Tag Archives: bloomers

Musings, Jan 2015: on Corsets, Mini Skirts, Bloomers, etc.

I’ve been getting some wonderful comments on older posts, so I want to share some related pictures.

Twentieth Century Corsets for Girls:

Girl's corset, 1917. Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, Dover Books.

Girl’s corset, 1917. Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, Dover Books.

“10A19:  Girl’s flexible corset waist with light, flexible boning. Designed to hold the immature figure within trim lines without in any way binding it. . . . Sizes 18 to 30. [Misses’ corset waists should be ordered 2 inches less that your waist measurement over your dress — p.146.] A corset waist every girl should have. 79 cents.”

This girl’s corset was sold by Perry, Dame & Company, in their 1917 catalog.

Dinah found photos online of more corsets for girls — not from the turn of the century, but from a Sears catalog dated 1923! The image is in Google online, so the number of times it can be viewed is limited. Instead of using a link, I found it by doing a google search for the words “sears corset for girls 1923 Olian.” The image is from  JoAnne Olian’s Children’s Fashions 1900-1950.) [Caution: My McAfee Secure Search says do not click on the Sears Catalogs Online links — there may be security issues! ]

How to Sit in a Mini Skirt:

Nancy N remembered many of the disadvantages of wearing a miniskirt.

“I wore my hems somewhere between the mid knee and micro mini length — long enough so that when you sat down your underwear wasn’t sitting on the chair! Then I discovered how flattering the extra long midi was, so it DIDNT hit the fattest part of the calf. Short skirts were cute but such a challenge .. What to do climbing stairs in the mall? Sitting for long stretches with your knees together is tiring! And bending down to file papers all day is no fun. Thank god for the pantsuit!”

One discomfort was that you had to sit with your knees clamped firmly together. This photo of a group of Sea Scouts shows the [more modest end of ] the range of problems miniskirts caused:

Sea Scouts, post 601, 1968. Photo by Bill Owens, from Alison Lurie's book, The Language of Clothes.

Sea Scouts, California Post 601, 1968. Photo by Bill Owens, from Alison Lurie’s book, The Language of Clothes. Note that the girls are wearing an officially approved uniform — usually more conservative than teenagers’ ordinary dress.

In the 1960s, I thought of this as “the candidate’s wife” problem; when a woman in a short skirt sits on a raised platform, with her knees or ankles at the eye level of the audience, she has to sit very carefully. These young women seated at the far right are not yet ready for the campaign trail:

How not to sit in a miniskirt. Photo by Bill Owens, 1968.

How not to sit in a miniskirt. Photo by Bill Owens, 1968.

The girls in the center have crossed their legs at the knees, which is  also not wise if you’re sitting higher than the audience — unless you want them to see up your skirt to the hip:

Sitting like this hides your crotch but sometimes exposes your stocking tops.

Sitting like this would hide your crotch, but sometimes exposed your stocking tops, your garters, or worse, your thigh control panty girdle.

Sitting correctly: Knees together, ankles crosses.

Sitting correctly: Knees together, ankles crossed, skirt tucked under your thighs.

These girls have mastered the basics of sitting in public in a miniskirt. The more advanced miniskirt posture requires you to also sit at a slight angle, so your crossed ankles are not directly under your knees. Tucking your crossed feet under the chair tilts your knees and thighs downward, too.

Members of the Kennedy clan demonstrate graceful sitting here. Scroll down to the group pictures.

The Scandalous Can-Can

Dinah also made some interesting points in a different comment on Underpinning the Twenties — about how difficult it was for parents raised in the 1890s to accept the fashions of the 1920s, which were so radically different from their own corseted and restrictive youth. Also, she mentions that [like the young women above] Victorian women dancing the can-can had to cross their raised leg — because they were wearing crotchless bloomers. These are more formally called “open drawers;”

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

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

A pair of open drawers that belonged to Queen Victoria were sold at auction for over 6,000 pounds in 2014 (read the article in Victoriana  here ); this article in the Telegraph shows some of her underwear, now given “national designated status.” These garments date from the 1890s, when the queen had a very large circumference.

Women in Gym Bloomers Allowed in Golden Gate Park: 1915

College girls doing farm work in their gym bloomers and middy blouses, Oct. 1918. Delineator.

College girls doing farm work in their gym bloomers and middy blouses, Oct. 1918. Delineator.

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an article every Sunday called The Wayback Machine,  by Johnny Miller, who goes through “the archives of 25, 50, 75, and 100 years ago to bring us glimpses of the past.” On January 4, 2015, he found this article from January 8, 1915, heralding the end of the bloomer ban:

“As far as the Park Commissioner is concerned, ‘the bloomer girls’ will be allowed to play ball in Golden Gate Park, notwithstanding Mrs. Grundy to the contrary. For some time these young misses have been an attraction on the park diamonds where they could be depended upon to put on a stirring game. And then Mrs. Grundy appeared on the scene and the games ceased. But now they will resume for the park Commission sees no harm in young girls, attired in their gymnasium suits, disporting on the park greens.”

More college girls doing farm work in their gymnasium outfits, 1918.

More college girls doing farm work in their gymnasium outfits, 1918.

A less sexually provocative outfit would be hard to imagine. Perhaps the fact that the female baseball players’ stocking-clad legs were visible was the reason “Mrs. Grundy” objected to games in Golden Gate Park in 1915.

That brings us back to Dinah’s comments about the conflict between Victorian adults and their 20th century offspring:

“Another problem was that in the 1920s there was a break from the 19 century view that even adult children must do as their parents dictated. The fact that adult young girls were ignoring their mother’s advice about proper corsetry was in itself terrible. Do the sums – a 21 year old girl in 1925 would have been born in 1904, to say a mother aged 25; The mother would have been born in 1879. When the mother was a teenager in the 1890s the wasp waist was in full swing. She probably expected the same rigid and tight corset for her daughter?”

Thanks to all you wonderful readers who share your knowledge and keep these conversations going!

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Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1960s-1970s, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Costumes for the 19th century, Girdles, Hosiery & Stockings, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Uniforms and Work Clothes, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers

“Original and Becoming” Work Clothes, 1917

Work clothes for women suggested by Ladies Home Journal, Sept. 1917

Some work clothes for women suggested by Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917. Illus. signed Sheldon.

This article suggests seven different work outfits suitable for American women in wartime. One of them, surprisingly, is a dress with a divided skirt — what would later be called a culotte skirt. Sadly, although the Ladies’ Home Journal sold its own mail order patterns, none of these outfits has a pattern number. The article is “editorial,” suggesting that outfits which would have been rather shocking a few months earlier may now be “safely” worn on the streets and in the stores of an America at war. I’ll show an overview first, and then describe each outfit with its accompanying text. Except where noted, all illustrations are from the same Ladies’ Home Journal article, dated September 1917. 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr 5001917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants btm text 500

Women in Trousers, 1917

Women were already wearing bloomers for gym classes and jodhpurs or riding breeches when on horseback. In July of 1917, a rival fashion magazine, Delineator, had suggested that a sort of trouser outfit might be worn for housework:

Butteric pattern No. 9294 for a smock dress over bloomers. Delineator, July 1917.

Butterick pattern No. 9294 for a smock dress over bloomers. House-dress No. 9288 is on the right. Delineator, July 1917.

“For the home-reserve corps comes this new costume (design 9294) suited to the woman who wants to go on active service — either at home, out camping, or for gardening.” The house-dress next to it shows a typical hem length for women. As skirts became shorter, they were usually worn with opaque stockings or boots.

The bloomer outfit above, with gathered cuffs, is a close relative of women’s pajamas like these, also from 1917 :

Butterick pajama pattern No. 9400, Sept 1917. Delineator magazine.

Butterick pajama pattern No. 9400, Sept 1917. Delineator magazine.

The Ladies’ Home Journal Suggests Some Trouser Outfits for 1917

“Even the most inveterate feminine ‘slacker’ will be lured into laborious occupations if such fascinating uniforms as these are to be worn.” [After World War I began in August, 1914, women in Europe began filling traditionally male occupations in order to free men for military service. “Land girls” worked on farms; women became train and street car conductors, munitions workers, heavy equipment operators, etc.]

1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants top left breeches“[These] trig knee-buttoned trousers …, worn with a laced skirted blouse, tam and laced high boots, were designed for an ardent motorist. Surely even the most stubborn opposition could be overcome at sight of these!” For an official Red Cross Motor Corps Woman’s Uniform, click here.1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants top right“It may be that the fair farm maid . . . has paused dissatisfied with her work, but surely no doubt could lurk in her mind as to the fitness of her well-made olive-drab khaki suit. Side fullness given by plaits [pleats] begins at the underarm and ends at the hem.” lhj 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr rake“[Above] One may rake, pile, and burn autumn leaves  in the serene consciousness that no flickering flame will catch on the strapped leggings worn with [this] pocketed bloomer suit. . . .” 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr“Indoors expediency demands simplified dressing, and the adoption of such an attractive combination — apron, blouse, divided skirt — as shown above . . . made of ticking, may do much to encourage women to take up their housework seriously.” [Note the unusual “divided skirt!” In 1917, the word apron could refer to a garment we would now call a dress.] 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants btm left shopping“When marketing is part of the day’s routine, a long tucked smock of khaki with wide-bottom trousers… makes a work outfit one could safely venture out in.” [Think about what is implied by “safely.” The government encouraged women to collect their own groceries rather than having them delivered, freeing the deliverymen for active service.] lhj 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr right“Strapped leggings, a high buttoned collar, hip pockets and wrist straps effectively suppress any loophole which may hint of feminine softness in [this] public service uniform.” Oh, really ? Her pose makes me wonder exactly what public service she is performing! For official Red Cross service uniforms, click here. 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm btm rt outfit“Indoors or out, one could find many reasons why and times when just such a quaint smock and short skirt as [these] could be worn.”  I don’t know what the editors of Ladies’ Home Journal were thinking, but the Red Cross did not allow women younger than 23 to serve coffee and doughnuts to the troops. They had their reasons. Although artistic, this leg-baring outfit might be subject to misinterpretation.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage patterns, Women in Trousers, World War I

Golf and Corsets, 1917

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

After writing about the use of golf to promote everything from laundry soap to deodorant in September of 1924, I went to the library to finish reading the bound Delineators from 1917 and found this image of a lady in her underwear holding a putter. (I may be wrong about the golf club’s name. I’ve only played golf once, over 50 years ago.) If asked to name the least flattering period of women’s clothing, ever, I would say “World War I;”  these corsets, brassieres, and bust-confiners do nothing to dissuade me.

Corsets for Sports, 1917

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

It would be fun to make up stories about why this lady is so interested in the golf club that she has just found in her boudoir, but it’s not a clue in a murder mystery; the illustrator probably put it there to indicate that this is a corset for “sports, motoring and dancing, ” “lightly boned and made flexible with rubber gores that give and take.” The corset is shown worn over her bloomers. Judging from the two pairs of straps on her shoulders, she is wearing a corset cover over either a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Her shoes are also interesting; her stockings are held up by her corset, so these straps are not garters, but part of the lady’s boots:

Ladies' boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

Ladies’ boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

This is a lighter sports corset — on a less substantial woman —  from the same article:

A sports corset for slender women. 1917.

“The new sports corset has a very short front bone with buttons above it. The bust is very low.” 1917.

The riding crop on the bench, plus the bowler hat — assuming it belongs to the lady — suggest she is going horseback riding. “The bust is very low” indeed, even though her arms are raised.

Brassieres and Bust-Confiners, 1917

"with a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917,  p. 43.

“With a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner.” This upper garment, with gathers at the side and no boning, is a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917, p. 43.

The brassiere of 1917 created a mono-bosom, and contributed to the sagging bustline that was illustrated in fashions for young women as well as for matrons.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

The stout lady in this illustration is wearing a heavy linen brassiere with her front-lacing corset:

A brassiere and a front-lacing corset, 1917.

A brassiere worn with a front-lacing corset, 1917.

The front-lacing corset was still new. “With the present low bust the corset only takes care of the lower part of the figure. The upper part is no longer corseted by the corset but by a brassiere or bust-confiner. The new brassieres are quite lovely. For stout figures they are made of heavy linen and heavy lace in the filet and Cluny patterns. They come right to the waistline and are boned lightly but firmly. The stout woman has to wear a brassiere. . . . Slender women wear either a brassiere or bust-confiner of silk tricot, crepe de Chine, net or satin ribbon. Under the very thin Georgette crepe blouses and dresses, with only a thin silk shirt and a satin camisole between you and your dress, the bust-confiner is absolutely necessary for even the most slender and undeveloped figures.” A few years later, the brassiere and the bust-confiner had evolved into bust flatteners and bandeaux. Click here for more about early 1920s bandeaux and corsets.

From and article by , Delineator, Sep. 1917, p. 43.

From an article by Eleanor Chalmers, Delineator, Sept. 1917, p. 43.

This article about underwear was titled “First Line of Defense of the Figure.” After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, military terms were constantly used by Delineator editors in fashion coverage, in a way that I find shocking today. Of course, the World War I images of horrific slaughter which we have seen were censored and suppressed at the time, so whimsical references to “manouevres,” “holding the line,” and “going over the top” were perhaps not so tasteless then. Perhaps.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Bras, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Hosiery & Stockings, Shoes, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

College Girls Become Farmers During World War I

Volunteers for Food: Vassar Girls Prove Themselves at Agriculture. Delineator, October 1918

Volunteers for Food: Vassar Girls Prove Themselves Adepts at Agriculture. Delineator, October 1918

This full page photo essay shows one way that young women contributed to the war effort in America. With young men going off to war, young women stepped in to tackle some previously male jobs. (AmericanAgeFashion has also written about “Farmerettes.”)

Lower half of the page. Vassar Girls Doing Farm Work, 1918

Lower half of the page. Vassar Girls Doing Farm Work, 1918

Here are some of the photographs at an easier-to-see size:1918 oct college girls vassar crosscut saw

1918 oct college girls vassar haying1918 oct college girls vassar milk platoonThe captions may seem patronizing, even though the Delineator was a woman’s magazine. However, I think they are intended to be light-hearted and morale-boosting. These patriotic college women are cheerfully sawing logs and harvesting crops as their contribution to the war effort. They are not wearing uniforms, as the following pictures show; these dark wool middy tops and bloomers are their normal gym suits or hiking clothes.

A gym suit (left) and a hiking outfit (right), 1925. These sport outfits remained constant for schoolgirls and teens for many years.

A gym suit (left) and a hiking outfit (right), 1925. These athletic outfits remained constant for schoolgirls and young women for many years.

1918 oct college girls planting timeThese gardeners show a variety of clothing. The standing woman in a skirt and jacket is presumably a teacher.1918 oct college girls higher mathDo you suppose the black arm band means the girl on the right is in mourning? The girl on the left (like the one below) is wearing a gardening smock.

College girl wearing a garden smock, 1918.

College girl wearing a garden smock, 1918.

It looks like a more substantial — and practical — version of the one illustrated here:

Garden smock, Delineator, July 1917.

Garden smock, Delineator, July 1917.

I used this illustration in my post about fabric shortages during World War I; the editorial that accompanied this drawing in 1917 emphasized how different America’s experience was from that of our European allies.

Some Grim Statistics

Girls and women in England did hard labor on farms and in factories for years.  For them, the war began in August of 1914. In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson was elected to a second term in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” The U.S. did not officially enter the war until April of 1917.  By the end of the war, on November 11, 1918, nine million soldiers and an estimated five million civilians were dead.  116, 516 American soldiers died, out of more than four million American mobilized forces. But the United Kingdom lost between 702,917 and 888,246 men in the prime of life, and another two million were injured. France, Russia, and Romania suffered military casualties of more than 70%.  When the war ended, many women realized that they would never marry, and would have to be self-supporting for the rest of their lives. One such family of women founded the Avoca Handweavers in County Wicklow, Ireland. You can read about them in a lovely post by The Vintage Traveler.

The Study of Fashion Can’t be Separated from the Study of More Important Things

This is just one example of the way the thread of fashion runs through the fabric of history — and a pastime that seems trivial connects us with larger issues. I began by thinking about gym suits and garden smocks, and wound up learning more about the First World War. How appropriate that Memorial Day is being observed this weekend — a time for reflection on all the costs of war.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Sportswear, Uniforms and Work Clothes, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers, World War I

Outdoor Clothing for Young Women, 1920s

For a long time I had been puzzled by this photograph of my aunt wearing what seemed to be a military outfit. The photo is dated 1919; the man next to her eventually became her husband, and her mother is wearing a dress that was already old-fashioned.

Young woman with her future husband and her mother, 1919

Young woman with her future husband and her mother, 1919

I knew that English women had entered previously male occupations during World War I (1914-1918); England’s heavy mobilization and casualties meant that women were needed as factory workers, farmers, drivers of trucks and buses, etc.  But the United States did not enter the war until April of 1917, so, although American women were ready to volunteer for previously male occupations, and fashion was heavily influenced by military styles, American women were never called upon to fill traditionally male roles in the same numbers as their British sisters.

So why was my teen-aged aunt dressed in what seems to be an olive drab wool uniform?car and standing

Hiking & Camping Outfits for Young Women, 1925

When I came across these Butterick patterns for hiking and camping outfits, the mystery was solved:

Butterick patterns, Delineator magazine, July 1925

Butterick patterns, Delineator magazine, July 1925

1925 july p 35 right hiking #4552Pattern # 4552 (on the right): Middy Blouse and Knickers.  “The Middy blouse holds its own as a becoming and practical half of the knicker-and-blouse hiking costume. The middy blouse and separate knickers are suitable for general sports wear. Make tham of khaki, cotton poplin, or serge; or make the blouse of white jean or pongee with knickers of khaki, tweed, serge or corduroy…. The middy blouse and knickers are correct for girls and misses 6 to 18 years.”

1925 july p 35 right ctr hiking middy gym #4157Pattern # 4157 (on the left): “For the open roads and hidden trails young hikers wear a white jean middy and plaited or gathered bloomers of navy blue serge or khaki. Or make the entire garment of khaki, serge, or cotton poplin. This is good…for the gymnasium or for general sports wear. The blouse may be made with a yoke and the collar may be detachable…. The middy blouse and bloomers are for juniors and girls 6 to 16 years.”

A favorite part of any hike is cooling your feet in a stream.dot feet in water729

Gender-neutral Clothing for Hiking, Camping, and Picnics: 1921

This set of photos were taken on a group trip to Santa Cruz, a beach resort in northern California; they are dated 1921.

The Women

The Women

The Men

The Men

Boys and Girls Together, 1921

Boys and Girls Together, 1921

What is remarkable about these photos that the men and the women are dressed so much alike.  Such clothing, defying traditional gender roles – in public! – would have been unthinkable just a few years before.

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Filed under 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Sportswear, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers