Tag Archives: Great Depression

Seamless Stockings in 1930

Seamed stockings from Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1939.

Every costume design job is an opportunity to do more research, but there are some things that are just part of your general knowledge. For example, when I was hired to costume a college production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which takes place in 1937, I automatically put the adult female characters in seamed stockings.

I was surprised recently when I came across this image from 1930:

Seamless stockings could be purchased at department stores in 1930! This image is from Delineator, May 1930.

I simply hadn’t come across this information before, so I checked another source: the Sears, Roebuck catalogs. There they were:

“No-Seam” hosiery for women, Sears Roebuck catalog, Fall 1930, p. 171.

No-Seam stockings text, Sears catalog, Fall 1930.

And another source….

From a fashion editorial about accessories, Delineator, September 1930.

There are some typos in the original text, as you can see, but corrected, it says, “I made a new discovery a few days ago — stockings needn’t have seams in order to fit. You may remember the old seamless stockings … which went into Grecian drapery at the ankles after their first contact with soap and water. The new Guildmode hose is knitted in a special way so that it fits just as snugly as a full fashioned stocking. It is dull [matte] and very sheer.”

“Full-fashioned” meant stockings which were shaped like the outline of a leg, curving in at the ankle, and gradually curving out over the calf area.

Before stretchier knits became available, the seam at the back was necessary for a good fit. Full-fashioned stocking illustration from Sears, 1958.

A short history: Knitted stockings have been around for hundreds of years. The simple knitted tube naturally stretched — somewhat — to the shape of the leg, but a seam up the back permitted a closer fit.  As stockings became more sheer (and more visible under short skirts) in the Nineteen Twenties, women became aware of the way the vertical seam up the back created a slenderizing line on their legs.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/hosiery-nov-1928-mar-1929-apr-1929-may-1929.jpg

Gordon Hosiery ads from Delineator, Nov. 1928 through May 1929.

Seams and pointed heels made these stockings flattering. Sears, Fall of 1939.

“Notice how they follow the natural shadows of the ankle — to give you slenderness and grace.”

Skirt hems went down and then up again in the Nineteen Thirties, but seamed stockings were so much a part of normal dress that women couldn’t give up that seam line even when silk or nylon stockings became unavailable during World War II.

There were no nylon or silk stockings available from Sears in 1944 because nylon and silk were needed for the war. Sears catalog index, Spring 1944.

In Spring of 1945, before the War ended,  Sears offered these un-glamourous cotton stockings. Three pairs were guaranteed to last you three months. (I.e., you would have two wearable stockings left.)

But, back to the Thirties:

Chiffon [sheer] and Service Weight stockings from Sears, Fall 1930.

Seamed rayon stockings from Sears, Fall 1930. Rayon, a synthetic fabric based on cellulose, was cheaper than silk.

At the first dress rehearsal of Brighton Beach Memoirs, the director knelt down beside my chair and whispered, “Are those seams on their stockings?” He was clearly delighted. I whispered back, “Well, stockings with seams are too expensive for our budget,** so I taught the actresses to do it the 1940s’ way: we drew ‘seams’ up the backs of their hose with an eyebrow pencil.” (The lines didn’t come out completely when we washed their sheer tights, so they just had to retrace the previous line for the next performance.)

At first, I thought the director was impressed by the seamed stockings because I was much more detail-oriented than my predecessor. Later I realized that anyone who was a teen-aged boy in the 1950s probably feels a certain nostalgia for seamed stockings, which, along with high heels and garter belts, were often seen on pin-up girls.

This 1950s’ stocking ad, shared by Sally Edelstein at Envisioning the American Dream, shows the sex appeal of seamed stockings.

Being allowed to wear high heels (or even kitten heels,) and sheer stockings held up by a garter belt was a rite of passage for girls of my generation. (I think that my first heels and stockings were required for a school field trip to the ballet [or opera?] circa 1958, when I was in 8th or 9th grade.)

Garter belts, seamed stockings, high heels, and a bouffant “crinoline” petticoat in 1958: “Today I am a woman!”

At thirteen, I was finally old enough to ask, “Are my seams straight?”

To return to my costume design for Brighton Beach Memoirs, would this new (to me) information about the existence of seamless stockings*** in 1930 have made any difference? No, because the characters in the play are struggling financially, and because they are not fashionable women. They would have worn inexpensive stockings — probably cotton, rayon, or “service weight.”

Service weight silk stockings were not as sheer as “chiffon” ones. Sears, Fall 1930.

I settled for using sheer tights with added seams because at the time of the production that was the most affordable option. Also, in college productions, most of the actors are younger than the characters they play. The two “mothers” were actually about twenty years old, and the teenaged daughters were also played by twenty year old actresses. Putting the mothers in seamed stockings and the daughters in bobby socks helped to establish an age difference.

More of my own “Garter Belt and Seamed Stockings” Memoirs to come….

** Some very good costume shop supervisors have told me that a seam can be added to inexpensive modern hosiery with an overlock sewing machine, but I haven’t tried it myself.

*** If you need a research topic, note that some of the images make reference to seamless stockings earlier than 1930.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Accessories

College Wardrobe for Women, 1929

Essentials of a perfect College Wardrobe; Delineator, September 1929.

It’s a bit late in the year to be planning an “off to college” wardrobe, but Delineator devoted several pages to this question in September, 1929.

Administrators at Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith colleges shared their observations on what college girls were wearing in 1929. Delineator, Sept 1929, pp. 29 & 104.

Administrators at three prestigious East Coast women’s colleges contributed their observations in an accompanying article, which was later quoted in the Butterick pattern descriptions.

In addition to Butterick patterns, several “college clothing” illustrations were sketched from clothes being sold at Lord & Taylor.

These “College Requirements” could be purchased at Lord & Taylor. Delineator, Sept. 1929, page 28.

At all three colleges, sportswear — rather than “city” clothing — was said to dominate.  (Vassar was literally “in the country.” In the case of Wellesley, Freshmen lived in the nearby town, so clothes suitable for walking and bicycling to campus were necessary.) Dressing for dinner usually required a change, but not into evening dress.  However, dances and Proms called for at least one formal evening gown.  [I attended a women’s college in California in the 1960s, and we often loaned or borrowed evening gowns for off campus dances, so having only one wasn’t a real problem. Our dates saw us in a different dress each time.] I also appreciated reading about a dorm at Smith where the girls grouped together to rent a sewing machine! All three writers agreed that sporty, casual clothing — home made or purchased — dominated the college wardrobe and to some extent erased class distinctions. (In the late Twenties, Vassar had 1150 undergraduate students, Wellesley 1500, and Smith 2000.)

Laura W. L. Scales, Smith College. Delineator,  Sept. 1929, page 29.

I’ll start with college clothes available from Lord & Taylor in 1929:

(A) A fur coat was practical on campus in snowy winters, but wool coats were equally acceptable.

(B) is an afternoon dress, suitable for formal daytime events (teas, concerts) or as a dinner dress at college.

Wool knits, jersey, and tweeds were practical and traditional “country” looks; most of these colleges were then in the country a few miles from big cities, although urban sprawl has changed that.

“Simulated suede raincoat”? Interesting.  Augusta “Bernard” and “Louiseboulanger” were top Paris designers,

A warm robe, pajamas for sleep and dorm lounging, plus “sports” underwear (J): the top and bottom are buttoned together. 1929.

Formal evening wrap and dress from Lord & Taylor. September 1929. The coat is short; the gown has a long dipping hem.

Note those stretchy bias diamond pieces at the hip of the gown. Pearl-covered handbag.

Butterick patterns for the young college woman, September 1929:

Butterick patterns for college women, Sept. 1929, p. 30.

This dress really is easier to make than it looks. The full, scalloped skirt is cut on the straight grain, lined with “skin” colored taffeta, and has a dipping hem because it is attached to a dipping bodice.

Intimate apparel for college girls:

The slip at right has built in panties, to save time while dressing ….

“No brassiere is necessary,” but some girls do “make this set with a bandeau brassiere instead of a vest.”

Fall and winter weather was another good reason for wearing sporty wool clothing with low heeled shoes and wool, instead of silk, stockings on campus.

Wool fabrics were suitable for campus or weekends in town:

More sporty patterns for college women, 1929. Butterick patterns, Delineator, page 31.

A tweed suit suitable for city or country, a chic two-toned jersey dress, and a princess line wool or jersey dress with flared panels. Butterick patterns from Delineator, September 1929, p. 31

A sporty tweed dress with laced trim (very popular in the 30s), a pleated wool dress with Deco lines (“staircase pleats,”) and a fur-trimmed tweed coat. Butterick patterns for college women, Delineator, Sept. 1929, p. 31.

It’s sad to realize that these attractive 1929 styles would be out of fashion just a year later — although many women would have no choice but to continue wearing them as the economy crumbled in the early nineteen thirties.

 

 

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Broad Shoulders for September, 1933.

Wide shoulders were appearing as early as September, 1933.

I had thought of mannish padded shoulders as typical of the late 1930s and early 1940s,…

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

… but the September 1933 issue of Delineator surprised me. The huge, ruffled shoulders of the Letty Lynton era (the movie was released in 1932) were an early symptom of a change in silhouette — and the ability of wide shoulders to make hips look smaller in comparison mustn’t be ignored.

Shoulders begin to square up as early as summer of 1933.

Delineator, July 1933, p. 53. Left, a yoke with sharp shoulder line; right, a Letty Lynton ruffled shoulder.

Fall and winter coats offered novelty shoulders, sometimes exaggerated by fur trim:

Tpo of page 61, Delineator, September 1933.

Bottom of page 61, Delineator, September 1933.

Lead paragraph of Delineator article, September 1933, p. 61. “These shoulders look broad, but not stoutish.”

Butterick 5276, a coat with enhanced shoulders, was recommended for a college wardrobe. Delineator, Sept. 1933, page 63.

Even without fur or padded shoulder rolls (reminiscent of Elizabethan fashions!) the shoulders are getting straight and squared off, as in this blouse.

College wardrobe, Sept. 1933.

Patterns for women not going off to college show the same exaggerated shoulder line:

Ladies’ dress patterns from Butterick, September 1933.

Ladies patterns, Delineator, Sept. 1933, page 66.

As hips become impossibly narrow, exaggerated shoulders widen the top of the body.

“Paris frocks” become Butterick patterns, Delineator, Sept. 1933, page 65.

“Coal-heavers’ shoulders” are a feature of this Butterick pattern. Delineator, September 1933, page 55.

Ladies’ dress patterns from Delineator, September 1933, page 55. Note that extended yoke at bottom right.

Butterick 5247, 5270, 5259, and 5365. September 1933.

Extended shoulders were also shown on coats for girls:

Even the little girl’s coat (top right) has wide shoulders, thanks to its yoke or collar.

Older women also benefited from broader shoulders in 1933:

Clothes for women no longer young or slender. Butterick patterns 1933.

Delineator, September 1933. I found No. 5307 at the Commercial Pattern Archive.

Those shoulders, almost square, cannot be achieved without padding, but I have not found a 1933 pattern at CoPA that mentions shoulder pads — not even this exact pattern, No. 5307.

Coats for evening wear were even more exaggerated, evoking the sleeves of 1895:

Evening dress with jacket; Butterick pattern 5279, Sept. 1933.

Evening wrap and evening dress for a trousseau, Delineator, September 1933.

Four years later, in 1937, these patterns for young women were still “broad shouldered.” The “squarely fitted” cape shoulders were especially stylish.

Butterick patterns for young women; Delineator, Sept. 1937.

 

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Capes, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Slenderizing Fashions from 1931

Butterick 4064 from September 1931, Delineator.

“These Slanting Lines Are for Slenderness.” Seven styles meant to flatter large or mature figures were featured on the same page.

Slenderizing Butterick patterns from Delineator, September 1931. Top of page 91.

Two of these designs were available up to bust size 48 inches. The rest came in the normal size range, up to 44 inches. Two “slenderizing” ideas were 1) diagonal lines and 2) lighter or brighter colors near the face, to draw the eye upward and away from the not-so-slender figure. I have my doubts about No. 4064:

Butterick 4064 from September 1931, Delineator.

It’s hard to tell whether the back view succeeds because of the diagonal line or the elongated fashion figure. Notice the tiny tucks fanning out like rays from the back neck. The six gored skirt has a side closing in front.

Butterick 4064.

Butterick 4054 has an ingenious skirt, with “arrows” pointing to the center of the body.

Butterick 4054, from 1931.

Those little frills look skimpy to me, but the princess seams are very clever, making the shoulders lok wider and the hip, look narrower.

The sheer frills  –“lingerie touches” — contrast with the wool dress fabric.

The lighter top and darker skirt (Butterick  4075 and 4052 ) is a classic combination, but may not be slenderizing when the dividing line is at the hip….

Butterick top 4075 with skirt 4052. 1931. Orange is suggested for the top,with a brown skirt.

Nevertheless, that diagonal line and side opening skirt are interesting.

Also diagonal is this wrap dress:

Butterick 4049 is a wrap dress. 1931,

In addition to its diagonal closing and front hip seam, a pale colored under layer draws attention to the face. The bodice, with its “soft revers,” has enough drape to camouflage a thick waist.Dress 4051 has an unusual collar which folds under, and a skirt whose yoke has sharp diagonal lines that add interest.

Butterick 4051, 1931. Available in bust sizes 34 to 48 inches.

Velvet is the recommended fabric, not necessarily in black. Midnight blue, burgundy, dark brown, forest green –any dark color might be used.

Butterick 4044 also uses a jabot effect with diagonal lines in the skirt’s double yoke.

Butterick 4044 has a softly falling collar and strong V-shapes in the skirt.

The yoke creates a focus of interest at the center of the body. It echoes the V of the bodice. Satin is suggested for both the light and dark areas.

There is a hint of the Twenties in this dress for older (or larger) women.

Buttrick 4070 is illustrated as a two-color dress with a low waistline in front. 1931. Available in sizes 34″ to 48″ bust..

For larger sizes, a one color dress, rather than this two-tone version, is recommended. The “new unbelted waistline” is hardly new — they were still in style just two years earlier, in 1929.

1920s Butterick 2799 from October 1929.

[Fashion writing…. Feh!] Nevertheless, diagonal lines and lighter, brighter colors near the face are not just a Delineator fashion writer’s idea:

Lane Bryant catalog for stout women, ad from October 1931.

 

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Butterick Patterns for Children, 1930

Each of these schoolgirls wears an outfit with matching jacket. Butterick patterns in Delineator, April 1930.

I’m struck by how grown up these schoolgirls would look in their suits. (Farther down,  I’ll show school clothes for girls that really echoed the clothes women would have worn to the office.)

The alternate view, left, shows a miniature 1920’s cardigan suit. Butterick 3169 for girls 4 to 10.

The details of the sleeveless blouse are rather sophisticated. [I remember having to wear a skirt like this, held up by matching suspenders, in first grade…. It’s incredible that I once had no hips!]

Butterick 6135 is very like an adult’s dress, with a deep back tied with a bow. For ages 8 to 15. Delineator, April 1930.

If the little girl’s suit (3169 looked) “1920s,” clothes for her older sister (above) show the higher waist of the Thirties.

This little boy is too young to object to ruffles, according to the description, and the girl wears a 1920s’ style that still looks charming to me; it also suggests an outfit for the office, with its bib front and prim little bow!

Butterick patterns for children: 3150 and 3364 from August 1930, Delineator.

Some clothes really were child-sized copies of adult clothing:

The sleeveless dress with cape-collared jacket (3226) isn’t an exact copy of an adult style, but the jumper outfit (3234) is very similar to an adult version. Delineator, May 1930.

Butterick 3234 is for girls 8 to 15; Butterick 3239 is for women in a full range of sizes up to 44″ bust.

I wish this explained how you got into this top; the fitted waist, front and back, implies an opening somewhere. (Probably a side seam opening closed with snap fasteners.)

The coat shown below must have been out of the budget for most children’s wardrobes.

Butterick 3448 has a flared skirt; girls’ coat 3467 has a capelet and fur trim — very grown-up. October 1930.

Proportioned for girls 8 to 15, coat 3467 mimics the woman’s coat at right (Butterick 3491.) Both from autumn, 1930. Delineator.

From a page of fashions for working women [!] Delineator, October 1930. Right, women’s coat 3491.

Left, for girls 8 to 15, Butterick coat 3422 and dress 3414, from September 1930. Delineator. Even the little girl’s caped coat (3434) has a fur collar and capelet like 3491, above.

The dress above (3414) has a false bolero, just like the adult dress (3529) below:

Left, for girls 8 to 15; right, for women. Fall 1930, Delineator.

Left, a bolero jacket over a dress with a light-colored top. July 1930. Women wore them , too.

This bolero suit came in versions for very little girls and their bigger sisters. Delineator, August 1930.

(The girl’s skirt stays up because it is buttoned to the blouse, like the little boy’s outfit, below.)

Right, another bolero suit. The girl’s dress in the middle is quite a departure from the usual 1930’s styles for women, however. It pre-dates the Letty Lynton fad.

The image above is from a page of party fashions for girls; frilly dresses for little girls allowed for departures from the “miniature woman” look.

These party dresses for little girls (age 4 to 10) are nothing like the body-hugging adult fashions of the 1930s. Delineator, November, 1930.

For very young girls, a shapeless dress with fantasy trim (right, Butterick 3529.) Girls in their teens, however, might prefer to wear a dress with a waist — like 3532, in the middle. November 1930.

These dresses for girls from 8 to 15 look like 1920s’ styles, except that they are belted at the waist instead of the hip. Delineator, August 1930.

It’s almost a relief to see that girls were not necessarily expected to grow up overnight in 1930, although many must have joined the workforce in their early teens. [Depression Era film recommendation: Wild Boys of the Road, 1933 . Click here for Plot summary. A teen-aged girl is among the desperate children riding the rails. Louise Brooks made a similar picture in 1928, before the stock market crash: Beggars of Life.]

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Sophisticated Schoolgirls, 1930

Two schoolgirls wearing Butterick patterns 3117 and 3125, Delineator, March 1930.

These suits are for girls 8 to 15. Today the girls illustrated might be in middle-school — or starting high school — but their clothes could have been worn to the office in the late 1920’s. Yes, it is 1930, so they are actually a bit behind the fashion trend to longer skirts and natural waists. Nevertheless….

A closer view of Butterick 3117 and 3125. 1930.

Well, the button-on skirt would not be worn by a grown-up (very little boys did wear button-on pants.)

But the “tennis dress” frock with its diagonal closing is pretty sophisticated.

Alternate views of 3117 and 3125. Under their jackets, they are sleeveless.

More patterns for girls ages 8 to 15. Delineator, page 36, February 1930.

Coordinated coats and dresses — an ensemble — were chic womens’ wear.

Butterick 3083 and 3127, Delineator, March 1930.

Left, 3083 has the latest cape sleeve, and 3127 has the bound and scalloped front with buttons, also a 1930 adult fashion.

1929 and 1930 marked a fad for very suntanned faces.

It’s hard to imagine eight to thirteen-year old girls wearing these dresses and suits to school today, but the 1930’s were an era when children had to grow up fast.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Coats, Sportswear

Evening Gowns, October 1930

Delineator cover illustration by Helen Dryden, January 1930.

I’m back! Although my “vacation” at the library was interrupted by some family illness, I did manage to photograph the 18 months of Delineator magazines from July 1929 through December of 1930 — and that was a time of sudden and drastic fashion change. I learned a lot — and will be sharing….

Paris fashions illustrated in August 1929 are recognizably from the Twenties.  Top left, coat by Lanvin; top right, dress by Chanel; bottom left, coat by Lelong; bottom right, autumn frock by Vionnet. Waists are low; hems barely cover the knee.

Three months later a new style was introduced:

Paris fashions illustrated in November 1929. Patou, second from left, took credit for the new silhouette, with longer skirts and belts at the natural waist. The designers are: 10) Molyneux, 11) Patou; 12) Cheruit; and 13) Mary Nowitsky. Delineator, November 1929. Nowitsky also shows a natural waist and a knee-covering hem, but Patou’s is noticeably longer.

Patou’s new silhouette was influencing patterns within a few months:

Two Butterick patterns from April 1930 show the new silhouette: dresses with a natural waist and much longer skirts than in the late 1920s.

Sadly, Butterick’s Delineator magazine was affected by the October 1929 economic crisis, with a decrease of advertisers and the near elimination of color fashion illustrations. However, these 1930 evening gowns were given the full treatment: ours to enjoy.

Evening patterns from Butterick: Left, 2978 has a deep back opening; Center, 2972 has diagonal flounces,; and right, 2976 uses several layers of net, growing gradually more transparent toward the hem. Delineator, January 1930, page 24. All are belted near the natural waist.

Butterick 2978 is a “princess” frock — i.e., it has no waist seam. January 1930. Dresses with these very narrow straps were said to have “camisole” necklines.

Butterick 2972, with a cape over one shoulder, also has a “princess corsage.” January 1930.

Butterick 2976, shown in pastel net instead of black. In this front view of the “princess body,” you can see that there is no waist seam. There are three layers of net, with an opaque layer closest to the body.

The top of the net dress has a very modern “deconstructed” look, as though the net covering the upper chest had been cut from top to bottom and is left hanging free, front and back.

A closer look at the tops of dresses 2978, 2972, and 2976 (black net), which is asymmetrical. (So is the blue one.)

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Vintage Couture Designs