Saturday, July 18, 2009

18 July 1955 “The Fashion Journey Continues:What Lies Beneath and My Decision Revealed”

I talked about fashion from 1905-1955 in my last post and I thought to look deeper at what was going on underneath that would be enlightening and interesting.corset cartoonObviously, this characterization from the early 19th century sort of represents what most of us do think of corsetry, but really the underpinnings of garments still exist today.   The ‘girdle’ of the mid 20th century is making a comeback in the guise of Spanx. Call it what you will, if it pulls you in and smoothes you out, you are dealing in corsetry of some sort.
1905: “The S Curve”:
Here we see what is going on underneath the women of fashion of the day to make their lovely shape. Obviously if you were a middleclass wife you may have a more paired down version of this for day wear, but certainly on your ‘at home’ days or your afternoon teas with the ladies, you would need to cut as close a figure to this as possible.
corset 1905 1905 corset2 One of the reasons behind this new “S-Curve” silhouette was health and naturalness. There had been much debate since early in the Victorian period about the health and restrictive qualities of the corsets, but fashion and modesty (for one to be ‘straight-laced’ comes from this very act of wearing a corset like a lady) won out.
Yet the world is changing and women are asking for the vote and attending university, so fashion must follow suit. Thus, at this time, the best health benefits in a corset was the “S” curve. This image shows how the new corsets followed the more natural line of a woman's form than the older style of lacing as seen on the left figure. s curve corsetFollowing this natural curve, however, fashion then needed to take it to the next step with padding out and exaggerating that “S” shape and making the finished look of a lady of high  fashion more exaggerated. 1905 high fashionHere you see the fuller area over the stomach. It is as if there are no breasts or they are one great lump. Padding and such were used to fill out this area and the focus was on the natural line of the waist from this low point up to its natural position at the back. This would have been a great time to have a chubby tummy and got away with it, I think, as the front is so forgiving.
One wonders, in the restriction of these clothes is there  a certain ‘comfort’ in hiding not your best assets? Today one has nothing to hide in only to reveal and if you do not do Pilates seven days a week and sculpt your body into that of a straight hip-less form of a 12 year old boy, you are not fashionable. So, though I am sure we do not want to wear tight corsets, why can we not have fashion that does create a sort of safe haven, a portable home to carry about with you that you can feel safe in?
We expose so much now it is also not very sanitary. I would rather my skirt hem get the germs from the subway than my ankles as I can was the clothes when I get home and they protect me until that time. In this period to have many clothes clean was mainly for the wealthy, but today we COULD really wear more things for sanitary protection and create a sort ‘hide all’ safe feeling that one could embellish and feel fanciful and fashionable and still have the modern means to care for them. Could there be a modern silhouette that is fashionable and ladylike but comfortable with room for embellishment and felling pretty? Could yardage of material mix with ease of its care into a new 21st century silhouette that would be more 19th century? I do wonder.
I find myself more and more realizing that some of the the old things, including such fashion, could be practical when applied to our lives now with the conveniences of washing machines, sewing machines and inexpensive fabrics. What say you, am I just slipping more crazily into my ‘past living’?
Well, onto 1915. War time. Changes in fashion Because of the war is inevitable as now wars are very much fought by women as well on the home front. The shape of a woman needs to be more practical and less decorative. The corset still exits, but the waist has risen and the low front of the “S” curve has been pulled up but sill is very full, almost fat by today's standards.1915 corset Again a comfortable yet lovely look. Men certainly still found women beautiful even if they did not have to have 6 pack abs showing over their low-rise jeans. I think these last days of the corsets were probably the longest they have been, as they need to smooth out to almost the knees. 
 1915 corsets2 A
An odd movement in 1915 that would seem contrary to the war effort was the ‘war crinoline trend’.1915 war crinolin trend This look is almost a blend of the 1850s and the future 1950s. I wonder how much this odd wartime look inspired Dior’s new look? Here is something I found on this odd 1915 wartime trend:
In the spring of 1915, however, fashion changed radically with the introduction of an outline known at the time as the 'war crinoline.' Hemlines crept upward and the skirt was now very full and bell-shaped, with wide collars and sloping shoulders.
Isn’t it strange that before this sudden appearance of full skirts, women had embraced the hobble skirt which restricted movement, but certainly saved on fabric. The hobble skirt would have made more sense in fabric savings for the war effort, but less sense in woman's movement as she began to take over male roles. We were not to see the severity of line and shortness of skirt that would represent fashion and fabric saving in WWII. It almost feels, in some respect, the last ditch effort to hold onto the full frilly femininity that had reigned so long before the inevitable was to happen after WWI and the world was to change forever. It has an odd ominous feel to it.
So, 1925, the reign of the flapper.1925 corset1925 corset2 Certainly we think of the freedom from the corset during this time, but think of today’s body baring fashions and the stick women we are shown in today's fashion magazines. I imagine that is much what the women of 1925 felt if they were not blessed with a thin rail of a body. So, to achieve this ‘free look’ one needed a corset to flatten the hips and many even bound their breasts to create the straight silhouette. It seems we are moving to the freedom of fashion but only to lead us to needing to restrict our bodies more.
This was really, I think, the first time that fashion became about being young. I know young women were always the desirable, but the fashions did not necessarily embrace their underdeveloped figures, but the 1920’s seems to be very modern in that sense. Today even women in their fsixties will wear torn jeans and ‘cool clothes’ that might really only be appropriate for teens. I am sad to think that we are all forced to dress and aspire to a small point in all our lives, our teens, and not celebrate age, which we have more of as our life progresses.
I do think that now after this project it really speaks to me about how our country and our world view “us” as a demographic ripe for consumerism. “Hit them while they are young, mold them and they will keep on buying and the older people will need to fit in, thus they need even MORE to appear young.” But, I digress.
We now view the 1920’s probably the most relatable as a whole today, as it is a time whose attitude of ‘in your face’ poo pooing societies norms and the celebration of youth, fast cars, booze and illegal fun seem more modern in their bent. I don’t want to sound an old fuddy duddy, but how many people really got to experience this lifestyle? Even today, we celebrate the celebrity and the uncouth rich, but how many of us could really strive for such a life? Does that invalidate all the other options we have for living? Does it mean only fashion and fun can be in their hands  while we the masses must be happy with just living vicariously through them by watching them on TV and computer and caring what they have to say? Why is it that we cannot celebrate our own simple lives?
Fashion and fun can be had for all and I just feel today many people feel they don’t deserve to be fashionable or to dictate to themselves and those around them what fashion can be for them! Why can’t they wear a petticoat and full dress and hat and gloves to the grocery store or the local mall? Is their life or their actions not important? Do only red carpet events and Hollywood parties DESERVE nice clothes and happy people? Again, I think the apron revolution needs to be about taking back our lives for ourselves and celebrating fashion, skill, happiness within the sphere of what is deemed ordinary or hum-drum. Don’t settle for scraps, live your life, be it small by comparison to societies norms, to the fullest!
Now, I don’t want to seem to say that I don’t like the fashions of the 1920’s and indeed I adore much of it. And in some sense, one could have a feeling of happy hiding with a dropped waist, but it is not always flattering on a fuller figured person. I just really think it was the first time that very deliberate pre-pubescent bodies were celebrated. This, most likely, was in large part due to the feeling of enjoying and celebrating youth considering all who were lost during the War.
It is interesting, then, that after WWII the female form became very mature and very motherly. Even the swing coats of the fifties served the purpose as practicality to a woman who may find herself pregnant more often than not. That shape did in a way represent the beauty of the pregnant woman. Fuller bosoms and fuller hips were celebrated in a very ‘child bearing’ look. It is very interesting how fashion, much like art, mirrors societies wishes or aims. That is why we can look to it as a definition or explanation of our own society. When we view what we have today, does it show what we all would like to aspire to and become or is it for just a few? I wonder. Could this be the time when we say fashion for the masses doesn't have to only be the liberating tshirt and jeans, but the self made or local made embellished dress that is fun to wear? I think the masses should take fashion back from the over producing tshirted jean and jersyknit clothes sewn by children in communist countries. It serves only a few and gives us the false sense that to be slovenly and lazy is to be free and happy.
I will leave off here and continue with undergarments into the 30s-50s next. I fear if I get too far gone, I may not post and I am trying to be more diligent in posting more regularly.
I found it easier as time went on to make posting a part of my busy day. I do not think I have lost that, only I have had another larger element thrown into my life. I have been as yet silent about it as I was not certain of its outcome.
I have mentioned before that my husband and I own another home that we rent out. It is an antique house built in 1718. It has had a love/hate relationship with us. I have mentioned, as well, in previous posts, how it has haunted me at times when I was left sitting in its empty rooms recalling my mother in her Alzheimer state and my family being there and their sudden departure. It has proved hard to rent sometimes due to its age and the upkeep required. It has served for countless happy holidays of laughter and fun. We had our best Christmas there a few years back in the Victorian style and we dressed in full costume and ate a true Victorian meal from the goose down to the plum pudding.
I have of late come to think upon this house as a member of my family. In my love hate with the house it has proven itself to be very like a dear friend or a family member. Sometimes you are enamored with it and it makes you smile or feel safe. At other times, it makes you feel so angry you could slap it across the face or turn tail on it never to see it again. But, the main element it always has had for me was that emotion.
Perhaps when a thing has been around for so long it does sort of take on a sort of life. I know the house does not breath and feel, but it has seen so much through the years. It was built strong against nature before our country even was a country. It saw so much pass its little red door over centuries and so much of what was good and bad about my own life it has viewed.
We have been trying to find tenants for it lately. At the beginning of summer we lost our tenant who left in a bad state. The house sat empty, sadly for our pocketbooks, for a month or so. I was unable to find anyone suitable as a tenant and if I did find someone, they would inexorably suddenly back out at the last minute. So, I made the decision to let it as a summer rental.
This only set the problem aside and did not solve it. Here on Cape Cod, people do flock in the summer. Our small island connected by a bridge triples in size during the summer months, so finding people to take your house for the summer months is not hard to do, so I did it. That left me with the chore and decision of what was to be the fate of our little house come fall.
Well, after much soul searching and thought and discussion, we have decided to pack up our little family (hubby Gussie and I ) and move back there ourselves come fall. There is a little cottage on the property that will serve Gussies needs. The main house is small but the oldest part and hold so much joy and grief sometimes I am struck by it as I enter the little kitchen door. I really feel it is where we need to be. We have had endless discussions and have changed our mind many times, but now we are set upon the plan. So, come September, we shall reinstate ourselves into the house.
This, of course, means much of my decorating and gardening has had to be set aside and I apologize for not covering it more in the last month or so, but I did know then we may be moving and I didn’t like to say anything as of yet.
I really feel this move is really a move towards my future and this project. I have become enamored with the past and its study both intellectually as well as in the very practice of my living. I think the remainder of my year going to this almost 300 year old house is very fitting. Where will it lead me in the coming year, I do not know. But, I do feel as if I want it to become a part of my project and to take all of you along with me. I honestly feel as if I am packing all of you up and taking you along for the move. I hope that you will enjoy it along with me.
So, now in the future endeavors of homemaking I can add the element of real history. The style and consideration of our American colonial period to decisions in furnishings and fabrics and how we live. I shall be a 1955 homemaker in a 1700’s homemakers dwelling. I shall actually feel rather modern.


  1. This is exciting news. Good luck with your move this fall and enjoy living in such a nice historic place.

  2. Good luck and I hope that you find someone nice to take over the house you are in now, if that's the plan!

  3. Thank you. I of course will continue on with my project, but there may be some posts about 'vintage moving techniques'. I know they do address it in some of my homemakers manuals.

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  5. Sometimes, I think that advertisers exist just to try to make all of us feel bad about ourselves and our lives. If we feel bad about ourselves, then we are more vulnerable to their pitches for new products and services to fix our "defects".

    I think it's rude to treat people like that.

  6. first of all, congratulations on your decision! i pray you will be most blessed by your move, and it will complete your circle.
    second, i so agree with you about the fashion. it seems we are kindred spirits b/c on so many points i said to myself, "see!! that is what i always knew!!" my fashion, for my whole life, has been a mixture of vintage and new (with a vintage or costume-y feel). since having my brood, i have tended toward vintage looking new things, as they are not as fragile as older garments, and i would feel bad about destroying some lovely piece of history. my evening things are some vintage wonders though! i think it is a very good, and thrifty thing to be able to take what is old and marry it to the new to make it work for you. even my "new" things are from consignment shops, so i guess they are at least recycled.
    i also agree that people have allowed themselves to believe that the anti-fashion is fashionable. to look a mess is somehow "cool". argh. and they also seem to equate comfort w/slobbish looks.
    i was interested in your noting the twenties as a precursor to today's obsession w/bucking trends and also being enamoured w/preadolescence. i had not thought of that in a concrete way until now. but it makes sense. i, too, like some of the '20's look, but it is hard to wear, as are today's clothes on "real bodies". i have always had rather a boyish frame, and i find that the flapper dresses still are not as flattering as a pencil skirt and a blouse from a more '40's look. of course, i am shorter too. i think you have to be ultra thin AND six feet tall! ha.
    we do need to celebrate our "boring" lives as well. there is no reason to make a mockery of responsible, productive, thrifty living. we are most assuredly the happier lot~! as housewives, we can be proud that we have lovely homes, ready to minister to the needs of others, a haven for our families, and that we look pretty, make luscious food, and have yards and gardens that delight in so many ways. the debauchery of the supposed priveleged class is not so privileged after all. i find them to be pitied, more often than not. well, i have rambled on long enough for my own blog...oy. so, with another kudos for a great post, i will be off~!

  7. Very interesting about the corset's history. And the term "straight laced"- never knew where that came from. I love how Spanx are the new girdle. Makes it seem like at least some people care about what they look like in clothes. It also makes it possible for those of us without perfect figures (that being most of the female population) to appreciate what we've got. Sort of accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative, you know!


  8. Hi 50s Gal,

    Happy thoughts and good wishes for everything leading up to your move.


  9. Really great post about fashion. I have a 17 inch difference between my waists and hips. I have been both a (UK) size 10 and 20 and every size in between yet still the ratio remains the same! So I can never find modern clothes to fit, nothing is made for girls with hourglass figures. It was this that led me to looking a vintage style clothes which were more likely to fit me.
    BTW - a little more detail on the term 'straight-laced', it originated from the way Puritan women did up their bodices in the 17th century, as opposed to doing up a bodice in the cross-laced way (easier to get undone!). In all seriousness, rape was a massive problem then, egged on by the fact that women wore no underwear underneath their skirts as we know it, so some women did all they could to prevent some kind of attack.

  10. Wow that is so interesting, Natasha. Thanks for that, as I didn't know. It sounds like you have a lovely figure.

  11. Thank you 50sGal again for another thought provoking post! Many congratulations on your decision to move back "Home"!! I am looking forward to your "moving" posts.

    All this talk of fashion is very interesting to me as a woman who does not wear pants. I have a pair of blue jeans that I keep for what my Beloved calls "emergency work" when I have to help him with dangerous outdoor work. I have worn a long-line girdle (no garters) for about 10 years now, and even have a "wardrobe" of girdles for different needs :-).


  12. Mrs J-that is wonderful and I am jealous of your girdle wardrobe! Do you mainly dress vintage then? Do you stick to a specific decade or do you wear various eras? I have only one pair of dungarees as well and they are for yardwork, or heavy cleaning/moving. I find myself more and more comfortable in dresses and skirts as the year goes by. I am glad you enjoyed the fashion posts. I do think it truly mirrors what a socitey either expects or hopes or thinks of its people, very telling indeed.

  13. Dear 50sGal, I really don't wear "vintage" per se but I do try to find dresses that have a "retro" feel to them or are at least feminine and pretty :-)

    I began wearing a girdle when I was pregnant with my 4th child, and just continued on after her birth. I love the way I look in my clothing and it reminds me to use good posture at all times :-)

    It is amazing how many people will compliment you for wearing a simple dress. Truly I think that if women tried to wear a lovely dress with nice shoes for even one day - they would understand how wonderful it makes you feel to be told - "Oh how pretty!" all day :-)

    ~Mrs. J~

  14. 50’s Gal,

    We have our very first vintage meeting (inspired by you) tomorrow evening. I am using this quote from your post because I feel very strongly about it. Oh, if you would rather I not, please let me know.

    “Fashion and fun can be had for all and I just feel today many people feel they don’t deserve to be fashionable or to dictate to themselves and those around them what fashion can be for them! Why can’t they wear a petticoat and full dress and hat and gloves to the grocery store or the local mall? Is their life or their actions not important? Do only red carpet events and Hollywood parties DESERVE nice clothes and happy people? Again, I think the apron revolution needs to be about taking back our lives for ourselves and celebrating fashion, skill, happiness within the sphere of what is deemed ordinary or hum-drum. Don’t settle for scraps, live your life, be it small by comparison to societies norms, to the fullest!”

    If we can look at fashion as definition or explanation of our own society, and I believe that we can, then today says to me, in one phrase, “Down the toilet!”

    Another note on the decline of fashion is in the work place. I work at a hospital where the dress code USED TO BE very professional. Women and men alike wore dressy work clothes, hose/socks, heels/shoes. No tattoos were to be seen and only one pair of earrings. No nose or other visible body piercings were allowed. Shorts were not allowed nor were Capri’s. Open-toed shoes were forbidden. WELL, THAT has all changed. It’s a sad day when an institution that was trying to maintain a higher standard backslid (probably due to people’s complaints—as usual). Now one sees people coming to work as if they were going grocery shopping. Open-toed sandals are fine and WITHOUT socks if they wish, as are Capri’s, tattoos, and nose piercing; I remember when that rule changed. A new employee came to our department with a nose piercing. Well, because it was small and very insignificant, our manager went to the powers who be to fight for the cause—the allowance of nose rings—and won. Well, when you let one, you let them all. It’s all a downward spiral. It’s disheartening to me to have now taken the low road.

    As to your move, this question may have been answered, but what will happen to all of your 1950’s decorating and planning? Do you feel like you now have to start all over?

  15. Anonymous (Mrs. J),

    I am curious as to your girdles. If you don’t mind a couple of questions, where do these purchase these, are they comfortable, and does your husband mind them?

    On dresses: I am wearing them more this summer versus pants or Capri’s. They are SO much cooler; why not where them? And, I feel more lady like wearing them.

  16. Dear Zebu,

    I purchase most of my girdles at Belk's Department store. While it is true that I have to drive an hour to get to a local store, my Darling Beloved and I pack up the kids and have a day out in the "Belk's Town" where they have a drive in eatery!!

    When I first started wearing the girdles I foudn them tight and they kept me "standing up too straight!" but that might have had a lot to do with the fact that I was expecting at the time :-). Now I find them extremely comfortable and can't imagine not wearing one. Plus, who doesn't want that gentle reminder to not take a second slice of pie :-)!

    My Beloved has no objection to me wearing the girdles at all - I think he prefers the ones with garters, but I only wear them in the cooler months and winter time. I have high waisted ones with boning around the high waist, low waisted ones and open bottoms ~~Blush~~

    ~Mrs. J~

  17. Thank you, Anonymous for your answers to my questions. :O)

  18. I actually prefer the open bottom girdles, as they are more free and comfortable. It makes using the 'ladies room' easy, while those with legs are more of a struggle. I do have a legged girdle that i have worn with troussers, but really prefer the freedom of a full skirt and an open bottomed girdle. When I was 19-20 at university, while all the 'hip kids' were grunge, I used to wear a full on corset and long 1890s skirts with many gores. Somehow I felt more the 'rebel' than those with ripped jeans going to class in their pajamas. Seriously people would go to class in pajamas big sweatshirts and their hair messily tied back. I stuck out, to say the least. But, now being older and looking back, I am glad. It felt good and fine to be well dressed. I feel I have returned to that part of me somehow. Regained that element that was in the 'younger me' to dress and express myself in a way that feels right and not care what the 'fashion' is.

  19. Yes 50sGal I totally agree that the open bottom girdles are the most convenient but I do like the "legged" girdles for preventing chafing. An example - recently we went on an all day outing involving a tremendous amount of walking and while I was completely comfortable in my cotton lawn dress - my legged girdle kept my legs from chafing the whole day!

    ~Mrs. J~

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