvetrees Wears Travis Banton

 

 

 

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Filed under 1930s, Dresses, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns from the movies, Wedding Clothes

Arctic Down Quilted Victorian Petticoat by Booth & Fox

A quilted, down-filled petticoat made by Booth & Fox, English, late Victorian era.

For those who wonder how Victorians survived the winter in badly heated houses (or snowy streets,) this down-filled petticoat is one answer.
I don’t know how this red, Victorian, quilted down petticoat from England found its way to California.  This week I found the pictures I took of it many years ago, before it was sold, and discovered that its older sister is in the Costume Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum!

Booth & Fox quilted petticoat, image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This one is circa 186o.

I only photographed the one in California for inventory purposes, but even a low resolution picture is better than none.

The “California” petticoat has a shape that is less like a crinoline, with the rows of down starting lower, and a flat yoke and down-free area in front.

Note how the rows of quilting taper in at the sides.

Deduction: This petticoat is later than the one in the V&A Museum, since skirt fullness began moving toward the back in the late 1860s.

1868 fashion plate from the Tessa collection at Los Angeles Public Library.

The Cut site has a good view of the back of the petticoat in the V & A. Click here.

There are two of these petticoats in the John Bright Collection, also located in the U.K. Click the site’s + sign for Additional Images.

The label (see Additional Images) in the John Bright Collection is also located center front, and is easier to read than the one I photographed.

Booth & Fox’s Down Skirt label from a petticoat in the John Bright Collection. The company won medals in London, 1862, and Dublin, 1865. This petticoat apparently cost 14 shillings and sixpence.

The label for the “California” petticoat, enhanced for legibility. It has a patent number. Is it possible that it cost 2 pounds, 4 shillings and…  I don’t recognize the number that looks like a “t” ….

The labels say the filling on the petticoats is “warranted pure Arctic down.” Red underwear doesn’t really keep you warmer, although several collections have quilted Victorian petticoats in various shades and patterns of red calico. My search for “Booth & Fox” led to a Scottish museum site about red calico, like the fabrics used in these down-filled skirts.

In Yorkshire, The Quilt Museum has one. Click here.

I wonder if the person who bought the “California” collection knows that one of the earlier Arctic Down Skirts made by Booth & Fox sold at auction in 2009?

The hem on the one I photographed had been repaired in back. You can see that the lining was a solid red, rather than printed calico, and a tiny feather was peeking out.

The hem had been mended in back, where it was most likely to drag on the ground.

It would certainly keep you toasty-warm from knees to hem.

Post Script: I received several emails from Patrick Murphy that shed new light on the Both and Fox company. He wrote:

“I came across your item on the Booth and Fox Petticoat when I was looking for some other information on Booth and Fox. As I know nothing about fashion and felt the item is probably now defunct I did not post a response. However, I thought you might be interested to know that the petticoat in question probably did not come from England but, surprisingly, from Ireland! I have attached a (poor quality) article from 1892 which confirms that Booth and Fox was founded and based in Cork City, Ireland (which, of course, at that time was part of the United Kingdom). You can see that it specifically refers to the manufacture of ladies down underskirts. As the article shows, the company did have extensive “branch establishments” in England but manufacturing was done in Cork.

I suspect that the other sites you reference may also be unaware of the true provenance of their garments.

I have some interest in Booth and Fox as Adam Fox (who was married to Mary Booth! – and, admittedly, was English) lived in the house next to mine in Cork City in 1842!”

In a later mail, he sent a PDF of the original article, which appears to be from a Merchant Directory for the city of Cork. Click here for the link. Thank you, Mr.Murphy!

 

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Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, lingerie and underwear, Mid-Victorian fashions, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Underwear and lingerie, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing