Tag Archives: women’s dresses 1920s


Can a dress change a life? Probably not, unless you’re Cinderella. But a dress can mark a turning point in your life…. I inherited many photos of a young woman named Ollie Cornelius. Often, there is an air of sadness about her.

Studio portrait of Ollie Cornelius, taken in Colusa, CA.

I’ve been trying to find out more about her from an ancestry site, with limited success. Ollie Cornelius and my mother became friends as young teenagers, and they were still writing to each other in 1950.

Ollie, left, and my mother, right (with ukelele) in a school playground, Redwood City, CA, circa 1918.

Ollie posing in a schoolyard. She is wearing a corduroy jacket over her school uniform. Circa 1918.

Young Ollie on a bench in Redwood City, CA. Although posing for a friend, she doesn’t look happy.

Ollie looks sad in the next photo because, having made friends in a new city — Redwood City, California — she was uprooted when her family moved again, to Colusa, 148 miles away.

Ollie in Colusa, CA, about 1919.

On the back she wrote, “When I had this picture taken I was thinking of Redwood City [That’s] why I look so sad.”

Today friends exchange photos instantly; then, people also kept in touch by mailing photographs back and forth. Luckily for us, these pictures often have writing on the back.

Ollie posing on a bridge, about 1919. This is not a period for flattering fashions…. but she knew how to wear an enormous black tam-o-shanter.

In her later teens, Ollie’s sadness had a more serious cause: she was diagnosed with tuberculosis — the “consumption” that killed so many in Victorian times.

On the back of the bridge photo, Ollie wrote, “This was taken before I was sick.”

Ollie is wearing the same dress in this photo taken at Weimar TB Sanatorium.

Ollie on the steps of her ward at Weimar Joint Sanatorium.

In 1919 there were no antibiotics; the usual treatment for TB was a move to a place with “better air” and complete rest for several months. Obviously, for working class people, quitting work and spending months in a private sanatorium was not an affordable option. Often, they continued working, incidentally spreading infection, until they literally dropped in their tracks.

Another tam-o-shanter. Ollie did not come from a wealthy family.

For a young office clerk like Ollie, TB could be a death sentence. Among men receiving treatment, the mortality rate was 50%.

Ollie and Claude (another TB victim) on the steps at Weimar Sanatorium.

Given America’s current attitude toward healthcare, it’s disconcerting to read that one hundred years ago, public health officials realized that an epidemic of this frequently fatal, contagious disease could only be prevented by treating the poor as well as the wealthy.

The Weimar Joint Sanatorium was created by the State of California and subsidized to give working class people the same chance of recovery as people who could afford private care.

Ollie at Weimar Sanatorium. The back of this photo says, “Where I used to live.” Dated 1919.

Fresh air was considered necessary for TB patients; Ollie is standing by a screened-in sleeping porch — unheated.

Three patients at Weimar; Ollie is on the right. The photo was dated 1919 by my aunt, who received it in the mail.

Ollie made friends with other women in her ward; in spite of their grim situation, they were still young and tried to cheer each other up.

Fellow patient Mrs. Alice Smith with Ollie Cornelius, about 1919.

On early photos, Ollie respectfully called her “Mrs. Smith.” “She was just married above a month,” [when she was diagnosed with TB] Ollie wrote. Apparently, Mr. Smith came to visit, still in his First World War military uniform.

Ollie with Mrs. Smith, who is clowning in her husband’s tunic and hat. “It is her husband’s uniform; her name is Mrs. Alice Smith.” I wonder if he took the photo.


Ollie and other young women at Weimar Sanatorium knew they might be facing death.

“…Patients frequently became depressed due to the severity of their infection and the hopelessness of a cure or because of separation from their families. In many cases it was difficult for families to visit either due to the cost of travel or because of the fear of becoming infected themselves. Seeing other patients die was another cause of despair.” — read more.

But a change came for Ollie. Was she really feeling well again? Had her doctors given her hope that she might be able to go home? These pictures of Ollie in a pretty new dress seem to mark a turning point:

Ollie next to her bed on the sleeping porch at Weimar Sanatorium.

Ollie modeling her new dress. Did it come from a catalog? Was it a gift?

Ollie reading in a common dining area. She still has dark circles under her eyes, but this is a different Ollie. She’s happy.

Ollie did recover, at least for many years. Trivial as it sounds, taking an interest in fashion may signal the end of her physical illness and resulting depression.

Ollie in Colusa, CA, about 1920.

Also, her friends had not forgotten her.

Ollie in a chic, sheer-brimmed hat, with my mother. About 1920.

My mother and her friend Ollie, 1920s.

Ollie fell in love:

Ollie and Lloyd Jennings, about 1920.

She got married:

Ollie and her husband. Note her Marcelle-waved hair. 1920s.

Ollie and my mother on a vacation, late 1920s.

Thanks to low-cost care during a public health crisis, Ollie survived TB and returned to active life:

Ollie, second from front, in the snow, circa 1931.

Ollie fashionably dressed (including necktie) for the snow; this photo was printed in February 1931.

Ollie with my Uncle Holt, 1930’s.

How wonderful that she had a future!


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Hats, Musings, Sportswear, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers, World War I

Paris Calls for Pleats, 1926 (Part 1)

Paris Straightens the Autumn Frock with Front and Side Plaits. Delineator, Sept. 1926.

Paris Straightens the Autumn Frock with Front and Side Plaits. Delineator, Sept. 1926.

Pleats for All Sizes

Butterick’s Delineator magazine ran two articles in the September, 1926, issue about the importance of “plaits” [i.e., pleats] to the fall styles. The first article showed three patterns for women in the normal range of sizes, with bust measurements of 32 to 44 inches. Elsewhere in that issue, patterns for “Misses aged 15 to 20 and small women” also show pleated skirts. [Misses’ sizes were for shorter and smaller figures; age 20 assumed a 37″ bust.] But the second article showed dresses with pleats in pattern sizes up to a 52 inch bust measurement. Since the styles of the 1920s were especially cruel to large figures, I am always intrigued by these unexpectedly large pattern sizes. I’m guessing that Butterick and other pattern companies realized that being “hard to fit” is a major reason for making your own clothes, so they routinely offered sizes not available in most stores.

Pleated Styles for Average and Small Women, 1926

In this post I’ll share some of the styles for women who fell within the normal size ranges.

Butterick pattern 7067, September 1926.

Butterick pattern 7067, September 1926.

This dress is very unusual — at least in my limited experience — because of the horizonal bands which decorate the shoulders and extend onto the sleeve caps.  Twenties’ fashions can be hard to wear because they widen the hips — already most women’s widest area. Many twenties styles have vertical details which seek to counteract this problem, but I have not seen many that visually broaden the shoulders like this:  butterick 7067 detailsNote, too, that the skirt pleats are stitched down for several inches to control fullness. The belt, which passes through buttonholes in the hip band, is tied very loosely as illustrated, but it could be used to snug the hip and create a blouson above. The long tie ends and the pleats create vertical lines for a slimming effect. This fashion figure is over 9 “heads” tall, but, adjusted to a normal figure, this could be a very becoming — and not terribly difficult — dress to copy. Back views are shown at the end of this post.

Butterick 7033, September 1926.

Butterick 7033, September 1926.

This dress, with its enormous buckle and wide hip band, would not flatter many women — especially those with a 44 inch bust and 47.5 inch hip — the usual pattern proportions. The collar creates a deep curve similar to the line of a long 1920s necklace, but it gets bigger at the bottom and draws more attention to the hip area. The description (“attached to a long body”) suggests that, although described as a dress, this is probably made made as a top, including the hip band, with a separate skirt suspended from the shoulders like a slip — a very common practice. The vestee, which fills in the neckline, can be made detachable for washing.

Butterick 7055, September 1926.

Butterick 7055, September 1926. For ladies 32 to 48 bust.

Butterick No. 7055 was not singled out as being for larger women, but it was available in sizes 46 and 48. I love the “Roman striped vestee” with its strong diagonals, and the ribbon-flower pom-pom which draws your eye upward to the face, plus the widening effect of “saddle shoulders” cut-in-one with the sleeve. This dress is definitely meant to be snugged at the hip; it has an adjustable belt at each side, like the belt on the back of a vest. butterick 7055 detailsThis dress has box pleats lined up with the side seams, and top-stitched for a slim fit over the hips. The saddle shoulders are similarly top-stitched.

A dress shown in “pea-soup green” gives plenty of room for movement when you’re walking:

Butterick 7045, September 1926.

Butterick 7045, September 1926.

Monograms were very popular, influenced perhaps by Jean Patou’s  use of them in sportswear. This dress is a bit tricky to make, because it has inserted pleats of darker color fabric. They are not inserted into seams, but added like a wedge-shaped godet. That explains the need for those arrow shapes — stitching or applique? — that reinforce the points of stress. 1926 sept p 28 grn skirt paris frocks pleats

Pleated Dresses for Misses and Smaller Women, September 1926.

Butterick patterns for Misses aged 15 to 20 and Smaller Women. September 1926.

Butterick patterns for Misses Aged 15 to 20 and Smaller Women. September 1926.

Butterick 7057, (left) like the green dress pictured above, has pleats inserted like godets. The color combination is interesting. A color called bois de rose (rosewood) was popular, but this dress is burgundy colored. Notice the unusual sleeves. The pink contrasts in the top half of this dress are so interesting that its self-colored hip belt is hardly noticeable.

Butterick 7057 for Misses and Smaller Women, September 1926.

Butterick 7057 for Misses and Small Women, September 1926.

The pleats are topstitched, both for flatness and to reinforce the weakest points. The “convertible” collar can be worn unbuttoned.

This blue dress also has stitched-down pleats below its dropped waist.

Butterick pattern 7003 for Misses and Small Women, Sept. 1926.

Butterick pattern 7003 for Misses and Small Women, Sept. 1926.

This dress is for younger and smaller women, who might be expected to have ideal 1920s figures, but it still uses many vertical lines for a slenderizing effect, especially in the very long tie. Little capes on the backs of dresses were often shown in pattern illustrations, but, like this one, they were usually detachable or optional. “Chin-chin blue” is probably meant to evoke Chinese colors. The gray belt seems to run through buttonholes in the front and back of the dress. See back views below.

Misses’ dress 7024 is not pleated. Described as a “coat-frock,” it has a slenderizing vertical opening the entire length of the center front.

Butterick  pattern for Misses 7024, Sept. 1926.

Butterick pattern for Misses 7024, Sept. 1926.

Lacking pleats, the skirt’s 46″ hem circumference does not encourage long strides. The artist has neglected to draw the slip straps. Another sheer-over-satin dress for young women, No. 6904, was featured in July, 1926:

Butterick pattern No. 6904 for Misses, July 1926.

Butterick pattern No. 6904 for Misses, July 1926.

These coat-dress styles create such a strong vertical line that I would expect them to be appealing to larger women, but both these patterns are for “Misses 15 to 20 years old, and small women.”

This dress pattern, No. 7059, is actually a blouse and skirt combination.

Butterick pattern No. 7059 for Misses and Small Women. Sept. 1926

Butterick pattern No. 7059 for Misses and Small Women. Sept. 1926

The pleats on the skirt can fall perfectly straight, because there is no waistband; this skirt is attached to a slip-like underbody and hangs from the shoulders. It is similar in style to some of the pleated dresses for larger women described in the same magazine. It is not a style I would recommend to women seeking to look thinner.

These 1920s Hats Deserve a Second Look:

Four hats from Delineator, September 1926.

Four hats from Delineator, September 1926.

Here are back views of the eight dresses from September that are pictured above:

Back views: Butterick patterns for Women Nos. 7067, 7033, 7055, 7045.

Back views: Butterick patterns for Women Nos. 7067, 7033, 7055, 7045.

Most of these dresses can be made with long or short sleeves. Only one, #7033, has pleats in back. #7045 shows that there is a handy strap on the back of her clutch purse.

Back views of Dresses for Misses, Nos. 7024, 7059, 7057, 7003.

Back views of Dresses for Misses, Nos. 7024, 7059, 7057, 7003.

Part 2 of “Paris Calls for Pleats” will show 1926 patterns for larger women.


Filed under 1920s, bags, Hats, Purses, Vintage Accessories, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes