Tag Archives: Christina Walkley

To Tan or Not to Tan 1920s – 1930s

Elizabeth I, the Rainbow Portrait, in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Elizabeth I, detail of the “Rainbow Portrait” in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Three centuries after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, American women still believed that beautiful skin should be pale.

Advertisement, 1917.

Advertisement, 1917. “So tanned, so colorless …. However unattractive exposure to the summer sun may have made” your face….

“Fair and tender ladies” with “peaches and cream” complexions — that was the fashion ideal promulgated for thousands of years, and not just in Europe. (Click here for the disturbing “White Skin: A Chinese Obsession.

"So tanned, so colorless -- What shall she do?" Ad from Ladies' Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

“So tanned, so colorless — What shall she do?” Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

Then came the nineteen twenties…. When chic American and European women wanted to be sun-tanned.

"Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!" Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

“Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!” Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

One of the many bizarre ideals of beauty — one that has given pain to as many women as the fashions for impossibly thin bodies or bound feet — is the crazy idea that beauty requires a light or pale skin tone. The Ancient Egyptians and Etruscans often portrayed women in a lighter shade of paint than men. “The feminine ideal during the Han period (2000 years ago) for women of the court was almost unearthly white, white skin. Moon-like roundish faces, long black hair,” writes Ann Rose Kitagawa.  Cosmetics that were supposed to lighten your skin have been around for thousands of years. For women of color, there are plenty of depressing  vintage ads for preparations that are supposed to lighten or bleach your skin. (And plenty of modern ones, too….)

“The Greeks favored light complexions, which they maintained using white lead. This was later replaced by chalk powder (around 1000 BCE) due to the many deaths caused by slow lead poisoning.” [White lead, which was also used in cosmetics by the Elizabethans, is a form of arsenic.]— read more at annmariegianni.com.

At a time when almost all people worked out of doors (that is, for most of human history,) tanned skin was the mark of a peasant, and lighter skin the mark of higher social status: the educated, the administrators, and the aristocrats. This idea was turned upside down between the 1920’s and the 1930’s, when more people worked indoors, and only wealthy people could afford to vacation at beach resorts during the winter months. Suddenly, a winter tan became a status symbol for Americans and Europeans, influencing dress, as explained in this 1929 magazine article:

"Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion." Article in Delineator Magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

“Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion.” Article in Delineator magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

This article even mentions artificial tanning: “Last summer’s tan, acquired on the Lido or American Beaches, conserved during the winter months with a sun machine and ready to deepen now at Palm Beach or Bermuda…,” could be maintained with a tanning lamp like this one.

"Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;" ad for a Health Developer Tanning Lamp, 1929.

“Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;” ad for a Health Developer Twin-Arc Tanning Lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Applliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Appliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

To be fair, the “health” claims were related to the relatively recent discovery of Vitamin D, its part in calcium absorption, and the need for sunshine to prevent the bone-deforming disease, rickets, in children. But the sunlamp was undoubtedly as much a fashion item as a health item in 1929.

It’s not surprising that women were confused in the late twenties and early thirties — To tan, or not to tan? [Personal note:  I am very pale, as California girls go, but my mother, who prized her extremely white skin, was terribly disappointed that her little girl was not as fair-skinned as she was. Apparently, some women who lived through this “tan/not tan” era were never enthusiastic about the new fashion.]

Even in the thirties, not every woman chose to get a tan. Story illustration from Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

Even in the thirties, not every fair-skinned woman chose to get a tan. Two blondes in a story illustration from Woman’s Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

I was amused to find these two ads facing each other in the pages of Delineator in 1924, before tanning became chic.

Left, an ad advising a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a bleaching cream. Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Left, an ad suggesting a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a skin bleaching cream.   Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Nadinola “whitens the skin to milky purity. It bleaches freckles, sun-tan and wind-tan.”

Absorbine, Jr. promised that “the next day,” users would have “only a slightly deeper coat of tan as a reminder of the day’s sport.”  In 1924, getting a tan was an accident that called for a remedy like Nadinola Bleaching Cream, which promised “The Lure of Southern Loveliness.” [Hmmmm.]

In 1928, the unlucky girl who accidentally got a tan could buy Gouraud’s Oriental Cream to cover it up:

"A Sunproof Complexion" -- or the illusion of one -- could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream. Ad, July 1928.

“A Sunproof Complexion” — or the illusion of one — could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream, which “renders an entrancing film of pearly beauty….”  Ad, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, a makeup which covered up a tan. Delineator, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, a face and body makeup which covered up a tan, and theoretically prevented one. “You appearance will not be blemished by the sun or wind.” Delineator, July 1928.

Bottom of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, apparently a liquid body makeup. July 1928

Bottom of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, which seems to be a liquid body makeup. July 1928. Delineator.

Apparently a liquid body makeup, Oriental Cream was available in “White, Flesh and Rachel.” “Rachel” was a dark-ish makeup color for olive or tanned complexions. Here is a “don’t fear the beach, use Apex Bleach” ad aimed at women of color in the 1920’s.

[I can’t read “Flesh” color without thinking about comedian and civil rights leader Dick Gregory‘s sixties’ joke (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that he really thought we were making progress towards racial equality — until he “tried to buy a flesh colored bandaid.” Dick Gregory opened some windows in my little, white world. And guess what? — that joke is still valid.]

However, by 1929 suntanned faces and bodies were in style, according to fashion magazines:

500 title 1929 feb tan article p 25

Beginning of text of suntans and fashions article in Delineator, February, 1929.

Beginning of article about fashions and colors to flatter a suntan in Delineator, February, 1929.

Notice the references to American and European resorts: Palm Beach, Antibes, the Lido (Venice), Bermuda…. French resorts like Deauville and Biarritz– where Chanel started her rise to eminence — were part of the phenomenon. “It has become smart to look healthy, smart to go in for tan, and smart to dress expressly for it.”

A sports suit with "sunburn back" used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929.

A sports suit with “sunburn back” used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929. Her back is bare, but wrinkled by the model’s pose.

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 top lower

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 lower rt end

“Even the southern evening frock is deliberately more decollete than ever so as to reveal the extent of the day’s tan.”

“The necessity of being true to your tan and its outline,” e.g., U shaped, V shaped  or square-shaped, is important, since your bathing suit line would dictate the other clothes you could wear to show off your tan. “Tan is truly the maker of fashion.”

A deep U shape in front. Feb, 1929 Delineator.

A deep neckline in front and intense flower prints to go with a tan. Feb, 1929, Delineator.

Low-cut evening gowns also exposed your tan, front and back.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator Fe. 1929.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator, Feb. 1929. It “Follows the design of the sports suit” with the very deep “sunburn” back.

That’s not to say that women were not conflicted by contradictory advertising.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931. “Ten nights — and you’ll be a ravishing, fair skinned beauty!”

Note that these skin bleach ads from Delineator magazine were primarily aimed at women with Caucasian/European ancestry. Many other products that claimed to bleach or lighten skin were advertised to women with naturally dark complexions.

B. Vikki Vintage has written a well-illustrated review of  Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African-American Women, 1920-1975 by Susannah Walker. Visit her blog here.

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream. That is a low cut bathing suit!

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream.  This extremely low-cut bathing suit matches some equally low cut evening dresses of the 1930’s. Click here.

"Sunshine weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it."

“Sunshine in moderation is good. Severe sunburn, however, weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it.” Ad for Hinds Cream.

“To prevent that fiery sunscorch in the first place, — before going on the beach, smooth on Hinds Cream, and powder over it.”

“Powder over it?” In 1931, Dorothy Gray offered a product that claimed to prevent sunburn by “absorbing ultra-violet rays.” (It probably did work better than powder over moisturizer):

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit.

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit, which the model has obviously not worn before. Judging by her legs and midriff, she tanned her arms and upper back while wearing a dress.

Text of Dorothy Gray ad, July 1931.

Text of Dorothy Gray Sunburn Cream ad, July 1931. $2.00 was not an insignificant amount of money. In 1924 and in 1936, a working woman paid about $20 per month for a rented room.

The fashion for tanning was not necessarily long, or universal, and like all fads … It faded.

Illustration from "Keeping Up and Making Up," Delineator, June 1934. "When Skins Change Their Color, It's News."

Illustration from “Keeping Up and Making Up,” Delineator, June 1934. Dark tan in 1932, lighter tan in 1933, and a big beach hat and cover-up in 1934.”When Skins Change Their Color, It’s News.”

“News” seems to suggest that very deep tans were losing their cachet by 1934. But this cartoon from 1936 contradicts it — at least for an English humorist:

"Don't worry, darling. You'll look quite respectable in a day or two." Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

“Don’t worry, darling. You’ll look quite respectable in a day or two.” Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

I’m afraid, from the dismay on the dark-suited girl’s face, that the cartoonist did not agree that a dark tan was “respectable.” The old “peasants versus aristocrats” stereotype had not died.

Sadly, millions of women in third-world countries are still using skin bleach products that contain mercury and other toxic ingredients in the quest for lighter skin. Click here to read The Global Phenomenon of Skin Bleaching: A Crisis in Public Health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Costumes for the 17th Century, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits

CLOSED My January Celebration and Giveaway CLOSED

RESOLUTION: Husband: "Joan's just rung up -- wants us to dine there on Thursday." Wife: "Tell her I'm not eating anything this year."

RESOLUTION (from January, 1931): Husband: “Joan’s just rung up — wants us to dine there on Thursday.”
Wife: “Tell her I’m not eating anything this year.”

I’m celebrating two years as witness2fashion, and reaching over 200 subscribers. Thank you all for comments, expertise, and encouragement, and for sharing my peculiar obsession with what people wore!

I happen to have found an extra copy of one of my favorite books: The Way to Wear’em: 150 Years of Punch on Fashion, which is Christina Walkley’s wonderful history of 19th and 20th century costume as shown in English cartoons.

Title page of The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

Title page of The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

I keep recommending this book, not just because the cartoons are enjoyable, but because Walkley’s explanations and her many quotations from period sources are really informative.

A sample of text from Walkley's The Way to Wear'em. She gives background for the cartoons by drawing on many sources.

A sample of text from Walkley’s The Way to Wear’em. She gives background for the cartoons by drawing on many sources.

Every cartoon is dated, with month and year. Walkley includes exerpts from diaries and memoirs, and background information to explain the cartoons, when necessary.

Scholarship plus jokes! What could be better? (If only I didn’t need a magnifying glass to read some of the cartoon captions….)

Chapters include:
“Domestic Bliss,” which takes a humorous look at “the servant problem” and social class:

From the chapter on Domestic Bliss. The mistress does not want the maid wearing hoops while cleaning, since they lead to breakage. The maid says she would be ashamed to let the chimney sweep see her without them.

From the chapter on Domestic Bliss. The mistress does not want the maid wearing hoops while cleaning, since they lead to breakage. The maid says she would be ashamed to let the chimney sweep see her without them.

“The Venus of Milo,” chapter is about changing ideas of the “perfect figure.”
“Poetry in Motion,” has examples of highly impractical fashions (men’s wear included:)

Men's fashions in 1925: the trousers called "Oxford bags."

Men’s fashions in 1925: the super-wide trousers called “Oxford bags.”

“New Bits to Show,” is about changing erogenous zones:

1934: Mummy.... However do you manage to think of new bits to show?"

1934: Mummy…. However do you manage to think of new bits to show?”

“The Way to Wear’Em” chapter is about the reaction to women wearing traditionally male clothing; the book’s title comes from this 1899 cartoon:

Fair Cyclist: "Is this the way to Wareham, please?" Native: "Yes miss, yew seem to me to ha' got 'em on all right."

Fair Cyclist: “Is this the way to Wareham, please?” Native: “Yes miss, yew seem to me to ha’ got ’em on all right.”

“Trinity or Girton?” expands on perceptions of “masculine” and “feminine” clothing. These young ladies have adopted the Ulster coat, and are “mistaken” for men (1877); exchanging the large shawls of the 1860’s for a practical coat that keeps them warm and dry was seen as unwomanly.

In a cathedral,1877: "Don't you think those youths had better be told to take their hats off?"

In a cathedral, 1877: “Don’t you think those youths had better be told to take their hats off?”

“Seaside Costumes” [Speaking of the earliest two-piece bathing suits, this cartoon is from 1934:]

1934: "I'm sure your mother would be shocked if she saw you in that bathing costume." "I'm sure she would -- it's hers."

1934: “I’m sure your mother would be shocked if she saw you in that bathing costume.”
“I’m sure she would — it’s hers.”

“Protest Clothes” covers unconventional fashions into the late 20th century. These two extremes are from 1878:

"Aesthetic Young Geniuses" and "Gorgeous Young Swells" in 1878.

“Aesthetic Young Geniuses” and “Gorgeous Young Swells” in 1878.

Giveaway rules:  CLOSED If you would like a chance to own this book — a used but otherwise good copy — please add a comment to this post, including the words “Fashion Cartoons.” One entry per person, please.
I’ll pick a name from a hat and contact the winner. Contest closed at 9 p.m. PST, Friday, January 8th, 2016.

Happy New Year to all! (And yes, I do identify with the lady at the top of this post!)

NOTE:  Please do not copy any of these images; I have used them only to show why every clothing historian ought to have a copy of The Way to Wear’Em, by Christina Walkley.

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Corsets, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Uniforms and Work Clothes

Tennis Dress, Part 1– A Few Images 1870’s to 1970’s

Tennis dress, Chesterfield cigarette ad, Nov. 1929. Delineator.

Tennis dress, Chesterfield cigarette ad, Nov. 1929. Delineator.

I am no authority on tennis or any other sport. I just have a batch of images to share — more than will fit into one post.

When I began playing tennis for fun, around 1971, I thought you were supposed to wear white on the court. In fact, my tennis partner and I felt quite daring because we were wearing the new white-piped-with-color tennis outfits, like this one.

Tennis dress and shorts, Simplicity pattern 9417, dated 1971.

Tennis dress and shorts, Simplicity pattern 9417, dated 1971.

Now, of course, women players like the Williams sisters appear in tournaments wearing comfortable stretch fabrics and brilliant hues. If some of the period illustrations I’ve come across are accurate, wearing white is a fashion that comes and goes (although casual play is different from playing at Wimbledon, where the dress code is strict.)

Tennis game in an ad for Indian Head Cloth, May, 1925. Delineator.

Tennis game in an ad for Indian Head Cloth, May, 1925. Delineator.

For informal games in the 1920’s and earlier, both spectators and players apparently had the option of wearing colorful clothing.

Tennis and golf dresses, Butterick patterns 5994 and 5590. May 1925, Delineator.

Tennis and golf dresses, Butterick patterns 5994 and 5990. May 1925, Delineator.

A sleeveless version of the red print dress is shown in the background, worn by a tennis player.

“5994:  If you omit the sleeves, this slip-over frock makes a smart tennis costume, for the two-piece circular skirt fastened at the hip-line allows freedom for running, etc. ”

Of course, tennis rackets, golf clubs and parasols were often used in pattern illustrations as as way of emphasizing the season, and may not be taken too literally. Another illustration of the blue “golf” dress above (No. 5990)  is shown with a tennis racket a few pages later — in a shorter version for a younger wearer. It does not seem well suited for running or leaping.

Butterick 5990, Delineator, May 1925

Butterick 5990, Delineator, May 1925. Here, the model is a teen.

Nevertheless, prints, stripes, plaids and colors all seem to have been acceptable — possibly chic — in a friendly game.

Masthead illustration of a tennis game, Delineator, July 1928.

Masthead illustration of a tennis game, Delineator, July 1928. The model below wears a very similar pleated skirt and patterned top.

Dressed fpr tennis, July 1925. Delineator.

Dressed for tennis? July 1925. Delineator. Butterick 6088.

Although she has both a racket and tennis balls, her shoes don’t look appropriate for active sports. (Rubber-soled shoes were available. Click here for some vintage Keds.)

Pattern description, Butterick No 6088. Tennis is not mentioned.

Pattern description, Butterick No. 6088. Tennis is not mentioned, nor is golf.

How Did They Do It? Some Earlier Tennis Outfits

A Rally, watercolor painting by Sir James Lavery, 1885.

“A Rally,” watercolor painting by Sir James Lavery, 1885. Detail.

For photographs of a tennis player actually dressed like this, click here. Playing tennis while wearing  a bustle, a corset, petticoats, and long hems, like this, must have required immense agility and balance. Not to mention stamina….

It was quite a handicap, as cartoonist George du Maurier noticed in 1877:

1877 tennis cartoon by Du Maurier. "Charlotte and Ethel, having accepted a Challenge to play against their cousins, Tom and Harry, insist upon Handicapping them, as is only fair."

1877 tennis cartoon by Du Maurier. “Charlotte and Ethel, having accepted a Challenge to play against their cousins, Tom and Harry, insist upon Handicapping them, as is only fair.”

Cartoonists also noticed that athletic young women — even those who scorned to play tennis wearing corsets — found male admirers. [Caution: This is a cartoon, from Punch magazine, not a photograph….]

Tennis without corsets, Cartoon, 1879. "They have given up stays altogether.... and are all engaged to Dukes."

Tennis without corsets, Caricature, 1879. “They have given up stays altogether…. [and] are all engaged to Dukes. “

The full caption says, “The O’Farrell – Mackenzie girls have gone in so extensively for early-rising, fresh air, cold water, farinaceous food, rowing, riding, rinking, lawn-tennis, gymnastics, and what not, that they have distorted their figures into the likeness of so many Greek statues, and have no more waist to speak of than that quite horrid Venus at the Louvre; indeed, they have given up stays altogether as a bad job. As they are all engaged to marry Dukes, Mr. Punch fears they will set the fashion; and as he holds that a long and wasp-like waist is as essential to a lady as a — well, as a hump between the shoulders, a prominent nose and chin, and a protuberant abdomen are to a gentleman, he hopes that the above caricature may serve as an example and a warning.” [Illustration from The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.]

The idea that a woman’s body should support itself without stays (boned corsets) — thanks to healthy exercise — was a principle of the Jenness-Miller magazine. This is a Jenness-Miller pattern for lawn-tennis, 1890.

Lawn Tennis outfit (right) from dress-reformer Annie Jenness-Miller. 1890.

Lawn Tennis outfit (right) from dress-reformer Annie Jenness-Miller. 1890.

Two decades later, British tennis champion Charlotte Cooper Sterry managed not to trip on her skirts, winning five singles titles in outfits like this one:

Tennis champion Charlotte Sterry, 1909; from Elizabeth Ewings' History of 20th Century Fashion.

Tennis champion Charlotte Sterry, 1909; from Elizabeth Ewings’ History of 20th Century Fashion.

In 1918, Butterick’s Delineator recommended a colorful two piece outfit:

Butterick patterns for a middy blouse and pleated skirt; tennis costume, July 1918.

Butterick patterns for a middy blouse (1033) and striped skirt (9723); tennis costume, July 1918. The skirt is striped, not pleated, although pleats were popular in 1918.

“Behind the tennis net a middy blouse and striped skirt do their part … championship in sport and fashion.”

In this 1925 advertisement, the male player wears white; one woman wears a white middy or dress with pleated (?) skirt, but the other wears lavender –and recognizable tennis shoes.

Indian Head Cloth ad, May 1925.

Indian Head Cloth ad, May 1925. Detail. Most of the women in the background — probably waiting to play — are wearing white.

“Gradually, white for tennis became a rule, so that in 1890 Wimbledon mandated all-white outfits for players. Elsewhere, the all-white tennis outfit became a decorous standard by the early 20th century — just in time, by the way, for the Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen to aggravate rich people everywhere by playing tennis in a (white) calf-length skirt and short sleeves.” — Emily Chertoff, writing in The Atlantic. Click here.

(Another theory is that white doesn’t show sweat stains as badly as colored fabrics.)

Champion Suzanne Lenglen wore a longish pleated skirt in this tournament:

Suzanne Lenglen playing tennis in 1919, from Elizabeth Ewing's History of 20th Century Fashion.

Suzanne Lenglen playing tennis, from Elizabeth Ewing’s History of 20th Century Fashion.

Lenglen wore many outfits designed by couturier Jean Patou in the 1920’s, which helped to popularize his sporty sweaters and skirts.  Lenglen first appeared at Wimbledon in Patou’s short white silk pleated skirt and a sleeveless cardigan in 1921. According to Brenda Polan & Roger Tredre, her outfit created a sensation and introduced the sporty, boyish look known as the “garçonne.”

“As with so much sportswear, many of [his] clothes were in reality bought by women who did not participate in sport and were more interested in showing off their Patou monogrammed cardigan sweaters to their envious friends.” — Polan and Tredre, in The Great Fashion Designers

Patou took credit for shortening skirts to the knee in 1925; he was one of the first designers to put his monogram very visibly on his designs — monogrammed cardigans, scarves, etc. This was a clever move, since without the monogram his relatively simple sportswear — sweater, skirt, and matching scarf — would not have proclaimed its price. [Sometimes I’d like to go back in a time machine and strangle Patou, but then I realize that somebody else —  probably his arch-rival, Chanel — would have invented the merchandising of Monogrammed “Designer” Everything if he hadn’t done it.]  For a concise history of Patou, see The Great Fashion Designers, by Polan and Tredre.

The outfit on the right shows Patou's influence. The woman is wearing tennis shoes and socks, so is probably not merely a spectator. Delineator, May 1929.

The outfit on the right shows Patou’s influence. The woman is wearing tennis shoes and socks, so perhaps she is not merely a spectator. Delineator, May 1929.

If you couldn’t afford couture, you could put your own monogram on your clothing.

Butterick patterns for August 1926. Right, No. 7043: "The Monogram is chic."

Butterick patterns for August 1926. Right, No. 7043: “The Monogram is chic.”

(Butterick sold embroidery transfers for alphabets as well as sewing patterns.)

Monogram fad, 1924. Butterick's Delineator magazine.

Monogram fad, 1924. Images collected from Butterick’s Delineator magazine.

The influence of Patou, as stated by Polan and Tredre, may explain why it’s not always easy to tell spectator sportswear from active sportswear in fashion illustrations. Which of these ladies are playing, and which are spectators?

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From "Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock." May, 1929.

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From “Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock.” May, 1929.

More about these patterns later.

For a slide show of historic tennis dress at Wimbledon, click here.  K. Shriya Sharma has written a chronology of women’s Wimbledon fashions in the Times of India. Click here to read it.

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers

Swimsuits for Esther Williams and Annette Kellerman

Cover of Esther Williams' autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Cover of Esther Williams’ autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Esther Williams’ swimsuit in the movie Million Dollar Mermaid (click here) , a film based on the life of champion swimmer and diving star Annette Kellerman, bore only a partial resemblance to the one that got Annette Kellerman arrested.

Swimming champion Annette Kellerman, circa 1907

Swimming champion Annette Kellerman, circa 1907. There is some disagreement about whether the offensive suit was sleeveless or had cap sleeves.

“When Annette Kellerman stepped out onto Revere Beach in 1907 wearing a one-piece bathing suit that ended in shorts above her knees, her legs caused a scandal. Police were called, and she was arrested for indecency,” wrote Kristin Toussaint in the Boston Globe’s website. [July 2, 2015]

To read the rest of Toussaint’s article, with a large slide show of vintage bathing suit photos, click here. This picture (click here) shows that other female competitive swimmers were wearing even less in 1907.

Nevertheless, ten years later, a group of chorus girls from Daly’s Theatre in London posed for a bathing suit photo in suits that covered a lot more than the suit that shocked Boston in 1907. (click here.)

In 1920, in the United States, women at a public pool posed in knitted wool suits which presented a real danger of drowning in the surf; if you have ever hand-washed a long-sleeved wool sweater, you know how heavy wet wool can be! In this picture from 1922, the woman on the right is wearing a ruffled swimsuit, rather like the one below– at least it’s not wool!

Ruffled 1920's bathing suit.

Ruffled vintage 1920’s bathing suit.

Of course, some swimming suits have always been intended for lounging and sunbathing, rather than getting wet.

Bathing suit from an ad for HInds sun cream; Delineator, June 1929/

Bathing suit from an ad for Hinds sun cream; Delineator, June 1929.

Annette Kellerman settled her problems with the law by promising to stay covered by a cape until she entered the water, according to Toussaint . . .

The young women at the left are critical of the conservative fashions worn by the one with the cape. From The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

The young women at the left are critical of the conservative fashions worn by the one with the cape. From The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

. . . or by wearing full length tights to cover her legs, as Kellerman did in this photo:

Annette Kellerman with her legs completely covered.

Annette Kellerman with her legs — and shoulders –completely covered.

As a long-distance speed swimmer, Kellerman had to eliminate the drag of her swimsuit as much as possible, but as an exhibition diver and swimmer — she played the vaudeville circuit — publicity photos like this one were more likely to get printed in local papers. Many women wore stockings with their bathing costumes. Since “erogenous zones” keep changing, it’s worth noting that it was her bare legs, not her breasts, that were the subject of scandal. I’m enough of a cynic to believe that the sight of Ms. Kellerman in a cold, wet bathing suit must have been part of her attraction. (Remember that best-selling poster of Farah Fawcett?)

That, and the fact that Kellerman introduced the Australian crawl to swimmers all over the world.

Kellerman kept up with the times, too. Here she is in an ad from 1931:

Annette Kellerman in an advertisement for her diet plan; Delineator, August 1931.

Annette Kellerman in an advertisement for her diet plan; Delineator, August 1931.

Women reading this ad would be aware that Kellerman was in her forties; she’d been a public figure (in both senses of the word) for 26 years. And her figure, once “perfect” because it resembled the Venus de Milo, now has the slender lines of the 1920’s and 30’s.

Annette Kellerman ad for her diet and exercise plan; Delineator, Aug. 1931.

Annette Kellerman ad for her diet and exercise plan; Delineator, Aug. 1931.

I’m happy to say that her weight loss plan appears to be based on healthy practices:

1931 aug delin btm 500 diet annette kellerman ad

“I allow you plenty of delicious, satisfying foods, but they produce energy instead of fat. I use no drugs or pills; prescribe no starvation diets.” The ad also mentions improvements in posture, “pep and energy,” so — I hope — exercise was part of “The Body Beautiful” plan.

Esther Williams was also a teenaged swimming champion before she became a movie star. In fact, in her very good autobiography, (which she also called “Million Dollar Mermaid“) she mentions the many times her life was in danger while filming, because there simply were no stunt performers who could do what she could do. Certainly, no stuntman could look like Williams in a bathing suit! She had to stay underwater for long periods, performing till the end of the shot before she could grab a breath from a concealed air supply tube.  She really did perform her own high dives off of trapezes and towers. (She did refuse to perform one very high dive while pregnant.)

Public domain image of Esther Williams

Public domain image of Esther Williams

The producers of the movie in which she played a fictional version of Annette Kellerman — “Million Dollar Mermaid” — wisely saved her most difficult high dive until the end of the shoot. Her glittering full bodysuit included a tight-fitting hood with a crown attached to its top. When Williams hit the water, the crown formed a cup at the top of her head; instead of piercing the water smoothly, her head and neck snapped back; she broke bones in her back, and she was lucky not to be paralyzed.

This costume is apparently the one that put Williams in a body cast for several months (click here).

Poor Esther — who made a full recovery — was always having to stand on her tiptoes in photos, to make her strong, athletic legs look longer.

Esther Williams posing on tiptoes in a Cole swimming suit. From her book, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Esther Williams posing on tiptoes in a Cole swimming suit. From her book, Million Dollar Mermaid.

So, naturally, when the studio recreated Annette Kellerman’s one piece suit for her, they shortened its legs, for an unbroken long leg line, effectively putting the star in an almost-modern (1952) bathing suit.  You can see the movie trailer [preview]– with several of her costumes, including the head-to-toe bodysuit — by clicking here.

Like Kellerman, Williams turned herself into a business. Williams had a long working relationship with bathing suit manufacturer Cole of California. She even persuaded the U.S. Navy to order 50,000 swimsuits from Cole.  Million Dollar Mermaid, by Esther Williams with Digby Diehl, would be a great poolside or summer “read.” Used paperbacks are available for as little as a penny!

And the movie has choreography (over the top — of course) by Busby Berkeley. Starring Esther Willams and Victor Mature. [Or, to repeat an old theatre joke, “Why ‘and?’ Why not ‘But?’ “] Rent it to enjoy a little Technicolor time travel; take with plenty of popcorn and low expectations of historical accuracy.  Just in:  the 1952 movie will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015:  10 pm Eastern time, 7 pm Pacific Time.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1930s, 1950s-1960s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Sportswear, Swimsuits

Le Smoking: Nothing New Under the Sun

Although Yves Saint Laurent is (rightly) credited with popularizing the tuxedo for women, called “Le Smoking” (click here for his 1966 version,) it was an idea that had been explored before, in other decades when women began to assume traditionally masculine roles.

"Le Smoking" for women, illustrated by Humberto in 1926. From Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties, ed. Joanne Olian.

“Le Smoking” for women, illustrated by Humberto in 1926. From Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties, ed. JoAnne Olian.

The singer Dora Stoeva, Delineator magazine, March 1924. Her jacket seems to have a satin lapel, worn over a vest with white piping, but no shirt.

The singer Dora Stoeva, Delineator magazine, March 1924. Her jacket seems to have a black velvet lapel and cuffs, worn over a vest with white piping, but no shirt.

The boutonniere and pocket hanky were usual in male evening dress. The first versions of le smoking may have appeared before the nineteen twenties. In fact, this Punch cartoon reprinted in The Way to Wear-em, by Christina Walkley, deserves more research:

Cartoon by Sambourne, 1880, from Walkley's book The Way to Wear'em.

Cartoon by Sambourne, 1880, from Walkley’s book The Way to Wear’em.

The caption purports to be a quotation from Journal des Modes, 1st April, and says:

” ‘Man or Woman?” — A toss up. ‘Dresses are still universally cut en coeur. A very dressy toilette, and one, much worn now, for the Evening, is of black Broche or cloth material cut en Habit d’Homme, with plain or kilted skirt, very tight; for fair ladies it is very becoming to omit a tucker, and have the black and white with no softening.”

Anyone with access to Journal des Modes, from about 1879 to 1880, might have fun looking for the page that inspired the cartoonist — and the original illustration, if any.

Meanwhile, here’s a closer look at those “smokings” for women from 1926:

Les Smokings de 1926.

Les Smokings de 1926.

From the left:

Black "grain de poudre" "smoking," silk revers, wide-ribbed gray ottoman waistcoat. 1926

Black “grain de poudre” “smoking,” silk revers, wide-ribbed gray ottoman waistcoat. 1926

She is also wearing a Victorian-looking ruffled tuxedo shirt with a simply tied black ribbon in place of a bow tie. The skirt appears to have a center front pleat.

Don’t be misled by the black and white illustrations; this “smoking” is not black, but ivory white.

"Ivory silk serge 'smoking,' gold lame waistcoat, gold gardenia."  1926

“Ivory silk serge ‘smoking,’ gold lame waistcoat, gold gardenia.” 1926

It also is worn with a pleated skirt. The “smoking” below is not black, either:

"Light gray rep 'smoking," satin shawl collar, white silk rep waistcoat." 1926

“Light gray rep ‘smoking,’ satin shawl collar, white silk rep waistcoat.” 1926

Under it, there’s a woman’s V-neck shawl collared blouse with French cuffs. She wears a monocle on a ribbon, rather than a necklace.

"Plum colored woolen 'smoking,' matching silk revers, cream silk waistcoat." 1926

“Plum colored woolen ‘smoking,’ matching silk revers, cream silk waistcoat.” 1926

A man’s tuxedo shirt would not have as many buttons as this pleated shirt has;  it has a slight standing collar instead of a wing collar, and has a silk ribbon tied once, rather than a bow tie. I especially like the strip of braid at the side of the skirt; men’s tuxedo trousers always had such braid at the side seams.

In the nineteen twenties and thirties, men’s formal evening dress and tuxedos were sometimes navy blue, instead of black. It was thought that navy looked better under the lighting at dances and dinner parties. [This is a problem for theatrical costumers drawing from real period stock; navy blue wool can turn surprising colors under stage lights, including brown, maroon, or cranberry red.]

The illustration by Humberto is taken from JoAnne Olian’s Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties, page 108, dated February 27, 1926. It’s available in paperback or as a Nook Book.

The woman’s tuxedo suit has longevity. This one, by Yves Saint Laurent, in the collection of the Metropolitan museum, dates to 1973-77.

Yves Saint Laurent "Smoking," 1973-77. Photo courtesy of Metropolitain Museum.

Yves Saint Laurent “Smoking,” 1973-77. Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

This one, from Donna Karan, appeared in 1998:

Vogue pattern 2165, Donna Karan, 1998.

Vogue pattern 2165, Donna Karan, 1998.

And these celebrities all wore tuxedo suits to the same event in 2011. (Click here.) Described at popsugar.

Marie Claire showed this (undated) version even more recently. Click Here.

Viva le smoking!

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Filed under 1920s, 1960s-1970s, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers

To Bob or Not to Bob Your Hair: 1925 (Part 2)

Getting a pointed shingle haircut, Delineator Nov. 1926. Illustration by Leslie Saalsburg.

Getting a pointed shingle haircut, Delineator, November 1926. Illustration by Leslie Saalsburg.

“If your hair grows so that a point can be made in the center of the back, have your barber cut it in a point.” — Celia Caroline Cole, in her article “Slicker ‘n’ Slicker,”  Delineator magazine, January 1924.

I exerpted the first part of “Slicker ‘n’ Slicker” in Part 1 of this post. (Click here to read it.) (And thank you to Dinah and Cristina , et al, for their really informative comments!) If you watch Downton Abbey, you have probably seen the episode where Lady Mary gets her hair cut into a sleek bob with a point in the back. [After looking at many images from 1924 through 1925, I realized that the thick point above her nape was not what was bothering me; it was the length of her hair in front.]

Louise Brooks probably had the most iconic sleek bobbed hair in the movies (click here), but she didn’t have the pointed back shown in the illustration above, which, as Celia Cole says, was only possible for about one in fifty women. The really “slicker ‘n’ slicker” hair that “looks like paint” probably belonged to elegant Josephine Baker, the American girl who became a legendary star in France. (Click here.) She even marketed a hair preparation called “Bakerfix.”

More from “Slicker ‘n’ Slicker,” January 1925

"The friendliest shingle is to have it cut long on the sides so as to cover the ears. . . . A lovely little sloping curve from behind the ear down to the sharp little point." Two pattern illustration modesl from May, 1925. Butterick's Delineator magazine.

“The friendliest shingle is to have it cut long on the sides so as to cover the ears. . . . A lovely little sloping curve from behind the ear down to the sharp little point.” Two pattern illustration models from May, 1925. Butterick’s Delineator magazine.

from the friendliest shingle to head of young boy

“And long or short, the hair must be very neat — no more tousled heads — brushed until it shines, and for most faces waved in large, loose undulations.”

A Gallery of Mid-Twenties Hair Styles from Delineator Illustrations

April 1924, Paris fashion sketches by Soulie.

April 1924, Paris fashion sketches by Soulie.

March 1924, Delineator. Butterick pattern illustrations.

March 1924, Delineator. Butterick pattern illustrations.

A few months later, in  January, 1925, the girl above left would have been among those who were advised to have the hair in back tapered or thinned “with a razor so that it does not stand out.”

October 1924. Delineator.

October 1924. Delineator.

March, 1925. Delineator.

March, 1925. Delineator. Paris models.

The blonde on the right has her hair cut almost like a man’s, long in front and tapered in back. She has tendrils falling on her cheek, like these other Paris models:

Very short hair on Paris models. The two on the left are from January 1925; the one on the right is from April, 1924.

Very short hair on Paris models. The two on the left are from January 1925; the one on the right is from April, 1924.

A haircut like this gave you the option of pulling a lock from the front down to curl on your cheek on each side, or you could brush it straight back, like singer Dora Stroeva, pictured in Delineator, March, 1924.

Singer Dora  Stroeva wears a severly mannish "Eton crop" in the "New in New York" column; Delineator, March 1924.

Singer Dora Stroeva wears a severely mannish “Eton crop” in the “New in New York” column; Delineator, March 1924.

The “Eton crop,” named after the prestigious English boys’ school Eton College, was the subject of cartoons like this one:

The woman on the right, admiring a photograph of the man the woman on the left is engaged to, says, "Well, God bless you, my dear, congratulations and all that. He certainly looks twice the man that you are." March, 1928, Punch magazine.

The woman on the right is admiring a photograph of the man the woman on the left is engaged to marry.  March, 1928, Punch magazine, reprinted in The Way to Wear’em by Christina Walkley.

The caption says, “Young woman (looking at a photograph of friend’s fiance).  ‘Well, God bless you, my dear, congratulations and all that. He certainly looks twice the man you are.’ ” (For more “fashion” cartoons from The Way to Wear’em and other books, click here.)

However, most women felt the need for some hair near the face to “save it from that utterly revealed look.”

1925, Delineator.

1925, Delineator. The woman in the center has had her hair thinned a little at the bottom, as advised in “Slicker ‘n’ Slicker.”

October 1924, Delineator.

October 1924, Delineator.

December 1924, Delineator.

December 1924, Delineator. Styles for wavy hair.

Having some hair around the face looked better with a hat.

Hair Styles That Are “Nice to Buy Hats For”

“Any one who has had short hair knows the joy of it — cool and free, easy to care for and nice to buy hats for.”

March, left, and January, right, 1925. Hair styles meant to look good under a cloche hat.

March, left, and January, right, 1925. Hair styles meant to look good under a cloche hat.

Hats, story illustration, September 1924. Delineator.

Hats and hair, story illustration, September 1924. Delineator.

It’s hard now to remember that women once wore hats whenever they went out in public, but through the 1920’s and 1930’s photographs of crowds rarely show a person without a head covering of some kind. The tight-fitting, head-hugging hats of the 1920’s required hairstyles that could survive being compressed, and still look presentable when a woman took her hat off at work or at home. No wonder hairstyles got “slicker ‘n’  slicker.”

from gray bobbed to arrange for herself

It didn’t matter whether the hat was a turban, or a cloche, or a hat with a brim; part of the twenties look is those little poufs or curls or “guiches” that fill in the hollow of the cheek. Without them, a cloche hides all your hair, and the look is austere and rather grim. As Celia Cole put it, ” The dressing of the hair means to the face and head what shrubbery and trees mean to a brand-new house: they save it from that utterly revealed look.”

Four Hats for Spring, April 1925. Delineator.

Four Hats for Spring, April 1925. Delineator.

Hats illustrated with dress patterns, February 1925. Delineator.

Hats illustrated with dress patterns, February 1925. Delineator. Imagine how different they would look with no hair visible.

Even a tiny wisp of hair on the cheek softens the hat and sculpts the face.

Hair cut to a point in back, February 1925. Delineator.

Sleek, shiny hair cut to a point in back, February 1925. Delineator.

Which brings me back to Lady Mary’s haircut. Because the front was longer than any of the styles shown in these 1924-1925 illustrations, her haircut didn’t work very well with the hat of her riding habit.  Her hair didn’t fit neatly into the hollow of her cheek. It got messy. That bothered me, like getting a piece of popcorn stuck to a back tooth.

Two hats -- with wisps of hair showing at the cheeks. February 1924, Delineator.

Two hats — with wisps of hair showing at the cheeks. February 1924, Delineator.

Of course, when it comes to dressing actors, the rule is , “The physical attractiveness of the actor to the audience outweighs all other considerations.” It doesn’t apply to all characters — and not to extras — but it does apply to leading actors playing physically attractive characters. Sometimes we search through incredible amounts of research, until we find one example that justifies the style that best becomes the actor. Molly Ivins said that there is nothing so dangerous as a man who has only read one book.”  I probably haven’t found the right book — and “I’m always hungry for more.”

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Filed under 1920s, Hairstyles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

My Costumer’s Library: Include Cartoon Collections

Using Period Cartoons for Costume Research

Recommending period cartoons for costume research may seem a little strange, but think about it: A cartoon is only funny if the reader understands the situation and the characters at a glance. Often, the costumes for a TV show, movie, or play have to telegraph their characters in a similar way. This is especially true of minor characters, who appear for only a few minutes.

"A herd of wild Bohemians being rounded up for the opening of a new cafe in Soho, with the idea of creating the right atmosphere." October 1930. From The Way to Wear'em

“A herd of wild Bohemians being rounded up for the opening of a new cafe in Soho, with the idea of creating the right atmosphere.” October 1930. From The Way to Wear’em. Note the facial hair and the hat shapes of these artistic types. You can also see variations in how the waiters in a cafe, not a fine restaurant, were dressed. A Bohemian cafe setting appeared in at least two TV shows I have seen.

NOTE:  All the cartoons shown in this post are for purpose of recommending books; please do not copy or reuse these images.

The cartoonist uses just a few black lines to give us the age, relationships, economic or occupational status, and personalities of the characters. Nevertheless, the reader knows at a glance who is middle-class and who is a hobo, who is pretentious, who is suburban, who is middle-aged, who is a student, who is a senior citizen, who is a bartender and who is a housewife. Of course, the cartoonist plays with stereotypes. But, if you need to know what a deliveryman or a butcher wore in the 1890s, or the clothing differences between a young person and an older person in a previous era, cartoons are a great place to supplement your research.

"Short-sighted old lady at a boardinghouse," September, 1925. From The Way to Wear'em. The long woman at left is conventionally dressed, the young man wears a blazer with white tennis flannels and white or tan shoes. The woman at the right is being mistaken for a young man because of her sports blazer and chic shingled hair.

“Short-sighted old lady at a boardinghouse,” September, 1925. From The Way to Wear’em. The young woman at left is conventionally dressed; the young man wears a blazer with white tennis flannels and white or tan shoes and socks. The old lady wears an unfashionably long skirt and a shawl. The woman at the right is being mistaken for a man because of her sports blazer and chic, shingled hair.

When you read a great many vintage cartoons, you get a much better idea of what was normal for the period and what was shocking. Another cartoon from the 1920s shows a husband horrified by the exceptionally short (late 1928) hem and plunging back of his wife’s evening dress. Evening gowns of the early 1930s were frequently backless, so she is in the forefront of 1929 fashion (although chic evening hems were dropping and uneven by 1929). She is unmistakably feminine, but she, too, has very short shingled hair.

January, 1929, From The Way to Wear'em.

January, 1929, From The Way to Wear’em.

Husband: “I should have thought you’d be ashamed to show your face in such a gown!”

Wife:  “Don’t worry, darling. My face won’t be the chief attraction.”

I can’t help noticing that the husband is wearing a white formal vest with his tuxedo — quite acceptable in the twenties and thirties. There’s a female character in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (1925) — a vamp and potential home wrecker — who “uses sex as a shrimping net.” Costume design inspiration? See above.

You won’t find many pictures of housemaids, cooks, footmen and errand boys in fashion magazines. You will find them in cartoons:

This servant is being fired for not wearing a crinoline --"I understood they was a goin' out, m'---" July 1866. The Way to Wear'em.

This housemaid — in light-colored calico, since it is daytime — is being fired for not wearing a crinoline. ” I understood they was a goin’ out, m’—” July 1866. The Way to Wear’em.

Just two years earlier, another maid was certainly in danger of being fired for wearing a crinoline at work:

Housemaid, March 1864. from The Way to Wear'em.

Housemaid, March 1864. from The Way to Wear’em.

There are quite a few cartoons about servants’ clothing; servants aping their “betters” were often the subject of humor.

Cartoons about fashion fads can be quite informative (and brighten up a costume history lecture.)

This shows both the crinoline turned inside out and the petticoat worn under it. Notice also the child with basket at left. December 1856. From The Way to Wear'em.

This shows both the structure of a crinoline turned inside out and the petticoat worn under it. Notice also the lower class child with basket at left. December 1856. From The Way to Wear’em. (click to enlarge)

In addition to cartoons that react to new fashions, cartoons show characters from all walks of life. Grocers, butchers, salesmen, policemen, clergymen, housewives and beggars, country folks and city slickers, are all to be found — clearly recognizable — and frequently labeled — in cartoons. You won’t find these characters in the usual fashion history book, but if you are a costume designer, you need to know them:

From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch. Hobo and rural housewife, July 1894. Notice the realistic wear and tear on his clothes, and the woman's sunbonnet.

From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch. Tramp and rural housewife, July 1894. Notice the realistic wear and tear on his clothes and (toeless) shoes, and the woman’s sunbonnet and ankle-length work skirt.

Working class characters, July 1875. From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch.

Working class characters, July 1875. From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch. There is an amazing amount of information in this drawing by George du Maurier, which he described as “seen and heard by the artist.” Look at the man’s battered hat and patched knees, the mud or patches on his downtrodden wife’s hem, & the starving, coatless children — who are nevertheless wearing hats– versus the immaculate (and corseted) housewives on the right.

Sources for Period Cartoons

Two invaluable cartoon collections for British costume are Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841 – 1901, a Dover paperback (available used for under $5), and The Way to Wear’em: 150 Years of Punch on Fashion, by Christina Walkley. Available used or new.

The Way to Wear’em:  150 Years of Punch on Fashion

Title page from The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walker.

Title page from The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

The book gets its title from this 1899 cartoon:wtwem sept 1899 wareham joke 500

Fair Cyclist:  “Is this the way to Wareham?”
Native:  “Yes, Miss, yew seem to me to ha’ got ’em on all right!”

As interesting as the lady’s cycling costume is, a costumer will examine the Dorset countryman’s hat and clothing, as well:

Dorset man, rural England, 1899. Many workiing men tied their (often corduroy) trousers just below the knee.

Dorset man, rural England, 1899. Many working men tied their (often corduroy) trousers just below the knee. From The Way to Wear’em.

What makes this book so useful is that Christina Walkley is a costume historian. She uses the cartoons to explain fashion history, with frequent quotations from period sources, so it contains as much text as illustration: it’s a scholarly work that’s fun to read, with references. Her other works include Ghost in the Looking Glass: The Victorian Seamstress; Dressed to Impress, 1840-1914; and Crinolines and Crimping Irons: Victorian Clothes: How They Were Cleaned and Cared For.

Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841-1901

An urban working man from Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841-1901. Corduroy trousers, tied below the knees, and a suit jacket worn inside out to keep t 'good' side clean.

An urban working man from Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841-1901. In 1888 he wears corduroy trousers, tied below the knees, and a suit jacket worn inside out to keep the ‘good’ side clean. This costermonger’s cap has ear flaps.

Dover’s Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, edited by Stanley Applebaum and Richard Kelly, is large format; you can see the details very well. It treats the cartoons as art works and explains a great deal about the artists, but you may need to do your own research to understand the cartoons completely. For example:

Working class Londoners, Punch, 1899. Hedwin: "Hangelineer! ... What  'ud yer sy  if I told yer as I'd took the shillin'?" Hangelina: "Sy? Why -- 'Halves.' "

Working class Londoners, Punch, 1899.  Hedwin: “Hangelineer! … What ‘ud yer sy if I told yer as I’d took the shillin’?” Hangelina: “Sy? Why — ‘Halves.’ “

The misplaced “H”s in the caption tell us that this working class couple are Cockney Londoners. You may not be familiar with the phrase “to take the shilling” (to enlist). I remember — from books and movies — that coins were sometimes cut in half and worn as tokens by separated friends and lovers, but haven’t found a reference to that custom online.  The man’s clothing includes a cap with tiny brim, collarless shirt and neckerchief, a vest, a suit jacket (probably secondhand), and patched trousers.

Using Cartoons in Addition to Photographs

Obviously cartoons have to be used to supplement — not replace — other primary sources, such as photographs. However, you may find that learning to recognize character types and occupations from cartoons will help you to interpret period photographs. It’s also easier to see the construction details, like seams, in line drawings.

Great Drawings . . . from Punch shows working people in occupational dress, from 1880s policemen (useful for Sherlock Holmes films) to sales clerks and butchers of the Victorian era.

A butcher, 1883, a grocer, 1873, shoe salesmen, 1880. From Great Drawings ... from Punch.

A butcher, 1883, a greengrocer’s shop, 1873, shoe salesmen, 1880. From Great Drawings … from Punch.

Twentieth Century Cartoons

The many Collections of cartoons from the New Yorker show examples of the clothing styles of the 1920s, 50s, 60s, etc. Although they are not as elaborately drawn as Victorian era cartoons, social position is often crucial to New Yorker jokes, so they are helpful in getting a feeling for the decade you are researching. I saw a marvellous production of Merry Wives of Windsor at the RSC in the 1980s; it was set in the 1950s and evoked a world I knew well from the copies of Punch I used to read in my college library in the 1960s. Click here for Falstaff as an ex-RAF type. (The production designer was William Dudley.)

My favorite modern cartoonist, when it comes to clothing, is Dan Piraro, who writes Bizarro. I used to have a batch of his clothing-related cartoons pinned above the ironing table in the costume shop. I love his books.

The cover of Too Bizarro, by Dan Piraro, 1988.

The cover of Too Bizarro, by Dan Piraro, 1988. Please do not copy this image.

When is comes to capturing 20th century characters and occupational dress, Bizarro may be the future researcher’s equivalent of Punch. I pulled just one collection, called Sumo Bizarro (1990), off my shelf and found — in addition to the pirates, cowboys, clowns and other obvious ‘costume’ characters — a TV cameraman, fortune tellers, guys on the make, repairmen, mechanics, short order cooks, used car salesmen, deliverymen, waiters, doctors, executives, the wealthy (with their drivers) and the homeless, people attending a high school reunion, road workers, fast food workers (in a whole line of different uniforms), chefs, tourists, farmers, furniture movers, muggers, pretentious guests at an art gallery, duck hunters, campers, and hardhats. All these characters were described “in shorthand,” so to speak — just the essentials. Someday, Bizarro may be very useful to a costume designer.

Same character, different eras: The sleazy guy in the Bizarro cartoon (1980s) was known as a masher in an earlier day. (Punch, 1856)

Same character, different eras: The sleazy guy, with mustache and lots of hair, in a Bizarro cartoon (1980s) and his counterpart, ogling young ladies, in Punch, 1856. Please do not copy this image.

Fifty years from now, people may be using cartoons to understand clothing and personality types in the twentieth century. (Click here for a group of philosophers from the  New Yorker (2007) — a modern version of those Bohemians from Punch in 1930.)

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Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Women in Trousers