Tag Archives: Great Depression

“Zip” — Slide Fasteners from Sears, Part 2


Ad for Talon Slide-Fasteners, Delineator magazine, March 1929. Butterick, which published Delineator, also sold dress pattern 2365, which used several zippers. It is the dress being worn by the woman shopper in the Talon ad. Talon zip “colors are black, white, two tones of gray and two of brown.”

While poking around in 1930’s Sears catalogs (via Ancestry.com), I was curious about two things:

  1. After 1935-36 season, when French fashion houses began showing zippers in “dressy” clothing, as opposed to sportswear and work clothes, how long did it take for the fashion to be accepted in the mass market?  I don’t mean in exclusive stores which copied couture, but in low-cost clothing for ordinary women, like those who shopped from the Sears catalog.
  2. I have a theory that the heavy weight zippers which were used successfully in jackets, work clothing, and canvas mailbags in the late twenties and early thirties (See Zip, Part 1) were simply too heavy and stiff to use in the light-weight dress fabrics of the twenties and thirties. Was there a noticeable change in the sizes and qualities of zippers available to home dressmakers in the late 1930s?

Note: All images identified as coming from Sears Catalogs are copyrighted by Sears Brands LLC.  Do not copy them.

A little review: Slide fasteners, soon called zippers in the U.S., were found in sportswear and children’s clothing before they appeared in more formal clothing.

These sweatshirts appeared in the Sears catalog for Fall 1937. Some have zip closings at the neck (and one has America’s favorite rodent….)

A Sears “twin set” from Fall 1937 includes a solid color jacket that closes with a separating zipper, and a coordinating striped sweater underneath. ” ‘Zips’ are fashion pets….”

This terrific ski suit has a separating zipper; “zips” on ski wear and children’s snow suits were so customary that the catalog doesn’t even mention this zipper.

Woman’s ski outfit from Sears catalog for Fall 1937.

Work dresses and house dresses also featured zippers in 1937-38:

Snapper and Zip house dresses and housecoats were shown in the Spring of 1938 Sears catalog. This zipped dress was for “housewives, nurses, beauticians, maids . . . the perfect dress to work in.”

A long (and colorful) front zipper appears on this “hostess gown” from Sears, Fall 1937. It is not for street wear, but it is made from rayon crepe, a soft, clinging fabric.

Left, a dress with a zipper neckline, and right, a sporty two-piece with a front zipper. Sears catalog, Spring 1937.

Description of Sears two-piece outfit for Spring 1937.

The 1937 outfit in the middle — “with three zips!” — has a zip neck opening and two more zippers as trim on the pockets. Sears catalog, Spring 1937.

In the 1938 catalogs, zippers are still appearing on casual, sporty dresses, but also on more dressy outfits. This is a sporty knit zip outfit:

This sporty knit has a long separating zipper as a fashion detail; Sears, Spring 1938. Presumably the zip colors matched the darker fabric.

This dress has one, long, obvious zipper from neckline to just above the hem, and it is definitely not a dress for housework. Sears, Spring 1938. It’s made of washable Shantung rayon. The long vertical line of the zip “gives you that slim, tall silhouette that’s all the rage.”

This “dressy” blouse is made of taffeta — and has a “popular” zipper running right down the front.

Delicate fabric appears in a taffeta zip-front blouse from Sears, Spring 1938.

There is nothing sporty or casual about this 1938 corselet dress with dyed-to-match embroidered sheer sleeve and bodice inserts.

A “Paris inspired” dress from Sears’ Spring 1938 catalog. Where’s the zipper? In the hidden side seam opening. “A Zip placket closing for trim, perfect fit.”

This is another tid-bit of zipper information: in Spring of 1938, the zipper was taking the place of the old snap or hook-and-eye closing hidden in the side seam of a close-fitting dress.

The close fit of this embroidered dress is the result of a hidden “zip placket” in the side seam. Sears, Spring of 1938.

This dress could be ordered in three different fabrics; it has a smooth fit because of its “neat zip placket closing” in the underarm side seam. Sears, Spring 1938. The summer fabrics are soft rayon.

That’s not to say that the Paris influence — using zippers as a design feature — has disappeared.

Three Zips: “This striking dress has decorative zippers in the shoulder seams. Sears, Spring 1938. On “the Newest Zip Dress . . . A zip tops each shoulder  . . . and another zip snugly closes the placket of the new ‘corselet’ waist!”

A center front zipper is a style feature on this embroidered “pebble crepe” ensemble, too:

Embroidered two-piece dress with zipper front. Sears catalog, Spring 1938.  “The Petit Point  . . .  in heavenly colors . . . runs all around hem of flared skirt . . . up the front of the blouse on each side of colored Zip closing.”

Another zipper novelty in the Sears catalog for Spring, 1938, is the Hollywood style of this aqua “corselet” dress:

The novelty of this dress is its “long back Zip.” Sears, Spring of 1938.

If you thought the center back zipper was a tell-tale sign of the 1950s, here’s proof that it can appear earlier.

And, speaking of novelties — Not only a huge variety of zippers, in many lengths, styles, weights and colors appeared by 1939, so did novelty zipper pulls!

Ornamental zipper pulls from Sears, Spring, 1939.

The zip slide fastener on the front of this dress has a “pendant” — an ornamental zipper pull. Sears catalog, Spring 1938.

Ornamental Zip pulls, Sears catalog, Fall, 1939.  “Jitterbug” bead figurines, and “Scottie Dog, Horse or Squirrel hand carved on natural wood.” Also of interest: “Crown’s Iris Zips” made of plastic on matching colored tape, in five lengths and ten colors. Schiaparelli had encouraged the development of these full-color plastic zippers just a few years earlier.

In 1939, Sears offered a truly extensive selection of zippers for all clothing purposes:

Some of the zippers sold by Sears in Spring, 1939. Heavy jacket zips, colored enamel Talon zips…. “French dressmakers are using colored zips for smart costume accent…. Rustproof metal enameled in colors to match cotton tape…. Simple instructions for sewing with each fastener.”

More zippers from Sears, Spring 1939. “Match or contrast the colors in your house dresses, housecoats, sports clothes with colored enamel….”

Crown’s “Iris” colored plastic zip fasteners sold by Sears, Spring 1939. “A smart dress trimming as well as streamline fastening for evening dresses, blouses.”

Special zippers for side-closing dress plackets from Sears, Spring 1939. “Closed at each end– the only zip suitable for smooth “no gap” dress plackets. Gives the dresses you make yourself that smart professional look. Easy to sew in. Colored enamel on matching cotton tape.”

“Mind the Gap”

By 1939 zipper manufacturers (and their ad companies) took some inspiration from Listerine, which used “Halitosis” to sell mouthwash, and from corset manufacturers who convinced women that a curvy backside was “Lordosis,” and created a new, embarrassing condition called “Gap-o-sis,” to describe what happened to dresses that used snaps instead of zippers in their side plackets.

“We moderns don’t wear dresses that have gaposis. Cure plackets that gap with Talon Fasteners.” Gaposis could be avoided by replacing snap-closing plackets with zipper plackets in your dresses. Sears catalog, Spring 1939; top of a page listing zippers for sale.

Because vintage clothing collectors depend on zippers for help in dating garments, EBay has even published a zipper guide for collectors. You might want to compare it with some of these images from the Sears catalog….



Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Zippers

“Zip” — Slide Fasteners from Sears, 1930s (Part 1)

Thanks to reader kellycb for wondering about the brands of zippers sold through the Sears, Roebuck catalog. I thought I could do a quick search through the 1930’s Sears catalogs available through Ancestry.com. [All images in this post which are labeled “Sears” are copyrighted by Sears Brands LLC. Please do not copy.]

Zipper brands available from Sears in 1939 included Talon, “Standard”, and Crown. Earlier catalogs also sold Koh-i-noor slide fasteners, snaps, and  hook and eye tape.

I was quickly able to find that Sears sold Talon Hookless Slide Fasteners, and “Crown” fasteners — possibly a house brand, since Sears also sold Crown fabrics. But that’s not what soaked up two days of my browsing time. It was the constant use of the word “Zip” to indicate a slide fastener.

Zip: Slide fasteners sold through the Sears catalog, Spring 1935. Sears image via Ancestry.com

Technically, advertisers could not call a slide fastener for a garment a “zipper.” But the American public apparently did refer to them as zippers, so the word “zip” — not copyrighted — appears quite often.

The word “zipper” was owned by the B.F. Goodrich company.


B.F. Goodrich Zipper Ad, December 1928, Delineator magazine

Originally the “Zipper” was a winter overshoe (rain boot) that closed with a slide fastener, made by the B.F. Goodrich rubber company. As I wrote is a previous post, “by 1922 Goodrich had launched their “Mystik Boots,” which closed with Hookless [brand] slide fasteners instead of snaps or buckles. They were such an immediate success that B.F. Goodrich Company asked Hookless for exclusive rights to use their fasteners. In 1923, the Mystik Boot was renamed, to draw attention to the ease with which they were put on and taken off.

“What we need is an action word,” said company president Bertram G. Work, “something that will dramatize the way the thing zips.” He quickly added, “Why not call it the zipper?” – from The Evolution of Useful Things, by Henry Petroski, p. 111.

The word “zip,” indicating speed or energy, was already popular slang.

These 1930 trousers for young men and boys had “zip and dash,” but they did not have what is now called a zipper. The fly closed with buttons. Sears image via Ancestry.com.

You could zip around town in your car or on a bike. “Zip” was also the name of a hair remover that had been in use since the twenties.

Zip hair remover ad from Delineator, November 1924. “Zip — It’s off because it’s out.” “You actually destroy the growth by gently lifting out the roots — painlessly and harmlessly.” [That’s what it says….]

In Akron, Ohio, where Goodrich “Zippers” were manufactured, a college football team is still called the Zips.

The speed with which the name of a trademarked product — the Zipper boot — became the standard American noun meaning “slide fastener” amazed me.

Anyone who is seriously interested in the history of the slide fastener, now usually called a zipper, should know about Robert Friedel’s book, Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty, which has been described brilliantly by The Vintage Traveler. (Click here for her “Currently Reading: Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty“. The Vintage Traveler also showed many ads for  zippers in her “Zippers, Part II.”

As Friedel explains, early slide fasteners were put into production and sold before they were perfected [rather like some software today.]  One problem with the early slide fasteners was that they worked as long as they remained perfectly straight — but sitting usually causes the fabric in a skirt placket or trouser fly to bend. Twenty years later, people who had been publicly embarrassed by a broken slide fastener were not eager to try the improved versions in their clothes.

A Hookless Fastener is featured on this man’s suede jacket (called a blouse) in the Sears catalog for Fall, 1930. “Zip it’s on — Zip it’s off! — that’s the quick modern way to dress….”

Menswear quickly adopted slide fasteners in sports jackets and work shirts, but resistance to replacing button-fly trousers with zipped flies continued till the late 1930’s.

Sears offered many clutch bag models with zippered compartments, and handbags with concealed zip interior pockets. Fall, 1930. The Hookless Fastener Company was now better known as Talon.

Slide fasteners worked well on straight openings: clutch handbags, mail bags, boots and leggings, even sleeping bags.

A boy’s jacket from Sears, Fall, 1927, closes with a Hookless slide fastener. “Zip! — just a simple jerk on the patent hooker and it’s snug around your neck. No buttons to bother with and we guarantee it to work every time.” Judging from the need to explain, this really was “Something New” in 1927.

One brilliant approach to selling slide fasteners urged their use in children’s clothing to make children more self-reliant. (See “Zippers Are Good for Your Children.” A bonus: children didn’t remember those embarrassing old zippers!)

“Put in Zips so she can dress herself — Even tiniest tots manage them.” Sears catalog, Spring, 1939.

Regardless of B.F. Goodrich, the word zipper did get used by other sources:

Here, the Sears catalog for Fall, 1929, suggests making children’s winter leggings with a “zipper  side fastener.” (Leggings with dozens of buttons must have been a nightmare for Kindergarten teachers.)

These trousers — which did have a zipper fly — were aimed at young men with waists 26 to 32 inches:  “College Styles” “for youths.”

Sears offered these trousers “featuring the FLASH Slide Fastener” in Spring of 1935. The extremely wide legs — sometimes called “Oxford bags” — were a young man’s fashion.

Slide fasteners also made an early appearance in girdles and corsets.

“Zip! It’s Open!” The woman on the right is enjoying the ease of a zippered girdle; the woman on the left wears a corselet closed with hook and eye tape. Sears catalog, Spring 1932.

Slide fasteners were used in sports clothing and work clothing before 1936, but they seem to be most often used on relatively heavy fabrics, like leather, wool, corset coutil, and sturdy cottons.

This “Pic-Pon Cord” cotton dress from Sears has a “zip closing;” Sears catalog for Spring, 1935.

Also made from corduroy is this woman’s jacket from 1933.

Zipper neckline closing on a “Sporting Life” jacket for women from Sears, Spring 1933. Its “popular, practical zipper closing” uses a “Jiffy” Fastener.

According to the catalogs, this was Sears’ most popular work dress for women, and in 1935 it was offered in the traditional button front or (“More Style! More Comfort!”) with a zip- closed front.

From the Fall, 1935 Sears catalog: a sturdy work dress. The “new, improved” version with the zipper (right) cost more; zippers were relatively expensive.

The 1935 “Zip-Closed Front” work dress cost twenty cents (20%) more — a zipper cost about 20 cents.

By 1937, the “zip close” version was featured more prominently than the buttoned one.

In Sears’ Spring catalog for 1937, the work dress with a zipper was more prominent.

The zipper made a transition from sports and house dresses to dressier women’s clothing by 1937. Several Paris designers began showing dresses with visible zippers in 1935-36; Schiaparelli put visible plastic zippers right on the front of her dresses.  However,  I found a Vionnet design from 1929 that had a prominent zipper front closing. It was copied by Butterick as pattern 2526.


A Vionnet ensemble sketched for Delineator magazine in 1929 has a prominent zipper on its front.

Butterick also offered a different dress pattern that was featured in advertisements for the Talon Hookless Fastener in 1928-29.

Here’s a closer look at Sears’ [rather limited] Slide Fastener selection from 1935:

“Zip;” slide fasteners available from the Sears catalog, Spring 1935. Customers were assured that these stayed shut (“locks in any position.”) They were also washable and rustroof — unlike early hookless fasteners which had to be removed before washing your garment.

The concealed “Kover-Zip” slide fastener from Koh-i-noor was available in separating or non-separating versions. Its zipper teeth were completely concealed by a color-fast grosgrain cover. It was a luxury item, more than twice the price of a “Standard slide fastener.” Sears’ Zipper colors were limited to black, brown, tan or white.

In 1935, the zippers were recommended for “finishing sport-wear, blouses [like the man’s suede “blouse” shown above], children’s garments” (the Kover-Zip) or in “sturdy quality for sport coats, sweaters, children’s suits, dresses.” In other words, they were for casual and practical garments, usually made of heavy fabrics.

Men’s shirts with zip fronts; Sears catalog, Fall, 1937.

After the Paris collections of 1935-36, zippers were about to undergo a rapid change for the better. (See “Zip” Part 2, coming soon.)


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Children's Vintage styles, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, handbags, Men's Sportswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Purses, Shirts for men, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Zippers

Butterick Vacation Wardrobe for $25, 1933

You could make a complete summer vacation wardrobe — six outfits — for just $25 from a set of Butterick patterns. Delineator magazine, May 1933, p. 69.

The Butterick company’s target market in the 1920’s was upscale; there were regular reports on French fashions, and even a new column giving women financial advice during the stock market boom of the late twenties. But in this Depression Era article from May, 1933, the emphasis is on economy.

The accessories suggested include some rather elegant shoes, a sweater, and, as explained in the text, only one hat that you couldn’t make for yourself.

I’m not surprised that those shoes were expensive.

A Store-bought black straw hat for summer, 1933. Delineator, May 1933, p 69.

A store-bought sweater and a home-made hat, May 1933; Delineator.

Other gloves and hats could be made from Butterick patterns:

Butterick glove pattern 5135, hat pattern 5126, and clutch purse No. 3131. Delineator, May 1933.

Notice the extended shoulders on most of these clothes.

Butterick Skirt 4908, worn with a sweater and coat 5043; next, dress 5019  in a fine print; “tennis dress” 5104 made in white; and afternoon dress 5095 in a floral print voile fabric. May, 1933. Delineator magazine.

In addition, a print suit (a dress plus jacket) and a “Letty Lynton” – influenced evening gown were part of the twenty-five dollar wardrobe.

Butterick evening gown pattern 5069 from May, 1933.

The stiff, sheer layered sleeves show the influence of Adrian’s design for Joan Crawford in the film Letty Lynton.

Butterick jacket dress 5107, 1933.

The $25 budget didn’t include accessories, not even the ones made from Butterick patterns.  However, there is an emphasis on the need for wardrobe planning:  coordinating your pieces so that they can all be worn with either black or white accessories. (And, if you could afford a vacation in 1933, setting some limits would definitely make packing easier.)

The cost per outfit of making the $25 wardrobe. Delineator, May 1933. Page 69.

The cost of the Butterick patterns themselves ranged from fifty cents (the jacket dress or the evening gown) to thirty-five or forty-five cents for the other dresses, and twenty-five cents for the hat pattern, which included three styles. I wonder if the big, stylish buttons were included in the price estimates.

In 1936, a woman fresh out of college could expect to earn about $80 per month. According to one article, on this salary, she could even afford to take a vacation…. https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/1936-oct-working-college-grad-woman-budget-end.jpg?w=500

She can “join a savings club and see the world. Happy landing, we say.” — Woman’s Home Companion, October 1936.


Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, bags, Gloves, handbags, Hats, Purses, Shoes, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories

Butterick Hats and Dresses for May, 1933

Butterick hat pattern 5126, Delineator May 1933, page 70. The version at the bottom has complex self trim passing through two rings or buckles.  The others have rows of decorative top-stitching.

Description of Butterick hat pattern 5126, from 1933.

Although pattern companies still sell hat patterns, it’s always a pleasant surprise to find traces of a vintage hat pattern. Butterick hat pattern 5126 was featured on the same page as five outfits for May of 1933. The fashion for matching your jacket lining to your hat would be easy if you made your hat yourself — or had your dressmaker do it.

Butterick patterns from Delineator, May 1933. Page 70. Butterick 5105, 5108, 5109, 5107.

Butterick 5105 is shown with a contrasting top; Butterick 5108 has a wide-shouldered weskit. 1933.

Butterick 5105 and 5108 have the very long skirts of 1933.

The coat of Butterick 5109 is shown in three-quarters length; Butterick 5107 uses the same fabric for the blouse, belt and hat.

Butterick coat 5109 over a skirt and blouse ensemble; right, Butterick dress and jacket ensemble 5107. Delineator May 1933, p. 70.

An alternate view shows coat 5109 at full length; the full-sleeved matching underdress is shown with a light bodice and dark skirt to match the coat.

Butterick coat and dress ensemble 5109; Butterick suit 5107. Delineator May 1933, p. 70. No. 5107 is cut with very wide shoulders, and the jacket is lined with a plaid fabric that shows when the scarf-neck is tied. The fullness of the sleeves taken in with tucks and top-stitching. The hat matches the jacket lining.

The fashion editors of 1933 noted the emphasis on wider shoulders, which was attributed to Schiaparelli’s influence. As the year progressed, shoulders became wider and sleeve caps became puffier in an attempt to make hips look narrow by contrast. (The shoulder pads and long skirts of the 1980’s had the same purpose.)

Butterick pattern 5088, from May, 1933. Delineator magazine, p. 70.

The “lingerie boa” and sleeves with a full cap, credited to Schiaparelli. Delineator, May 1933, p. 70. Her pointy hat also shows Schiaparelli influence.

Although patterns for bust sizes 33 through 44 inches were standard for Butterick in the 1920’s, these five patterns go no bigger than a 40 inch bust.


Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Hats, Vintage Accessories

Hairstyles for April 1937

Illustration of “Six New Hairdressings for Gadabout,” Woman’s Home Companion, April 1937. Ben-Hur Baz, illustrator.

The Womans’ Home Companion had hairstyles from leading salons illustrated in April of 1937.

Text for “Six Hairdressings” article, WHC, April 1937. The letters next to each head are the call numbers for radio stations, where readers could listen to fashion reports..

These hairdos look very fussy to me — would a lover would ever dare run fingers through them? –and they were probably full of hidden hairpins.

On the theory that product advertisements use models that women can identify with, I browsed through advertisements from 1936 and 1937 in the same magazine, looking for photographs, rather than drawings. Some hairstyles in ads did have this tightly curled and controlled look.

Tight, sculptured curls in an ad for Ipana toothpaste. WHC, Oct. 1936.

Here, the hair seems to reflect the models’ state of digestion….

Woman to woman advice in a Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia ad, WHC, Dec. 1936.

One of the models in this ad for Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia [a laxative] is definitely curled “up tight” (constipated hair?)

And so is the mother in this article about hairstyles for mother and daughter:

Supposedly, this is how the daughter wished her mother would update her hair style. WHC, May, 1937.

I get the impression that tightly controlled hair styles were aimed at the sophisticated or “mature” reader.  But not necessarily; there’s not a sculptured curl to be seen on these women who are pictured in an ad for Brownatone Hair Dye.

Women in an ad for hair dye show a range of styles, from a late 1920’s Marcel with tiny bun (lower left), to loose, almost collar- length waves. February 1937.

This chic sophisticate has far-from-casual hair…

Ad for Dorothy Gray cosmetics, March 1937. WHC.

… compared to this model in the same issue:

Soft, loosely waved hair on a model in an ad for Colgate toothpaste, March 1937.WHC.

Another off-the-face style from later in 1937:

Natural looking off-the-face waves in an ad for Doggett and Ramsdell cleansing cream. WHC, Dec. 1937. The asymmetrical hairstyle leaves room for an off-center hat.

Below, on the right, a group of models as “career girls.”

Top left, thick, loose curls from an ad for Dodge cars; right, shorter hair for “career girls;” and bottom left, a mother in an ad for Lux laundry soap. 1936-1937, WHC.

The Ponds face cream ads showed a series of lovely women; both the debutante and the duchess have loose, fluffy hairstyles:

Miss Phyllis Konta, New York debutante, in an ad for Ponds cold cream, WHC, March 1937.

The Duchess of Leinster’s hair had to accommodate a tiara. June, 1937, WHC. Ad for Ponds cold cream.

Colgate ran a series of toothpaste ads featuring women who looked lovely until they smiled.

Toothpaste ad, May 1937.

Toothpaste ad, September 1937.

This Bayer Aspirin ad shows two views of the same headache-sufferer. Did taking an aspirin relax her hair?

Before and after in an ad for Bayer Aspirin. WHC, Dec. 1936.

As in the ad for Milk of Magnesia, relief and comfort are symbolized by a more natural hairstyle.

Of course, in 1937, a woman’s hairstyle was dictated by the need to wear a hat while shopping or dining in restaurants, so a curl-free area was usual in daytime hairdos.

Women in a color ad for Dodge, Dec. 1937

Women in an ad for Ponds cold cream, Oct. 1937. The hostess is the only one without a hat, and the crown of her head is smooth — and hat-ready..

Two women wearing hats; Kotex ad, Nov. 1937.

With the exception of motion picture actresses, the hair is usually worn rather close to the head.

Movie starlets in an ad for Richard Hudnut makeup, April 1937.

Actress Merle Oberon in an ad for Richard Hudnut makeup, December 1937. Her hair softly frames her face. Her plucked and penciled eyebrows look more 1920’s than 1930’s. (Compare them with the other models from 1937.)

The brushed-back hair of this model could almost pass for a 1950’s style — but it’s from February, 1937, before the “Six Hairdressings” article was written.

A brushed, almost casual hairstyle from an ad for Dorothy Gray cosmetics, February, 1937. Cartier supplied the jewels.

The model is far from girlish (and the jewels are from Cartier), but she seems much more “timeless” than Merle Oberon, and miles away from this:

Suggested “Hairdressings” from April, 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

Maybe the ad agencies were more in touch with popular fashion than the editors of Woman’s Home Companion?

Added consideration: One disadvantage of close-to-the-head hairstyles is that, without a hat or fuller hair to balance the width of shoulders and hips, a normal woman can’t come close to the long, lean 1930’s fashion silhouette; this fashion photo from Woman’s Home Companion shows how small the head can look in relation to the figure. [Hair — and shoulders — got much bigger by the forties!]

A photo of “styles in stores;” WHC, March 1936.

In the mid-thirties, as photography replaced fashion illustrations in the “women’s magazines,” women had a more realistic image of what was possible.

Instead of adjusting our idea of beauty, the magazines and designers eventually adjusted the height and weight of the models they used.


Filed under 1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Hairstyles, Makeup & Lipstick, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

How to Do Laundry, 1920’s and Later (Part 1)

"Things to Be Thankful For" in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p 29.

“Things to Be Thankful For” in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p. 29.

“Things to be thankful for.” That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read this article from July 1927:

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator, JUly 1927, p. 40 (detail)

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator magazine, July 1927, p. 40 (detail)

I will go through that article, step by step, in the next post (Part 2). First, for those too young to remember why women had “Wash Day Blues,” a little background.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered dish towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950. Little Lulu was a newspaper cartoon character.

Monday was Wash Day — even if you were a doll or a cartoon character. Tuesday was ironing day. On Wednesday, you mended clothes and replaced any buttons broken in the wash.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

As a child in the 1950’s, I saw my mother and my grandmother doing the laundry with washing machines very much like this one:

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

That means I recognize many of the steps in “Modern Methods of Laundering” (1927) and may be able to explain a bit. I was a working class kid; my parents married in 1933 — and, as a child in 1950, I didn’t realize that my parents and their friends were still using appliances that were twenty years out of date. That roller thing on top of the machine was the “wringer,” two rolls of wood or hard rubber that squeezed excess water out of your clothes — and squeezed random creases into them.

The wringer was also called “the mangle.” See the pressure adjusting lever/screw handle at the top? If you’ve handled vintage clothing that was washable, you have probably noticed a lot of broken buttons on shirts and blouses. Blame the mangle. The mangle was no friend to glass or mother-of-pearl (shell) buttons. It was also a real danger to fingers, hair, and housewives wearing dresses with long ties, scarves, or ribbons at the neck. This picture explains the origin of the expression “to be put through the wringer.”

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer, June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again.

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer (which has an electric motor,) June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again. Standing in a puddle of water on the floor while operating an electric washer? Not recommended.

My father was very careful never to use naughty language around me, which is probably why this moment made such an impression:  One day when he came home from work, my mother told him that a customer had phoned several times, and that she sounded angry.  My father sighed and said, “She’s got her tit in a wringer about something.” Now, every time I get a mammogram, I remember our old washing machine and think, “tit in a wringer….” It always makes me smile. (Thanks, Dad!)

Woman using a clean pine dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Woman using a smooth [pine?] dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Another digression: Before I could read, I thought that naptha soap was “Nap, the Soap”  — like “Smokey, the Bear.”

So that we can understand the writers’ enthusiasm for “Modern Methods of Laundering” in 1927, let’s take a look at previous washing machine advice:

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21. Heat the water on the stove, pour it into the washer.

This old-fashioned machine is not electric — to agitate the clothes, I think you rock the tub with that big lever on the side. You heat water on (or in) your stove, carry it to the machine one bucket at a time until the tub is full, rub clothes on the washboard inside the tub to remove stubborn dirt, and drain the dirty water out of the faucet near the bottom into a bucket. Carry bucket to sink or back porch. Dump water. To rinse clothes, repeat the process. Two rinses recommended. (My mother sometimes rinsed the first load, ran it through the wringer, then added soap and my father’s overalls to the still warm rinse water to wash the next load. When you had to fill and drain the tub by hand, this was a time saver.)

Carrying buckets of water and big, heavy baskets full of wet clothing (you took it outside and hung it on a line to dry) was hard work. Notice how muscular this washerwoman looks. (“Laundress” was a more polite job description.)

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

In fact, this household budget for 1924 assumes that no woman who can afford a laundress will wash anything heavier than lingerie and stockings with her own hands. And doing the laundry took the laundress two days.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924. Right after housing and heating costs is the cost of laundry (almost half the rent!) “Flat work” would be large items, heavy when wet, like blankets, sheets and tablecloths, which took time to iron, too.

A more convenient electric washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

A more convenient washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

By 1933, the better quality washers had a water pump, which allowed the dirty water to be expelled through a hose into a sink or drain — as washers do today.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29. “Half the hard work of washing is in handling the water…. The worker should not have to lift it.”

“The services of the washing-machine have replaced the washerwoman, and electric power is replacing woman power for the washing of clothes.” — Delineator, August 1926. That is not to say you could put a load in the washer, walk away,  and get on with other housework.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

There was quite a variety of machine styles. Some of these seem to have wringers that can be cranked by hand, although the article mentioned the importance of a wringer that can be locked in several positions and which has a “safety release that can be quickly and easily operated” — in case your hair or fingers got caught in the mangle. Also, the electric washing machine motor — usually visible under the machine — “must be protected from water.”

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

The idea of building a box around the machine to conceal the motor was still a new one. I was surprised to see this 1929 ad for a Savage washing machine, which didn’t need a mangle wringer; it had a spin cycle.

The Savage spin washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

The Savage Wringerless washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929. Ten pounds of clothes “from hamper to line in an hour.”

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine.

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine. “Empties itself” automatically!

Nevertheless, mangle washing machines continued to be sold. This Thor machine used the motor that ran the wringer to also run a mangle iron — the parts were interchangeable.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

"From washer to ironer in 10 seconds." Thor washing machine ad, 1930.

“From washer to ironer in 10 seconds.” Thor mangle washing machine ad, 1930. Doesn’t that look easy?

When there were no “permanent press” fabrics, ironing large, flat items like tablecloths, sheets, pillowcases, and dish towels took a long time. In the fifties, my father bought a rotary iron — second hand — and made a point of using it, although we quickly discovered that ironing shirts, dresses, and other clothing on it took more skill than we had time to master.

Using a mangle iron, Delineator, June 1929. 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Using a “mangle” or rotary iron, Delineator, June 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the mangle iron. Thor ad, 1929.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the rotary iron, which, like the wringer, pivoted. Thor ad, 1929.

You would certainly have needed to make sure your floor was mopped and dry before putting a sheet through this machine  attached to the washer. At $149.25, the Thor combination would be a sizable investment (some families lived on about $35 per week in 1925). [To read one magazine’s article about the cost of living in 1925, click here.]

On the other hand, a woman (like my mother-in-law) who was willing to take in washing and ironing could supplement the family income.

"Iron on Tuesday" embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

“Iron on Tuesday” embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

If you hired a laundress for two days a week, as recommended, the second day would be devoted to ironing.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The "set" included the iron and a box to store it in.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The “set” included the iron and a box to store it in.

The electric iron was certainly an improvement over the irons my grandmother heated on the stove (she had two or three — one getting warm while another was in use) but you needed to “sprinkle” your clothes to dampen them before ironing — until the steam iron arrived.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1936. In 1950, my grandmother used a beverage bottle with a purchased cork-and-perforated-metal top — like a big salt shaker, but containing water.

However, by the time this sprayer was featured, a steam iron could also be purchased.

A steam iron, Woman's Home Companion, September 1937.

A “steaming  iron,” as explained by Woman’s Home Companion, September 1937. “You need no wet cloth for pressing woolens and no sprinkling for dry fabrics.”

I will show the entire, step-by-step, illustrated article “The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering,” from 1927, in the next post.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. She was once part of a set of seven day of the week towels.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. It was once part of a set of seven day-of-the-week towels. Sue, bent over her wash tub, was appliqued to a bleached flour sack.  I wish I had two dozen!

You can read more about Day of the Week towels and laundry customs at RememberedSummers.



Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uncategorized

Striped Underwear for Women, 1930’s

Van Raalte Stryps underwear in an ad from Woman's Home Companion, Nov. 1936.

Van Raalte Stryps underwear in an ad from Woman’s Home Companion, Nov. 1936.

Knit underwear for women was nothing new in the thirties, but it lost its strictly utilitarian appearance by featuring stripes and plaids, as shown by these lingerie ads. Van Raalte, a major manufacturer of rayon/silk knits, was even featured by Ivory Soap Flakes in this color ad:

This ad for Ivory laundry soap featured a striped knit undergarment from Van Raalte. Ladies'Home Journal, Jan. 1936.

This ad for Ivory laundry soap featured a striped knit undergarment from Van Raalte. Ladies’ Home Journal, Jan. 1936.

The model is swearing a “Singlette,” which, according to another ad, “rounds the bust and smooths the waistline.” The Singlette was recommended for wear under evening clothes, since it gave a smooth line from bust to hip. It cost $2 in 1937.

Under the bias satin evening gowns of the thirties, a perfectly smooth undergarment would be preferable to the lavish lace-trimmed underwear of the twenties, but plain knit undies looked stodgy and utilitarian. Striped fabric (which Van Raalte called “Stryps”) may have been an attempt to be both decorative and sleek.

Van Rallte ad from Woman's Home Companion, November 1936.

Van Raalte STRYPS ad from Woman’s Home Companion, November 1936.

Rayon & silk knit bra and panties set from Van Raalte, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Rayon & silk knit Stryps bra and pantie set from Van Raalte, ad in WHC, Nov. 1936.

In 1937, a new style of  Stryps panties is shown, with a snug band around the upper thigh instead of the loosely fitting tap pants style. These are more like briefs.

Van Raalte Stryps "Jigger pantie" with a Stryps bra and a long nightgown. Ad from WHC, Nov. 1937.

Van Raalte Stryps “Jigger pantie” with a Stryps bra and a long nightgown. Ad from WHC, Nov. 1937.

You could get Stryps pajamas, too.

Van Raalte Stryps ad from WHC, 1937. Bra, panties, nightgown, and pajamas.

Van Raalte Stryps ad from WHC, 1937. Bra, pantie, nightgown, and pajamas.

Prices for Van Ralte Stryps lingerie, from an ad in Woman's Home Companion, Nov. 1937.

Prices for Van Raalte Stryps lingerie, from an ad in Woman’s Home Companion, Nov. 1937. “For long wear and successful tubbing.” [i.e., washing.]

This ad reminds us that Stryps lingerie was available in many colors…

Prices and colors for Van Raalte Stryps lingerie, May, 1937.

Prices and colors for Van Raalte Stryps lingerie, May, 1937.

… “Petal Pink, Azure, Maize, Nile, Sun Orange, Coral, French Blue, Flame, White and Black.” The slip was available in two lengths. At a time when many families were living on $18 per week, Van Raalte underwear was moderately luxurious. A suggested budget for a college girl (1936) allowed 35 cents for a brassiere and 60 cents for a nightgown or slip — far less than the 75 cents or two dollars Stryps garments cost.

However, they must have been popular, because Munsingwear, a rival in the field of knit underwear, offered its own striped lingerie:

Ad for a striped slip from Munsingwear, WHC, April 1937.

Ad for a striped slip from Munsingwear, WHC, April 1937. [When an ad mentions youth, it’s usually aimed at older readers….]

In addition to striped undies and nighties, Van Raalte offered a line of plaid lingerie called “Kiltees.”

A Kiltees nightgown from Van Raalte, April 1937. Ad in Woman's Home Companion.

Kiltees lingerie from Van Raalte, April 1937. Ad in Woman’s Home Companion.

The “smooth, figure-moulding” singlette appears to act as a panties and bra combination, replacing the “envelope chemise,” the teddy, the “combination,” or “step-ins.” Click here for a gorgeous teddy.

A rayon and silk knit Kiltees nightgown from Van Raalte. Ad in WHC, April 1937.

A rayon and silk knit Kiltees strap-back nightgown from Van Raalte. Ad in WHC, April 1937. It cost $3.00.

Plaid knit undies from Van Raalte ad, WHC, December 1936.

Plaid knit undies in a Van Raalte ad, WHC, December 1936. “Run proof” knits were important to women who had been plagued by runs in their stockings.

The wide selection of colors, stripes, and plaids in these 1930’s undies surprised me. When Formfit Rogers collaborated with Emilio Pucci to create wildly patterned and colorful slips in the 1960’s, I felt quite daring! (I couldn’t afford the Pucci, but of course, there were copies.)

Incidentally, I have been searching for a photo of vintage Van Raalte Stryps or Kiltees garments — without success. I didn’t even find these ads online under “Van Raalte ad 1930s.” If you have encountered one of these garments, I hope these pictures help identify it. [Maybe they did not survive. Lastex is not mentioned in the ads, but there is s suggestion of “figure-moulding.”  Perhaps some Stryps fabric had a rubber content that did not age well?] Comments welcomed!



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Filed under 1930s, Bras, lingerie, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings