Saturday, 23 February 2013

Don't Get Your Knickers in a Knot - Undies

Did you ever wonder when people began wearing undies? No? Well, having read a few historical novels where grand ladies didn't wear knickers under their regal skirts, I did.

In medieval times both men and women wore chemises, but no underpants. By the eighteenth century, women were wearing long pantaloons or drawers, to keep their legs hidden from a stray peep.
By the 20th century, underwear underwent a metamorphosis that caused it to get briefer, synthetic and less constricting. Fashions for underwear, as for other clothing, was linked to social change.

1900 (Batterberry)
The tyranny of the corset had endured for centuries. Women endured extreme discomfort and frequently injuries from extreme corsetting. The image of Mammy attempting to lace Scarlet O'Hara back to her pre-baby 17 inch waist in "Gone With the Wind," is one many of us will remember. Some women, like the one in this illustration, even had ribs surgically removed in their quest to achieve a waistline of less than 20 inches. This is a feat which horrifies the modern reader, and ranks with Chinese foot binding on the list of barbaric social practices.
1910 (Batterberry) 

In Britain in the latter half of the 19th Century, many followers of the Arts and Crafts movement and of the Suffragette movement,  shed their corsets and adopted looser, smock type garments as a bid for the freedom and equal rights for women. The corset survived in the milder form of the "girdle", but was certainly not compulsory.

Look what I found this week! For masochists only.

I have a fabulous book called "20th Century Fashion", by John Peacock, which is basically plates of fashion illustrations for every 5 year period from 1900-1989, with descriptions. There are plates for day wear, evening wear, sports wear, couture and accessories for each half of each decade, and I will share a few with you. I hope John Peacock does not mind.

The cotton camisole with separate petticoat were the basic items, along with long drawers, either separate or combined with the cami as camiknickers or combinations. These usually featured an open crotch for practical rather than erotic purposes! An early form of the bra features at the bottom left in a heavily boned corset and "bust supporter".

By 1910, the line of the undergarments is changing in line with the evolution of the outer garments. This underwear features machine made lace. The corset is still in evidence, but it is shrinking.

And just in case you thought all undies were glamorous in the old days, check out these knitted woollies.
(I have the patterns, if you're interested!)

By the twenties, the looser fitting style is more common, although the corset still exists, but once again with a new line.  The brassiere has appeared as a separate garment but is a soft, unstructured style. Note the chest flattening corsets. Crepe de chine was a very popular fabric for underwear at this time, taking over from wool.

Shetland Camibockers - 1928

One of my oldest newspaper patterns is from this period. These are "camibockers" knitted in the finest Shetland wool. If you live in  a cold climate, you might like to try them.

In the 1930s, the glamorous look of the slinky bias cut dress dress would have made the girdle necessary, at least for evening wear, unless one happened to be waif thin. The bra has become a more structured garment, with boning or underwires. Silk and satin have become the popular fabrics for underwear.

Simplicity 2 piece set - late 30s

But wool is still popular for the winter. Here are some beauties from my favourite Sun-glo book.

I think this model is so beautiful. I often wonder who the models were. Imagine finding your grandmother doing this modelling. Miranda Kerr, eat your heart out.

Coming Soon - Underwear, Part Two.

Batterberry, Michael and Ariane; Fashion - the Mirror of History; 1982; London; Columbus Books
Peacock, John; 20th Century Fashion; 1993; London; Thames and Hudson

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Peacetime Fashions are Gay

A few weeks ago I came across this wonderful article about celebrating the end of World War 2 in fashion in Madame Weigel's Journal of Fashion for October 1945. You don't see headlines like this these days.

"Peacetime Fashions are Gay

Apart from personal reactions, the news of Peace has brought many outward signs of brighter days ahead. Shop windows have blossomed forth in a galaxy of Spring  fashions, color runs riot everywhere and women who have waited so long  for this moment feel that they are justified in letting their heads go by buying something really feminine and attractive.
Girls who will be getting out of the various services will be sure to choose something soft and silky as a change from the severity of uniforn, and the present fashions will be ideal for this purpose. Many of the shops are showing frocks of plain pastel crepes - beige, eggshell blue, dusty pink, salt-bush green, and all those other soft shades which can be worn either with light or dark accessories...
A special effort should be made by women who are expecting their prisoner of war menfolk home soon for these men will expect to find their mothers, wives and sweethearts looking just as they left them. They have carried a picture in their minds  during the long, weary years away, and although women have had a lot to bear it is up to them to see that that picture has not changed.
It will not be easy, for women have aged just as the men themselves will have done, but a new frock, hat and careful attention to skin and hair, and perhaps the few lines that have developed will not be revealed in the general fresh appearance. Since all men love blue, perhaps that should be the color to choose. However, whatever the frock is to be, choose somehting colorful and becoming - made on truly feminine lines, and something which will appeal to him..."

There is a lot of detailed description about the upcoming fashion trends for various garments, but it was the sentiment that interested me most. It makes me think of Dusty Springfield's lines in "Wishin' and Hopin'", "Show him that you care just for him, do the things he likes to do, wear your hair just for him..."

Do all men love blue?

These are the years when fashion says goodbye to the tailored, masculine, shoulder-padded look taken on during the war by women stepping up into men's jobs and roles, and hello to the frivolous, feminine look leading into the 50s, such as that epitomised by Christian Dior.

After the war, they had another problem I hadn't thought about. They had all sorts of army surplus gear. What should they do with it? Ever the thrifty generation who had survivied the Great Depression, they recycled. I love this idea from the English Women's Weekly.

Who knew these were real parachute cords? I wonder if they made necklaces from shrapnel fragments too.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

P.S. Keep Your Knitteds Nice

Back in October I was writing about dress shields, and how the use of them would prolong the life of your vintage garments. Well, I found this fabulous ad in an old Vogue knitting book, which is right at the end of the October post:
Keep Your Knitteds Nice

While we're on the subject, let me say now that I firmly believe in washing your knitteds as little as possible. With a baby, this is probably not going to be possible. But for adults (as long as they're not my partner) it should be possible. I rarely wash my woollens, and some I've had for 30 years are as good as new.

When my daughters were teenagers they were at first horrified that I only washed their school jumpers once or twice a year (and then they were carefully hand washed and dried flat). Their friends' mothers routinely washed their daughters' jumpers every week, often in the washing machine, because the tag said that was OK. I said, well that's fine if you want your jumper to be ruined in a few months. Slight soiling was sponged carefully, and that kept them nice. I firmly believe, I told them, that if it doesn't smell and it doesn't look dirty, then it doesn't need washing. They appreciated this "care" later on when their friends' jumpers were pilled, out of shape and needing to be replaced, while their own jumpers still looked like new after six years of secondary school. (Now, their brother was another story. Boys' jumpers appear to need much more frequent washing - he tended to lose them before they got ruined, anyway). Even if an item becomes a little smelly, often a good airing is enough to dissipate the smell and make washing unnecessary.

The school jumpers I'm talking about were of course machine knitted, commercially purchased items. It's hard to believe nowadays that mothers used to make school uniforms for their children. Jumpers were hand knitted, dresses were sewn by Mum. Imagine trying to get a child to wear a home made uniform these days - schools wouldn't allow it anyway, at least, not in Australia. I remember having a hand knitted jumper at secondary school. I had some regets that it wasn't a regulation item from the uniform shop, but enough other kids had home mades for me to have escaped being emotionally damaged by the experience.
My only other advice is never wring your knits, always gently squeeze out the excess water, and dry flat after pulling them into shape.

And if anyone ever wants a knitting pattern for a school jumper, I have quite a few. Collector's items only these days.