Tag Archives: changing hemlines 1920s twenties

Mistletoe and Hemlines, 1920s

Butterick patterns for girls. December 1924, Delineator.

An entire page of patterns for girls and young teens had a Christmas theme in 1924. Above, left, a very young girl holds mistletoe over her own head. Right, a little girl is ready for snow in her red hat, coat and leggings. (Imagine buttoning those leggings onto a squirming 3 year old!)

Holiday dresses for girls, December 1924. The older girl’s hem is just below her knees, while the younger girl’s hem is mid-knee.


Dresses for Girls 8 to 15, 1924; Woman’s dress, 1928

I’m always struck by how “right” the proportions on early Twenties’ dresses for girls look, while the length of dresses for women and older teens was still quite long:

Patterns for grown women (“Ladies,” bust size 32 to 44 inches.) September 1924. Delineator.

Dresses for misses aged 15 to 20, November 1924. Not a rouged knee in sight — yet.

Patterns for girls under 15, October 1924. Knee-length!

Before the late nineteen twenties, as girls got older they dressed more like grown women, exchanging short skirts for longer hems.

The younger the girl, the shorter the dress in 1924.

Those hems make even these 1924 party dresses for older teens look long and dowdy.

These teens are wearing quite long hems, compared to their younger sisters. December, 1924.

But, by 1927, adult women were wearing dresses as short as the pre-teens of 1924! Women aspired to look younger, and youth set the fashions.

Left a teen under 15, 1924. Right, a grown woman from 1927. Both are Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator.

In 1927, these sophisticated women are wearing hems that only schoolgirls would have worn just three years earlier.

Ladies’ fashions from November 1927 are as short as this girl’s dress from 1924.

This is just a sample of the “youth” trend of the late Twenties. Of course, by 1927, young teens were showing the entire knee….

Coat and dress for 15-and-unders. November 1927.

For girls 12 to 16 years of age. November 1927.

As one (hair dye) advertisement put it, “You Cannot Afford to be Gray because … this is the Age of Youth.” (1925.) Happy 2020!

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Filed under 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, evening and afternoon clothes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Proportions: Dresses from January 1926 and 1927

Fashions for teens and small women, January 1926. Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator, bottom of page 27.

One year later, young women were wearing their dresses much shorter, and fashions looked more youthful because of a subtle change in proportions.

Day wear for teens (15 to 20) and small women, January 1927. Butterick patterns in Delineator, page 24. I see knees.

When looking at designs from 1926, we need to make allowance for the exaggerated length of the 1926 fashion [illustration] figure.

Here’s the original 1926 image again — tiny heads on very long bodies:

Fashions for teens and small women, January 1926.

To make a point, I altered this image rather crudely to show that the biggest change from 1926 illustrations to 1927 illustrations is in the torso length:

The proportions of the 1926 dresses have been altered near the waist in this image, not at the hem. I just cut and pasted the lower part of the 1926 dresses higher on the body.

Left, original illustration; right, with the lower half of the dress moved higher on the torso. The result is also a more realistic human figure.

1920’s dress patterns had to be altered at the waist, not just at the hem, to make the proportions look “right” — and to match the later 1920’s styles. (Click here for alteration advice from December 1926.)

"We pinned half of the pattern together and put it on . . ."The fact that many late Twenties’ dresses had a horizontal seam at the mid-hip must have made it much easier to restyle 1926 dresses into 1927 dresses!

Conjecture: A thrifty woman could use the bottom of a 1926 dress as the skirt of a 1927 dress:

The skirt portion of a 1926 dress might be cut off below the waist and sewed to a shorter bodice to become the skirt of a shorter 1927 outfit….

Or she might shorten the dress three or four inches at the 1920’s dropped waist level and cover the resulting seam with a belt….

This dress from January 1927 was altered at the waist while still in the pattern stage, but that belt could also cover a dress alteration….

I suspect that, when skirts got shorter in 1927, many “little dressmakers” must have been busy doing simple alterations like these.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage patterns

Wrap Skirt Pattern 1480, 1927 to 1930s

Butterick skirt 1480 was first illustrated in June, 1927, with a blouse/step-in combination (No. 1493) and a cardigan jacket (No. 1367.) Delineator.

This very simple wrap skirt pattern first appeared in 1927. Surprisingly, it was still being featured — in a much longer version — in December of 1930. It had survived a major change in fashion. There is only one copy in the Commercial Pattern Archive, so I can’t be sure if the pattern was produced in a longer version after 1929, but it is certainly longer in illustrations from 1930.

Buttrick wrap skirt No. 1480 barely covered the knee in summer, 1927.

A 1928 version — still short, can be seen here. A different combination blouse and step-in — copied from Vionnet — appeared in Butterick’s Delineator in 1929. [And it had a zipper!]

The “one-piece wrap-around straight skirt” really is simple, with just four parts: Front belt [the front waistband,] back belt [waistband,] skirt, and an optional pocket. (The dressmaker would need to figure out linings, facings, etc. )

Butterick 1480 pattern from the Commercial Pattern Archive. 1927.

Here is the same wrap skirt illustrated in July 1927 — this time with a sporty striped jacket:

Far right, Butterick skirt 1480 with “coat” 6603 in July 1927. Casual chic!

Upper left: wrap skirt 1480 again. September 1927. These three styles are unmistakably “Twenties.”

This time, skirt 1480 was shown with a jacket-like ; the blouse opening lines up with the flap on the skirt.

By Fall of 1929 the new, longer skirt had been introduced.

Butterick wrap skirt 1480 is shown with overblouse 2802 (still in Twenties’ style) and a flared coat (Butterick 2794.)

The skirt covers the knees completely. (September, 1929.) This coat is about the length that some dresses were just 18 months earlier.

Notice how quickly the longer skirt took hold — there’s a big difference in patterns from September 1929 — above — and October 1929, below:

In October of 1929, skirt 1480 was shown with overblouse tucked in, in the alternate view.

Butterick coat 2847, blouse 2864, and wrap skirt 1480. Delineator, October 1929. Belts are rising. Notice the back view at right.

In 1927, the wrap skirt was described as “mounted on a belt that rests just above the hipbone.” In 1930 it “fits snugly over the hips at a high waistline.” To me, this sounds like two ways of saying the same thing — if the pattern was really much changed, it would have been reissued with a new number.

In her History of the Paper Pattern Industry, Joy Spanabel Emery showed two pattern envelopes of Simplicity 1866 — “first issued in 1946 and reissued in 1947 with a longer skirt. (The fastest and simplest solution was to lengthen existing skirt patterns by three inches.)” [Pg. 164.]

A few months later, by 1930, skirts were well below the knee, and ways to stretch your wardrobe were… creative.

Above: A four piece ensemble made by wearing wrap skirt 1480 with a blouse and jacket, or by wearing it over a dress! The long, waistless top of the dress could be made as an overblouse. (There are four patterns listed: Jacket 2993 (left,) coat 2812 (over her arm) frock or blouse 3002 (center and right, and skirt 1480 (shown three times.)

By Fall of 1930, most traces of the Nineteen Twenties’ look are gone. Skirts are mid-calf; belts approach the natural waist.

Butterick dresses from October 1930. The tunic second from left (3471) is a transitional style, like the tunics [below] that appeared at the end of the Tubular Twenties. Under the 1930 tunic: wrap skirt 1480.


Three tunic blouse and costume slip outfits, 1924. Butterick patterns Nos. 5790, 5455, & 5681. A tunic outfit offers more than one hemline, so the eye can choose the length it prefers — old and long, or new and short. 1924.

For more about the 1920’s long-to-short transition, click here.

Yes, that October 1930 tunic was worn over 1920’s wrap skirt 1480. So was this one, from December of 1930.

Left, Butterick tunic blouse 3560 over wrap skirt 1480; right, frock 3548. Delineator, December 1930.

Stylistically, the “Twenties” are over.

Why a wrap skirt should be the choice for wearing under a tunic (or over a dress!) is a mystery to me. But, as seen, easy wrap skirt 1480 survived a fashion earthquake.

P.S. Looking at the tunic dresses of 1924 and 1930 I was shocked to realize how little time elapsed between them. The short-skirted Twenties were short indeed.


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Filed under 1920s-1930s, Coats, Sportswear

Going Up: Rising Hemlines, Border Prints, and Tunics, 1924-1925

In 1924, the “Twenties’ look” most familiar to us today had not yet reached the proportions we expect. Skirts were long — as long as they had been in 1917.

Cover of Butterick's Delineator magazine, June 1924

Cover of Butterick’s Delineator magazine, June,1924

The young mother above wears a simple housedress, but the most famous designers in Paris were also showing long styles for daytime in 1924:

Fashions from Paris, sketched for Delineator by Soulie, January 1924. This dress is by Agnes, also known as Mme. Agnes Haver. Her house later combined with the house of Drecoll.

Fashions from Paris, sketched for Delineator by Soulie, January 1924. This dress is by Agnes.

“Gold braid underscored with rose-colored embroidery binds the slashed edges of an overdress and tunic of black crepe marocain. The foundation is narrow, the sleeve short and the length about eight inches from the floor. From Agnès. ” (Agnès was also known as Mme. Agnes Haver; her fashion house later merged with the house of Drécoll.)

Two things to note:  The dress ends “about eight inches from the floor,” and it is actually a tunic over a “narrow foundation.”  Here are three more Paris designs from early in 1924, drawn by Soulié:

Suits from Paris, March 1924. The designers are Marial et Armand (not much known today,) Molyneux, and Lelong.

Parisian luxury, March 1924. The designers are Martial et Armand (not much known today,) Molyneux, and Lelong.

1924 was a year when fashion was changing, and I want to draw attention to some of the “styling tricks” that made women willing to exchange these very long styles for much shorter ones. The suit on the far right above is by Lucien Lelong. Here is one of Lelong’s daytime styles, just six months later:

An ensemble by Lucien Lelong, drawn for Delineator in September, 1924, by Soulie.

An ensemble by Lucien Lelong, drawn for Delineator in September, 1924, by Soulie.

Fans of late 1920’s fashions may think, “Now we’re getting somewhere!” Here are the two Lelong designs, side by side:

Day wear by Lucien Lelong, March and September, 1924.

Day wear by Lucien Lelong, March and September, 1924.

How did we go from 8 inches off the ground to knee length in just six months?

Once again, a “tunic” is involved:  “Silver embroidery trims the white georgette tunic top.” Judging from other tunics (see below) the tunic has a dark, flared skirt which extends down to about 5 inches above the skirt hem. That produces two hemlines, and two hip lines as well:  transitional fashion. I can’t help noticing that the coat from March is the same length as the whole outfit in September.

Tunics and Costume Slips

Tunic blouses, as well as dresses with horizontal bands near the hem, and the use of border prints in both are typical of this period in fashion, when designers offered “two hems,” visually. The long “tunic blouse,” worn over a longer “costume slip,” created a dress that was both long (conservative) and short (the coming — but shocking — style.) This illustration shows all three “styling tricks” which evolved into a shorter look:

Butterick patterns for June 1924:  a dress with a contrast band at hem, a dress made from a border print fabric, and a border print tunic worn over a costume slip. Delineator.

Butterick patterns for June 1924: left, a dress with a contrast band at the hem; center, a dress made from a border print fabric; and, right, a border print tunic worn over a white costume slip. Delineator.

These dresses get your eye used to stopping near the knee. (My eye runs down the blue dress to the hem and then bounces back up to the big black dots, and stays above them, as if the dress ended there.)

The “tunic blouse and costume slip” ensemble came into its own in mid-1924 — at least in Butterick’s Delineator patterns. Outfits with two visual hemlines — one real, and one either a tunic hem or an optical illusion, such as a plain or embroidered band — appeared early and often, side-by-side with other mid-twenties’ dresses, throughout 1924 and 1925.

Three Butterick dress patterns from 1924. Nos. 5157, 5145, and 5658.

Three Butterick dress patterns — not tunics — from 1924. Nos. 5157, 5145, and 5658. Each has a horizontal line at about knee level.

The dresses above use decoration to give your eye a choice of “hemline” — long, or about knee height. (To see some 1924 dresses shortened to knee length, click here.)

These “tunic blouse and costume slip” outfits really do have two hemlines:

Three tunic blouse and costume slip ensembles, Butterick patterns, 1924. Nos. 5790, 5455, & 5681.

Three tunic blouse and costume slip outfits, 1924. Butterick patterns Nos. 5790, 5455, & 5681. Slip patterns  5631 and 5685. The costume slip is also visible in the deep V-neck of the dress at right.

Older (or conservative) women could opt for very long dresses (right and center). Two of the tunics above also have a band of embroidery, suggesting three possible lengths: 8″ above the ground, mid-calf, or knee length.

A Vintage Tunic Blouse

Many years ago, while making an inventory of a vintage collection, I encountered a navy and white silk garment that puzzled me. I could tell from the fabric, construction and neckline that it was probably from the 1920’s. But it was a big cylinder, about 44 inches around, and quite short.

A mysteriously short -- and large -- silk dress.

A mysteriously short — and large — silk dress.

It was too big for the mannequin, even big enough to fit me — but it stopped far above my knees. I tried to imagine a woman with a 44″ bust who was at least 10″ shorter than I am, which would make her 4′ 9″.  The fabric was printed á disposition, with a large scale pattern toward the bottom, getting smaller toward the top, and a white band. Was it so short because it was made from a silk scarf? I wondered.

lg V095 silk pattern

Since it probably had a low resale value, I decided not to spend any more of my employer’s time on it. Two years later, I saw this page in a 1925 Delineator and the penny dropped:  It was a tunic blouse (far right):

A dress, a pink border print dress, and a  black and white tunic blouse over a costume slip. Butterick patterns for June, 1925. Delineator.

A striped dress, a pink border print dress, and a black and white tunic blouse over a white costume slip. Butterick patterns for June, 1925. Delineator.

The vintage silk tunic blouse I found had become separated from its “costume slip” — probably navy or white, and probably mid-calf length. The tunic was made from a border print with a white band, as shown in the color image above, and in the black and white image below:

Three tunic blouse outfits, March 1925. Butterick's Delineator.

Three tunic blouse outfits, March 1925. Butterick’s Delineator. Each tunic is a different length, unlike the slips which show beneath them.

Once I started looking, the number and variety of tunic blouses in the 1924-25 Delineator magazines surprised me. Sometimes you have to look twice (or read the label) to tell the two-piece tunic blouse outfits from the wide-bordered dresses beside them.

Dresses and a tunic blouse outfit, Delineator, 1925. Butterick patterns.

Three dresses and a tunic blouse outfit (in brown), Delineator, 1925. Butterick patterns.

Delineator, Nov. 1924. A, B, and C are tunic blouses.

Delineator, Nov. 1924. A, B, and C are labeled tunic blouses. “A costume slip and several tunic blouses make a varied wardrobe.” The white and silver Lelong tunic was probably cut similar to “A.”

Three tunic outfits, December, 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator.

Three tunic blouses with costume slips, December, 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator.

Dresses from 1925. Butterick patterns.

Dresses — not tunics — from  February, 1925. Butterick patterns. These 1925 hemlines are a little shorter, but two dresses still create a knee-length “stopping point” with a decorative band or embroidery.

The tunic blouse ensemble, and other dresses with a horizontal line at the knee, made the proportions of knee-length dresses seem familiar and attractive as they came to dominate twenties’ fashion.

“Tunic blouse costumes, the newest two-piece frock and dresses,” Delineator, April, 1925.

I suspect that many vintage dealers have encountered tunics without their slips, and, like me, puzzled over their odd proportions. Once the transition to knee length dresses happened in 1926-27, I wonder if thrifty women continued to wear the longer knee-length tunics without their slips.  The survival of any of the silk border prints is lucky, because they were such a great source of re-useable fabric during the 1930’s Depression and 1940’s fabric rationing. It’s easy to imagine them turned into blouses, scarves, jacket linings, and even bodice/yoke/sleeves for two-fabric dresses.

Two-fabric dresses from Butterick's Delineator, 1931.

Two-fabric dresses from Butterick’s Delineator, 1931.

Two-fabric outfits, Butterick's Delineator, 1932.

Two-fabric outfits, Butterick’s Delineator, 1932. A flash of matching, dotted jacket lining is visible at left.

Next stop:  What on earth is a “costume slip?”


Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

On Writing Shorter — and About Shorter Styles

Detail of Camel cigarette ad, Delineator, March 1929.

Detail of Camel cigarette ad, Delineator, March 1929.

“Writing is easy. Editing is hard.” — witness2fashion

I keep trying to write shorter posts, really, I do, but one thing leads to another. I keep finding old images I want to share. Or I start to write about one thing — e.g., transitional hemlines in the late 192o’s  (“Going Down!”) — and realize that I also have images to share of transitional hemlines in the mid- 1920’s (“Going Up!”)  (Which led me to realize how short — in months, not hem length — the fashion era I think of as “the Twenties” really was!)

When I look at a fashion illustration from 1924 or 1925 , I am tempted to cover the bottom of the dress with my finger just to see what it would look like with a shorter, “real twenties” hem. (I did it in a photo program, instead. See the results farther down.)

Two dresses from 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, June (left) and November.

Two dresses from 1924. Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, June 1924 (left) and November 1924, right.

Just over one year later, styles had changed, and not only in length.

Butterick patterns for December, 1926. The dresses that were in style in 1924 look very long, indeed.

Butterick patterns for December, 1926. The dresses that were in style in 1924 look very long compared to these “classic” 1920’s fashions.

Since I’m interested in everyday fashions, I can’t help wondering how women on a limited budget coped with rapid fashion change. Of course, when you only own five or six dresses, they do wear out faster…. But many women trying to stay in style without buying a whole new wardrobe must have resorted to taking up hems and remaking dresses.

The styles of 1924 would need some alteration not to look old-fashioned, especially on young women. Did women shorten dresses  like this?

What if this dress from June, 1924, was shortened like this?

What if this dress from June, 1924, was shortened like this?

November 1924 dress, shortened for 1926 or 1927.

November, 1924 dress, shortened (in my computer) for 1926 or 1927. A clever girl would use the old hem fabric to make a hip-level belt, too.

I’ll be writing (at length — sorry!) about hems going up — and hems going down — in future posts. Notice how convenient it was for me to shorten these dresses where they already had a design line? That’s no coincidence…..

Hems had already started down again before 1929. The real problem that fascinates me is how women coped with dresses getting much longer (not such an easy alteration) just when the stock market crashed and unemployment skyrocketed in 1929-1930.

Nevertheless, this photo of a group of women with President Herbert Hoover in 1931 shows that — at least among middle class women — the new hem length was uniform and widely worn.



Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage patterns