Tag Archives: changing fashions 20th century

Changing the Foundations of Fashion: 1929 to 1934

"Make us look like this!" Sears catalog, Spring 1934, featuring Lastex two-way stretch girdles.

“Make us look like this!” Sears catalog, Spring 1934, featuring Lastex two-way stretch girdles: “Boneless! Bulgeless!”

Many changes in fashion were taking place between 1929 and 1934, in addition to the fall of the hemline and the rise of the waistline.

For the first time in centuries, fashions followed the natural shape of a woman’s body. Bias-cut dresses, which clung to every curve, were already chic in 1929.

November, 1929. Form fitting gowns from French designers Louiseboulanger and Jean Patou. Delineator sketches by Soulie.

November, 1929. Form fitting gowns from French designers Louiseboulanger and Jean Patou. The Delineator.

Makers of bosom-flattening brassieres — such as the “Flatter-U” and “Boyshform” bandeaux — were losing younger customers to companies like “Maiden Form” and G.M. Poix’s “A-P Uplift.” The word “uplift” was applied rather freely.

"Uplift bandeau" and Foundation with "Uplift rayon jersey top. Seaers catalog, Fall, 1929. Page 218.

“Uplift bandeau” (left) and Foundation (right) with “Uplift style bust.” Sears catalog, Fall, 1929.

Farrell-Beck and Gau, authors of the book Uplift:  The Bra in America, point out that in previous centuries, corsets pushed the breasts up from below; now, brassieres with shoulder straps lifted the breasts up.

After the mono-bosom years earlier in the 20th century, the word “uplift” seems to include the idea of separation. Women were finally acknowledged to have two breasts, one on either side of the sternum.

"Empire Gown" with "uplift line of the bodice." Butterick pattern # , Nov. 1931.

“Empire Gown” with “uplift line of the bodice.” Butterick pattern #4175 , Nov. 1931.

The garment that had been called a “corset” (or “corselette,” if it was unboned) became a “foundation.”

This illustration of the latest foundation garments appeared in The Delineator as early as March, 1929.

This illustration of the latest foundation garments appeared in The Delineator as early as March, 1929.

“Out went the whalebone. In went elastic. . . . The ‘foundation garment’ or ‘costume foundation’ . . . has definitely supplanted the word ‘corset’ and earned universal approval.”  — Editorial in The Delineator, March 1929.

Several months later, this article appeared, with illustrations more typical of 1929 undergarments:

"Facts and Figures About the strikingly feminine new silhouette." Article by Lucile Babcock in Delineator, October 1929.

“Facts and Figures about the strikingly feminine new silhouette.” Article in The Delineator, October 1929.

“Gone are the days of the straight-line, belted-about-the-hips frock which concealed many of our figure deficiencies. Snug fitting hips, slightly raised and occasionally nipped-in waists, a frank recognition of the bust line, are characteristic of autumn styles.” — Lucile Babcock, in The Delineator, Oct. 1929.

Two mid-twenties' corsets: La Camille ad, 1924, and Bien Jolie ad, 1925. Both Delineator.

Before the change: two mid-twenties’ corsets. Left, a La Camille corset ad, 1924, and right, a Bien Jolie corset ad, 1925. Both from The Delineator.

The corset went through other changes after 1929.

Bias-cut satin dresses like these would have revealed every bump, boning channel, and lacing of an old-fashioned corset.

Bias-cut gowns from August and October, 1921. Butterick patterns 4039, 4093, and 4097. Delineator.

Bias-cut gowns from August and October, 1931. Butterick patterns 4039, 4093, and 4097. Delineator.

In 1929, the Sears catalog shows “boyish”/bust-suppressing corsets on the same page as corsets with soft, non-flattening tops. 1929 sears Fall p 218 page 500

 

The foundation on the left  is a typical 1920's corselet, turning the body into a tube shape.

The foundation on the left is a typical 1920’s corset;  bust-flattening boned seams and no waist indentation turn the body into a tube shape.

Significantly, the 1929 corset on the left below has rayon jersey (knit) in the bust area. Although not truly cup shaped, the soft fabric was not designed to flatten the breasts,  unlike the boned garment on the right.

Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 223. (Look at that deco fabric!)

Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 223. (I love that art deco fabric on the right!)

Several of Sears’ 1929 corsets/foundations use soft rayon jersey over the bust.

Foundation with "uplift" rayon bust; Fall 1929 Sears catalog p. 218

Foundation with “uplift style” rayon bust; Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 218. It’s hard to believe that this did much “lifting.”

But the chief problem of late 1920’s corsets (or foundations, as they were now being called)  was that their stretch panels had to be made from something like surgical elastic (similar to the Ace bandages used for sprained wrists and ankles.) At the time, elasticized fabrics were limited in size, so the fronts and backs of corsets had to be made of traditional, non-stretch corset materials, like coutil or thick satin; they needed hook-and-eye or  zipper closings, and the seams (and fastenings) were never smooth enough for wearing under thin, bias-cut gowns like this one:

Bias-cut satin gown in a Kotex ad, July 1931. Delineator.

Bias-cut satin gown in a Kotex ad, July 1931. Delineator.

Lastex Changes Corsetry

The revolution came in the early 1930’s, when a new method for processing rubber was invented. According to Elizabeth Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear, before 1930 the sap of rubber trees (latex) was dried and compressed into bricks for shipping. When it reached England, the bricks were liquified, and long sheets of rubber were made. These sheets would then be cut into strips and incorporated into fabrics, but the strips were never long enough to be effectively woven into material suitable for the mass production of corsets.

Fall 1930 Sears catalog. Before the invention of Lastex, elastic panels had to be used sparingly. (However, the bust is back!)

Fall 1930 Sears catalog. Before the invention of Lastex, elastic panels had to be used sparingly or pieced together. (However, by 1930 the bust is definitely back in style.)

“About 1930,” a new chemical process allowed latex to be shipped in its liquid form. The liquid latex could then be extruded into fine threads — called Lastex —  which were as long as threads of traditional materials, which meant that elasticized yardage could finally be made in lengths and widths suitable for mass produced garments. As soon as weaving and knitting machines had been adapted to use Lastex, a new kind of undergarment became possible.

Munsingwear's 'Foundettes' two-way stretch girdle ad, March 1937. Woman's Home Companion.

Munsingwear’s ‘Foundettes’ two-way stretch girdle ad, March 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

My question was, “How much time did it take for undergarments made with Lastex to become available — and affordable — to working class women?”

The answer: Hardly any time at all! The Sears, Roebuck catalog for Spring 1932 proudly introduces Lastex and “Clingtex” garments made of “new, cloth-like elastic (Lastex.)”

Sears catalog for Spring 1932, introducing "Sensational new garments of marvelous Lastex ."

Sears catalog for Spring 1932, introducing “Sensational new garments of marvelous Lastex .”

Early Lastex foundations combined the new stretch fabric with traditional corset materials —  for extra control over the abdomen, for example.

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

By Fall of 1933, however, Sears was offering “Two-Way Stretch Softies” made entirely of stretch fabric.  The “roll-on” girdle, which required no fastenings,  “dates from 1932 in England and probably a year earlier in the U.S.A.” [Ewing]

"New Two-Way Stretch Softies." Seamless girdles and foundations from Sears Catalog, Fall 1933.

“New Two-Way Stretch Softies.” Seamless girdles and foundations from Sears Catalog, Fall 1933.

These “step-in” stretch foundations, which pull on, were made on a circular knitting machine; not only did they have no zippers , they had no seams. 

A foundation garment that made a woman look firmer, smoother, and younger — which improved her natural figure without distortion — was perfect under the bias gowns of the 1930s. This 1933 “Softie” All-in One from Sears (on the left) )looks very much like the Spandex “smoothers” available in stores in 2015.

A seamless, Lastex knit foundation garment, Sears, Fall 1933. This foundation cost $3.69; the "roll-on" girdle cost just $1.98.

A seamless, Lastex knit foundation garment, Sears, Fall 1933. This foundation cost $3.69; the “roll-on” girdle (right) cost just $1.98.

Literally for the first time in hundreds of years, the purpose of a corset was not to distort a woman’s body.

The purpose of the nineteen-thirties’ foundation garment was to create the impression of a perfect, nude body under the clothes. It firmed the hips, flattened the belly, and supported the breasts, but all in imitation of nature, giving its wearer the firm, flexible figure of a healthy young woman.

Softies, Fall 1934. Sears catalog. "Not a bone! Not a bulge!" Seamless, circular-knitted two-way stretch foundation.

“Softies,” Fall 1934. Sears catalog. “Not a bone! Not a bulge!” Seamless, circular-knitted, two-way stretch girdle or foundation.

The End of the Boyish Figure

One more (less encouraging) thing about changes in fashion after 1929:

By Fall of 1932 women were already made to feel self-conscious about having small breasts.

1932 fall sears 500 help for flat chested pushup

"Are you boyishly flat-chested? . . . Wear our 'Form Bust' and be neat, smart, up-to-the minute, and so be happy." Sears catalog, Fall 1932.

“Are you boyishly flat-chested? . . . Wear our ‘Form Bust’ and be neat, smart, up-to-the minute, and so be happy.” Sears catalog, Fall 1932.

That didn’t take long, did it?

 

17 Comments

Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Zippers

Christmas Activity: Go Through Your Old Photos with Your Old Relatives

Laura and Alice, Early 1900s

My Great Aunts Laura and Alice, Early 1900s

Every year I intend to remind people that the lulls during the holidays — after a big meal, while dinner is cooking, any time there are several generations gathered together at someone’s home — are the perfect times to bring out that big box of photographs you haven’t looked at in ages, and to go through them with the elders in your family. If you can get a pre-teen or teenager to join the conversation, all the better. It’s their history you’ll be talking about. It’s not just about writing names on the backs of photographs, it’s about the stories you might not otherwise hear.

Alice, left, and Laura, early 1900s.

Alice, left, and Laura, early 1900s.

I was lucky enough to know my Great Aunt Alice when she was in her seventies. I never met her sisters Cora and Laura. All I know of them are these photographs, which are interesting as a record of what some working women wore from the late 1800s to about 1950. But they are also interesting because I can see family features in their faces. And I keep trying to read their characters from these tiny glimpses of the past.

Cora, baby photo, no date.

Cora, baby photo, no date. Her heavily embroidered costume is Victorian.

Cora was the eldest. She looks solemn in most photos.

Cora, the town librarian. Early 1900s.

Cora, the town librarian. Early 1900s.

Her father’s obituary says she was the town librarian until she married and moved to a different part of the state.

Cora and Laura with a friend, before 1900.

Cora and Laura with a friend, probably about 1888 – 1894.

Laura, the middle child, was considered “the pretty one,” I suspect; she usually has a hint of a smile and sometimes, a dimple.

Laura, early 1900s.

Laura, early 1900s.

Alice, the youngest sister, was a single working woman, a legal secretary with a shrewd mind and a great sense of humor, who usually clowned for the cameras.

Laura, a friend, Cora and Alice dressed as hobos. Early 1900s.

Laura, a friend, Cora and Alice dressed as hobos. Early 1900s.

You can see why I’d like to have known them all!

Here they are in the early 1920s.  Alice is seated, holding the baby. Laura (left) now wears glasses, and Cora looks serious. They would be at least in in their forties, but all have adopted 1920s hair styles. In the following photos, you can see that Alice’s curly gray hair is bobbed.

Laura (in glasses), Cora (standing in top row), and Alice seated, holding her infant nephew. About 1922.

Laura (in glasses), Cora (standing in top row), and Alice seated, holding her infant nephew. About 1922.

Later in the 1920s, Alice and Laura went on vacation with my mother and my grandmother (their sister-in-law).  They have all adopted short 1920s skirts and fashions. My grandmother, center, is showing off the legs that would have been hidden when she married, in 1893. This generation of women had to adapt to the most drastic changes in western fashion ever to take place over a thirty year period.

Alice, her sister-in-law, and Laura, about 1929.

Alice, her sister-in-law, and Laura, about 1929.

On this trip, they stopped at a roadside stand for watermelon, mugged for the camera, and two of my favorite photos were made:

Laura in cloche hat, seated on the front bumper of their car. About 1929.

Laura in cloche hat, seated on the front bumper of their car, and looking flirtacious. About 1929.

 

Alice mugging for the camera. She looks like no one is going take that watermelon away from her.

Alice mugging for the camera. She looks like no one is going take that watermelon away from her!

They kept up with the styles in the thirties and forties, too.  Their hair is gray, but their dresses are sleeveless — quite a change from the high-collared, long-sleeved styles they wore as young women at the turn of the 19th century.

Laura, their brother John, and Alice. Probably mid-1930s, since the skirts are not very long.

Laura, their brother John, and Alice. Probably mid-to-late 1930s, since the skirts are not very long.

Thanks to my mother’s sister, who went through all these photos with me one Christmas afternoon, I can name my Great Aunts, and see a little bit of their personalities. But we didn’t get around to this picture, so I will never know if it’s Aunt Laura (who looked so full of life in the 1920s,) or Aunt Cora, who, unlike her sisters, married and raised a family.

I'll never know if this is Laura or Cora, because there is nothing written on the back of the photo.

I’ll never know if this is Laura or Cora, because there is nothing written on the back of the photo.

I loved to visit Alice when I was a little girl. This is Alice about 1947, in a rare contemplative mood.

Alice in 1947. For once, she isn't making faces for the camera.

Alice in 1947. For once, she isn’t making faces for the camera.

Remember, this is a woman born in the 1870s, a classic “skinny old maid” to quote the movie The African Queen. But she was the first woman — probably the first person — I knew who had a tattoo! (She regretted it, and usually covered it by wearing several rings over her tattooed finger.) Once, while we were visiting, she explained that she always made a tour of her house around twilight, checking the locks and looking under the bed for hidden intruders. “Aunt Alice,” my mother asked, “what would you do if you found a man under the bed?”

“I’d keep him!” Alice replied.

Remember to share those memories and label those photographs while there are still people who can tell you stories about them! Happy Holidays to all.

3 Comments

Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Hairstyles, Musings, vintage photographs