Category Archives: Dresses

Mystery Dresses

This vintage dress has been altered and patched. It raises many questions.

The patches on this faded dress hint at a life of hardship. If I had photographed the back, dating it might be possible — but a poor woman might not have had access to current fashions. It’s a mystery to me.

Many collectors are interested in the beauty of vintage dresses. But the woman who collected these dresses saw them as windows into women’s lives. Sadly, neither dress had documentation, so we don’t know anything about the women who made them, wore them, patched them, and tried to make them last a few more months or years. I’m sharing them because such dresses rarely survive to be collected — they end in the rag bag, not a museum. I don’t have the expertise even to date them securely (and how I wish I had had time to take more pictures!) Comments and conjectures about them are very welcome.

A mystery dress circa 1930?

Back of red dotted dress with a puzzling insert at the waist.

Here’s the front again:

Is this a late twenties dress, lengthened as much as possible for the 1930s? Or is it a thirties dress, lengthened and altered for a new wearer?

It is very long, suggesting early 1930s. There’s no fading to mark a previously shorter hem line, but this hem is as skimpy as possible. Was it a hand-me-down from a shorter woman?

A tiny rolled hem.

This dress was home-made, and not by a very accomplished seamstress. Here’s the sheer collar:

The rolled hem on this collar is machine stitched, but quite uneven.

Maintaining even tension around the curve of a soft, sheer material isn’t easy.

Someone who worked on this dress didn’t cut perfectly on grain, so the skirt sags towards its right side. You can see that the vertical pattern of dots on the front of the dress lined up originally. Was there always a waist seam? It doesn’t look like it.

The slightest sag at the waist seam (the dots don’t line up evenly) affects the hang of the skirt. Did this happen originally, or when the wide piece was inserted? Was the front of this dress one piece from shoulder to hem before it was altered?

The pattern of dots isn’t straight because the skirt is off grain at the waist.

There are seams in the back of the dress:

Vertical back seams suggest that the dress always had a waist seam in back — or do they? I’m asking….

Again, this pattern matching is not the work of an experienced dressmaker. On the other hand, I once bought cheap  printed flannel plaid for a nightgown and discovered that it was printed off grain, so it was possible to make perfectly matched seams on one side but not on the other. Maybe it was hard to fold this material for cutting and make the dots line up.

Aside from the question of why this dress has a wide band inserted at the waist, it’s clear that the person doing the alterations had barely enough material for the band — not enough to match the dots and line them up inconspicuously. In fact, the stripes on the dress run vertically and those on the band run horizontally. It’s made from scraps.

Scraps were also needed for alterations to the armholes. Either they tore while the dress was being worn, or they had to be enlarged for a different wearer:

On each side, the armhole was made larger and a patch was placed underneath. The repairs to the sheer ruffle are not symmetrical. Did one side tear?

Presumably there wasn’t enough fabric to match the pattern — or the person making the alternations wasn’t skilled enough to try (these are very large patches, secured with another line of large hand stitches.

I’m not belittling the people who made and altered this dress. I’m suggesting that they did not have the luxury of perfectionism. They had to make do with what they had, and I think that whoever owned this dress, new or second-hand, had to wear it and hold her head high. Poverty limits choices.

Another mystery dress, probably 19th century (?)

The front of a long dress with fitted bodice and many patches.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this dress is that the patches accumulated over time. It appears to be patched with scraps of the original fabric, but the dress, the large patch, and the smaller patch are not faded equally. The fabric is lightweight, so the cream colored bodice lining contributes to the impression of fading there, but not on the sleeves.

How I wish I had had a mannequin available, and the time to photograph the back and the interior structure. The back seams would tell us something about the date when it was made. The waist seems to be cartridge pleated, but, again, I have no photo of the construction. The shoulders don’t look dropped, but it’s hard to tell on a big, padded coat hanger!

The neckline is crudely done, using fabric that matches the band on the skirt.

The hem is very worn, and the fabric at the shoulders is faded and worn through in one place.

It is possible to see two bust darts on the left side of the bodice (on its right, they are hidden by a patch.)

You can see characteristic Victorian bust darts which are not covered by the dark patch.

But the dress is a mystery as to date, especially because, if it was made and worn by a rural woman, she could have been using a much older dress as her only guide. Machine stitched or hand stitched? Or both? I don’t know.

Someone may recognize the fabric, or be able to date the dress from old photographs — for me, it’s a nagging mystery — and I wish I knew about the woman who wore it. To me, the dress says that she was strong and brave while enduring years of hardship.

 

14 Comments

Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Dresses, Late Victorian fashions, Musings, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s

A variety of McCall patterns from the 1940's showed glittering trim on simple tops.

A variety of McCall patterns from the 1940’s showed glittering trim on simple tops.

In the forties, McCall offered several patterns for simple tops which could be raised to evening wear status with sequins or beading. “Afternoon-evening” style implied a fashion that could be worn for dates when combined with your daytime business suit; a simple change of blouse and the working woman or traveler was ready for cocktails, dinner, and dancing.

McCall 1192 had an attractive back, too. The cap shoulders are a style that returns periodically.

McCall 1192 had a decorated back, too. The cap shoulders are a style that returns periodically. “Just two pieces to this blouse.”

No. 1192, from 1945, was still featured in the needlework catalog for May, 1950. It included an embroidery transfer and  instructions for applying the sequins one at a time, although you could also purchase strands of sequins by the yard.

How to stitch sequins or do a decorative embroidery stitch. McCall 1192.

How to stitch sequins or do a decorative embroidery stitch. McCall 1192.

You could also work it in bugle beads, or in six-strand cotton embroidery thread “for a  more restrained effect.” A simple chainstitch was also recommended. Most of the ornamentation would be done before before sewing the side seams.

Description of McCall 1192.

Description of McCall 1192. Embroidery transfers came in blue, for visibility on most light colors, or yellow, for use on dark colors.

McCall pattern 1283, from a 1946 catalog. The blouse is simple, but the sequin trim is glamorous.

McCall pattern 1283, from 1946. The blouse is simple, but the sequin trim is glamorous. Making a long skirt in matching fabric would give you an “evening gown” that could be varied with other tops.

The rows of sequins suggest necklaces. The sash seems to be attached in the back, and brought around to tie in front. [If I were making this blouse, I’d add more fabric to keep it tucked in at the waist.]

McCall 1283, circa 1946. A handbag pattern was included.

McCall 1283, circa 1946. A handbag pattern was included. “For daytime wear, trim with fine rickrack and wear under suit jackets. One of the ‘musts’ for that special weekend or vacation and so easy to pack.”

There was a time when a lady did not wear sequins in the daytime. However, late afternoon and the cocktail hour permitted a bit of sparkle.

Witness to Fashion note:  The wearing of metallic fabrics, rhinestone-studded clothing, and sequins during daylight hours was only beginning to be acceptable in the early 1970’s. I remember walking to breakfast with my husband in Hollywood one morning about nine; a woman passed us wearing tight jeans, high wooden platform heels, and a strapless sequinned stretch top, called a tube top. “Was she — or wasn’t she — a prostitute?” I asked to my spouse, figuring a man might pick up signals I was missing.  He looked utterly bewildered when he admitted, “I don’t know!” A few years earlier, we would have had no doubts.

Many forties’ dresses for late afternoon and evening have subtle sequin trim; some are not so subtle.

Vintage black dress with black sequin trim, 1940s. (It photographed navy, but it was black.)

Vintage black dress with black sequin trim, 1940s. (It photographed navy.)

500-v175-dress-front

A short forties’ party dress trimmed with green sequins and cream-colored seed beads. [A black petticoat visible near the hem is not part of the dress.]

Detail: a spray of flowers made from sequins on a vintage dress.

Detail: a spray of flowers made from sequins and beads on a vintage dress.

Black vintage dress with a sunburst of beads.

Black vintage dress with a “necklace” and sunburst of sequins.

Another late forties detail:  This blouse has beading around the neckline, suggesting a necklace.

McCall transfer No. 1408 used beading to transform a very simple blouse into a sparkling one. You wouldn't need to carry jewelry if you packed a blouse like this.

McCall transfer No. 1408 used beading to transform a very simple blouse into a sparkling one. You wouldn’t need to carry  jewelry on vacation if you packed a blouse like this.

1408-may50-p-37-text-only-bead-necklace-on-blouse

Using an embroidery hoop,  organza, tissue, (or modern tear-away stabilizer) to keep the fabric from stretching makes applying these trims easier.

In 1950 you could choose among several neckline beading designs:  a bow, a pendant, etc.

More neckline beading designs from McCall. Pattern 1491.

More neckline beading designs from McCall. Pattern 1491.

A bow on your shoulder of a "brooch" could also trim your dress or suit jacket. McCall 1491.

A bow on your shoulder or a beaded “brooch” could also trim your dress or suit jacket. McCall 1491.

More beading patterns for blouses, dresses and suits. McCall pattern 1314.

More beading patterns for blouses, dresses and suits. McCall pattern 1314. (From 1947.)

Gold or iridescent beads were available, but many of these patterns were used very subtly, in black on black, bronze on brown, blue on blue, etc. The square pattern below would turn a simple wool crepe suit into an elegant one, if you worked it in beads or shiny thread on the pockets.

A square beading pattern like this would be subtle in black beads on a black suit jacket. Variations could be used on the neckline of a wool dress or the collar of a suit jacket. McCall 1314.

A square beading pattern like this would be subtle in black beads on a black suit jacket. Variations could be used on the neckline of a wool dress or the collar of a suit jacket. McCall 1314.

If you’re tempted to make a dressy forties’ blouse, remember how often sparkle was added to day-into-night clothing. Pick a simple style, and let the ornamentation supply the sophistication.

McCall 1404: simple linger sleeved blouses embellished with rays of sequins at the neck.

McCall 1404: simple longer-sleeved blouses embellished with glittering rays at the neck. Late forties.

1404-may50-p-36-long-sleeve-bouuse-with-rays-of-sequins-around-neckline-text626

McCall 1293 for a vestee, a timeless halter top, a hat and a bag.

McCall 1293 included a vestee, a timeless halter top, a hat and a bag. Dated 1946.

Picture that 1940’s halter with evening trousers or a short lace skirt; if you found it in a thrift store, would it scream “1946” to you?

McCall 1293.

McCall 1293 included this Juliet cap and evening bag. This cap would not work over high forties’ hairstyles, but was perfect over a close-to-the-head fifties’ cut.

A sequinned monogram on a blouse or dress was also worn by many — although I wonder whether monogrammed gifts are always appreciated by the recipient….

McCall transfer pattern 1339 supplied 5 inch high initials to work in sequins or embroidery thread.

McCall transfer pattern 1339 supplied 5 inch high initials to work in sequins or embroidery thread. (1947) Swing, anyone?

If you like the idea of adding sparkle, but not too much, consider an applique. I used to own several forties’ dresses which had bodice (and sometimes skirt) appliques of flowers — cut from printed material — and outlined or delicately accented with sequins. This dress does not have sequins, but a few on the appliqued tulip — clear or matching the colors — wouldn’t be out of period.

This vintage dress has a solid rayon crepe bodice, a floral printed crepe skirt, and one motif -- a tulip -- from the skirt fabric appliqued to the bodice. A few sequins on that tulip would be fine.

This vintage dress has a solid rayon crepe bodice, a floral printed crepe skirt, and one motif — a tulip — from the skirt fabric appliqued to the bodice. A few sequins on that tulip would be fine.

Obviously, this mannequin was too small for the dress; the flared, bias-cut skirt should hang from the natural waistline. A narrow self-belt probably accompanied this dress, but has been lost.

It’s not too late to make your forties’ style  holiday party blouse or dress!

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under 1940s-1950s, bags, Dresses, Hairstyles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Purses, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Beaded Roses in 1920’s Style

The stylized roses of the 1920’s are lovely, and putting just one on a simple dress can really make it look authentic.

A wedding dress with a single, large beaded rose at the hip. Butterick 6224 from October 1925. Delineator.

A wedding dress with a single, large beaded rose at the hip. Butterick 6224 from October 1925. Delineator. It would be equally attractive (and authentic) in black or gold beads on black satin, or white beads on pink, silver beads on pale blue, etc.

Butterick dress pattern 7047, beaded using transfer pattern 10472. Delineator, Sept. 1926.

The Robe de Style from 1926 has two spiraling beaded flowers on the skirt, and a band of beading on the cape-like collar. Butterick embroidery transfer 10472, on dress pattern 7047.

I’m not suggesting that you make a dress like this one for your first beading project:

Butterick 6227, October 1925.

Butterick 6227, October 1925.

However, here is the beading pattern that was used. It appeared in Delineator in May of 1925. It is Butterick embroidery design 10340.

Butterick beading transfer 10340 offered the stylized rose in several variations.

Butterick beading transfer 10340 offered the stylized rose in several variations — a single rose, a rose with tendrils, and the large repeating pattern used on wedding dress pattern  No. 6227.

Butterick transfer 10341, May 1925.

Butterick transfer 10340, May 1925. Work it in beads or in French knots.

You can actually count the beads. Putting a rose like the one in the center on the ends of a chiffon sash or the neckline of a dress would not really take very long. For that matter, you could do it in rhinestones on a T-shirt or in studs on the back of a leather jacket!

A photograph of one beaded rose. Delineator.

A photograph of one beaded rose. Delineator. A larger rose would take more beads or bigger beads.

In a smaller scale — or with bigger beads — this rose could also decorate the side of a cloche hat. You can play with designs, like this….

Top, the pattern turned sideways; bottom, used as a applique with two sets of tendrils.

Top, the pattern turned sideways; bottom, used as a applique with two sets of tendrils.

… Moving or combining them, enlarging them as needed. Sometimes an applique was beaded.

Here is another Butterick rose beading pattern:

Embroidery transfer

Embroidery transfer 10378, Delineator, October 1925.

Butterick embroidery transfer pattern 10378, October 1925. Delineator.

Butterick embroidery transfer pattern 10378, October 1925. Delineator. “For dresses, blouses, scarfs, coats, etc.”

It’s easy to envision the large motif embroidered on a pillowcase with a scalloped edge, but it would also be perfect beaded on the hem of a 1920’s chiffon dress, or even on the front and back panels of a wedding gown:

Bridal dresses, April 1925. Butterick patterns 5719 and 5447.

Bridal dresses, April 1925. Butterick patterns 5719 and 5447.

You could work these embroidery patterns in beads or shiny silk embroidery floss on dresses, or in cotton on pillowcases, although French knots do make quite an impression on your cheek!

This circa 1920 blouse it trimmed with shiny silk floss embroidery, appliques of orange fabric, and beading on top of the appliques.

This late teens or early twenties blouse is trimmed with shiny silk floss embroidery, appliques of orange fabric, and beading plus embroidery on top of the appliques. Rows of French knots in apricot and ice blue silk look like beading, but they are not. They’re knots :).

I once beaded just the bust area on a 1950’s cocktail dress for a play — enhancing the existing champagne colored brocade with small pearls and gold sequins and beads. I was amazed by how much a few hours of beading while watching (OK, listening to) TV enhanced the actress’ figure. (A new mother, she was self-conscious about the size of her post-delivery hips. The beading helped to balance her hips by making the top part of the dress more interesting.)

The neckline and hip band on this blouse were trimmed with clear beads.

The yoke and hip band on this vintage blouse were trimmed with pale, translucent beads for a subtle effect.

It’s is also possible to use lace trim and ornament it with just a few beads for sparkle. Look at the impact that made on this satin dress from earlier in the 20th century:

Lace was appliqued to the satin and then enhanced with matching gold-bronze beads.

Lace was applied to the satin and enhanced with matching gold-bronze beads. Lots of impact, but very little hand beading.

I’m sure there are plenty of “how to apply beads” videos available. I’m no expert, but what I recommend is:

Use a beading needle. Attach each bead or group of 3 or 4 beads using a backstitch. (Backstitch through the beads.) Do not use a running stitch, or a pull on one bead will pucker your material. Knot off every two or three inches, so a single broken thread won’t dump all your beautiful beading onto the floor. (Don’t cut the thread, just continue after stitching in a knot.)  A free-standing embroidery hoop is useful, so you can work with your more skillful hand underneath and your less skillful hand on top, where you can see what it’s doing. ( Q:  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” A:  ” Practice.”)

In spite of the blurred photo, you can appreciate the white beading on this pale pink dress.

In spite of the blurred photo, you can appreciate the opaque white and pink beading on this peachy pink vintage dress. The pieces were probably professionally beaded before being assembled into a dress.

 

5 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Dresses, Musings, Shirts and Blouses, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, Wedding Clothes

Martha, Is That You?

George and Martha Washington in illustration for article in Delineator, February 1925, p. 19.

George and Martha Washington in an illustration for an article in Delineator, February 1925, p. 19.

I was making an inventory of a vintage costume collection for a friend, trying not to spend too much time on items with little resale value. I found a section of bustle dresses, or parts of them, that were clearly “the real thing.”

Vintage bustle dress, skirt missing.

Vintage bustle dress, skirt missing. Too small to fasten on the mannequin.

Vintage bustle dress , embroidered buttons. Details.

Vintage bustle dress, embroidered buttons. Details. The fabric is substantial.

Vintage brown taffeta bustle dress top; skirt missing.

Vintage brown taffeta bustle dress top; skirt missing. The long overdress fitting snugly at the hips, with gathers almost over the pelvis, can be seen in 1879-1880.

I never had time to photograph that one on a mannequin. The front with long, low gathering is very distinctive.

Back detail of late Victorian overdress. Skirt missing.

Back and fabric detail of late Victorian overdress. Brocade, satin, and velvet.

Front of long dress in autumn colors, satin underskirt.

Front of long dress in autumn colors, satin underskirt.

Late Victorian bustle dress, side view.

Late Victorian bustle dress, side view. Changeable taffeta.

A vintage bustle dress with back draperies pulled up, rather like a 19th century version of an 18th century polonaise.

A vintage bustle dress with back draperies pulled up, rather like a 19th century version of an 18th century polonaise. Skirt missing; a petticoat is visible.

All those crisp fabrics — and then I reached into the “bustle era” hanging storage and put my hand on this one:

A polaise -- sort of. Print cotton fabric, soft and droopy, rather too small in circumference....

Not a bustle, but a polonaise — sort of. It has elements of the robe a la francaise. Print cotton fabric, soft and droopy, rather too small in circumference…. for a moment, I thought it might be a “Dolly Varden dress.” (An 1870’s fad based on an 18th c. character in a Dickens novel.)

But, no, it’s a masquerade costume — meant to be 18th century — from a period that favored soft, droopy fabrics, no boning, and a skirt less full than the 1780’s.

 Martha Washington costume pattern, Butterick, 1924.

Martha Washington costume pattern 4258, Butterick, 1924.  (It is not this exact dress, but shows the effects of 1920’s style on the perception of 1780’s fashions.)

The front of the costume was never photographed on a mannequin, but you can see, as it hangs on a coat hanger (that’s how I found it) that the sheer ruffles on each side of the front are long enough to be worn crossed like the “Martha Washington” costume’s fichu:

Top of a masquerade or theatrical costume made in the the 20th century, but suggesting the Colonial period.

Top of a masquerade or theatrical costume made in the the 20th century, but suggesting the Colonial period. The sheer ruffles on the front are very long, probably meant to cross over the breast and waist. The machine stitching on the sleeve flounces is crude.

It has an interior bodice made of netting — a practice I have seen in dresses of the nineteen-teens.

The inner bodice of costume is made of netting. A theatrical costume would be lined with a strong fabric, like muslin, to take the strain off the seams -- and to allow for a tight fit over a period corset.

The inner bodice of costume is made of netting. A theatrical costume would normally be flat-lined with a strong fabric, like muslin, to take the strain off the seams — and to allow for a tight fit over a period corset.

All the sewing is a bit sloppy — and  why not, for a costume that might be worn only once?

These pieces of twill tape inside the skirt hold up the poufs of the polonaise.

These pieces of twill tape inside the skirt hold up the “Polonaise” poufs of the overskirt.

At the time when I found it, I wondered why my friend had collected something so clearly not “the real thing.”

But, many years afterward, I remembered it when I realized that pattern companies have been making “colonial lady” and “Marie Antoinette” patterns for costume parties, Halloween parties, centennials and local history pageants, 4th of July parties, and amateur theatricals for a very long time.

A Martha Washington costume from Butterick, February 1924. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, but dressing up in a masquerade costume like this was more glamorous and romantic than many other options.

A “Martha Washington” costume from Butterick, February 1924. As far as historic accuracy goes, it is pretty awful, but dressing up in a masquerade costume like this was more glamorous and romantic than many other options.

Click here for another Butterick  “Martha Washington”  pattern, circa 1941, No. 1695. The dress my friend collected does a better job of interpreting the back of an 18th century dress than either of the Butterick patterns.

Martha Washington Costume pattern 4258 and Continental suit costume pattern, Delineator, Feb. 1925, p. 37.

Martha Washington costume pattern 4258 and Continental suit costume pattern 4262, Delineator, Feb. 1925, p. 37.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under 1700s, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, Late Victorian fashions, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uncategorized, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Photos of Summer Dresses, circa 1919

Graduation photo, 8th grade class, May 1919.

Graduation photo, 8th grade class, May 1919.

I can date this photo, because my mother is second from the right in the back row. Her family took another photo of her holding her diploma, and wrote on the back, “May 1919.”

Eighth grade graduation day, 1919. I "pushed" the photo to clarify the ruffles on her dress. which arn't visible in the official photographs.

Eighth grade graduation day, 1919. I “pushed” the photo to clarify the ruffles on her dress, which aren’t all visible in the overexposed  photograph.

14 year old girl, graduation dress, 1919.

14 year old girl in her graduation dress, 1919. She has a ruffled “Bertha” collar, and the fabric is very sheer, probably netting. I’ll discuss the hairdo in a later post.

All these dresses are so lovely that I wanted to share them. I even know some of the students’ names.

Front row, left. is Frances Ryan. 1919.

Front row, left, is Frances Ryan. 1919.

I don’t know the girl who is second in the row, but the sheer fabric of her dress, with an opaque pattern woven in, is my favorite. [I once had an extravagantly expensive Swiss cotton nightgown from similar fabric.] Note how many of these girls have big bows in their hair — they are still children.

From Left, Angelina Piana, Alice Perry, and Frances Flynn. Seated is Albert Genoce. 1919.

From Left, Angelina Piano, Alice Perry, and Frances Flynn. Seated is Albert Genoce. 1919.

Almost every dress is trimmed with horizontal tucks, which create the effect of opaque stripes across the sheer cotton fabrics. Notice their crossed ankles. This was how a lady sat. I believe these girls were graduating from a Catholic school run by nuns, so lady-like posture was enforced.

Alice Perry, Francies Flynn, and Eleanore Larrouy. 8th grade graduation, 1919.

Alice Perry, Frances Flynn, and Eleanore Larrouy. 8th grade graduation, 1919.

Most of the dresses have a rounded, scooped neckline, but Frances, like some of the girls in the top row, has a high, square-ish, lace-trimmed neckline.

Top row, left, is Eleanor Hahir. 1919.

Top row, left, is Eleanor Hahir, next girl unknown. 1919. Bottom row: Frances Ryan, unknown, Angelina Piano.

Left, my mother; the girl on the right is unknown (and slightly out of focus, too. In Front row are Frances Flynn and "Elinore" Larrouy. 1919,

Left, my mother; the girl on the right is unnamed (and slightly out of focus, too.) In front row are Frances Flynn and “Elinore” Larrouy. 1919.

I was delighted to find that someone had written the names of several of these students on the back of the picture, because my parents remained in the same town, and I knew many of their friends, including some of the girls in this picture. Sadly, I have no idea who the lovely young woman at the center of the back row is.

Unknown girl in 8th grade graduation photo, 1919.

Center, an unknown girl in 8th grade graduation photo, 1919. Left, “Angie” Piano; right, Alice Perry.

The girl in the center looks older than the others, or perhaps just more poised, in her beautifully embroidered dress and string of pearls.

Angie Piano remained a friend to my father and me in the years after my mother’s death, as did Frances Flynn, who wore tailored, non-fussy clothing, often dressed in slacks, was great fun to be with, and took us huckleberry picking at her family cabin in the Coastal hills. (Stepping into a packrat’s nest was always a bit of a shock, but the contents were fascinating!) The cabin was a bit of a time machine in the 1950’s, with a sleeping porch, an ice box, and a water tank that collected cold spring water;  we depended on oil lamps when we couldn’t get the electricity generator started.

Angela , or Angelina, Piano, called "Angie." Note her hairstyle, which is long in back, but has chic puffs over her ears. about 1919.

Angela (or Angelina) Piano, called “Angie.” Note her hairstyle, which is long in back, but has chic puffs of shorter hair over her ears. About 1919-20.

Angelina Piano in a velvet dress and long "crystal" necklace. On the back of the picture is her address in San Francisco and her age, 15. Dated "April 4, 1920."

Angelina Piano in a velvet dress and long “crystal” necklace. On the back of the picture is her address in San Francisco and her age, 15. Dated “April 4, 1920.”

Elegant “Angie” Piano was still chic and charming in her fifties — in fact, I hoped my widowed father would marry her.  She did take me to the ballet in the 1950’s, when I was about ten years old, and she fixed us a memorable dinner of crab and spaghetti! Between Angie and Frances I had two good but very different role models.

Edith Nicholls, Ruth Cross, my Aunt Dorothy, and my mother, dated 1918.

Edith Nicholls, Ruth Cross, my Aunt Dorothy, and my mother, dated 1918.

I like two things about about this photo. The first is that it shows a range of clothing — Edith is wearing taffeta and wonderful high boots, Aunt Dorothy is in her school uniform, and my mother is wearing a casual sleeveless pullover sweater. The second thing I like is that it shows how far from high society these girls were. They are standing on a dirt path in somebody’s back yard. Behind them is a fruit tree in a small vegetable patch, and on the left, a clothesline.

I’m not sure of the name on this picture — but I do like her dress ( with another Bertha-type collar) and her face. I wish I’d known her, too.

Another "Redwood City girl" circa 1918.

Another “Redwood City girl” circa 1918.

4 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Dresses, Hairstyles, Shoes, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, World War I

Annie Jenness-Miller’s Editorial, Dress, March 1890

“It is not to be questioned that all women, without regard to social position, or lack of it, would rather be comfortable than uncomfortable, and the woman who does not wish to look well is sadly out of balance with the beautiful laws of God and Nature.” — Annie Jenness-Miller, in Dress, March 1890.

Annie Jenness-Miller explained her ideas about reforming women’s dress in lectures, in books, and, repeatedly, in her magazine, Dress. This three-page editorial appeared in March, 1890. I will type out some quotations, and add some illustrations from the same issue of Dress magazine. I will run the entire text of her “Editorial Comment” at the bottom of this post. If you would like to read the complete pages in full screen, I have posted them at witness2fashion.com. Just click on the image of the page and then select the full-screen view.

Editorial Comments by Annie Jenness-Miller in Dress, Volume IV, March, 1890. The comments ran from page 135 through 137.

Editorial Comments by Annie Jenness-Miller in Dress, Volume IV, March, 1890. The comments ran from page 135 [this page] through 137.

On page 135 she writes, “Dress reform is scarcely the work in which we are engaged, for the idea is less of reform than of physical evolution and development, and the consequent scientific clothing of the body.”

“For the most part, women wear too many garments…. With the Jenness-Miller system we endeavor to get the essential warmth with fewer garments, and the correct adaptation to the human shape and form….” To see and read about her Reform Underwear — click here.

On page 136, Jenness-Miller explains that Jenness-Miller Patterns, which could be ordered from the magazine, do not constrict the waist, because the garments are constructed upon the “gown-form, which gets rid of the band about the waist” instead of “the usual skirt lining ending at the waist on a belt.”

To show what she was criticizing, here are some typical late 1800’s outfits which have separate skirts and bodices. The weight of a fully lined bustle dress, like this one, which would usually be worn over drawers, a petticoat, a bustle cage, and another petticoat, all hanging from the wearer’s waist, could give you quite a backache. Jenness-Miller was an American; in England, rational dress advocate Lady Florence Harberton complained that no woman should have to wear undergarments that weighed more than seven pounds.

This "bustle dress," either 1870s or 1880s, is really a bodice and skirt -- a heavy skirt. Private collection.

This “bustle dress,” is really a bodice and skirt — a heavy skirt. Private collection. [Elaborate — and sun-faded — as it is, I’m not convinced that this is as old as it looks. See inside.]

Inside of the bodice, blue satin bustle dress. Private collection.

Inside of the bodice, blue satin bustle dress. This was in a private collection. [I’m a little dubious about the age of the boning…. Looks like a theatrical costume to me….]

In the two-piece outfit below, which is somewhat later than the Jenness-Miller magazine, the weight of the skirt — or raising your arms — could create a problem, since the bodice does not come down over the hips to cover the waistband at all times, causing “gaposis.”

When the bodice ends at the natural waist, as in this ToC outfit, hooks and eyes were needed to keep them together. Private collection.

When the bodice ended at the natural waist, as in this turn of the century outfit, hooks and eyes were needed to keep them together. Private collection.

The problem of “gaposis” [a 20th century advertising term] was solved by attaching hooks and loops:

Inside back of bodice, ToC garment.

Inside back of bodice, turn of the century garment — not dated precisely.

Detail. You can see the hooks, which are attached to the bodice facing in and hanging down, and the eyes, attached to the waistband of the skirt. This kept the two pieces aligned and gave some support to the skirt, which could be especially heavy in back from the 1860s through the 1890s. (Many devices for supporting the skirt have been invented.)

Detail. Back of bodice, front of skirt. You can see the hooks, which are attached to the bodice facing in and hanging down, and the eyes, attached to the waistband of the skirt, front and back. This kept the two pieces aligned and gave some support to the skirt, which could be especially heavy in back from the 1860s through the 1890s. (Many devices for supporting the skirt have been invented.)

 

“The gown form is the lining of the outside skirt, just as the usual skirt lining is the foundation upon which the outside material is made. In the ordinary fashionable gown the lining and material hang upon the hip, abdomen, and back, from a belt; in the Jenness-Miller system the lining extends upward into a low-necked, sleeveless waist [i.e., under-bodice], the dress material only ending at the waistline, sewed firmly to the foundation, and with a tape covering the raw edges. This arrangement does not suspend the weight from the shoulders, but instead, compels each member to carry its own weight.”

I interpret this to mean that “the dress material only” ends at the waistline, while the gown-form/lining continues down inside the skirt from shoulders to hem, spreading the weight of the fabrics. Some, but by no means all, of the Jenness-Miller patterns look like a “dress” rather than a skirt and bodice.

Following are some Jenness-Miller patterns from Dress, Vol IV, March 1890, the same issue which featured her three-page editorial.

Jenness-Miller pattern for "The Isonde." Dress, March 1890.

Jenness-Miller pattern for “The Isonde.” Dress, March 1890.

Two Easter Costumes, from Dress. Frontispiece, March 1890.

Two Easter Costumes, from Jenness-Miller’s Dress. Frontispiece, March 1890.

The fact that the skirt lining extended to the shoulders is not obvious from the outside of the dresses.

Alas, I have only a fragment about the Jenness-Miller gown-form from elsewhere in the magazine:

A fragment of text about the Jenness-Miller dress form (a lining method) from March 1890, page 128.

A fragment of text about the Jenness-Miller dress form (a lining method) from March 1890, page 128.

My guess at the missing parts is:

A possible reconstruction of missing text about the Jennes-Miller gown-form.

A possible reconstruction of missing text about the Jenness-Miller gown-form.

The Faustina, Dress, March 1890, p. 132.

The Faustina, Jenness-Miller’s Dress, March 1890, p. 132.

The Lilian dress was "designed for the benefit of those women whose constant plaint is that they have no hips." Dress, March 1890, p. 128.

The Lilian dress was “designed for the benefit of those women whose constant plaint is that they have no hips.” Jenness-Miller’s Dress, March 1890, p. 128.

The Cornelia, from Jenness-Miller's Dress. March 1890.

The Cornelia, from Jenness-Miller’s Dress. March 1890.

Calling a Leg a Leg

A woman paying a call, from Punch, July 1889. The hostess is sitting with her legs crossed, and slouching on her tailbone in a way Mrs. Jenness-MIller would not have approved. From The Way to Wear'em.

A woman paying a call, from Punch, July 1889. The hostess is sitting with her legs crossed, and slouching on her tailbone in a way that Mrs. Jenness-Miller would not have approved. From The Way to Wear’em.

“What these women really need to learn is not to sit on the end of the spine with the back curved outward….”

Casting light on the prudery of her era, on page 136 Annie Jenness-Miller’s editorial criticizes women “who would be shocked to use the strong, refined, and proper term, leg, in speaking of these useful and necessary members,” but who “will, in a thoughtless and unguarded moment, from habit, sit in a parlor with legs crossed in a manner to display the undergarments and attract unpleasant attention.”  (Those shockable women called their legs “members” or “nether limbs.”)

The Jenness-Miller School for Physical Culture

On page 137, the editor discusses her “Jenness-Miller School for Physical Culture.” She believed that women would be able to do without corsets if they strengthened the muscles of the abdomen through exercise, giving “nature’s own corsets, the floating ribs, room and freedom for proper play.” (Dress had pages of exercises for women illustrated in regular articles called “Physical Culture.”)

“The three-fold object of our system is the possession of grace, strength, and beauty…. No exercises will be allowed which sacrifice grace to strength…. Ease and freedom in motion will be taught by a variety of movements [including dance.] “Fencing, so admirably adapted to develop and fortify the chest, as well as to give agility and precision to movement, will be taught by Monsieur Senac, who has no rival in this art.”

“A form of Greek gown will be used in lieu of the suit ordinarily worn in athletic practice. This will fall loosely from the shoulder in graceful lines which will reveal the movements of the legs.”

Here is the full text, beginning with the left column on page 135:

art 1 135 maybe editoral underwear pg 1 March 1890

art 2 135 maybe editoral underwear pg 1 March 1890

art 3 135 maybe editoral underwear pg 1 March 1890

art 4 135 maybe editoral underwear pg 1 March 1890

art 6 135 maybe editoral underwear pg 1 March 1890

Page 136:

art 7 p 136 editorial undies p 2

art 8 136 editorial undies p 2

art 9 136 editorial undies p 2

art 10 136 editorial undies p 2

art 11 136 editorial undies p 2

art 15 136 editorial undies p 2

Page 137:

art 16 137 editorial undies fencing p3

art 17 137 editorial undies fencing p3

art 18 137 editorial undies fencing p3

art 19 137 editorial undies fencing p3

art 20 137 editorial undies fencing p3

art 21 137 editorial undies fencing p3

art 22 137 editorial undies fencing p3

End of page 137. These three pages of Editorial Comment were not illustrated, since the garments referred to had been described in earlier issues of the magazine. Monsieur Regis Senac ran a fencing school in New York. Carl Marwig was a dance teacher and Broadway choreographer.

 

3 Comments

Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, Late Victorian fashions, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

More Sheer Dresses from the Late 1930s

Recently Lynn at American Age Fashion posted photos of some older women wearing sheer day dresses in the 1930‘s and the 1940‘s.

Ashville, Ohio, July 4th 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress.

Ashville, Ohio, July 4th 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress.

Like Jennifer (from Holliepoint) in Lynn’s comments section, I was surprised that older women would wear sheer dresses that showed their slips. In the fifties and sixties, just having a slip strap drop off my shoulder and become visible was a mortifying experience for me.  “Intimate apparel” was not supposed to be seen except in intimate situations.

However, I was forgetting that many fashions of the 1900’s and 1910’s were sheer, and that women who had been twenty or thirty at the turn of the century would not think of summer dresses that revealed your lingerie as shockingly new. Au contraire.

Ladies' Blouse-waists, Delineator, July 1917. Most of these are sher; you can see through the sleeves.

Ladies’ blouse/waists, Delineator, July 1917. Most of these are sheer; you can see through the sleeves, and probably through the bodices, in real life.

Early in the century, there was even a long-running fashion for “lingerie dresses” like these; they are made of sheer “handkerchief linen,” or cotton batiste, or lawn and ornamented with inset lace, like the underwear (lingerie) of their day.

Lingerie dresses. Left, early 1900's; right 1910's or early twenties.

Lingerie dresses. Left, early 1900’s; right, 1910’s or early twenties. These were photographed over a black slip to show the lace to advantage. A white slip would have been very visible through these dresses.

Thin cotton fabrics and lace inserts were used to make undergarments and also to make blouses. Butterick patterns from Delineator, 1917.

Thin cotton fabrics and lace inserts were used to make undergarments and also to make blouses. Butterick patterns from Delineator, 1917. The blouse/waist at right is sheer enough to show the model’s embroidered underwear, or a lace underbodice.

This beautiful — and very sheer — blouse was made of two layers of netting:

A blouse/waist so sheer that it is made of two layers of netting. Private collection.

A blouse/waist so sheer that it is made of two layers of netting. Private collection.

Here is its equally beautiful back:

This sheer, embroidered netting blouse has a "sailor collar" in back.

This sheer, embroidered netting blouse has a “sailor collar” in back. Circa 1910’s to 1920’s.

Sheer blouses like the one below are now called “Armistice Blouses,” but it probably dates earlier than 1918, when the Armistice ending World War I was proclaimed.

A sheer vintage blouse, circa WW I, sometimes called an "Armistice Blouse."

A sheer vintage blouse, circa WW I, sometimes called an “Armistice Blouse.”

In this photo, you can easily see the coat hanger through the blouse. Underwear would have been equally visible.

Skin and underwear would have been visible through this sheer cotton. Vintage blouse, private collection.

Skin and underwear would have been visible through this sheer cotton vintage blouse. Private collection.

During the 1910’s, a skirt and matching bodice (called a waist) were often worn instead of a dress. The patterns were sold separately. These surviving waists show that  they were part of see-through fashions:

Purple chiffon waist, probably 1910's.

Purple chiffon waist, probably 1910’s.

Embroidered peach colored blouse or waist. Probably 1910's.

Sheer, embroidered pink blouse or waist. Probably 1910’s.

It makes sense to me that women who wore these sheer clothes in their prime . . .

Sheer vintage blouse, before 1910.

Sheer vintage blouse, before 1910.

. . . would be perfectly comfortable in sheer dresses in their middle and old age:

Older woman wearing a sheer, striped dress. Fourth of July, 1938, Ashville, Ohio. Library of Congress photo by Ben Shahn.

Older woman wearing a sheer, striped dress. Fourth of July, 1938, Ashville, Ohio. Library of Congress photo by Ben Shahn. Detail.

No wonder they took to the sheer fashions of the late 1930’s:

A dress flattering to larger figures, Simplicity store flyer, Oct. 1939.

A dress flattering to larger figures, Simplicity 3139, store flyer, Oct. 1939. Sizes 32 to 44.

DuBarry pattern 2319B, for a sheer dress. Store flyer, Aug. 1939.

DuBarry pattern 2319B, for a sheer afternoon dress. Store flyer, Aug. 1939. Available in sizes 32 to 42.

Vogue 8315, Vogue store flyer for May 1, 1939.

Vogue 8315, Vogue store flyer for May 1, 1939. Sizes 32 to 42 bust.

Companion-Butterick pattern 7989, from August 1938.

Companion-Butterick pattern 7989, from August 1938. Dotted sheer fabric.

Simplicity 3205, store flyer, Oct. 1939. A sheer dress.

Simplicity 3205, store flyer, Oct. 1939. A dress with sheer lace yoke and sleeves.

Fourth of July, 1938, Ashville, Ohio. Photo by Ben Shahn from Library of Congress.

Fourth of July, 1938, Ashville, Ohio. Photo by Ben Shahn from Library of Congress. Detail. A sheer dress with polka dots and a lace dress.

The lace dress has a curving under-bust seam like this one:

"Figures are no problem to us." A lace evening dress with bolero jacket, Butterick Fashion News flyer, August 1938.

“Figures are no problem to us.” A lace evening dress with bolero jacket, Butterick Fashion News flyer, August 1938.

Lace dress for larger or mature women. Butterick pattern, 1938.

Lace dress for larger or mature women. Butterick pattern 7998, 1938. “Wear with dignity and chic.” Sizes 34 to 52 inch bust.

For more about these and other sheer nineteen thirties dresses, click here.

Thanks again to Lynn at American Age Fashion for writing about photos of older women in sheer dresses!

11 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Dresses, lingerie, Musings, Shirts and Blouses, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, World War I