Tag Archives: 1930s ad campaign

“Zip” — Slide Fasteners from Sears, Part 2

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Ad for Talon Slide-Fasteners, Delineator magazine, March 1929. Butterick, which published Delineator, also sold dress pattern 2365, which used several zippers. It is the dress being worn by the woman shopper in the Talon ad. Talon zip “colors are black, white, two tones of gray and two of brown.”

While poking around in 1930’s Sears catalogs (via Ancestry.com), I was curious about two things:

  1. After 1935-36 season, when French fashion houses began showing zippers in “dressy” clothing, as opposed to sportswear and work clothes, how long did it take for the fashion to be accepted in the mass market?  I don’t mean in exclusive stores which copied couture, but in low-cost clothing for ordinary women, like those who shopped from the Sears catalog.
  2. I have a theory that the heavy weight zippers which were used successfully in jackets, work clothing, and canvas mailbags in the late twenties and early thirties (See Zip, Part 1) were simply too heavy and stiff to use in the light-weight dress fabrics of the twenties and thirties. Was there a noticeable change in the sizes and qualities of zippers available to home dressmakers in the late 1930s?

Note: All images identified as coming from Sears Catalogs are copyrighted by Sears Brands LLC.  Do not copy them.

A little review: Slide fasteners, soon called zippers in the U.S., were found in sportswear and children’s clothing before they appeared in more formal clothing.

These sweatshirts appeared in the Sears catalog for Fall 1937. Some have zip closings at the neck (and one has America’s favorite rodent….)

A Sears “twin set” from Fall 1937 includes a solid color jacket that closes with a separating zipper, and a coordinating striped sweater underneath. ” ‘Zips’ are fashion pets….”

This terrific ski suit has a separating zipper; “zips” on ski wear and children’s snow suits were so customary that the catalog doesn’t even mention this zipper.

Woman’s ski outfit from Sears catalog for Fall 1937.

Work dresses and house dresses also featured zippers in 1937-38:

Snapper and Zip house dresses and housecoats were shown in the Spring of 1938 Sears catalog. This zipped dress was for “housewives, nurses, beauticians, maids . . . the perfect dress to work in.”

A long (and colorful) front zipper appears on this “hostess gown” from Sears, Fall 1937. It is not for street wear, but it is made from rayon crepe, a soft, clinging fabric.

Left, a dress with a zipper neckline, and right, a sporty two-piece with a front zipper. Sears catalog, Spring 1937.

Description of Sears two-piece outfit for Spring 1937.

The 1937 outfit in the middle — “with three zips!” — has a zip neck opening and two more zippers as trim on the pockets. Sears catalog, Spring 1937.

In the 1938 catalogs, zippers are still appearing on casual, sporty dresses, but also on more dressy outfits. This is a sporty knit zip outfit:

This sporty knit has a long separating zipper as a fashion detail; Sears, Spring 1938. Presumably the zip colors matched the darker fabric.

This dress has one, long, obvious zipper from neckline to just above the hem, and it is definitely not a dress for housework. Sears, Spring 1938. It’s made of washable Shantung rayon. The long vertical line of the zip “gives you that slim, tall silhouette that’s all the rage.”

This “dressy” blouse is made of taffeta — and has a “popular” zipper running right down the front.

Delicate fabric appears in a taffeta zip-front blouse from Sears, Spring 1938.

There is nothing sporty or casual about this 1938 corselet dress with dyed-to-match embroidered sheer sleeve and bodice inserts.

A “Paris inspired” dress from Sears’ Spring 1938 catalog. Where’s the zipper? In the hidden side seam opening. “A Zip placket closing for trim, perfect fit.”

This is another tid-bit of zipper information: in Spring of 1938, the zipper was taking the place of the old snap or hook-and-eye closing hidden in the side seam of a close-fitting dress.

The close fit of this embroidered dress is the result of a hidden “zip placket” in the side seam. Sears, Spring of 1938.

This dress could be ordered in three different fabrics; it has a smooth fit because of its “neat zip placket closing” in the underarm side seam. Sears, Spring 1938. The summer fabrics are soft rayon.

That’s not to say that the Paris influence — using zippers as a design feature — has disappeared.

Three Zips: “This striking dress has decorative zippers in the shoulder seams. Sears, Spring 1938. On “the Newest Zip Dress . . . A zip tops each shoulder  . . . and another zip snugly closes the placket of the new ‘corselet’ waist!”

A center front zipper is a style feature on this embroidered “pebble crepe” ensemble, too:

Embroidered two-piece dress with zipper front. Sears catalog, Spring 1938.  “The Petit Point  . . .  in heavenly colors . . . runs all around hem of flared skirt . . . up the front of the blouse on each side of colored Zip closing.”

Another zipper novelty in the Sears catalog for Spring, 1938, is the Hollywood style of this aqua “corselet” dress:

The novelty of this dress is its “long back Zip.” Sears, Spring of 1938.

If you thought the center back zipper was a tell-tale sign of the 1950s, here’s proof that it can appear earlier.

And, speaking of novelties — Not only a huge variety of zippers, in many lengths, styles, weights and colors appeared by 1939, so did novelty zipper pulls!

Ornamental zipper pulls from Sears, Spring, 1939.

The zip slide fastener on the front of this dress has a “pendant” — an ornamental zipper pull. Sears catalog, Spring 1938.

Ornamental Zip pulls, Sears catalog, Fall, 1939.  “Jitterbug” bead figurines, and “Scottie Dog, Horse or Squirrel hand carved on natural wood.” Also of interest: “Crown’s Iris Zips” made of plastic on matching colored tape, in five lengths and ten colors. Schiaparelli had encouraged the development of these full-color plastic zippers just a few years earlier.

In 1939, Sears offered a truly extensive selection of zippers for all clothing purposes:

Some of the zippers sold by Sears in Spring, 1939. Heavy jacket zips, colored enamel Talon zips…. “French dressmakers are using colored zips for smart costume accent…. Rustproof metal enameled in colors to match cotton tape…. Simple instructions for sewing with each fastener.”

More zippers from Sears, Spring 1939. “Match or contrast the colors in your house dresses, housecoats, sports clothes with colored enamel….”

Crown’s “Iris” colored plastic zip fasteners sold by Sears, Spring 1939. “A smart dress trimming as well as streamline fastening for evening dresses, blouses.”

Special zippers for side-closing dress plackets from Sears, Spring 1939. “Closed at each end– the only zip suitable for smooth “no gap” dress plackets. Gives the dresses you make yourself that smart professional look. Easy to sew in. Colored enamel on matching cotton tape.”

“Mind the Gap”

By 1939 zipper manufacturers (and their ad companies) took some inspiration from Listerine, which used “Halitosis” to sell mouthwash, and from corset manufacturers who convinced women that a curvy backside was “Lordosis,” and created a new, embarrassing condition called “Gap-o-sis,” to describe what happened to dresses that used snaps instead of zippers in their side plackets.

“We moderns don’t wear dresses that have gaposis. Cure plackets that gap with Talon Fasteners.” Gaposis could be avoided by replacing snap-closing plackets with zipper plackets in your dresses. Sears catalog, Spring 1939; top of a page listing zippers for sale.

Because vintage clothing collectors depend on zippers for help in dating garments, EBay has even published a zipper guide for collectors. You might want to compare it with some of these images from the Sears catalog….

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Zippers

Freckles and Freckle Creams, 1920s and Later

Top of an ad for Othine Double Strength Freckle cream, Delineator, May 1925, p 29.

I’ve already written about skin bleaches from the 1920’s and 1930’s. I’ve also collected a number of ads for freckle removers, from several different makers, ranging from 1917 to the 1940’s. They use a standard advertising strategy: First, make women feel self-conscious about something that’s perfectly normal, then sell them something to “fix” it.

“Your freckles ruin your appearance;” ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, Aug. 1924.

“Are you one of the 14,695,000 folks who wish they could get rid of freckles?” Ad for Othine cream, Redbook magazine, 1949.

Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, July 1917. “Freckles are ‘as a cloud before the sun’ hiding your brightness, your beauty.”

Freckles were O.K. on boys, apparently, but not on their sisters.

The freckled face of child actor Mickey Daniels was an asset to his career in the Our Gang Comedies.  Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, Sept. 1924. Delineator.

“Your freckles always attract attention, no matter how well you dress.” Stillman’s promised to “dissolve away” freckles and whiten, refine and beautify your skin. “Guaranteed to remove freckles or money refunded.”

Stillman’s ad from Chatelaine, a Canadian magazine, August, 1939. p. 31.

Probably the creepiest anti-freckle ads were for a product called Mercolized Wax. “Better than trying to hide or cover up such disfigurements. Simply apply the wax at bedtime and wash off in the morning. This actually peels off the freckled cuticle, gently, gradually, without harm or inconvenience. Unveils the young, healthy, beautiful skin underneath. Unequaled as a blemish remover and complexion rejuvenator.”

Mercolized Wax seemed to promise to lift the freckles right out of your skin. Ad from 1924.

In that ad, freckles were equated with “disfigurements” and “blemishes” — I began to wonder whether they were talking about blackheads or freckles. Pulling the freckles out of your skin would not be a pleasant or beautifying act.

Astonishingly, Mercolized Wax was was still running ads in 1942!

Mercolized wax ad, Redbook magazine, September 1942. I found this ad via Pro-Quest. “Mercolized Wax Cream flakes off the surface skin in tiny, almost invisible particles, revealing a fairer, fresher, more attractive underskin. Start bleaching skin now.”

At least, by 1942, the ads no longer imply that freckles will be yanked right out of your face; it’s more like a “skin peel.” Use according to directions, indeed.

This 1934 ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream is almost identical to an ad Stillman’s ran in 1924. They even used the same photo. Delineator, June 1934.

Here’s a more lyrical Stillman’s ad from 1921:

Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream in Vogue magazine, August 15, 1921.

Ad for Othine Freckle Remover, August 1926, Delineator.

“Don’t try to hide your freckles or waste time on lemon juice [used for its acidic bleaching properties] or cucumbers; get an ounce of Othine and remove them.”

Amazingly, both Stillman’s and Othine offered a money-back guarantee. In addition to freckle creams like Stillman’s, Othine, and Mercolized Wax, bleach creams like Golden Peacock were also touted for freckle removal.

1933 ad for Golden Peacock skin bleach, Delineator, Aug. 1933. The “before” photo is very unconvincing!

I’ve been watching a lot of young artists on YouTube lately; I’m happy to see some of them drawing women with freckles. One of my favorites, Minnie Small (aka SemiSkimmedMin.com,) sketched this freckled beauty.  I like the way her freckles are intrinsic to her look. (If you like, you can watch a 3 minute video of this sketch being created. Just click on the image.)

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

How to Do Laundry, 1920’s and Later (Part 2)

"The punishment your clothes get in an ordinary washing is harder on them than all the wear you give them the rest of the week. You can't afford to let the old hard laundry soap wear out any more clothes in the washing." From a Lux ad, Delineator, August 1926.

“The punishment your clothes get in an ordinary washing is harder on them than all the wear you give them the rest of the week. You can’t afford to let the old hard laundry soap wear out any more clothes in the washing.” From a Lux ad, Delineator, August 1926.

Modern Methods of Laundering, article from Delineator magazine, July 1927.

"Modern Methods of Laundering," Delineator, page 40, July 1927.

“Modern Methods of Laundering,” Delineator, page 40, July 1927.

This full-page article described the way to do laundry in 1927, with step-by-step illustrations. I will show the images and text, from number 1 to number 11, with occasional comments or explanations. (Even if you’re hauling your laundry to a laundromat every week, reading this article may make you glad it’s not 1927.)

The horizontal washer used in the “Methods” illustrations is less familiar than this upright “Mangle washing machine,” but the steps would be the same.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

First, Prepare Your Soap

Laundry soap options in 1927. They included grating your own soap from a bar. Fels Naptha soap, in a big bar, was rubbed on difficult stains and rings around the collar.

Laundry soap options in 1927. They included purchasing flakes, chips, or powder; liquifying your soap ahead of time(right); and (left) grating your own laundry soap from a bar. Fels Naptha soap, which came in a big bar, was rubbed on difficult stains and rings around the collar.

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Hook Up the Hose

Filling the washing machine. There wa wide variety in washing machine styles; this one is cylindrical. 1927.

Filling the washing machine. There was wide variety in washing machine styles; this one is cylindrical. 1927. She is filling it by hand with a hose attached to her sink’s faucet, and presumably has a hot water heater. Earlier washers were filled bucket by bucket, with water heated on the stove.

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Weigh the Clothes

Weighing a load of clothes. The Savage brand washer could handle 10 lbs.

Weighing a load of laundry. The Savage brand wringerless washer could handle ten lbs. With wringer type washers, clothes were constantly being removed from the washer, and others were being added.

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In 1927, too big a load could burn out your motor. White clothes were pre-soaked or pre-washed with borax and soap. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that converts some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide — which is increasingly being used instead of chlorine bleaches.

Adding soap to a 1927 washer.

Adding soap to a 1927 washer. You were supposed to dissolve the soap before putting it in the machine, to be sure it would dissolve completely. Even in the 1950s, laundry soap didn’t always dissolve in cold water.

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Find the Electric Switch (and the Emergency Stop)

This power switch is inconveniently located near the floor. Notice the faucet for draining the washing machine.

This power switch is inconveniently located near the floor. Notice the faucet for draining water out of the washing machine.

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Another article mentioned the importance of having an easy-to-reach emergency shut-off for the electric wringer. Just the other day I met a woman who remembered getting her braid caught in the wringer when she was a girl. Luckily, she could reach the switch before her head was pulled up against the wringer. Serious injury was possible if you couldn’t reach the wringer switch. Since you used your fingers to guide the laundry into the wringer, you had to pay attention.

Watch It Make Suds

You could not trust the soap to dissolve evenly.

You could not trust the soap to dissolve evenly, and women didn’t trust a soap unless it made lots of suds.

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Here, you can see the wringer, in profile, next to the woman’s head. Presumably, this control lever is also the safety switch.

Load Washer, Set Alarm Clock

Adding the clothes while the washer is running.

Adding the clothes while the washer is running.

(The wooden rod was also used for moving laundry around in the washer.)

(The wooden rod was also used for moving laundry around in the washer.)

Uh-oh:  the overnight soak or preliminary washing, and the first run through the wringer, apparently had to be done ahead of time.

Before the kitchen timer.... Once the alarm clock was set, the laundress hurried to do other tasks.

1927: Before the kitchen timer or automatic wash cycle…. Once the alarm clock was set, the laundress hurried to do other tasks.

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Make Starch on the Stove

While the machine was washing sturdy fabrics, delicate silks and hosiery awaited hand washing. And liquid starch had to be made. I don’t know what “tinted” means in this context, but fabrics were not always colorfast. And some whites had to be “blued.” This would  also be a chance to lug a heavy basket of wet laundry out to the yard and hang it on the washline with clothes pegs or clothes pins. In Spring and Fall, the wash had to be hung out earlier in the day.

Ad for Quick Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Ad for Quick Elastic Hot Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936. It was “quick” because you didn’t need to cook it — just dissolve it in cold water and then add hot water. Stir.

“It parallels the advance in … automatically heated irons. Practically self-cooking….. Thin it down to give any degree of gloss or delicate “sizing.” Clothes which needed to be starched were dipped in liquid starch while damp, and wrung out  before ironing.

Tending the washing machine, hand-washing delicates, boiling the whites on a low laundry stove. Fels Naptha soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Tending the washing machine (L), hand-washing delicates (C), boiling the whites on a low laundry stove (R.) Fels Naptha soap ad, Delineator, March 1927. Boiling hankies and diapers controlled germs. Boiling long underwear killed lice.

In 2017, I when set my high efficiency, low-water use washing machine, it weighs the load, does the pre-soaking, one or two rinses as desired, and “wrings” out the wash water and the rinse water in a spin cycle — while I leave the room and do something else. In 1927, even with an electric washer — which not everyone had — doing the laundry meant tending the wash constatntly.

Put Through the Wringer

clothes werefished out of the sudsy water and "put through the wringer." In 1950, My grandmother had a special pole, about three feet long, for fishing clothes out of the hot water, or insuring that the load stayed evenly distributed.

Clothes were fished out of the sudsy water and “put through the wringer one at a time.” In 1950, my grandmother had a special wooden pole, about three feet long, for lifting clothes out of the hot water, or insuring that the load stayed evenly distributed.

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Boiling and Blueing

The use of scalding hot water explains the importance of Sanforized, pre-shrunk fabrics in shirts and other clothing.

Ad for Sanforized-Shrunk dresses, Delineator, Sept. 1933.

Ad for Sanforized-Shrunk dresses, Delineator, Sept. 1933. The “Sanforized” process was introduced around 1930.

About blueing:  As explained in RememberedSummers, “Laundry had to be hung out to dry in your yard, in fresh air, which meant that it was exposed to public view. Most back yards contained two tall posts (picture small, square telephone poles) with four or more clotheslines  strung between them from the crossbars…. Of course, in the old days, all of your neighbors hung out laundry on the same day you did (Monday), so there was some competition as to who had the whitest sheets. In the 1940s , my grandmother always put blueing in her final rinse [to get the yellow out.]” (And yes, some “blue-haired old ladies” used it on their hair! Don’t!)

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Ad for Cube Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Ad for Staley’s Gloss Starch Cubes, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Without starch, inexpensive fabrics became limp. If you wanted to keep cottons looking new, you needed to starch them before you ironed them.

But, before you were ready to iron the rest of the laundry, you had to dry it. This is not what I think of when I read the word “dryer:”

A heated cupboard for indoor drying. 1927.

A heated cupboard for indoor drying. 1927.

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Hung Out to Dry

I have never visited a house with a dryer like this, but then, I live in sunny California. Clothes were normally dried out of doors …

Dryig clothing in the air, Borax ad, 1924.

Drying clothing in the air, Borax ad, 1924. A solar and wind powered dryer.

Solar and wind powered drying, the laundry line worked well for at least half of the year. But air drying doesn’t get the wrinkles out of modern permanent press clothing. Some modern planned communities even forbid laundry lines as unsightly.

My Texas-born husband tells me that in really cold weather, laundry will freeze dry — or at least, dry enough to be ironed. Rainy weather meant hanging your laundry to dry in the house — a messy and inconvenient necessity.

I have never known life without a washing machine, or at least a laundromat where I could wash and dry three loads at a time and be home within two hours. In 1927, that could take two days. No wonder many women “sent out” their laundry.

However, we ought to remember that, in the nineteen twenties, many American women were enjoying labor-saving inventions that have still not been introduced in many parts of the world. It’s time to remember how lucky I am.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

How to Do Laundry, 1920’s and Later (Part 1)

"Things to Be Thankful For" in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p 29.

“Things to Be Thankful For” in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p. 29.

“Things to be thankful for.” That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read this article from July 1927:

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator, JUly 1927, p. 40 (detail)

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator magazine, July 1927, p. 40 (detail)

I will go through that article, step by step, in the next post (Part 2). First, for those too young to remember why women had “Wash Day Blues,” a little background.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered dish towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950. Little Lulu was a newspaper cartoon character.

Monday was Wash Day — even if you were a doll or a cartoon character. Tuesday was ironing day. On Wednesday, you mended clothes and replaced any buttons broken in the wash.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

As a child in the 1950’s, I saw my mother and my grandmother doing the laundry with washing machines very much like this one:

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

That means I recognize many of the steps in “Modern Methods of Laundering” (1927) and may be able to explain a bit. I was a working class kid; my parents married in 1933 — and, as a child in 1950, I didn’t realize that my parents and their friends were still using appliances that were twenty years out of date. That roller thing on top of the machine was the “wringer,” two rolls of wood or hard rubber that squeezed excess water out of your clothes — and squeezed random creases into them.

The wringer was also called “the mangle.” See the pressure adjusting lever/screw handle at the top? If you’ve handled vintage clothing that was washable, you have probably noticed a lot of broken buttons on shirts and blouses. Blame the mangle. The mangle was no friend to glass or mother-of-pearl (shell) buttons. It was also a real danger to fingers, hair, and housewives wearing dresses with long ties, scarves, or ribbons at the neck. This picture explains the origin of the expression “to be put through the wringer.”

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer, June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again.

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer (which has an electric motor,) June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again. Standing in a puddle of water on the floor while operating an electric washer? Not recommended.

My father was very careful never to use naughty language around me, which is probably why this moment made such an impression:  One day when he came home from work, my mother told him that a customer had phoned several times, and that she sounded angry.  My father sighed and said, “She’s got her tit in a wringer about something.” Now, every time I get a mammogram, I remember our old washing machine and think, “tit in a wringer….” It always makes me smile. (Thanks, Dad!)

Woman using a clean pine dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Woman using a smooth [pine?] dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Another digression: Before I could read, I thought that naptha soap was “Nap, the Soap”  — like “Smokey, the Bear.”

So that we can understand the writers’ enthusiasm for “Modern Methods of Laundering” in 1927, let’s take a look at previous washing machine advice:

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21. Heat the water on the stove, pour it into the washer.

This old-fashioned machine is not electric — to agitate the clothes, I think you rock the tub with that big lever on the side. You heat water on (or in) your stove, carry it to the machine one bucket at a time until the tub is full, rub clothes on the washboard inside the tub to remove stubborn dirt, and drain the dirty water out of the faucet near the bottom into a bucket. Carry bucket to sink or back porch. Dump water. To rinse clothes, repeat the process. Two rinses recommended. (My mother sometimes rinsed the first load, ran it through the wringer, then added soap and my father’s overalls to the still warm rinse water to wash the next load. When you had to fill and drain the tub by hand, this was a time saver.)

Carrying buckets of water and big, heavy baskets full of wet clothing (you took it outside and hung it on a line to dry) was hard work. Notice how muscular this washerwoman looks. (“Laundress” was a more polite job description.)

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

In fact, this household budget for 1924 assumes that no woman who can afford a laundress will wash anything heavier than lingerie and stockings with her own hands. And doing the laundry took the laundress two days.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924. Right after housing and heating costs is the cost of laundry (almost half the rent!) “Flat work” would be large items, heavy when wet, like blankets, sheets and tablecloths, which took time to iron, too.

A more convenient electric washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

A more convenient washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

By 1933, the better quality washers had a water pump, which allowed the dirty water to be expelled through a hose into a sink or drain — as washers do today.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29. “Half the hard work of washing is in handling the water…. The worker should not have to lift it.”

“The services of the washing-machine have replaced the washerwoman, and electric power is replacing woman power for the washing of clothes.” — Delineator, August 1926. That is not to say you could put a load in the washer, walk away,  and get on with other housework.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

There was quite a variety of machine styles. Some of these seem to have wringers that can be cranked by hand, although the article mentioned the importance of a wringer that can be locked in several positions and which has a “safety release that can be quickly and easily operated” — in case your hair or fingers got caught in the mangle. Also, the electric washing machine motor — usually visible under the machine — “must be protected from water.”

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

The idea of building a box around the machine to conceal the motor was still a new one. I was surprised to see this 1929 ad for a Savage washing machine, which didn’t need a mangle wringer; it had a spin cycle.

The Savage spin washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

The Savage Wringerless washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929. Ten pounds of clothes “from hamper to line in an hour.”

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine.

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine. “Empties itself” automatically!

Nevertheless, mangle washing machines continued to be sold. This Thor machine used the motor that ran the wringer to also run a mangle iron — the parts were interchangeable.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

"From washer to ironer in 10 seconds." Thor washing machine ad, 1930.

“From washer to ironer in 10 seconds.” Thor mangle washing machine ad, 1930. Doesn’t that look easy?

When there were no “permanent press” fabrics, ironing large, flat items like tablecloths, sheets, pillowcases, and dish towels took a long time. In the fifties, my father bought a rotary iron — second hand — and made a point of using it, although we quickly discovered that ironing shirts, dresses, and other clothing on it took more skill than we had time to master.

Using a mangle iron, Delineator, June 1929. 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Using a “mangle” or rotary iron, Delineator, June 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the mangle iron. Thor ad, 1929.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the rotary iron, which, like the wringer, pivoted. Thor ad, 1929.

You would certainly have needed to make sure your floor was mopped and dry before putting a sheet through this machine  attached to the washer. At $149.25, the Thor combination would be a sizable investment (some families lived on about $35 per week in 1925). [To read one magazine’s article about the cost of living in 1925, click here.]

On the other hand, a woman (like my mother-in-law) who was willing to take in washing and ironing could supplement the family income.

"Iron on Tuesday" embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

“Iron on Tuesday” embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

If you hired a laundress for two days a week, as recommended, the second day would be devoted to ironing.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The "set" included the iron and a box to store it in.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The “set” included the iron and a box to store it in.

The electric iron was certainly an improvement over the irons my grandmother heated on the stove (she had two or three — one getting warm while another was in use) but you needed to “sprinkle” your clothes to dampen them before ironing — until the steam iron arrived.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1936. In 1950, my grandmother used a beverage bottle with a purchased cork-and-perforated-metal top — like a big salt shaker, but containing water.

However, by the time this sprayer was featured, a steam iron could also be purchased.

A steam iron, Woman's Home Companion, September 1937.

A “steaming  iron,” as explained by Woman’s Home Companion, September 1937. “You need no wet cloth for pressing woolens and no sprinkling for dry fabrics.”

I will show the entire, step-by-step, illustrated article “The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering,” from 1927, in the next post.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. She was once part of a set of seven day of the week towels.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. It was once part of a set of seven day-of-the-week towels. Sue, bent over her wash tub, was appliqued to a bleached flour sack.  I wish I had two dozen!

You can read more about Day of the Week towels and laundry customs at RememberedSummers.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uncategorized

Sock Suspenders: Garters for Men

Ad for men's stocking garters made by Hickok, Esquire, August 1934.

Ad for men’s stocking garters made by Hickok, Esquire, August 1934.

This garter ad is from 1917:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/1917-jan-p-30-boston-garter-for-men-ad.jpg

Knitted stockings have been around for centuries. (Queen Elizabeth I liked the silk stockings she was given as a Christmas gift in 1561.) The Bata Shoe museum has a lovely pair of embroidered stockings for a lady which date to the early 1700s. But until the invention of Lastex elastic thread, around 1931, stockings tended to fall down without a garter or suspender to hold them up. (Men’s socks with “elastic ribbed tops” were available before that, although it’s not always easy to tell if the word “elastic” means “stretchy” or “made with latex/rubber.”)

Ad for Esquire silk stockings for men, Esquire magazine, June 1934.

Ad for Esquire Hose silk stockings for men, Esquire magazine, June 1934. These pure-silk-top hose would stay up better with a garter.

Before Lastex, exasperated mothers would yell, “Pull up your socks!” — sometimes, just to get their offspring to stop whatever else they were doing.Boy's patterns, Delineator, July 1917. Two of these children have sagging socks.
When an impeccably dressed gentleman undressed, however elegant his clothing, he eventually revealed his stocking garters. I’ve rarely seen a full illustration of a man wearing underwear, socks, and garters — perhaps because the result is faintly comical.

Men's underwear in an ad for Celanese, a plant-based synthetic fiber. 1934.

Men’s underwear in an ad for Celanese, a plant-based synthetic fiber. 1934.

I was surprised that men’s garters came in a riot of colors.

Men's stocking garters. Detail of Esquire illustration, March 1934.

Men’s stocking garters. Detail of Esquire illustration, March 1934.

Stocking garters for the college man. Esquire, March 1934.

Stocking garters for the college man. Esquire, March 1934. Illustration by Hurd.

Esquire, March 1934.

Esquire, March 1934. [Ripley’s Believe It or Not was a popular newspaper feature.]

A glimpse of stocking was a good thing, but a glimpse of hairy shins was not.

Socks were always on display when a man crossed his legs. Esquire, July 1934. Illustration by L. Fellows.

Socks were always on display when a man crossed his legs. Esquire, July 1934. Illustration by L. Fellows.

The well-dressed businessman wore sock garters to keep his socks from falling down around his ankles, or revealing skin when he sat with his legs crossed.

Distinguished suits for men, February 1934. Accessories include stocking garters, a pocket square, and men's jewelry. Esquire magazine illustration by Oxner.

Distinguished suits for men, February 1934. Accessories include stocking garters, a pocket square, a cuff link,  and a gold collar pin. Esquire magazine illustration by Oxner.

Some stocking garters had one fastener, in center front, but others had a garter on either side of the shin.

Men's sock garters from Sears catalog, circa 1930.

Men’s sock garters from Sears catalog, circa 1930. “Come in the color combinations men prefer.” “Neatly boxed,” because garters were a useful gift.

Ad for Paris Men's Garters. This ad appeared in the January issue, which was on news stands in time for Christmas shopping. Esquire, Jan. 1934

Ad for Paris Men’s Garters. This ad appeared in the January issue, which was on news stands in time for Christmas shopping. Esquire, Jan. 1934.

Judging from the men’s magazines and pin-up illustrations of my teen years, many men enjoy looking at a woman who is wearing a garter belt and stockings. I personally can’t imagine getting a similar erotic charge from the sight of a man wearing stocking garters — even in brilliant blue:

Hickok garters, 1934 ad. Esquire.

Hickok garters, 1934 ad. Esquire.

Fortunately for costumers, you can still buy sock garters — there are plenty listed on Amazon.

 

 

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Persuasive Ads for Spencer Corsets, 1930’s

A persuasive ad for Spencer corsets shows a woman wearing the same dress, with and without the corset. Woman's Home Companion, November 1936.

A persuasive ad for Spencer corsets shows a woman wearing the same dress, with and without the corset. Woman’s Home Companion, November 1936. [Of course, photos could be altered with a retouching brush.]

Corset advertisements used to be a mainstay of women’s fashion magazines. Usually they simply showed a picture of the product. However, I found a series of ads for Spencer Corsets that seem especially persuasive, since they show “before and after” photographs of the models, and also show how much the corset could improve the look of a woman’s clothing.

Ads for Spencer custom corsets showed "before," "after," and "under" photos; the Spencer corset (center) under a fashionable dress. Woman's Home Companion, Dec. 1936.

Ads for Spencer custom corsets showed “before,” “after,” and “under” photos; the Spencer corset (center) under a fashionable dress (right). Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1936.

The fashions of 1936 and 1937 were designed for very narrow hips.

Left, illustrations of Butterick patterns 6668 and 6605, from February, 1936. Right, holiday party gowns illustrated in Ladies' Home Journal, January 1936.

Left, illustrations of Butterick patterns 6668 and 6605, from February, 1936. Right, holiday party gowns illustrated in Ladies’ Home Journal, January 1936.

This Spencer corset ad emphasized hip control. January, 1936. The sleek model in this ad for Simonize car polish shows why women were worried about their hip size.

This Spencer corset ad emphasized hip control. January, 1936. The sleek model in the ad for Simonize car polish shows why women were worried about their hip size.

Spencer corsets were made to order, so they were presumably more expensive than ready-made foundation garments.

Another custom corset company, called Spirella, also stressed hip control.

Two ads for Spirella corsets, August and July 1936. Ladies' Home Journal.

Two ads for Spirella corsets, August and July 1936. Ladies’ Home Journal. “Have the Spirella Corsetiere mold your figure to its ideal lines with the patented Spirella Modeling Garment.” “At no cost to you… in your own home. See your figure idealized before your very eyes.”

Like Spirella, Spencer offered corset fittings in your own house: “Have you ever had a Spencer Corsetiere make a study of your figure? …An intelligent woman, trained in the Spencer designer’s methods of figure analysis will call at your home.”

An ad for Spencer corsets, Woman's Home Companion, September 1937.

Top image from an ad for Spencer corsets, Woman’s Home Companion, September 1937.

Ad for Spencer corset, Woman's Home Companion, September 1936.

Ad for Spencer corset, Woman’s Home Companion, September 1936.

Just as Listerine warned against “halitosis” to sell mouthwash, this corset ad used “lordosis” — a word which describes the normal curvature of the spine as well as excessive curvature — to sell corsets.

Figure faults included "bulging hips, bulging abdomen, and lordosis."

“Figure faults” included “bulging hips,” “bulging abdomen,” and “lordosis.”

Top of an ad for Spencer corsets, Woman's Home Companion, September 1936.

Top of an ad for Spencer corsets, Woman’s Home Companion, September 1936. “Check your figure fault on the coupon below.”

Women were encouraged to identify their “figure fault.”

Spencer Corsets were "individually designed" to correc such "faults" as a normal. curvy derriere.

Spencer Corsets were “individually designed” to correct such “faults” as a normal. curvy derriere.

Notice that the same ad recruited saleswomen who would be trained to become “Spencer Corsetieres.”

Spencer corset ad, April 1937.

Spencer corset ad, April 1937. Notice her flat backside.

Of course, photos can lie; a subtle change of posture — shoulders back, chest up — is noticeable here; but the flattening power of the Spencer foundation garment is also evident.

Corset laces can be seen at the waist of the stretched-out girdle on the left. Spencer ad, WHC, Sepot. 1936.

Corset laces can be seen at the waist of the stretched-out girdle on the left. Spencer ad, WHC, Sept. 1936.

(A flat rear was also important in the 1920’s. Click here.)

The ill-fitting bra and really unattractive girdle on the left would not enhance any dress. Spencer ad, Jan 1936.

The ill-fitting bra and gaping girdle on the left would not enhance the fit of any dress. Spencer ad, Jan 1936.

"her mirror warned her that her figure was slumping...." Spencer ad, Nov. 1936. WHC.

“Her mirror warned her that her figure was slumping….” Spencer ad, Nov. 1936. WHC.

"But her mirro told a different story when she donned a SPENCER." Corset ad in Woman's Home Companion, Nov. 1936.

“But her mirror told a different story when she donned a SPENCER.” Corset ad in Woman’s Home Companion, Nov. 1936.

Pretty persuasive — and the personal fitting was free. A price range was not given; finding out the price from a saleswoman who had already spent time locating your “figure faults” in the privacy of your own home put the buyer in a vulnerable position.  But “Your Spencer corset and bandeau will effectively correct any figure fault, because every section, every line is designed, cut and made to solve your figure problem and yours only…. Prices depend on material selected. A wide range to suit every purse.”

Text opf a Spencer Corset ad, Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

Text of a Spencer Corset ad, Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

If you’re curious about the Corsetiere’s fitting kit, The Vintage Post has pictures of a Spirella one from the 1940’s. Click here.

These custom corsets were intended for women whose figures were imperfect (or who thought they were.) Women who only needed a little support, or a firmer silhouette, could wear the relatively new elastic foundations like this one from  Flexees.

A one-piece foundation from Flexees smoothed the figure without boning or tightly woven traditional corset materials.

Thanks to Lastex, a one-piece step-in foundation from Flexees smoothed the figure without boning, zippers, hooks and eyes, or lacing. Ad from December, 1936.

 

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Filed under 1930s, Corsets, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

A Gentleman’s White Dinner Jacket, 1934

An off-white, double-breasted dinner jacket worn with tuxedo trousers. Esquire, July 1934.

An off-white, double-breasted dinner jacket worn with tuxedo trousers. Esquire, July 1934.

In 1934, Esquire magazine reminded readers that for summer and resort wear, the tuxedo was not the only option for “black tie” evening dress.

"A Few Suggestions for Saturday Night;" Black tie options for August, 1934, from Esquire magazine.

“A Few Suggestions for Saturday Night;” Black Tie options for August, 1934, from Esquire magazine.

“White Tie” describes the most formal evening dress for men; “Black Tie” is less formal, and less uncomfortable, since a starched bib-front shirt, white vest, and scratchy, rigid collar were not necessary with a tuxedo.

The Tuxedo was named after a resort called Tuxedo Park, but according to one club member, “I was brought up believing that no one called it a tuxedo. It was always called a dinner jacket.” From a history of the tuxedo in Wall Street Journal.

In the late 1800’s, the outfit we now call a tuxedo was worn only when ladies were not present, or at family dinners in the era when men and women “dressed” for dinner. But, by the 1920’s, many men wore “black tie” to dances, nightclubs, and fine restaurants. This illustration shows three black tie variations from 1934:

Left, a double-breasted tuxedo in dark navy blue,; center, and single-breasted black tuxedo worn with a cream vest (a black vest was more common, but this was for summer.) Right, an double-breasted "white" dinner jacket, also double-breasted. Esquire, August 1934.

Left, a double-breasted tuxedo in midnight blue; center, a single-breasted black tuxedo worn with a light colored vest (a black vest was more common, but this was for summer.) Right, a white dinner jacket, also double-breasted. Esquire, August 1934. Both peaked lapels and shawl collars were acceptable.

The wider bow tie, called a bat tie, went with a soft-collared shirt.

500 text top three1934 aug saturday night p 122

“Palm Beach” was a brand name; it indicated a summer fabric that was washable, and could refer to the cloth or to a suit made from it.

Ad for a Palm Beach suit, Esquire, July 1934.

Ad for a Palm Beach suit, Esquire, July 1934.

Palm Beach label, July 1934 ad.

Palm Beach label, July 1934 ad.

White double breasted dinner jacket, Esquire Aug. 1934.

White double-breasted dinner jacket, Esquire Aug. 1934. There are four buttons, but only the bottom buttons are fastened.

The white dinner jacket was illustrated as an essential part of a wardrobe for a weekend in the country, Esquire, Aug. 1934.

The white dinner jacket was illustrated as an essential part of his wardrobe for a weekend in the country, Esquire, Aug. 1934. Also essential: black patent shoes or pumps for “dress-up time.”

A single-breasted white dinner jacket shown in an ad for Skinner Linings. Skinner made suit linings and, in this case, the cummerbund worn with the dinner jacket. Ad, Esquire, July 1934.

A single-breasted white dinner jacket shown in an ad for Skinner Linings. Skinner made suit linings and, in this case, the cummerbund worn with the single-button dinner jacket. Ad, Esquire, July 1934.

The white or off-white “dinner jacket” was usually worn with black tuxedo trousers.  Often the dinner jacket was a warm-weather choice because it might be unlined, or half-lined (rather than fully lined) in back, and because it was not worn over a vest. [Esquire recommended double-breasted business suits for summer in 1934, because they could be worn without a vest, unlike single-breasted suits, which were usually three-piece.] The cummerbund, in black or in maroon, was coming into fashion, perhaps left over from the brief craze for wearing a waist-length mess jacket for evenings on cruises or at resorts.

White dinner jacket from an illustration on cruise or resort wear, February 1934. Esquire.

White dinner jacket from an illustration of cruise or resort wear, February 1934. Esquire, Upper left. This double-breasted jacket only has buttons at the waist.

Mess jacket from an illustration of cruise and resort wear, Esquire, Feb. 1934.

Mess jacket with starched shirt and a black cummerbund, from an illustration of cruise and resort wear; Esquire, Top center, Feb. 1934.

Text for illustrations of cruise and resort wear, Esquire, Feb. 1934.

Text for illustrations of cruise and resort wear, Esquire, Feb. 1934.

There had been an early thirties’ fashion for wearing a white “Mess jacket,” which was cropped at the waist like a military evening uniform (hence its name — as in “Officers’ Mess,” or dining room.) As explained at the excellent  Black Tie Guide site, the white mess jacket was soon relegated to servants, barmen, and waiters.

The cummerbund, however, has been with us as a “black tie” accessory ever since; originally only worn as resort wear, in the 1930’s it slowly replaced the tuxedo vests worn in the 1920’s and was acceptable in town by the 1940’s.

Black tie worn with a vest or with a cummerbund, Esquire, August 1934.

Black tie worn with a vest or with a cummerbund, Esquire, August 1934.

500 text btm 1934 aug saturday night p 122

Black patent evening pumps or lace up evening shoes for men Aug 1934 Esquire

Black patent evening pumps or lace up evening shoes for men; sheer black stockings with stripes or red clocks. Aug. 1934, Esquire.

The “white” dinner jacket was not necessarily stark white; natural linen colors were also chic, as can be seen in this ad for Arrow dress shirts.

Ad for Arrow dress shirts, shown with an off-white dinner jacket. Esquire, Sept. 1934. The shirt on the right has a "regular", i.e., stiff, detachable collar. The one on the left has a new, attached collar.

Ad for Arrow pleated dress shirts, shown with an off-white dinner jacket. Esquire, Sept. 1934. One shirt has a “regular neck band” worn with a stiff, detachable collar. The other shirt has a new, attached collar.

The pleated fronts distinguished “dress shirts” from business shirts.

Esquire ran a regular series of illustrations which used actual fabric cut into the shapes of coats, shirts, etc. This one shows the off-white color and linen-like texture used in some “white” dinner jackets.

A creamy white dinner jacket worn with a pure white shirt, plus blue bachelor button in the lapel. Esquire, July 1934.

A creamy white dinner jacket worn with a pure white shirt, plus blue bachelor button in the lapel. Esquire, July 1934.

The off-white tone of the classic dinner jacket — darker than the shirt  — can be seen in this amusing clip from the movie The Lady Eve (1941.) Henry Fonda plays a wealthy but awkward herpetologist who hasn’t been in close proximity to a glamorous woman for quite some time — a situation that fortune-hunter Barbara Stanwyck corrects in this shipboard scene. Her bare-midriff dress and high heels are wonderful, too.

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Men's Haberdashery & Accessories, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shirts for men, Shoes for Men, Uniforms and Work Clothes

The Letty Lynton Dress, Adrian, and Joan Crawford’s Shoulders: Part 1.

Many people have written about this dress, which Gilbert Adrian designed for Joan Crawford to wear in the film Letty Lynton, in 1932.

Joan Crawfrod in "the Letty Lynton dress" designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

Joan Crawford in “the Letty Lynton dress” designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

The “Letty Lynton dress” is usually mentioned as the first movie fashion to be widely copied and sold all over the U.S. — a sign to manufacturers and store buyers that Hollywood could be more influential than Paris when it came to women’s clothing.

“The first time I became conscious of the terrific power of the movies was some months after Letty Lynton was released. I came to New York and found that everyone was talking about the Letty Lynton dress. I had to go into the shops to discover that of all the clothes I had done for Crawford in that film, it was a white organdie dress with big puffed sleeves that made the success. In the studio we thought the dress was amusing but a trifle extreme. The copies of it made the original Letty Lynton look very modest and shy.” — Adrian, quoted in Creating the Illusion, p. 142.

I don’t have any Butterick pattern photos from 1933, but the influence of the Letty Lynton dress can be found in this 1933 advertisement for the Woman’s Institute dressmaking course:

Woman's Institute ad, 1933. The style chosen for this dressmaking class ad is a Letty Lynton variation.

Woman’s Institute ad, 1933. The style chosen to advertise this correspondence course in dressmaking has Letty Lynton’s ruffled organdy sleeves.

Here are some Letty Lynton-inspired dresses from the Sears catalogs, 1933 and 1934.

Three "Letty Lynton" style dresses; from Sears catalogs, 1933 and 1934.

Three “Letty Lynton” style dresses; from Sears catalogs, 1933 and 1934. “Sheer Romantic Organdy” and “such ruffly sleeves.” “Frivolous and charming.”

Before Letty Lynton, the ideal 1930’s evening gown for young women was usually bare and slinky:

Evening gowns from Delineator, January and March, 1932. Butterick patterns

Evening gowns from Delineator, January and March, 1932. Butterick patterns 4271, 4262, and 4409. Notice how wide the models’ shoulders are drawn in relation to their hips!

In 1932, women’s dresses were clinging to their waists and breasts, in a way that had not been seen since before World War I. The horizontal hip line of the nineteen twenties had made even thin women look wider. In the thirties, bias-cut dresses clung to a natural, curvy body, sometimes improved by the new, soft girdles and bras made with lastex. But the average woman still couldn’t achieve the narrow-hipped ideal thirties’ figure.

Apparently, women who saw Letty Lynton (released in 1932) fell in love with the romantic look of Letty’s dress. And with the way it made her hips look smaller.

Butterick patterns for June, 1934. Nos. 5739, 5726, 5741. The dress on the left has extended shoulders, too.

The dress on the left has extended shoulders, too.

All four dresses have widened the shoulders with ruffles, or a collar, or sleeves.

All four dresses have widened the shoulders with ruffles, or a wide collar, or short sleeves. Butterick patterns 5739, 5726, 5741, 5745.

Butterick pattern 5516, February 1934, has softer ruffles.

Butterick pattern 5516, from February 1934, has softer ruffles at the shoulders.

This is a Letty Lynton look worn in an ad for Lux Soap.

This Letty Lynton-look dress was worn in an ad for Lux Soap; Delineator, June 1934.

More Butterick evening patterns from 1934.

More Butterick evening patterns from 1934. Nos. 5804, 5803, 5780.

A black satin dress with huge, ruffled shoulders. Butterick 5581, from March 1934.

A black satin dress with huge, ruffled shoulders. Butterick 5581, from March 1934. The illustrator has drawn realistic hips!

No. 5581:  “A wear-it-to everything evening frock? It should be dark —  but frivolous!” Delineator, March 1934.

If you already had an evening gown, you could bring it up to date with this cape:

"Pink Maline: Frothy yards of it in a cape that's chic frosting for a dark evening dress." Delineator, May 1934 .

“Pink Maline: Frothy yards of it in a cape that’s chic frosting for a dark evening dress.” Delineator, May 1934 . Maline is netting, like tulle.

The (Pre-Code) plot of Letty Lynton stars Crawford as a woman who leaves the man she has been living with, falls in love, and wants to start a new life — or die. Her white organdy confection of a dress is girlishly innocent, compared to the slinky wardrobe she wears as a sexually uninhibited woman. The organdy dress is extreme, and extremely flattering.

Part 2:  Were the Letty Lynton dress, Joan Crawford’s shoulders, and Adrian’s designs responsible for women’s shoulder pads in the 1940s?

 

 

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Filed under 1800s-1830s, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, vintage photographs

Bathing Suits for July, 1938

McCall’s coverage of summer fashions for 1938 included articles on choosing a flattering bathing suit — perhaps made of rubber — and the importance of wearing sunglasses.

Photo from McCall's magazine, July 1938. Peach colored bathing suit and matching swim cap.

Full-page photo from McCall’s magazine, July 1938. Peach colored bathing suit and matching swim cap.

McCall’s was a large format magazine, so I had to scan the top of the page, then the bottom and join them. This image was the “cover” of the style and beauty section, and didn’t have a description. Her waffle-weave swimsuit has a matching peach and white cap — or is it a scarf? There seems to be a tie peeking out from behind her head. Her coral lipstick and nail polish match.

Swimsuits and Sunglasses, 1938

"If the Sun's in Your Eyes" article, McCall's, July 1983. Sunglasses and print bathing suits.

“If the Sun’s in Your Eyes” article, McCall’s, July 1983. Sunglasses and print bathing suits.

Bathing suits, July 1938.

Striped and flowered bathing suits, July 1938.

The striped suit has a bra-like shaped top. The ethnic basket/beach bag is impressive. Like other late 30’s swimsuits, the legs are as long as modern shorts. This article stressed that sunglasses keep you from squinting, and, therefore, prevent wrinkles around the eyes. However, not all sunglasses were equal:

“Ordinary colored blown glass has wavy imperfections in it which distort the vision. . . . Science has perfected sunglasses that do not distort vision or darken the landscape. Even at a moderate price good sunglasses are now constructed so that they scientifically screen out most of the infra red and ultra violet rays. . . . Good sungogggles, not optically ground, of course, cost about fifty or seventy-five cents a pair, sometimes more.  But the extra cost over the cheapest type is small compared to the comfort you get. Such glasses are usually a blue or green tint, they’re well made, and come in handy carrying cases.” — Hildegarde Fillmore, writing in McCall’s magazine, July 1938.

How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit?

That was the question posed by this two-page article:

"How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit?" article, McCall's, July 1938

“How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit?” article, McCall’s, July 1938

“If your hips and thighs aren’t exactly streamlined, a dressmaker suit with a skirt will do more for you than a skin-tight maillot.” [But these long swimsuits do make the models’ legs look short and chunky.]

1938 halter necked bathing suit in "jungle print" with zipper front. McCall's, July 1938.

1938 halter-necked dressmaker bathing suit in “jungle print” with zipper front. McCall’s, July 1938.

p 70 bathing suit top 500 with text

“Is a bra-topped suit your love? Then be sure your bustline is pretty perfect and that no ‘spare tire’ mars your midriff.”

1938 bathing suit of elastic lace, "designed by a corset manufacturer."

1938 bathing suit of elastic lace, “designed by a corset manufacturer.”

1938 bathing suit: "The brassiere gives a good uplift, and front and back panels do a flattening job." McCall's, July 1938.

1938 bathing suit: “The brassiere gives a good uplift, and front and back panels do a flattening job.” McCall’s, July 1938.

To my surprise, two of the featured bathing suits were made of rubber. “Do you covet a skirtless rubber model? You’d better see to it that your tummy is practically concave.”

1938 white rubber bathing suit. McCall's, July 1938.

1938 white rubber bathing suit. McCall’s, July 1938.

White rubber bathing suit, McCall's magazine, July 1938.

White textured rubber bathing suit “starred in red and blue”, McCall’s magazine, July 1938.

“This crepe textured rubber maillot ‘swims’ like a second skin and dries in an instant. Its comfortable wool shoulder straps are adjustable at the back.”

(Below) “Tailored as a man’s waistcoat, this very brief bra-and-shorts suit is of ivory-white rubber in a neat jacquard self pattern. The points of the bra snap securely to the shorts, and a row of buttons form the trimming.”

1938 ivory rubber bathing suit. McCall's magazine, July 1938.

1938 ivory rubber bathing suit. McCall’s magazine, July 1938.

p 70 bathing suit btm text 500

I’m not sure how popular rubber bathing suits turned out to be, because, frankly, I didn’t want to do a search for them! Many years ago, while helping to organize a workshop on making dancewear, an online search for stretch fabrics taught me more than I really wanted to know about people who love spandex. Passionately. (Ahem.) I like to think that “nothing human is alien to me,” but I just don’t feel that curious about rubber clothing.

However, given how hard it is to find vintage rubber swim caps in good condition, I doubt that many rubber bathing suits survived.

1917 bathing cap made by Faultless Rubber Co. Ad from Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

1917 bathing cap made by Faultless Rubber Co. Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917.  A pretty cap like this would be quite a vintage collector’s item.

Rubber for Reducing

Another reason the rubber swimsuits surprised me is that rubber corsets had been advertised as reducing aids since at least the 1920s. They were still being advertised in womens’ magazines about the same time as the rubber swimsuits, and it’s hard to imagine that no one made the connection. (The swimsuits were not perforated, of course. You would just have to swim in your own sweat.)

Kleinert's New "All-in-One" of Sturdi-flex rubber fabric is a perfect marvel! Ad, 1937.

Kleinert’s New “All-in-One” of Sturdi-flex rubber fabric is a perfect marvel!” Ad, 1937.

“Kleinert’s Sturdi-flex Reducers are sized to bust measure. . . . It’s ODORLESS, perforated for coolness, and can be washed in a moment.” And only two dollars!

The Perfolastic rubber reducing garments must have been more expensive, because their price was never given.

Perfolastic rubber reducing garment advertisement from Woman's Home Companion, MArch 1937.

Perfolastic rubber reducing garment advertisement from Woman’s Home Companion, March, 1937.

And Another Thing About 1930s Bathing Suits . . .

I wasn’t expecting to see so many swimsuits with tight “boy-shorts” legs. Late Thirties’ bathing suits are long, by modern standards. [No French cut legs on the beaches then!] But even in the 1950’s, many women’s bathing suits still had a sort of “modesty panel” in front that concealed the crotch.

Esther Williams in an ad for Cole bathing suits, from her book, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Esther Williams in an ad for Cole bathing suits, from her book, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Here are some suits from the 1958 Sears catalog, two decades after the 1938 bathing suits pictured in McCall’s.

Sears' catalog bathing suits for Spring 1958. all three have a modesty panel hiding the crotch area.

Sears’ catalog bathing suits for Spring 1958. They are still rather long, and all three have a modesty panel hiding the crotch area.

Swimsuits from 1938 might be long, but some of them had legs:

Bathing suits from Sears' catalog for Spring 19238.

Bathing suits from Sears’ catalog for Spring 1938.

Bathing suits shown in ads in McCall’s are very similar to the conservative styles at the top of this post.

Bathing suit in and ad for Underwood's Devilled Ham. McCall's, July 1938

Bathing suit in an ad for Underwood’s Deviled Ham. McCall’s, July 1938

Swimsuits from an ad for Palmolive soap, McCall's, July 1938.

Swimsuits from an ad for Palmolive soap, McCall’s, July 1938.

Skirted bathing suits from a Palmolive ad, McCall's, July 1938.

Skirted bathing suits with low backs and bra tops, from a Palmolive ad, McCall’s, July 1938. Note the attractively striped shoes, too.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Bathing Suits, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Zippers

Berth Robert Catalog for Summer, 1934

Berth Robert Catalog for April, May, June 1934. Front cover.

Berth Robert Catalog for April, May, June 1934. Front cover.

While searching for more information on the Berth Robert company, which sold “Semi-Made” dresses,  I found this polka-dotted 1934 catalog on Ebay. The ad I wrote about recently was also from 1934:

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934. “You simply sew up the seams. Complete accessories with each dress.”

The woman who responded to this magazine ad in February might well have received exactly that polka-dotted April-June catalog, especially if she remained on the mailing list. I was thrilled when it arrived, because it has 24 pages of lovely 1930’s fashions, often three or more per page, printed on good quality semi-glossy paper which has not yellowed at all. (But which my scanner sees as gray.)

Wearfast Sports Dresses, Berth Robert catalog, page 6. Spring 1934.

Wearfast Semi-Made Sports Dresses, Berth Robert catalog, page 6. Summer 1934.

Why Would You Buy a Semi-Made Dress?

The catalog answers some of my questions about how “semi-made” dresses worked, and raises others. Speaking as a person who has made a lot of dresses, “the Berth Robert Plan” of leaving the side and underarm seams open, and the other finishing undone,  didn’t seem to me to save enough labor to account for a large reduction in price. I wondered how Berth Robert’s prices compared to normal mail-order clothing. And what about the promise that Berth Robert’s tailors “cut your dresses, suits, coats to your exact measurements?” Did they? And would these semi-made dresses appeal especially to hard-to-fit women?

“All you do is sew a few simple seams, adjusting the dress to your figure perfectly as you sew. . . and as you sew you save.” — Berth Robert Ad, 1936

When I showed the ad to my husband, he suggested, “Open side seams would make them easy to alter,” but the ease of “adjusting the dress to fit your figure” was not stressed in my catalog. The width of the seam allowances was not given, so it would be possible to take them in, but not necessarily possible to let them out. Besides, the catalog says, “Berth Robert’s tailors cut your dresses, suits, coats to your exact measurements, so that they fit you perfectly.” [My italics. Why would you need to alter them?]

“Made to Your Exact Measurements?”

The order form which came with my catalog made a good impression, because, unlike Sears,  it asked for more than just size and basic “Bust-waist-hip” measurements.

berth robert order blank 500

In addition to bust, waist and hip, the Berth Robert order form asks for a nape to back waist measurement (D-H), a back waist to finished hem length (H-E) and an underarm sleeve measurement “from underarm seam to wrist ((F-G).” A nape to hem measurement (D-E) was also important, as it affected price (see below.)

The Berth Robert order form asks for many measurements, not just bust, waist and hip.

The Berth Robert order form asks for vertical measurements, not just bust, waist and hip. Height and weight are also asked for.

The cynic in me suspects that garments were not actually made to measure, but the optimist hopes that the semi-made parts were carefully selected to accommodate wide hips or a short figure.

Semi-Made Explained

The catalog shows a full-page illustration of a completed dress, plus the various parts as they would be sent to the purchaser:

Berth Robert catalog p. 3, for Summer 1934.

Berth Robert catalog p. 3, for Summer 1934. “Model 900.” Price: $5.95.

p 3 parts 500

“The sketches at the sides show you just how a Berth Robert semi-made dress comes to you. It is cut to your measure as you know, then see how all the pleating and tucking is entirely finished for you? The shoulders are joined, the embroidered organdy bow is finished, buttons, buckle included, and even matching thread is sent you!”

Notice the paper of snaps and “Directions” at lower right. In 1934, zippers were not routinely used in women’s dresses. One side seam would be left open for a few inches from bust to high hip and closed, when worn, with a series of snaps, plus, usually, a hook and bar at the waist. A buckle for the bow is pictured next to the snaps. This particular dress has a very low back, held at the top with a narrow strap, which must also snap into place on one side.

Model 900, 1934.

Model 900,  Berth Robert catalog, 1934.

Model 900 — A splendid example of what the smart young woman will wear this summer is this All Silk Washable Crepe frock, created for activity and sunshine. Cool, comfortable and practical, from its smart sunback to the low placed pleats on the skirt, this frock will prove a joy all summer.  Sizes 14 to 40.  Washable All Silk Crepe — White, Blue, Maize or Green . . . . . . $5.95. For dresses longer than 47 inches add 75 cents extra.

Frustratingly, like so many other catalogs and pattern magazines of the early 20th century, this catalog gives a range of sizes, but there is but no explanation of what those sizes mean in terms of the wearer’s measurements. (I wrote about this at length in “Size 16 Years.” What Does That Mean? Click here to read the post.)

Throughout the catalog, the range of sizes for each “model” are given as “Sizes 14 to 20,” “Sizes 14 to 40,” or, rarely, “Sizes 14 to 42.” Sometimes a dress is available in both “Sizes 14 to 40” and “Sizes 42 and 44” — at a higher price for the larger sizes.

It doesn’t seem likely that a very short woman who wore size 44 would find what she needed here. [In general, only Sizes 14 through 20 were for young or petite women; size 20 usually had a maximum 38 inch bust measurement. ]

Did Semi-Made Dresses Really Offer Higher Quality for Less Money?

The costume shop at San Francisco Opera used to hire a team of “finishers” to come in at the end of a build and do a huge amount of skilled hand sewing:  buttons, snaps, hooks and eyes, and buttonhole stitching to reinforce all the grommets. The expert “finishers,” who did nothing else, could perform these repetitive hand-sewing tasks much faster than stitchers who usually operated sewing machines.

Except for “simple” seams at the sides, Berth Robert passed all the hand stitching on to the buyer:  hems, buttons, snaps, etc. Again, my skeptical side says, “Surely a New York clothing factory had ‘finishers,’ too.”

Here is the explanation given for bargain prices — three ways semi-made dresses save the manufacturer money — from my Berth Robert catalog:

contents money saving 500

The third reason is a bit like the argument that buying online is cheaper because the company has no expenses for “brick and mortar” retail stores.

The second reason raises the question:  Don’t all manufacturers buy their cloth wholesale? Of course they get it for less per yard than it would cost in a retail fabric store.

“Berth Robert’s Semi-Made Plan . . . enables you to have several dresses for less than the material alone would ordinarily cost you!”

But one thing I do notice is this catalog’s emphasis on quality fabrics:  real silk, wool, angora, pure Irish linen, and Permanent Finish Organdy, etc.

Afternoon dresses from Berth Robert catalog, 1934.

Afternoon dresses from Berth Robert catalog, 1934.

p 7 btm 500 afternoon

All three dresses are “All Silk,” not rayon. The box at the lower right says, “We will be glad to send you samples of the materials used in our semi-made clothes.” That suggests to me that the quality of the fabrics was good — a selling point.

These three semi-made afternoon dresses were available in sizes 14 to 40. Prices were $7.95, $8.95, and $6.75. In other words, they were for middle class women.  A suggested clothing budget for a young female college graduate in 1936 allowed her to buy four dresses per year, at an average price of $5.00, from her weekly salary of $20.00.

I think Dinah was on the right track with her comment on Semi-Made Dresses, 1930’s. She wrote:

“This is an old marketing trick. In buying the kit of parts the woman avoids the difficulties of cutting out and sizing. However, she can claim that she made the dress because she put it together and added her own buttons and other notions.

“Years ago a UK packet food did the same thing for a custard tart or similar. The publicity said ” you add the egg”. There is no need as many packet foods use egg powder. But by adding the egg herself the woman could proudly say that “she” cooked it, it was not bought in a packet.

“We should not under estimate the importance of this, particularly in the past where women were *automatically* expected to make dresses, cook using basic ingredients.”

Many mothers feel guilty about spending money on themselves, and make little economies (like wearing worn-out underwear) to be sure their children are well dressed for school.  A “semi-made” dress might assuage some of that guilt.

Also, as Dinah suggests, a housewife could justify her Berth Robert expenditure by showing her husband that she was working — sewing her own clothes — to save him money.

Price Comparisons

This semi-made Washable All Silk Crepe sports dress from Berth Robert cost $5.50:

Berth Roberts Model 909, 1934.

Berth Roberts Semi-Made Model 909, 1934. Sizes 14 to 20 only. (Probably because it is cut high in front but very low in back.) $5.50

To compare prices, I checked the Sears Catalog for Spring 1934; these simple “Washable All Silk Flat Crepe” sport dresses cost $3.98. However, in the fine print you can see “Washable All Silk Flat Crepe, weighted.” Weighted silk was lower in quality — much cheaper by the yard — and vintage collectors know that the metallic salts which gave it more body also caused deterioration.

Washable silk dresses from Sears, Spring 1934.

Washable “weighted” silk dresses from Sears, Spring 1934. Price: $3.98 each.

The two piece, semi-made dresses from Berth Robert , below, cost $8.95 ($9.75 for sizes 42 and 44.) The one on the right is silk crepe.

Berth Robert Semi-made. 1934.

Berth Robert Semi-made. 1934. Priced $8.95 to $9.75.

p 12 jacket dress 923 924 text 500

This comparable, but ready-to-wear, two-piece outfit from Sears cost $7.98 in sizes 36 through 44. However, like Sears’ sport dresses, it is made of lower-quality weighted silk.

Sears catalog, Spring 1934.

Sears catalog, Spring 1934. Price: $7.98.

Berth Roberts Completely Made Dresses

A big surprise in my catalog was that there were several pages of completely finished, ready-to-wear garments: sweaters, skirts, blouses, dresses, work uniforms, bathing suits, slips, nightgowns, etc.

Berth Robert Completely Made garments. 1934 catalog.

Berth Robert Completely Made tops and skirts. 1934 catalog. Priced from $1.09 to $2.95.

Berth Robert Completely Made garments, 1934 catalog.

Berth Robert Completely Made garments, 1934 catalog. Priced from $1.95 to $3.95.

The two most expensive items on these three pages cost $3.95 each:

J20: Lisle shirt with zipper front and corded jersey trousers; J23" "All wool Zephyr in the New Mexicana colorings fashions this Bathing suit." Berth Robert ready to wear. 1934.

J20:  Two piece outfit:  Lisle shirt with zipper front and corded jersey trousers. $3.95.  J23:  “All wool Zephyr in the New Mexicana colorings fashions this Bathing suit.” $3.95. Berth Robert completed ready-to-wear. 1934.

The three completely finished dresses below (left to right) cost $1.95 (“corded plaid cotton,”) $2.95 (“eyelet embroidered batiste,”) and $1.95 (cross striped broadcloth and waffle pique.”)

Berth Robert ready-to-wear dresses, priced $1.95 to $2.95.

Berth Robert ready-to-wear dresses, priced $1.95 to $2.95. “All garments on this page are completely made and guaranteed washable.”

Unless there was a huge difference in fabric quality, it’s hard to understand why these completely finished, ready-to-wear, Berth Robert mail order clothes cost a lot less than Berth Robert’s “semi-made” ones. Go figure!

[I’ll be sharing more fashions from this catalog later.]

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Filed under 1930s, Bathing Suits, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, Women in Trousers