Tag Archives: pantsuit

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!


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

Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond, by Jane Maas

Women in Advertising in the 1960s — an Ad Woman’s storymad women cover small 
If you’re a fan of the Mad Men TV series, you will be amazed by Jane Maas’ insider account. If you’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men, you will probably find Mad Women fascinating, anyway. It’s also funny, gossipy, and well-researched, not completely dependent on Maas’ personal memories of being one of the first female advertising executives in the sixties. It’s full of mind-boggling facts; I found it very difficult to put down.

If you are too young to remember a time when ‘sexism’ was a revolutionary new concept, when the terms ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘glass ceiling’ didn’t exist, you should read this book. If, like me, you were a working woman in the 60s, you’ll find it triggers a lot of memories of ad campaigns (Does She or Doesn’t She?), social customs (‘We never drank in the morning’ ) [my italics] and 1960s fashions. (Maas is a great witness to fashion!)

How to Tell the Executives from the Secretaries

Maas mentions many details Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant gets right, plus some that must have seemed too silly to put on television. ‘As soon as you were promoted from secretary to junior copy writer, you wore a hat in the office….  I never took my hat off, not even in the bathroom,’ said one woman who worked at the J. Walter Thompson Agency. A woman from Ogilvy and Mather explained, “Wearing a hat in the office was a badge. It proclaimed you were no longer a secretary.” (p. 115)

Office Attire in the 1960s

Not Allowed: A Culotte Skirt

Not Allowed: A Culotte Skirt

Maas’ description of the formality (and discomfort) of office attire in the 1960s matches my memories. I worked for a bank in 1968-1970. Women were not allowed to wear trousers — not even a pantsuit with matching jacket. The first woman to become a project manager at Clairol told Maas that, when she wore a long-sleeved, knee-length, gray flannel culotte outfit to work, “They told me it was ‘inappropriate.”‘ In 1965, Maas, a New Yorker, was refused admittance to a restaurant because she was wearing a pantsuit.A Different Kind of Office

The entire 60s office environment Maas describes is so different from our own that it’s hard to imagine how so much work got done: “Think about what we didn’t have. Computers, for openers. The Internet. Cell phones. Faxes, almost obsolete today, hadn’t yet arrived. Neither had Federal Express…. Secretaries still needed carbon paper to make copies…. Xerox machines were just coming in….” Even television was so new that some ad agencies didn’t have any interest in television advertising. Peter Hochstein recalls that “the average set had a ten inch screen…!”

Jane Maas – from Copy Writer to Executive

Maas began as a copy writer at Ogilvy and Mather in 1964. At the time, the idea of having a woman handle accounts aimed at women was still revolutionary. “Women weren’t even taken seriously as consumers.” (p. 55) Eventually she handled accounts for Lever Brothers and General Foods. (At initial client meetings, she was occasionally mistaken for a secretary.)  By 1976 she was running her own agency. She co-authored the textbook How to Advertise. As an ad executive at Wells Richardson, she headed the I (Heart) New York campaign. She was also a working mother and happy wife at a time when marriage and motherhood were real barriers to a career. Luckily for us readers, her lively mind and sense of humor remain intact.


Filed under 1950s-1960s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Women in Trousers