The State of Fashion, 1914

1914 Fashion Notes, Culter

Fashion Notes, 1914, Richard Culter

The year is 1914. It is late spring, the beginning of milder weather and the new summer fashions are all the talk. It is just prior to the terrible eruption of the Great War on July 28, its dreadful nearly five year course and the subsequent worldwide influenza epidemic that gripped the world for another two years. But today the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and a group of friends gather at their usual park bench. A crust of bread amuses a small flock of sparrows. The ladies appear to be in their seventies, born in the 1840’s and young women at the time of the U. S. Civil War. Fashions have changed in their lifetime– gone are the bustles and corsets they probably wore as young women. Lately the silhouette is becoming more columnar and the slightly shorter long skirt is sometimes tiered with overskirts at mid thigh and midi lengths. Pantaloons, divided skirts and pyjama pants for women are making their first tentative appearance in Paris and even in New York. The lady in the center is reading aloud to the others from a fashion journal. Perhaps she emigrated from France and a relative there has sent her a copy of the Gazette du Bon Ton. The magazine is beautifully illustrated with color plates featuring the latest French styles by designers such as Poiret, Doucet, Worth, Lanvin, Redfern, Pacquin and others.

Au Pre Catelan, 1914

Pierre Brissaud, Gazette du Bon Ton, Volume 2, 1914

Or perhaps they are rereading a favorite timeworn copy of last year’s Sunday New York Times. In the February 13, 1913 issue, Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies Home Journal, describes the evening dress which won first prize in the Times contest for  Original American Designs. The winner was Ethel Traphagen who designed her blue-green gown with gold accents and modified obi, recalling elements of the ancient Grecian toga and stola and the kimono of the beautiful women of the ukiyo-e. The inspiration for her design was a painting by an artist she admired, James McNeill Whistler. The painting, “Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge” was itself inspired by Utagawa Hiroshige’s wood-block print probably of the Wada bridge across the Yoda river.

An illustration of Miss Traphagen’s dress can be found on page 77 of her book, Costume Design and Illustration, 1918 edition and a color reproduction of her Blue Dress, 1913, can be found at the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

These artists of the pictures above:  Culter, Brissaud, Whistler, Hiroshige, and Traphagen all had lengthy courses of study in art.

The illustration of the group of fashion-minded friends was drawn by Richard Culter, (1883-1929), an American artist who studied at the New York City Art Students League and for four years studied anatomy.

The Gazette du Bon Ton illustration is by Pierre Brissaud who studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Many famous artists studied here including Degas and Delacroix. Founded in 1648, it is a fine arts school with a strong emphasis on drawing.

Miss Ethel Traphagen attended various art schools in New York City after high school, including Cooper Union, The Art Students League, New York Fine Arts, and she also studied abroad. In 1923, after her marriage to fellow artist William R. Leigh, she founded the Traphagen School of Fashion. She wrote a book, Costume Design and Illustration, first published in 1918.

Costume Design and Illustration by Miss Traphagen and Edith Young’s Student’s Manual of Fashion Drawing; Thirty Lessons with Conventional Charts, also published in 1918 by the same publisher, The Wiley Technical Series for Vocational and Industrial Schools, were important books for their time.

Since the early 1900’s the New York garment district industry had been growing by leaps and bounds. The industry needed fashion designers and illustrators and patternmakers ready to start work now. The new artists were able to learn work skills more quickly at vocational and industrial schools. Instead of sketching only the head for the first two years of a four year fine arts program, they made their first sketches of the human body using dress forms as models rather than live models. A Fashion Figure chart was devised, not quite the nine-heads-high figure of today, which the students then dressed in their own creations. Somewhat like paper doll dressing, but serious business. However, be advised by Edith Young, “the figure given in this lesson is not nude, but is ready for a corset, underclothes, bathing suit, dress, suit, or a coat”!

To put a live fashion figure into action wearing actual clothes, patternmaking classes were taught in conjunction with the design and illustration courses. A dressmaker could therefore make her own sketches and illuminate for her customer the quality of work she was able to produce. In 1915 Charles Kaplan began to work as an instructor of patternmaking and pattern design. In 1940 he wrote that he felt he had reached his goal. He used his tried and tested teaching notes to write his books. He was chairman of the Patternmaking Department of the Central High School for Needle Trades. His co-author was his daughter Esther Kaplan, born about 1914, who also taught at the Traphagen School. Together they wrote Principles and Problems of Pattern Making as Applied to Women’s Apparel.

Here in 1914 is the bustling beginning of the fashion industry in the United States. The players are the artists, designers, patternmakers, dressmakers, garment industry manufacturers, International Ladies  Garment Workers unionists, and apprentices in the needle arts trades. Is it any wonder that the group of friends on the park bench is so interested in fashion?

Some sources, most located via Google searches

Richard Culter, Fashion Notes,  published March 21, 1914

Gazette du Bon ton, Arts, Modes et Frivolities, vol 2, 1914

Lucien Vogel, Directeur

James McNeill Whistler

Utagawa Hiroshige

Ethel Traphagen’s Blue Dress, 1913

Ethel Traphagen, 1932,  photographed by Arnold Genthe

Student’s manual of fashion drawing; thirty lessons with conventional charts.

Edith Young, 1918;view=2up;seq=6

Ethel Traphagen, Costume Design and Illustration, 1918

In the preface is a list of books on drawing and anatomy, including Edith Young’s book.;view=2up;seq=34;size=125

Principles and problems of pattern making as applied to women’s apparel, Book I, 1939 edition.  Charles Kaplan and Esther Kaplan. Both of the introductions to the Kaplan books, 1939 and 1940, describe the life and times of the author, Charles Kaplan.;view=2up;seq=10

More about Charles Kaplan and his daughter Esther Kaplan in the Acknowledgment to Harriet Pepin’s Modern Pattern Design, 1942. Thank you to EmilyAnn of for finding it. Esther Kaplan taught Harriet Pepin, I presume at Traphagen.

Modern Pattern Design, Harriet Pepin, 1942

Newspaper clipping affixed to inside (first couple of blank pages) of Costume Design and Illustration, 1918, by Ethel Traphagen.  Digitized by Google, Original from New York Public Library.

“A Cooperative Venture That Bridges the Gulf between Amateur and Professional”. Handwritten date October 1923, no publication name.;view=2up;seq=4

Illustrations for a thesis completed in 2013 by Cassidy Zachary

Cassidy Zachary thesis, 2013

“Prize Winners and Descriptions of Their Designs”, Feb. 23, 1913, New York Times

Rome News-Tribune, June 15, 1973, “The Traphagen School of Fashion”,2320441&hl=en

Edith Young Art School, 607 Broad St, Newark, NJ, Resident and correspondence classes in costume design and illustration, anatomy, perspective and decorative drawing. Lost exact citation for this. May have been a Google search result.

Traphagen Collection, Ohio State University

Fashion Drawing and Design, A Practical Manual for Art Students and Others, Luie M. Chadwick, London, 1926.  Worth a read, some nice poses, faces, hats, etc.

Practical Drawing, Lutz, recommended by Ethel Traphagen in the introduction to  her book;view=2up;seq=208

Practical Art Anatomy, Lutz, 1918

Anatomical Diagrams for the Use of Art Students, James Dunlop, 1900, also recommended by Miss Traphagen;view=2up;seq=22;size=175

Very similar to a Gray’s Anatomy with mucles, bones, etc. but also drawing construction lines superimposed on the anatomical figure;view=2up;seq=48;size=175

Ethel Traphagen biography, Fridays are free days







6 thoughts on “The State of Fashion, 1914

  1. I was glad to see Ethel Traphagen included in your essay. She had a school in New York City. At the time I went to French Fashion Academy, Traphagen was still open. There was also the Mayer School of Fashion which taught factory techniques. Maison Sappho is the only private school I remember that is still open and teaching haute couture techniques. There was such a choice up until the onset of the 1980s.


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