Tag Archives: 1930s

Dress and Home Workbook, 1935

This recent flea market find is a workbook to accompany a high school textbook, The Mode in Dress and Home. The author, Dulcie G. Donovan was a home ec teacher at Hollywood High School.

I don’t remember having a textbook in my 1970s home ec classes, much less a workbook. As a teacher, I know that workbooks are an expensive addition to the school budget, and are usually reserved for classes in which they are most useful. That is, things like primary arithmetic. I’m really curious about a school that could afford  to buy, or more likely, to require the students to purchase an unnecessary workbook during the Great Depression when there was little money for such things.

As it turns out, the school was Concord High School in Concord, Virginia. Nothing I’ve read about this central Virginia village suggests a higher than average standard of living. So, the why of this book remains a mystery. But the contents are what we are really interested in.

I’m sure that much of the content directly mirrors what the students read in the textbook. But there are also many opportunities for each student to reflect on her own preferences and experiences.

If you have read Linda Przybyszwski’s book, The Lost Art of Dress, then you might recall how home ec teachers and writers  taught that the principles of art could and should be applied to one’s manner of dressing.  In this workbook there is a lot of discussion of  principles like proportion and color. Donovan also has the students look at fashions of the past, in their quest for good taste in fashion.

Of course, there is a lot of leading the horse to the water, so to speak. Any fool could see that the lines of 1935 were much better than those of  the prior years.

This page was not completed, but I love the exercise created here. Students were to prove the effects of color by the use of these templates.

In other places fabrics were collected and saved in the workbook. I’ve seen this concept in other student work of this era, mainly in the form of student-made notebooks in which samples of work and fabrics are collected as a resource for the student.

Appropriateness was a big topic. Our student, whose name was Margaret Nash, correctly identified each of the fads, but she wisely neglected to type-cast her classmates as to personality. And to make the results public would have been a big mistake, in my opinion!

And what’s with the little elf character? He’s (she’s?) found throughout the book and is the sort of thing high school girls love to make silly jokes about. Or was that just my high school classmates?

The next part of the workbook was devoted to sewing.  Can you label the parts of the sewing machine?

The class examined the commercial sewing pattern. In 1935 most pattern companies were beginning to add to the instructions included. Up until the mid 1920s, many patterns had only brief instructions on the envelope. By the 1930s there was often an instruction sheet enclosed, but even those instructions required a working knowledge of sewing techniques.

Remember, buttons are sewed on for service and not just decoration.

As in many ambitious curriculums, the school year ran out before the workbook was completed. The second half of the book in which the home is addressed, is not used at all. Maybe it was to be used in a second year of the course. Or, more likely, home ec really meant sewing and cooking, with home decoration being an after-thought, or not studied at all. I vaguely remember cutting colorful pictures out to magazines to create rooms.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Sewing

Arts and Crafts Meets 1930s in One Lovely Dress

The dress above was part of the auction purchase I’ve written about previously. In this case, the dress (and little cape, which I’ll show in a moment) were exactly as described and as shown. I wanted this set because, while not strictly a sporting ensemble, the dress is very much in line with the sportswear aesthetic of the era. Take off the stenciled decoration, add a belt, and you have a typical tennis dress of the early 1930s.

In analyzing this dress and capelet, I first consulted the 1934 Butterick sewing pattern book in my possession.  I love vintage fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, but in order to see great representations of design details on clothing for the mass market, sewing pattern books cannot be equaled.

Let’s start with the back of the dress. In the early 1930s, the back became an area of fashion interest. It might have been due to the increase in sunbathing and tanning, or maybe the exposed back was making up for the more covered legs. At any rate, an exposed back was in favor on everything from swimwear to evening dresses. Tennis dresses were no exception.  Look carefully at my dress to see the deep, squared-off neckline, similar to view B in the catalog illustration.

As impractical as it may seem, a long row of back buttons was also commonly seen in my 1934 catalog. The view above combines the buttons with a deep V-shaped back neckline.

My dress does not actually button. The wonderful old bakelite buttons are sewn over snap fasteners. I’ll tell why I think the maker chose this method later.

It’s the little matching cape that really gives this ensemble an early 1930s look. These capelets are everywhere in my catalog.

The red piping is a great touch.

The shape of the collar tends to give it a bit of a sailor look, which was another popular design theme in the early 1930s.

You might have noticed that my dress has princess seaming, in which the front is formed by three pieces, with the seaming forming the shape of the bust and the waist. At first I didn’t see any evidence of this design feature, but then one appeared.

I am thinking that my dress must had originally had a matching belt, though the placement of the back buttons does not make allowances for one. But essentially all the dresses in this catalog have a belt at the natural waist.

The stenciling is an interesting feature. The maker might have been inspired by Art Deco motifs, or even the Arts and Crafts movement or the Wiener Werkstätte.

This set was made by a competent dressmaker, but I must say that button holes were not her strong suit. Maybe that’s why the back closes with snaps rather than with buttons.

I hope you can see how beautiful the linen material is. The set is a bit darker than my photos show, giving the piece a lovely handcrafted feel.

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Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

The Dress I’ll Not Be Buying

Very high on my wish list for a very long time has been a late 1920s white dress appropriate for tennis. The dresses above are from 1927, seen in a B.Altman catalog. It shows the type of thing I’ve been desiring for a long time.

These are hard to come by. It’s much easier to find a fantastically beaded evening dress from 1927 than it is to find a simple white linen or cotton frock. That does not keep me from looking. I have the usual hunting sites, like Etsy, eBay, and Ruby Lane, but occasionally I’ll venture into high price territory, in the hopes that a dress I can afford will magically appear.

So I went to one such high-priced site, and my search for “tennis dress” returned a list of five or six actual dresses, one of which was labeled as 1920s. Unfortunately,  labeling a dress “1920s” does not automatically make it so.

While old, the dress was not from the twenties, but was very similar to the third dress in this group. And this is from a 1931 B. Altman catalog. Still, it was a great dress, and the best part was a little tennis racket motif embroidered on the bodice. Yes, this was an actual tennis dress.

I’ll admit that at first glance I was smitten. I was charmed by the obviousness of the embroidery. Then I started reading the description and looking at the photos. There were numerous stains and even a tear in the fabric. But what really stopped me in my shopping tracks was a description of the underarms. They were described as having “authentic sweat stains”.  A look at the photos confirmed that yes, these sweat stains were indeed authentic.

I can’t remember ever having read an item description where sweat stains were spun into a good thing. Perhaps that helps explain the $1200 (plus $25 shipping) price tag.

For the most part, I don’t complain about what people choose to charge for their old stuff. I figure that the marketplace really does help establish prices. That said, there are definite trends even in vintage clothing that do affect pricing. I long for the old days when I could buy 1950s travel-themed skirts for $40, and when the competition for old sportswear was non-existent, but I realize these fads too shall pass. I can remember when plain Victorian white underwear brought hundreds of dollars, things that today bring less than fifty.

In the meantime the $1225 1920s-but-really-1930s tennis dress will not be added to my little collection.

 

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1934 Summer Fashions from Butterick Patterns

Last fall luck was with me and I found a Butterick counter catalog from 1934. I say lucky because these are so hard to find these days, and when they appear online they always come with a hefty price tag. What’s really amazing about a resource like this catalog is that every time I look through it I notice something new. So I hope this post will be somewhat focused, without me running here and there with a hundred different observations.

Of course I’m most interested in the sportswear, and this catalog is full of superb examples. But because the catalog offers a wide range of clothing, comparisons between sportswear, day clothing, evening gowns, and even lingerie, can easily be made. One of the best tips I know of when it comes to dating sportswear is to look at a piece as though it were fashionable day or evening wear. Things like swimsuits and tennis dresses often have the same sort of fashionable details you’d see in other clothing.

You can see that the design above is the same play set at the top of this post. The pattern actually contained all four pieces, so a woman could easily turn a play look into streetwear. It’s a little too early for the one-piece playsuit with matching skirt, but it’s easy to see how sportswear was headed in that direction. The shorts look almost exactly like the lingerie panties so commonly seen in the early 1930s.

It would not be long before the pleated shorts as seen on the right became the most popular type.

Have you noticed the bare backs? It wasn’t just popular in sportswear. Halter tops were fashionable, as were tops that fastened at the shoulder, and were bare in the back like the top on the right…

and like this evening gown.

By looking at these drawings you might think that no woman in 1934 had hips, and that all were very tall. That’s partly due to the elongated scale of the drawing, but also because by 1934 dress waists had become shortened as skirts got longer. Of course, “waistlines” were actually at the hip in 1927 and then they began the journey up toward the waist. This didn’t happen over night.

I read somewhere that before the mid 1930s waists tended to draw the eye down with seams and piecing like the downward pointing yoke of the shorts in the first photo. But by 1934 or so waists started moving and pointing toward the face. Skirts became very slim and quite plain. The details were mostly on the bodice, above the waist.

What makes pattern books especially helpful in seeing trends like this is that unlike catalogs of ready made clothes that feature just what was designed and made for that season, pattern books would carry a popular pattern for several years. Because the patterns are numbered pretty much consecutively, it’s easy to tell the older designs from the newer ones. The dress above with the piecing below the waist is an older design.

I had to show this pattern because it reminds me so much of the nautical pant set I recently added to my collection.

This one is interesting because it’s one of the very few designs in the catalog that calls for a zipper.

It’s hard to understand the logic behind having a dress that buttons up the back, but regardless, I love this look so much. It came with a little jacket, as that V-neck in the back is a bit too bare for the street.

Most of the dresses could be made very sporty, or slightly less so. The two dresses in the center could be made from the same pattern, with a choice of collar, sleeves, and belt.

One of the oldest designs offered in this catalog is this romper. Judging by the number of the pattern and the hair styles of the models, my guess is that this one dates from 1929 or 1930. Maybe Butterick continued to sell it because it was popular with dance students.

 

 

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sewing, Sportswear

1920s or 1930s Barefoot Dancing Sandals

People who have never attempted to sell online seem to have the idea that it’s an easy way to make a buck. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Selling old stuff online is hard for many reasons, but I’m only going to address one of them. And that is that there are so many old things than even experienced sellers run across objects they look at and just scratch the head in puzzlement.

The seller of the shoes above listed them as circa 1900 leather bathing shoes. I knew that was not correct, but what exactly are they? I could see why the seller thought they were bathing shoes, as they really do resemble them in some ways, but I’ve never heard of them being made of leather. After seeing the listing several months ago I forgot about the shoes, but the purchase of a 1929 gym attire catalog revealed the identity of the mystery sandals.

Of course that started a mad scramble to try and re-find the listing, but I had not bookmarked it, and so I was just out of luck. Or so I thought. Last week as I was searching for bathing shoes, these popped up again. Three clicks and they were mine.

The story is made even happier because I have a very similar pink and white gingham dancing romper as illustrated in the catalog, right beside the dancing sandals.

The dancing sandals look rather sad without feet to fill them out. I am so glad I spotted these and was able to add the proper context back to the object.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Shoes

1933 – 1935 Beach Ensemble

One of my biggest splurges of the past year was this four-piece beach or sailing ensemble. After years of building a collection, I’ve learned that it’s better to wait for really special things to come to the market instead of buying a lot of miscellaneous bargains. This set is a good example of what I’m saying. I spent more on it than I normally spend on acquisitions, but it was such a great addition to my collection that I just could not resist.

Here are the first two pieces – a playsuit/bathing suit, and a rope belt. The neck with those fabulous nautical flags ties with the same rope as the belt. The belt buckle is plastic, and it is a small miracle that the thing has survived eighty something years.

I was hoping the flags spelled out a secret message, but I could not find a corresponding message for each flag.

This is also the case for the buckle, or at least I could not find it in any of the charts. Maybe I’m asking too much of an already fabulous article.

The pants could be added for a more covered up look. You might have expected the pants to be more like traditional sailor pants with the front flap and two rows of buttons, but the designer was too creative for that.

Instead she gave us one row of buttons on the side front, with a diagonal line to the crotch. You can’t tell from my photo but the opening actually drapes and overlaps an interior piece, and there are straps (barely visible on waistband) that wrap and button. It’s such a great design.

The last piece is a little red jacket, which by itself would look rather plain. But with the flags draped over the neckline and the belt buckle directly below, no other decoration was needed.

Unfortunately, the bathing suit is not in perfect condition. It obviously got much more wear than the other pieces, and there is an area of damage right on the front. When I received this the holes looked much worse, but I did a temporary repair in which I stitched the visible fabric to the lining.  In an interesting twist, I would never have been able to afford this had it been in perfect condition. The trick is to balance fabulousness and rarity with condition. The fact that there were four coordinating pieces really adds to the scarcity. I often see bits and pieces of former sets that have lost their mates. It’s sad, actually.

Can you tell this is a knit? It’s a very finely knit rayon and looks quite similar to the good nylons used by better lingerie companies starting in the late 1940s. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between knit rayon and the later nylon, and I’ve seen 1930s knit rayon mislabeled by sellers as nylon.

Dating was made easy due to the single label present. This is the label used when products were made in accordance with the National Recovery Act, or NRA. The act was instituted in 1933, but was found to be unconstitutional in 1935, so there is only a three year window in which items with the NRA eagle symbol could have been made.

 

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Ski Suit, 1930s or early 1940s

I bought this white and blue ski suit some time ago, and until I posted about the late 20s suit, I had forgotten that I’d not shown off this one. There are a lot of similarities between this suit and the 1920s suit, but the differences are what makes placing a date on this set easier.

The biggest difference is probably the use of the zipper as an important part of the garment. The late 20s top has a short zipper at the neck, but  with its prominent tassel, I tend to think it was more for decoration than function. Remember, that earlier set was knit, and this one, made five to ten years later, is a woven. There is a need for garment openings, and both the jacket and the pants have zippers.

The 1920s knit pants were stretchy enough to pull on without an opening. There later pants with the tightly woven wool, require an opening. By the time these were made, probably after 1935, zippers were coming into common use in garments.

This set does have knit cuffs on the sleeves and pants legs.  The touch of color really adds to the attractiveness of this set.

This little tab under the collar keeps the jacket securely closed.

There is also a tab at the top of the pants zipper. Could it be that the maker just did not trust the zippers to hold securely? Remember, the zipper was just becoming commonly used. Maybe they were like the early adopters of the nylon coil zipper in the 1960s, when zipper failures were a very real problem.

That metal buckle also helps in adjusting the waist size.

Another clue that this suit is later than my 1920s one is the emphasis put on the natural waistline. You see that same feature on the ski suit in the 1941 photograph of Geraldine Kirkendall that I posted earlier this week. Actually these two suits are alike in every way except for the puffed sleeves  and surface decoration on Geraldine’s suit.

So, what keeps this ski suit from being from the later 1940s or even the 50s? Mainly, it’s the fabric used. By the time WWII started for the USA in 1941, manufacturers were turning away from heavy, fuzzy wools like the one used in my suit. Wool gabardine was found to be more resistant to water and wind and was lighter in weight. Ski pants lost the knit cuffs, and under-the-foot straps were added to keep the legs tucked into the boots and socks.

Okay, the gabardine suits might have been more practical, but I can’t imagine anything being cozier for a snowy day.

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Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports