Tag Archives: Hattie Carnegie 1920s twenties

To Tan or Not to Tan 1920s – 1930s

Elizabeth I, the Rainbow Portrait, in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Elizabeth I, detail of the “Rainbow Portrait” in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Three centuries after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, American women still believed that beautiful skin should be pale.

Advertisement, 1917.

Advertisement, 1917. “So tanned, so colorless …. However unattractive exposure to the summer sun may have made” your face….

“Fair and tender ladies” with “peaches and cream” complexions — that was the fashion ideal promulgated for thousands of years, and not just in Europe. (Click here for the disturbing “White Skin: A Chinese Obsession.

"So tanned, so colorless -- What shall she do?" Ad from Ladies' Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

“So tanned, so colorless — What shall she do?” Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

Then came the nineteen twenties…. When chic American and European women wanted to be sun-tanned.

"Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!" Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

“Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!” Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

One of the many bizarre ideals of beauty — one that has given pain to as many women as the fashions for impossibly thin bodies or bound feet — is the crazy idea that beauty requires a light or pale skin tone. The Ancient Egyptians and Etruscans often portrayed women in a lighter shade of paint than men. “The feminine ideal during the Han period (2000 years ago) for women of the court was almost unearthly white, white skin. Moon-like roundish faces, long black hair,” writes Ann Rose Kitagawa.  Cosmetics that were supposed to lighten your skin have been around for thousands of years. For women of color, there are plenty of depressing  vintage ads for preparations that are supposed to lighten or bleach your skin. (And plenty of modern ones, too….)

“The Greeks favored light complexions, which they maintained using white lead. This was later replaced by chalk powder (around 1000 BCE) due to the many deaths caused by slow lead poisoning.” [White lead, which was also used in cosmetics by the Elizabethans, is a form of arsenic.]— read more at annmariegianni.com.

At a time when almost all people worked out of doors (that is, for most of human history,) tanned skin was the mark of a peasant, and lighter skin the mark of higher social status: the educated, the administrators, and the aristocrats. This idea was turned upside down between the 1920’s and the 1930’s, when more people worked indoors, and only wealthy people could afford to vacation at beach resorts during the winter months. Suddenly, a winter tan became a status symbol for Americans and Europeans, influencing dress, as explained in this 1929 magazine article:

"Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion." Article in Delineator Magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

“Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion.” Article in Delineator magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

This article even mentions artificial tanning: “Last summer’s tan, acquired on the Lido or American Beaches, conserved during the winter months with a sun machine and ready to deepen now at Palm Beach or Bermuda…,” could be maintained with a tanning lamp like this one.

"Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;" ad for a Health Developer Tanning Lamp, 1929.

“Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;” ad for a Health Developer Twin-Arc Tanning Lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Applliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Appliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

To be fair, the “health” claims were related to the relatively recent discovery of Vitamin D, its part in calcium absorption, and the need for sunshine to prevent the bone-deforming disease, rickets, in children. But the sunlamp was undoubtedly as much a fashion item as a health item in 1929.

It’s not surprising that women were confused in the late twenties and early thirties — To tan, or not to tan? [Personal note:  I am very pale, as California girls go, but my mother, who prized her extremely white skin, was terribly disappointed that her little girl was not as fair-skinned as she was. Apparently, some women who lived through this “tan/not tan” era were never enthusiastic about the new fashion.]

Even in the thirties, not every woman chose to get a tan. Story illustration from Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

Even in the thirties, not every fair-skinned woman chose to get a tan. Two blondes in a story illustration from Woman’s Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

I was amused to find these two ads facing each other in the pages of Delineator in 1924, before tanning became chic.

Left, an ad advising a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a bleaching cream. Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Left, an ad suggesting a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a skin bleaching cream.   Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Nadinola “whitens the skin to milky purity. It bleaches freckles, sun-tan and wind-tan.”

Absorbine, Jr. promised that “the next day,” users would have “only a slightly deeper coat of tan as a reminder of the day’s sport.”  In 1924, getting a tan was an accident that called for a remedy like Nadinola Bleaching Cream, which promised “The Lure of Southern Loveliness.” [Hmmmm.]

In 1928, the unlucky girl who accidentally got a tan could buy Gouraud’s Oriental Cream to cover it up:

"A Sunproof Complexion" -- or the illusion of one -- could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream. Ad, July 1928.

“A Sunproof Complexion” — or the illusion of one — could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream, which “renders an entrancing film of pearly beauty….”  Ad, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, a makeup which covered up a tan. Delineator, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, a face and body makeup which covered up a tan, and theoretically prevented one. “You appearance will not be blemished by the sun or wind.” Delineator, July 1928.

Bottom of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, apparently a liquid body makeup. July 1928

Bottom of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, which seems to be a liquid body makeup. July 1928. Delineator.

Apparently a liquid body makeup, Oriental Cream was available in “White, Flesh and Rachel.” “Rachel” was a dark-ish makeup color for olive or tanned complexions. Here is a “don’t fear the beach, use Apex Bleach” ad aimed at women of color in the 1920’s.

[I can’t read “Flesh” color without thinking about comedian and civil rights leader Dick Gregory‘s sixties’ joke (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that he really thought we were making progress towards racial equality — until he “tried to buy a flesh colored bandaid.” Dick Gregory opened some windows in my little, white world. And guess what? — that joke is still valid.]

However, by 1929 suntanned faces and bodies were in style, according to fashion magazines:

500 title 1929 feb tan article p 25

Beginning of text of suntans and fashions article in Delineator, February, 1929.

Beginning of article about fashions and colors to flatter a suntan in Delineator, February, 1929.

Notice the references to American and European resorts: Palm Beach, Antibes, the Lido (Venice), Bermuda…. French resorts like Deauville and Biarritz– where Chanel started her rise to eminence — were part of the phenomenon. “It has become smart to look healthy, smart to go in for tan, and smart to dress expressly for it.”

A sports suit with "sunburn back" used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929.

A sports suit with “sunburn back” used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929. Her back is bare, but wrinkled by the model’s pose.

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 top lower

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 lower rt end

“Even the southern evening frock is deliberately more decollete than ever so as to reveal the extent of the day’s tan.”

“The necessity of being true to your tan and its outline,” e.g., U shaped, V shaped  or square-shaped, is important, since your bathing suit line would dictate the other clothes you could wear to show off your tan. “Tan is truly the maker of fashion.”

A deep U shape in front. Feb, 1929 Delineator.

A deep neckline in front and intense flower prints to go with a tan. Feb, 1929, Delineator.

Low-cut evening gowns also exposed your tan, front and back.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator Fe. 1929.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator, Feb. 1929. It “Follows the design of the sports suit” with the very deep “sunburn” back.

That’s not to say that women were not conflicted by contradictory advertising.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931. “Ten nights — and you’ll be a ravishing, fair skinned beauty!”

Note that these skin bleach ads from Delineator magazine were primarily aimed at women with Caucasian/European ancestry. Many other products that claimed to bleach or lighten skin were advertised to women with naturally dark complexions.

B. Vikki Vintage has written a well-illustrated review of  Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African-American Women, 1920-1975 by Susannah Walker. Visit her blog here.

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream. That is a low cut bathing suit!

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream.  This extremely low-cut bathing suit matches some equally low cut evening dresses of the 1930’s. Click here.

"Sunshine weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it."

“Sunshine in moderation is good. Severe sunburn, however, weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it.” Ad for Hinds Cream.

“To prevent that fiery sunscorch in the first place, — before going on the beach, smooth on Hinds Cream, and powder over it.”

“Powder over it?” In 1931, Dorothy Gray offered a product that claimed to prevent sunburn by “absorbing ultra-violet rays.” (It probably did work better than powder over moisturizer):

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit.

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit, which the model has obviously not worn before. Judging by her legs and midriff, she tanned her arms and upper back while wearing a dress.

Text of Dorothy Gray ad, July 1931.

Text of Dorothy Gray Sunburn Cream ad, July 1931. $2.00 was not an insignificant amount of money. In 1924 and in 1936, a working woman paid about $20 per month for a rented room.

The fashion for tanning was not necessarily long, or universal, and like all fads … It faded.

Illustration from "Keeping Up and Making Up," Delineator, June 1934. "When Skins Change Their Color, It's News."

Illustration from “Keeping Up and Making Up,” Delineator, June 1934. Dark tan in 1932, lighter tan in 1933, and a big beach hat and cover-up in 1934.”When Skins Change Their Color, It’s News.”

“News” seems to suggest that very deep tans were losing their cachet by 1934. But this cartoon from 1936 contradicts it — at least for an English humorist:

"Don't worry, darling. You'll look quite respectable in a day or two." Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

“Don’t worry, darling. You’ll look quite respectable in a day or two.” Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

I’m afraid, from the dismay on the dark-suited girl’s face, that the cartoonist did not agree that a dark tan was “respectable.” The old “peasants versus aristocrats” stereotype had not died.

Sadly, millions of women in third-world countries are still using skin bleach products that contain mercury and other toxic ingredients in the quest for lighter skin. Click here to read The Global Phenomenon of Skin Bleaching: A Crisis in Public Health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Costumes for the 17th Century, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits

Paris Designer Gowns Illustrated by J. Desvignes, 1926

Gowns by Chanel and Patou. Delineator magazine, November 1926.

Gowns by Chanel and Patou. Delineator magazine, November 1926.

There’s nothing about these four Paris evening gowns from 1926 that could be called “everyday fashion.” These are couture, with all the detailing we expect at top prices. The designers are Chanel, Patou, and Doeuillet.

Embroidered "Chinoiserie" gown by Doueillet, and a beaded gown by Patou. Delineator, November 1926.

Embroidered “Chinoiserie” gown by Doeuillet, and a beaded gown by Patou. Delineator, November 1926.

The illustrations are signed “J. Desvignes.” They were originally printed at large scale, longer than most horizontal computer screens, so I’ll be breaking the illustrations down to show the details. They were featured in Delineator magazine in November, 1926, and were available in New York from Frances Clyne — just in time for the holiday season.

A Chanel Evening Gown, November 1926

Left, an evening gown by Chanel, illustrated in November 1926 by J. Desvignes. Delineator, Nov. 1926, page 40.

Left, a red chiffon evening gown by Chanel, illustrated in November 1926 by J. Desvignes. Delineator, Nov. 1926, page 40.

1926 nov p 40 designer Chanel text fond of redt

“Chanel uses red chiffon for this delightful dress which promises to be the frock of the season. It is simple in effect but attains interest by means of its drooping blouse, an intricate girdle, outlined by beads and floating draperies. Chanel’s skirts are longer — in spots — but in general short. Chanel is fond of red for evening.”

Details of Chanel's beaded red chiffon evening dress, 1926. Delineator.

Details of Chanel’s beaded red chiffon evening dress, 1926. Delineator.

It mixes fluid chiffon panels with geometric beading in an Art Deco rhythm. Even the narrow straps are beaded.

A Beaded Evening Gown by Patou, 1926

Beaded evening gown by Patou, illulstated by J. Desvignes, Delineator, Nov. 1926, p 40.

Beaded white evening gown by Patou, illustrated by J. Desvignes, Delineator, Nov. 1926, p 40. “All frost and fire.” I have darkened it to show the beading.

1926 nov p 40 designerPatou right U bodice is new Frances clyne text

“This slender frock of white crepe Roma, all frost and fire with its rhinestones and pearls, was designed by Patou. A faint suggestion of the bolero is cleverly introduced at the waistline. The beaded frock remains faithful to the sheath, giving it a fresh look with tiers and scallops. The U outline of the decolletage is new.”

A “bolero” was any over layer that floated free above the dropped waist. This whole description is interesting to me because it mentions the “sheath,” and because this deep, filled-in U-shape on the bodice is described as “new” in 1926. With hindsight, it’s one of the archetypal 1920s’ evening looks.

A tiered, beaded, rhinestone trimmed evening gown by Patou; Delineator, Nov. 1926.

A white, tiered, beaded, rhinestone-trimmed evening gown by Patou; Delineator, Nov. 1926. The deep U shape on the bodice is “new.” What looks like a long necklace is part of the dress.

Later, Paquin did a series of “necklace dresses,” with beading eliminating the need for jewelry.

A Black Satin Doeuillet Evening Dress, Beaded and Embroidered, from 1926

Left, a black satin gown by Doeuillet; right, a black and white beaded Patou. Ilustrated for Delineator by Desvignes, Nov. 1926, p. 41.

Left, a black satin gown by Doeuillet; right, a black and white beaded Patou. Illustrated for Delineator by Desvignes, Nov. 1926, p. 41.

500 doeuillet text1926 nov p 41 designer Doeuillet left text beaded chinese

“The Chinese influence is apparent in this Doeuillet frock of black satin. It is called “Pagoda,” a name suggested by the pointed hemline, flaring tiers and amusing Chinese motifs in red, blue, and silver beads. Much embroidery worked in silk and metal threads mixed with beads is used for evening.”

Black satin gown with red, blue, and silver embroidery by Doeuillet. Delineator, Nov. 1926.

Details of black satin gown with red, blue, and silver embroidery by Doeuillet. Delineator, Nov. 1926.

Doeuillet was an established couture house in Paris, founded in 1900 and successful in the 1910’s as well as the 1920’s.

A Patou Evening Gown in Black and White, 1926

Black and White evening gown by Jean Patou, illustrated by Desvignes for Delineator, Nov. 1926.

Black and White evening gown by Jean Patou, illustrated by Desvignes for Delineator, Nov. 1926.

500 patou black white text 1926 nov p 41 designer Patou rt evening beaded black and white

“Patou’s frock “Half-and-Half” of black and white Elizabeth crepe relieves its stark simplicity by rhinestones and pearl embroidery. A jabot drapery at the front and a floating panel from the left shoulder add distinction to the silhouette and convey a sense of motion. Models on these two pages imported by Frances Clyne.”

The filled-in neckline of this Patou dress is V shaped, rather than U shaped.

Detail of Black and white, pearl and rhinestone Patou evening dress. Delineator, Nov. 1926.

Detail of Black and white, pearl and rhinestone Patou evening dress. Delineator, Nov. 1926. I have darkened the photo to show the beading pattern.

The name of Patou has long been associated with his sportswear, but the two gowns illustrated here show that he knew how to produce luxe in a context of simplicity. These gowns look un-fussy but still very expensive — they possess a tailored version of glamour and sophistication, as sleek as the models’ hair.

Both Chanel and Patou remained well-known names in the twentieth century because of their best-selling fragrances:  “Chanel No. 5” and “Joy,” respectively.

Frances Clyne, like Hattie Carnegie and some high end department stores, worked with French designers to sell exact copies of their clothes in the United States. They cost twice as much as they did in Paris, but there were no import duties to pay, no wait to clear customs, and clients didn’t have to take a ship to Paris and remain there for fittings, a process which, including travel time, took several weeks.

 

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Filed under 1920s, Hairstyles, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs

Tennis Dress, Part 2: Tennis Patterns from 1929

Tennis and spectator sports outfits, Delineator, June 1929.

Tennis and spectator sports outfits, Delineator, June 1929.

As I mentioned in Part 1, when the casual, sportswear look became chic in the nineteen twenties, clothes for actively playing tennis and for watching tennis and other sports began to be illustrated together.  A two-page layout in the May, 1929 issue of Butterick’s Delineator magazine contains a few surprises when you read the pattern descriptions.

On page 32, the caption is “Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock against all sports styles,” but not every pattern illustrated in the article is for actively playing tennis.

Tennis frocks, Delineator, June 1929, page 32 (Detail, bottom of page.)

Tennis frocks, Delineator, May 1929. (Detail, bottom of page 32.)

On the opposite page, the caption is “Necklines Have Style News for all on the sidelines,” i.e., for spectators.

Delineator, May 1933, page 33 (Detail, bottom of page.)

Delineator, May 1929. (Detail, bottom of page 33.)

Also illustrated on the same two pages  — at the tops — were these outfits:

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From "Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock." May, 1929.

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555.  From “Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock.” Top of page 32, May, 1929.

Delineator, May 1929, page 33. Detail from top of page.

Delineator, May 1929. Detail from top of page 33. “Necklines Have Style News for all on the sidelines.”

It’s pretty clear that those two dresses, Butterick patterns 2605 and 2589, are a bit fussy for active sports, in spite of their pleated skirts; but what are we to make of the woman in a columnar, sleeveless, wrap dress, holding a tennis racket and wearing tennis shoes and socks?

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, 1929. From "Delineator Backs the Tennis Frock." May, 1929.

Butterick patterns 2626, 2603, 2555, May 1929. Which of these is really a tennis dress?

Is pattern 2555 really a tennis dress? I can see that bottom button popping right off if she lunges for a low ball.

It’s interesting to look at the alternate views of these dresses, too. The style details from the front don’t necessarily carry to the back. It’s obvious that — as with this 1971 pattern — the pattern company is trying to multi-purpose the designs:  with sleeves, or sleeveless; for playing or watching; in plaids or solid colors, etc.

Simplicity No. 9417, dated 1971. Tennis dress and shorts, or tunic and long trousers.

Simplicity No. 9417, dated 1971. Tennis dress and shorts, or tunic and long trousers. Click to enlarge

The Article, Pattern by Pattern, page 32. Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick 2555: Double Breasted Wrap Dress

Butterick pattern 2555, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2555, May 1929.

Butterick 2603:  Tennis Dress with Polka Dot Trim

Butterick pattern 2603, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2603, May 1929. This is a tennis dress. “An amusing version of the sleeveless white tennis frock has a polka dot collar and a knot of polka dots on the pocket.” All the pleats are in the front of the skirt, a common practice in the 1920’s.

Butterick 2616: Demure in front, low in back

Butterick pattern 2616, for jacket and dress. May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2616, for jacket and dress. May 1929. The back view is a surprise — except that tennis dresses were often low backed. The deep V-neck in back “may be of different lengths.” The skirt has pleats in front and back. Available in sizes up to 44 inch bust.

More “Sunburn Fashions”

This chiffon resort dress is from Hattie Carnegie; although definitely a spectator dress (with matching jacket and scarf) it has a back like the tennis fashions that follow.

Sunback dress from Hattie Carnegie, 1929.

Sun-back dress from Hattie Carnegie, 1929. “The intense flower tints which look so well against a bronzed complexion appear in this Hattie Carnegie chiffon afternoon resort frock with an unconventional neckline and three-color jabot.”

 

Butterick patterns 2551, 2531, 2365; May 1929.

Butterick patterns 2551, 2531, 2365; May 1929.

Butterick 2551:  The Evening Back

Butterick 2551, May 1929.

Butterick 2551, May 1929. “This frock, a sunburn fashion, is cut with a sun back — the strap across the shoulders holding it in place.” That would allow you to play tennis in it; the skirt is pleated in front. It looks very different in two colors.

Butterick 2531: The Sun Frock

Butterick 2531, May 1929.

Butterick 2531, May 1929. “The woman of fashion exposes arms, legs and back to the healthful rays of the sun.” Pleated skirt, front and back.

The front and back of this dress echo each other, but I don’t think I would have guessed at the low back from an illustration of the front!

Butterick 2635:  Sleeveless Tennis Frock

Butterick 2635, May 1929.

Butterick 2635, May 1929. “A sleeveless tennis frock that may be cut with a sun-back.” The pointed trim line in the front is not echoed in back.

In the back view, she is wearing tennis shoes and socks, but will the high front neckline keep the dress on when she bends over to pick up a ball?

Pattern by Pattern, Delineator, page 33

Buttrick 2625, 2633, 2367, from May 1929,

Butterick 2625, 2633, 2367, from May 1929.

Butterick 2625: White with an accent of color, polka dots

Butterick 2625, May 1929.

Butterick 2625, May 1929. “White with an accent of color is very smart.” A spectator dress, more elaborate than the polka-dot trimmed tennis dress pictured earlier (No. 2603.)

Butterick 2633: Checked fabric, kimono sleeves, lingerie collar

Butterick 2633, May 1929.

Butterick 2633, May 1929. “The checked frock is one of the first sport fashions.” The same page featured other dresses with “lingerie collars.”

Butterick 2637:  Tucked waistline, pleats at the sides

Butterick 2637, May 1929.

Butterick 2637, May 1929. A spectator sport dress, apparently with two different back views.

Butterick 2621:  Kimono sleeves and a monogram

Butterick 2621, May 1929.

Butterick 2621, May 1929. A Patou-like monogram, but not a word about playing tennis, in spite of her practical shoes.

On the same page….

Delineator, May 1929, page 33. Detail from top of page.

Delineator, May 1929, page 33. Detail from top of page.

Butterick 2605: Color contrast in a 4-H dress

Butterick 2605, May 1929.

Butterick 2605, May 1929. “Contrast in color is the season’s most predominant note. . . . This two-piece frock can be used for a 4 H club uniform. Designed for . . . 15 to 20 years.”

Those 4-H club girls must have been fairly accomplished dressmakers. As illustrated, the soft fabric looks like silk, but the 4-H girls would probably have used cotton.

Butterick 2589:  Lingerie touches

Butterick 2589, May 1929.

Butterick 2589, May 1929.  The “lingerie touches” (delicate fabric ruffles) are attributed to Patou and to London Trades (a 1920’s designer name.) Available in bust sizes 32″ to 44″

Finally, also from 1929, the tennis dress I showed at the very top of this post, Butterick 2549 :

Butterick 2545, June, 1929.

Butterick 2549, June, 1929. “An evening-back tennis frock with a detachable panel that may be buttoned up to cover the low decolletage if you do not want to tan.”

1929 june p 33 tennis 2549 etc dress skirt text btm

The same criss-cross back straps are a detail in these dresses for younger girls:

Butterick 2684, for little girls, and 2686, for older girls. June 1929.

Butterick 2684, for little girls, and 2686, for older girls. Delineator, June 1929.

2684 2686

Butterick No. 3544, from 1965, left.

Butterick No. 3544, from 1965, left. Can we call it a classic?

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1960s-1970s, Children's Vintage styles, Shoes, Sportswear, Vintage patterns, Women in Trousers

Three Outfits from Hattie Carnegie, 1928, Plus a Few Words from Elizabeth Hawes

I’m reading Elizabeth Hawes’ book Fashion Is Spinach, (1938) and I’ve reached the chapters in which she describes her months as a copy sketcher in Paris in the 1920’s. That is, it was her job to attend couture showings, posing as an assistant buyer for a department store (Weinstock’s); take careful mental notes (and whatever she could get away with writing on her program;) then rush home to draw the dresses she saw, in order for stores or manufacturers to make unauthorized copies of designer clothing.

However, some stores actually purchased the couture they intended to copy.  According to Hawes, [p. 55] both Bergdorf Goodman and Hattie Carnegie bought fifty to seventy-five models each season for the purpose of making copies — the couturiers understood this. Not many clients bought that many items.

This suit by Patou could be ordered, made to order, at Hattie Carnegie in New York. Delineator, Dec. 1926.

This suit by Paquin could be made to order at Hattie Carnegie in New York. Delineator, Dec. 1926.

This very high quality copy of an ensemble by Paquin could be purchased (made to order) at Hattie Carnegie.

These elegant ensembles are also from Hattie Carnegie, but the magazine did not credit any designers. Hattie Carnegie was also a high-end department store.

The Mode, July 1928:  Three outfits from Hattie Carnegie. Delineator magazine.

“The Mode” July 1928: Three outfits from Hattie Carnegie. Delineator magazine.

It was common practice for buyers from upscale stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Hattie Carnegie to attend the Paris collections, purchase couture models, and then duplicate them in the United States, using the same — or equally high-quality — materials for their made-to-order clients. These copies cost about the same as the originals — but saved the client a trip to Paris for fittings.  I showed this photo of a Hattie Carnegie dress in an earlier post..

Hattie Carnegie dress with large-scale print and scalloped hem, much longer in back than in front. Delineator, July 1928.

Hattie Carnegie dress with large-scale print and scalloped hem, much longer in back than in front. Delineator, July 1928.

There are many Hattie Carnegie costumes and accessories in the Metropolitan Museum Collection. To see a Vionnet evening gown from Hattie Carnegie — it has a Hattie Carnegie label — click here. For the Met’s collection of more than one hundred Hattie Carnegie items, click here.

Three from Hattie Carnegie, 1928

Details of three outfits from Hattie Carnegie, July 1928.

Details of three outfits from Hattie Carnegie, July 1928.

Left, “The country tweeds of the chic woman are distinguished from the tweeds she wears in town by informal accessories. A scarf in autumn leaf colors is tied around the shoulders of this collarless beige coat, belted at an almost normal waistline. Beneath it a plaited brown skirt is worn with a tuck-in blouse.”

Center:  “The printed silk suit has an unassailable chic. Here it is in the shadowy colors of damp violets, worn with a small straw hat in the darkest shade. Suit and hat from Hattie Carnegie.”

Right:  “The chic of printed chiffon, the brown and beige colorings, plaited tiers and jabot, and the feminine quality of the short circular cape distinguish this important frock. The cape is separate and makes with the frock a complete costume that may be worn for tea in town or in the country.”

The hat of coils of very pliable straw fits the headas closely as a transformation." July 1928. Delineator.

“The hat of coils of very pliable straw fits the head as closely as a transformation.” July 1928. Delineator.

This close-fitting hat is rather like one that Fascination Street showed here. Its straw would have been shiny. A “transformation” was a close-fitting wig. Silver transformations were popular in Paris in 1925, according to a Delineator article, “Slick ‘n’ Slicker,” from January 1925. (Click here.)

More About Copying Couture, Explained by Elizabeth Hawes

Manufacturers also bought actual couture garments, but it was more common to pirate sketches of them. Hawes sold her illicit drawings to department store buyers and manufacturers for $1.50 per sketch. (She could make the same sketch more than once and sell it to both buyers and manufacturers.)

“The situation among American buyers in Paris during the years I worked there [1925 – 1928] was very simple. As a buyer of expensive French models for American mass production, you  stole what you could and bought what you had to.Fashion is Spinach, by Elizabeth Hawes, paperback, pp. 52-53.

Hawes later worked for a “copy house” in Paris, which kept a supply of its own designs — usually sportswear — on view, in case of raids, but which also did a steady business in illicit copies of couture. Trusted clients of “Madame Dore” (as Hawes called her) had to navigate obscure stairways to a not-very-glamorous shop, where they could have fittings for made-to-order copies. The prices for these Paris copies were about half what they cost from Chanel or Patou, because Doret’s overhead and customer service were lower than the luxurious premises and deluxe treatment offered at Vionnet or Chanel. [ Hawes, p. 38.] Doret purchased her materials and trims from the same manufacturers who supplied them to the top-of-the line fashion houses. Hawes learned a lot about high-quality clothing at this copy house, because at “Madame Doret,”

“Our boast was that we never made a copy of any dress of which we hadn’t had the original actually in our hands.”

(Mme Doret didn’t usually buy the originals; they were “borrowed” for a few hours while on their way to being shipped to real buyers, or loaned to Mme Doret by clients who owned them  — in exchange for discounts on the copies of other couture made by Mme Doret.)

Hawes got her first real design job in May, 1928,  at the Paris establishment of a designer called Madame Nicole Groult. Serendipity struck this week, when I found one of Mme. Groult’s designs illustrated in the Delineator:

Design by Mme. Nicole Groult, illustrated in Delineator, Oct. 1924 (before Hawes joined her staff.)

Design by Mme. Nicole Groult, illustrated in Delineator, Oct. 1924 (before Elizabeth Hawes joined her design staff.)

“A distinctly Franco-American fashion with its sleeveless frock is made of brown wool braided with beige and worn with a blouse of beige crepe de Chine. A typical Groult flower is embroidered on the front in rose and green cotton. From Nicole Groult.”

Embroidered flower on sleeveless dress by Nicole Groult; Delineator sketch, Oct. 1923.

Embroidered flower on sleeveless dress by Nicole Groult; Delineator sketch, Oct. 1923.

The Met has a charming embroidered cloche hat with a Nicole Groult label; click here.

More About Elizabeth Hawes’ American Couture

At the recent exhibit of High Style from the Brooklyn Museum Collection, this dress by Elizabeth Hawes really impressed me:

The "Tarts" dress by American designer Elizabeth Hawes, 1937. Photos courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

The “Tarts” dress by American designer Elizabeth Hawes, 1937. Photos courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

In spite of her joking title (the arrows point to the breasts and the buttocks), this dress would really flatter a normal woman’s figure, and its red and purple geometrical color blocks remind me of some Yves Saint Laurent dresses from 1966-67.  Although it looks black, it is actually a very dark green. The museum docent told us that Hawes’ Tarts dress cost $375 in 1937. It was made in America, but it was custom couture.

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The Metropolitan Museum has a large collection of made-to-order Designer clothing by Elizabeth Hawes. Click here to see over sixty examples of her work. Her book, Fashion Is Spinach, has been reprinted by HardPress Publishing and is available in paperback, or as an E-Book from various sources.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Dresses, Exhibitions & Museums, Hats, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing