Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vogue Pattern Book, August-September 1957

I am reading a biography of Christian Dior at the moment, so naturally my thoughts turn to the 1950s.  This Vogue pattern S-4805 is not by Dior (alas!) though it is undeniably influenced by him.

This issue of Vogue Pattern Book contains a feature on the latest materials available for the home dressmaker - in "fuchsia" (shades of dark pink and purple), in "spice" (browny-oranges) and in "cactus" (yellowy-greens).

Photograph, 1889

Though this small photograph is spotted with age, it has one unusual gift for the fashion historian - an exact date!  According to the information printed on the back it was taken by Thomas Forrest of the Cambrian Studio in Pontypridd on March the 22nd 1889.  The sitter's costume is slightly old fashioned for the era, illustrating the way styles lagged between the centres of fashion and the provinces.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"The 1940s Look" by Mike Brown

The subtitle for this ("Recreating the Fashion, Hairstyles and Make-up of the Second World War") is misleading.  The 1940s Look doesn't tell you how to recreate the look of the 1940s so much as tell you how the people of the 1940s created it in the first place.  While it is possible to approximate the fashion and beauty techniques of the 1940s using this book it really doesn't provide enough detail on how to duplicate them exactly using the resources of the 21st century.

On the other hand The 1940s Look does give e a fascinating account of how people "made do" in early forties Britain, and the way they tried to present themselves.  It covers everything from make-do-and-mend tips, to some of the substitutes popularly used for hard to get make-up, to the tricks people used to try and get around clothes rationing.  It is also slightly unusual in that it gives almost equal weight to men's and children's styles in its account of fashions in the 1940s.  One piece of trivia I found interesting was the description of how men's hairstyles in the British forces differed from the regulation crew cuts worn by American soldiers.

In summary I would say: this book is an excellent overview of fashion and dress in the 1940s.  It draws on many original sources, in particular the many popular magazines and advice leaflets of the time.  If, however, I wanted to give myself an authentic 1940s makeover I would try to go to the original sources myself and study the subject in more detail.   A lot of good 1940s fashion texts have been reprinted, and the magazines are always available through eBay!

Published: Sevenoaks, Kent: Sabrestorm Publishing, 2005.
ISBN 9780955272318

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Simplicity Pattern Book, Summer 1972

Simplicity features a nautically inspired costume on the cover of its summer 1972 Pattern Book. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lana Lobell catalog, Fall 1968

The woman on the left is wearing a turtleneck made of acrylic and a skirt and tunic made of nylon.  The woman on the right is wearing a suit made of rayon.  Between the covers of this catalogue I have looked in vain for a single natural fibre...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Home Notes, January 26 1928

Even relatively cheap magazines offered dress patterns to their readers.   This inexpensive little weekly included a pattern for a "jumper dress" in one of its 1928 issues.  Alas, the pattern hasn't survived, but judging by the illustration on the cover it was oh, so typically 1920s.  The very simple lines of 1920s fashions made life easier than ever for the budget-conscious woman who wanted to look fashionable.

Friday, July 15, 2011

McCall Style News, January 1941

Featured on the front page of McCall's free pattern newsletter: a simple frock with jerkin.  The plain lines are very typical of the era.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Australian Home Journal Summer Fashions, 1961-62

More pictures from one of my favourite fashion eras.

The Australian Home Journal used to put out catalogues of its dressmaking patterns twice a year.  These are the front and back covers of its catalogue for the summer of 1961-62.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"The Anatomy of Fashion" by Susan J. Vincent

The problem with a lot of books written about the history of fashion by academics is that they tend to be too abstract - so caught up in the theory of fashion that they forget that ultimately they are talking about real garments that were once worn by real people.  Happily this is not the case with The anatomy of fashion: dressing the body from the Renaissance to today. The result is a book that is at once scholarly and immensely readable, and jam-packed with interesting facts.

Susan J. Vincent has chosen a novel method of exploring the history of fashionable dress in England from the 16th century until now: instead of tracing the story chronologically she comes at it anatomically.  Starting from the head and working her way down to the legs she discusses the various ways people of fashion have adorned and deformed different parts of their bodies (though oddly enough she stops short of the feet, leaving shoes and boots out of the picture altogether!)

As she tours the human body Vincent illustrates he story with examples from real life which gives us an idea of what it was actually like to wear the garments she describes.  For example, Pepys on the problems of maintaining wigs:
Further trouble arose in July 1664 when, unsurprisingly, he was annoyed at having to have a new wig, presumably made of lousy hair, cleansed of its nits; as it turned out, a perennial problem with Jervase's merchandise... For Pepys though, after nearly five years of 'keeping my perriwigs in good order' he hit on the happy notion of paying his barber a flat fee of 20 shillings a year to do it for him, so 'I am like to go very spruce, more than I used to do.'
Or popular views on wearing stays:
Even Lydia Becker, a radical campaigner for women's suffrage and education, thought corsets indispensable.  'Stick to your stays, ladies, and triumph over the opposite sex.'
Or the shock of women wearing the trousers:
In 1983, for most of us a time not from history but of lived experience, forty-year-old Mrs Jeanne Turnock was fired from a north London crematorium after wearing a trouser suit.  Mrs Turnock brought a case of unfair dismissal against her employers, telling an industrial tribunal that she had begun wearing a navy blue trouser suit because of the cold, particularly as her job included showing people around the crematorium grounds in all weathers.  The crematorium's manager, although he had 'no personal objection to women in trousers', said the garment was inappropriate in the context.  'We are dealing with elderly people recently bereaved and a large number may find some offence in a lady in trousers coming to deal with them.'  Despite there being no contractual obligation to dress in a particular way, the tribunal upheld the crematorium, unanimously deciding that 'the dismissal was fair'.
In brief, this is an excellent book which should be enjoyed by all intelligent readers interest in the social history of fashion.

Oxford: Berg, 2009
ISBN: 978 1845207649 (pbk)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Photograph, ca. 1889-1890

This is a carte de visite sized photograph I picked up on my visit to Melbourne.  The photographer's information on the back reads:





I put the date of the picture around 1889-1890 because the female sitter's clothes have features typical of both decades.   The cut of her bodice is typical of the 1880s, as is the draped "apron" effect of her skirt, but she is clearly not wearing a bustle and her sleeves are gathered at the shoulders in a way prefiguring the "leg o' mutton" sleeves of the early 1890s.  These transitional styles were fashionable briefly for a couple of  years in 1889 and 1890. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Weldon's Ladies' Journal, July 1911

July 1911.  And so we come to the second-to-last of the issues of Weldon's Ladies' Journal I bought earlier this year.  This one originally included a free pattern for a bathing dress.  As illustrated on the cover it would make a respectable dress today!