The Family Portrait: My Genealogy Rabbit Hole No. 1

Normally, I would post this rather personal essay on my other blog, Remembered  Summers.  My interest in old photos had largely to do with dating them, since dated pictures of ordinary people’s clothing are important to fashion research. That’s how I fell into genealogy research. Caution: This one is long, personal, and sad.

“I was just trying to….” You know where that leads online: you start looking for a simple answer that will “close the file” on an unidentified photo or a distant relative you don’t really care about — and months later you emerge, a wiser but sadder family historian.

Seriously, I can’t say I am happier for the things I am learning. Today, I’m writing about a photo that took many weeks — spread over several years — to identify.

My Mystery Photo: Family photo with one person (at right) missing

I had a satisfying moment this week: my detective work was confirmed when I found a duplicate of my mystery photo in a historical collection online! It was an “unidentified family group” — and I was able to tell them who those people were. Finding it was especially gratifying because the copy in the San Mateo County Historical Society’s possession was complete, while mine had one person cut out of it.

But identifying that photo — with one person scissored out of it — couldn’t be done without also discovering why my mother, and my grandmother, and my aunt never talked about those relatives. It wasn’t a story you would tell a child; it is a story that makes me sad.

My great-grandmother, Catherine (or Katherine or Katharine) Kiernan (or Kernan) Lipp. Photo circa 1870s. She was born in New York City in 1852.

I wrote some time ago about “meeting” my maternal great-grandmother when my Aunt Dorothy identified her photo for me.

Dorothy seemed surprised — almost shocked — that I didn’t know who this woman was: “That’s grandmother Lipp!” she cried.

But how could I know? She died over two decades before I was born, and we didn’t have family pictures on the walls in my parents’ house. Dorothy herself died many years ago, but the photo she put a name to has enabled me to recognize Catherine Lipp (the spelling on her tombstone) as she ages in other photos.

Studio carte de visite. Her costume looks late 1860s to early 1870s to me.

Catherine Kiernan Lipp in old age.

Her voluminous skirt with straight waist and fabric pushed toward the back says “later 1860s” to me.

She married William Henry Lipp in the early 1870s, and her first child, William Henry Lipp, Jr., was born in San Francisco in June, 1873.

The photograph of Katherine with a group of her children was taken by photographer James Van Court in Redwood City, California, 27 miles south of San Francisco., where the Lipp family eventually settled.

Catherine with her youngest child, detail, studio photo by James Van Court, Redwood City. Catherine has a comb in her hair, but she was probably too busy — with six children — to do her hair in an elaborate style.

First Clue to the group photo: The name and location of the photo studio is on the back.

Back of Lipp family photo: “James E Van Court, Redwood City”

I found a marvelous book which can be previewed online: Pioneer Photographers of the Far West, A Biographical Dictionary. It said, “Van Court, James Edward (1841–1923) Photographer; active San Francisco 1864–84; Redwood City, Calif., 1884–95.”

That gave me a date range for the picture: “Redwood City, 1884 to 1895.” All I had to do was figure out when Catherine Lipp would have had six children whose ages and genders matched the children in this photograph.  BUT: what about that child who had been scissored out of the picture? The “coffin shape” of the missing piece seemed ominous. And I had learned that one of her sons died by suicide….

First: who was the boy in a grown-up suit (complete with watch chain?)

Her is dressed like a grown man, but he’s barely a teenager.

The number of Lipp family members buried in the Old Union Cemetery in Redwood City is extensive.

Boys born to Catherine Lipp were William Jr. (in 1873,) Charles (in 1888,) and Robert, born in 1901.  Robert was not yet alive between 1884 and 1895, so he’s not in the picture.  Charles would have been only seven by 1895. Therefore, the boy in the suit is William Henry Lipp, Jr. He would have been a grown man (over 20) by 1895, so this picture must have been taken in between 1884 and 1890. Probably closer to 1884.

Another clue is the baby on its mother’s lap: possibly not old enough to sit by itself.  There is another child, a toddler, holding a ball: Two children born less than  30 months apart.

But the clues that that really helped were the girls’ hats! The girl at top right and the girl beside Willie are holding identical wide-brimmed hats.

Two proper little ladies with their matching dark straw hats.

Finally I saw part of the third hat — which must have been in the hand of the missing child: another girl.

A third hat means a third girl!

In 1885, Catherine had 6 living children: William (born June 22, 1873;) Lillian (born July 4, 1875;) Alice (born Jan. 10, 1878;) Maud (born Nov 21, 1879;) Sarah Elizabeth (born Dec. 25, 1882;) and Fannie (born Nov. 10, 1884.) I think Summer or Fall of 1885 is the probable date of this photo.

The missing girlchild is my wonderful grandmother, Lillian! Presumably my mother or my aunt wanted to put a picture of their mother in a locket or separate frame, and cut out her image. The coffin shape that disturbed me was purely an accident.

Trying to verify that the Van Court photo was taken in the studio rather than the Lipp home, last week I scrolled through hundreds of Van Court photos at the San Mateo Historical Society’s online collection. And I found a perfect copy of my photo:

Photo property of San Mateo County Historical Society Museum. I have inquired about purchasing the blogging rights, but COVID closure seems to be causing a delay.

William Henry Lipp, Jr. as a boy. He would have been 12 in 1885.

Alice would have been seven going on eight in Fall of 1885.

Alice Clarissa Lipp, almost 8 years old in Fall, 1885.

Maud Adeline was born in November of 1879.

Maud Adeline Lipp would have been almost six in Fall, 1885.

Sarah Elizabeth Lipp, holding a ball, was born on Christmas day, 1882.

Sarah Elizabeth Lipp was not yet three in Fall of 1885.

Baby Fannie Louisa was born in November 1884.

Baby Fannie Louisa was almost a year old in Fall, 1885.

My grandmother, Lillian, born in 1875, is the one cut out of the picture.

My maternal grandmother, Lillian Lipp Barton. She’s about 10 here.

Why was someone so cavalier about ruining the group photo? Probably because seeing these other children made her sad. Or she never knew them.

My great grandmother changed from this clear-eyed beauty …

Catherine Lipp, about 20 years old.

… to this sad and exhausted woman.

Catherine Lipp in her sixties.

What I didn’t know, until this research, is that the worst thing that can happen to a parent had happened to her. And it happened over and over and over again.

Her two eldest children lived into their seventies. William Henry Lipp, Jr. took over his father’s ice business in 1898, when the older man retired.

William H. Lipp, Jr. with his niece Vera, whom he raised. After 1910.

Oldest girl Lillian, born on the fourth of July 1875, was my wonderful Grandma Barton.

Left, Lillian Lipp Barton in 1949 at my birthday party. She kept house, gardened, attended Whist parties, walked downtown for lunch with friends, baked a pie every Saturday and a cake every Sunday. Her home was a refuge for me — orderly and calm, where no one ever shouted or said cruel things.

But…. Only William and Lillian can be said to have lived happy lives.

Catherine’s family grew quickly. Alice was born in 1878,  followed by another girl, Maud, in 1879.

In October 1881, Catherine’s fifth child was born, but died at 2 weeks, without being named.

Sarah Elizabeth came along in 1882, followed by Fannie in 1884.  Those are the six children in the photograph, which I have dated to late in 1885.

On January 31, 1887, Catherine had twins, Blanche and Mabel.

On October 20th, 1887, Blanche died, and Mabel died seven days later. They were 9 months old.

On January 3, 1888, Sarah Elizabeth died. She had just turned 6.

Sarah Elizabeth circa 1885.

Five days later, on January 8, 1888, Maud died, too. She was 9.

Maud circa 1885.

[Those who don’t appreciate 20th century vaccines and antibiotics should think about how quickly those four little lives were lost — between October 20, 1887  and January 8, 1888.]

In August of that terrible year, Catherine’s next son, Charles Harrison Lipp, was born (Aug. 18, 1888.)

In 1891, a third son, Robert Edward Lipp, was born (April 27, 1891.)

In 1893, Lillian, the eldest girl, aged 18, married my grandfather, Clarkson Bigham Barton (who was usually called Charles.) Eventually four healthy children arrived — the youngest being my mother.

In 1894, Catherine had her last baby, Sarah Frances Lipp (July 8, 1894.)

In 1895, grown son William H. Jr married Barbara Miller; in time they had a baby boy, Everett. The marriage didn’t last. (Barbara remarried in 1904.)

W.H. Lipp, Jr. and his baby son were living with his parents and younger siblings in the 1900 census.

In September, 1900, Catherine’s grandson Everett died of scarlet fever. He was three.

William eventually married again, but had no children.

Catherine’s grief was not over.

Alice Lipp circa 1885.

Daughter Alice grew up and married August Moosbrugger, a Russian emigre who became a naturalized American citizen in 1904. Their daughter Vera had been born in May, 1902. In 1908, suffering from a serious illness and perhaps worried that he would be a burden on his wife and child, August went into a bar where he had formerly worked and shot himself in the head.

Alice struggled to find work, but by the 1910 census Vera was living with her uncle, Will Jr., and his Danish wife, Marie.

Marie and William Lipp, Jr. with his mother, Catherine, and her grand-daughter, Vera Moosbrugger.

Vera’s  mother, Alice Lipp Moosbrugger, died in Agnews State Mental Hospital in 1921.

Alice Lipp circa 1885. Died 1921.

Charles Harrison Lipp committed suicide in 1912. He was almost 25, and recently married.

Robert Edward Lipp worked for his family’s Ice Company.

Robert Lipp driving one of his family’s ice trucks in 1915.

In 1913, his quick thinking and bravery made the news:

San Francisco Call article, Feb. 17, 1913.

It was a shock to find Robert’s WW I draft card; he was exempted from service in 1917 because he was “Insane.”

WW I draft card for Robert E. Lipp. He was a patient at Agnews State Hospital.

Robert Edward died in Agnews State Mental Hospital in 1917. He was 26.

Catherine Lipp’s husband died in 1919. In the 1920 census, there were just three women living in the family home: Catherine (right,) Fannie (left,) and Sarah Frances, (center.)

The last three Lipp women at the family home.

Fannie Louisa was working as an accountant for the family business in the 1920 census.

Probably Fannie Louisa Lipp, photographed with her younger sister and mother.

But she died in Agnews State Mental Hospital in 1923.

Probably Sara Frances Lipp, before 1920. She was born in 1894.

Sarah Elizabeth was admitted to Sonoma State Hospital for “feeble minded children”  in 1921; she died and was buried there in 1928.

Of Catherine’s 12 children, two survived to a healthy old age. Five died in childhood. One committed suicide. Four died in mental hospitals.

And this is where my search gets personal. Discovering this information, which was never mentioned in my family, casts new light on my attempts to know and forgive my own mother. Her death, when I was nine, released me from years of misery. I have never grieved for her, never missed her. I remember her as a bitter, jealous, angry woman who poured her frustration and unhappiness into my ears from the time I understood language. She wanted me to love her, and only her. Everyone knew how much she loved me, how proud she was of her only child, born when she was forty, after twelve years of marriage. Everyone believed she would never hurt me — physically.  She drove me to tears almost every day, cursing, saying awful things about my father — which, I knew, she wanted me to repeat to him. Part of her frustration was that I refused. How could I say I loved only her, when I wasn’t allowed to lie? When I was very young, I once said to my mother, “I love Grandma.” From the shocked look on her face, I knew I must never say that again. Later, on the few occasions when I tried to hint to adults that being alone with her had been torture, they said, “It’s a shame that you never knew her when she was really herself.” I wasn’t sure what that meant.

Now that I know her family history — that many of her aunts and uncles suffered from mental illness — I have to consider that she may have been clinically ill, and unable to control herself. And if that is true, then it should be easier to forgive her…. I’m working on it.

My mother and me, 3rd birthday.

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Part 2: Butterick Fashions in Color, September 1920

Big hats with a varied dress silhouette; Butterick patterns from Delineator, September 1920. These patterns are from page 96.

1920 was a year when fashions were in transition from the wide hipped “tonneau” skirts of the late teens to the narrow silhouette of the later 1920s.

Left, a “tonneau” or barrel skirt (Butterick skirt 9064.)

Traces of this 1917 silhouette could still be seen in 1920:

Left, Butterick 2572 has a slenderizing opening down the front, revealing a colorful panel; right, Butterick 2560 has a side closing and a hipline that foreshadows the later 1920s.

A hat trimmed with monkey fur; fitted sleeves that cover part of the hand. Looking wider at the hip than the shoulder was not unusual. Butterick 2572.

“The broad sash widens the waistline….” The “vestee” revealed in down the middle is as long as the rest of the garment.

This dress would not make a woman’s hips look slender…. Butterick 2560.

(And the fashion for low busts — even on very young women — always makes me ask, “How is that possible?” Bust flatteners were available in 1920. )

Butterick 2582 is another surplice (or side) closing dress. Another “waist widening” sash effect.

Butterick 2580 from September, 1920.

This over dress ends several inches above the underskirt/satin slip.

Like many other dresses in the September issue, a muted coral or spice-brown red is used.

Left, Butterick 2602 is an embroidered dress with an oriental hem.

For autumn, an enormous brown hat is worn with this gold-ish dress.

The “oriental hem” is gathered to an inner lining.

If the bodice was made of a sheer material, the lining might have a “camisole top” with narrow straps instead of a full lining.

Perhaps it’s a good thing to be reminded that there have been eras when no woman ever asked, “Does this dress make my butt look big?”

 

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Filed under 1920s, bags, Hats, Hats and Millinery, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Butterick Fashions in Color, September 1920 (Part 1)

An unusual style from September 1920. Unfortunately printed off-register, but still interesting.

I feel the need for some color today, so I’m visiting Delineator magazine from September, 1920. As often happens, I’m struck by the 1920s’ color combinations. Not to mention the hats!

Butterick 2584 from September 1920, Delineator, page 96.

I may have shared some of these before — especially the “Oriental Hem” patterns.

Embroidery and fur add to the appeal of these costumes. Delineator, September 1920, page 95. Left, dress 2557 has a blouse effect. The waist is pulled in by elastic.

Right, 2577 has shorter panels over its long skirt. Long necklaces were worn.

A gray hat accents this embroidered dress in an autumnal muted red.

The draped side panels are inserted into the side seam. Butterick 2600 from September 1920.

There were many ways to make these side draperies, called “cascades.”

This long, slim, pleated dress appeals to me. Butterick 2571. The “non button” buttonholes are an odd touch. With the hem raised to just below the knee, this one could still have been worn in the later 1920s.

The same couldn’t be said for the wide-hipped dresses on the same page:

Butterick 2597 was not a style that lasted much longer. September 1920.

These deep pockets were not new in 1920.

Pockets were used to exaggerate the width of women's hips, in French designer fashions and in home sewing patterns. Bothe from Delineator, 1917.

Left, couture; right, home sewing pattern. Both illustrations from Delineator, 1917.

Sheer sleeves and overskirt combine in this afternoon dress.

Butterick 2573 is an afternoon dress. Click here for more Oriental effect [aka “harem”] skirts.

If you want to read entire Delineator magazines from 1920, you’ll find them, digitized by Google, at HathiTrust.org. Click here for volumes 96 and 97.

In Part 2, I’ll show color illustrations from September, 1920, page 96.

More 1920 fashions in color to come! (Yes, I’m afraid that really looks like a monkey fur hat on the left….)

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Recommended Reading: Seeing Through Clothes, by Anne Hollander

NOTE: This post is illustrated with many drawings and paintings of nude figures. If you would be offended, Please Stop Reading NOW!

I put off writing about this very influential book (first published in 1978) because I don’t currently have a copy. I kept buying Seeing Through Clothes in paperback and giving it away to friends! (And my public library is currently closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.) (For a range of other opinions and reviews of Seeing Through Clothes, click here.)

Artist drawing a model while using a grid. By Albrecht Durer, via Wikimedia. From a book published in 1538.

For costume (and art) historians, Hollander’s book is fascinating because one of her chief topics is the difficulty of ever “seeing” a person or image without screening what we see through our own cultural bias. To some extent, we automatically “correct” a human face or body as we draw it, to conform to our learned ideas of beauty. We usually realize that “fashion figures” — and especially editorial drawings — are exaggerated. But even “realistic” drawings of human beings can be influenced by current fashions.

About Life Drawing
My own two bits: Remember, we don’t just see with our eyes; we see with our brains. The lens of the eye turns the image upside down; our brains turn the image right side up, and also interpret what we’re looking at. For example, many years ago a small part of my retina was damaged. The eye doctor assured me that my brain would be able to “fill in” the tiny blank near the center of vision in my right eye — and after a few weeks, it did. It’s like a computer program deducing from other clues what “belongs” in the blank spot.
If my brain does something that complex without my being aware of it, imagine how powerfully our learned, cultural conceptions of beauty (or normalcy) may be re-interpreting what we see.

Sketch from a Life Drawing class. I didn’t intend to generalize her face as if I were making a fashion sketch, but that’s what I did.

I have also spent many hours in “life study” art classes, so I do know something about the process of drawing or painting the human body from a live model. David Hockney has pointed out that we are always drawing from memory; we look at the model, and then we have to look at the paper when we make our marks: a few seconds looking, a few seconds drawing; repeat; repeat; repeat…. Yes, artists do practice “blind drawing,” i.e., looking at the model without looking at the drawing they are making. This practice teaches them to match the speed of their pencil moving across the paper to the speed of their eye traveling along the object. It’s hard, especially since our glance normally skips rapidly from place to place. But few artists do all their drawing by this method. In practice, we look; we draw the tiny bit we remember; repeat.

The apparently pregnant belly and wide hips of the woman at left (drawn by Durer, 1493) echoes the fashion silhouette of the 1400s, painted by Van Eyck. (1434.)

Since I can’t share the images from Hollander’s book, I’ll fill in with a few of my own — and “Thank you!” to all the museums now making paintings available online! (For images not in public domain, I linked to them, so please do follow the links.)

Hollander uses many paintings from Western culture to support her thesis. Nudes are especially interesting, because — once she points it out — we can see that artists working from a live model will unconsciously adjust the figure to reflect the silhouette of current fashions. Waists become as narrow as if the model were wearing a corset. This painting from the 1840s reminds me that the full skirt (below a tiny waist) covered big bottoms and hips. (Plumpness was admired, to some extent.)

Tiny waist, wide hips. Fashion plate from Casey Collection, dated May 1840.

Busts sometimes become impossibly high — again reflecting the influence of the corset. (We might quibble that wearing a corset from childhood on will deform the body somewhat, but not in defiance of gravity!) Nude hips may also become wider or narrower as fashion dictates.

Dress dated 1747, from Metropolitan Museum collection. The corset pushes the bust up, flattens the bottom of the breasts, and elongates the waist.

The torso may be lengthened to match an 18th century fashion silhouette, as in this painting. Note the distance between the high breasts and the waist. In the two “Graces” at the sides, the lower body, hidden by 18th century skirts, is not nearly as slender as the upper torso. Also, take a good look at the breast of the woman at left. It might as well be corseted.

Detail of The Three Graces by Carl van Loo, dated 1765. Public domain in US et al, via wikimedia.

Legs may be longer, shoulders may droop, depending on the ideal “beauty” of the era. There are fashions in faces, too. Full, natural eyebrows go in and out of fashion. Mouths are sometimes exaggeratedly full (as now) or tiny and heart shaped, as in the early Victorian period or the 1920s.

Tiny, “Cupid’s Bow” lips, from a Kleenex ad, 1925.

My mother with “Cupid’s Bow” lips. 1920s.

Once wearing makeup became respectable, women could alter their natural lip shape and eyebrows. Even the fashion in faces is subject to change.

All this influence of fashion on drawing is important for costume historians, because we only have about 190 years of photographs for research. Before that, everything we see in historical research was filtered through an artist’s eyes. [And the cost of being painted means we mostly see rich people. There’s a problem with accuracy there, too: if the portrait does not show the sitter as he or she wants to be seen, the consequences for the painter of kings and queens and dictators can be more serious than just not getting paid!]

Contemporary image of the Queen of the Eglinton Tournament, 1839. Click here to see it larger.

One especially obvious era when secondary sources cannot be trusted is the Early Victorian period. There was a great interest in the Middle Ages because of the very popular novels of Sir Walter Scott, especially Ivanhoe, set in the reign of Richard Lionheart. The Eglinton Tournament of 1839 was an excuse for members of the upper classes to commission costumes to wear for the re-enacted Tournament and to many costume balls. Many aristocrats had their portraits painted while wearing fancy dress. (Click here for Victoria and Albert in “medieval” dress.)

Detail of 1839 Tournament of Eglinton. Note the Victorian silhouettes, hairstyles, and ruffles. (Not to mention kilts….)

The Queen of the Tournament and her attendants (behind her) wear gowns with the drooping shoulders of 1839.

Evening dress fashion plate; May 1840.

Many “great houses” now open to the public contain portraits which were painted ( or “restored”) in the Victorian period. This portrait of Louisa Anne Berenson was painted in 1859-1860. It’s a Victorian idea of Renaissance dress — not to be mistaken for a primary source in 16th century costume research!

Some 19th century actors strove for authentic costuming, but they didn’t have access to the research materials we have today. And adaptations were made to keep the actor looking attractive to the audience, as defined by contemporary styles. Here is an evening gown from 1824:

1824 fashion plate from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum.

The high waist and long, relatively narrow skirt with a decorative band around the bottom influenced the following costume illustration for a Tudor queen; in 1828, Sara Siddons (who retired in 1812) was illustrated in the role of  Queen Catherine, wife of Henry VIII, in Shakespeare’s play.

Mrs. Siddons as Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, divorced by Henry VIII circa 1529.

Portraits of Catherine made during her lifetime do not show a high waistline, even through she was rather portly.

Costumes for the theatre sometimes show bizarre adaptation to fashions: to conform to Victorian notions of modesty, Mrs. Charles Kean wore a hoop or crinoline under her “Roman” costumes! Here she is playing Lady Macbeth in 1858. ( The historic Macbeth died in 1057. No crinolines!) **

Mrs. Charles Kean plays Lady Macbeth opposite her husband, Charles Kean. The Keans were proud of their historic accuracy…. 1858; public domain image.

Click here for a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots painted in her lifetime; this is how she was portrayed in 1885.

If Dover’s Historic Costume in Pictures sometimes looks a little “off” to you, consider that its plates were drawn between 1861 and 1890.

** The subject of costumes for Shakespeare’s plays is long and complex. After all, “Contemporary dress” can mean “contemporary with the date when the play was written, [Macbeth circa 1606]” or “contemporary with the date when the play is set, [Macbeth circa 1050]” or even “contemporary as in ‘right now.’ ”  [modern dress.]”  I gave a lecture on how Shakespeare’s plays were costumed over four centuries for a meeting of the Costume Society in Ashland, Oregon, many years ago. If I am ever able to convert my slides into digital form, I may post it here, someday!

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Pleated Hats, 1920

Fashion illustration from Delineator, Sepember 1920.

I was browsing through my 1920 images, trying to find something bright and colorful — but, as often happens, I got sidetracked.

Apparently, the studio where Butterick pattern illustrations were done had a supply of pleated hats in 1920. Here are a few:

A hat with large pleats, Delineator, February 1920.

A hat gloriously pleated and adorned with roses. March, 1920.

Here’s the blouse worn with the first hat I featured. (This hat also had a flower on the pleats.)

Pleated hat with Butterick blouse 2619. September 1920.

Just to prove these hats existed…

Movie star Bebe Daniels looks world-weary in her pleated hat. February 1920, Delineator.

This one looks like a pleated tam-o-shanter:

Delineator, December 1920.

Big pleats, high fashion expression. Delineator, February 1920. (Look at that hand, too.)

The charm of 100 years ago…. For a refreshing visit to 1920, see Mary Grace McGeehan’s terrific blog, My Life 100 Years Ago.

 

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Another Look at April 1926

Delineator, page 27, April 1926. Butterick patterns for women.

I was getting ready to revisit some Delineator pattern illustrations from April 1926 when I decided that, because that was a time of glorious full-color illustrations, perhaps I should show some images from a three-year-old post again. Plus a few more….

At left, Butterick dress pattern 6686; at right, Butterick dress pattern 6737, shown decorated with Butterick embroidery transfer 10430. Delineator, April 1926, page 27.

The red dress is more complicated than it looks, with that curving torso recalling medieval sideless gowns and a section of pleats at each side of the overskirt.

Butterick patterns for women, Delineator, April 1926, top of page 27. Butterick 6692, 6704, and 6739.

I can’t help noticing that “spring colors” (or summer colors) were different in 1926.

Butterick fashions for April 1926.

Navy and white (or pale gray) is still a spring combination, but that two-tone green seems more autumnal to me.

A slightly spicy tan or gold makes this Spring box-jacket and skirt ensemble. Delineator, April 1926.

Clothes for children are colorful, too:

This print dress for young teens catches my eye. The tweedy outfit doesn’t shout “Spring! or Summer” to me.

Older teens might wear a print with black ground:

Butterick pattern 6650, shown in a black print fabric; Butterick cape coat 6769 over dress 6719; and another border print, Butterick 6683, in light and dark muted green. April 1926.

Butterick dress patterns for young women, April 1926; Delineator page 29. Butterick 6711 and 6728. Notice the bust dart at right.

A wide band with a tight fit around the low hip is seen in the print dress above and in the greenish dress below:

Left, Butterick dress pattern 6716 is embroidered with Butterick transfer pattern 10378. It could be worked in beads or in shiny thread. Right, Butterick 6715. Im trying to picture that dress on a normally proportioned body….Hmmmm.

The shawl worn with the white evening dress is not the usual, embroidered “Spanish shawl” but a very colorful hand-painted one. A similar shawl appeared in this 1927 advertisement for Ivory soap flakes.

This "Aztec" pattern hand painted shawl was made in the Samuel Russel Studio, New York, and illustrated by Katharine Stinger for an Ivory Soap Flakes ad. Delineator, March 1927.

This “Aztec” pattern painted shawl was made in the Samuel Russel Studio, New York, and illustrated by Katharine Stinger for an Ivory Soap Flakes ad. Delineator, March 1927.

April 1926 was a time for low, snug hip bands, often tied with a huge bow.

Butterick pattern 6743 is very snug around the hips. Delineator, April 1926, p. 27.

A bride tied up in a big, big bow. Butterick 6711, April 1926.

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Viewing Recommendation: Craft in America

"Portrait of a Textile Worker;" art quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

“Portrait of a Textile Worker;” art quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

One of my favorite, most relaxing series to watch is Craft in America, a PBS show that visits four different artists/craftpersons in each episode. To my delight (and heaven knows why) many episodes are currently available on YouTube!

I just watched (for the third or fourth time in several years) the episode “Craft in America: THREADS.” A feast for the eyes and food for the brain: artist Faith Ringgold’s quilt/paintings ( I see new details every time,  and she is an extraordinary teacher with stories to share;) weaver Randall Darwell and his partner Brian Murphy (the colors! the textures! the partnership!) fiber artist Consuelo Jiminez Underwood (weaving with safety pins, and wire, and a message for our times;) and quilter Terese Agnew, whose “Portrait of a Textile Worker” I wrote about here.  Agnew uses a traditional form (quilting, piecing and embroidery) to make beautiful textile art with thought-provoking content. (In one quilt, cedar waxwings congregating in a parking lot were the inspiration — but the employees crossing the parking lot have pink slips in their pockets, because that’s what happened to them while she was making the quilt.)

I was one of the thousands who sent Agnew an envelope full of clothing labels…

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/img_0036.jpg

… which she stitched together to make “Portrait of a Textile Worker;” the finished quilt measures 98 by 110 inches. This photo gives you an idea of its size:

Teres Agnew with "Portrait of a Textile Worker;" from article about Craft in America series, SFgate.com

Terese Agnew with “Portrait of a Textile Worker;” from an article about the Craft in America series, at SFgate.com

I’ve been sheltering in place for over a month now; armchair travel, beautiful, hand crafted things, and inspiring conversation come to me via Craft in America.

Even episodes featuring crafts that don’t usually excite me (like furniture making or wrought iron making) are a trip out of myself — something different, something new, and something inspiring.

Did I mention beauty?  The work of  Chugach Aleut jewelry artist Denise Wallace is a good example of where Craft in America may take you. Wallace is featured in Craft in America: COMMUNITY.  Find a complete list of episodes at Craft in America or, for episodes you can watch  on YouTube, here.

Note: I do wish the episode titles gave more detail about content (Is Terese Agnew in THREADS or in QUILT? — Is Denise Wallace in LANDSCAPE or ORIGINS or COMMUNITY? but that’s a quibble.)

 

 

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Filed under Exhibitions & Museums, Musings, Uncategorized

Book Recommendation: Three Books by Ruth Gordon, plus Vanity Fair

I am indulging an old addiction by re-reading all of Ruth Gordon’s non-fiction books. Most people know her from the movie Harold and Maude, (in which she is perfectly cast!) but she was already a well-known stage actress. (She started in 1915, flunked out of drama school, wouldn’t give up; by the 1930s she was a huge hit in London and on Broadway; she gave 1,078 performances as Dolly Gallagher Levi in The Matchmaker, and was nominated for a Tony award in 1956.)
She was a playwright (selling an autobiographical play to MGM for $100,000 in 1952 — it’s called The Actress, and Spencer Tracy plays her father;) a screenwriter (5 Oscar nominations with her husband Garson Kanin, including the Tracy/Hepburn comedies like Adam’s Rib.)
And she won her first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in Rosemary’s Baby in 1968-69. (She was 72 years old; she’d been acting since 1915.)  Accepting it, she said, “I can’t tell ya how encouragin’ a thing like this is….) See her acceptance speech here:
She published three books in her 70s and 80s; won an Emmy when she was 83 ….  In other words, a good role model for all of us!
I want some of her zest for life to rub off on me. (And her memory for funny stories. Among her many, many friends: Harpo Marx, Thornton Wilder, Charles Laughton, Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Parker, Walter Matthau …. A lot of laughter!)

Typical story: In the 1910s, Ruth was still a nobody, but she was friends with a Broadway star who asked her to keep her company on the way to a movie audition. The would-be movie actress was asked to improvise a scene. She was shown a movie set which contained a table with a vase of flowers, a letter, and a pistol. As Ruth described the try-out, (I’m paraphrasing:) The actress enters the room. She goes to the table. She sees the letter. She opens the letter. It’s bad news. It’s terrible news! She sees the gun. She picks up the gun. She shoots the letter.

And she didn’t get the part! I guess the studio already had a comedienne.

Another story: When Gordon was a Broadway star herself and a member of the Algonquin Round Table (along with writers and wits  Robert Benchley, Alexander Woolcott, Dorothy Parker…,) she was also a friend of silent movie and stage star Lillian Gish and her sister, Dorothy. The Gish sisters were living in an apartment in New York. The apartment was on an upper floor, and the Gish sisters had a pet parrot. Its wings were clipped, so it was free to wander around indoors. One summer day, they forgot that the window was open and let the parrot out of his cage. It hopped on to a chair, then on to the table, and then, to their horror, it hopped up on the windowsill and flew out the window — and immediately realized that it couldn’t fly.

“Oh, dear!” it cried, flapping its wings,
                                                                      “OH dear!,”
                                                                                                 “OOOOH DEAR!” all the way down.

Luckily it landed on a canvas-covered truck, rode to New Jersey, and was returned to the Gish sisters, a sadder but wiser bird.

Top left, Ruth Gordon, with Raymond Massie and Pauline Lord on Broadway in Ethan Frome, 1936. Photo by Steichen from Vanity Fair.

But I don’t read Gordon’s autobiographical books just for the laughs. She writes as if the reader is an old friend, so reading her is like chatting over lunch with a fabulous friend who is wise and shrewd and full of stories, with 80 years of life experience and still interested in everything.
She’s very honest about her life — triumphs and failures, happy memories and regrets. Her first husband died when he was only 36; (she was several years younger.) Later, after an affair with a married man,  she chose to raise her illegitimate son, rather than pretend he was adopted, as other stars did in the same situation. She was often broke, embarrassed by owing money to her more successful friends. When she was successful — as an actor and a writer — she wore couture and loved it. (Of course she wrote about the experience of shopping couture; the pink satin gown she wore while accepting her Oscar was a Givenchy.)
She has total recall of every dress her mother made for her or that she wore early in her career. (And I wonder, exactly what was “tango-colored” in 1913?)
But she also writes about poverty in her teens, when she and her factory-worker father sold everything — including her few childhood books — to pay for her mother’s care after a stroke. Struggling to get a start in her acting career, she was hungry enough to consider the “casting couch” route. If you want to know what it was like to tour with a play that opened in a different city every day, Ruth can tell you. (Some hotels didn’t accept actors, so she claimed to be a traveling saleswoman for Onyx Hosiery.)

Onyx Hosiery ad, 1910.

She made headlines during World War II:
“‘Actress forty-six marries film director thirty.” Her husband said he liked the headline. “If it said ‘Actress forty-five’ a lot of people would say ‘She’s fifty if she’s a day,’ but when an actress says she’s forty-six, you have to believe her.” It was a long, happy, successful marriage and writing collaboration. And the snappy exchange of dialogue in those Spencer Tracy/Kathrine Hepburn movies was the work of Ruth Gordon and her husband, Garson Kanin. (Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, etc.)
Incidentally, the only award she usually mentions was that Oscar in 1969.  In 1915, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts told her “Don’t come back. You don’t show any promise.” In 1968, they asked her to come back to give her an Award for Achievement and to make a speech to the students. Boy, did she!
Here’s Ruth:
“I think what it takes is don’t give up! DON’T GIVE UP! Just don’t give up and that sounds like a put-down, but it isn’t. And it sounds as though it’s easy and it isn’t. DON’T GIVE UP! I learned that at the Academy and it was all I did learn. It wasn’t what my father paid four hundred dollars [tuition] for, but it may be the best lesson I was ever taught. DON’T GIVE UP! …. At the end of the year [Mr. Sargent] said, “Don’t come back. You don’t show any promise….”
I was scared. I was scared I wouldn’t find out how to be an actress because in that year the school hadn’t taught me. I’m smart and I can learn, but the school hadn’t given me a clue. Four hundred dollars and all I got for it was fright, because even to myself I didn’t show any promise….  ‘Don’t come back,’ he said. That’s a terrible thing, you could drop dead…. You could kill yourself…. You could give up….
Or you could learn something. Isn’t that what we came to the Academy for? So I learned something and what I learned here was and is DON’T GIVE UP…. When somebody says to you,”You’re not pretty enough,” “You’re too tall,” You’re too short,” “Your personality’s not what we’re looking for,” DON’T GIVE UP!’ “
I bet she enjoyed saying every word of that! And she said a lot more, too…
“Most every moment along the way takes courage. Courage is like a strain of yoghurt culture, if you have some you can have some more.” (From An Open Book.)
Start by reading My Side, her autobiography. Published in 1976, available in paperback or hardback. Her style is conversational; she skips from topic to topic and memory to memory as if she was chatting with you, but once I decided to go with her flow, it was wonderful! And, if you want to know more about shooting movies, Ruth tells you the details of filming Harold and Maude.
Next, An Open Book,  published in 1980. (It includes that lecture at The Academy.}

Then, if you’re hungry for more,   Myself Among Others , published in 1971. You probably haven’t heard of many of the early 20th century celebrities Gordon knew well and writes about. Luckily for me, I bought an anthology of articles and celebrity photos from Vanity Fair magazine in the 1920s when I was a teenager in 1960 and didn’t own many other books. This photo of Leslie Howard permanently warped my idea of “an attractive man.”

How to wear a top hat, white tie, and tails: Leslie Howard photographed by Steichen for Vanity Fair, 1934.

Not only did this book prepare me for many of the plays I have designed costumes for, it acted as my first door into a different era, with jokes and essays by many writers and critics who were household names in the 1920s and 1930s.  If you love those decades, it’s full of photos and articles — not about the 1920s and 1930s but from the 1920s and 1930s. Many copies are available online, from under $4.

So, in addition to Ruth Gordon’s various memoirs,  I also recommend Vanity Fair: A Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s, edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee.

Clara Bow, photographed by Dyer for Vanity Fair in 1928.

And if you haven’t seen Ruth Gordon at work as an actress, forgive Harold and Maude for being so “Seventies” and just watch a genius at work. (It’s on YouTube and on Prime.) A big part of acting is listening — I just watched a brief clip and now I want to watch the whole movie again. Gordon also gave a Golden Globe-winning (and Oscar nominated) performance as Daisy Clover’s mentally ill mother in Inside Daisy Clover. (1966) It is not a good movie, but Gordon is truthful and real in every scene she has.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Musings

Two Butterick Hat Patterns from 1926

Butterick hat pattern 6810, May 1926, Delineator.

Butterick turban pattern 6634 from Delineator, February 1926.

Usually, Butterick would feature its hat patterns repeatedly, showing the Butterick hats in Delineator pattern illustrations over several months, worn with a variety of other Butterick patterns.  I was surprised by how often this turban (6634) appeared, and how few times the six gored cloche (6810) was shown.

Hat 6810 was shown with a coat and dress ensemble in May, 1926.

Here, it seems to be made of one dark material and one lighter material, or one shiny and one matte. The band-like brim turns up and is tied at the side back.

Butterick hat pattern 6810, May 1926, Delineator.

The two tone effect could be subtle, the result of using a ribbed fabric like faille with the grain running either up and down or crosswise, as in another cloche hat from Butterick:

Butterick cloche hat pattern 5952 from 1925.

(I am surprised how many cloche hat patterns for home stitchers were available.  Click here to see two from 1925. Here’s one, with trim variations, from 1924. Butterick 5128 was shown with many trim variations — which could be adapted for any simple cloche hat you buy, if you’d rather not make a gored hat pattern.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/three-woven-ribbon-trims.jpg

This trim is just strips of grosgrain ribbon woven together. Circa 1924.

Back to hat 6810 from 1926:

Left: here Butterick hat 6810 was made in one shiny, solid-colored fabric to match a sheer green georgette dress. 1926.

Turban pattern 6634, on the other hand, was illustrated many times.

Butterick turban pattern 6634, from Delineator, February 1926.

The turban is worn by two models in this illustration.

Left and right, Turban 6634. The hat in the middle is not 6810.

What to wear with your turban. These clothing patterns are in the normal ladies’ size range: bust 32 to 44 inches.

Left, turban 6634 on a page of “Paris Patterns.” March 1926. The commercially made cloche on the right is nearly brimless.

Not all fashion drawing is perfect…. but this shows turban 6634 with a matching gray ensemble of cape and dress.

Turban 6634 with cape 6618  and dress 6642.

The same dress (6642) was featured on another page, without the cape or turban. The turban (right) topped a different dress.

Right, turban 6634. Delineator, March 1926. (“Jewel” placement could vary to taste.)

Butterick patterns, Delineator, March 1926, page 34. Left is dress 6642 again. The other dresses use border prints.

I think of turbans as aging, rather than youthful, since they can cover the hair completely. But these 1926 fashions are not necessarily for older or stouter women; they are in the normal size range, and the turban pattern itself was “for ladies and misses [ages 14 to 20.]” And there is usually a glimpse of hair at the cheek.

A glimpse of hair softened the turban look.

Those two dresses on the right above make clever use of border prints:

Left, a dress with its own light coat, worn open. This used to be called a “redingote” style, and it’s flattering to women who feel they aren’t thin enough to wear authentic 1920s’ styles.

But turban 6634 was also shown on patterns for the stout: Dress sizes up to 52 inch bust.

Turban 6635 was shown on this page of fashions for large or stout women, Delineator, March 1926, page 36. Left: Note the clever tucks giving fullness over the bust.

Again, turban 6634 worn with a large size dress pattern. May, 1926.

Butterick turban pattern 6634 from Delineator, February 1926.

The turban is always shown with some kind of pins or buttons as decoration; they could be placed to suit the wearer.

Tying the turban. Right: Dead fox optional.

witness2fashion: One of the disadvantages of attending church in the 1950s was the possibility of sitting behind a woman wearing a fox stole, with its literally beady eyes — made of glass — reproaching you throughout the service.

 

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Filed under 1920s, Accessory Patterns, Hairstyles, Hats, Hats and Millinery, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Prudery in Advertising Used to Confuse Me

Girdles from Sears Catalog, Fall 1958.

Costume researchers of the future, given only this image, might deduce that girdles were worn on the outside of our clothes…. And that the stocking suspenders/garters were purely decorative. There was a time when manufacturers who wanted to use the same ad in “family newspapers” and in women’s magazines had to be careful how they showed women’s underwear, lest they incite lustful thoughts and corrupt the young….

I’ve mentioned before that I was a “motherless child” — raised after her death by a loving father. We managed very well, except when it came to my clothing. Luckily my Aunt Shirley, and old (female) friends of our family, and sometimes the mothers of my school friends stepped in. Mrs. Betty P., who helped me sort through my mother’s closet when my father couldn’t bear to do it, eventually told him that it was long past time for me to start wearing a bra. (Fathers are often reluctant to admit that their little girls have grown up.) She was right. She took me to a department store (along with her own daughter) to have us fitted. My first bra (age 11) was a 34 B.
However, Betty’s daughter Janie and I used to puzzle over the lingerie ads in the backs of magazines, trying to make sense of them.

If the garters attach to your stockings, and you wear the garter belt over your bouffant petticoat…. How could that work? Sears catalog, Fall, 1958.

Full circle bouffant petticoat from Sears catalog, 1957. Janie and I knew you couldn’t bunch that up to make your garters reach your stocking tops….

This was 1957 or so — when huge crinoline petticoats were all the rage. Girls wore them in layers –preferably two bouffant petticoats at a time.
But this was also before pantyhose were available — women wore stockings held up by a garter belt, if they didn’t need “more control.”

Garter belts, 1958. Sears Fall catalog.

If you were going to wear a very fitted dress, a girdle or panty-girdle was needed so you would have a (relatively) smooth line from waist to thigh without bulges that outlined the garter belt.
But: my 11 year-old friends and I looked at ads like this one …

“How could this work?” my 11 year old self wondered.

… and asked each other how the garter belt could reach your stocking tops, if you wore it over your bouffant petticoat?

Advertising Undies Without Offending….

In the 1920s, advertising underwear was a tricky business. What did you do about that awkward top-of-thighs area at the bottom of the corset? Should the advertiser show the long bloomers (sometimes called knickers) which most women wore?

Ladies’ bloomers (also loosely called knickers or drawers), 1925. Butterick pattern 5705.

Would a family newspaper run an ad showing underpants? Or worse, a woman’s thighs or crotch? And isn’t it possible that, however they were shown in corset ads,  women sometimes wore their long underpants over their corsets, so they could be pulled down for a visit to the toilet (or outhouse, or chamberpot?)

Corsets illustrated as worn over bloomers, as shown in Sears catalogs, From Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the 1920s.

Well, 19th c. bloomers or drawers were often two separate legs, attached only at the waist. You could say Queen Victoria wore crotchless panties….

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing's Fashion in Underwear.

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear. You could wear these under a corset and still answer the call of nature.

 In the 20th century, many women’s underpants/drawers/knickers were made with an open crotch, or a crotch that opened with tiny buttons, so those could be worn under the corset/girdle.  Awkward, but do-able.)

1917 underwear choice: open-crotched drawers (left) or a long “envelope” chemise with a button crotch. Delineator.

Pretty vintage lingerie with a button crotch.

Lingerie from Delineator, June 1924. Left, a “step-in;” right, a button crotch “chemise.”

Keep in mind that the 1930s Motion Picture Production Code in the U.S.A. had been written by men who said, “If it’s objectionable to a child, it’s objectionable, period.” (My 12th grade term paper was about movie censorship — so I’m quoting from memory.) Among other forbidden things (as reported): the inside of a woman’s thigh could never be shown in films. (An idea parodied here.)  For context, here’s the article accompanying that image.

Too hot for the Motion Picture Production Code? Corset illustrations from Delineator, 1929

That nervousness about female anatomy made it difficult for advertisers show exactly how corsets and stockings were worn. Often they were shown as if the garters were purely decorative, and had nothing to do with holding up your stockings.

Message: “There are suspenders attached to our corsets.” Women would know the suspenders were for holding up stockings, but the ads didn’t show how.

Some advertisements showed the corset superimposed on a clothed figure.

Corsets over clothing, in ads from 1912 and 1924.

Note to the future: Ordinary 20th century women did not wear their corsets over their dresses. (Although a few performers and young women with a desire to shock eventually did….)

For corset ads, a nebulous frill or draped fabric was also useful for propriety.

Sketchy lace frills or a delicate drapery avoid showing bare thighs between corset and stocking.

Some ads did show suspenders attached to stockings — but, does this mean women tucked their underwear into their stockings, as shown?

Thighs covered by long bloomers or drawers. 1926.

More voluminous undergarments tucked into stocking tops, 1922.

This company went bold — The photographer blurred out the crotch area: (Yes, photos were being altered almost as soon as they were invented.)

The area at the top of the model’s thighs has been blurred in this photo. 1926. She may have been wearing tight knit undies to start with.

Remember, in the Fifties,  TV wouldn’t allow a married couple to occupy the same bed (see The I Love Lucy Show.) (And Lucille Ball, who really was expecting a child, was “Enceinte,” not “Pregnant.”)

But the 1958 Sears catalog wasn’t censoring its pages — some photos are realistic, with bare thighs appearing between girdles and stockings, as they were worn in real life. I suspect that it was up to the manufacturer to decide whether his customers were easily upset by women’s bodies…

Sorry, boys. Nothing titillating to see here!

… or not:

Models wearing bras and girdles, Sears catalog Fall 1958.

Girdle worn over bare skin, although the photo is poor quality. Inside of thigh visible! Sears catalog, 1958.

A Sears model shows how a girdle and stockings were really worn. 1958 Sears catalog.

 

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, Combinations step-ins chemises teddies, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Hosiery, Hosiery, lingerie and underwear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Panties knickers bloomers drawers step-ins, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Underwear and lingerie