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The Vintage Dressmaker (1)

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.

Enjoy!!

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