Clothing Of The Twentieth Century
( Originally Published 1928 )
THE gown was now worn over a "straight front" corset, the cut of the latter being much lower in front than heretofore, and with no inward curve at the waistline. Boning was no longer used in waists and lining disappeared. But the back fastening was still the vogue.
The waist was made to blouse out over the waistline by cutting the front section much too long and wide ; tiny tucks were then placed at each side, extending vertically some five inches from the neck line until a smooth fit was created across the bosom; the fullness was gathered in a dipping curve and raised to the waistline—an effect which can be seen in any picture of the Gibson girl of that time. The skirt spread out about the feet, ending in a train which was held up in the street, and supported while dancing by running the hand through a ribbon loop. High collars running up in points behind the ears were still worn on street dresses. For evening, the tiny sleeve was slipped down and straps about an inch wide and variously ornamented, were placed over the shoulders to support the gown.
Laced shoes with pointed toes and heels of various heights were for street wear, high French-heeled slippers for dancing.
Very long ostrich feather boas and small neck ruffs of feathers, pleated chiffon, ribbon and the like were common and were superseded by stoles twelve inches in width and made of coque feathers, marabou or fur. Muffs were large. Neckpieces of fox and other small animals came into style.
The Merry Widow Hat—In 1908 a wide-brimmed, be-feathered hat, which stood high on the pompadour, took its name from the most popular light opera of the day. A craze for this hat developed and ostrich plumes became greatly in demand; the variety known as "willow," drooping over the crowns, was soon followed by "glycerined" and novelty feathers, many resembling those in feather dusters.
The Peach Basket Hat.—Well named, for its advent, in 1909, suddenly sent the hair of women into a concealment from which to this day, whenever a hat is on the head, it has not emerged. It had a huge crown whose brim was merely a continuation ; flowers flattened against it and ruchings applied in designs formed the trimming. Lace and fine pleated ruffles sometimes were used in lieu of the brim. Hats eventually regained their brims, but the crown, perhaps largely due to motoring, still hides the hair. With the innovation of this tight-fitting crown, hat pins, which had flourished for years and had become very ornate, expensive, dangerous—and, of course, food for the comic papers because of their great length—went into limbo.
The Hobble Skirt.—The fullness of the skirt when it lost its train was for a short time, in the summer of 1910, drawn in about the feet by an elastic band. This proved a fleet whim of fashion and by no means universal, due not only to the accidents resulting from its wear, but largely to its ugliness and inconvenience. It completely changed the silhouette, however, for the skirt became straight and sheathlike, measuring less than a yard around its lower edge.
Women walked with difficulty and boarding a street car was impossible without hoisting the gown to the knees. The low steps on cars of the Broadway line in New York City were designed just for that to help the ladies. De-spite the absurdity of this fashion, a desperate hue and cry was raised when French mannequins appeared at Longchamps in skirts slashed open to the knee ; yet this radical suggestion led to a way out when fanlike pleatings were inserted in the opening—and so, women were enabled to walk once more.
The Rainy Day-Skirt.—Meanwhile, a club was formed in New York City by women who, disgusted with the long and trailing unsanitary skirts, pledged themselves to wear short (that is to say, short for those still prudish days) round skirts on wet days. One called the "trotteur" was also launched by the French modistes for shopping and walking. But there is no doubt that the sensible women, the "rainy Daisies" early in this century, who ran the gantlet of ridicule, were unwittingly responsible for to-day's abbreviated skirts.
Dresses were almost Empire in line before the World War, with a high waistline, long, wrinkled sleeves and slim, clinging skirts fashioned of cepe de Chine, soft satins and georgettes. During the duration of hostilities, dresses of all kinds became short, the shoe top being decreed for a long time the right length. Footwear grew conveniently accommodating, however, and rose to surprising heights, boasting many buttons. So did the spat, of gray, fawn or black, worn above low shoes in winter.
The Blouse.—The shirt waist, or blouse, as it became known, was only used as an adjunct to the suit. Voile, georgette, lace, satin and crepe de Chine, with lace frills, insertions, and even beading, were used in its making. It was tucked inside of the belt, subjecting the figure to a most trying outline on removal of the coat.
The Kimona Sleeve.—The introduction of the middy blouse, also the fashion of the tunic and the kimona sleeve, gradually changed this and eliminated the hooked-up-theback frock, also the one with intricate shoulder and side fastenings. Fashion reverted to the tunic of the ancients; the uncorseted woman thrust her head through a neck opening, her arms into kimona sleeves—and was comfort-able. Unfortunately, only too often she looked it!
Jewelry.—The La Valliere, an arrangement of jewels forming a pendant, hung on a gold or silver chain about the neck until displaced by the fad for necklaces of graduated and usually imitation pearls. In varying lengths, that known as the "opera" reached to the bosom. Strings of colored beads were to be had in endless variety. The present century differs from its forerunners in its predilection for synthetic stones, largely due to the influence of French nouveau art jewelry. Platinum superseded gold as settings for diamonds, these stones attaining a much greater value than ever before. One innovation was the use of platinum for wedding rings. Many women went to the extreme of having theirs of gold, telltale evidence of marriages made at dates preceding the fashion, covered with platinum. In the last year, however, owing to the cheap imitations of platinum, there has been a return to gold for settings.
Earrings, due to the fact that now they were designed with screw backs, making unnecessary the piercing of ears,achieved a popular revival. In all lengths and of infinite variety they have appeared, and are invariably becoming.
The fad for bar pins reached its height with the tunic dress, which was anchored by placing one across the bosom. Cameos have also had a vogue.
Bracelets never actually go out of fashion; they merely vary. The present craze known as "the slave," threatens to become so common that its doom is merely a question of time. The wrist watch served as a bracelet for a long while, the merely useful variety being attached to a strap of black silk or leather. More ornate ones were of platinum studded with diamonds. Many jingling bracelets worn with the short-sleeved gown or on the sleeveless arm, have pushed the wrist watch to the wall. Narrow flexible bands set with diamonds and sapphires, the latter usually synthetic, have been worn for several years. The present tendency is a reversion to the broad bands of flexible gold of mid-Victorian days.
Marquise rings set with diamonds were very fashionable early in the century, knuckle to knuckle being the pre-scribed length. Then came a procession of dinner rings large and decorative, rings to match the necklace, rings to match the gown in color, and, lastly, two large matching stones to adorn the fingers. Luckily the fashion does not involve the nose !
Low shoes have created a demand for handsome buckles; this winter the high heel of the slipper is jewel studded.
The "choker" is at present the most popular form of necklace. The stores are loaded with "junk" and women buy and buy.
Veils.—These for many, many years were thought an indispensable part of a woman's attire; the chiffon veil, variously colored, was draped on all hats early in the century and used for motoring; white lace veils of French make were festooned across the chapeau. or worn tight to the face. Women actually felt undressed if they sallied forth without a veil; and much time was spent posing before a counter mirror while selecting one most calculated to soften the features or hide wrinkles. The fashion died out about the time of the Great War and its passing was attributable not only to. the ever increasing popularity of the bob but also to the use of hair nets.
The Handbag.—This, as we know, arrived with the present century. Not very large at first, it had a metal top and a chain to carry it by, and a pouch of leather, velvet or beaded material. Small mesh bags of gunmetal, also of silver, were in style. By 1910, with pockets gone from dresses, the handbag had become indispensable. Mesh bags of gold and silver, together with the beaded bag, are always the dressiest. The useful variety of leather has undergone many changes in shape and size. A few years ago the "under-arm" bag superseded for a time the hanging form in popularity; it was merely an enormous wallet or envelope purse. The handbags of the present year have attained the greatest size ever known in the history of this accessory, so dear to every woman.
After the War the low shoe attained such a vogue that the high variety disappeared almost entirely. Only silk stockings now were used, even on the coldest days, and the doctors, scolding, spoke of pneumonia. Then some frozen flapper took to wearing woolen hose. Sensible, but suggestive of the peasant, these stockings were all right in their proper place—for sports and with sport clothes. Unfortunately, they were too often worn with frocks and coats intended for dress occasions. The ad-vent of the flesh-colored, lining stocking of fine wool, over which the sheerest silk hose can be drawn without any appreciable increase in the size of the ankle, has been adopted by many women for use during frigid weather.
Meditating on the undergarments of a flapper, one wonders why the lingerie departments in our big stores do not fail. The little specialty shops tucked in between the theatres along Broadway, dotting the side streets and even asserting themselves impertinently on Fifth Avenue, display in the limited space of their windows quantities of lacy, airy trifles which now are considered all that the modern girl requires as underwear. Through the gauze stockings hanging in the foreground can be seen other equally sheer and crushable garments. One windowful would dress many girls.
Low shoes seem to have run the gamut of all possible shapes, and of variety in the strappings, with the craze still unabated. At present the working in of different colored leathers seems to be occupying the maker's attention.
The flapper who slopped about with unfastened goloshes because it "made her feel more blah," has succeeded in appropriating the really fashionable to herself, and her-self alone; older women cannot share in it without appearing ridiculous. Everywhere we see girls of twenty and older, whose skirts do not reach the knees. This is an extreme which alder women of society, supposed to be style leaders, have not yet dared to follow. But the most radical through all the ages has ever been the height of fashion.
Older women with thinning hair look pathetic with it bobbed, and yet some misguided ones have parted with their locks in order to achieve the fashionable silhouette. Bobbed hair has survived so long mainly because, if it is allowed to start growing, its wearer finds short, scraggly locks extremely difficult of arrangement in the daytime; at night every girl is provided with a switch of her own or some one else's hair with which to bind the head. The boyish bob, however, seems to have sounded the knell for this coiffure—nought remains but a close shave!
Women, realizing that lack of corsets was enlarging waist and hip, flew in a panic to the rubber kind intended for reduction ; these, while on, undoubtedly made the figure trimmer. Step-ins or wrap-arounds, either all elastic or in combination with boned brocade, the present idea in correct corseting, seem to offer a more healthful solution of the problem.
The Brassiere.—The old-fashioned lace-trimmed and beribboned, white muslin corset cover that took to boning its darts, was superseded by the brassiere, a contrivance which, in the course of its development, made possible the fashion known as the "boyish form" ; this succeeded in pressing down the figure until a flat chest, neither beautiful nor healthful, resulted.
The Fur Coat.—Gone are the days of "winter flannels," but the flapper is not responsible ; her mother shed them when georgette crepe became fashionable and the fur coat began its reign. Of course, "sealskin sacques," real mink and ermine capes, chinchilla and Russian sable wraps, had been in the wardrobe of the wealthy in the last century. But in the twentieth, heavy underwear was betrayed by the transparency of the new materials and accordingly discarded for Milanese silk or lacy, crepey confections; women generally found that, while gowns of georgette and other unlined, thin materials were comfortable in a steam-heated room, fur was necessary for outdoor, winter wear. So motorists protected themselves with raccoon, while pony skin and Persian lamb led off for street wear, to be followed by every variety of fur from Russian sable to rabbit, the choice depending on the pocketbook.
For stage wear, only the softest and most crushable furs, such as chinchilla and ermine, or clever imitations in rabbit, which admit of wrapping close about the form, are advisable; ordinary fur is prone to give the figure a bulky shapelessness.
So great has been the demand for skins this winter that women have even worn what looks strangely like the coat of the placid cow. Some day they may cover themselves with fish-scales, but still will cry lustily with Lady Teazle, "Lud, Sir Peter, would you have me be out of the fashion?"