Tag Archives: short skirts 1920s

The Big Hem Drop: 1929 to 1930

Only one year separates these Butterick patterns from Delineator magazine. This is rapid fashion change.

The change in fashion that took place between Fall of 1929 and Spring, 1930 — just a few months — fascinates me. The fact that a completely different fashion silhouette was adopted during a time of economic crisis  — when pennies were being pinched — makes it even more astonishing.

Just to get our eyes adjusted and refresh our memories of 1929 before the change, here are several images of couture and of mainstream Butterick sewing pattern illustrations from July 1929.

French couture sportswear, illustrated by Leslie Saalburg in Delineator, July 1929. Short and un-fussy.

These fashions are unmistakably late 1920s. Note the hem length, which just covers the knees. There is a crisp, geometric quality about many of these outfits.

Couture sportswear illustrated by Leslie Saalburg for Delineator, July 1929.

Patterns for home use:

Spectator sportswear; Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator, July 1929. The dress at left is soft and flared, a hint of things to come. The dress at right is crisply geometric. Both are short.

1920’s day dresses, Butterick patterns 2697 and 2707. Delineator, July 1929. Mostly straight lines.

Butterick patterns for sportswear, Delineator, July 1929. Simple, pleated, short.

Whether we look at French couture or home sewing patterns, the silhouette and the length are  definitely “Twenties.”

In the 1929 Fall collections, couturier Jean Patou showed longer skirts — well below the knee — and took credit for changing fashion from the characteristic Twenties’ silhouette to the longer, softer, Thirties’ look. (A few other couturiers also showed longer dresses, but he took the credit for being first.)

French couture fashions sketched for Delineator, November 1929. The large illustration at left is an ensemble by Patou — noticeably longer than the other designers’ hems.

“Paris revolutionizes winter styles.” Compare the hem on the dress by Patou, second from left, with those from Molyneux (left, very “Twenties”) Cheruit (third from left,) and Nowitzky (also “Twenties” in spirit, far right.)

Below is the Fall 1929 version of Chanel’s famous black dress. (In the original, from 1926, hems had not reached their shortest length.)

This variation on Chanel’s famous little black dress — with a slightly different placement of tucks –falls just below the knees in 1929, the season when Patou was pioneering longer dresses.

By Fall of 1929, Chanel’s “little black dress” (a sensation in 1926) is just below the knee. It also has a natural waist.

You may have noticed that waistlines are rising as hems are falling; that’s a topic deserving an entire post, but….

Delineator, October 1929, p. 25. “Higher Waists, Longer Skirts.”

The flared dress at left has a softer, less geometric look, and shirring near the natural waist instead of a horizontal hip line. Delineator, October 1929. This dress seems to be “in the stores” rather than a Butterick pattern.

Between July couture showings and October, 1929: That is how fast commercial manufacturers picked up on the new trend for longer skirts and natural waistlines.

Butterick patterns in Delineator, October 1929.

Delineator (i.e.,Butterick Publishing Co.) had offices in Paris where the latest couture collections were sketched (and copied.) In this case, longer skirts appeared on patterns for sale very quickly. (The process of issuing a pattern took several weeks, and the magazine had a lead time of a month or so, as well.)

When these patterns appeared in April, 1930, nothing was said about their length. Old news!

Dresses for women, up to size 48. Butterick patterns from Delineator, April 1930, p. 31. From left, “tiny sleevelet,” “flared sleeves,” “white neckline,” and “short kimono sleeves.”

By April 1930, what was notable about these dresses, to the editors of Delineator, was the variety of their sleeves!

Back views of Butterick 3143, 3179, 3173, and 3180. Delineator, April 1930, p. 31.

Longer styles had been in the news for several months.

Butterick patterns from Delineator magazine, January 1930.

Butterick patterns from Delineator, February 1930. Hems have fallen. Waists are in transition.

The most interesting article I found about this change from “Twenties” to “Thirties” was in Good Housekeeping magazine, November 1929, pp. 66 and following.

In “Smart Essentials of the Winter Clothes,” fashion editor Helen Koues wrote:

“They differ from any we have had since the war…. To be sure, last season Patou and a few houses tentatively raised the waistline, and we talked about it and made predictions. But now the normal or above normal waistline is here, and anything remotely resembling a low waist is gone. We have had it a long time, that low waist and short skirt, and it is only fitting and logical that it should make way for some sort of revival. [“Directoire, Victorian, Princess….”] We have worn high waists and long skirts before — both higher and longer. But coming with a greater degree of suddenness than any change of line has come for some years, it is an inconvenient fashion.  What are we going to do with our old clothes? [My emphasis.]

“The new silhouette will be taken up just as fast as the average woman can afford to discard her old wardrobe…. The average woman will replace what she needs to replace with new lines, but she will take longer, because she will wear out at least some of her old clothes.  In three months, however, all over America the tightly fitted gown, the longer skirt, the high waist will have superseded the loose hiplines of another season. and the main reason for the speed of this change is that we are ready for it. We are bored with the old silhouette, for we have had it too long — so long, in fact, that… we were beginning to think that we would wear short skirts and low waists till we die…. The psychological moment has come….

“Skirt lengths are particularly interesting: for sports, three inches below the knee is the right length; for street clothes, four inches below, and for the formal afternoon gown about five inches above the anklebone. Evening, of course, right down to the ground… and probably with as much length in front as back…. These are the average lengths.

“Skirts are slimmer than ever, if that is possible, or at least the effect is slimmer, because with the added length the flare necessarily begins lower down. But the flare is still there in full force….”

Colors for Spring, 1930. Butterick patterns in Delineator, March 1930. Flares, softness, and a coat that is shorter than the dress.

Koues also noted that the new three-quarter coat, “that strikes the gown just above the knee” was in style, although she did not mention that this, at least, was a break for women who could afford a new dress but not a new winter coat. Koues recommended wearing longer knickers (underwear) in winter to make up for the shorter coat.

Short coats or long jackets, February 1930, Delineator.

Vogue, October 26, 1929 reminded readers “We told you so!”

If you have access to Vogue magazine archives you may enjoy a timeline of Vogue fashion predictions from October 26, 1929. It began, “We told you so! If you are one of the many women who are complaining that the new mode means a completely new wardrobe, that you were caught unawares, we take no responsibility. For two whole years, we have been reiterating and reiterating a warning of the change to come.”

Here are some highlights of Vogue‘s predictions:

JANUARY 1, 1928:  “The Waist-Line Rises as the Skirt Descends…”

JANUARY 13, 1928:  “Skirts ….. Will Be Longer” — “Waist-Lines Will Be Higher” — “Drapery and the Flare Will Be Much in Evidence.”

APRIL 13, 1929:  “What looked young last year looks old this season — all because longer, fuller skirts and higher waist-lines have been used so perfectly that they look right, smart, and becoming.”

JUNE 22, 1929: “The hemline is travelling and so is the waistline. One is going up, and the other is coming down.”

Vogue ended, “Need we say more? Surely, Vogue readers are well prepared.”

This is what designers in Paris were showing in Spring, 1930.

Paris Couture, sketched for Delineator, May 1930. Every one has a long skirt and a natural waist.

I began with several images of patterns and couture from July 1929. Here are some dresses from July 1930, showing how completely the Twenties’ look had been “superseded” by the Thirties — in one year.

The Twenties are over. The Thirties are here. Patterns from Delineator, July 1930.

Naturally, in 1929-1930 some women thought the new long skirts made them look “old” while some thought they looked “youthful;” but that is a story for another day!


Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Coats, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Panties knickers bloomers drawers step-ins, Sportswear, Underthings, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Fashions for Daytime, October 1928

“Clubwoman” in an ad for Quaker Oats cereal, October 1920.

You could make your own version of this coat with a Butterick pattern:

Butterick coat 2243 from Delineator, October 1928. Tweed with  a lynx collar is “the smartest sport coat.”

To wear under it, Butterick offered a range of classic Twenties’ dresses:

Left, a two-piece dress with a bi-color hip band, Butterick 2267. Right, a more complex cut, with pleats falling from a diagonal zig-zag; Butterick 2279.

The collar of the dress on the right becomes a loose scarf — a detail often seen on late Twenties’ dresses.

As usual, these dresses are pleated in front but plain in back. The skirt length is appreciably shorter in this ad:

An ad for Diamond Dyes suggests that your high-school or college-age daughter can wear dyed dresses instead of new ones. Delineator, October 1928.

The school girl’s two-piece dress is inches above the knee and has a dynamic Art Moderne repeated V in front, plus a pleated skirt.

The high-school girl’s skirt exposes her knees completely. 1928. Her belt is two-toned.

I was about to comment that the dress does not look “long out of style,” but dresses for girls were always shorter than dresses for women, so perhaps she did wear it when she was 13 or 14.

Although the picture isn’t really clear, this dress for young women has a vertical zig-zag button placket closing. Butterick 2258. The pleats are cleverly inserted into a point at front and side fronts.

Butterick 2275 is a typical, simple Twenties’ style. The surprise is the neckline, which ties in front and in back. Once again, the skirt part of the dress only has pleats on the front. If you look closely, you can see a vertical line of buttons at the side of the top, just at the hip. This allowed a pull-on dress to be fastened tightly at the hip.

Butterick 2281 and 2245 are day dresses in the normal range of women’s sizes. It looks like pleats were chic in the  Fall of 1928; they go all the way around in dress 2245, right. Delineator, October 1928, p. 121.

Prints and plaids for daytime. The pleats at left are top stitched, but would not be if the fabric was printed velvet. The dress on the right (2245) is probably waistless.

The next dress could be made for size 52:

Butterick 2283: all the interest is in the front.  The pleats are top stitched for several inches. This dress was recommended for large sized women — up to 52 inch bust.

The cuffs echo the band with decorative button at the point. There are no figure flattering diagonal lines in back, however. The two dresses below are also for larger-than-average sizes. Can you figure out why?

Butterick 2227 (left) and 2249 (right.) October 1928.

A closer view of Butterick 2227 and 2249. This modern velvet comes reasonably  close to the printed fabric at left. a description of the dress at right is below.

The thing all three dresses for larger women they have in common is: Surplice (i.e., diagonal) lines.

This simple afternoon dress calls for printed velvet; here is one source. Printed silk rayon would work, too. Rayon is one of the first synthetic fabrics, often used in the Twenties.

A simple afternoon dress, October 1928. Butterick 2253.

October clothes for schoolgirls were very similar to adult clothing:

A coat for girls and a dress to go under it. October 1928. Butterick patterns in Delineator.

Butterick for schoolgirls ages 8 to 15, October 1928. Their knees are not covered at all.


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Filed under 1920s-1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Rapid Change in Twenties’ Fashions: 1924 to 1927

Dresses for women; Butterick’s Delineator magazine, March 1924, p 27.

When we speak of “the Twenties,” most of us are picturing the short skirts and dropped waists of the later 1920s:

Two Butterick pattterns for women, March 1927.

But during the immediate post-war Twenties, women’s clothing actually became longer, although less bulky and more revealing of the body under the clothes.

These dresses are from 1918, the year the war ended. One has a slightly dropped waist:

Dresses, skirts and blouses, Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, July 1918, page 52.

Dresses, skirts and blouses, Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine, July 1918, page 52.

And these — 6 years later — are from 1924:

Butterick patterns for women, Delineator magazine, March 1924, page 27.

A reaction to the trauma of the First World War created “the Lost Generation” as described by Fitzgerald (in The Great Gatsby, published in 1925) and Hemingway (in The Sun Also Rises, published in October 1926.) Both were writing in the post-war period from 1924 to 1926. Fashions from those years may not look like “the Roaring Twenties” as we often imagine them.

Left, a draped dress from March 1927 which looks very “Twenties” to a modern eye; right, a draped dress from March 1924 — just three years earlier. Both are Butterick patterns featured in Delineator.

Which changed first: the fashions, or the women?

Less formal clothing from 1927, left, and from 1924, right. Butterick patterns from Delineator. What a difference three years made!

More fashion contrasts from March 1924 and March 1927:

Butterick patterns for young women, March 1924. Delineator, page 29.

Clothes for young women and teens; Butterick patterns from March 1924. Delineator, page 29.

Clothes for young women and teens were usually a bit shorter than those for mature women, but not nearly as short as these adult styles from just three years later:

Buttterick patterns from Delineator, March 1927, page 22.

Butterick patterns for women, March 1927.

If you want more details about those eight dresses from 1927, click here.

These youthful outfits from 1924 look fussy and rather stodgy, compared to the streamlined styles of 1927.

Butterick patterns for teens and small women, March 1924. Delineator.

Three styles for teens, Butterick March 1927. [The illustration on the left is bizarrely elongated….]

For more about dresses that combined different shades of the same color, click here. For more examples of rapid change in 1920’s fashion, click here.

A coat (1318) and dress (1323) from Butterick patterns, March 1927. Delineator, page 25. They’re like shingled hairstyles: short and sleek.



Filed under 1920s, evening and afternoon clothes, Hats, Musings, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories, World War I

Letting Your Skirts Down, Putting Your Hair Up

A mother with her children, 1879. Notice the girls' hair and skirts. Cartoon from Punch.

A mother with her children, 1879. Notice the girls’ loose hair and mid-calf skirts. The girls are showing this much leg because they are still young enough to play with rolling hoops. Cartoon from Punch.

Lynn Mally, of American Age Fashion, recently commented on skirt length as a signifier of age for young women, as seen in this 1930s pattern illustration.

Back-to-School Clothes for ages 14 to 20, left, and 8 to 15, center and coat, top right. Delineator, August 1931.

Back-to-School Clothes for ages 14 to 20, left, and 8 to 15, center and top right. The Delineator, August 1931.

There used to be rules for “proper young ladies.” The stages of wearing longer skirts, and putting your hair up, were important milestones for girls — and the men who might be attracted to them.  For many decades before the 1920s,  short skirts had been reserved for girls too young to marry. Then, in the twenties, women shockingly kept wearing short skirts after the age of 16. (For a previous post with illustrations on this topic, click here.)

The persistence of fashion: Older people cling to the fashions of their youth.

The persistence of fashion: Older people often cling to the fashions  — and hem lengths — of their younger days. The youngest woman (left) wears the shortest skirt in 1921.

September, 1925. The oder woman shows persistence of fashion; the younger woman -- being mistaken for a man -- has shockingly 'shingled' hair. From The Way to Wear'em.

September, 1925. The older woman’s long skirt shows the persistence of pre-war fashion; the younger woman — here being mistaken for a man — has shockingly ‘shingled’ hair. From The Way to Wear’em.

Part of the shock of bobbed hair and 1920s fashions was that adult women were showing their legs to men who had grown up in the previous century, when showing the legs was considered indecent. The father of a 1920s’ flapper would certainly have been an adult in the era when married women still wore floor-length fashions, and pinned their long hair up off the neck. It’s not surprising that those men were upset when their wives and daughters bared their legs and cut off their long hair.

A male toddler, a girl 10 to 12, and two adult women, 1870.

A male toddler (r) , a girl 10 to 12 (s), and two adult women, 1870. The twelve-year- old girl still wears her hair down, and shows her legs and ankles.

Generally speaking, throughout the 1800s, when a girl reached marriageable age — known as “being out” in society — her availability was signaled by her putting her hair up (as opposed to letting it hang down her back) and wearing skirts that completely covered her ankles, and, in some periods, her feet.

Mother and children, 1884. The girl "6 to 8" has hair cascading freely down her back.

Mother and children, 1884.  Mama’s hair is worn up. The girl aged 6 to 8 has hair cascading down her back. Her skirt barely covers her knees.

I’m currently re-reading Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (published in 1814.) There is some discussion of whether the heroine — and other girls — are “in” or “out,” and the confusion that ensues when a girl appears to be older than she is. (In Pride and Prejudice, younger sisters Kitty and Lydia are “out” at a surprisingly early ages. Disaster ensues.)

A girl might come out by gradual stages, beginning by sitting at the dinner table with the adults in her family instead of eating in the nursery with younger siblings. Another step was dining with the adults when guests were present (she was not expected to volunteer conversation,) and later, of being included in dinner invitations to other houses.  She would not attend balls until she was completely “out;” at that point, she was officially on the marriage market.

Children, 1868: (a) at left, is a girl about 6, (g) standing right with folded parasol, is 12; (g) left, with the longest skirt, is 14 or under; (e) sitting, is 8. The older the girl, the longer the skirt.

Children, 1868: (a), at left, is a girl about 6, (g), standing right with folded parasol, is 12; (b), left, with the longest skirt, is 14 or under; (e), sitting, is 8. The older the girl, the longer the skirt. There’s an appreciable skirt length difference between ages 12 and 14.

The closer she was to being out, the longer her skirts became. When a girl’s skirts reached her instep, and her hair was put up instead of hanging loose, a young man might reasonably deduce that she was “out” or soon would be. These rules were generally followed through the Victorian era, but were sometimes subject to changes in fashion:  in the late 1860s and early 1870s a grown woman might put up her hair but allow some hair to hang down her back; her skirt might also be short enough to show her shoes.)

1869 caricature of a lady wearing the popular "Dolly Varden" style. From The Way to Wear'em.

1869 caricature of a lady wearing the popular “Dolly Varden” style. From The Way to Wear’em.

Other exceptions were sometimes made for sports clothing and for “the lower orders.” (Housemaids had to carry trays of food, pitchers of hot water, and heavy coal scuttles up and down stairs; they did not have hands free to daintily lift the front of a floor-length skirt out of their way.)

The servant is being reprimanded for wearing a hoop. Her skirt is shorter than that of her mistress, who is a lady of leisure. Dated 1863, from The Way to Wear'em.

The servant is being reprimanded for wearing a hoop. Her skirt is shorter than that of her mistress, who is a lady of leisure. Dated 1863, from The Way to Wear’em.

Shorter skirts were permissable for some sports: Left, mountaineering, 1891, and right, cycling, 1901. Both women have their hair up, so they are adults.

Shorter skirts were permissable for some sports: Left, mountaineering, 1891, and right, cycling, 1901. Both women have their hair up, signaling that they are adults.

The concept of “the persistence of fashion” explains why older people often cling to the clothing of their youth. We also have to make allowances for social class, economics, urban versus rural areas, and the likelihood that young people will adopt the newest fashions. The mother (at left) in this photo looks very well-groomed (the grandmother, right, does not!) And the youngest woman, center, has contradictory hair and skirt length:

Three women, probably around 1910. The woman in the middle has her hair up, but her skirt is much shorter than her mother's (left.) She might be dressed for a walk, she may be a teenager, not an adult, or she may be anticipating the shorter skirts of 1915.

Three small town women, pre-WW I. The young woman in the middle has her hair up, like an adult, but her skirt is much shorter than her mother’s (left.) She might be dressed for a walk; she may be a teenager, not an adult; or she may be a young adult anticipating the shorter skirts of 1915.

This cartoon from 1898 shows a teenaged boy (who does not speak French) unsure of how to address a pretty young woman on the beach at Ostend:

1898 cartoon from Punch. The young lady is clearly a Mademoiselle, because of her loose hair and ankle-length skirt.

1898 cartoon from Punch.

Master Tom (knowledge of French — nil):  “I say, do I call you Madam, or Madymoiselle?”

Mademoiselle:  “When one does not know, one says Madame, n’est ce pas, Monsieur?”

The joke depends on the reader’s understanding the dress code. In 1898, readers would know from the girl’s loose hair and ankle-length skirt that she is definitely unmarried:  a Mademoiselle.




Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Costumes for the 19th century, Hairstyles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear