Thursday, January 5, 2012

5 January 1933 “Under things and Dainties: What to Wear Under There and The Beginning of Youth Worship”

I took time yesterday to go to a few of our local bookshops hunting down some vintage cooking and other 1930’s era books. I found a few lovely little books which I will share with you as well as awaiting some things in the mail.

Here I am already five days in and I feel a bit behind in all I want to do and share. I still feel, myself, a bit 1950’s. I would like to get my hair bobbed soon and get a few dresses sewn in more Art Deco/1930’s fashion and print. This lead me to think about my girdle.

My old friend has been with me now these past three years. I actually have a few, one that is legged and two open bottomed. I actually prefer the legged for winter and also when I rode my bike in the cooler weather (my bathing suit often being the undergarment for my summer dress when my bike ride was destined for the beach. Which, this Summer, was often the case.)

I recall how odd it felt, that first time and even an hilarious situation with one of my more cinching girdles, when some vintage gals and I headed to a local 50’s Diner after shopping and I had to retreat to the little gal’s room to alleviate myself of it, discreetly rolling it into the arm of my coat, thank goodness it had been winter! But, overall, she and I have had some fun and glamorous times. Though she often followed me into some of the daily drudgery of my chores, sometimes forgetting to take her off for the ease of cleaning. It is a funny thing how quickly we become accustomed to things, we humans, and much as the ladies of the Victorian age with their corsets, I often just forget about it.

Now, the looser look of the 1920’s, quite liberating from previous decades, has lead to a more streamline higher waist-ed look. The ‘return of the waist’ it was touted in the early 1930’s. 1933fashion 1930sfashion Yet, in the drawings of the time we see almost modern model thin bodies being portrayed with no hips at all.  Nary a hip is to be seen and the rail thin boyish figure is still the desirable one, though not often attainable. katherinehepburn And many of the stars of the day were a bit fuller with the exception of Katherine Hepburn who was the epitome of the natural lanky easy glamour of the thirties with just a bit of rugged cheeked Yankee stoicism thrown in.

Well, back to my old faithful girdle. I thought, “Well, old gal, do we continue on or do we part ways for a year?”  I wasn’t sure. Did women wear girdles in the 1930’s. I know there was a sort of flattening corset sometimes worn in the 20’s for we fuller figured gals to press us into the straight tube required for the lower waist.

So, I found this interesting little film from 1929. And the the ‘bra’ and full bloomers look so loose and, well, comfortable. In fact one pair look considerably a lot like my husband’s boxers! Let’s watch:

I get the feeling I will be a bit freer in the waist line this year. Of course, I must remember I am an ‘older’ homemaker and would certainly remember corsets. In fact, in doing the math I realized that at my age in 1933 I would have been a young woman in the 19teens. I would most certainly have worn corsets, had long hair most likely in a Gibson style before the lower styles, but still long, came into fashion. That got me thinking about 1912 fashions.

1912 Though here we see some newer haute couture looks of 1912 here (including a hint at hat and low waist styles to come in Vogue in the 1920’s) these would have most likely been worn by the upper classes who could afford a yearly trip to Paris and the House of Worth and their ilk. For an upstanding middle class gal, one would still have kept a bit of the early 1900’s in her wardrobe, even a bit Gibson girl, like these pictured here also in 1912.middleclass1912

And I certainly would recall such fun winter sports as skating and hockey with my friends in long skirts and certainly corsets, as these rugged girls in 1912 are sporting. skating1912 So, again, putting myself into the context of the time with age considerations really throws in more to think about. Would I still be wearing a corset type garment? Yet, being younger in WWI, perhaps getting rid of them would have seemed normal as well?

An interesting and rather tongue and cheek look at this parallel of the old corset wearing aged and the free spirited youth is portrayed in this ironic and a bit risqué little film here, entitled how to undress. Though made at the time as a funny comedy, there is much in it for the historical recreationist or time traveler as myself. What goes under the clothes is as important as what goes over them.

Certainly the worship of youth and veneration for the young over the old took off like blazes in the 1920’s. The Bright young things and the new youth had access to cars and booze and cigarettes, things never done nor imagines in their parents generation. The Great War was a liberator in many senses, but it also liberated a bit of sense from the common psyche in my opinion. Of course, this might just be me becoming ever more the old Yankee curmudgeon, but I do think the youth worship and almost complete ignoring and invisibility of the old in our culture leads many young people to feel they know more than they might and for middle aged people to fear, every day, the drawing times of humiliation in aging.

In this farce film from we can see this. Thus, I wanted to share it first for the great display of 1930’s undergarments and evening clothes, but also to show the growing worship of youth coming of age in these changing times.

We see the older woman, ostensibly the ‘wrong way to undress’ had that shape we often see portrayed in old 30’s films of the older stout woman.  They always showed a great sweeping bosom rather low a tucked in lower waist area. This, actually, is simply the aging physique and the continued look once thought all the fashion of the Gibson Girl era.

1900fashion Here we see the full sweep of the breast set low to a tightened corset below the bosom and also jutting the backside out. This was called the “S” curve and the older actress in this film in 1937 would have been this lovely lady in her 20’ in 1900. The last of the corset crew, really, and we can see, as would have been the norm. the older ladies would have held onto their corsets in many ways. In early 1930’s films we often see the 1930’s slim line natural waist-ed look simply built over this 1900 S curve corset in the larger older woman. But that older stout matronly woman was once the vibrant young Gibson Girl of her era:

I find it fascinating how ones youth fashion often carries over to the present. This, today, may no longer be the case as the actual ‘style or shared look’ of the time seems to have sort of left us in the middle 1970’s. Certainly we can see a film and identify it as 70’s 80’s or 90’s by the fashion, but the idea of a shared look all women strive for and a foundation to build that look on really left us after the 60’s, I think. There wasn’t, per say, a foundation look of the 70’s or 80’s most women shared.

So, the jury is still out, but I might find simply I wear a girdle some of the time, but I am determined to make a pattern to make some of these under things for myself.

Now, all this talk of clothing has made me feel a bad homemaker. Here we are five days in and I haven't even shared a recipe yet. Well, so many things to do and so much to write about, I do promise we shall get into the kitchen to talk about more than just decorating it. But, a gal likes to do a job thoroughly. While I am still on the topic of one’s appearance however, I have also been contemplating my hairstyle. And thinks something along the lines of this picture of Joan Bennet in 1935 would be lovely. I will, of course, share my hair cut/style with you which I am sure may be a first time mess, but I shall get the hang of it in time.

Just so I don’t feel a total lout of a homemaker, I will share one of the more exotic or actually really basic foods I am beginning to see in my older cookbooks. This is not canned, cheese whiz cooking of the 1950’s that is for sure. This recipe, Swedish in origin, is from one of my ‘new’ late 20’s cookbooks. It was put out by the First Swedish Lutheran Church of Brockton, Mass.

Despite its rather unfortunate sounding name,  it actually sounds quite good and I will try it. I adore liver, but I suppose one could substitute another meat. But I think offal is so rich that it often imparts flavors not quite achieved with muscle meat.


Soon we can begin delving into more cooking and cleaning 1930’s style. And do excuse my initial days here in the hard hit Depression with flights of fancy concerning kitchen decor and fashion. But, I think, even the most hard hit had to have some joy and this often was simply dreaming for an hour in the pictures. It isn’t a surprise most of the films of the Golden Era of Hollywood dealt with the fun and frivolity of the upper class and elegantly rich. An hour of cooled or heated air and no worries must have been a much need balm to the fevered brows of many during these hard times.

goldendatebridge1 And, in the news, today in 1933, the Golden Gate bridge begins its construction in San Francisco CA. That must have been a sight to behold, I am sure. I want to begin recording more of the news and happenings of the day as well. Now, I must get back to work, there is much to do.

Happy Homemaking.


  1. I LOVE your posts, reading this really prompted me to keep sewing clothes that I want to wear. I also was thinking about those 'tiny' waists as I was looking through old family photos (Mum was born in '31). She and Dad often talked about growing up through the Depression, WW2 etc. One of the reasons for the tiny waists was definitely food shortages, annual sugar consumption per person was only 10 pounds and fresh food was ONLY available in season. Between all these things, food was limited, cherished and it was a matter of respect not to take more than your share. I've been trying to eat seasonally for years (cheaper and healthier) and my sugar intake is probably around the 10pounds mark (gave it up a while ago). This has had impressive results in my figure, all without the need for extra exercise.

    BUT speaking of exercise, my parents (who were then farmers) said that every single weekend on a Friday night, all the farmers would finish work, and head out together to the local dance, which would be hosted by a different CWA (Country Women's Association) hall each week and supper was tea and a scone! Everyone danced, chatted and carpooled in a 'gang'. How delightful!!! Of course, everyone was again up at 4:30 am to milk the house cow, feed the chooks and do the chores before the heat of the day set in.

    I adore your posts and look forward to more as the '30s is my favourite fashion era too.

  2. I love the long line of the 30's.

  3. i am going to ADORE this year!! i hope you do too. i have read some very interesting biographies of coco chanel and you might like those for more fashion history.
    keep up the good work! xo, kelly

  4. Donna, How fun it is to follow your new era. As I was reading about your being an older homemaker in the 30s I began to ponder how the terrible flu epidemic that occurred during the time of WWI might have affected your family.
    I can't wait to see the 30s clothing you'll be making.
    I read somewhere that people in the Depression were sometimes better nourished than people of our time. Food was scarce, but not modified, chemicalized and processed. Interesting thought.
    Looking forward to your next posts..........Denise

  5. This link might be of interest. I spend hours perusing here! It's a Canadian newspaper, and it runs the entire 20th century, you can read any year, any moneth, I sometimes read day by day, but it has some great photos & sotre advertisments, which gives a great idea of what people were wearing/buying, including fashionable corsetry!

  6. I'm very interesated in what you can unearth about the 30s! I've posted several things about the 30s on the forum from my stash of vintage magazines. I believe it was mostly recipes and a few of the ads. I'll post more for your reference later. My favorite decade for magazines is the 40s though, so expect more of that (and every decade) to be posted as well.


  7. Thank you for such a fun post. My mother and mother in-law said the underpants were called tap pants. Maybe a tongue in cheek reference to her dancing around in the first video. In the second video the lady who knows how to undress is Drew Berrymores step grandmother. Probably an example for Drew to be so spunky.
    The modern technology of 1930's would have made your life better.I can't wait for homemaking tips for the modern 1930's homemaker.

  8. I saw two of my mothers one piece camisole undergarments from the 20s. They were silk, with thin straps and straight across neckline, straight lines as no waist, very thin snapped crotch. They were beautiful with lace and some tiny ribbon embroidered flowers for decoration. My mother said when women then went out in the bias cut long gowns of the fashion then they did not wear a thing under them. The only thing they did was to put a piece of tape over each nipple. The lines of those gowns being bias cut and usually of shinny clinging soft material you would see every undergarment line and ruin the look. She said everyone knew about this and did it. My older relatives even up and into the 70s wore one piece all cotton 'union suits' . Ladies were short legged affairs. When the ladies 'went out' they wore cotton one piece corset over it. It had stays but were not as rigid as the much older styles. They did push them in though. I believe these had a built in bra if they wore one. I know Kwik Sew used to have patterns for many undergarments to sew. Other pattern companies did too. There are books containing patterns too. I remember the open girdles. I felt like they pushed your legs forward as you walked. :) Remember too back then girls and women used to wear slips. Now a days when you see a women in a dress in the sunlight you can see straight through it as they do not usually wear slips. Slips then used to have a 'privacy panel' in the front as an extra shield. Slips back then were so very beautiful. Thank you for all the information and posts. I am really enjoying your blog and am looking forward to reading it all and continuing to read any new posts. Sarah

  9. hi there, and a great new year to you! I have occasionally read your posts about life in the 50`s and enjoyed them a lot. I myself am really interested in our near history, especially 30-40´s, the war years.

    The recipe you shared sounded very familiar to me, and indeed it is a very common food in my home country Finland. The dish is very traditional here, I suppose it is well known in Sweden too - like you said the recipe was published by Swedish lutheran Church. But of course being a Finn, I think this is OUR recipe (if there are any Swedish reading this, please correct me if I´m wrong). There were many immigrants who came to US from the Nordics, this recipie must have come with them.The only difference is that nowadays we use rice instead of barley, and some like the stuff with raisins (!) and some without. In Finland this it is sold in every supermaket, people seldom prepare it by themselves, as it is not so easy to find really fresh chopped liver and it yourself is a bit time consuming. It is a convinience food here, you just pop it into a microwave oven or heat it in a frying pan. And it must be eaten with lingonberry (?)jam (don´t know for sure what´s that in English - a red sour berry). I guess it was really basic food at the 30´s, as it was cheap and nutritious.

    All the best to your new adventures, Minna

  10. Very interesting to note the comfort styles of the 30's.... how Glam that looks now especially considering the "comfort styles" being offered to us in 2012 are the Snuggie and "Forever Lazy" garments... ewwwww!

    You are right on about the recent fashion trends not changing, in fact there was just a Vanity Fair (rather insightful) article on this very subject:

    I certainly long for a change of the typical jeans/tshirt lifestyle, and I certainly don't wish to resort to wearing a Snuggie, Forever Lazy wear, or Pajama Jeans... ick!

    I enjoyed watching the How to Undress video and as I'm beginning to decorate my bedroom in a Hollywood Glam style, I got much inspiration from this video. I also work at an estate sale company, so viewing the historical furniture pieces was extremely pleasant for me... we just sold a chair like the one Ms. Barrymore sat in. Such wonderful referance tools!

  11. What a wonderful January I have been having in the 1930's! Thank you !
    I am excited to be learning so much about it all...especially how you can see the time progression of the fashions as well as the mortgage situation we are currently in.
    It is the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge here in California. I am hoping to do some posts on it and attend a ceremony or two.
    Have you heard of The Gatsby Picnic held every year in the SF Bay area? This year held in September


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