Tag Archives: Vionnet

Patou’s Evening Gowns for Short and Tall, 1936

According to this article in The Woman’s Home Companion, January, 1936, couturier Jean Patou suggested that, rather than dressing to look taller (if you’re short) or more petite (if you’re tall), women should choose designs that take advantage of their size.

Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1936. Designs and Advice from Patou

Woman’s Home Companion, Jan. 1936. Designs and Advice from Patou

As reported by Marjorie Howard, “Paris Fashion Correspondent,” here is Jean Patou’s advice for penny-wise shopping in the Depression.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 top for tall and little text

Patou’s Advice for Tall Women

Patou evening gowns, Jan. 1936. WHC.

Patou evening gowns, Jan. 1936. WHC. The tall woman is on the left.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 for tall and little text ctr tall woman

Patou’s Advice for Short Women

Patou for the short woman, Jan. 1936. WHC.

Patou for the short woman, Jan. 1936. WHC.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 for tall and little text btm Little woman

I’ve broken the illustration up so the details are more visible:

Parou design for a tall woman (left) and for a short woman (right.) Jan., 1936.

Patou design for a tall woman (left) and for a short woman (right.) Jan., 1936.

These are both complex designs. What a shame that we can’t see color:  the belt in “dark turquoise leather.” The gown on the left, of  “antelope crepe — mat with a suede finish” has a back drape “because the long lines [of a tall figure] can afford it.” Anyone wishing to copy the bodice on the right, with silver lame bands that almost seem to be woven over and under, will find the stripes helpful in determining straight of grain and bias. That assumes a careful drawing, of course. “The top is made of line stripes in interlaced bands….” The text says that capes or sling drape designs in back are not suitable for short women, but some kind of dark lining (of a cape of drape?) seems to be visible under the model’s arm.

To tell the truth, I can’t be sure from this drawing exactly what is happening with the skirt on the left:

Patou, 1936.

Skirt details of two gowns by Patou, 1936.

The illustration by Clark Fay seems to show a side slit. The text says the train ends in two points, but as drawn, it looks like a recipe for a broken neck! do the tucks in the hip bands continue into the skirt on both side? Is it symmetrical? It’s definitely glamorous. The short woman on the right has a strange hemline “cut into uneven points.” The chevron accenting the center front seam is slenderizing; how nice that the two woman are not equally slim, but proportionate to their heights. By the standards of 1930’s fashion illustrations, the woman on the left is downright voluptuous.

Although Patou was known for his influential sportswear in the 1920’s, this gown, made of tulle covered with pink sequins, is a Patou from the early 1930’s, in the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Jean Patou, sequinned evening gown, early 1930's in collection of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Jean Patou, sequinned evening gown, early 1930’s in collection of Victoria and Albert Museum.

It has a “cape or sling drapery” in back, and a contrasting belt, like the 1936 “little woman’s” gown illustrated in the Delineator.  Jean Patou died in 1936, but the House of Patou — and “Joy” perfume — continued.

Incidentally, around 1936-37, several couturiers began using zippers in fitted dresses. Zippers — finally light enough to be used with delicate fabrics — began to take the place of snap closings, making possible form-fitting gowns that didn’t gape open between the snaps. Zippers appeared in sportswear earlier than in Couture. Butterick pattern #2365, in December 1928, called for zippers at the neckline and pockets. It tied in with an ad for Talon. Madeleine Vionnet used a zipper in a blouse/step-in (what we would call a bodysuit) in 1929, and the design was copied by Butterick. Click here for a post about it, with pictures.  Robert Friedel’s book Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty mentions couture in the late 1930’s, but only briefly.

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Filed under 1930s, Exhibitions & Museums, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Andre Collection at NY Public Library Digital Collections

Andre Studio Collection: Reefer Coat design by Pearl Levy Alexander, 1939. Copywight New Your Public Library.

Andre Studio Collection: Reefer Coat design by Pearl Levy Alexander, 1939. Image Copyright New York Public Library.

Andre Studios in New York was a business which produced sketches of French couture, with variations for the American market, selling the sketches to clothing manufacturers from about 1930 on. A collection of 1,246 Andre Studios sketches from the 1930’s is now available online from New York Public Library and from the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA.)  The name on most of the sketches is Pearl Levy Alexander, and that is the best online search term.

NOTE: please do not copy or republish these images; their copyright belongs to the New York Public Library and they have been made low resolution as required by NYPL.

An excellent article about the Andre collection can be found here as a pdf. (The name of the article’s author is missing!) It explains how (usually unauthorized) sketches of couture wound up in the hands of dress manufacturers, to be copied or modified as they worked their way down the economic scale, eventually reaching the cheapest parts of the mass market.

In fact, Pearl Levy Alexander signed/designed many hundreds of sketches which included Andre Studios’ suggested modifications and variations of current designs.

The designs in the Andre Collection may include adaptations suitable to the American market, but some have attributions to known couturiers — e.g., “Import R” was their code for Patou —  as on this red wool siren suit (for wearing in air raid shelters) designed by Jean Patou in 1939.

Andre Studio's sketch of a red wool

Andre Studios’ sketch of a red wool “siren suit” by Patou. 1939. “R” was the import code used for Patou. Image Copyright New York Public Library.

You can recognize Andre’s “Import Sketches” of original couture because they were done in black and white; the modified designs, suitable for U.S. manufacture, are more elaborate drawings and use some gouache — white or colored watercolor. This “black marocain” suit is an actual sketch of a Chanel model; in the lower right corner you can see “Spring/Summer 1938; Import Code J = Chanel.”

This sketch says “Designed by Pearl Alexander” but acknowledges that it is “after Molyneux” — not an exact copy.

This boxy coat with construction details is Alexander's modification of a Molyneux design. Copyright NYPL, Andre Collection.

“Boxy coat after Molyneux” 1940, designed by Pearl Alexander, is Alexander’s modification of a Molyneux design. Image Copyright NYPL, Andre Collection.

On the other hand, this suit, dated 1/30/39, simply says it is designed by Pearl Levy Alexander. The sketch is highlighted with white opaque watercolor (gouache) and has a pink hat and blouse.

This black and white sketch is a 1938 suit by Schiaparelli (Import Code AO):

Andre Studio sketch of an original Schiaparelli Suit, with a note about the embroidery. Copyright New York Public Library.

Andre Studios’ sketch of an original Schiaparelli suit, with a note about the embroidery. (1938) Copyright New York Public Library.

If you are looking for designs by particular couturiers, look at the last two images in the collection. They are lists of designers’ names; the “Import Key” for Spring/Summer 1938 is a long list of designers whose work was sketched for Andre’s manufacturing customers, including Chanel, Heim, Lanvin, Vionnet, Nina Ricci, Redfern, Mainbocher, Patou, Paquin, Schiaparelli, Worth, and many less remembered designers, like Goupy, Philippe et Gaston, Bernard, Jenny, et al. You can see it by clicking here.  A search for these individual names may (but may not) lead to a sketch. (There’s also an Import Key for 1939-40.)

Mainbocher design, Andre Studio Sketch. Copyright New York Public Library.

Mainbocher design, 1938; Andre Studios Sketch. Image Copyright New York Public Library.

World War II momentarily cut off free access to Parisian designs, and this particular NYPL collection of sketches ends in 1939-40. However, Andre Studios continued to produce sketches into the 1970’s.

Three Sources for Andre Studios Research

In addition to the portion of the Andre Studios collection donated to New York Public Library — over 1,200 sketches made available online — the Fashion Institute of Technology (NY) and the Parsons School of Design also received parts of the collection of Andre Studios’ sketches and scrapbooks, photos, news clippings, etc., which were donated by Walter Teitelbaum to (and divided among) all three institutions.

The Parsons School has information about its Andre Studios collection here, including this sketch of four coats designed by Dior in 1953. Parson also supplies information about other places with Andre Studios and Pearl Alexander archives.

FIT has not digitized its part of the collection, but researchers can visit it. For information, click here.

Bonus: More Thirties Designs in the NYPL Mid-Manhattan Collection Online

Image from New York Public Library's Mid Manhattan Collection. Copyright NYPL.

Image from New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan Collection. Copyright NYPL. “Dormoy’s Frock, Agnes hat, Chanel, Molyneux, Mainbocher.”

Another, completely different collection of fashion sketches from the 1930’s — many in full color — can be found here, at the NYPL digital collection, in the Mid-Manhattan Collection. [Note, when I asked it to sort “Costumes 1930s” by “date created,” images from 1937 came before images from 1935, so don’t assume it’s chronological.]

Nevertheless, if you explore the alphabetical list at the left of the Mid-Manhattan Collections page, scroll down, down down under Costume, and you’ll find many images by decade, before and after the nineteen thirties! I was surprised by this 1850’s bathing costume cartoon:

Morning, Noon and evening dress for a

Morning, Noon and evening dress for a “Watering Place.” Image copyright New York Public Library.

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Bathing Suits, Exhibitions & Museums, Resources for Costumers, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Vintage Couture Designs

Paris Fashions from The Delineator, 1929. Part 1, Daytime

In November 1929, Butterick’s Delineator Magazine ran two full pages of sketches of Paris Fashions — Vionnet, Chanel, Patou, Schiaparelli, Molyneux, and many other top designers, some of whom are no longer very well known.

Sketches of Paris fashions, Delineator, November 1929. Page 26.

Sketches of Paris fashions, # 1 through 15,  Delineator, November 1929. Page 26.

In order to make these sketches available for further research, I’ll try to show them one at a time, with their original descriptions from The Delineator. And, because there are thirty sketches in all, I’ll show 15 designs for daytime today, and designs 16 through 30 in Part 2.

Couture for evening, Delineator, Nov. 1929, page 27.

Sketches of couture, # 16 through 30, Delineator, Nov. 1929, page 27. Leslie Saalburg, illustrator.

After 1929, hems dropped precipately. Patou claimed the credit, but I won’t pursue that here. Schiaparelli, who wore culottes in the city in 1935, showed a pleated “knicker” skirt with a covering panel here, in 1929. The sketches are accompanied by the original descriptions. Perhaps you’ll find other surprises….

Paris Fashions for Daytime Sketched in the Delineator, November, 1929

Patou coat and dress, Delineator sketch, Nov. 1929.

Patou coat and dress, Delineator sketch, Nov. 1929.

The coat seems to be about the length of the dresses shown by other designers, but it’s hard to tell what is going on with Patou’s pleated skirt. Notice the suggestion of a natural waist, trimmed with buttons.

Sketch of Schiaparelli "knicker skirt" in Delineator, Nov. 1929.

Sketch of Schiaparelli “knicker skirt” in Delineator, Nov. 1929.

The illustrator, Leslie Saalburg, seems to have had a little trouble with this one. As we know from Elizabeth Hawes’ Fashion Is Spinach, illustrators had to make furtive notes and then sketch from memory later.

Coat designed by London Trades, Delineator sketch, Nov. 1929.

Coat designed by London Trades, Delineator sketch, Nov. 1929.

London Trades is one of those designer names, popular in the 1920’s, but rarely mentioned today.

Green cloth coat by Cheruit, sketched for Delineator, Nov. 1929.

Green cloth coat by Cheruit, sketched for Delineator, Nov. 1929. Note the natural waist on this fitted coat.

Mme. Cheruit herself retired in 1914, but the House of Cheruit carried on until 1930. This Cheruit tea-gown from 1922 shows strong influence from The Ballets Russes: Big, bold patterns and brilliant, exotic colors.

A caped dress, which looks like a coat, from Molyneux, 1929. Delineator sketch.

A caped dress, which looks like a coat, from Molyneux, 1929. Delineator sketch.

“Captain Molyneux” — he was an Englishman — also produced some spectacular evening wear. Click here for a glimmering dress from 1926-27.

Coat with interesting back detail from Lucien Lelong. Sketched for Delineator Nov. 1929 issue.

Coat with interesting back detail from Lucien Lelong. Sketched for Delineator Nov. 1929 issue.

Burnt orange suit from London Trades, 1929. Delineator sketch.

Burnt orange suit from London Trades, 1929. Delineator sketch.

A caracal is a lynx-like cat with beautiful tufted ears. See more here.

Tweed cape by Lelong. Sketcher for Delineator, Nov. 1929.

Tweed cape by Lelong. Sketcher for Delineator, Nov. 1929.

Astrakhan is a tightly curled fur, a variation on “Persian” lamb. Click here if you need to know more….

A coat and matching blanket by Elsa Schiaparelli, sketched for Delineator. Nov. 1929.

A coat and matching “rug” (a small lap blanket for wearing in cold cars, while watching outdoor sports, etc.) by Elsa Schiaparelli, sketched for Delineator. Nov. 1929.

Costume by Molyneux, sketched for Delineator Nov. 1929 issue.

Costume by Molyneux, sketched for Delineator Nov. 1929 issue.

Nutria (also called coypu) is a rodent. Raised for fur, some nutria escaped. In 2010, it was being treated as an invasive species in Louisiana. The New York Times explained here.

Day dress by Patou, sketched for Delineator, Nov. 1929.

Day dress by Patou, sketched for Delineator, Nov. 1929.

Cheviot is a kind of wool. This dress is slightly longer than other dresses of 1929 shown in the same article. Perhaps more interesting is the belt — worn approximately at the natural waist. Patou was famous for his sportswear in the 1920’s. You can read about his monogrammed sportswear in this article about the influence of tennis on fashion.

A basque blouse outfit from Cheruit, sketched in 1929.

A basque blouse outfit from Cheruit, sketched in 1929.

Duveteen was a napped fabric, often suggested for Butterick patterns in the Delineator . The flared skirt was fairly new, but this Cheruit outfit was soon to be out of style without ever being really in style.

A suti using double-faced tweed, by Nowitsky; 1929 sketch from Delineator.

A coat made from double-faced tweed, by Nowitsky; 1929 sketch from Delineator.

Mary Nowitsky was often mentioned in Delineator’s Paris coverage; I find some of her twenties’ sportswear very attractive. It’s hard to find information about her.

Coat with interesting back by Schiaparelli. Sketched for Delineator, in 1929.

Coat with interesting back by Schiaparelli. Sketched for Delineator, in 1929.

Jersey coat by Chanel, Sketched for Delineator in 1929.

Jersey coat by Chanel, sketched for Delineator in 1929.

Chanel’s striped dress anticipates the 1930’s — except in length. More Chanel in the next post, Part 2 of Paris Fashions from The Delineator, 1929.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Nightclothes and Robes, Sportswear, Vintage Couture Designs

Biased in Favor of Vionnet and Sandra Ericson, Part 1

 

Back of a gown by Vionnet, 1932. Photos: Metropolitan Museum

Back of a gown by Vionnet, 1932. Photos: Metropolitan Museum

I can’t look at 1930’s fashions without being constantly reminded of the genius of Madeleine Vionnet. She was a successful couturier in the 1920’s, when fashions were mostly tubular, falling with the straight of the grain, but it was Vionnet’s exploration of fabrics used on the bias — which allows woven fabric to stretch — that is, for me, the “look” of the thirties.

Dresses that cling to every curve and pour over the body like water . . . .

Vionnet bias silk and metallic lame gown, 1936. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Vionnet bias silk and metallic lame gown, 1936. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Diamond-shaped bias panels caressing the hips . . . .

Butterick suit pattern 4176. Delineator, Dec. 1931.

Butterick suit pattern 4176. Delineator, Dec. 1931.

“Mermaid gowns” that glide over the hips and flare near the hem . . . .

Butterick patterns 4093 and 4097; Delineator, Oct. 1931.

Butterick patterns 4093 and 4097; Delineator, Oct. 1931.

Jean Harlow in a slinky halter dress . . . .  All show the influence of Madame Vionnet.

In November, 2010, I attended a lecture on the techniques of Madeleine Vionnet given by Sandra Ericson, who runs the Center for Pattern Design. It was one of the best organized presentations I have ever heard — packed with information, and illustrated with slides and with half-scale and full scale Vionnet reproductions that Ericson had made. (Yes, we were allowed to touch them and examine them.)

As a member of an organization of costumers who work in professional, educational and community theatres, I took plenty of  notes and shared them with members who couldn’t attend. I will post them in Part 2 of this series.

One of the things Ericson said about Vionnet’s draping technique (there is more about it in Betty Kirke’s book,  Madeleine Vionnet) was a real  “light bulb goes on over my head” moment for me.  Actually, since I had been draping and drafting patterns for 30 years at that point, I should probably call it a “Well, Duh!” moment.

Butterick evening gown 3696, with square bias panels over the hips. Delineator, February 1931.

Butterick evening gown 3696, with square bias panels over the hips. Delineator, February 1931.

Ericson (and Betty Kirke before her) pointed out that Madeleine Vionnet cut geometrically. Vionnet based her cutting on circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and especially on the quadrant (quarter) of a circle. Her early 30’s dresses were cut on the straight, seamed on the straight grain, and worn on the bias. [More about that later.] Some of her loveliest bias gowns were based on a quarter circle, slashed to create a V neckline or an armhole, with triangular inserts, or were formed from four identical pattern pieces, often cut as rectangles, stitched on the straight, worn on the bias.

Nightgown by Vionnet, 1930. The quadrant has been slit at the top and sides, and triangles inserted at the sides. Photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Nightgown by Vionnet, 1930. The quadrant has been slit at the top and sides, and triangles inserted at the sides. Photo: Metropolitan Museum.

I think these concepts are worth writing about here.

Forgive me if I seem to be stating the obvious to some readers; I never took a sewing class until I started my MFA program. My Girl Scout leader taught us how to operate a sewing a machine and use a commercial pattern; after that, I learned mostly from making commercial patterns and following the instructions. So I knew enough to pay attention to “straight of grain” and “bias grain” when cutting out a pattern; I knew what the words meant, but not how they affected the outcome. It wasn’t until grad school, when I started draping fabric on a professional dressmaker’s mannequin (the kind that costs hundreds of dollars) that I had a clue.

The Basics of Fabric Grain (we’ll get to Vionnet in a minute…)

Everything that follows applies to simple, woven fabrics, not to knits or stretch fabrics.

Fabric is woven with vertical threads and horizontal threads, which wrap around the vertical threads at the sides — this is called the selvage (selvedge in the UK). The straight grain of the fabric runs parallel to the selvage and at a right angle to the selvage ( the cross grain.) If you draw a line from the top left corner of a square of fabric to the bottom right corner of a square of fabric, that line follows the bias grain.

The important thing about the bias is that it stretches. If you pull on a square of fabric with a hand at each side, or a hand at top and bottom, it doesn’t stretch much. But if you take hold of two opposite corners and pull, the fabric will stretch. That is why “bias tape” stretches, and bias cut skirts mold to the body.

bias x str grain

The Magic of Draping

Suppose that you have cut a simple skirt out of muslin. It has just a back and a front, and each is a quarter of a circle, with a slightly curved line at the waist.

skirt front

skirt front (quarter section — “quadrant” — of a circle)

If you pin the skirt front to a mannequin and pull the center of the waistline up just a half inch or so, an amazing thing happens:

Raising the center of the waist just a small amount will change the way the skirt hangs.

Raising the center of the waist just a small amount will change the way the skirt hangs.

The sides will move closer together, and the fullness of the skirt, which was evenly distributed, falls toward the center, directly under the place where you raised the waist.  Keep this in mind when looking at 1930’s dresses. The tiniest “tweak” at the waist will determine where the folds congregate — to the center, to one side, etc.

Front of skirt raised quarter circle088

 

A godet (a wedge of fabric usually shaped like a pie slice) is typically a section of a circle.  Often a godet  is inserted between two straight-of-grain panels, where it falls into evenly distributed folds like these:

Godets in 1930's dresses: Butterick 4222 (1931,) 4456 (1932,) and 5447 (1934)

Godets in 1930’s dresses: Butterick 4222 (1931,) 4456 (1932,) and 5447 (1934)

But, in the godet at the left, below, and the skirt at the right, the fullness has been “tweaked” to force the folds away from the center front. The fabric has been lifted a bit at the points of the yoke.

The godet of Butterick 4341 (left) and the entire skirt front of Butterick 4333 (right) have their folds falling from a point of suspension. February 1932.

The godet of Butterick 4341 (left) and the entire skirt front of Butterick 4333 (right) have their folds falling from their points of suspension. February 1932.

Playing with fabric’s behavior and making discoveries like this is one of the joys of draping.

Vionnet Influence, Butterick Pattern

In this evening ensemble from 1932, Butterick mentions the influence of Vionnet. Because the fabric has a vertical stripe, we can see the grain very clearly. The dress is cut on the lengthwise grain, following the selvage. The godets are cut on the cross grain. And the jacket hangs on the bias.

Butterick evening pattern 4546, Delineator, June 1932.

Butterick evening pattern 4546, “Floating Power,” Delineator, June 1932.

1932 june p 66 4546 vionnet jacket

Here is a later wrapped jacket by Vionnet in the Metropolitan Museum collection.

Cut Cut and Sew on the Straight Grain; Wear on the Bias

Another of those “Well, Duh!” moments for me.

BUtterick pattern for 1931. Vionnet Gown dated 1932. Gown photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Butterick pattern for 1931. Vionnet Gown dated 1932. Gown photo: Metropolitan Museum.

To illustrate “cut and sew on the straight, wear on the bias,” I’m rotating that Butterick evening gown 45 degrees.

The panels of the gown are sewn on the straight grain and worn on the bias.

The panels of the bodice are cut and sewn on the straight grain and used on the bias in the finished dress.

This beautifully made early 1930’s dress was butchered by having one sleeve torn off.  Luckily a collector recognized its quality (the squares were hand-stitched together!)

Vintage bias silk dress. ON the right, I removed the confusing shadow.

Vintage bias silk dress made with squares of fabric stitched together with fagoting. On the right, I removed the confusing shadow.

It is a bias-cut dress, and flows over the figure, clinging to every curve. But it was made of squares cut on the straight grain:

Squares with the seam allowances folded under and connected with fagoting.

Squares with the seam allowances folded under and connected with fagoting.

Before being made into a dress, the stitched-together squares were tilted 45 degrees:

black squares in position on dress

Now the dress has bias stretch in two directions.

Detail of black silk bias dress.

Detail of vintage black silk bias dress.

Detail of fagoting, which allows the undergarment to show through. Vintage black silk dress in private collection.

Detail of cross-stitch fagoting, which allows the undergarment to show through. These loose seams allow even more stretch. Vintage black silk dress in private collection.

In the words of the old gravestones: “Go thou, and do likewise.” Play with fabric. Experiment with bias. ( It’s O.K. to use a sewing machine!)

More about Sandra Ericson’s brilliant lecture on Vionnet  in Part 2.

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Filed under 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Dresses, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

A Wedding Party: Butterick Patterns for May 1929

Maid of Honor and Bride, Delineator magazine, May 1929.

Maid of Honor and Bride, Delineator magazine, May 1929.

Just in time for June weddings, The Delineator’s May issue suggested these Butterick patterns for the bridal party and guests.

It’s a little late to make these gowns for June, 2015, but in case you’re dreaming of a retro wedding, here are five designs from a very lovely period of 1920’s fashions.

The bride and her maid of honor are wearing full-skirted gowns — see other robes de style in my last post, about Lanvin. I noticed this wedding article while looking for other examples of transitional hemlines from the late 1920’s; hems that were long in back and short in front — or simultaneously long and short in other ways — anticipate the longer hems of the 1930’s.

The Bride, Butterick No. 2634

Butterick bridal pattern 2634, Delineator, May, 1929.

Butterick bridal pattern 2634, The Delineator, May, 1929.

1929 may p 25 bride 2634 wedding text

Elsewhere in The Delineator, this same pattern was offered as an evening dress. See Other Versions, at end of post.

The Maid of Honor, Butterick Pattern No. 2630

This sleeveless gown is suggested for an outdoor wedding.

Butterick pattern 2630, suggested for a Maid of Honor, The Delineator magazine , May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2630, suggested for a Maid of Honor, The Delineator magazine , May 1929.

1929 may p 25 wedding text 2630 maid of honor

I’m glad “Crinoline chiffon” was defined: it’s “starched chiffon.” Although the Bride’s gown was available up to size 44 bust, the Maid of Honor is a youthful 31 to 38 inches. (If you’re puzzled by size “14 to 20 years,” click here.)

Wedding Guests, 1929

Butterick patterns suitable for wedding guests, Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick patterns suitable for wedding guests, Delineator, May 1929.

Mother of the Bride, Butterick No. 2626

Both the dress and the jacket hems are scalloped.

Butterick pattern 262 is suggested for the Mother of the Bride, Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2626 is suggested for the Mother of the Bride, Delineator, May 1929.

1929 may p 24 wedding guests 2626 brides mother  text rt

A note to modern brides and wedding parties: bare arms were not acceptable in some churches even in the 1970s. A wedding was not thought of as an opportunity to look as “hot” as possible, but to exchange solemn vows. A lace jacket was a way to be modestly covered up during the ceremony; the jacket could come off for dancing after the wedding.  Nevertheless, since this is described as a “formal garden wedding,”  the bride’s sister is shown in a sleeveless dress.

The Bride’s Sister, Butterick No. 2631

Butterick pattern 2631 was suggested for the Sister of the Bride. Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2631 was suggested for the Sister of the Bride. Delineator, May 1929.

1929 may p 24 weddingbrides sister 2631 text rt

“A draped yoke, in Vionnet’s best manner, ends in a bow at the shoulder and flatters with its soft lines. The applied flares are unusually placed.” In this case, the skirt appears to be longer at the sides.

A Wedding Guest, Butterick No. 2577

Wedding guest, Butterick pattern 2577, Delineator, May 1929.

Wedding guest, Butterick pattern 2577, Delineator, May 1929.

1929 may p 24 wedding guests 2577  text

This dress has an uneven long-short hem thanks to its “oblong handkerchief drapes.”

Other Versions of the Wedding Dress

In May, the wedding dress pattern (2634) was also illustrated as “the most important formal evening gown of the month,” made sleeveless, with a deep back decolletage. Recommended colors for this lace gown are beige, “string,” lake blue, black, and yellow.

Butterick pattern 2634, "the most important formal evening gown of the month." Delineator, May 1929.

Butterick pattern 2634, “the most important formal evening gown of the month.” The Delineator, May 1929.

In this version, the skirt is cut in long scallops.

1929 may p 26 2634 evening gown text rt

Apparently, the jacket “is useful to turn this frock into one less formal. It makes the gown correct for important afternoon occasions. Its decolletage is formal — a deep V in front and a much deeper one in back.”

In June, the same wedding dress pattern, No. 2634, was described as ” a smart dress for outdoor dining, on roofs, country house terraces, country club verandas.” Here, the back decolletage is less revealing.

Butteick 2634 illustrated in Delineator, June 1929.

Butterick 2634 illustrated in The Delineator, June 1929.

1929 june p 25 evening 2634

“It is just the degree of informality to be very useful. . . . It has long sleeves, a new high fashion for the evening. It has a V decolletage, that may be very much deeper. It has an uneven, scalloped hem-line very long in back. And it is worn with a little jacket of the same fabric.”

This is a good illustration of the importance of taking fashion descriptions with a grain of salt. The dress that was “the most important formal evening gown of the month” in May, has “just the degree of informality to be very useful” in June. Presumably the difference lies in the decolletage, and in the difference between lace and “crepe de Chine, an important dull fabric.” I’m thinking that those scalloped edges would be easier to hem in printed chiffon or crepe de Chine than in lace!

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

A Sequinned Gown by Vionnet, 1924-1925

Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt (nee Gloria Morgan) in a sequin trimmed black velvet gown by Vionnet. Photo by Steichen. Pond's cold cream ad, 1925.

Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt (nee Gloria Morgan) in a sequin trimmed black velvet gown by Vionnet. Photo by Steichen. Pond’s cold cream ad, Delineator, June 1925.

In answer to Christina’s question about the Vionnet disc dress— what were the sequins really made of? — I have to acknowledge that I only saw that dress in one source, Butterick’s Delineator magazine from April 1929. As Molly Ivins said of a former president, “There is nothing so dangerous as a man who has only read one book” — a good reminder for anyone doing research.

When I find interesting things in old magazines, I try to put them in the blog so that other researchers can take the information and build on it — assuming that my source was reliable. I do try to leave a trail that can be followed — Month, Year, Name of Magazine. I have no reason to doubt the Delineator fashion sketches more than I doubt modern sketches;  Butterick maintained an establishment in Paris for the purpose of reporting on the latest styles (and occasionally, copying them . . . .)

Butterick Ad, August 1924, Delineator.

Butterick Ad, August 1924, Delineator.

“For Butterick keeps a staff of experts in Paris all the time. Wherever new models are launched, there is a Butterick expert noting each successful model. Quickly that expert cables the news. Sketches, details follow by the fast steamer. Immediately patterns are made for each of the successful new dresses.”

It’s true that Butterick ran one or two pages of sketches of Paris designs every month. In the 1920s, they were usually done by the illustrator and designer Soulie. Since there were usually five or more drawings per page, they’re not terribly large. Whether the sketches were perfectly accurate would be hard to establish without getting sketches or photos of the same garments from other sources.  ( I don’t have access to Vogue online, but that would be a good starting place.)

Mrs. Vanderbilt, photographed by Steichen in a gown by Vionnet. 1925.

Mrs. Vanderbilt, photographed by Steichen in a gown by Vionnet. Delineator, June 1925.

I found this photo of Mrs. Vanderbilt in a full page ad for Pond’s Face Cream — a celebrity endorsement. I could not find this exact dress in Betty Kirke’s Madeleine Vionnet, but Kirke did have numbered photos of similar sequin- trimmed dresses from the same collection. (It’s easy to forget that Vionnet was not averse to decoration; she just insisted that it be essential to the design, not added gratuitously.) Here is a detail of the skirt:

Vionnet using sequins on a black velvet gown, Delineator, June 1925.

Vionnet uses sequins on a black velvet gown, Delineator, June 1925.

Christina’s question was about the size and material of the paillettes on the disc dress. All the photo above shows is that Vionnet used sequins heavily in the 1920s, and could have custom work like this done to suit her needs. (Kirke does mention that.)

Vionnet dress trimmed with discs, 1929 .Sketches from Paris, The Delineator, April 1929, page 40.

Vionnet dress trimmed with discs, 1929 . Sketches from Paris, The Delineator, April 1929, page 40.

Whether the paillettes on the disc dress were celluloid or metal, I can’t say for sure, but “overlapping” metal that size would have been heavy for a “rose chiffon” support. (I suggested celluloid sequins; gelatin sequins have been used on clothing, but were unsatisfactory for several reasons — one being that they were water soluble….) So — if anybody finds out more about this disc dress, please let us know!

Whether this is relevant or not:  Many years ago, one of my friends was building costumes for a Russian circus that was going to perform in Japan. She visited their costume shop in Russia, and saw an unfamiliar machine next to a stack of clear plastic shirt collar supports — the kind used for packaging shirts so their collars don’t get squashed in shipping. When she asked, she was told that the machine was for making sequins — the costume shop had to make their own out of any scraps of shiny plastic they could salvage. When she got back to the U.S., she mailed them a big package of colored sequins.

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Filed under 1920s, Vintage Couture Designs

My Costumer’s Library: Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary and Secondary Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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