Scalloped Button Tabs, Early 1930s

Scallop-shaped button tabs from 1930. Sometimes they are bound with bias tape. The ones on the left may be topstitched, instead.

Sometimes a minor fashion detail will catch my eye as I browse through photos. I don’t think this one was a major fashion trend, but it does show up enough for me to make quite a collection of examples. Scalloped hems had been seen in the 1920s, but these button tabs seem to be a 1929  – 1931 feature. They are shown on women and children.

Scalloped button tabs on a woman’s tunic and a girl’s dress. Butterick patterns, 1930.

Sometimes they appear on skirts.

Scalloped button tabs on suit skirts. 1930 and 1931.

Sometimes they are bound with bias fabric contrasting with the dress; sometimes they are lined but not outlined. See above. (And sometimes it’s had to tell which from the illustrations….)

Scallops are a theme on the collar and button tabs of this dress from October 1930.

I think the dark outline of the scallops is not bias binding, but the artist’s attempt to show a shadow. The tabs on the skirt hold a pleat in place. They probably don’t unbutton.

A “tailored” wool dress. “Like many this season, it’s a buttoned frock with scallops used smartly.”

I’m not sure how popular bias-bound scalloped button tabs would have been with home stitchers…. It’s relatively easy to make a scalloped edge when it is finished with the garment’s lining, like the hem of this blue dress:

The blue dress on the left has a scalloped hem lined with gray taffeta. Butterick pattern from 1926.

Aprons and cotton dresses often had scalloped hems bound with contrasting bias tape.

Left: A day dress from 1929 has scallops at the waist, the collar, and the hem. The hem appears to be bound with bias tape.

This apron from 1931 uses bias tape for trim and to bind the edges of hem, neckline, armholes and waist ties.

A scalloped apron hem bound with bias tape. 1931.

The curved part of the scallop is easy to bind, but the points where the curves meet take some practice.

Scalloped button tabs appeared in Delineator in November, 1929:

Scalloped button tabs on a blouse and skirt, Butterick 2916. November 1929.

The blouse and skirt on the left, Butterick 2916, was illustrated on two pages of Delineator, November 1929. Note the natural waist (a new fashion) and the  knee-length hems (about to go out of style.)

There are subtle differences, like the color of the attached scarf and the size of the buttons.

Two versions of Butterick 2916. 1929. The blouse tucks into the skirt, which has matching scallops.

Two big scalloped button tabs on Sport dress 3257. June 1930. Bias binding adds a dash of color.

It’s likely that many of these scalloped button tabs were purely decorative, and the dresses opened under the arm, along the side seam.

Scallops showed up on house dresses…

Scalloped button tabs on a cotton wash dress. 1930.

And on suits…

A series of rounded button tabs on this suit are not actually scallops. The text commented on the natural waist of this suit. Butterick 3151, April 1930.

Scallops had long been popular on girls’ clothes.

Dresses for schoolgirls, 1930.

Scalloped button tabs make this simple coat very fancy. October 1930.

The next illustration gives us a combination of scallops and straight lines! Probably artistic license….

One armhole and one side of the neckline have scallops. The buttons have scalloped tabs. Illustration for an article on sportswear, Delineator, May 1930.

Occasionally the button tabs took on an angular, zig-zag quality:

Pointed button tabs instead of curved ones — a little variety. Left, 1930; right, 1929.

This stylish scalloped version comes from December, 1931:

Butterick 4231, Delineator, December 1931.

That’s all, folks!

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, Sportswear, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Skirt Lengths in the 1960s

I do intend to write about the way pantyhose changed our lives, but first I want to lead a brief tour through the 1960s’ skirt revolution that made pantyhose necessary.

Mary Quant was the quintessential “Youthquake” designer of the 1960s. You really could not wear traditional stockings with the skirt on the right.

In fashion there are very few absolutes, but I’ll share a group of images I’ve collected. Keep in mind that not all women follow fashion slavishly, and that even within one country, some areas will be more conservative than others.

Early Sixties:

Many people think that all the “short skirts” of the Sixties were mini-skirts. Not true. The skirts we wore in the early 1960s came in for some criticism because they were short in relation to the skirts of the 1950s. It was only near the end of the 1960s that skirt lengths exposed more leg (and thigh) than was ever before shown by fully dressed adult women.

Left: We sometimes forget how long skirts were in the late Fifties. Right: three years later.

It’s surprising to see how long the post-war “New Look” remained main-stream fashion. From 1947 to 1956, Dior’s influence dominated.

1956. This Butterick suit pattern is still long and tight-waisted, like Dior’s 1947 collection.

1956. These hems are several inches below the knee.

1957. Simplicity 2311 is four or five inches below the knee.

Then hems began to rise.

Left to right: 1957, 1958, 1959.

We can understand that the skirts of 1959 did look shockingly short after ten years of mid-calf fashions.

I started high school in 1958. Our school uniforms had brown wool skirts with stitched-down pleats, and came well below the knee. Skirts continued to rise in the early 60s, but in my school the line was drawn at the bottom of the kneecap. By 1961, if a teacher or hall monitor thought your skirt was too short, you would be asked to kneel on the floor. If the hem didn’t touch the floor while you were kneeling, you would be sent to the principal’s office where a seam ripper was waiting. (I mention this because it tells us that by 1961 girls were trying to wear mid-knee skirts.)

The skirts of Butterick 9082 would easily have passed the “kneeling test.”

1959. Butterick 9082.

1960. These women’s dresses (Butterick) cover the knee and then some.

However, in the same year other designs just covered the kneecap.

1960. A McCall’s dress that just covers the knee.

1958 to 1960: Skirts are getting shorter. It’s the Sixties, but they’re not mini-skirts yet.

In fact, hems that just covered the knee were the norm for a while:

1961. Vogue 5251 covers the knee — but may not when the wearer is walking….

Keep your eyes on this spot, where the curve of the calf bends in.

From now on, we’ll have to look for the spot where the curve of the calf indicates the bottom of the knee.

1963. Empire styes were an option. Kneecaps were hidden until you sat down.

1963. This Marian Martin pattern was aimed at conservative dressers. But it’s the same length as the Butterick pattern above.

Marian Martin pattern 9495 from 1963.

It’s good to look at patterns sold through newspapers, since they were aimed at rural and small town women — women who did not have access to department stores. I was surprised to see that the lengths are in step with fashion.

[My husband grew up in small-town Texas, while I grew up near fashionable San Francisco, California. We’re the same age. He and I kept disagreeing on what teenaged girls wore in the Sixties — until we realized that the girls he remembered lived in North Texas, which is still quite conservative.]

Later Sixties:

1964 was the year the Beatles came to America. British fashion, at least for young people, suddenly went from notoriously dowdy to trend-setting. Young women began to dress differently from their elders — and from sophisticated adult fashion models.

1964 fashions for women — hems rising slightly.

1964. Notice the “calf curve” point on the red one. The knee cap is appearing.

1964: Designer Mary Quant, Carnaby Street, Mods, a “Youthquake” in British-inspired fashion. This dress is girlish, not aspiring to womanly sophistication.

In 1964, teens no longer aspired to become sophisticated women. Youth was the new ideal.

1964. Coat and dress by Mary Quant for Butterick. It’s illustrated in two different lengths — one exposing the knee.

People waiting for the mini skirt to appear may feel that “now we’re getting somewhere!” However, this model’s Vogue pattern partially covers her knees even when she’s sitting. (I had a hat like that and those gloves designed for 3/4 sleeved coats, circa 1965.)

1964. Vogue pattern photographed for Elegance.

1965. Littell was another featured designer. These hems are mid-knee.

Those outfits by Deanna Littell are suitable for business or travel, but the ones below (not by Littell) are definitely for the young.

1965. These outfits are for teens and Junior sizes (“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!”)

1965. Butterick Fashion News. These are not teen dresses; they are suitable for office work or church. The one on the right would have struck my younger self as middle-aged!

By 1965, knees were bared.

1966. An entire wardrobe from Simplicity, No. 6882. Bare knees.

1966. Vogue patterns for adults. All  have bare knees.

1966. Vogue Designer patterns. Definitely not for teens, but they all show hems that bare the entire knee.

It appears that by 1966, a woman who did not bare her knees was out of fashion. (As a senior in college, I often wore these short skirts with opaque tights.)

1967. These basic Simplicity dresses were worn to school and to offices. This pattern is in teen/Junior sizes, but grown women wore the same clothes.

1967. I had a store-bought dress very like the one on the right, but not quite so short: it was light blue paisley linen blend, with a bow at the white collar. Notice the low-heeled shoes.

1967. The classic shirtdress was mini-length, too.

1967. Mary Quant continued to go shorter and shorter.

1967 was also famous for the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. It was getting hard to find dresses the weren’t this short! These were the years when I took every new dress straight to the fabric store and bought matching 2 inch hem tape so I could let the dress down before wearing it. Sitting on a cold cable car’s wooden seat in one of these was unpleasant…. Panty-hose or tights were a blessing.

1968. Mary Quant again. I wore drop-waisted dresses like the one on the right (without that scarf) to my job in a bank.

1968. A McCall’s dress that is definitely not aimed at teens, but at women. A good look for the office or for church; it’s rather dressy.

1968. Again, dress patterns sold through newspapers echo the short hems of the major pattern companies.

1969. Very short skirts that bare the knees and several inches above the knee (mini-skirts) are mainstream fashion.

But the very shortest skirts were yet to come…

1970. Butterick dress patterns expose knees and several inches of the thigh. These are true mini-skirts.

1970. A chart of all the possible skirt lengths being worn. From Butterick Fashion News, July 1970.

Even that chart didn’t include the shortest of the short skirts:

1970. A “micro-mini” with matching bikini briefs. Butterick Fashion News, July 1970.

It makes the mini-skirts of the 1960s seem tame by comparison.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that in 1970 the bank I was working for announced that female employees would finally be allowed to wear pant suits (or trousers with a matching top) to work. In the fall of 1970, I returned to teaching high school. I was glad that trouser suits were soon permitted in the classroom, too. It was a conservative (“men wear the pants in this family”) Central California community, but around 1970 we had reached the point where trousers were often less shocking than dresses.

It’s often hard for young teachers to maintain discipline in high school classes. I knew some young male teachers who grew beards or wore jackets and neckties just to look older. Here’s a piece of advice about classroom discipline and those very short 1960s’ and 70s’ dresses: turning your back to a class full of adolescent boys when you reach high to write on the chalkboard while wearing a mini dress is not conducive to the ideal learning environment…. Better to be a little out of fashion!

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February Delights, 1920

100 years ago: A woman skier in an ad for Colgate cold cream, Delineator, February 1920.

Daggett & Ramsdell’s Perfect Cold Cream ad. Delineator, February 1920.

Cold cream to relieve chapped and chafed skin. 1920.

Winter weather provided a perfect reason to apply one of the many cold cream products available in 1920. This one was for faces, hands, and even babies. The same manufacturer also sold face powder in “flesh, white, or brunette.”

Another brand, Bourjois Java Face Powder (sold since 1860!) also based this 1920 ad on skiing:

A stylized ski outfit from an eye-catching ad. Delineator, February 1920.

Ad for Bourgeois Java Face Powder, February 1920. “For Youth and Beauty and for Charm.”

“Today fastidious femininity the world over regards Bourjois Java Powder as the indispensable finishing touch a l’art de la toilette.” “Also makers of the famous rouge “Ashes of Roses.”

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020!

 

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Stocking Memories, 1958 to 1960

Stockings and a girdle from Sears catalog for Fall 1958.

When I started high school around 1958, we wore stockings for dress-up occasions. Usually, those stockings had a seam up the back.

Seamed stockings from Sears, Spring 1960.

(Pantyhose became available in 1959, or so the internet tells me. Seamless nylon or rayon stockings were available — briefly — in the 1940s, but in 1958, seams were the norm for me and the adult women I knew.)

Seamless stockings advertised in Vogue, Aug. 15, 1943.

Of course, stockings are still available and worn by many women, but pantyhose have dominated the market for about 50 years now.

So, for those who never had the dubious pleasure of buying stockings in the 1950s….

A run in her stocking; Lux soap ad from October 1937. Runs looked the same in 1960: a hole with unraveled knit stocking above and below it.

At the Stocking Counter

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about stockings circa 1958 was how many choices you had to make. Faced with the stocking counter — at a department store or even a “five and dime store” — you would see rows and rows of distinctive shallow boxes, each originally holding 6 pairs of stockings. The pairs were separated by layers of tissue; you could buy one pair, incurring the barely concealed scorn of the clerk who waited on you, or two or three pairs of matching stockings (if you could afford them.) Buying the whole box was a wonderful extravagance. Stockings were so fragile that the clerks sometimes wore gloves.

For a young teen, it was a confusing process. You needed to know your size, your “proportion,” the denier, the color, “seam or no-seam,” reinforced heel and toe or sandal foot, knit or “run stop”mesh….

1958 stocking size chart from the Sears catalog.

“What size?” Stockings came in seven sizes. Your stocking size was related to your shoe size, but it wasn’t the same as your shoe size. [Shoes used to come in many sizes and widths, from AAAA (very narrow) to EEE (very wide.)  I wore a shoe size 7 1/2, B width, with a (double) AA heel [Yes, you could buy a wide shoe size with a narrow heel, or many other variations.] As you can imagine, shoe stores had to carry almost as much stock as stocking counters.]

In 1958, your stocking size depended on your shoe size and your shoe width: shoe size 7, width B = stocking size 10.

However, stockings were usually held up by garters (aka suspenders) attached to a garter belt or girdle.

Garter belts, Sears 1958. Also (more accurately) called suspender belts in England.

Top left is a girdle; all the others are panty-girdles. Notice that your stocking top would need to come quite high on the thigh to attach to these garters.

Stockings attach high on the leg, with one garter in front and one in back on this panty-girdle. Sears, 1958.

The suspender part was somewhat adjustable in length, but you had to buy stockings that were long enough to reach the garter comfortably.

Proportioned Stockings for tall women; Sears, 1958. “The extra length reduces garter pull and strain…”

Finding the right proportioned stocking for your height and weight. Sears chart, 1958.  At Sears, your four proportion choices were “petite, shapely, classic, or tall.” (7 sizes x 4 lengths = 28 choices!)

There were so many size variations because 1950s’ stockings did not have much “stretch.” To answer the question “What size?” you needed to know your stocking size and your “pattern” or proportion. (Or you could tell the clerk your height and weight.)

If you wanted long enough stockings, you might have to pay more.

Sears, 1958. The cheaper stockings came in 15 or 30 denier weight, but only one length.

College memory: A friend named Mary was standing in the doorway when my roommate said, “Mary, your stockings are all wrinkled around your ankles.” Mary said, “I’m not wearing stockings. My ankles are sagging.”

Before modern stretch knits, stockings might bag or sag. Worse, if the reinforced top wasn’t high enough, when you knelt down the pull of the suspender could put too much strain on the knee, and your stocking would run or “pop.” Cheap stockings didn’t come in a full range of lengths, so I sometimes came out of church with one or both knees bulging out of big holes in my stockings. All those sizes were necessary because stockings were not very stretchy.

Stocking runs: a tiny hole would unravel the stocking both up and down your leg. This was still true in the 1960s. Lux soap claimed to improve stockings’ elasticity. Ad from 1936.

The stocking clerk might ask, “What weight?” This meant, not your own weight, but the amount of sheerness or strength you needed in the stocking. Light weight 15 denier was very sheer. 30 denier was more durable for everyday wear, and even thicker stockings were available.

“Seams or seamless?” My first stockings had seams, but the seams on the soles of my feet sometimes gave me blisters, so once I discovered seamless stockings, I always bought those. Seamless stockings were available in 1958, but I didn’t discover them for a couple of years. (A vertical seam up the back would have been more flattering to my sturdy legs, but limping on blisters didn’t improve my looks or disposition, so I chose comfort over vanity.) Besides, it’s maddening to be down to your last two intact stockings when you’re dressing for work and find that one of them has a seam and the other doesn’t.

Seamed stockings with reinforced heel and toe (and a seam under the ball of your foot.) Sears, Spring of 1958.

“Reinforced toe and heel? Sandal heel? Sheer foot?” If you wore pumps, then you could buy longer-lasting stockings with reinforced heels and toes. (Toenails or rough heels were hard on stockings.) However, by the 1940s many women wore open-toed or strap-heeled shoes, making the less durable options necessary.

Nude heel or reinforced heel in seamless stockings, Sears, 1958.

“Run stop or regular?” Runs were always a problem. A tiny snag from a chair or a fingernail would start a run racing up and down your leg. Many women kept a bottle of clear nail polish in their purse or desk drawers, because it was the only thing that could stop a run from progressing. If you dabbed a bit on the run before it passed the hem of your skirt, then the stocking might be salvaged enough for future wear. Otherwise, sheer stockings couldn’t be mended. One reason for always buying several identical pairs at the same time: as long as you had two stockings that matched, you could wear them. Once you were down to one stocking, you would probably never find a matching color or knit again, (too many brands, too many choices) so the final stocking might as well be tossed out.

Rayon mesh stockings from Sears, 1944. “Lockstitch resists runs, snags.”

Run-proof stockings were usually a mesh knit. They did get holes, but they didn’t get runs. The holes, however,  kept getting bigger….

Mesh stockings did not run, but they did get holes. And the weave was rather coarse and noticeable. Sears’ seamless mesh stockings from 1942.

“What color?” Stocking manufacturers and fashion magazines urged women to buy stockings to match every outfit. However, the woman on a budget often stuck to one or two shades. We all had drawers full of not-qute-matching stockings (usually kept in a padded box within the drawer.) Sticking to just one color matching your skin tone (or the healthy tan color you wished your legs were) was the economical choice. However, those black or dark stockings for evening were so temptingly glamourous….

Stockings from Sears to match your skin tone or your dress. 1959 catalog.

If you bought the last pairs of stockings in the box, or the whole box (six pairs,) you would be given the box itself, and therefore you would know the brand and color when you needed to buy more stockings a few weeks later.  Otherwise, stockings were simply wrapped in tissue. It was easy to forget where you bought them, the brand, and the name of the color, so your supply of single, unmatched, surviving stockings continued to grow. (One maker’s “nude” or “taupe” was rarely the same as another’s, and “suntan” could mean anything from light golden brown (in expensive brands) to orange (cheaper brands) ….

One Christmas in the Sixties, my father gave me a nightgown set that I didn’t need, so I took it back to Macy’s and exchanged it for a dozen pairs of stockings — two whole boxes! I had several blissful months of not worrying whether I had a pair of stockings that matched. Such luxury!

Next: The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings.

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Girdles, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

Seamless Stockings in 1930

Seamed stockings from Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1939.

Every costume design job is an opportunity to do more research, but there are some things that are just part of your general knowledge. For example, when I was hired to costume a college production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which takes place in 1937, I automatically put the adult female characters in seamed stockings.

I was surprised recently when I came across this image from 1930:

Seamless stockings could be purchased at department stores in 1930! This image is from Delineator, May 1930.

I simply hadn’t come across this information before, so I checked another source: the Sears, Roebuck catalogs. There they were:

“No-Seam” hosiery for women, Sears Roebuck catalog, Fall 1930, p. 171.

No-Seam stockings text, Sears catalog, Fall 1930.

And another source….

From a fashion editorial about accessories, Delineator, September 1930.

There are some typos in the original text, as you can see, but corrected, it says, “I made a new discovery a few days ago — stockings needn’t have seams in order to fit. You may remember the old seamless stockings … which went into Grecian drapery at the ankles after their first contact with soap and water. The new Guildmode hose is knitted in a special way so that it fits just as snugly as a full fashioned stocking. It is dull [matte] and very sheer.”

“Full-fashioned” meant stockings which were shaped like the outline of a leg, curving in at the ankle, and gradually curving out over the calf area.

Before stretchier knits became available, the seam at the back was necessary for a good fit. Full-fashioned stocking illustration from Sears, 1958.

A short history: Knitted stockings have been around for hundreds of years. The simple knitted tube naturally stretched — somewhat — to the shape of the leg, but a seam up the back permitted a closer fit.  As stockings became more sheer (and more visible under short skirts) in the Nineteen Twenties, women became aware of the way the vertical seam up the back created a slenderizing line on their legs.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/hosiery-nov-1928-mar-1929-apr-1929-may-1929.jpg

Gordon Hosiery ads from Delineator, Nov. 1928 through May 1929.

Seams and pointed heels made these stockings flattering. Sears, Fall of 1939.

“Notice how they follow the natural shadows of the ankle — to give you slenderness and grace.”

Skirt hems went down and then up again in the Nineteen Thirties, but seamed stockings were so much a part of normal dress that women couldn’t give up that seam line even when silk or nylon stockings became unavailable during World War II.

There were no nylon or silk stockings available from Sears in 1944 because nylon and silk were needed for the war. Sears catalog index, Spring 1944.

In Spring of 1945, before the War ended,  Sears offered these un-glamourous cotton stockings. Three pairs were guaranteed to last you three months. (I.e., you would have two wearable stockings left.)

But, back to the Thirties:

Chiffon [sheer] and Service Weight stockings from Sears, Fall 1930.

Seamed rayon stockings from Sears, Fall 1930. Rayon, a synthetic fabric based on cellulose, was cheaper than silk.

At the first dress rehearsal of Brighton Beach Memoirs, the director knelt down beside my chair and whispered, “Are those seams on their stockings?” He was clearly delighted. I whispered back, “Well, stockings with seams are too expensive for our budget,** so I taught the actresses to do it the 1940s’ way: we drew ‘seams’ up the backs of their hose with an eyebrow pencil.” (The lines didn’t come out completely when we washed their sheer tights, so they just had to retrace the previous line for the next performance.)

At first, I thought the director was impressed by the seamed stockings because I was much more detail-oriented than my predecessor. Later I realized that anyone who was a teen-aged boy in the 1950s probably feels a certain nostalgia for seamed stockings, which, along with high heels and garter belts, were often seen on pin-up girls.

This 1950s’ stocking ad, shared by Sally Edelstein at Envisioning the American Dream, shows the sex appeal of seamed stockings.

Being allowed to wear high heels (or even kitten heels,) and sheer stockings held up by a garter belt was a rite of passage for girls of my generation. (I think that my first heels and stockings were required for a school field trip to the ballet [or opera?] circa 1958, when I was in 8th or 9th grade.)

Garter belts, seamed stockings, high heels, and a bouffant “crinoline” petticoat in 1958: “Today I am a woman!”

At thirteen, I was finally old enough to ask, “Are my seams straight?”

To return to my costume design for Brighton Beach Memoirs, would this new (to me) information about the existence of seamless stockings*** in 1930 have made any difference? No, because the characters in the play are struggling financially, and because they are not fashionable women. They would have worn inexpensive stockings — probably cotton, rayon, or “service weight.”

Service weight silk stockings were not as sheer as “chiffon” ones. Sears, Fall 1930.

I settled for using sheer tights with added seams because at the time of the production that was the most affordable option. Also, in college productions, most of the actors are younger than the characters they play. The two “mothers” were actually about twenty years old, and the teenaged daughters were also played by twenty year old actresses. Putting the mothers in seamed stockings and the daughters in bobby socks helped to establish an age difference.

More of my own “Garter Belt and Seamed Stockings” Memoirs to come….

** Some very good costume shop supervisors have told me that a seam can be added to inexpensive modern hosiery with an overlock sewing machine, but I haven’t tried it myself.

*** If you need a research topic, note that some of the images make reference to seamless stockings earlier than 1930.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Accessories

Curling Iron Memories

A curling iron like this one was not heated with electricity. Illustration from Delineator, February 1934.

A curled hair style with ringlets over the ears, from 1838. From La Mode, in the Casey Collection.

Novelist and fashion historian Mimi Mathews has written another wonderful post about Victorian women’s hairstyles and beauty products. Click here for her latest, and then follow the links at the bottom of that post for the answer to many other “how did they do that?” questions about beauty and hair styling products from the 1800s.

In 1920, Silmerine hair curling liquid, applied with a toothbrush, was used to set curls in women’s hair.

Ad for Liquid Silmerine hair setting lotion, 1920. It could probably be used to set hair in rag curls.**  The chemicals it contained varied, but some would have been cousins to the Victorian hair preparations Mimi Matthews researched.

The Silmerine ad says that “You’ll never again use the hair destroying heated iron.”

I have personal knowledge of the heated curling irons — sometimes called curling tongs — like the ones below, because my mother used them on me almost daily until I was about eight years old.

An old fashioned curling iron (in three sizes) from  An Illustrated History of Hairstyles, by Marian I. Doyle.

Ad for the Lorain gas stove, 1926. The stove we had in the 1940s was similar.

This kind of curling iron didn’t plug into an electric outlet; my mother turned up the flames on one burner of the gas stove in our kitchen and stuck the metal part of the tongs into the fire for a while.  (Our curling iron had wooden handles.)  I was sent to the bathroom to bring her several sheets of toilet paper. I sat on a stool in the middle of the kitchen. If the curling iron curled the paper, but did not burn it, it was ready for my hair. (Our toilet paper was not soft and quilted.)

I hated the ordeal of the curling iron, and I hated having to wear a bow in my hair to school every day, too. This picture is probably 1952 or 1953 — and these curls were not in style!

Girls in the combined 2nd & 3rd grade class, Redwood City, CA, 1952-53. Only one (me) with long sausage curls. My best friend, Arleen, wasn’t fussed over; her Mom had 5 daughters to get off to school.

Once I started school and discovered that other girls — like my friend Arleen — did not have long ringlets, this daily ordeal became an ongoing battle. I hated it. But my mother’s idea of how her perfect child should look was unshakeable. We fought, I cried, I begged, but I was only allowed to leave for school once — that I remember — without being curled with that hated hot iron. (I remember skipping with joy, and then feeling the ringlets bounce into their usual shape before I had gone half a block.)

My mother frequently told me, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”  I doubt that the saying originally referred to curling irons.

[I should make it clear that I wasn’t especially afraid of getting burned, although my squirming must have made it more likely. Getting snarls combed out of my hair was worse, as my mother got increasingly exasperated with me. It was the whole, time-consuming, pointless (to me) process that I hated.  At least I often got out of the house with just a brushing and a barette on the weekends.]

Once, I was allowed to stay overnight with my Uncle Mel and his beautiful wife, Irene. Aunt Irene had naturally bright red hair that fell in waves to below her waist. She coiled her thick braids on top of her head for the office, but one night Uncle Mel brought me to her house just after she had washed her hair. She was sitting on the sofa in a pale blue satin robe, brushing her red hair as it dried. It was so long she could sit on it. She told me about having her hair set with rags when she was a girl my age, and that night she offered to give me rag curl.** In the morning, when she brushed my hair, I was amazed and happy to have curls without any pain! I told my mother about this wonderful way we could stop using the curling iron. She wasn’t impressed — and I was never allowed to stay overnight with Aunt Irene again.

My mother as a teenager, with her own Mary Pickford curls.

Maybe Mary Pickford was to blame for our battles about the curling iron.  And Shirley Temple.

I was an only child, born after twelve years of marriage to parents who were forty years old. My mother had had a long time to dream about the child she hoped for. I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to her that her child, and especially her daughter, would not be exactly like her — a perfectible extension of herself. She was always surprised — and saddened or angered — by every sign that I was my father’s daughter, too. I remember her disappointment when she discovered that my skin, even where the sun never touched it, was not as milky white as hers, but halfway between the whiteness of hers and the cream-white of his.  And the lunch when she suddenly exclaimed, “Dammit, Charles! She’s got your mouth!” (instead of her shapely one.)  My mother was so worried that I would take after his family and be taller than the boys in my class, that she lied about my age and enrolled me in first grade instead of kindergarten. I heard her tell a friend that she had decided to do it after driving past a school and seeing my older cousin in the playground with other children: “She looked like a G**-dammed giraffe!”  So instead of being the youngest child in kindergarten, I was (secretly) the youngest child in first grade and in every grade until high school.  It was lucky that reading came easily to me, and I had plenty of experience in being quiet and obedient, so my first teachers never realized that I was so young in other ways.

My mother had been pretty and popular; she loved to dance; so she never noticed that I was bookish and uncoordinated. I certainly never asked to be entered in a Beautiful Baby contest!

“Crowned Supreme Royal Princess Better Baby Show, Dec. 7, 1947.” I hope I didn’t wear the cape and tinsel crown to the contest! (She was sure I’d win.)

I came in second, but she made this outfit and put this picture on her Christmas cards. (The trophy said that I was “99 1/2 % perfect….)

She was certainly proud of me — or, proud of herself for having me. Relatives have told me that she treated me like a doll. She kept me dressed in frilly dresses that she washed and ironed and starched, and changed twice a day. (I got my first pair of jeans when I stayed with her mother, because Uncle Mel said Grandma was too old to cook and clean and look after a child AND do all that extra laundry.) I was completely happy at Grandma’s house. And Grandma didn’t try to turn me into Shirley Temple or Mary Pickford.

Mary Pickford shows her famous long curls in this ad for Pompeiian face cream. Delineator, November 1917.

In the 1920s, movie star Mary Pickford played little girls with long curls well into her thirties. Here she is in “Little Annie Rooney” in 1925. Pickford was born in 1892, and was only five feet tall. (She was also a formidable movie producer.) It was big news when she finally bobbed her hair in 1928, partly because she wanted to play an adult role for a change.

She would have been a megastar when my mother was a teenager.  (Pickford made 51 silent movies in 1910 alone!) These pictures of hairstyles for girls from 1917 show the kind of ringlets Pickford wore, probably achieved with a curling iron. Did my mother always dream of having a child who looked like these girls?

Hair styles for girls, Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917.

Hair in ringlets; Ladies Home Journal, November 1917.

Girl with ringlets, Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917.

The disadvantage of curling irons was that you couldn’t curl the hair closest to your scalp — the hot iron would burn you.

My 1920s’ curling iron ringlets, done in the late 1940s.

Ringlets from 1924. Delineator, May 1924.

The Pickford influence can be seen in these fashion illustrations from 1924, when my mother was twenty.

Fashion illustrations of girls, Delineator, February 1924.

Perhaps my mother formed her idea of the perfect little girl back then, although she was forty when she finally had a baby. That’s a long time, but she still had her curling iron and knew how to use it….

My curling iron curls, late 1940s.

By 1933, when my parents were married, there was a new super-star named Shirley Temple, age 5. Shirley was famous for her curls, although hers were shorter than Mary Pickford’s.

Shirley Temple in Rags to Riches, 1933. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Shirley Temple could sing. I could sing.   Shirley Temple could tap dance. I suffered through lessons in “Tap, Ballet, and Acrobatics.” Shirley Temple had a full head of curls. Click here for a picture of Shirley Temple in Curly Top (1935.) And I was given a permanent wave as soon as the beautician said I was old enough ….

These curls were the result of a permanent wave, although they needed to be kept in shape with a curling iron.

What I remember about this trip to the beauty parlor was how incredibly heavy the rollers were.

This is what getting a permanent looked like in 1932. The process was similar when I was a child in the late 1940s.

This Nestle home permanent machine had only one curling device. It took “a few” hours!

But the professional Nestle machine could curl a whole head in an hour … or three….

Professional Nestle permanent waving machine, from  An Illustrated History of Hairstyles, by Marian I. Doyle.

I was fortunate that the home permanent arrived around 1950. The smell was so terrible that my mother once took me to the Saturday matinee show at the movies just to get that smell out of the house! Ah, Peter Pan in 1953! My one happy memory associated with those hated curls.

There were other, much more serious problems poisoning our relationship,  but I sometimes wonder: if my mother had known that she would die when I was nine, would we still have spent morning after morning after morning fighting about my hair?

[Sorry to write such a personal post, but I mention this as something for other mothers to think about….]

** Putting your hair up in rags required some strips of clean cloth four or five inches long. You wrapped your moistened hair around a finger, slid the finger out, put the rag strip through the center of the coil, and tied it. No hairpins were needed. And you didn’t have to sleep on wire rollers, as we did in the 1960s. Sleeping on rollers should have proved that suffering doesn’t guarantee beauty!)

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Pyorrhea and Toothpaste Ads

From an ad for Forhan’s toothpaste, September 1931.

Afraid to smile because of Pyorrhea!

“Four out of five” would be victims of Pyorrhea, warned Forhan’s toothpaste ads. This one is from 1925.

I’m still reading magazines from the 1920s and 1930s. Every time I see a toothpaste ad about Pyorrhea, I think of a story  Ruth Gordon told. She attended a charity gala where the Great Houdini was entertaining the guests. Houdini used to do a magic act where he would “catch a bullet in his teeth.” Before performing the stunt, he would always ask for a volunteer from the audience to come up and look in his mouth, to prove the bullet wasn’t concealed there.
Performing at the charity ball,  Houdini called for a volunteer. A man came up from the audience. When Houdini opened his mouth and asked, “What do you see?” the man said:
“Py-o-rrhea!”
Poor Houdini: With a hundred celebrity guests to choose from, Houdini had selected Groucho Marx to inspect his teeth!

Forham’s ad, warning about pyorrhea. April 1927.

Forhan’s’s toothpaste ad, May 1928.

Just as Listerine ads frightened women into using mouthwash, …

An example of the famous Listerine ad campaign blaming”Halitosis” for unpopularity. This one is from June 1930.

… the discovery that tooth loss was often caused by gum disease, rather than cavities, led to advertisements warning about “pink toothbrush” and pyorrhea.

Forhan’s ad, May 1928.

Top of Forhan’s’s ad, March 1935.

“Pyorrhea is a relentless foe. It destroys clean, healthy-looking teeth. It undermines the gums. It is responsible for more than half the losses of adult teeth in this country.”

Two women wait to see the dentist. 1928 ad.

The good news was that pyorrhea need not cause tooth loss.

Tooth powder ad, April 1925. (My uncle Mel still preferred tooth powder in a can to toothpaste in a tube in the 1950s.)

Forhan’s toothpaste in a tube, May 1928.

A woman in a striking cloche hat gets dental advice in this Forhan’s ad, December 1926.

Forhan’s toothpaste ad, March 1927.

Brush, floss, see your dentist twice a year, and keep smiling!

P.S. I once accidentally ruined a dinner party game: The hostess asked each guest to choose a time period when they would have liked to live, and to say why. I was No. 3, and blurted out the truth: “I’m 65 years old and I still have all my own teeth; I really love hot running water and flush toilets, so I am happy to be alive now!” Loving to read Jane Austen doesn’t mean I want to live like her. (Yes, I do have personal experience with outhouses and no electricity….) And there’s a good reason (in addition to the length of exposure time) why women are usually not smiling in 19th century photos.

 

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