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The Vintage Dressmaker (1)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

1920's Undergarments Part 3

Yes, part 3. No we aren’t done yet. Almost.

After you had put on your chemise or vest and bloomers or drawers and fastened the corset and brassiere combination that best fit your form, you were ready to fasten your hose to your garters. Most corsets had built in garters or hose supporters, but if they did not, or you were one of those girls who chose not to wear a corset, then you could buy or make garters of pretty ribbon over tight elastic to hold up your hose.

Hose were mostly delicate knit silk or a fabric called Lisle which was very fine, tightly woven cotton and came in many colors. However rayon hose were available at a less expensive price, claiming equal quality and better wear. In winter months thicker cotton, sometimes ribbed hose were worn for warmth. The hose were seamed at the back with reinforced heels, usually pointed. For a short period of time mid-decade, shorter knee hose were in fashion that were woven with tight elastic at the top and required no garters to hold them up. Much like modern knee socks I imagine. They were usually decorated with silk ribbons or rosettes.
1920's Stockings

Your next layer depended entirely on the outfit that you were going to wear. If you were going to wear a lovely sheer blouse, very popular from 1920-1924 and your favorite skirt you would wear a corset cover or a camisole to hide your corset and give the blouse a pretty background on which to lay. A corset cover had larger cap sleeves made of beautiful lace, where as a camisole had thin straps like a slip. As these dainty, feminine blouses began to fade from catalogs in favor of the more simple "manish" shirts of the later half of the decade, so did the camisole and corset cover.

1920's Corset Covers and Camisoles

A vestee was often worn with a sweater or a suit and was basically a false shirt front.

1920's Vestees

1920's Vestees, Collars, and Cuffs

If you were wearing one of the long, sheer tunic style gowns that defined 1920’s fashion, you would wear a slip usually made in matching fabric especially for the gown, however standard black ready-made "costume" slips were available at shops and in catalogs. A white or flesh color slip would be worn under any other one piece dress, often with a "shadow proof" hem of double fabric layers to prevent light from casting shadows through sheer or semi-sheer dresses.
1920's Costume Slips

1920's Slips

Last but not least, less beautiful, maybe even more necessary, the question no one EVER wants to talk about...what did they do for sanitary protection?? Well, let me tell you it wasn’t pretty!! Given most of the options, I believe I would have just hibernated for four or five days every month!! Cumbersome and bulky only scratch the surface, not to mention yucky and gross!

Women wore sanitary belts made out of elastic webbing in which they fastened home made or store bought "sanitary napkins". Some such napkins were made of diaper cloth and were washed and reused in the same fashion cloth baby diapers were (and you thought you hated to do laundry!), others could be purchased from department stores that were made of a Cellulose core covered with cheese cloth and claimed to be "flushable", however they appear to me to be a plumbers worst nightmare!

1920's Sanitary Napkins

1920's Sanitary Belts, Aprons, and Napkins

Over this lovely belted ensemble you could wear a "comfortable" rubberized step-in, a rubberized sanitary "apron" or petticoat, or all of the above depending on your level of paranoia! I have this mental image of stiff, waddling women that crinkled when they walked!!

1920's Rubberized Sanitary Step-Ins

1920's Rubberized Sanitary Slips, Aprons, and Belts

I don’t plan on ever taking my reconstruction THIS seriously!! I believe some modern inventions and advancements are to be embraced!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

1920's Undergarments Part 2

The primary purpose of an undergarment was to keep the corset from rubbing the skin as well as keep it clean to limit laundering and to provide the proper foundation for the outer wear. There were many options available in contemporary magazines and mail order catalogs. You could have a vest with separate drawers, a simple chemise or the most common one piece "envelope" or "step in" combination suit.  In colder weather one piece "Union Suits" were worn.

Vest and Union Suits were made of soft, fine knitted fabrics such as cotton, silk, wool or rayon. Union Suits were one piece undergarments that had either tight or loose fitting legs with an access flap of some sort in the back. They both consisted of either a straight top with straps or a rounded neck with wider, built-up shoulders much like those of modern tank tops.

1920's Union Suit

1920's Knit Vests and Union Suits

1920's Cotton Jersey Union Suits

The Envelope, or Step-In, Chemise was made of dainty woven cotton, silk, or rayon. They could be worn either over or under a corset and had either "wide legs for sanitary purposes" (as stated in the Montgomery Wards 1926 catalog) or they snapped or buttoned at the crotch. The neck line could be straight or shaped just as the vest. There are countless variations on each of these. Before constructing such a garment, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with catalogs and magazines of the time to determine your preference.

1920's Step-In Chemise
1920's Envelope Chemise

Drawers or Bloomers were generally worn with a vest or a when a brassiere was necessary and were made of woven cotton or silk. The are essentially the same, the difference being that drawers have a wide finished leg and the leg of the bloomers are tightly finished with elastic. The later was primarily worn under shorter dresses, being made up of a matching fabric.

1920's Drawers

1920's Bloomers

Suggested materials for undergarments where cotton jersey for everyday/casual wear, fine cotton batiste, or silk, such as crepe de Chine or crepe-back satin for finer garments worn for special occasions. Color choices were generally white, flesh, peach, pale yellow, pale green or orchid. White garments were trimmed with white lace and colored garments in ecru or ivory. (Underwear and Lingerie - The Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences,1925 page 53).

Even though colors appear different on individual monitors this clip should at least give you a general idea of what colors were typical of the time.

1920's Lingerie Fabrics

Ornamentation consisted of fine lace, embroidery, pintucks and ribbon work often referred to as "French hand sewing". The degree of decoration would depend on the occasion in which the garment would be worn. "It is frequently desirable to plan a matching set of lingerie, for instance, as a part of the bridal trousseau or graduation outfit. When this is the case, an essentially dainty trimming arrangement is usually decided on, since such and outfit is reserved for special occasions and consequently may be less practical than those garments intended to be worn every day. Then, too, a particular style of trimming is essential, so that the slip and chemise, when worn together, will not appear bulky or overdone" (Underwear and Lingerie - The Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences,1925 page 51).

1920's Lingerie Set

I have already begun drafting my first group of patterns including a plain brassiere, a bandeau brassiere, drawers, bloomers, and two variations on the chemise. After I finish sharing my overview and initial research I will move into the actual construction of each of these garments here on the blog, sometime there after making the patterns themselves available online.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1920's Undergarments Part 1

Peeling back the layers...

What then, was underneath it all?

Did women of the 1920's wear corsets?

Let's begin by dismissing the biggest fashion myth of the 20th century, that women of the 1920’s did not wear corsets! It is certain there were some "liberated" young women of slight build that drank gin, smoked cigarettes and hung around in "speak-easy’s" that tossed away their cumbersome corsets, but I can find no historical evidence of that being the case for the average woman.

I am uncertain as to the source of this myth, other than the brassiere as we know it today had it’s origins at the turn of the century, giving rise to the belief that it replaced the corset. A Brassiere was, in fact, designed to be worn WITH a corset.

In 1917, after the US entered WWI, the US War Industries Board suggested women to refrain from purchasing new corsets in order to free up steel for war manufacturing. However that does not mean they gave up wearing the ones they already owned. It may be what inspired corset makers to explore new materials in corset making such as "feather" boning which was in fact originally quills from bird feathers stitched into rows and covered with a fabric casing and was more flexible than steel. Modern "feather" boning is made of plastic sewn together in a similar way.

The war pushed many women into the work force as well. Making stiff, inflexible corsets with long restricting busks of the Edwardian era impractical.  Any steel restriction would hane been temporary and ended when the war did, but women had tasted comfort and mobility that would be difficult to turn back from.

Therefore, it is true that more options in underwear and lingerie became readily available during the 1920’s, however, every magazine, catalog, and text book I have ever read includes some sort of corset, corselet, or girdle from 1919 on up until the end of the 1940’s. Even in the 1950’s most women wore a one or two piece girdle with garters for hose that was essentially a corset sans laces, to achieve that crazy "wasp" hour glass figure! It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the average girl gave up squeezing herself into some sort of shape altering underwear. Let’s face the reality of it, depending on your body size and type, some of us today still rely on some sort of artificial body support, "Spanx" you very much!

It was of common opinion, and there are many adds and articles that express a need for support of the body to achieve correct posture for health and beauty reasons in the 1920’s. A quick image search on the Internet will turn up countless examples.

Early 1920's Underbust Corset

1920's Medical Corset

Early 1920's Underbust Corset
Mid 1920's Underbust Corset

Late 1920's Corselet
Mid 1920's Corselet

The underbust corset was still the corset of most common use by middle class women through the middle of the decade, inspiring the need of a brassiere and encouraging its development.

The Entomology of the word brassier according to Wikipeadia is as follows; "The French word brassière refers to a baby's vest (undershirt) or lifebelt, underbodice or harness. The word brassière derives from bracière, an Old French word meaning "arm protector" and referring to military uniforms (bras in French means "arm"). This later became used for a military breast plate, and later for a type of woman's corset".

The term Brassiere, according to Mary Brooks Picken, developer of the "Picken Square", founder of The Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences and author of The Fashion Dictionary (my personal hero), the word is derived from a French word meaning to bind, to restrain. In her instructional paper Underwear and Lingerie 1925 page 55 under the subtitle Brassieres she says; "The general use of the brassiere has been brought about by the adoption of the low-bust corset, which requires the wearing of a confining band so that the upper part of the figure will appear trim especially when a one-piece dress is worn." A brassier was then, worn with a corset, over it in fact, as seen in the example below. Most of them had a strap and hook in the front to secure it to the corset in order to hold the breasts down firmly. It seems to be used primarily by full breasted women in need of added support.

Late 1800's Brassiere

The bra as we know it today had its beginning with Herminie Cadolle (1845 – 1926) who invented a two-piece undergarment called le bien-être (the wellbeing) in 1895. The lower part was a corset for the waist and the upper supported the breasts with shoulder straps. It was worn mostly by very well-to-do French women, not yet common place, however it is reasonable to believe it is what inspired and later evolved into the corselet, or Bandeau corset of the second half of the 1920’s.

In 1914 the first US Paten for a brassiere was issued to Mary Phelps Jacob who later sold it to The Warner Brothers Corset Company. This type of brassiere later became known as a Bandeau.

In reference to the bandeau brassiere, Mary Brooks Picken says "When the form is light, not requiring a confining band so much as a slight support, the brassiere shown (here) is appropriate." Underwear and Lingerie 1925 page 61.

1920's Bandeau Brassiere

Saturday, January 8, 2011

1920's clothing construction

I find that there is a distinct difference in style and construction of clothing between the first half of the 1920’s and the second. The former still clinging to the methods and romantic style of the previous decade and the later taking a turn to a straighter line in both design and silhouette. Therefore I have decided to tackle this project in two parts, 1920-1924 and 1925-1929. I am undecided if I will work from the inside to the outside one era at a time, or together by garment type. I’m open to suggestions.

I have a strong aversion to patterns meant to be period accurate that are made with modern drafting tools and techniques. The tools and method one used to draft, the overall posture and shape of the contemporary figure, even the way a person was measured by their dressmaker changed from era to era and greatly effected the cut and fit of the garments to be constructed. How high on the back of the neck the average garment sat, the slope of the shoulder, the position and length of the shoulder seam, the shape of the armscye, and the positioning of the waist should all be observed. Designing for certain historical periods can not be done well or easily using modern computerized drafting programs, or even by hand with a modern dressmakers curve and square.

It takes careful consideration to determine the way in which an article of clothing was constructed, as some contemporary commercial patterns available assumed every woman already knew how to sew and construct her clothing, therefore only the basic pattern pieces were included with little to no information as to how to assemble them or to what type of foundation to attach them to. For that information you must resort to text books of the era. Fortunately there is a wealth of information available on the methods of the 1920’s.

In the early half of the 1920’s for the most part, in keeping with the tradition of the previous decade, dresses were assembled and sewn over a "foundation skirt" or a "foundation waist lining" that according to the particular design, slipped over the head, fastened at the front, the side of the bodice, or a combination of both. Rarely, if ever, did they fasten at the back of the garment.

In her book Harmony in Dress 1924, on page 6 of the section Good Taste in Dress, Mary Brooks Picken gives us some sound, first hand advice; "In studying any fashion magazine, it is a good idea for the beginner to consider each figure separately and to notice what type of foundation pattern is needed for the development of the pattern for the waist portion, the sleeves, and the skirt."

Foundation skirts or drop waist linings, as they are sometimes called, are used when the upper portion of the garment has a tunic shape with skirts made entirely of flounces, ruffles or draped fabrics. Like this example:

A foundation waist lining could be semi-close fitting or close fitting, depending on need, the later typically used for evening gowns was usually at least partially boned. It was used, not only to give a garment structure, but to hold dress shields that protect against perspiration or to attach the sleeves to, as need may be. They were typically made from silk, cotton batiste, or net.

This is a photo of one as pictured in Lippincott’s Home Manuals Clothing for Women by Laura I. Baldt, A.M. 1919 on page 385:

1920's foundation waist lining

The following link is an extant example of a semi-fitted foundation waist lining being used in a 1920's Navy Blue Maternity Day Dress found at the Detraoit Museums and Historical Society:

Navy Blue Maternity Day Dress 1920
Other dresses of the period, especially the second half of the decade became less complex and were simply a one piece garment that slipped over the head and were belted just below the natural waist.

Here are some links to excellent on-line museum collections of period dress that illustrate such foundations in use.

Detroit Historical Museums and Society

Dorthea June Grossbart (WSU) Historical costume collection

Henry Ford Historic Costume Collection

Be sure to page through all the thumbnails andclick on each one to read the description and see other views of each item.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

In the begining

I am a procrastinating perfectionist!! For some reason I feel like I can't start a project until I have the means to complete it perfectly.  I am going to work hard at changing that about myself. 

My purpose in starting this blog is indeed shameful self-promotion! I plan on marketing my own line of historical dress patterns and I'm trying to create some interest and attract a following of 1920's enthusiasts.

As far as I can tell from my personal research, there is a need  in the sewing pattern market for historically correct 1920's patterns with size nesting for ease of alteration and clear and accurate instructions on construction.  I have amassed a sizable reference library and have many years of designing, drafting, and constructing experience that I imagine could prove useful.

My plan is to start from the inside (next to the skin) and work my way out, examining the many options in dress available during the era. I will post my research, inspiration pictures, pattern drafts, step by step sewing, fitting, and construction guides, along with embellishment ideas and resource links.