Tag Archives: vintage fashion

Boleros Through the 1930s (Boleros Part 4)

Butterick bolero pattern 7459, from July 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

When I went looking for 1930’s boleros, I found that I had many more images of them than I realized! (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) What started as one post turned into four — so far. And I am limited to the images I happen to have photographed from Delineator Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion and various store flyers from a few pattern companies.

To backtrack a bit, with the low waist of the 1920s, boleros might be quite long:

A “youthful” bolero from Butterick, Delineator, April 1929.

A Butterick bolero outfit from August 1929. Butterick 2749, from Delineator magazine.

As waists rose, boleros began to get shorter.

Bolero outfit from October, 1931. Butterick 4122. Illustrated in Delineator magazine.

The width of the bolero was thought to minimize the waist — recommended for women whose waists had expanded during the 1920s. I’ve shown many boleros from the early 1930s (click here or here.) This one, from 1936, is trimmed with pleated ruffles:

It’s similar to a store-bought outfit from 1937:

This bolero covers a sheer, lace bodice. WHC, March 1937.

As a way to stretch your wardrobe with very little money, boleros in different colors could be worn over most dresses. This set of inexpensive additions is Vogue pattern 7250, from Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1936.

Simplicity offered this bolero pattern,  (along with other accessories) in a store flyer, August 1939. Simplicity accessory pattern 3155.

This bolero covers a low-backed sundress; Companion-Butterick pattern 7296, WHC , April 1937.

The bows are part of the dress, not the jacket.

Companion-Butterick pattern No. 7296 shows a low-backed summer dress with matching bolero jacket. Woman's Home Companion, April 1937.

Butterick pattern 7303 from WHC, April 1937.

Companion-Butterick jacket dress pattern 7359; Woman’s Home Companion, May 1937.

This illustration of 7359 shows how many outfits you could get from one pattern in the price-conscious 1930s. [E.g., wearing the white jacket with the brown dress would change it from “fall” to summer….]

In that pattern, the bolero tied in a bow at the high waist. The traditional bolero jacket stopped inches above the waist:

Companion-Butterick pattern 7459 would make three different jackets — or the same jacket in several colors. July 1937.

Economy wardrobe: A jacket took less fabric than a dress, and jackets could be worn with several dresses, if you coordinated carefully.

“…Sure to give you a reputation for having lots of evening clothes….”

Elsa Schiaparelli was credited with popularizing the bolero in the 1930s. She was still using them in fabulous ways in 1940.

Butterick 7804 from a Butterick Fashion News flyer, April 1938. “The bolero (in printed silk) says Schiaparelli is top news….”

And “The beer jacket in denim is still headline material [!]”  Beer jacket? Apparently a “college craze” ( click here ) which, in this case, extended to women students.

You could make four different jackets from Butterick 7804 — including a “beer jacket” and the fitted, zipper-front jacket at bottom right. Zippers were already common in sportswear, but 1937-38 was the year they began to be featured in dressier clothing for women.

Butterick 7803, from a BFN flyer, April 1938. Boleros were definitely getting shorter.

Butterick 7788 has a very brief bolero. BFN flyer, April 1938. Triangular pockets are a couture touch.

A very high-style bolero, Butterick 8805 from August, 1938. Butterick Fashion News. Next to it is a variation of the tied bolero, here called a bloused jacket — the line between “bolero” and “jacket”becomes blurred.

You may have noticed that sleeve heads got puffier, and then shoulders got wider, as the Thirties progressed.

Three jackets from Butterick pattern 8367; BFN, May 1939. These jackets require shoulder pads.

Butterick bolero outfits 8391 and 8355, BFN, May 1939. These are not just for teens. [There is no “apron” explanation.]

Shoulders were getting wider as skirts got shorter:

In May, 1939, we probably can’t attribute the shorter skirts to wartime regulations.

Right, a wide-shouldered, rather matronly bolero outfit. Butterick 8472 from BFN flyer, July 1939.

This wide-shouldered, cropped jacket with frog closings is Simplicity 3203, from October 1939. Only its length says “bolero” to me. Those horizontal darts (or tucks) in the sleeve head exaggerate shoulder width even more. A very “late Thirties” detail.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Coats, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories

Boleros Part 3: Day and Evening, 1930s

A bolero jacket tops an evening gown, center, in this editorial illustration by Leslie Saalburg, Delineator, November 1931. The Nineteen Thirties’ bolero was often used with evening wear…. [But boleros continued to be a daytime option, too.] If not actually used as a separate jacket, a bolero might be suggested….

Left, Butterick 4093 from October 1931; right, a vintage dress circa 1929 -31 has the same bolero effect built into its bodice.

Butterick 4093: the width of the bolero enhances the slenderness of the waist and hips. This bolero “runs to a point at the back, is split and tied with a bow.”

A bolero built into the dress contrasts with the slender hips and belted waist. Butterick 3696 from Delineator, February 1931.

This pattern for a tied bolero reminded me of a vintage tied jacket (not a bolero) that I also love.

Right, a bolero for evening is tied at the waist. (Usually, but not always, daytime boleros were tied near their neckline.) Butterick 3460, Delineator, October 1930.

Although this vintage velvet jacket is hip-length, not a bolero, the tie at the waist has the same effect.

Vintage 1930s evening jacket with front-waist tie and dolman sleeves.

The sleeves taper from very full to tight at the lower arm.

This 1931 lamé evening jacket stops at the waist, like a bolero, and has curved fronts, like many boleros — but the word “bolero” is not used:

Another glamorous, but simple, waist-length evening jacket. Butterick 4076 from September 1931. Delineator.

The fad for huge, ruffled “Letty Lynton sleeves” can be seen in this bolero from 1933:

Bolero illustrated for a fashion column, Delineator, April 1933.

In 1936, boleros over evening gowns added versatility to the fashions, which could be worn with or without the jacket, creating two different looks.

A bolero with a long, twisted tie changes this evening gown from daringly bare (left) to chic but modest; the covered-up look was suitable for dinner and night-clubs. Vogue 7507, from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1936.

[It’s also a reminder that a gown which appears to be black and white in a movie might really be green, or some other intense color.]

A white gown could be “dressed down” for dinner by a colorful bolero jacket. LHJ, July 1936.

This gown in soft silk or chiffon with printed green organza [or some other fairly stiff fabric] has a low back, covered on a cruise ship by a hooded bolero. Convenient for moments when you step out onto the deck in the moonlight. LHJ, February 1936.

Another article on cruise wear also emphasized the bolero jacket — by packing several boleros, you only needed to pack one long evening gown.

Butterick 7407 shows a halter dress in sheer blue printed fabric — topped with a white bolero. Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937.

From a fashion editorial describing a Companion-Butterick cruise wardrobe. WHC, June 1937.

Below right: this sheer bolero over an evening gown appeared in Ladies Home Journal, July 1936:

Vogue 7403, 7369, and 7386. LHJ, July 1936. A corsage doesn’t have to be worn on the shoulder…. Click here for a closer view of the bolero.

Right, a dignified lace dress with matching bolero; Butterick 7998 from 1938. Butterick Fashion News flyer.

That lace gown is probably for mature women, since the size range is 34 to 52 inches (bust.) But evening gowns for teens also showed them with bolero tops.

A bolero tops a prom dress; WHC, May 1937.

A long dance dress for teens, with bolero jacket. Butterick 7354.

This reminds me that wedding dresses for church ceremonies — and prom dresses in conservative schools — could not reveal bare arms (at Roman Catholic weddings) or have strapless tops or “spaghetti straps” as late as the 1960s, so this jacket would satisfy the chaperones. A girl could take it off when she was alone with her date….

Butterick evening gowns, August 1938 pattern flyer.

Butterick 8004, left, and Butterick 7997, right, with removable bolero top. The bodice of 8004 (“molded to slim your waist”) has a sort of false bolero effect, being larger than the gown below it.

Buttterick 8004, 7997, and 8010. BFN, August 1938. No. 8004 was available in sizes for teens and for women up to 44″ bust. The two on the right are for Junior Misses, up to bust 38.”

Another bolero with coordinating evening gown, left, Butterick 8461, from July 1939. BFN.

A Junior Miss evening gown with bolero jacket. From Butterick Fashion News flyer, July 1939. ” ‘Straps’ on the dress tie in a halter effect….”

However, older women might also buy a pattern that included the versatile bolero in 1939.

Right, Vogue 4128, Vogue Fashion Flyer for May 1939.

Designer Lucile Paray was featured in an article about Paris fashion revivals (i.e., “retro-inspired) — like leg-o-mutton or “Directoire” sleeves — in 1937. Paray’s evening suit was inspired by the turn of the century garment (with bolero) illustrated beside it.

Lucile Paray designer evening suit; illustrated for Woman’s Home Companion, December 1937.

The bolero doesn’t get much simpler than this one, from June, 1937:

Butterick 7405, an evening ensemble with bolero jacket, Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937.

Meanwhile, bolero jackets for daytime use were also seen throughout the Thirties.

In fact, Butterick 7405 had many casual and sporty variations for daytime!

Boleros were not just for evening wear in the 1930s. Click here for more about 7405.

To be continued as “Boleros Through the 1930s, Part 4.”

 

10 Comments

Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Coats, Coats, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Designer Fashions, February 1928

French designer sportswear, Delineator, February 1928. Illustration by Leslie Saalburg. From left, Chanel, Lelong, Vionnet. The Vionnet is trimmed with applique.

Delineator ran regular features on the latest Paris collections, often sketched by [Pierre] Soulié or Leslie Saalburg. [“Djersakasha is a cashmere jersey that could be woven as a tube, eliminating the need for seams.”]

The February 1928 issue also showed photographs of designer fashions that could be purchased in New York. [A needed reality check after all those 1920s’ fashion illustrations!]

The coat is by Frances Clyne, a top-level dress shop; the evening gowns are couture designed by Louiseboulanger and Chanel. Delineator, February 1928.

The “flesh color” Louiseboulanger gown could be purchased (and custom fitted, of course) from Frances Clyne. The Chanel could be bought at Lord & Taylor. (Note: Chanel was already selling costume jewelry in 1928.)

I can never get used to the “draggle-tail” look of these evening gowns under a coat, but this 1928 photo is proof: “This is the sort of dress for which the coat at left was created.”

This corduroy coat — very casual — is by Patou [Couture corduroy…!]

Corduroy sports coat by French couturier Jean Patou; illustrated in Delineator, February 1928.

“Patou makes a sports coat notable by such details as pale emerald green corduroy, the slot seams, the yoke, the patch pockets, the steel buckled belt, and a glistening black patent leather flower on the left lapel.” It’s cut almost like a shirt. I wonder:  did the black patent leather flower inspire Chanel, or was it the other way around?

This dress by Vionnet is also inspiring. [P.S. I wore dresses with that standing collar in the 1960s. Her influence just goes on.]

Black crepe satin dress with raglan sleeves by Madeleine Vionnet, illustrated in Delineator, February 1928. The hat was designed by Suzanne Talbot.

Thanks to a lecture by Sandra Ericson, I know that the tucks in the bodice fabric would have been done on the straight of grain, and the bodice pattern would then have been placed on the fabric with the center front and back aligned with the bias. Vionnet sometimes used fabrics so wide that they had to be custom woven. We could imitate this bodice by hiding a seam under one of the tucks, if necessary. The original was in crepe satin, but I can imagine it inspiring a modern top with sheer black sleeves….

This white satin evening dress from Lanvin is really typical 1920’s style, with its beaded hip band and simple lines. A cape was often seen on twenties’ patterns, but, being optional, many dresses were made without the cape.

Delineator sketch of a couture gown by Lanvin, Paris, February 1928.

“Lanvin puts a swinging cape on this white satin frock, since the back is so important a part of a dress for dancing. The waistline is banded with feathery embroidery in small silver and white pearl beads.” That center panel would also be lovely for dancing, and, like the Chanel gown, it seems to have a “paste” jewel as an accent. A stack of bangle bracelets was also a chic Twenties’ touch.

The long-established House of Paquin produced this evening gown:

The V-neck on the back of this turquoise couture gown by Paquin is echoed in the hip band and scalloped hemline. The hip band tied in front. Photo from Delineator, February 1928.

[I think a “flesh” or “cafe au lait” lace inset (or slip) can be seen in the low neckline opening.] This couture original was imported by Hattie Carnegie‘s New York store.

According to Lizzie Bramlett, writing at the Vintage Fashion Guild Fashion History site, customers could buy a Paris original from Hattie Carnegie, or buy one of her copies, made in New York.

For sporty, daytime wear, she sold this four-piece tweed wool suit, coat, and pullover outfit designed by Molyneux.

A four-piece couture wool ensemble designed by Molyneux and available from Hattie Carnegie in New York; Delineator, February 1928.

In 1928, “dresses are short for sports.”

Here is a list of other fashion trends, including colors, which appeared on the same page as the Molyneux ensemble and the Paquin gown:

Fashion trends as reported in Delineator magazine, February 1928, page 31.

2 Comments

Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Capes, Coats, evening and afternoon clothes, Sportswear, Vintage Couture Designs, vintage photographs

Wrap Skirt Pattern 1480, 1927 to 1930s

Butterick skirt 1480 was first illustrated in June, 1927, with a blouse/step-in combination (No. 1493) and a cardigan jacket (No. 1367.) Delineator.

This very simple wrap skirt pattern first appeared in 1927. Surprisingly, it was still being featured — in a much longer version — in December of 1930. It had survived a major change in fashion. There is only one copy in the Commercial Pattern Archive, so I can’t be sure if the pattern was produced in a longer version after 1929, but it is certainly longer in illustrations from 1930.

Buttrick wrap skirt No. 1480 barely covered the knee in summer, 1927.

A 1928 version — still short, can be seen here. A different combination blouse and step-in — copied from Vionnet — appeared in Butterick’s Delineator in 1929. [And it had a zipper!]

The “one-piece wrap-around straight skirt” really is simple, with just four parts: Front belt [the front waistband,] back belt [waistband,] skirt, and an optional pocket. (The dressmaker would need to figure out linings, facings, etc. )

Butterick 1480 pattern from the Commercial Pattern Archive. 1927.

Here is the same wrap skirt illustrated in July 1927 — this time with a sporty striped jacket:

Far right, Butterick skirt 1480 with “coat” 6603 in July 1927. Casual chic!

Upper left: wrap skirt 1480 again. September 1927. These three styles are unmistakably “Twenties.”

This time, skirt 1480 was shown with a jacket-like ; the blouse opening lines up with the flap on the skirt.

By Fall of 1929 the new, longer skirt had been introduced.

Butterick wrap skirt 1480 is shown with overblouse 2802 (still in Twenties’ style) and a flared coat (Butterick 2794.)

The skirt covers the knees completely. (September, 1929.) This coat is about the length that some dresses were just 18 months earlier.

Notice how quickly the longer skirt took hold — there’s a big difference in patterns from September 1929 — above — and October 1929, below:

In October of 1929, skirt 1480 was shown with overblouse tucked in, in the alternate view.

Butterick coat 2847, blouse 2864, and wrap skirt 1480. Delineator, October 1929. Belts are rising. Notice the back view at right.

In 1927, the wrap skirt was described as “mounted on a belt that rests just above the hipbone.” In 1930 it “fits snugly over the hips at a high waistline.” To me, this sounds like two ways of saying the same thing — if the pattern was really much changed, it would have been reissued with a new number.

In her History of the Paper Pattern Industry, Joy Spanabel Emery showed two pattern envelopes of Simplicity 1866 — “first issued in 1946 and reissued in 1947 with a longer skirt. (The fastest and simplest solution was to lengthen existing skirt patterns by three inches.)” [Pg. 164.]

A few months later, by 1930, skirts were well below the knee, and ways to stretch your wardrobe were… creative.

Above: A four piece ensemble made by wearing wrap skirt 1480 with a blouse and jacket, or by wearing it over a dress! The long, waistless top of the dress could be made as an overblouse. (There are four patterns listed: Jacket 2993 (left,) coat 2812 (over her arm) frock or blouse 3002 (center and right, and skirt 1480 (shown three times.)

By Fall of 1930, most traces of the Nineteen Twenties’ look are gone. Skirts are mid-calf; belts approach the natural waist.

Butterick dresses from October 1930. The tunic second from left (3471) is a transitional style, like the tunics [below] that appeared at the end of the Tubular Twenties. Under the 1930 tunic: wrap skirt 1480.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/three-tunic-blouse-and-slip-costumes-1924-butterick-patterns-5970-5455-5681.jpg?w=500&h=500

Three tunic blouse and costume slip outfits, 1924. Butterick patterns Nos. 5790, 5455, & 5681. A tunic outfit offers more than one hemline, so the eye can choose the length it prefers — old and long, or new and short. 1924.

For more about the 1920’s long-to-short transition, click here.

Yes, that October 1930 tunic was worn over 1920’s wrap skirt 1480. So was this one, from December of 1930.

Left, Butterick tunic blouse 3560 over wrap skirt 1480; right, frock 3548. Delineator, December 1930.

Stylistically, the “Twenties” are over.

Why a wrap skirt should be the choice for wearing under a tunic (or over a dress!) is a mystery to me. But, as seen, easy wrap skirt 1480 survived a fashion earthquake.

P.S. Looking at the tunic dresses of 1924 and 1930 I was shocked to realize how little time elapsed between them. The short-skirted Twenties were short indeed.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1920s-1930s, Coats, Sportswear

Unusual Capes, 1912 to 1920

Cape by Reville and Rossiter of Hanover Square, London.

Many years ago I encountered this cape with an unusual criss-cross front.

Detail of front of vintage cape.

I was reminded of it by two different Butterick patterns.

1914: Butterick 6975

This one is Butterick cape 6975 from June 1914. Delineator.

Note: I often have to crop images to show details because they would otherwise be too tall to see on a computer screen. Tall hats make it a real challenge. This page was 16 inches high.

Those very tall aigrettes on the hat make it hard to photograph the entire ensemble. [The word “aigrette” is etymologically related to “egret.”]

Let’s hope those are heron feathers and not the endangered snowy egret, or osprey. (Egrets and Herons are members of the same family.)

Here’s a description of Butterick cape 6975:

One pattern included several versions of cape 6975. “The cape may be in any of three outlines….”

1920: Butterick 2319

In 1920, Butterick issued a another cape pattern, even more similar to the vintage cape:

Detail of front of vintage cape.

Butterick cape 2319, Delineator, April 1920.

Two illustrations of Butterick cape 2319 from 1920. Images via Google and the Hathi Trust.

I even found a story illustration showing a young woman wearing a simple criss-cross cape on board a ship.

Story illustration from Delineator, 1920.

Of course, that cape doesn’t really look very good, because the narrow criss-cross front straps conflict with the look of the dress under it. The high-end vintage cape, on the other hand, covers most of any blouse that would be worn under it.

Cream and black cape by Reville and Rossiter of Hanover Square, London.

This very high quality wool cape, which I found in a private collection, was made of tightly woven, creamy white wool, with a black silk lining and black accents. It reminded me of doeskin — but I think it was slightly brushed wool.

Detail of vintage cape fabric, showing damage.

Back of Reville and Rossiter cape. Part of the collar is black.

The cape was probably intended to be worn and kept on, like a suit coat, because it was held in place by ties in back, near the waist. This cape would not be something you casually slipped in and out of during a visit; I think you would want to be standing in front of a mirror as you settled it on your shoulders and then reached behind you — under the cape — to tie the silk ties like apron strings.

The pleated white bands end behind the wearer’s body in black silk ties, which have shattered.

The silk ties, like the lining, were very damaged.

However, there is no problem dating this cape, because it is the British equivalent of couture. The date, 1912, is on the label:

The label in the cape says Reville & Rossiter, (1912) Ltd. Hanover Square W. — a posh London address.

I said this was a very high-end garment;  Reville and Rossiter of Hanover Square also made the custom coronation gown worn by Queen Mary in 1911. (Click the link to see more views and close-ups.)

Back view of Queen Mary’s coronation dress, 1911. The embroidery represented flowers and leaves from England, Ireland, Scotland, and India. Image courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

They made this court dress (Click here to see full information and an enlarged image) in the collection of the Victoria and Albert museum, …

Reville & Rossiter made this Court dress with train, worn in September, 1913. Image courtesy of V&A museum.

Detail of bodice on court gown by Reville & Rossiter, 1913. Notice the superb lace and the tassels at the waist. Courtesy of V&A museum.

… and this 1919 evening dress, also at the V & A.

The front of the Reville & Rossiter cape. The black buttons and buttonholes echo the back collar, also black.

I suppose it’s possible that the cross-over front of this designer cape inspired copies, which became available as sewing patterns by 1914 — and the style was copied even more closely in 1920. According to The Royal Collection Trust, “Reville and Rossiter was a London couture house made court dressmaker to Queen Mary. It gained the royal warrant in 1910 and in 1911 designed the queen’s coronation robe. By the 1930s they were no longer in business.” You could say that our vintage cape, made in 1912, was fit for a queen.

7 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1920s, Coats, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, World War I

Book Review: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism — Women’s Fight for Change, by Tessa Boase

Note: the accompanying images are not from this book, but much of what I learned, is. Any reflections about parallels with current events are mine, and mine alone. This book made me think.

The millinery and feather trades were a huge international business in 1910. Ad from Delineator.

I’m sorry I took so long to review this book; I loved reading it, and I’ve raved about it to friends, but it is so jam-packed with fascinating information that I was tempted to quote something from every other page — which would not be fair to other readers; it’s too much fun to discover surprising facts for yourself! [Even so, I couldn’t resist sharing a few. My enthusiasm carries me away. A shorter review can be found at The Vintage Traveler 🙂 ]

In her previous book, The Housekeeper’s Tale, Tessa Boase poured through old account books, legal proceedings, letters and diaries, and used her research to unearth the life stories of several women servants over a period of nearly two centuries. I confess that history was the class that bored me the most in high school — although I was a good student, I hated “history.” But history vividly told though the lives of ordinary women — that is fascinating, and suspenseful, reading.

This teenaged girl wears entire bird wings on her hat. Delineator, March 1910. In 1892, 800,000 pairs of wings were imported by one London dealer. [Boase, p. 87]

In Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, the women central to her story are not ordinary — most of them are women who achieved great things: They changed the laws of England in the early twentieth century. And they did it against all odds:

“Right up until the First World War, the idea of bird protection was as laughable to the general population as the concept of female emancipation.” — Boase, p. xiii

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst was the very vocal leader of the movement for women’s suffrage, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU.) Mrs. Etta Lemon was the primary founder of the Society for the Preservation of Birds (SPB,) seeking to prevent the extinction of birds which were being hunted for women’s hat trimmings. Both of them were up against an all-male parliament, male voters, and a public perception that women should stay home and keep their opinions to themselves.

But, surprisingly, the crusading Mrs. Lemon,  — like many of her supporters — was an “Anti:” she was opposed to women getting the vote.

Did you know? In 1913, the Antis had 33,000 members; “the Pankhurst’s WSPU just 2,000.” [Boase, p. 237.]

It’s very hard for a modern woman to identify with Etta Lemon, — and this conflict between two successful, activist women is the paradox that shapes Boase’s book. It twines together two stories about women: the campaign for wildlife conservation and the campaign for voting rights. [The large cast of characters is helpfully listed and described early in the book — a very good idea!]

Wisely, Boase uses the gripping story of working woman Alice Battershall, ” a lowly feather washer,” to plunge us into the very big business of millinery and the feather trade in late Victorian and Edwardian England (and the world.) Alice was tried for the crime of stealing two ostrich plumes from her employer.

The trade in feathers was world wide. Ad for South African ostrich, Delineator, April 1910.

Alice Battershall earned 5 shillings a week — not a living wage even by the sweatshop standards of 1885. Her employer would have sold the feathers for 7 shillings each. Alice sold them to a “fence” for 1 shilling apiece. I had to stop and think about these figures: one ostrich plume was worth more than a week’s wages. Even by selling them to so cheaply, Alice increased her starvation wages by 40% — a powerful temptation.

And ostrich plumes were not the most valuable; ostrich were farmed, and the ostrich didn’t have to be killed for its feathers.

A family of Snowy egrets. Photo By AdA Durden from Jacksonville, USA Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC , via wikipedia.

The bird that faced rapid extinction was the snowy egret. (Milliners called its feathers “Osprey.”) In 1903, a single ounce of Osprey feathers cost almost twice as much as an ounce of gold. [Boase, p.124] But snowy egrets only sported these long, delicate feathers (their nuptial plumage) while mating and raising their young. Egret nestlings need to be fed by both parents over a long period of time; whenever a plume hunter shot and skinned the parent birds, the next generation of snowy egrets died of starvation. When a colony was hunted two or three years in a row, it became extinct.

One famous hunter, David “Egret” Bennett, first wiped out egret colonies in Central America, then moved on to the colonies in Mexico and Baja California. He, too gets a chapter. He was aware that he was driving the species to extinction, but “I have never found any occupation as profitable,” he explained.

[Personally, I see a parallel with the fossil fuel industry today. For me, history — brought to life in Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Hat — keeps informing and illuminating the present.]

Mrs. Lemon and her friends began a campaign against the wearing of osprey; they sent letters to newspapers all over England; they wrote to parish newsletters and to clergymen citing biblical passages in support of their views; they wrote (and spoke) to other women and of course, to members of Parliament. But, while Mrs. Pankhurst was leading demonstrations and being arrested (repeatedly) for advocating votes for women — always while elegantly dressed and wearing hats bedecked with feathers,  the anti-suffrage ladies of the [eventually Royal] Society for the Protection of Birds hired men to carry the placards in their most effective education campaign. And, although Mrs. Lemon actually ran the SPB until she was forced out in 1939, on paper her husband Frank was its “honorary secretary.” She did not assume its leadership — officially — until he died.

Exotic birds, like the bird of paradise, were especially valued. This “Paradise Bird” was sold by Sears.

If you couldn’t afford the real thing, parts of many birds might be combined to make one. Sears catalog, 1910.

The sheer numbers of birds killed and skinned and transported to auction in New York and London boggles the mind. An undercover reporter from the American Ornithologists Union slipped into a plumage sale in London in 1888.

“Here were birds by the shipload,” writes Boase, listing about 7,000 parrots, 1,000 woodpeckers, 14,000 quail, grouse and partridge, 4000 snipes and plovers and other domestic birds like the 7,000 starlings, jays, and magpies. There were 5000 tanagers; hundreds (each) of birds of paradise, gulls, finches, orioles, larks, toucans; and 12,000 hummingbirds from all over the world. [It’s a mercy that my mind simply cannot picture a pile of 12,000 dead hummingbirds.]

Until I read this book I knew very little about Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst; I didn’t realize that she was a widow who had to support herself and her daughters, while trying to maintain the appearance of a respectable and “womanly” woman of the upper classes. Cartoonists often depicted suffragettes as mannish women with ties and cigars or as frustrated spinsters. Mrs. Pankhurst was determined to break that stereotype. As in all things British, social class came into it. She didn’t believe that the exclusively male Members of Parliament, who were middle class by virtue of inheritance and/or wealth, would pay attention to the pleas of working class women. This led to a painful break with her socialist daughter Sylvia, who championed “equal pay for equal work” and an end to the “sweating trades” (e.g., ostrich feather curlers) in 1918. [That was 100 years ago….]

The women who worked in the millinery and feather trades were exploited in wretched, health-destroying working conditions, and often reduced to prostitution during the regularly occurring months when their trades were dormant.

A child might have worked for days to “willow” this plume. Peckham’s ad in Delineator, June 1910.

This is an ostrich plume that has been “willowed.” An ordinary ostrich feather has been made longer, fluffier and more luxurious by having extensions tied to every flue — a job which the small and nimble fingers of children were good at.

“One women and two children might labour for a day and a third on a single ostrich plume — whose preparation required as many as 8,613 knots…. In 1910, this earned them 3 cents….”  — Boase, p. 13.

“Pulmonary tuberculosis was a slow and steady killer of women in the feather trade.” [Boase, p. 13]  Nevertheless, abolishing the trade was a political hot potato: workers often preferred the risk of slow death to unemployment and starvation. (Hunger was already part of their lives.)

[This is another dilemma we face today. Although Boase never mentions these parallels, this book offers plenty of food for thought. Silicosis and  pneumoconiosis kill coal miners, and mesothelioma kills asbestos workers; nevertheless, eliminating these trades means eliminating jobs — a problem in 1910 and in 2018.]

As the new century progressed,  some women — like Etta Lemon; Eliza Phillips; Emily Williamson; Virginia Woolf;  and Winifred, Duchess of Portland — campaigned against the extinction of entire species for hat trimmings.  Mrs Pankhurst, immaculately dressed but debilitated from her frequent protest fasts, saw her supporters’ demonstrations become increasingly violent. Then came World War I, and a great change in women’s lives….

As I have mentioned, Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is history told by a scholar with a novelist’s touch, focusing on the small detail and the personal story to bring its events vividly to life.  And, although the author does not mention their relevance to modern life, I can’t help being stimulated by many of the facts she shares.

Over 100 years ago, American Ornithologist Henry Oldys addressed the U.S. Congress on the topic of wildlife conservation, urging legislation to prevent the extinction of species:

The spirit of the age, was, he said, marked by ignorance, cupidity and supineness — a toxic combination that was steadily exterminating creation. “History will not listen to the plea, ‘It was not my business,’ ” he cried. ‘It will answer: “You were there and could have prevented it; therefore it was your business. You failed to do your duty. The only explanation is that you were corrupt, ignorant, or weak.” ‘ — from Boase, p. 226.

[In the light of my country’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the U.N.’s recent report that irreversible climate change is happening more rapidly than predicted, someone needs to say that to Congress again.]

Nevertheless, I also found hope from the fact that women, working together, can accomplish the near-impossible. Even the story of the troubling Mrs. Lemon gives me hope:

The RSPB began with a letter writing campaign organized by a few Victorian ladies — bird-lovers excluded from all-male ornithological societies because they were women.

“Within six months… this little ‘bird and bonnet’ society [grew] from 1,000 to 5,000 members.” In two years, it had almost 10,000, “most of them women.” [p. 74.] Today, “The RSPB is a behemoth — a charity with 1.2 million members, 200 nature reserves…, 2000 staff and 14,000 volunteers. It has an annual income of 100 million pounds and it wields great political power. Its business today is international nature conservation.” (p. xi.)

Reading that makes me feel a lot better about our chances.

Summary: By focusing her complex story on the lives of individual women, Tessa Boase has turned an extraordinary mass of scholarly research into a memorable and fascinating book, filled with surprises and startling details. I used to think history was boring. Not this one.

The publishers deserve praise, especially for the footnotes (actually endnotes) which are printed in two-column format. They never intrude, but if you want to check a source, they are easy to read without constant page flipping. Full index and bibliography; color plates; and Ms. Boase herself collected the illustrations for the end papers from period magazines. Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

Mrs. Pankhurst wore a purple feather because the Suffragette colors were purple (for freedom and dignity,) white (for purity,) and green (for hope.) Click here to see the (faded) feather that inspired this book.

Tessa Boase blogs at tessaboase.com/blog, where you can see more Edwardian feathered hats in full color (including eyes and beaks….)

Fashion sketch of a chic Parisienne; Delineator, May 1910. She is wearing a glorified chicken.

Four feathered hats. Delineator, February 1910.

4 Comments

Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Edwardian fashions, Hats, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Accessories, World War I

Gigantic Hats, 1910

A gigantic hat from May, 1910. Delineator.

This was the era of huge hats, secured by huge hatpins to huge (often padded) hairstyles.

A gigantic hat with feathers and hatpin. March 1910, Delineator.

A very large hat from 1910. This one is covered with pleated silk.

It was not unusual for an Edwardian (1901 – 1910) hat to be wider than a woman’s shoulders and hips.

The proportions of this hat dwarf the woman under it. It’s much wider than she is. Delineator, June 1910.

That hat has a wide brim and also a very wide crown — at least twice as wide as the head it sits on. Inside such a hat, the silk lining included a wide band with a casing for a drawstring which could be gathered at the center of the hat and adjusted to the size of the hairdo.The opening could be made larger if you wanted the hat to sit lower on your head, or smaller if you wanted it to rest on top of your hairstyle.

The hat on the left must be supported by an interior that is not the same size as its exterior. January 1910, Delineator.

Another outsized hat from 1910. It’s much bigger around than her head is. Delineator, June.

These gigantic hats were not confined to the upper classes; here is just part of the selection that could be ordered from the Sears catalog in 1910.

Hats from a Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1910. Women could also buy hats untrimmed, and finish them at home.

The next gigantic hats from Delineator were for girls and teens:

A super-wide hat is worn by a teen in this illustration. She is perched rather shockingly on a table. (That is not a very ladylike way of sitting!)

Young women — schoolgirls, really — sport very wide headgear in this fashion illustration from March 1910. Delineator. [I’ll take a closer look at that hat on the left in a later post.]

This teen wears a wide velvet-trimmed hat with her fox fur stole and suit. January 1910, Delineator. Imagine sitting next to her!

I was wondering how these hats stayed on in a breeze; here one is secured with a chic veil.

Veiled lady from June 1910. Delineator.

The weight of such large hats was a problem; the black hat above is trimmed with light, sheer tulle and (possibly) artificial black fruits. The one below is also trimmed with sheer netting:

A Parisian lady illustrated in May 1910. Delineator. The size of her black straw hat is exaggerated by swathes and bows of ribbon or net trim.

But the other popular trim used in millions of hats — which added size, height, and volume without adding weight — was feathers.

This straw hat is large but light because most of its bulk is feathers. May 1910.

Feathers make this hat look larger.

Osprey“-like feathers shoot like the tail of a comet off this hat from a Phillipsborn catalog ad. May, 1910.

A hat trimmed with very long ostrich feathers. February 1910.

This is where fashion intersects with a social reform movement;  the slaughter of birds for hat decoration became an international problem which pitted women’s fashion against a reform movement led by women.

Women became increasingly aware that their fashion choices have environmental consequences. Teen fashion illustration, Delineator, March 1910. Her plumage seems to be legally farmed ostrich feathers.

A spray of delicate feathers in an ad for Suesine silk. Are they osprey? March 1910.

In America, the Audubon Society was formed to protect the endangered snowy egret, whose delicate feathers were sold as “osprey.”

I like to think the woman on the left is looking askance at the aigrette (osprey? or heron? or chicken — called “coque — feathers?”) on her neighbor’s hat. Fashion illustration, Delineator, May 1910.

Snowy egret feathers (called osprey) were illegal in the U.S., so Sears offered this black or white herron [sic] feather aigrette instead.

All these images are by way of background information to my upcoming review of “Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather,” a book by Tessa Boase.

Spoiler alert: I love it.

P.S. (added 10/18/2018) Tessa Boase has kindly sent a link to her post about a museum collection of feathered hats from this era. To see them in full color is quite an experience. Here is a link to just one of the hats she was able to examine. I urge you to read her post and (virtually) visit the rest. Click here.

8 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Hats, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Accessories