Tag Archives: costume design

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

How to Look Thinner in the 1920s, Part 1: Wear a Corset or Corselette

 

Paris designs, Delineator, January 1925. From Left: Doucet, Lanvin, Molyneux, Premet, Chanel.

Paris designs, Delineator, January 1925. From Left: Doucet, Lanvin, Molyneux, Premet, Chanel.

In the July, 1925 issue of Delineator magazine – published by the Butterick Publishing Company — columnist Evelyn Dodge gave the following advice on looking slender while wearing 1920s fashions. I will divide it into three parts — proper corsets, proper lingerie, and proper sizing and styles. I have already exerpted part of her article in Underpinning the Twenties: Corsets and Corselets.  I will add illustrations from Delineator and other sources, and my own comments.

How to Reduce Your Hips Three Inches – 1925

“My subject this morning, dear friends, I know you will find delightful. My text is ‘How you can reduce your hips three inches in three minutes without diet, drugs or exercise and still eat your way through June without giving up strawberry shortcake, asparagus, and any of the other pleasures of the season. . . .’

“I can’t tell you how you can become slender, but I can show you very easily how you can look several inches slighter and thirty or forty pounds lighter than you do now. Almost any woman can reduce her actual measurements appreciably by proper corseting, proper lingerie and the proper size clothes. Old shapeless corsets with bent and bulging bones, too much lingerie cut on too wide lines and made of clumsy materials, clothes that are too large, too long and too wide for the present fashion will make a mountain out of any feminine molehill.”

[Comment: As a costume designer, I could usually create the illusion that a 145 pound actress weighed 133 pounds (or that my 160 pound self weighed 10 pounds less), but erasing forty pounds is promising a lot! As an opera designer once told me, “You can create visual illusions with costumes — up to a point, but there’s only so much that vertical lines can do for a singer who’s built like a tugboat.” ]

The 1920s Ideal Figure

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

In 1925, when Evelyn Dodge wrote this article, she said, “The boyish figure sans bust and curves and waistline is the ideal silhouette.”

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

Tip Number One: Wear a Corset or a Corselette.

“A Few Years Ago Women Took Off Corsets . . . and Let Their Figures Go.” — Evelyn Dodge

Dodge attributed the change in women’s figures to the relatively shapeless styles of the preceding decade.

[I know that fans of Titanic and Downton Abbey may not believe that the styles of the late 1910s could be extremely unflattering; that’s because theatrical costume designers do a great deal of period research and then select the clothing that a modern audience will find most attractive.  If a woman is supposed to look young and appealing, or sophisticated and sexy, she has to be dressed in a way that conveys those character points to an audience that has not done months of period research.] Here are some outfits for women, circa 1917:

Three outfits from the Perry, Dame Catalog, 1916.

Three outfits from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917.

If you were an actress — whose next job might depend on being shapely — which would you prefer to wear?

Even outfits designed by Gabrielle Chanel could add pounds in 1916:

1916 designs by Gabrielle Channel [sic] from Doris Langley Moore’s Fashion through Fashion Plates, cited by Quentin Bell.

1916 designs by Gabrielle Channel [sic] from Doris Langley Moore’s Fashion through Fashion Plates, republished by Quentin Bell in On Human Finery.

Under all that fabric, it would be easy to put on a few inches around the hips without even noticing. (Weighing yourself at home was not an option when scales were huge, heavy machines.)

Then came the 1920s, when the ideal figure was flat in front and flat behind.

Warner’s corset, March 1925. Delineator.

Warner’s corset, March 1925. Delineator.

Sweater Girls, World War I

Young Women Wearing Sweaters, California, 1917-1918

Young Women Wearing Fashionable Sweaters, California, 1917-1918. Note how similar their sweaters are to the ones in the catalogs, below.

Evelyn Dodge continued:

“A few years ago during the vogue of the sweater with its concealing lines, women took off corsets, drew a long breath and let their figures go.

Sweaters from the Perry, Dame Catalog, 1917. Dover Books.

Sweaters from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917. Dover Books.

1922 sweaters from Sears catalog. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

Sweaters from Sears catalog, 1922. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

“Some of the results were good, others were bad. The large waist and the resulting lowering of the bust and straightening of the hip has a youthful air.  [!]  But the diaphragm bulge, the middle-aged spread, the very pronounced increase in weight, have proved ugly and stubborn.

Models Photographed for Ads in Delineator, 1917. These figures would be out of fashion in the nineteen twenties.

Models Photographed for Ads in Delineator, 1917. Their figures would be out of fashion in the nineteen twenties. Imagine the woman on the left in a 1920s dress.

“Many women who have tried going without corsets are now wearing them again – not to make their waists smaller, but to flatten the abdomen and lower back.”

Bon Ton Corset Ad in Delineator. April 1925.

Bon Ton Corset Ad in Delineator. April 1925.

The Modart Corset company ran a series of “X-ray vision” ads showing corsets as worn under clothes.

Young woman wearing a Modart Corset under her dress. October 1924, Delineator.

Young woman wearing a Modart Corset under her dress. October 1924, Delineator.

Corsets and Corselettes

Corsets from Sears catalog, 1925-26. From Everyday Fashions of the 1920s by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

Corsets from Sears catalog, 1925-26. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

Many women wore a Brassiere or Bandeau to compress their breasts, plus a corset to control their hips and abdomen. (See the “Detachable Ceinture Step-in,” above.) This could leave an uncomfortable and unsightly ridge of flesh bulging out where the brassiere and corset met, so the Brassiere + Girdle combination — also called a corselette — became very popular:

Treo "Brassiere Girdle combination garment" ad from Delineator, May 1925.

Treo “Brassiere Girdle combination garment” ad from Delineator, May 1925. This could also be called a corselette or corsette.

Dodge explains: “Most young girls and practically all women need some sort of figure control . . . . Not all women need corsets. Women with young slender figures find that the corselet, which is a combination brassiere and hip-confiner, is sufficient.”

Butterick corselette pattern #5691, January 1925.

Butterick corselette pattern #5691, January 1925.

The boneless corselet (spelled many ways) would have acted on a woman’s body the way that sausage casing acts on sausage, redistributing her flesh into a tube shape.  Although it had no metal boning, this corselette’s vertical flat-felled seams pass over the bust points, effectively flattening the breasts. Tension between the shoulder straps and the stocking garters would finish the job. (For more information about corsets and corselets, click here. For more information about 1920s bust flatteners, click here.)

Coming Soon: How to Look Thinner in the 1920s, Part 2: Wear the Right Lingerie

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, vintage photographs