Tag Archives: Elizabeth Ewing

Changing the Foundations of Fashion: 1929 to 1934

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The corset went through other changes after 1929.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lastex Changes Corsetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End of the Boyish Figure

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

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

1932 fall sears 500 help for flat chested pushup

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

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

That didn’t take long, did it?

 

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

My Costumer’s Library: Getting Started

A page from 20,000 Years of Fashion: Packed with primary sources, photos, information.

A page from 20,000 Years of Fashion: Packed with primary sources, photos, information — in color and black & white.

I’ve been seeing some comments, on The Vintage Traveler and other blogs, from people asking for costume research book recommendations, and I couldn’t resist offering some suggestions.

Of course, a library is a very personal thing, and depends on its owner’s personal interests and goals. I helped a good friend list her library on Amazon when it came time for her to move to assisted living. She was a vintage clothing collector, a docent, and a lover of ethnic textiles.  I was a theatrical costume designer. I’ve taught costume design, construction, and costume history classes; I’ve worked as a designer, a cutter/draper (i.e., a pattern maker), and a costume technician. Together, we had between five and six hundred books in our personal / professional libraries, but we had very few books in common!

I, too, sold most of my professional library when I thought I had retired. Ironically, helping to inventory my friend’s clothing collection for sale made me realize that this is the field I know best, and I still have a lot information and experience to share, so here I am . . . .

There are a few books I couldn’t bear to part with (20,000 Years of Fashion, The Costume Technician’s Handbook) — and many I wish I’d kept, like Everyday Fashions of… since I keep checking them out of the library now.

For an Overview of Fashion in the Western World: 20,000 Years of Fashion

For a quick overview / refresher of periods, (American and European) loaded with primary source illustrations — one of the first costume books I bought and one I still have on my shelf 40 years later:  20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, by Francois Boucher. I have the 1973 edition — available online in used condition for under $20. A 1987 edition is also available. A big, heavy, wonderful, information-packed book, densely illustrated in color and black & white.

For Clothing Worn by Ordinary People: the Everyday Fashions series.

For twentieth century American fashions that were worn by ordinary people (not high fashion): Dover’s series of books that began with Stella Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the Twenties (and Everyday Fashions of the Thirties) from the pages of Sears and other catalogs. The series — trustworthy, dated, primary source material — is being continued by JoAnne Olian, with Everyday Fashions 1909-1920, Everyday Fashions of the Forties, Everyday Fashions of the Fifties, Sixties, etc.) These books are packed with period illustrations and photos of women’s clothing, some children’s clothing, menswear, undergarments, hats, shoes, and other accessories, with prices. Every professional costume designer I know refers to these books constantly. Used, less than $10 each.

For Constructing Historic Clothing: Books by Norah Waugh or  Janet Arnold

For an understanding of how period garments were made, as well as some interesting costume history: Norah Waugh’s classic books The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930, & The Cut of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900. For a long time, The Cut of Men’s Clothes was the reference for patterning period menswear. If you want to study the construction of authentic historical garments, these books are a good place to start. The pages are not gridded, however, so the pattern layouts are most helpful when you’re draping on a mannequin. There is a measurement scale on each page — I ended up copying the scale and pasting it to a stiff card / bookmark so I could move it around on the drawings and then pencil in measurements all over the pages. Also, these books are not cheap, even in used condition. I’d say, borrow Waugh’s books from a library and buy Janet Arnold’s books:

If you want to study vintage clothing and/or recreate authentic period garments: Janet Arnold wrote three superb books, all in paperback and relatively inexpensive: the series is  Patterns of Fashion, by Janet ArnoldPatterns of Fashion is available in three volumes. Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660 to 1860 (women’s clothing), Patterns of Fashion 2: 1860 to 1940 (women’s clothing), and Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620. A fourth volume on shirts, smocks, ruffs, hats, etc., is available, but I haven’t seen it. Arnold has produced detailed patterns, on scaled grids, with copious notes on the construction and trims, taken from actual garments in museum collections. Another virtue: these books are ringbound, so they lie flat when open! I was able to produce some terrific 1890s costumes (with the help of my high school students) using just this book (P of F 2) plus my own home sewing experience (which included volunteering as a stitcher for a very good costume designer — so I knew about flat lining!) You can find used copies of Patterns of Fashion 1 & 2 online at $20 to $30 each; the later books cost a bit more. If you’re dealing in vintage clothing, understanding period construction — knowing what the insides should look like — is very important.

Primary and Secondary Sources

You’ll notice I keep using the words “Primary Sources.” A primary source is a text or illustration (or garment or photograph) made at the time the fashion was current.

Clothing from Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli, drawn and published in November, 1928. Delineator Magazine.

Clothing from Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli, drawn and published in November, 1928. The Delineator magazine.

A secondary source is usually a drawing of an authentic garment, painting, statue, or photo, made at a later date. An example would be John Peacock’s Fashion Sketchbook: 1920-1960 , first published in 1970. Drawings like this can give details not visible in photographs, and are very useful when combined with primary sources. However, not only our ideals of beauty, but our styles of fashion illustration can affect the accuracy of secondary sources in subtle ways. For example, many fashion fabrics in the 1960s and early 70s were stiffer than fabrics from the 1920s. Photos of 1920s dresses show them looking a little droopy, like that Vionnet jacket above, rather than crisp like these.

Suits for 1927-29, drawing by John Peacock. From his Fashion Sketchbook 1920-1960, pb. 1977. Image for review purpose only. Do not copy this image.

Suits for 1927-29, drawing by John Peacock. From his Fashion Sketchbook 1920-1960, pb. 1977. Image for review purpose only. Do not copy this image.

Also, illustrators will tend to select the clothing that is most attractive according their own era’s fashion ideal.

Beware of Using Only Secondary Sources! Anne Hollander has written a big, fascinating book about the difficulty of putting aside our own, modern ideas of beauty and drawing exactly what we see.  Even very scholarly fashion histories that are illustrated with secondary sources can be affected by this unconscious bias. The Mode in Costume, by Ruth Turner Wilcox, is carefully researched, but the illustrations, drawn in the 1940s, sometimes seem to show an uncorseted 1940s figure. The drawings of corsets from Elizabeth Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear are also secondary sources, but they are technical drawings, not noticeably distorted to a 1970s figure ideal.

1940s Drawing of 1879 dress (The Mode in Fashion), and technical drawing of 1879 corset by Elizabeth Ewing, 1971

1940s Drawing of 1879 dress (The Mode in Costume), and technical drawing of an 1879 corset by Elizabeth Ewing, 1971.  Notice the natural bust curve on the dress drawing, impossible in this corset. The bulging “spoon” belly of the period is also minimized.

Straight fronted 18th c. corset (Ewing) and 1940s drawing of 18th c. gown (The Mode in Fashion.)

Straight-fronted 18th c. corset (Ewing) and 1940s drawing of 18th c. gown (The Mode in Costume.) I have made versions of similar 18th century corsets from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, published in the mid-to-late 18th c. They flatten the bust and push it quite high. See below.

Secondary sources can be helpful, but only when used in addition to plenty of primary sources.

An 18th century fashion plate, from Encyclopedie Illustree du Costume et de la Mode

An 18th century fashion plate, from Encyclopedie Illustree du Costume et de la Mode. To be fair, this is later than the black gown above.

We’ve all seen western movies from the 60s and 70s in which the women wear thick, black false eyelashes and have bodices with plenty of breast separation, cut to cling to a modern merry widow or “torpedo” bra. Of course, both the makeup and the clothing looked attractive when the movies were made, but now look obviously “wrong” to anyone who has studied photos of the Old West.

Bette Davis wore lavish costumes both times she played Elizabeth I, but Hollywood just couldn’t commit to authentic, flat-fronted underwear.

Bette Davis in Elizabeth and Essex, 1939; Queen Elizabeth I

Bette Davis in Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939; Queen Elizabeth I

Once I was visiting a “Great House” in England. The tour guide was proud of all the portraits of the owner’s Elizabethan ancestors displayed in the front hall. I thoughtlessly blurted, “Aren’t these Victorian paintings of people in Elizabethan dress?” “How did you know that?” the guide said, shocked that the secret was out. Well, they were wearing Elizabethan clothes, but their faces and hair(and corsets) were Victorian.  Those pictures were not primary sources for Elizabethan dress.

One More Book I Couldn’t Part With:  The Costume Technician’s Handbook
I wore out my copy of The Costumer’s Handbook. The Costume Technician’s Handbook, by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey, is a revised edition of that book. When you’re exhausted and you need to put in hook and eye tape including a casing for the bone, or a side seam zipper, or you need to cartridge pleat a skirt (or ruff), or want to show someone the right way to sew on a snap, this book’s clear and easy-to-follow diagrams are life –or at least, sanity– savers. There are lots of procedures that costumers need to know, but sometimes many months go by before the next time you need to put in a corset busk, or draft some gussets, etc. The Costume Technician’s Handbook covers everything from flat pattern drafting and fitting problems and alterations, to dying and fabric painting, making hats and shoes and sword carriers, how to tie neckties, health and safety issues, etc. There’s a big bibliography and a list of suppliers. There’s even a website that updates all these sources and includes a shopping guide, links to costume societies, etc. The book is available in paperback. You can find an older edition, used, for under $10. A gem. (Caution: It is not about re-creating historically accurate clothing. It’s about creating well-made costumes for the theatre using sewing machines and modern supplies. Actors generally appreciate zippers.)

These are some old favorites — basics — the books I would pack if I could just carry a few for working out-of-town for the summer. I’ll be thinking of more really useful books for another post.

 

 

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Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Corsets, Costumes for the 16th century, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Menswear, Resources for Costumers

Underpinning the Twenties: Corsets and Corselets

“To be smart this season one must be more than slim. The figure must defy nature and be as flat as the proverbial flounder, as straight as a lead pencil, and boneless and spineless as a string-bean. One must be straight like a boy and narrow like a lady in a Japanese print.” – Delineator magazine, February 1924.

Two corselets from 1925. Left, Butterick pattern 5691; right, ad for Bien Jolie corsette # 6099. Delineator Magazine.

Two corselets from 1925. Left, Butterick corselette pattern 5691; right, ad for Bien Jolie corsette # 6099. Delineator magazine.

Corselets, Corselettes, Corsolettes, & Corsettes, 1924 to 1929

Delineator writer Evelyn Dodge explained the difference between a corset and a corselet in her “The New in New York” column dated July 1925:

“Not all women need corsets. Women with young, slender figures find that the corselet, which is a combination brassière and hip-confiner, is sufficient. It is unboned and is therefore as soft and flexible as the natural figure. It keeps the figure straight without making it rigid. It is made of soft light fabrics such as brassière material, broché coutil and fine washable satin and has elastic gores to fit in at the hip. “

“Corsets” were heavily boned and rigid. (“For the figure that is heavier… the corset becomes heavier with heavier material, more bones… and with lacings.” — Dodge) “Corselets” (or corselettes, corsolettes, corsettes, etc. — you could find many spelling variations even in the Delineator‘s articles and advertisements) were unboned, or very lightly boned, and flexible.

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, Delineator, March 1924.

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, Delineator, March 1924.

The woman in this 1924 Bien Jolie Corsette is doing something you couldn’t possibly do in a heavily boned corset: she is bending at the waist. (If you do bend too far in a metal-boned corset, the bones develop a permanent crimp, a dent or a bulge.) The ad says, “The freedom of the uncorseted figure and the long, slim lines demanded by the modes of today are both attained by the Bien Jolie Corsette. . . .”

A Delineator article called this boneless garment a “brassiere corset” early in 1924:

A Brassiere Corset for slender women, Feb. 1924. Delineator.

A Brassiere Corset for slight figures, Feb. 1924. Delineator.

Butterick Corselette Pattern No. 5691, 1924-1925

Butterick corselette pattern # 5961, Delineator, Dec. 1924.

Butterick corselette pattern # 5961, Delineator, Dec. 1924. The corselet is shown worn over bloomers.

In her July 1925 article, Evelyn Dodge went on to say:

“You can either buy or make your corselet. It is very easily made, and if the figure is large or small at one point or another the corselet can easily be fitted when it is being made.”

You can see that there are no boning channels in the corselette, but coutil is a non-stretch corset fabric vith very little ‘give.’ Elastic in yardage wide enough for mass-produced girdles was not available before 1930, according to Ewing (Fashion in Underwear, pp. 102-107), so some corselets of the 1920s show wide bands of overlapped elastic. You can see this in the illustration on the right, below.

Butterick pattern 5961 was featured again in January and March issues of Delineator. 1925.

Butterick pattern 5961 was featured again in January and March issues of Delineator, 1925.

1924 p 36 corselette 5691 descriptionThe pattern description doesn’t say whether this corselette opens with hooks and eyes under the left arm . . .

Does it open along a side seam?

Does it open along a side seam?

. . . or along the side front seam, like this commercially made corselet.

Bien Jolie Step-in Corsette ad, Delineator, April 1925.

Bien Jolie Step-in Corsette ad, Delineator, April 1925.

Dodge continues, “These corselets have been enormously successful for several reasons — their excellent lines, their inexpensiveness, and the fact that they can be washed as easily and as often as any other piece of lingerie. They are supple enough for sports and dancing and their unbroken lines are perfect under the light fabrics of evening gowns.”

Commercially Manufactured Corselets, 1924 to 1929

Although the spellings differed, the popularity of the corselet is apparent by the number that were advertised.

The Treo company, a line available through Sears, Roebuck’s catalog, as well as in stores, called this model a “Brassiere Girdle” combination garment:

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

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

The DeBevoise company suggested that this Step-in Corsette belonged in a bride’s trousseau:

DeBevoise Ad, June 1925. Delineator.

DeBevoise Ad, June 1925. Delineator.

This Warner’s corselette for large figures is “boned in the modern manner,” although the “silk jersey top” can’t have had much impact on a large bust.

Warner's Corselette Ad, April 1925. Delineator.

Warner’s Corselette Ad, April 1925. Delineator.

This Bien Jolie satin brocade corselette dates from 1924:

Bien Jolie Ad for Corsette # 6076, April 1924. Delineator.

Bien Jolie Ad for Corsette # 6078, April 1924. Delineator.

By 1926, flattened busts were going out of fashion and a more natural silhouette was beginning to replace the “unbroken straight line” of Butterick #5691.

Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, July 1926. Delineator.

Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, July 1926. Delineator. Note the elastic curving in toward the waist and the model’s curved silhouette.

By March, 1929, Delineator showed these “foundation” garments [note the name change; they are no longer ‘corselettes’] in an article about the latest underwear styles:

Foundation garment with darted and separated bust. Delineator, March 1929.

Foundation garment with darted and separated bust. Delineator, March 1929.

By 1931, you could buy this Smart Model “co-ed” foundation with “new bustline, no boning” from a Sears catalog for $1.98.

From Stella Blum's Everyday Fashions of the 1930s. Please do not copy this image.

From Stella Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the 1930s. Please do not copy this image.

This is part 4 of a series about undergarments in the 1920s: to read “Brassieres, Bandeaux and Bust Flatteners” (click here), “Underpinning Twenties Fashion: Girdles and Corsets” (click here), “Garters, Flappers & Rolled Stockings” (click here.)

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Accessory Patterns, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

World War I Creates Fabric Shortages, Remade Dresses; 1918

“It is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of cotton.”

The Green Peace of Summer:  “It is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of cotton.” Garden Smock, 1918

Many people are aware that, during World War II, such products as silk, leather, rubber, and nylon were needed for the war effort. In the 1940s, the silk was needed for parachutes. 1943 wartime ad for synthetic fabrics

Wool and Linen Needed for the War Effort, 1918

World War I apparently caused different shortages – of linen and wool. Vast numbers of silk parachutes were not yet needed; war planes were still a new idea. During the First World War, the wool was needed for uniforms, and the linen was needed for airplanes.

Two Soldiers, World War I. Wool was needed for their uniforms.

Two American Soldiers, World War I. Wool was needed for millions of uniforms.

An editorial article, “The Green Peace of Summer,” which appeared in Delineator magazine in July of 1918, contrasted the way the war was experienced in the United States with its much greater impact in Europe. It also refers to the substitution of silk dresses for wool and linen, which may explain why silk dresses for daytime were so popular in the late teens and early twenties.

M. La Rue in a beaded satin day dress, circa 1921.

M. La Rue in a beaded satin day dress, circa 1921.

Young Woman, circa 1918

Young Woman, in silk taffeta (?) dress circa 1917

The War in Europe, Seen from America

“To-day [July, 1918] the green peace of our summer… fills us with… amazement, viewing it, as we all must do, against the somber background of the war. Over there gardens and fields and meadows are torn and gutted by giant shells…. Our world still goes about its business little changed outwardly for all the tragedy of the battle-fields abroad.

“There are many reasons why the war has not made as great and immediate a change in our lives as it has done abroad. So many of our men are left, so many even of draft age have been excused because of dependents and because of war industries, that no revolution of work and life has taken place here comparable to what has happened in England and France. Of course, we have our women street-car conductors. In every country this has been the profession that women have turned to first.

Women Tram Conductors in Scotland, 1915, from E. Ewing’s History of Twentieth Century Fashion

Women Tram Conductors in Scotland, 1915, from E. Ewing’s History of Twentieth Century Fashion

“… In these serious times, clothes have become a serious subject…. We study clothes as we have never studied them before…. We jump at the chance to save a bit of material by following the vogue of the sleeveless blouse and the sleeveless coat…. We [gladly] wear gingham and calico. We wear them in place of linen, knowing that there is little linen left in the world and that it is being used for new wings for our avions.” — Delineator editorial, July 1918

Biplanes at Varney Field, California, about 1919

Biplanes at Varney Field, California, about 1919

Before aluminum was widely used, airplane wings were a framework covered with stiffened cloth canvas. You can see a bit of cloth-covered wing in the upper right of this photograph, taken in the early 1920s:

Young Woman at Flying School, about 1921

Young Woman at Flying School, about 1921. Used with permission of RememberedSummers.

“But it is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of gingham, that the difference in price between cotton and linen means many thrift stamps and comforts for the Red Cross.

“Salvation Army Lassies Start to Carry Doughnuts and Coffee to Soldiers at the Front,” Delineator, 1918

Dresses Made of Silk Instead of Wool Serge

Silk Dresses from an Article About Remaking Clothes, Nov. 1918.

Silk Dresses from an Article About Remaking Clothes, Nov. 1918.

“We are enchanted with the substitution of silk and satin for our old friend serge, and the disappearance of fine woolens from the shops becomes not a hardship but an endowment policy, for whereas old clothes used to give us rather an abused feeling, we now find ourselves quite rich with an out-of-date French serge or fine gabardine that can be remodeled.”

Silk Soutache Braid and Glass Beading on a Brown Wool Dress, 1910s to early 1920s

Silk Soutache Braid and Glass Beading on a Brown Wool Dress, 1910s to early 1920s

A Remade Dress, First World War Era

Three views of a brown wool dress, remade. 1910s to 1920s

Three views of a brown wool dress, remade. Note the depth of the hem, which showed signs of soil at a previous hemline.  1910s to 1920s

This beaded dress in cinnamon brown wool is hard to date precisely, because it shows signs of having been remodeled as well as shortened. The hem was turned up several inches, which suggests that it was originally from the early 1910s.

Front Detail. One tassel is missing.

Front Detail. One tassel is missing. Note the way the extended lapels are looped under, and the odd, wrinkled strip that fills in the top of the neckline. Of course, this mannequin does not have a period bustline to fill it out.

Some of the fabric (perhaps formerly a belt?) was used — rather crudely — to fill in the neckline, but it was hand-stitched in place with rotting thread and had to be removed.

A bulky piece of wool, folded to fit in the neckline, and closed with snaps, was hand-stitched to the top of the neckline.

A bulky piece of wool, folded to fit in the neckline, and closed with snaps, was hand-stitched to the top of the neckline. Here it is partly removed.

The quality of the wool, the overall condition, and the lovely soutache and beading trim made it a prime candidate for remaking during the war years. If anyone can supply more detective work, please share! [I no longer know the whereabouts of the dress.]

Fringe at the bottom of the long panel which ends the peplum.

Fringe at the bottom of the long panel which ends the peplum. See side view.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Dresses, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, World War I

Underpinning the 1920s: Brassieres, Bandeaux, and Bust Flatteners

The women’s undergarment called a “brassière” has been around since 1905 in the U.S. (1) and before 1912 in England (2). However, the first brassieres didn’t look anything like the garment we know today. (Numbers) indicate sources listed at end of post. [Read about 1920s Girdles and Corsets here. Read about Early 1920s Fashions here.]

Boneless Brassieres from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917

Boneless Brassieres from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917

Warner Brothers Brassiere Ad, March 1925

Warner Brothers Brassiere Ad, March 1925, Delineator.

A very similar brassiere, made entirely of delicate machine lace, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Lace Bandeau Brassiere circa 1920, Fashion in Detail drawing by Eleri Lynn, Photographs by Richard Davis

Lace Bandeau Brassiere circa 1920, from Fashion in Detail. (4) Drawing by Leonie Davis, lace photograph by Richard Davis. It closes at the side back with hooks and eyes, so the help of a maid would be required to put it on.

An undergarment like this, worn very tightly, would compress the breasts. However, if I had found any of these brassieres in a box of vintage underwear, I might have classified them as camisoles, rather than brassieres.

The first uplift brassieres — with shoulder straps and a snug, elasticized band below the breasts, and, most importantly, two distinct cups for the breasts — were not mass-produced until the mid-to-late nineteen twenties.

Ideal Fashion Figure, Early 1920s

Couture dress by Lucien Lelong, 1925; Clara Bow, photographed by Dyar for Vanity Fair, 1928

Couture dress by Lucien Lelong, 1925; Clara Bow, photographed by Dyar for Vanity Fair, 1928

Movie star Clara Bow had an ideal figure for early 1920s fashions; she epitomized the garçonne, or “boy-girl” look.

Butterick Ad, Delineator, June 1925.

Butterick Ad, Delineator, June 1925.

Naturally, most of the women alive in the twenties did not look like boys at all.

Young woman and her mother, 1920s. Photo courtesy of rememberedsummers.

Young woman and her mother, 1920s. Photo courtesy of rememberedsummers.wordpress.com

And this is where the brassieres, bandeaux, and bust flatteners come in.

Bust-flattening Bandeaux and Brassieres, 1920s

Ads for De Bevoise Bandeaux, May & April 1925. Both are made of stiff corset material; the one on the right is boned and designed to flatten a more mature figure.

Ads for De Bevoise Bandeaux, May & April 1925. Both are made of stiff corset material; the one on the right is boned and designed to flatten a more mature figure.

The terms brassiere and bandeau were not used consistently, but in general a 1920s “bandeau” was a band that went around the chest, supported by two ribbon straps.

Bandeaux, 1928. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum.

Bandeaux, 1928. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum.

A “brassiere” was less skimpy and usually reached to the waist; both brassieres and bandeaux had one or more tabs that could be used to attach them to the girdle or a waist-high corset, which in turn had suspended garter hooks which attached to the stockings.

Old-fashioned brassieres from a 1928 Sears catalog would have appealed to older women.

These old-fashioned brassieres from a 1928 Sears catalog would have appealed to older women.

You can see that, although the brassieres above resemble the brassieres from 1917 pictured at the top of this post, there is a difference:  these 1920s brassieres have almost no curve. They are meant to flatten the bust.

Brassieres for "stout women" from a Sears catalog, 1928-29. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130.

Bust flattening brassieres for “stout women” from a Sears catalog, 1928-29. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130.

The brassiere on the left is “for stout women and nursing mothers” [Ouch!] only because it fastens up the front.

Reducing Brassieres

Women who were not content with compressing their breasts could try to reduce them:

The Bailey rubber reducing brassiere. Ad from Delineator, July 1918.

The Bailey Rubber reducing brassiere. Ad from Delineator, July 1918.

The Madame X Reducing Brassiere, November 1924. It was also made of rubber, to encourage water loss.

The Madame X Reducing Brassiere, November 1924.

Madame X corsets, girdles, and brassieres were also made of rubber, and usually worn over an absorbent undergarment. The purpose of the rubber was to “sweat off” the fat.

Brassieres That Hold Your Stockings Up (and Push Your Breasts Down)

Brassieres from 1928-29. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

Brassieres from 1928-29. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.  The brassiere on the left is unboned and “comfortable for sports or dancing.” The one on the right “can be worn without a corset.”

Even in the twenties, some objected to bust-flatteners on the grounds that they would damage breast tissue. These garter-and-brassiere combinations, with the stockings exerting a constant downward pull, must have forced all but the smallest breasts to crease at the bottom. In addition to breaking down the breast tissue,  imagine how perspiration forming in those creases would have caused rashes and general misery in warm weather.

Bandeaux and the Boyshform Binder

These 1928 bandeaux have elastic backs, and either a back or side closing. Notice that they have some easing along the side seam, but they still have the “uni-bosom” or “mono-bosom” look of the previous century, as if a woman had one, large, oblong breast running across her chest. These bandeaux were intended to make even that slight curve disappear.

Bandeaux. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

Bandeaux, 1928. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

I have not yet come across a picture of the Boyshform binder. The Boyshform company was formed about 1918 and “claimed optimistically that its utterly flat bandeaux would hold the bust in position without ‘pressure or pinching.’ ” (1)  Another bust flattener with a punning name was the Kabo Corset Company’s “Flatter-U.” The bust reducer illustrated below has a back made from corset material and a front made from several overlapping bands of elastic stitched together:

"Elastic Front Brassiere Bust Reducer gives the bust firm lines. Corset material back...." 1928. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

“Elastic Front Brassiere Bust Reducer gives the figure firm lines. Corset material back….” 1928. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

The authors of Uplift: The Bra in America suggest that the Maiden Form company trademarked that name in 1924 to distinguish the purpose of its new, non-flattening bras from the Boyshform flatteners.

Corselets, Corsolettes, Corselettes, Corsettes and Other Combination Undergarments

The discomfort of brassieres that had to be buttoned with a tab to corsets or girdles — and probably often produced a bulge at the waist where the gap occurred — led to the widespread adoption of a combination garment that was called (with several spelling variations) the corselette.

1924 Brassiere Corset combination, 1924 Long Brassiere 1925 Treo Brassiere Girdle Combination Garment Ad. All from Delineator magazines.

1924 Brassiere Corset combination, 1924 Long Brassiere; 1925 Treo Brassiere Girdle Combination Garment Ad. All from Delineator magazines.

Treo undergarments, here pictured from an ad in Delineator magazine, were sold in stores and also carried as a brand name in the Sears, Roebuck catalog, so they reached a wide spectrum of customers. (1)

1925 Bien Jolie Step-In Corsette Ad, Delineator.

1925 Ad for Bien Jolie Step-In Corsette; “which comfortably flattens the lines of the body.” Delineator.

Corselette pattern from Butterick, 1925. Delineator magazine.

Butterick Corselette pattern, 1925. Delineator magazine.

Women could also make their own simple — and flattening — brassieres, bandeaux, and corselettes from sewing patterns until true uplift bras, which “lifted and separated,” became available in the mid-1920s, and were too complex for the home stitcher. Simple bandeaux which had cups, but did not give support, were still featured in pattern catalogs.

The End of the Boyish Form

Breast flatteners and binders continued to be sold throughout the 1920s, but the return to a more natural, feminine figure in the second half of the twenties — accompanied by the invention of brassieres that had cups that fit and actually supported the breasts — gradually put an end to bust flatteners. The Boyshform company was in financial trouble by August of 1925 and went bankrupt in 1928. (1)

Sources especially useful for this post include (1) Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau; (2) Fashion in Underwear: From Babylon to Bikini Briefs, by Elizabeth Ewing; (3) Everyday Fashions of the Twenties as Pictured in Sears and Other Catalogs, by Stella Blum; (4) Women’s and Children’s Fashions of 1917: The Complete Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, a Dover Book; (5) Fashion in Detail: Underwear, (V&A Museum), by Eleri Lynn, Photographs by Richard Davis, Drawings by Leonie Davis; (6) The Mode in Costume, by Ruth Turner Wilcox, (7) Fashion, by Mila Contini; (8) History of Twentieth Century Fashion, by Elizabeth Ewing, (9) 20,000 Years of Fashion, by Francois Boucher, and issues of Delineator magazine from 1924 to 1929.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets & Corselettes, Hosiery & Stockings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes