One of my latest finds looks like a dress, but the skirt is actually culottes. I first spotted this on Instagram and then I stalked the listings of LittleStarsVintage until she listed them. We don’t think much about culottes these days unless they are undergoing one of the many revivals of the style. But in the 1930s, culottes were news.
In 1930 pants were being worn more and more by women, but they really were still mainly for sports, the beach, and the home. Wearing pants on the street shopping was still frowned upon in most places.
In 1931 Elsa Schiaparelli designed and made a culotte skirt and she actually wore it on the streets of London. I’m so glad that moment was documented. The same year she made a pair for tennis star Lili de Alvarez who was roundly criticized for wearing them in a tournament. These photos are from Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli by Dilys E. Blum. I highly recommend it.
I think Schiaparelli’s pair looks like beach pyjamas that have shrunk to just below the knees. By 1931 the straight legs of the pyjamas of the 1920s had morphed into wide-legged bell-shaped legs. Could that have been Schiaparelli’s inspiration for the shape of her culottes?
My pair dates to the second half of the 1930s, and is made from a cotton print of coins. The red rick-rack is a casual touch, and marks this as a dress that might be perfect for a picnic or as a house dress. A very brave woman might even wear it to the market.
A machine stitched hem pretty much confirms this was a commercially manufactured garment. The seller had previously sold a very similar dress which had a size tag, something this one does not have.
It also has machine-made buttonholes which points to a manufactured product. I can’t help but wonder why black thread was chosen.
Besides the culotte skirt, this dress has another feature that makes this appropriate as sportswear – a pleated sleeve. I love this sleeve, which I first encountered in an early 1930s blouse pattern. Sleeves made in woven fabrics often have a stiff and uncomfortable feel, but this sleeve is loose and airy without looking frilly or silly.
Culotte patterns were also available to the home sewer. This Hollywood pattern is not dated, but the original owner wrote “May 12, 1936” on the envelope.
And I refuse to believe that anyone has legs that long!