Thursday, July 12, 2018

Twinsets (1940s-1960s)

A twinset is the combination of a short-sleeved pullover with a matching cardigan.  They were very fashionable between the late 1940s and the early 1960s.

Stitchcraft, October 1945

Wolsey, 1948

Stitchcraft, December 1950

David Jones catalogue, Winter 1951

Stitchcraft, October 1953

Lyle and Scott, 1957

Stitchcraft, August 1960

Braemar, 1960

Hogg of Hawick, 1961

Ballantyne, 1963 

Like so many things, the twinset was swept away by the "youthquake" of the mid- to late sixties.  Indeed the phrase, "twinset and pearls" became synonymous for a certain kind of middle-class, middle-aged conservatism—the very reverse of trendy!

In recent years, however, it has been making a comeback...

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Femina" (March 1908)

Femina was a French women's magazine that ran from 1901 to 1954 (with interruptions and a change of ownership).  Here we have the March 1908 "special number", showcasing the coming modes for Spring and Summer.

Beginning with the magazine's coloured centre spread, we see a group of ladies dressed for the races at Longchamp.   For women, Longchamp was as much about looking at and showing off the fashions as watching the races.  Around this time fashion designers started sending models to the racecourse to parade in their latest and most daring creations.

Next, a selection of evening dresses.  On the left and the right, dinner dresses.  In the centre a ball gown.

Some day dresses.

Coats—for the evening on the left and right, and for day in the centre.

And lastly, hats.  They are not yet quite as large as they were to become in the early 1910s, but they're getting there.  Laden with trimmings they would have been skewered to their wearers' hair with long hatpins.  The hairstyles themselves would have been elaborate confections dressed over pads with additional false hair to make them seem thicker and bulkier.

So in summary, here we have a selection of extravagant (even for the era) clothes, obviously intended to be worn by wealthy women with busy social lives (the sheer number of evening fashions guarantees that).  I'm not sure how many of Femina's readers would have actually worn these styles, and how many just looked and sighed in envy!

Monday, July 2, 2018

"...By Irene Castle" (Ladies' Home Journal, July 1919)

Shortly before the Great War the world—or at least the western part of it—went dance crazy.   Suddenly young moderns threw out all the staid waltzes and polkas of their parents' generation, and started dancing the Bunny Hug and the Turkey Trot instead.

With the world's dance floors shaking to the beat of ragtime, it's not surprising that professional dancers would get into the act.  The best known were a young married couple named Vernon and Irene Castle.  They made their debut in Paris in 1911, and by 1912 had moved across the Atlantic, appearing in nightclubs and cafes and eventually on Broadway and in the movies. 

They were young and famous and, above all, they were modern.

Irene, in particular, was a trendsetter.  She cut her hair (it became known as the "Castle bob"!) and ditched her corsets years before either thing became generally fashionable.  She adopted a new, more relaxed stance, and when she moved she strode instead of mincing.  In short, she anticipated the young and active style of the Roaring Twenties by nearly a decade.

It's not surprising that she gained a lot of imitators. (One of them was a young Gloria Swanson who showed up at the gates of Essenay Studios in 1914 wearing a checked skirt made from an "Irene Castle Pattern".)  By the 1920s it was possible to buy ready-to-wear "Irene Castle Models".  

Irene's own clothes were mostly designed in collaboration between her and the English couturiƩre "Lucile".

This article, from the Ladies' Home Journal, shows her posing in her "Summer clothes for a trip southward".  The magazine goes on to praise her reputation as a good dresser:

..."won by wearing clothes of extreme simplicity.  She has sedulously avoided the bizarre and the conspicuously striking, and shown a decided preference for styles betraying in every line exquisite refinement and girlish charm."

To modern eyes, many of these clothes in "pink Georgette crepe" and "Normandy Valenciennes lace" seem the very reverse of simple!

Vernon and Irene's partnership came to an end with World War I.  Vernon, a British citizen, left to join the Royal Air Force and died in 1918.  Irene continued to dance with other partners, and acted in the silent movies.  Alas, her career never quite hit the heights it did before the war.  She and her husband, however, were commemorated in 1939 in a movie starring another famous dancing partnership - "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle", with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

"In the Rose Garden" (Peterson's Magazine, 1875)

It's Winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, and the days are short and the nights are cold.  So, in order to remind myself that the days will be long and warm again, I present the colour fashion plate from the June 1875 issue of Peterson's Magazine (captioned "In the Rose Garden").

To tell the truth, none of these clothes look suitable for a garden—at least not if you wish to stray off the neatly graveled paths.  They certainly look unsuitable for gardening!  However they are just right for posing daintily in a garden.  Women's clothes in the 1870s were liberally covered in feathers, flowers and flounces, and the wearers were further encumbered by bustles, corsets and trains.  The fashions of the decade reached a peak of fussy Victorian femininity that has never been seen since.  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"A Folder of Fashion Finds" (Woman and Beauty, October 1948)

The October 1948 issue of Woman and Beauty had a little fold-out section containing two suggested wardrobes.   (Drawings were by Francis Marshall, photograph by John French.)

First, a hat (to be worn with both outfits).

Second, coats to go over the outfits.  On the left, a "big topper" to be worn by women who like colour and mostly wear suits.  On the right, a belted coat for women who like wearing black dresses.


Next—on the left, a suit by Harella to be worn under the big topper.  On the right, a dress by Frederick Starke to be worn underneath the belted coat.

Next, a change of clothing.  On the left, a "jumper suit" made out of grey jersey to go under the red topper.  On the right, a shirtwaist "that is always perfect for the office" to go under the belted coat.

And lastly a raincoat and fur-lined boots for those cold wet days!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

National Bellas Hess catalogue, Spring and Summer 1970

The cover blurb invites you to "swing into the 70's", but the model, in her brightly coloured mini-dress, looks as if she belongs in the 60's.  What's more, she is wearing it with white, wrist-length glovesaccessories that really didn't belong into anybody's wardrobe by 1970.

However, it's only fitting that she's entering the new decade in an outfit made entirely of polyester crepe!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Dressing the Elite by Susan Vincent

This is a study of dress in the context of a society that is very alien to us.  Early Modern England was extremely hierarchical and status conscious, with rank and wealth being seen as a divinely ordered reflection of the "Great Chain of Being".   As a consequence, clothing was rigidly segmented on the basis of class, age and sex, with the differences being enforced by law if necessary.

Of course all these things intersected in interesting (and to modern eyes unexpected) ways.  For example infants and small children had their own special clothing (seen as appropriate for their age) but tiny boys and girls were dressed identically to each other until around the age of seven.  Gender roles were things to be grown into—unlike today where even newborns are dressed in colour-coded onesies. 

Where adults were concerned the clothes of each sex were supposed to be quite distinct, with swords and breeches reserved for men, and skirts and corsets for women.  This didn't prevent people from crossing the boundaries, however.  Moralists were particularly incensed by women borrowing items (such as hats and doublets) from the male wardrobe.  Much rarer was full-on cross-dressing, which was usually done for specific purposes.  People caught wearing the clothes of the opposite sex could expect to be punished, but—need I add?—the punishments were usually harsher for lower-class women than upper-class men.

The hierarchies of class were were laid down by England's sumptuary laws, designed to prevent people from wearing the clothes of their "betters".  Rank was the concern here, not wealth. Unsurprisingly the laws were not a success and the lawmakers struggled to keep up with both fashion and society in each succeeding piece of legislation.  From the modern point of view the interesting thing is that fashion was considered to be a largely male interest, so women hardly figured in the sumptuary laws until fairly late in the struggle.

Vincent, Susan
Dressing the elite: clothes in early modern England
Oxford: Berg, 2003