Category Archives: fashion history

early1930s

A Primer: 1930’s-1950’s Trousers & Pants For Women

One of the most desired, and often most misunderstood, articles in the vintage wardrobe are the trousers.

Today I’m going to delve a little bit into the basics of the transition of trousers from the 1930’s through the 1950s.  It’s a quick overview so I’m not touching on everything, but it will give you a good starting point!

- A Beginning -

Women and trousers.  It’s a love affair in modern times, but was it in the past?  Well, no- actually.  If you remember good ol’ Amelia Bloomer, she caused quite the scandal by sporting bifurcated garments in the Victorian era.  They called it “Dress Reform”.  It was a fad that wasn’t with the majority, but it did continue in some form or another.  Enter the 1890’s, and there’s bicycling bloomers for women.  Some daring women even start wearing trousers for riding. In the American West, and at places where there were adventures seeking new discovery, women wore pants with more frequency.  They even had a short-lived popularity during the Great War, when women helped out at home (much like they would again in WWII), but it was not widely accepted.

Enter the 1920’s and the “flapper”.  Pajamas are all the rage- in the boudoir and by the seaside.  Some daring women even started wearing men’s trousers.  Was it accepted by the majority?   Definitely not.  But they started gaining in popularity thanks to the seaside, the boudoir, and the new collegiate co-eds!

- The 1930’s -

The 1930’s is when we really see women in trousers get their stride. It was still not accepted by the majority in the early part of the 1930’s.  In fact, studios used to try to keep Kate Hepburn from wearing them between sets in Hollywood, because the photographers would snap her over the studio gates and it was still “shocking”.  But, really, the resorts and the young set, the Hollywood sirens, and the wealthy, are what caused the trousers to catch on.

They were not widely worn, but by the mid 1930’s it was acceptable for wear for sportswear.  They’re mostly seen on campus, at the resort, and in other places if you lived in the warmer climates like Southern California or Florida.  Cannes was a big place for wearing trousers.  How daring!

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The first half, we see very loosely fitted trousers.  The images above are from 1934.   The “rise” (that is, crotch length), was EXTREMELY low.  Think M.C. Hammer.  Seriously.  Sometimes down to your knees!  Notice here, these are mostly for sporty summer wear.  That is quite common in the 1930s. You don’t often see them “dressed up”, and if you do, it’s usually on the wealthy.

late1930sIn the second half of the 1930’s, trousers really start going crazy.  In 1939 it seemed everyone wanted them, and they were here to stay!  There were lounging ones, playing ones, work ones, beach ones, pajamas… and sometimes even dinner outfits.  The late 1930’s is playful, and trousers fit in perfectly with that ideal.  The image on left is from 1938, and the image on right from 1939.  Still notice, they have the very loose fit.  Trousers were NOT meant to hug your butt.  They really wanted them to fit like a skirt- skimming your hips and rear loosely, then falling to a low crotch, and splitting into a bifurcated garment.

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This image is from 1942, and this is what most of us think of when we think of vintage women’s trousers or pants.  They’re still for active wear, primarily.  You don’t often see them dressed up.  In some areas women were shunned if they wore pants.  In other areas (including California), they were more widely accepted and sometimes even worn to church- which shocked quite a few (or, so I read, in a 1939 Vogue magazine).

For your WWII impressions, you’ll want a look like these.  Are they suitable for every occasion?  No, if you want to be accurate. But for war work, home front work, gardening, the beach, or for collegiate looks they fit in great!  I wear them all the time in my day to day vintage inspired looks, because I’m honestly not trying to look like I’m out of a time machine- I just want to wear what I like.  But if accuracy is your thing, take heed and consider where you live and what your activity is if you want to wear vintage trousers for WWII impressions.

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The mid-late 1940’s were all about teen culture.  Swing music was here to stay, and fashion followed the teen trends.  Here we’ve got three girls wearing teen styles.  Women’s trousers for other age groups followed similar lines but were a bit more conservative in tone.  Notice we’re getting the narrower legs as we move to the late 1940’s.  I’m 33, and I’d totally wear all of these outfits, unashamedly.

Also, take note- it’s the first time we see jeans as we think of them now!  Previously, women would have slacks in similar lines to the trousers I pictured made in denim (think my Smooth Sailing trousers), but by the mid 1940’s women had their own version of jeans like the men wore.  Previously, most women would wear men’s jeans if they wanted dungarees.  If we can’t have it, we’ll wear our brother’s until you give up our own. Worked with trousers, and it worked with jeans :)

1950spants

Move into the 1950’s and things get slim.  Some trousers still followed the lines of the late 1940’s one on the far left, that I posted above, but most started getting really narrow legs.  We still don’t have the higher crotch point, like with modern pants (which you’ll notice if you look at the pictures above), but we started moving it a bit upward.   It’s the predecessor of the skinny jean- but mixed with the longer crotch length.  It’s an… interesting… fit ;)

- Let’s Get Technical -

So, what is “Sanforized”?  You may see this on a bunch of old catalog description, and sometimes even printed and woven on old labels.  It is NOT a fabric.  It is NOT a weave.  It’s a PROCESS.  It’s basically pre-shrinking your fabric by treating it.  Sometimes it’s done before sewing, sometimes it’s done after sewing.  This is still a widely used process in the textile industry on natural and cellulose based fibres.

What are “Mannish” or “Man-Tailored” slacks?  These terms were used interchangeably throughout the 1930’s and the 1940’s.  This just means they were a little more tailored- and usually followed the line of men’s trousers of the time.  Women’s trousers, however, almost always fastened up the side instead of the front until you get to the mid 1940s, and even then, it was most common for them to fasten at the side.  You do see them with front fastenings in some snapshots of the 1930’s, but these were usually actual men’s trousers, rather than women’s trousers.  Girls wore them.  Now, boys wear girl’s pants (kidding… kind of).  By the late 1950’s, you see front fastening, back fastening, and side fastening trousers.

What are Dungarees?  Dungarees and Jeans are basically the same thing.  It depends, really, on where you live.  Most people think of Dungarees or Jeans as the casual workwear trousers with topstitching details and pockets- the predecessor of today’s jeans or denim.  Denim is the weave of cotton that jeans or dungarees are made from.  It’s a twill weave and often thicker and sturdier than other twill weaves.  But Dungaree is also a fabric!  The difference between dungaree and denim is when they are dyed.  Dungaree fabric is dyed and then woven, and denim is woven and then dyed.

Now, let’s look at the Rise…

The easiest way to do this is through looking at vintage patterns and their pieces.

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Check that out!  See the blue line across the middle?  That shows where all other rises compare with 1930’s rise (crotch length).

Does that explain why your vintage trousers don’t hug your butt the way you expected?

So, long story short- don’t expect to sew from a vintage pattern, or buy original vintage trousers, and have them fit like modern pants.  There’s more to them than the length and leg width!

For a momentary little ad from me… this is why I took SO LONG drafting the Smooth Sailing trousers.  This was originally a pattern and now  can be pre-ordered as ready to wear clothing well.  I was very familiar with the problems of vintage trousers.  They just don’t fit in a way that’s comfortable and flattering to most modern women because of what we’re now accustomed to wearing and seeing.  Because of this, I drafted the Smooth Sailing trousers to be a mid-point between mid-1930’s and modern fit.  They’ve still got a longer crotch line and looser fit from the hip down than modern trousers, but they also don’t ride up your butt like a lot of trousers we see now.  And you can pre-order the Smooth Sailing trousers to help get my clothing line launched!

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And remember- all vintage trousers and pants were meant to fit at your natural waist.  For those who don’t know, that’s where the smallest part of your waist is, near your belly button.  When the 60’s came in we started getting low rise, but before that time, things hit higher.  Now, we call them “high waist”, but they really just sit at where your natural waist is.  We’ve just worn low rise pants for so long that most people have forgotten where the waist technically is located. :)

Want more vintage trouser inspiration?  Check out my Pinterest board for 1930s/40s Women in Trousers!

Do you have any questions about vintage trousers or pants? Let me know in the comments!

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Finished Project: 1002 Nights Poiret Dress

I have just finished up my Poiret inspired dress!

Paul Poiret is one of my fashion design icons.  Making a dress that paid homage to him was really fun!

I felt so “high fashion” in it, because of it’s absurdity, so had fun with editing my photos to capture the way it felt.

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If you missed the prior post with more details about the making of this dress, you can find it here.

This “excuse” for making this dress (not that I needed one) was the Historical Sew Fortnightly’s “Fairytale” challenge.  Here’s the info for the challenge:

The Challenge: #6- “Fairytale”  Inspired by Paul Poiret’s “One Thousand and Second Night” party.

Fabric:  The tunic is all poly with little rubber dots on it.  Pretty horrid, but has a great look when made up for the “Poiret” look.  The dress is a black satin rayon, which they actually did have in this time period.

Pattern: Underdress: My Cordelia skirt pattern and the 1910s Blouse pattern with an altered neckline and no sleeves.  Overdress:  Very loosely based on a bodice pattern from the period, but mostly entirely self composed as I went along.

Year: 1913-ish

Notions: Indian import trim, hooks and eyes, snaps, hoop wire, bias facing.

How historically accurate is it?  If it wasn’t for the fibre content, it would be pretty close.  I’m knocking myself for that, though, and giving myself a 40% accuracy marking.

Hours to complete:  I have no idea.  Maybe 12-ish?  It went pretty fast, but I puttered in 15 minute increments on it over the span of three weeks (didn’t make the “fortnight” due date).

First worn: Today for pictures!

Total cost: Hmm…. considering the only thing I really bought for this was the dupatta, I think it was around $35.  Everything else was from the stash.

More outfit details:  My shoes were thrifted, my hat is authentic Edwardian, and the brooches, etc are vintage, with the exception of the necklace and earrings, and the choker I used as an accent on the belt.  All of those are new from Ebay, bought over the last seven years or so.

 

Vintage Inspiration: 1936-1937 Winter Blouses & Skirts

I case you’re not on my Facebook page, you may not have heard that I’m in process of developing a new 1930s pattern.  Well, it’s not actually “new”, it’s one I had previously released in my beginning days as a single size reproduction.  Well, no photos of it yet (bwahaha! I like to keep you in suspense!) but I’m cutting out samples today to test it, and I was desiring a little inspiration.

Here we have some darling little blouses and skirts from Fall and Winter 1936-1937 from the National Bellas Hess catalog.  Don’t you just LOVE the details?  I want to make about a million separates for myself right now.  I hope you find these inspiring, too!

It seems like 1936 and 1937 were the years of the tunic.  They’re all over the place!  Tunic blouses, tunic dresses, two piece dresses.  And now they’re back… just over leggings or skinny jeans.

Do you have a favorite blouse of the ones above?

Finished Project: The Plaid 1869 Dress

Last year, several of us were shopping in the LA garment district and we happened across a fantastic silk taffeta at a fantastic price.  Katherine (The Fashionable Past) had already purchased the fabric a prior year, but when the other three of us (Ginger of Scene in the Past, Stephanie of Girl with the Star-Spangled Heart, and I) found it and fell in love with it, a group project with the four of us was born!  We would all choose a different era, keep the making of the dress itself a secret (though we did talk of the “plaid project”), and then show up at Costume College on Sunday in our dresses made of the fabric!

Katherine did 1820s, Ginger did Civil War, Stephanie did 1950s, and I did very late 1860s. It’s kind of fun to see this one fabric is so appropriate for all these time periods.

Here is a group shot so you can see the finished effect, and I have more photos of my friend’s completed dresses in an upcoming post.

This post is mostly about my dress for this group project, but I’m excited to share the other girls’ projects in an upcoming post because they all did such an incredible job!

I tend to be really drawn to transitional periods of dress, so for this project I wanted to try my hand at a late 1860’s dress.  I love 1868-1869, and for this project I prepared by making a new corset and using a small elliptical hoop with a bustle pad as my undergarments.

I love how the late 1860s and early 1870s were really inspired by 18th century fashion.  Since I was doing two 18th century dresses for Costume College this year, I loved playing with the 19th century idea of 18th century fashion.

I originally wanted to use a 1868 bodice pattern from Harper’s Bazar called the Marie Therese Waist (republished in Reconstruction Era Fashions by Frances Grimble) and mocked it up, but in the end used the bodice pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion as it was closer to my size and I had already enlarged it several years before.  Both had almost the exact same lines, but Janet Arnold dated the dress from the Gallery of English Costume as 1870-1871.  For the underskirt I used the 1869 Grand Parlor Skirt from Truly Victorian.  I have made this skirt many times and it’s one of my favorite patterns for early bustle, as it’s a fantastic foundation for trimmings.  I made up the overskirt by just using two large rectangles of fabric (a larger one for the back piece) and using the seams as a casing for drawstrings to gather up the sides of the skirt to swag.

For my contrast trimmings I used a fabric that was a checkerboard of the exact colors of the dress that was a lucky find to use as bias strips to bind my ruffles. I also purchased a contrast peach silk taffeta to use for my belt, neck ruffle, and bows.

I made a little attached modesty pannel from a strip of vintage cotton net to which I added lace beading and edging.  I finished the bottom with bias binding and whipped it into the bodice.  It snugs to the décolleté with a black silk ribbon.  Keeping with the 18th century inspiration, I used scalloped scissors that I purchased on Ebay to cut the edges of my neckline trim.

The hat I used was a vintage 1930s hat that I pinned leftover trims to.  I used a vintage brooch as an accent for the rosette. I used the same hat last year with my green plaid bustle dress.  For the sash, I used an antique buckle pin.

I used vintage (or antique) plaid buttons on the bodice that I had found at an estate sale.

I loved making this dress!  Like a lot of my projects, I loved sewing it and then didn’t like it… until I put the trim on.  Then I loved it! :)

The fabric was an absolute dream to work with.  I really hope I find a good deal on silk taffeta of this quality again, as I’d LOVE to work with it.  I think I have a thing for plaid dresses of this era.

The Practical Shirtwaist, 1904.

Sharing another lovely image from 1904.  Here are more shirtwaist designs from 109 years ago.  The illustrations are just lovely.  And the hats! *swoon*.

What I think is particularly interesting is the sleeve design.  The placement of the tucks and the way they controlled where the fullness is released, as well as trim or decoration accenting the cuff… simply brilliant!

Click on the image for a larger version you can read.

Shirtwaist Designs, 1904

I just got a few lovely old Ladies Home Journal magazines.  This one, from April, 1904, shows us the fashion in shirtwaist decorations from 109 years ago.  Maybe you could take these designs and incorporate them into my Edwardian Blouse Pattern.

What is novel about the designs below is that they are adapted from e pretty flourishes  and borders that are often seen in magazines of this period.  These, of course, come from the Ladies Home Journal.  In fact, the blouse just below the title has the same motif as the title decoration.  Novel, isn’t it?  If you enlarge the article you can read their suggestion for enlarging the designs for use in garments.

Click on the image for a larger version you can read.

Textile Inspiration- Pairing Dress Fabrics, 1939

Hello all!  Long time no post! I’ve been a bad, bad, blogger.

We’re currently working on a new production of His Girl Friday at the La Jolla Playhouse.  I’m so excited, and feel so blessed to be working on one of my favorite movies in one of my favorite time periods and years for fashions!  They’re setting the play in 1939 and I’m loving the costumes we’re building.  Of course, that means I’m wanting to make all sorts of 1939 fashions for myself!  Here’s some great images that I’m inspired by, from the Spring and Summer of 1939 Chicago Mail Order catalog.

What I love about this, and several other fashions from the late 1930s, is how some of them actually look like seperates but are actually a dress!   These dresses often include a few different fabrics in order to get a very tailored look.  In these pages it’s called the “basque styles”.

Even if matching different weight or style fabrics isn’t your thing, these pages are inspiring for what to do with trims.  Bows, buttons, ruffles… you can take a relatively simple dress and add a lot of whimsical details to make it more fun.

Although these styles are aimed at juniors, you can tone the proportions or styles down in you don’t want something so playful or “youthful”.

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Hope the rest of your weekend is wonderful!