Tag Archives: JoAnne Olian

A Woman’s Clothing Budget for 1924 versus 1936

It’s always hard to look at a vintage ad or catalog, see a pair of shoes for $6.50, and figure out whether they were expensive or affordable or really cheap at the time. A while ago, I found several articles about living on $18 per week in the 1930’s. Click here to read more about them. I’ll be citing some of the same charts here.

Gowns from B. Altman catalog, 1924-25. Prices, left to right, $55, $78, $65

Gowns from B. Altman catalog, 1924-25. Prices, left to right, $55, $78, $65.

I’ve been looking through JoAnne Olian’s book on the B. Altman catalogs from the 1920’s. I was surprised by how high Altman’s clothing prices seemed, especially early in the decade. Then I remembered that I have some articles about clothing budgets in the 1920’s, which might give me a better idea of nineteen twenties’ clothing prices.

I decided to compare the nineteen twenties’ and thirties’ budget advice, and see if I could follow it by “shopping” at Sears.

I was struck by one similarity:  In both 1924 and 1936, a college educated office worker — female — could expect to be paid “$18 per week.” So she probably wouldn’t be shopping from the B. Altman catalog; nevertheless, trying to look nicely dressed for work was a real concern.

This woman earned $18 per week in 1924:

Budget for living on $18 per week. Delineator, Aug. 1924, p. 21.

Earning $18 per week in 1924. Delineator, Aug. 1924, p. 21.

“…It is necessary that I at all times look well. My wages are figured at the rate of forty cents an hour, which usually averages up to eighteen dollars a week.”

This woman earned $18 per week in 1937:

 Earning $18 a week in 1937. Woman's Home Companion ad, Sept. 1937.

Earning $18 a week in 1937. Woman’s Home Companion ad, Sept. 1937.

“… For several years I could not expect to earn more than $18 a week, even though … I was a bit above the average beginner. Therefore my small salary would just about pay my board and keep me in lunches and carfare with nothing left. I needed new clothes [for] the office … because my dress was so shabby.”

Woman’s Clothing Budget in the 1930’s

In 1936, this article asked “Can a college girl dress on a dollar and a half a week?”

"What Can A Girl Live On?" Woman's Home Companion, Oct. 1936

“What Can A Girl Live On?” Woman’s Home Companion, Oct. 1936. Total clothing budget for the year:  $76.55, about one month’s salary.

It concluded that . . .

Budget for living on $20 per week. From Woman's Home Companion, Oct. 1934.

Budget for living on $20 per week. From Woman’s Home Companion, Oct. 1936.

. . . A college graduate making $20 a week in 1936 could afford to spend just $78 a year — $1.50 per week — on clothes. “By being economical she can live decently and comfortably on seven hundred and fifty dollars.” (In theory, she would also be able to save over $100 per year, and/or take a vacation! Or so they said.)

Woman’s Clothing Budget in the 1920’s

The stenographer who wrote to Delineator magazine in August, 1924, asked how a woman with an office job could live — and dress well enough to satisfy her employers — on $18 a week.

That’s right:  The salary of a female office worker was exactly the same — $18 per week — in 1924 and 1936. But in 1924, The Delineator’s experts reached a somewhat different conclusion about her necessary expenditures on clothing.

Living on $18 in 1924. Delineator, Aug. 1924, p. 19.

How a woman can live on $18 a week in 1924. Delineator, Aug. 1924, p. 19.

In 1924, $3.00 per week was allowed for clothing purchases — twice as much as in 1936. But in 1924, she needed much less for food and lodging (50% of her income) than in the thirties (62.5%.)

Comparing a Working Girl’s Budget, 1924 and 1936

I’m not enthusiastic about the way Woman’s Home Companion rounded $18 per week up to “$80 per month or $960 per year,” so I’ve compared percentages of  income as stated, and lightened my derived figures on this chart.) I multiplied $18 by 52 weeks; WHC multiplied $20 x 4 x 12 months.)

Percent of income spent on Food, Lodging, and Clothes as budgeted in Woman's Home Companion (1936) and Delineator (1924).

Percent of income spent on Food, Lodging, and Clothes as budgeted in Woman’s Home Companion (1936) and Delineator (1924). Click to enlarge. It assumes living in a rented room, probably without a kitchen, and eating many meals out.

Perhaps, during the Depression, food cost more, leaving less money for clothing? Or had mass produced fashions become much more affordable?

Just for fun, I tried to find comparable items in the Sears Roebuck catalogs for 1924 and 1936, always choosing the cheapest similar items I could find to build a stenographer’s wardrobe.

Comparing a Working Girl’s Clothing Prices, 1924 and 1936

After browsing through Sears Roebuck Catalogs for 1924 and 1936, I’m struck by the decrease in some clothes prices. (In both cases, I looked for the very cheapest, not the mid-priced, garments.)

Skirts and Blouses

Wool skirts, Sears catalog, Fall 1924.

Wool skirts, Sears catalog, Fall 1924. The cheapest costs $3.48.

Wool blend skirts from Sears catalog, Fall, 1936.

Wool & wool blend skirts from Sears catalog, Fall, 1936. About $2.00 each. The cheapest costs $1.00.

Inexpensive blouses were easier to find in the thirties, too.

Inexpensive blouses from the Sears catalog, Fall, 1924.

Inexpensive blouses from the Sears catalog, Fall, 1924. Three of these cost less than a dollar each, but the most expensive is $3.48 — or more, in stout sizes.

Blouses from Sears catalog, Fall 1936.

Blouses from Sears catalog, Fall 1936. Six cost $1 each, and the others are less than $2. Could any woman make her own blouse for $1 (pattern 15 cents, thread, material @ 14 to 69 cents per yard, and buttons)? Maybe.

A typist could buy a skirt and blouse for less than $3.00 in the thirties, or about $4.50 in the twenties. But she’d have to settle for the cheapest clothes available from stores like Sears, not from upscale department stores.

Dresses suitable for the office:

The cheapest Sears dresses (excluding cotton housedresses) cost about $5.00 in 1924:

Wool dresses suitable for for the office, Sears catalog, Fall 1924.

Wool dresses suitable for for the office, Sears catalog, Fall 1924. These three were among the very cheapest in the catalog, with many more dresses in the $8 to $16 range. The average price of the 11 dresses described on this page is $7.39.

In 1936, most Sears business dresses were made of Celanese, rather than wool, so they are not strictly comparable.

Dresses from Sears catalog, Fall 1936.

Dresses from Sears catalog, Fall 1936. The $5 dress on the right can be transformed with different necklines.

Sears dresses for $3.98 in 1936. Fall 1936 catalog.

Sears dresses for $3.98 in 1936. Fall 1936 catalog. “Every one a $5.00 value.”

The cheapest nineteen thirties’ office dresses from Sears are about $4; and the variety in this lowest price range is much bigger than in the twenties. Office workers with only one or two dresses could make it seem like they had more by wearing different collars. (See One Good Dress in the 1930’s. ) Patterns for “change-about” dresses were also available. In 1936, the Woman’s Home Companion budget allowed a stenographer just four dresses per year, at $5 each.

Coats

You could find a winter coat for about $9 at Sears in the twenties or the thirties. Of course, a coat was expected to last at least two years.

Inexpensive coats from Sears catalog, Fall 1924.

Inexpensive coats from Sears catalog, Fall 1924. Pure Wool cost more than ” wool velour” or duvetyn.

Better Sears coats cost two to four times as much as these. In 1924-25, a fur-trimmed wool coat from the B. Altman catalog cost $110 to $115:

The coat on the left cost $110, the one on the right $115. B. Altman catalog, 1924 1925.

The coat on the left cost $110, the one on the right $115. B. Altman catalog, 1924 1925.

Better quality fur-trimmed coats from Sears could cost $49 in 1924. And our “stenographer” had only $156 to spend on an entire, year-round wardrobe — coats, shoes, dresses, hats, stockings at about $1 per pair (a big ongoing expense), underwear, etc.

"Economy" coats from Sears Catalog, Fall 1936.

“Economy” coats from Sears Catalog, Fall 1936.

In 1936, The Woman’s Home Companion budgeted $12.50 for a winter coat, every other year. These coats from Sears are a real bargain — assuming that they actually kept you warm and dry.

Shoes:

Inexpensive shoes from Sears cost much less in the 1930’s than in the 1920’s:

Sears shoes, Fall 1924. Stylish, but about $4 per pair.

Sears shoes, Fall 1924. Stylish, but most cost about $4 to $5 per pair.

Shoes from Sears, fall 1936. In all the current styles, and only $2 per pair.

Shoes from Sears, fall 1936. In up-to-date styles, and less than $2 per pair.

In 1936, The Woman’s Home Companion allowed a young woman four pairs of shoes per year — at $3 per pair.

Conclusion:  A careful shopper, fresh out of college and earning $18 per week, could definitely make her clothing budget go farther in 1936 than in 1924 — but she would not be buying $6.50 shoes, and no one with an eye for quality would consider her well-dressed.

Skirtsa dna bloused from the B. Altman catalog, 1925. THe ensemble on the left cost $18.50; the one in the middle was $24.25, and the one on the right cost $24.50.

Skirts and blouses from the B. Altman catalog, 1925. The ensemble on the left cost $18.50, a whole week’s salary; the one in the middle was $24.25, and the one on the right cost $24.50.

No wonder there was a boom in clothing patterns and home sewing in the 1920’s — largely because early twenties’ dress styles were easier to make than ever before. Isaac Singer is credited with the invention of the installment plan, but you’d have to make a lot of clothes to amortize the cost of a sewing machine….

Sears' Portable electric Franklin sewing machine, Spring 1925.

Sears’ portable electric Franklin sewing machine, Spring 1925.

Sewing Machine Prices, 1925 and 1936

In 1925, you could get a treadle sewing machine from Sears for $33, or a portable electric for $43. By 1936, you could get an electric portable or table model from Sears for less than $30 — but inexpensive machines with the new, round shuttle cost more — about $38. In either year, we’re talking about two weeks’ wages for a working woman.

CAUTION:  I did this study for fun, and tried to be accurate. But these samples are much too small for real scholarship. Since not all issues of Delineator and Woman’s Home Companion are widely available — or indexed — I wanted to let serious students of economics know that this material exists — and deserves a more thorough evaluation than I am capable of doing.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Sportswear, Uniforms and Work Clothes

Two Vintage Evening Wraps, 1920s

Three evening capes, 1922. From Olian's Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

Three evening capes, 1922. From Olian’s Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

Capes and wraps were often worn with evening dress in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s. Coats with dolman sleeves — or fur trimmed coats of various shapes — took over in the later twenties. Here, I want to share two vintage wraps — one is especially luxurious.

Back detail of gold evening wrap, early 1920s. Private collection.

Back detail of vintage gold evening wrap, early 1920s. Private collection.

High, crushed or textured collars were usually a feature.

Cape and dress pattern, Butterick No. 5072. Delineator, March 1924.

Cape and dress pattern, Butterick No. 5072. Delineator, March 1924. This dress is not an evening dress, and was included in the pattern.

Evening cape, Butterick 4919, Jan. 1924. Delineator.

Evening cape, Butterick 4919, Jan. 1924. Delineator.

Evening cape pattern, Butterick 4963. Delineator, Feb. 1924.

Evening cape pattern, Butterick 4963. Delineator, Feb. 1924.

Trousseau dress, Butterick 5291, and matching cape 3788. Delineator, June 1924.

Trousseau dress, Butterick 5291, and matching cape 3788. Delineator, June 1924.

One of the most difficult things about wearing these wraps was that most of them had to be held closed to stay on.

These are not hands-free fashions. Three capes, Butterick patterns 5116, 5559, and 4963.

These are not hands-free fashions. Three capes, Butterick patterns 5116, 5559, and 4963. All from 1924. Delineator magazine. Note the shoulder yoke at right.

Imagine trying to climb into a taxi while holding your clutch purse in one hand and keeping your cloak from falling off with the other!

This vintage garment carries the problem to an extreme; there are no fastenings and no slits for the arms.

Vintage evening wrap circa 1920's; It has a shaped shoulder yoke, but has to be held closed.

Vintage evening wrap circa 1920’s; it has a shaped shoulder yoke, but has to be held closed. (I used a silk pin for the purpose of this photo.)

It was very heavy, and may have been built on a base of wool. It cleverly gives the impression of fur by using cream lace over a thick, slightly darker (duvetyn?)fabric at top and bottom; in the middle is a rectangle of golden-tan velvet, gathered to fit. Perhaps it had a matching lace, or lace and velvet, gown.

Front and back views of lace and velvet wrap. At some point it was stored over a hanger, which left a nasty creased line in the velvet.

Front and back views of lace and velvet wrap. At some point it was stored over a hanger, which left a nasty creased line in the velvet.

Paris was showing equally hard-to-wear open capes for daytime in 1925:

Couture by Molyneux and Patou, Jan. 1925. Sketches in Delineator.

Couture by Molyneux and Patou, Jan. 1925. Sketches in Delineator.

A Gold Lamé, Gold Lace and Metallic Bullion Cape

I do not have a photo of the front of this spectacular gold lamé and gold lace, cape/wrap with gold tassels and bullion fringe. It was awesomely heavy, very dusty, in need of restoration, but originally of very fine quality. (No label.)

Gold evening wrap, circa early 1920s. Gold lace is layerd over gold lame, with some heavy fabric (wool coating?) sandwiched between the outside layers and a pale green lining.

Gold evening wrap, circa early 1920s. Gold lace is layered over gold lame, with some heavy fabric (wool coating?) sandwiched between the outside layers and a pale green lining.

It has slits for the arms, an interior pocket, and buttons at the neck and chest. You can get some idea of the front from these details:

Detail of center front closing; the spirals end in heavy metal tassels.

Detail of center front closing; the spirals end in heavy metal tassels.

Tassels made of bullion fringe, like that used on the shoulders of military uniforms. shoulders.

Tassels made of bullion fringe, like that used on the shoulders of military uniforms.

You can see the slit for the wearer’s hands, and a bit of the Nile green lining.

V101 bullion fringe 72

My hand gives you an idea of the size of these tassels:

V101 tassel bullion 72

This is the base of the collar in front. You can see that there are two covered buttons on the yoke, between the collar and the decorative fringe trim.

Base of collar and yoke, which is hidden by the collar in back.

Base of collar and yoke. There are two practical buttons.

The collar, the top third, and bottom third of the cape are covered with metallic gold lace in a floral pattern:

Upper back, covered with metallic gold lace.

Upper back, covered with metallic gold lace.

Detail: lower back of cloak

Detail: lower back of cloak

In this pocket detail, you can see that the entire coat is covered in metallic lace, so that the subtle shine is continuous.

Pocket in lace covered-cloak.

Pocket in lace covered-cloak.

Inside the gold cloak: Sateen lining and a pocket.

Inside the gold cloak: Sateen lining and a pocket.

V101 back 500

Luxurious capes were still being shown in Paris in 1925:

Green velvet and brocade cape, 1925, from Olian's Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

Green velvet and brocade cape, 1925, from Olian’s Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties.

But coats with sleeves, much easier to wear, were becoming  more popular.

Butterick "coat wrap" 5621. December 1924. Delineator.

Butterick “coat wrap” 5621. December 1924. Delineator.

Butterick pattern 1086 is a close copy of a coat by Lucien Lelong. Nov. 1926, Delineator.

Butterick pattern 1086 strongly resembles a 1926 coat by Lucien Lelong. Nov. 1926, Delineator. Back and Front views of the same coat.

1926 nov p 50 evening 1086 text

See the Lelong sketched here, with a matching fur-trimmed shawl.

“Tricks of the Trade” Tip:  If you make a cape the simplest way, by gathering fabric into a straight neckband, the weight of the cape will pull against your throat. Make your cape with a yoke, so that the weight of the fabric hangs from your shoulders, not your neck. This cape has a yoke; this one doesn’t.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Coats, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Le Smoking: Nothing New Under the Sun

Although Yves Saint Laurent is (rightly) credited with popularizing the tuxedo for women, called “Le Smoking” (click here for his 1966 version,) it was an idea that had been explored before, in other decades when women began to assume traditionally masculine roles.

"Le Smoking" for women, illustrated by Humberto in 1926. From Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties, ed. Joanne Olian.

“Le Smoking” for women, illustrated by Humberto in 1926. From Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties, ed. JoAnne Olian.

The singer Dora Stoeva, Delineator magazine, March 1924. Her jacket seems to have a satin lapel, worn over a vest with white piping, but no shirt.

The singer Dora Stoeva, Delineator magazine, March 1924. Her jacket seems to have a black velvet lapel and cuffs, worn over a vest with white piping, but no shirt.

The boutonniere and pocket hanky were usual in male evening dress. The first versions of le smoking may have appeared before the nineteen twenties. In fact, this Punch cartoon reprinted in The Way to Wear-em, by Christina Walkley, deserves more research:

Cartoon by Sambourne, 1880, from Walkley's book The Way to Wear'em.

Cartoon by Sambourne, 1880, from Walkley’s book The Way to Wear’em.

The caption purports to be a quotation from Journal des Modes, 1st April, and says:

” ‘Man or Woman?” — A toss up. ‘Dresses are still universally cut en coeur. A very dressy toilette, and one, much worn now, for the Evening, is of black Broche or cloth material cut en Habit d’Homme, with plain or kilted skirt, very tight; for fair ladies it is very becoming to omit a tucker, and have the black and white with no softening.”

Anyone with access to Journal des Modes, from about 1879 to 1880, might have fun looking for the page that inspired the cartoonist — and the original illustration, if any.

Meanwhile, here’s a closer look at those “smokings” for women from 1926:

Les Smokings de 1926.

Les Smokings de 1926.

From the left:

Black "grain de poudre" "smoking," silk revers, wide-ribbed gray ottoman waistcoat. 1926

Black “grain de poudre” “smoking,” silk revers, wide-ribbed gray ottoman waistcoat. 1926

She is also wearing a Victorian-looking ruffled tuxedo shirt with a simply tied black ribbon in place of a bow tie. The skirt appears to have a center front pleat.

Don’t be misled by the black and white illustrations; this “smoking” is not black, but ivory white.

"Ivory silk serge 'smoking,' gold lame waistcoat, gold gardenia."  1926

“Ivory silk serge ‘smoking,’ gold lame waistcoat, gold gardenia.” 1926

It also is worn with a pleated skirt. The “smoking” below is not black, either:

"Light gray rep 'smoking," satin shawl collar, white silk rep waistcoat." 1926

“Light gray rep ‘smoking,’ satin shawl collar, white silk rep waistcoat.” 1926

Under it, there’s a woman’s V-neck shawl collared blouse with French cuffs. She wears a monocle on a ribbon, rather than a necklace.

"Plum colored woolen 'smoking,' matching silk revers, cream silk waistcoat." 1926

“Plum colored woolen ‘smoking,’ matching silk revers, cream silk waistcoat.” 1926

A man’s tuxedo shirt would not have as many buttons as this pleated shirt has;  it has a slight standing collar instead of a wing collar, and has a silk ribbon tied once, rather than a bow tie. I especially like the strip of braid at the side of the skirt; men’s tuxedo trousers always had such braid at the side seams.

In the nineteen twenties and thirties, men’s formal evening dress and tuxedos were sometimes navy blue, instead of black. It was thought that navy looked better under the lighting at dances and dinner parties. [This is a problem for theatrical costumers drawing from real period stock; navy blue wool can turn surprising colors under stage lights, including brown, maroon, or cranberry red.]

The illustration by Humberto is taken from JoAnne Olian’s Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties, page 108, dated February 27, 1926. It’s available in paperback or as a Nook Book.

The woman’s tuxedo suit has longevity. This one, by Yves Saint Laurent, in the collection of the Metropolitan museum, dates to 1973-77.

Yves Saint Laurent "Smoking," 1973-77. Photo courtesy of Metropolitain Museum.

Yves Saint Laurent “Smoking,” 1973-77. Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

This one, from Donna Karan, appeared in 1998:

Vogue pattern 2165, Donna Karan, 1998.

Vogue pattern 2165, Donna Karan, 1998.

And these celebrities all wore tuxedo suits to the same event in 2011. (Click here.) Described at popsugar.

Marie Claire showed this (undated) version even more recently. Click Here.

Viva le smoking!

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Filed under 1920s, 1960s-1970s, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers

Musings, Jan 2015: on Corsets, Mini Skirts, Bloomers, etc.

I’ve been getting some wonderful comments on older posts, so I want to share some related pictures.

Twentieth Century Corsets for Girls:

Girl's corset, 1917. Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, Dover Books.

Girl’s corset, 1917. Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, Dover Books.

“10A19:  Girl’s flexible corset waist with light, flexible boning. Designed to hold the immature figure within trim lines without in any way binding it. . . . Sizes 18 to 30. [Misses’ corset waists should be ordered 2 inches less that your waist measurement over your dress — p.146.] A corset waist every girl should have. 79 cents.”

This girl’s corset was sold by Perry, Dame & Company, in their 1917 catalog.

Dinah found photos online of more corsets for girls — not from the turn of the century, but from a Sears catalog dated 1923! The image is in Google online, so the number of times it can be viewed is limited. Instead of using a link, I found it by doing a google search for the words “sears corset for girls 1923 Olian.” The image is from  JoAnne Olian’s Children’s Fashions 1900-1950.) [Caution: My McAfee Secure Search says do not click on the Sears Catalogs Online links — there may be security issues! ]

How to Sit in a Mini Skirt:

Nancy N remembered many of the disadvantages of wearing a miniskirt.

“I wore my hems somewhere between the mid knee and micro mini length — long enough so that when you sat down your underwear wasn’t sitting on the chair! Then I discovered how flattering the extra long midi was, so it DIDNT hit the fattest part of the calf. Short skirts were cute but such a challenge .. What to do climbing stairs in the mall? Sitting for long stretches with your knees together is tiring! And bending down to file papers all day is no fun. Thank god for the pantsuit!”

One discomfort was that you had to sit with your knees clamped firmly together. This photo of a group of Sea Scouts shows the [more modest end of ] the range of problems miniskirts caused:

Sea Scouts, post 601, 1968. Photo by Bill Owens, from Alison Lurie's book, The Language of Clothes.

Sea Scouts, California Post 601, 1968. Photo by Bill Owens, from Alison Lurie’s book, The Language of Clothes. Note that the girls are wearing an officially approved uniform — usually more conservative than teenagers’ ordinary dress.

In the 1960s, I thought of this as “the candidate’s wife” problem; when a woman in a short skirt sits on a raised platform, with her knees or ankles at the eye level of the audience, she has to sit very carefully. These young women seated at the far right are not yet ready for the campaign trail:

How not to sit in a miniskirt. Photo by Bill Owens, 1968.

How not to sit in a miniskirt. Photo by Bill Owens, 1968.

The girls in the center have crossed their legs at the knees, which is  also not wise if you’re sitting higher than the audience — unless you want them to see up your skirt to the hip:

Sitting like this hides your crotch but sometimes exposes your stocking tops.

Sitting like this would hide your crotch, but sometimes exposed your stocking tops, your garters, or worse, your thigh control panty girdle.

Sitting correctly: Knees together, ankles crosses.

Sitting correctly: Knees together, ankles crossed, skirt tucked under your thighs.

These girls have mastered the basics of sitting in public in a miniskirt. The more advanced miniskirt posture requires you to also sit at a slight angle, so your crossed ankles are not directly under your knees. Tucking your crossed feet under the chair tilts your knees and thighs downward, too.

Members of the Kennedy clan demonstrate graceful sitting here. Scroll down to the group pictures.

The Scandalous Can-Can

Dinah also made some interesting points in a different comment on Underpinning the Twenties — about how difficult it was for parents raised in the 1890s to accept the fashions of the 1920s, which were so radically different from their own corseted and restrictive youth. Also, she mentions that [like the young women above] Victorian women dancing the can-can had to cross their raised leg — because they were wearing crotchless bloomers. These are more formally called “open drawers;”

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing's Fashion in Underwear.

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear.

A pair of open drawers that belonged to Queen Victoria were sold at auction for over 6,000 pounds in 2014 (read the article in Victoriana  here ); this article in the Telegraph shows some of her underwear, now given “national designated status.” These garments date from the 1890s, when the queen had a very large circumference.

Women in Gym Bloomers Allowed in Golden Gate Park: 1915

College girls doing farm work in their gym bloomers and middy blouses, Oct. 1918. Delineator.

College girls doing farm work in their gym bloomers and middy blouses, Oct. 1918. Delineator.

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an article every Sunday called The Wayback Machine,  by Johnny Miller, who goes through “the archives of 25, 50, 75, and 100 years ago to bring us glimpses of the past.” On January 4, 2015, he found this article from January 8, 1915, heralding the end of the bloomer ban:

“As far as the Park Commissioner is concerned, ‘the bloomer girls’ will be allowed to play ball in Golden Gate Park, notwithstanding Mrs. Grundy to the contrary. For some time these young misses have been an attraction on the park diamonds where they could be depended upon to put on a stirring game. And then Mrs. Grundy appeared on the scene and the games ceased. But now they will resume for the park Commission sees no harm in young girls, attired in their gymnasium suits, disporting on the park greens.”

More college girls doing farm work in their gymnasium outfits, 1918.

More college girls doing farm work in their gymnasium outfits, 1918.

A less sexually provocative outfit would be hard to imagine. Perhaps the fact that the female baseball players’ stocking-clad legs were visible was the reason “Mrs. Grundy” objected to games in Golden Gate Park in 1915.

That brings us back to Dinah’s comments about the conflict between Victorian adults and their 20th century offspring:

“Another problem was that in the 1920s there was a break from the 19 century view that even adult children must do as their parents dictated. The fact that adult young girls were ignoring their mother’s advice about proper corsetry was in itself terrible. Do the sums – a 21 year old girl in 1925 would have been born in 1904, to say a mother aged 25; The mother would have been born in 1879. When the mother was a teenager in the 1890s the wasp waist was in full swing. She probably expected the same rigid and tight corset for her daughter?”

Thanks to all you wonderful readers who share your knowledge and keep these conversations going!

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Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1960s-1970s, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Costumes for the 19th century, Girdles, Hosiery & Stockings, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Uniforms and Work Clothes, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers

My Costumer’s Library: Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary and Secondary Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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