Tag Archives: fashion illustration 1920s

The Letty Lynton Dress, Adrian, and Joan Crawford’s Shoulders: Part 2

Part 1 of The Letty Lynton Dress, Adrian, and Joan Crawford’s Shoulders discussed one of the first movies Adrian designed for Joan Crawford:  Letty Lynton (1932,) and its fashion influence. Here’s the Letty Lynton dress again:

Joan Crawfrod in "the Letty Lynton dress" designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

Joan Crawford in “the Letty Lynton dress” designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

The legend is that, because Joan Crawford had very broad shoulders, costume designer Gilbert Adrian decided to exaggerate them, instead of trying to distract us with styling tricks, and incidentally started the fashion for padded shoulders on women. And it is true that broad, padded shoulders for women came into fashion in the 1930’s and lasted through the World War II years.

Butterick Fashion Flyer, April 1938. Broad, padded, shoulders on women.

Butterick Fashion Flyer, April 1938. Broad, padded shoulders for women — and impossible hips.

Butterick Fashion News, Sept. 1943. Broad, padded shoulders for women.

Butterick Fashion News, Sept. 1943. Broad, padded shoulders for women.

I’ve always been a little skeptical that Joan’s broad shoulders were ever a problem. This photo shows her in another evening dress from Letty Lynton.

Joan Crawford in another dress from Letty Lynton. Adrian often made bare- shoulder dresses for her.

Joan Crawford in another dress from Letty Lynton. Adrian often made bare-shouldered dresses for her. From Creating the Illusion.

You wouldn’t say she looks unattractive, or unfeminine…. In fact, she often wore costumes that bared her shoulders, like this one. from 1934.

Here she is in the 1920’s:

Joan Crawford in the 1920's. From Pinterest.

Joan Crawford in the 1920’s. From Pinterest.

Crawford had been making movies since the 1920’s, and the truth is, if you want your hips to look smaller, it’s a good idea to make your shoulders look wider. (Or stand sideways….) A woman’s hips are not — in nature — inches narrower than her shoulders, although that is the way women were drawn in fashion illustrations from the twenties and thirties.

Fashion illustration, July 1928. Delineator. Nobod has hips that narrow.

Fashion illustrations, July 1928. Delineator. Women don’t have hips that narrow.

Most women’s hips are as wide as, or wider than, their shoulders. Even Norma Shearer, “the Queen of MGM,” didn’t look fabulous photographed straight on in this twenties’ outfit.

Butterick fashion illustrations, Jan 1934. Delineator.

Butterick fashion illustrations, Jan 1934. Delineator. Even wearing a really tight girdle will not make normal, childbearing hips that small.

The ruffled shoulders of the famous “Letty Lynton” dress are twice as wide as her hips. In this film clip, as Crawford is seen from the back, standing against a ship’s railing, her waist and hips look very narrow — like a fashion illustration.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves were also used to enhance the illusion of a tiny waist in the 1830’s and the 1890’s.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves create the illusion of a tiny waist, in 1832 and in 1895. Left Casey Collection; right, Metropolitan Museum.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves create the illusion of a tiny waist, in 1832 and in 1895. Left Casey Collection; right, Metropolitan Museum.

The same “trick” reappeared in the 1980’s, to make waists and hips look smaller. Click here.

McCall's bridal pattern 9452 (1985) and Vogue 9816 (1987). Full sleeves, wide shoulders.

McCall’s bridal pattern 9452 (1985) and Vogue 9816 (1987). Full sleeves, wide shoulders.

I do believe another story that Adrian told — as quoted in Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers, by Jay Jorgensen and Donald L. Scoggins. They mention that Adrian designed the costumes for Joan Crawford in more than thirty-two movies, “…and in the process, created the padded-shoulder silhouette that defined the 1940s.”

“Crawford insisted on a free range of movement in her clothing. During fittings, she would rotate her shoulders with arms outstretched to ensure the fabric in her costumes could move with her. When Adrian was not designing in jersey or a fabric that stretched, he would let the clothes out across the back. He heavily padded Crawford’s shoulders to take up the slack in the fabric….” He said, “She is constantly in motion. When she is in the fitting room, she is always walking around, swinging her arms above her head to be sure she has freedom.” — Adrian, quoted in Creating the Illusion.

I’m certainly not in Adrian’s league, but I remember fitting an 1840’s bodice on an opera singer who kept crossing her arms in front of her body as far as possible, hunching her back, and popping the back of the muslin open.

“It fits all right, but I can’t do that!” she complained.

“Do you need to do that on stage?” I asked.

“Uh, no….” Luckily for me, she was a lot more reasonable than Joan Crawford.

Joan Crawford’s broad shoulders were probably an asset when she was wearing 1920’s styles.

Joan Crawford in the 1920's. From Pinterest.

Joan Crawford in the 1920’s. From Pinterest. If you want to look thin in a twenties’ dress, stand sideways.

Joan Crawford first rose to stardom playing a series of flappers in Our Dancing Daughters; Paris; Sally, Irene and Mary; The Taxi Dancer;  The Duke Steps Out, and Our Modern Maidens. This video shows scenes from Our Dancing Daughters. (Also Pre-Code! note the panties, and her break-away skirt.) In 1932 she starred in Letty Lynton and in Rain (as Sadie Thompson , a prostitute with few illusions,) and appeared in Grand Hotel.

I admire her most in Grand Hotel . She plays a sympathetic role as a stenographer/part time prostitute trying to survive during the Depression. In this clip, she makes her situation clear to John Barrymore.

Crawford wore a “show biz” version of the Letty Lynton dress when she danced with Fred Astaire in Dancing Lady (1933). Here she is in another  1933 version of the Letty Lynton dress.

In this Hurrell photo, from 1934, you can see the padded shoulders on her evening gown. In 1937, her jacket is definitely padded like a man’s. The effect is even broader when done in fur: click here. Finally, here she is with Adrian, in 1939, and in Humoresque, 1946.

Most of these links are to a wonderful site: the photo gallery at joancrawfordbest.com. It’s well worth a visit, because Joan Crawford’s costumes were very influential in the mass market, and because — no matter what the style was,  she could really wear a hat!

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Musings, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage patterns

Butterick Pleated Dresses with Hats from 1926

Four Butterick designs from December 1926. Delineator, page. 43.

Four Butterick designs from December 1926. Delineator, page. 43.

I love the art deco “arrow” trim on the dress at center left, and the asymmetry on the dress at center right (it’s not a suit). Both are chic and probably influenced by Gabrielle Chanel, whose jersey tweed outfits were making news. She was also using pleats in 1925 – 1926.

"Sports Frock" by Chanel, illustrated by Soulie in Delineator, January 1925.

“Sports Frock” by Chanel, illustrated by Soulie in Delineator, January 1925.

“Chanel makes her famous sports frock of mixed beige and tobacco wool with a sweater blouse and an inverted plait at the front and back of the skirt which is not excessively narrow.”

In a later outfit, from July, 1926, the same year as the Butterick dress patterns, Chanel uses many pleats:

On the right, a Chanel ensemble from July 1926, drawn by Soulie for Delinator magazine. The ensemble on the left is by Premet.

On the right, a Chanel ensemble from July 1926, drawn by Soulie for Delinator magazine. The ensemble on the left is by Premet.

Text describing the ensembles by Premet and Chanel. Delineator, July 1926.

Text describing the ensembles by Premet and Chanel. Delineator, July 1926.

Butterick’s pattern illustrators also put their models in hats that resemble the ones shown with the Paris fashions.

Hats shown with Premet and Chanel fashions in July, 1926. Delineator.

Hats shown with Premet and Chanel fashions in July, 1926. Delineator.

Their dented and fold-over crowns seem to be inspired by the Phrygian cap which was a symbol of the French revolution. (Liberty, leading the people, wears a Phrygian cap in statues, paintings, and on these French stamps.)

Phrygian caps influence cloche hats; Delineator, 1926/

Phrygian caps influence cloche hats; Delineator, 1926. The color image is from Etsy. The top of the hat can be flipped to any side.

Butterick 1163

Butterick pattern 1163, Delineator, 1926.

Butterick pattern 1163, Delineator, December 1926.

Butterick 1163:  “. . . Square neck in front and a tab yoke in back are Paris signing off  [on this] frock. The arrangement of plaits in front of the straight skirt, the wide belt . . . and neck-band give the frock an air of individuality. Size 36 requires 2 1/4 yards of wool jersey 54 inches wide. Lower edge, plaits drawn out, 1 3/4 yard. For women sizes 32 to 44 inches bust.” [There are no pleats on the back of the dress. The front pleats seem to be stitched down.]

Butterick 1176

Butterick pattern 1176, delineator, December 1926.

Butterick pattern 1176, Delineator, December 1926.

Butterick 1176:  “The smart woman spends most of her life in sports clothes and evening clothes. A frock with the two-piece look in front and a flat, one-piece back, an unusual collar and a tab closing is an excellent style for worsted, wool crepe, or flat crepe. The lower edge is straight. Size 36 requires 2 yards of 54 inch tweed. The frock is suited to women 32 to 44 bust.”

Back when I had a sewing machine that didn’t do buttonholes (it was straight stitch only!) I would have been attracted to this dress because all the closures could be done with snaps.

Adjusting the Fashion Ideal to Reality

I’ve written before about how deceptive fashion illustrations can be (For “Fashion Illustration versus Fashion Reality, 1934” click here.) Just for fun, I drew Butterick 1176 on a more “normal” eight head figure by Jack Hamm:

An eight head figure, and Butterick 1176 as it might look on a living person.

An eight head figure, and Butterick 1176 as it might look on a living person.

In the illustration from Jack Hamm’s book Drawing the Head and Figure, which I have modified to show the “heads” as a unit of measurement, there are four “heads” from crown to bottom of the torso and four “heads” from there to the ground. The heel — supporting weight — is at 7 1/2 heads.

A cutter/draper working from the original fashion illustration would have to work from a few fixed points, as I did: the longer lapel comes to about the bust point (scroll down to see); the bottom of the “jacket” probably stops at the top of the thigh, or it will crease when she sits. (The button tabs ought to have been scaled down on my sketch.)   I personally believe that costume sketches should be drawn on an eight head figure, so the director and actors — and the costume shop — will have a more truthful idea of what the design will look like on a normal human being. It’s cheaper to solve problems on paper than in fabric.

Without computer generated imagery, an actress will never look like this:

An impossible ideal.

An impossible ideal.

If she’s never seen the impossible ideal, an actress may be willing to look like this:

Butterick 1176 as it might look on a normal body.

Butterick 1176 as it might look on a normal body.

In fact, since this dress has a long front opening, the sides can be tapered to look less bulky and more flattering. The sleeves can be tighter. A costume shop would probably build this dress with an inner lining that enables the skirt to hang from the shoulders, keeping the blouson in place, rather than depending on the belt to do it. [Tricks of the trade!]

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, bags, handbags, Hats, Purses, Sportswear, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns

Orange and Blue in the Mid-Twenties

When I wrote about the orange and black color combination that was popular in the nineteen twenties, I found out that there are still some devoted lovers of orange out there. It turns out that orange and blue were often pictured together in Delineator fashion illustrations in 1924 and 1925.

Evening dresses and and evening wrap; Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator magazine, February 1924.

Evening dresses and and evening wrap; Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator magazine, February 1924.

Of course, orange and blue are complementary colors, opposite each other on the color wheel, and therefore they enhance each other when juxtaposed, — orange seeming brighter and blue seeming more vivid — so illustrators may have put them side by side for this reason.

Butterick patterns 4979 (dress) and 4963 (cape.) February 1924, Delineator.

Butterick patterns 4979 (dress) and 4963 (cape.) February 1924, Delineator.

Butterick dress patterns for July 1924. Delineator magazine.

Butterick dress patterns for July 1924. Delineator magazine.

But orange and blue — in slightly pastel tints — was a frequent combination in garments, especially in clothing for girls.

Butterick patterns for girls for Valentine's day, 1925. Delineator.

Butterick patterns 5797 & 5752 for girls for Valentine’s day, 1925. Delineator. [The dress on the right reminds me of quilts from the twenties and thirties.]

It’s sometimes hard to put an exact name to the variations of orange — sometimes it’s a pastel-tinted (i.e., with white added) version of coral red, vermillion, or red orange. [I’m speaking as an illustrator, not as a dyer.]

Butterick patterns for girls, February, 1924. Delineator magazine.

Butterick patterns 4959 and 4995 for girls, February, 1924. Delineator magazine.

 

Butterick patterns for women 5301 and 5341, July 1924. Delineator.

Butterick patterns for women 5301 and 5341, July 1924. Delineator. The color on the left is closer to red-orange than to pure red.

Burnt orange or intense orange seems to be more common for “grown-up” dresses.

Dresses for Misses [age 15 to 20] Butterick patterns 5327, 5329, & 5337. Delineator, July 1924.

Dresses for Misses [age 15 to 20], Butterick patterns 5327, 5329, & 5337. Delineator, July 1924.

Butterick patterns for women, August, 1924. Delineator magazine.

Butterick patterns for women, August, 1924. Delineator magazine.

Pale orange, peach, or apricot also appear in children’s dresses, often with light blue trim.

Butterick patterns for girls, November, 1924. Delineator.

Butterick patterns for girls, Nos. 5607, 5543, 5590; November, 1924. Delineator.

 

Girl's dress 1925; Girls' dress patterns for June, 1924. Delineator.

Girl’s dress 1925; Girls’ dress patterns for June, 1924. Delineator. #5254 on right.

This little girl is wearing an orange dress smocked with black,  with a black coat and orange-trimmed black hat, a combination usually reserved for Hallowe’en now:

Girls' dress  patterns from Butterick, Delineator, March 1924.

Girls’ dress patterns from Butterick, Delineator, March 1924. The blue dress with flower-pot pockets, #5057,  is a charming idea. # 5067 is on left.

As Autumn approached, older girls and young women could use intense orange to accessorize either midnight blue or dark green dresses:

Butterick patterns for teens and small women, October, 1924. Delineator.

Butterick patterns for teens and small women, October, 1924. Delineator. Dress 5489, Coat-dress 5485, and Hat 5561. That orange thing in her hand, far right, is a tiny purse.

That dashing cloche hat is also made from a Butterick pattern.

And, if you weren’t quite prepared for your wedding to include brilliant orange bridesmaids . . .

Bride, Maid of Honor, and Bridesmaids. Butterick Pattern illustration from Delineator magazine, October 1924.

Bride, Maid of Honor, and Bridesmaids. Butterick Pattern illustration from Delineator magazine, October 1924.

this blue and pastel red-orange bridal party might be just what you want:

Bride and bridesmaids, April 1924. Butterick patterns 5137, 5158, 5093, 4462. Delineator magazine.

Bride and bridesmaids, April 1924. Butterick patterns 5137, 5158, 5093, 4462. Delineator magazine.

The dresses on the right have a muted coral bodice and tiers of coral taffeta softened with white lace overlays, with rose pink hats and trim. [The pinkish color may be a result of layering white organza over the bodice fabric.]

Bride's attendants, April, 1924. Delineator magazine.

Bride’s attendants, April, 1924. Delineator magazine.

The bride’s home could even have an orange and blue kitchen:

An ad for Hoosier cabinets, Delineator magazine, Oct. 1925.

An ad for Hoosier cabinets, Delineator magazine, Oct. 1925.

This post is dedicated to Lynn and Brooke, who wrote to say that they love orange.

 

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Filed under 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Vintage patterns

Dresses for Flappers, July, 1926

Butterick Patterns for Misses Age 15 to 20. Delineator, p. 27, July 1926.

Butterick Patterns for Misses Age 15 to 20. Delineator, p. 27, July 1926.

By the summer of 1926 the “look” we associate with the 1920s – short skirts, no waists, and a horizontal line across the hips – was truly the dominant fashion. These dresses for Misses – i.e., women aged 15 to 20 – look fresh and youthful, especially in contrast to the long, tubular fashions of 1924.  Seeing these designs in color is a treat, and a reminder that the clothes worn in silent movies were not actually black and white.

Top of Page

Top of Page 27, Delineator, July 1926

Misses’ Pattern Sizes in the 1920s: “What Does Size 16 Years Mean?”

In Butterick patterns, a Misses’ size was shorter than a Ladies’ size. Misses patterns were sold by age [!]; Ladies’ patterns were sold by bust measurement. For most of the 1920s, “Size 15 years” equated to “petite with a 32″ bust.” “Size 17 years” meant a petite with 34″ bust, “19 years” fit a 36″ bust, and “20 years” was a petite 37.” Often a style is described as “For Misses and small women;” several of these styles say they also come in Ladies’ sizes 38 and 40.

The usual run of Butterick Ladies’ sizes in 1925 was 33″ through 44.” Articles in Butterick’s Delineator magazine sometimes gave fitting advice for short women, but special patterns for adult women who were 5″ 4″ or shorter had not yet appeared.

Bottom of Page 27, Delineator, July, 1926.

Bottom of Page 27, Delineator, July, 1926.

Flapper Dresses

The dresses on page 27 were for young women – for flappers. Styles for mature women were subtly different, as were the proportions of the fashion figures that illustrated them. These two dresses appeared on pages 27 and 28 of the same issue.

 A pattern for Misses (# 6924) and a similar pattern for Ladies (# 6914.)

A pattern for Misses (# 6924) and a similar pattern for Ladies (# 6914.)

Obviously, the Misses’ illustrations are much less distorted.

The Individual Dresses with Their Descriptions

1926 july p 27 color top 6913 white w red6913 — Embroidery splashes the white frock with color. Work in Satin-stitch. For this slip-over one-piece princess dress with inverted tucks or shirrings use Georgette, silk or cotton voile, batiste, radium, taffeta, satin crêpe, etc. of one material, etc…. Lower edge 58 inches…. For misses 15 to 20 years, also small women. [I confess that I love this dress – and the appliqued hat. You wouldn’t need to embroider the sleeves to reproduce it; # 6921 shows that making lower sleeves from a different fabric was in style.]1926 july p 27 color topmiddle yellow 6935

6935 — A transparent hem, rising in front, is the latest Parisian offering in evening frocks This slip-over orange dress closes under the left arm, has a basque and a lower edge scalloped or straight. Lower edge 2 7/8 yards…. For misses 15 to 20 years, also small women. [This dress is interesting for many details. It is an early example of the short-in-front-long-in-back evening dresses of the late 1920s. It is clearly inspired by Jeanne Lanvin’s robes de style. And it has a side seam fastening – presumably snaps – under the left arm, which should be of interest to vintage dealers trying to date dresses with side openings.] Dress 6935 may be described as “orange” in the text, but it really did look yellow-gold in the magazine.

1926 july p 27 color top rt 6921

 

6921 — The Gipsy girdle encircles this attractive slip-over frock with touches of jade-green. It has a straight gathered skirt and is delightful for radium or satin crêpe with contrasting organdy, batiste, or Georgette, etc. Lower edge 60 inches…. For misses 15 to 20 years, also small women.

1926 july p 27 color btm left coat dress 6904

6904 coat dress — Cool and very smart in town is the coat frock with its saddle shoulders and straight gathered skirt attached at a low waistline. The separate one-piece slip has a camisole top. The color is fuchsia…. Lower edge of slip 44 inches…. The coat dress is for Misses 15 to 20 years, ladies 38, 40 bust.

 

1926 july p 27 color misses smocked dress

6927  — Green-striped, smartly bosomed, this one-piece slip-over frock gives the effect of a two-piece style. A cluster of box plaits is inserted at the front. Use flat crêpe, Canton crêpe, satin crêpe, heavy crêpe de Chine, silk broadcloth, shantung, washable silk crêpe, etc. Lower edge, plaits drawn out, 57 inches. The dress is attractive for misses 15 to 20 years, also small women.

6903 — Tiered circular ruffles are attached across the sides of this slip-over one-piece tan dress. Plain or printed silk voile, crêpe Roma, etc., with taffeta tie collar, etc., or satin crêpe with reverse side, are smart for it. Lower edge 44 inches….Chic for misses 15 to 20 years, also small women.

6924 — Crêpe de Chine, heavy Georgette, silk or cotton voile, silk-and-cotton crêpe, pongee, etc., with smocking or shirring and contrasting collar and cuffs are smart for this type of one-piece slip-over frock with straight lower edge. The colors are pervenche blue and tan. Lower edge 51 ½ inches. …For misses 15 to 20 years, ladies 38, 40 bust.

1926 july p 27 color btm rt 6902

6902 — A new silhouette, hip-flared, is illustrated in the slip-over blouse of this two-piece bois de rose frock. The straight skirt with a box pleat at front is attached to an underbody. It is smart for flat crêpe, Canton crêpe, heavy crêpe de Chine, satin, etc. Lower edge, plait drawn out, 51 inches…. For misses 15 to 20 years, also small women. [An underbody means the skirt hung from the shoulders, not the waist. The back view — at the bottom of this post — shows a flared peplum. The color “bois de rose” was very chic,  a grayed red, less coral than it appears here. ]

Design Tricks to Make Twenties’ Dresses More Flattering

Designers are aware that a horizontal line across the widest part of a woman’s body – the hip – will add pounds, visually. That’s why late twenties styles can be so cruel to a less-than-boyish figure.  Pattern manufacturers were aware of this problem; Butterick patterns in average sizes assumed that the hip was two inches larger than the bust, as they do today.

So it’s useful to pay attention to the many ways these authentic 1920s designs drew attention away from the horizontal hip line that defined the era. Notice all the optical tricks that direct the eye toward the face, or create a slenderizing vertical line to add height and draw the eye toward the center of the torso.

Long bows and ties lead the eye up and down.

Long bows and ties lead the eye up and down.

A row of vertical buttons; a vertical center front closing emphasized by a white frill.

A row of vertical buttons; a vertical center front closing emphasized by a white frill.

A strong color – or white – near the face; a V neck; a contrasting collar.

A strong color – or white – near the face; a V neck; a contrasting collar. The green ‘buckle’ at the center of the dress on the left is also a clever way to draw our eyes to the center of the body.

A center front opening that runs from the neck to the hem, creating a strong vertical line.

A center front opening that runs from the neck to the hem, creating a strong vertical line.

Back Views and Alternate Views

Back and alternate views of page 27 patterns, July 1926.

Back and alternate views of page 27 patterns, July 1926.

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, Hats, Vintage patterns

A Book I Need to Read Again: The Language of Clothes

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the popularity of striped coats in 1924.

Two striped coats from 1924, Delineator magazine.

Two striped coats from 1924, Delineator magazine.

This week I found this photo in Alison Lurie’s book The Language of Clothesillustrated with images assembled by Doris Palca.

A British fashion photograph of motoring and sports coart, 1924, from The Language of Clothes, by Alison Lurie.

A British fashion photograph of motoring and sports coats, 1924, from The Language of Clothes, by Alison Lurie.

The Language of Clothes, by Alison Lurie, 1981

I was de-accessioning my library, and had listed this book on Amazon, but I didn’t have to read more than a few sentences to realize that I want to read it again. Lurie’s observations about fashion are perceptive, very well-written and often very amusing. Her comment on these coats is:

striped 20s coats lurie p 74777“Women entered the second decade of the twentieth century shaped like hourglasses and came out of it shaped like rolls of carpet.”

When I was teaching, I always stressed that “Costume communicates.” We all speak the language of clothes, and we constantly make judgements based on our reading of what other people wear. Lurie’s book is about the subtle statements and psychological impulses behind our clothing choices, with chapters on “Clothing as a Sign System,” “Youth and Age,” Fashion and Status,” “Fashion and Sex,” and many other topics that explore the clothes we usually take for granted. Her comments on the fashions of the 1920s, in the chapter “Fashion and Time,” interested me particularly, because I have been thinking many of the same thoughts while looking through pattern illustrations of the twenties — but Lurie anticipated my ideas by thirty years.

And she writes really well, so that there is a lot of information packed into her seemingly effortless prose.

Dressing as Children: Thoughts on 1920s Styles

After summarizing several theories about why women minimized their breasts and hips in the twenties, Lurie reminds us that . . .

Child's drop-waisted dress, late 1880s, from Dress, The Jenness-Miller Magazine.

Child’s drop-waisted dress, late 1880s, from Dress, The Jenness-Miller Magazine.

“It has been sugested that women were asserting their new-won rights by dressing like men; or, alternatively, that they were trying to replace the young males who had died in World War I.

“…But a glance at contemporary photographs and films shows that women in the 1920s did not look like men, but rather like children — the little girls they had been ten to twenty years earlier….

“…And although [the flapper] might have the figure of an adolescent boy, her face was that of a small child: round and soft, with a turned-up nose, saucer eyes, and a “bee-stung” mouth.

I have been noticing that patterns for young women, aged 15 to 20 —  i.e., ‘flappers’ — were illustrated with very round-headed, big-eyed, baby-like heads, like the prototypical flapper cartoon character, Betty Boop.

Betty Boop, and fashion illustrations of women aged 15 to 20; Delineator, 1924.

Betty Boop, and fashion illustrations of women aged 15 to 20; Delineator, 1924.

Illustrations of a teenager and an adult woman wearing the same hat pattern, 1925. Delineator magazine.

Illustrations of a teenager and an adult woman wearing hats made from the same pattern, 1925. Delineator magazine.

Very large eyes, spaced far apart, in a round — rather than oval — head, with a tiny nose and “rosebud lips;” those are the traits associated with an infant’s head.

Middy blouse for athletic events; Jan. 1925.

Middy blouse for athletic events; Jan. 1925.

Alison Lurie goes on to say, “One popular style of the 1920s was the dress cut to look like a shirt, with an outsize collar and floppy bow tie of the kind seen on little boys ten or twenty years earlier. [See above, left.] Another favorite was the Peter Pan collar, named after [the boy who] . . . was chiefly famous for his refusal to grow up. . . . Middy blouses and skirts were now worn by grown women as well as children, and the ankle-strap button shoes or “Mary Janes” once traditional for little girls became, with the addition of a Cuban heel, the classic female style of the twenties.”

 

 

“I Won’t Grow Up”

My own observation is that dresses considered suitable for little girls aged 8 to 15 (or younger) in the early 1920s became the adult fashions of the later 1920s. When adult women were still wearing mid-calf-length skirts, in 1924, 12-year-old girls were wearing skirts that came just to the knee. Two years later, adult women — not just ‘flappers’ — were wearing knee-length skirts. The curves of a sexually mature female body were suppressed, or at least de-emphasized. The ideal may have been a ‘boyish’ figure, but it was also the figure of a little girl, too young for adult responsibilities, but insisting upon adult freedom of behavior.

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

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

 

Young girl's dress, 1924; Dresses for ladies, 1928. Butterick patterns illustrations.

Young girl’s dress, 1924; Dresses for ladies, 1928. Butterick pattern illustrations.

Earlier in the century, young women looked forward to the day when they could “put up” their hair and let down their hems. By 1925, women were reverting to schoolgirl clothing styles: dropped waist lines, short skirts, pullover dresses, and middy-type blouses worn outside their skirts rather than tucked in (a look previously only seen on gym suits and children’s outfits.) Here’s another example of a child’s dress influencing the adult dress on the right:

Girl's dress with smocking, 1924; woman's dress with smocking, 1926.

Girl’s dress, 1924; women’s dresses, 1926. Butterick pattern illustrations.

At least, The Language of Clothes got me thinking more deeply about fashion trends. I’m looking forward to reading it straight through– but it’s hard not to skip ahead to such enticing topics as “Sexual Signals:  The Old Handbag,” and the underlying meanings of “Color and Pattern.” It’s available in used hardcover for about $10 plus shipping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, Hats, Shoes, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes