Tag Archives: Ruth Turner Wilcox

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. [EDIT 2/5/19: The series is being continued.  Click here.]  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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Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Corsets, Costumes for the 16th century, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Menswear, Resources for Costumers

Underpinning the 1920s: Brassieres, Bandeaux, and Bust Flatteners

The women’s undergarment called a “brassière” has been around since 1905 in the U.S. (1) and before 1912 in England (2). However, the first brassieres didn’t look anything like the garment we know today. (Numbers) indicate sources listed at end of post. [Read about 1920s Girdles and Corsets here. Read about Early 1920s Fashions here.]

Boneless Brassieres from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917

Boneless Brassieres from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917

Warner Brothers Brassiere Ad, March 1925

Warner Brothers Brassiere Ad, March 1925, Delineator.

A very similar brassiere, made entirely of delicate machine lace, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Lace Bandeau Brassiere circa 1920, Fashion in Detail drawing by Eleri Lynn, Photographs by Richard Davis

Lace Bandeau Brassiere circa 1920, from Fashion in Detail. (4) Drawing by Leonie Davis, lace photograph by Richard Davis. It closes at the side back with hooks and eyes, so the help of a maid would be required to put it on.

An undergarment like this, worn very tightly, would compress the breasts. However, if I had found any of these brassieres in a box of vintage underwear, I might have classified them as camisoles, rather than brassieres.

The first uplift brassieres — with shoulder straps and a snug, elasticized band below the breasts, and, most importantly, two distinct cups for the breasts — were not mass-produced until the mid-to-late nineteen twenties.

Ideal Fashion Figure, Early 1920s

Couture dress by Lucien Lelong, 1925; Clara Bow, photographed by Dyar for Vanity Fair, 1928

Couture dress by Lucien Lelong, 1925; Clara Bow, photographed by Dyar for Vanity Fair, 1928

Movie star Clara Bow had an ideal figure for early 1920s fashions; she epitomized the garçonne, or “boy-girl” look.

Butterick Ad, Delineator, June 1925.

Butterick Ad, Delineator, June 1925.

Naturally, most of the women alive in the twenties did not look like boys at all.

Young woman and her mother, 1920s. Photo courtesy of rememberedsummers.

Young woman and her mother, 1920s. Photo courtesy of rememberedsummers.wordpress.com

And this is where the brassieres, bandeaux, and bust flatteners come in.

Bust-flattening Bandeaux and Brassieres, 1920s

Ads for De Bevoise Bandeaux, May & April 1925. Both are made of stiff corset material; the one on the right is boned and designed to flatten a more mature figure.

Ads for De Bevoise Bandeaux, May & April 1925. Both are made of stiff corset material; the one on the right is boned and designed to flatten a more mature figure.

The terms brassiere and bandeau were not used consistently, but in general a 1920s “bandeau” was a band that went around the chest, supported by two ribbon straps.

Bandeaux, 1928. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum.

Bandeaux, 1928. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum.

A “brassiere” was less skimpy and usually reached to the waist; both brassieres and bandeaux had one or more tabs that could be used to attach them to the girdle or a waist-high corset, which in turn had suspended garter hooks which attached to the stockings.

Old-fashioned brassieres from a 1928 Sears catalog would have appealed to older women.

These old-fashioned brassieres from a 1928 Sears catalog would have appealed to older women.

You can see that, although the brassieres above resemble the brassieres from 1917 pictured at the top of this post, there is a difference:  these 1920s brassieres have almost no curve. They are meant to flatten the bust.

Brassieres for "stout women" from a Sears catalog, 1928-29. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130.

Bust flattening brassieres for “stout women” from a Sears catalog, 1928-29. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130.

The brassiere on the left is “for stout women and nursing mothers” [Ouch!] only because it fastens up the front.

Reducing Brassieres

Women who were not content with compressing their breasts could try to reduce them:

The Bailey rubber reducing brassiere. Ad from Delineator, July 1918.

The Bailey Rubber reducing brassiere. Ad from Delineator, July 1918.

The Madame X Reducing Brassiere, November 1924. It was also made of rubber, to encourage water loss.

The Madame X Reducing Brassiere, November 1924.

Madame X corsets, girdles, and brassieres were also made of rubber, and usually worn over an absorbent undergarment. The purpose of the rubber was to “sweat off” the fat.

Brassieres That Hold Your Stockings Up (and Push Your Breasts Down)

Brassieres from 1928-29. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

Brassieres from 1928-29. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.  The brassiere on the left is unboned and “comfortable for sports or dancing.” The one on the right “can be worn without a corset.”

Even in the twenties, some objected to bust-flatteners on the grounds that they would damage breast tissue. These garter-and-brassiere combinations, with the stockings exerting a constant downward pull, must have forced all but the smallest breasts to crease at the bottom. In addition to breaking down the breast tissue,  imagine how perspiration forming in those creases would have caused rashes and general misery in warm weather.

Bandeaux and the Boyshform Binder

These 1928 bandeaux have elastic backs, and either a back or side closing. Notice that they have some easing along the side seam, but they still have the “uni-bosom” or “mono-bosom” look of the previous century, as if a woman had one, large, oblong breast running across her chest. These bandeaux were intended to make even that slight curve disappear.

Bandeaux. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

Bandeaux, 1928. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

I have not yet come across a picture of the Boyshform binder. The Boyshform company was formed about 1918 and “claimed optimistically that its utterly flat bandeaux would hold the bust in position without ‘pressure or pinching.’ ” (1)  Another bust flattener with a punning name was the Kabo Corset Company’s “Flatter-U.” The bust reducer illustrated below has a back made from corset material and a front made from several overlapping bands of elastic stitched together:

"Elastic Front Brassiere Bust Reducer gives the bust firm lines. Corset material back...." 1928. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

“Elastic Front Brassiere Bust Reducer gives the figure firm lines. Corset material back….” 1928. Pictured in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

The authors of Uplift: The Bra in America suggest that the Maiden Form company trademarked that name in 1924 to distinguish the purpose of its new, non-flattening bras from the Boyshform flatteners.

Corselets, Corsolettes, Corselettes, Corsettes and Other Combination Undergarments

The discomfort of brassieres that had to be buttoned with a tab to corsets or girdles — and probably often produced a bulge at the waist where the gap occurred — led to the widespread adoption of a combination garment that was called (with several spelling variations) the corselette.

1924 Brassiere Corset combination, 1924 Long Brassiere 1925 Treo Brassiere Girdle Combination Garment Ad. All from Delineator magazines.

1924 Brassiere Corset combination, 1924 Long Brassiere; 1925 Treo Brassiere Girdle Combination Garment Ad. All from Delineator magazines.

Treo undergarments, here pictured from an ad in Delineator magazine, were sold in stores and also carried as a brand name in the Sears, Roebuck catalog, so they reached a wide spectrum of customers. (1)

1925 Bien Jolie Step-In Corsette Ad, Delineator.

1925 Ad for Bien Jolie Step-In Corsette; “which comfortably flattens the lines of the body.” Delineator.

Corselette pattern from Butterick, 1925. Delineator magazine.

Butterick Corselette pattern, 1925. Delineator magazine.

Women could also make their own simple — and flattening — brassieres, bandeaux, and corselettes from sewing patterns until true uplift bras, which “lifted and separated,” became available in the mid-1920s, and were too complex for the home stitcher. Simple bandeaux which had cups, but did not give support, were still featured in pattern catalogs.

The End of the Boyish Form

Breast flatteners and binders continued to be sold throughout the 1920s, but the return to a more natural, feminine figure in the second half of the twenties — accompanied by the invention of brassieres that had cups that fit and actually supported the breasts — gradually put an end to bust flatteners. The Boyshform company was in financial trouble by August of 1925 and went bankrupt in 1928. (1)

Sources especially useful for this post include (1) Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau; (2) Fashion in Underwear: From Babylon to Bikini Briefs, by Elizabeth Ewing; (3) Everyday Fashions of the Twenties as Pictured in Sears and Other Catalogs, by Stella Blum; (4) Women’s and Children’s Fashions of 1917: The Complete Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, a Dover Book; (5) Fashion in Detail: Underwear, (V&A Museum), by Eleri Lynn, Photographs by Richard Davis, Drawings by Leonie Davis; (6) The Mode in Costume, by Ruth Turner Wilcox, (7) Fashion, by Mila Contini; (8) History of Twentieth Century Fashion, by Elizabeth Ewing, (9) 20,000 Years of Fashion, by Francois Boucher, and issues of Delineator magazine from 1924 to 1929.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1920s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets & Corselettes, Hosiery & Stockings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes