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Entries in 1930s (38)

Wednesday
Mar082017

Wearing the Trousers

Super for the summer: lounging pyjamas in a pretty print with a matching jacket, 1928; a woman wearing a leaf-pattern trouser suit and broad-brimmed sun hatToday a good part of the world’s population is celebrating International Women’s Day.

Not only do we laud the remarkable women of history who achieved great and extraordinary things as human beings, but also as women in the face of incredible odds and sometimes horrific circumstances. We are also celebrating the quiet achievers: our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces (and every other conceivable female relative, pardon the pun) and of course our girlfriends. We couldn’t have done anything without the women who came before us.

One thing I can’t help but think about women’s history in the world is our liberation from strictures of dress – literally. That may seem trivial at first, but being rid of societal strictures about what we wear is a huge gift.

Blonde bombshell: a curvy catsuit with a pleated inset at the trouser bottoms, 1929; American actress, Joan Blondell, a whacky, wise-cracking Hollywood starletTrousers were first adopted in Western Europe the period known as Late Antiquity (the transition period between Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages), but they were mostly worn by men. It was not until the twentieth century that wearing the pants first became acceptable for women, by way of imported pantaloons from the Near East, to pyjamas at home (in place of the traditional teagown), to pyjamas on the beach in the 1920s and 30s (read about the exotic origin of the pyjama here). Of course the First World War had a lot to do with the emancipation of the Flappers, and the adoption of trousers beyond work wear for the war effort.

Beach babe: baggy bell-bottoms, a tight striped top, a spotted scarf and plimsolls, 1932; a girl with a bobbed haircut, dressed for a day out on the boardwalk

Perhaps in another century or two it will be de rigueur for men to be wearing dresses again.

Shockingly, there are still parts of the world where it is a criminal offence for a woman to wear trousers. I think everyone has forgotten that once upon a time everyone wore robes, togas, chitons, tunics, kilts whatever-you-may-call-’em. Perhaps in another century or two it will be de rigueur for men to be wearing dresses again.

Here are some glorious vintage pictures of women wearing trousers, from the 20s to the 70s – so many awesome styles! Enjoy your day, women of the world.

Photos from: Style Book – Fashionable Inspirations, by Elizabeth Walker, Flammarion 2011

Stellar and smouldering: in a Spencer Tracy suit, complete with brogues, 1938; American actress, Katharine Hepburn sitting on the arm of a chair smokingLand-girl looks: dungarees in bold checks, more Chelsea than cabbages, 1941; clothes for A Coupon SummerWorld War wear: crisp in white cotton with a classic rolled hairdo, 1943; a woman wearing coveralls examines designs on a drafting tableShock horror: collegiates in trousers, men’s shirts, bobby socks and even loafers, 1947; American students in Heidelberg, Germany, astound the local ladiesSexy siren or beautiful beatnik, a cinched-in waist and huge hoop earrings, 1955; British actress Joan Collins feeding a parrot in a big birdcageBoyish and yet beautiful, a sailor sweater with jeans, topped off with a pixie haircut, 1965; a portrait of American actress Jean Seberg sitting cross-legged on a stoolMatching moments: a cropped top, flared loons, topped off with a little beanie hat, 1971; a model wearing ‘Lollipop’, from the Mary Quant spring collection, LondonJust a gigolo: clubbing in a classic jacket and trousers with a fedora in hand, 1978; American model and occasional actress, Lauren Hutton at Studio 54, USAFighting fashion: snowballing and stripes, and very Flashdance legwarmers, 1982; knitting from head to toe protect a girl from the wintry weather

Monday
Mar062017

Grecian Draping

Two notions come to my mind on hearing the word ‘goddess’: Ancient Greek deities, and screen sirens of the Hollywood’s golden era. Both are evocative of unearthly or extraordinary beauty, creatures with the power to utterly charm and bewitch ordinary mortals.

Thus the ‘goddess gown’ is associated with the garments of the Ancient Greeks – chiton, peplos, and tunic – as well as the sweeping 1930s gowns worn by the likes of Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer, and Rita Hayworth.

Greek clothing was very simply cut. The loose-fitting and free-flowing chiton, worn by both men and women, was basically two rectangles of fabric joined at the shoulders and sides. Lengths and additional shapes – such as circles or triangles – varied, while different looks were achieved through arrangements that created elegant draping. The most common fabrics were linen and wool. Additional decoration came in the form of pleating, embroidery, belts and jewellery. The result was a style of dress that both revealed and concealed the human figure.

Jean Harlow, in a gown by costumier Adrian; designed for the film Dinner at EightBy contrast, the goddess gowns of the stars of Hollywood’s golden years were slender and form fitting, especially in the bodice, and were often backless. Cuts were more sophisticated; linen and wool had been replaced with silk and lamé. But they still had the yards of fabric, the columnar fluidity, complex pleating, and asymmetric draping in common with the Ancient Greeks who inspired them. Where before Paris had lead fashion, now Hollywood began to take over in the popular imagination; many of these fantasy gowns were designed by the famous costumier, Adrian.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi. It’s no wonder these silver screen stars were named for the sirens of Greek mythology, who lured sailors to death with their seductive singing.

Madame Grès (1903–1993) and Madeleine Vionnet (1876–1975) were both French fashion designers who were proponents of Grecian dress.

Grès’s minimalist gowns were wrapped and draped in the most masterful way – that she was trained in sculpture is obvious when one looks at her designs. One of her gowns could take up to 300 hours to create, with pleats sewn by hand, and the cloth draped so that the body shaped the dress – far longer than the Ancient Greeks one imagines.

Gown by Madame Grès, 1940; ph George Platt LynesGown by Madeleine Vionnet, 1933; ph George Hoyningen-HueneVionnet is known for popularising, if not inventing, the bias cut to create sleek and flattering dresses that skimmed the body languidly. Her gowns were soft, floating freely, and did not distort the natural curves of a woman’s body. She used more unusual fabrics for women’s clothing in the 20s and 30s, such as crepe de chine, gabardine and satin, and always ordered two yards extra for each dress to accommodate the draping.

Both Grès and Vionnet have continued to inspire fashion designers to the present day.

Today, we still see the classic goddess gown on our screen stars, but it is also a favourite style of wedding dress (one of the few occasions when ordinary mortals don floor-length gowns), as an alternative to the classic 50s-style princess gown of strapless-boned-bodice-and-big-skirt ilk. … And above all other days, one should feel like a goddess on one’s own wedding day.

Key Characteristics

•  columnar, bias-but
•  fluid draping
•  pleating
•  asymmetry
•  floor-length

Fashion Note

My very simple grey jersey goddess gown is by English label Karen Millen, and features characteristic asymmetry, draping, and an interesting cut to the back.

Photos: January 2014

Scroll down for more images. Links have been provided where available.

Bette DavisCarole LombardGowns by Madeleine VionnetGown by Madame GrèsNorma ShearerGown by Madeleine VionnetRita Hayworth

Friday
Feb102017

Hands Across the Table

A friend and I went shopping in a vintage bazaar recently, and one of the items I came across that delighted me was this little 1930s manicure set in the green so typical of that era. It instantly put me in mind of the classic Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray comedy Hands Across the Table (1935). Lombard plays a manicurist in the film, and she is wonderful, full of charm and biting wit. Her wardrobe is fantastic too of course.

I was tempted to buy this set, but I held back because I wouldn’t know what to do with half the tools, and the case was a bit dilapidated. So I contented myself with photographing it. Underneath is The Book of Kisses, full of literary quotes (I did buy that), and in the background a quaint watered silk doily press. (It amuses me that such an item even exists.) The silk was a shattered and stained, but retained a shabby beauty.

One can’t buy everything that appeals in a vintage bazaar, but it is so much fun looking.

Monday
Dec262016

Post-Christmas Stock-take

No, I’m not referring to Boxing Day sales with that headline, but rather the third spirit to visit poor old Ebenezer Scrooge, which is the most terrifying, for it resembles the Grim Reaper. This is the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come, and he serves Scrooge a warning of what is in store for him if he continues in his wicked ways.

This ghost wears a cloak of black that conceals his entire form, except for one pointing hand; he has no need to speak, and fills Scrooge with horror. “It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.”

Quite miraculously, I again delved into my archives and found a picture of me wearing a 1930s black lace gown (awaiting repair for years, alas) and a velvet black and cream satin hooded cape of the same era. I am proffering kid gloves with my hand, rather than pointing, which is rather funny in the context of Dickens’ character.

This phantom turns out to be kind in the end, for he does allow the chastened Scrooge the chance to wipe the slate clean. And thus we come to the moral of the tale, ripe enough for the end of the year when we all naturally evaluate the year that has passed, and look forward to a new one.

At least one resolution is clear for me: I must mend my ways and mend that dress at last, for I took that photo four years ago!

Photo: April 2012

Monday
Dec122016

At Long Last, Summer

Summer is here at long last – hurrah! Months of gloriously languid days lie ahead, and months of skimpy outfits too. How wonderful it is to go outside with bare arms and legs, without carrying a heavy coat and hat and scarf and gloves … Although, living in Melbourne, one takes a risk going out without an umbrella!

One of my favourite colour combinations for summer is white and green like a striped peppermint sweet. But I also adore Kelly green. I particularly love this 1970s dress because it has a 1930s look: two of my favourite fashion eras combined.

It is made from 100% cotton, which is a rare find for this era, at least in thrift stores in this country. I came across it a couple of summers ago in a St Vincent de Paul Society op shop, and bought it for about $15, which was an amazing bargain. The label is ‘Acorn’, which is completely unfamiliar. I love that the extravagant lapels and tie belt are in contrasting stripes to the main polka dot pattern. Admittedly the dress is a size too large, but as it is a wrap that does not signify too much.

I like it worn with this vintage 30s, slightly battered straw hat. The patent leather kitten-heeled slingbacks, virtually new, are by Aussie label Top End, and also came from an op shop.

Such swishy skirts and joyful pattern put me exactly in the mood for sipping cocktails on a sunny rooftop somewhere – one of the other joys of summer.

~

P.S. Apologies for my long absence – I was on a staycation for all of November, but I was far too disinclined to turn my computer on at all!

Photos: April 2016

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