Hat styles, 1931

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A selection of ads and copy from 1931 newspapers describing the latest styles from Parisian milliners.

“Not in years has there been such a variation in hat styles. Most important and unusual is the complete showing of faces which fashion decrees for this year. Whether turban, beret, or cloche, modistes insist upon revealing the profile. To achieve this, hats are set back on the head, exposing the forehead, the hair softly arranged at the front and sides to form a decorative frame. Perfect grooming of the head was never more necessary than it will be this season. Trimmings are more varied than last season, also, small feather fancies, ribbon treatments in a wide assortment of materials, weaves, and color combinations, and flowers are only a few of the accessories which will adorn the latest dictates in millinery.”

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The ad from the Spring of 1931 continues: “Hats this spring have become distinctly impertinent. They choose once more to assert themselves as individuals—so distinct are they in shape, so different in type, so recherché, as far as trimming, material, color, or the combination of all three are concerned.”

“The spirited, sharp-witted tricorn, so provocative with its contradictory over-the-right-eye, behind-the-left-ear movements, has no doubt at all about its noble origins and coming success in newest incarnations, feeling equal to any situation in the afternoon.

The wide-brimmed capeline, smoothly balanced on its round, shallow crown, feels itself an aristocrat, knowing that, worn on the right woman, it is prepared for the most formal tea-parties or for the races.

The rustic straw, with its romantic undulating brim and tiny bunch of flowers, is devoted to youth and beauty and can be worn in town or out of town, on sunny afternoon, and the straw-and-ostrich combination is highly conscious of its dashing smartness as glimpsed through a motor on the way to a formal luncheon or tea.

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The ingenuously upward-lifted cloche and the more subtly feminine toque take their cues—so far as sophistication and formality are concerned—from the way in which they are trimmed.

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“Our time has come,” whisper the stiff straws and the felts, feeling themselves real hats, again. “Our time remains,” answer the draped jersey turbans and caps of pliable straws. The runabout evening toque and the feather-encircled evening coiffure are rivals for favor.”


“Flowers are as good as feathers—not so new nor so piquant, perhaps, but so becoming. Agnes, who brought them back into our lives, still keeps faithful to them and now makes a toque of white chiffon violets. Patou cleverly finds an excuse to soften the asperity of his “Cocktail Party” Panama tricorn with three pink organdie camellias. Mado introduces what one might call an amusing cache nuque, of white velvet violets, under a broad black picot brim. Nowadays, flowers seem to have a “behind the ear” destination. Reboux says spring in the refreshing language of field flowers and finds such combinations as yellow, grey, and brown; golden-yellow and blue; red, white, and green; navy-blue, yellows and other blues. These flower-trimmed rustic straws evoke visions of summer fields, haystacks, soft lawns, and carry you away on the wings of the dreamed-of summer holidays, in the midst of busy Paris.”

These next two hats may be pliable straw.



Spring into Summer

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Strawbridge and Clothier ad from 1916

Advertisement for fabrics and colors of Summer 1900

The Summer Wardrobe—Apple Blossom and Daffodil Linens Among the Season’s Novelties

Linens will be decidedly the mode this summer, and surely nothing could be lovelier than the “bloom” linens, whose names of apple blossom, daffodil, wild strawberry, spring woods and hawthorne reveal the secrets of their exquisite tones of faint pink, soft yellow or tender green. But with all this poesy of name and color these “bloom” linens have a strength of texture which makes them capable of withstanding any amount of hard wear, and with machine stitched trimmings, or cuffs and collar of guipure lace, form an effective costume at little cost, says the New York Tribune.

Some of the new organdie muslins are veritable things of beauty, and at conveniently low prices, while there is a dainty charm about a white muslin with openwork stripes, where the pattern consists of clusters of pink roses caught together by bows and trailing ends of pale blue ribbon. Anyone must fall a willing victim to a cool looking all-over design of maidenhair fern in freshest green and white, to be worn over a colored slip with ribbons to match the fern.

So soft and shimmering are some of the cotton foulards that they would readily pass for silk if they were not marked with the price of 25 cents a yard, with finer qualities at 40 cents. They make up prettily with trimmings of lace insertion in waved lines, and boleros of the same cotton lace.

With summer fabrics at such moderate prices it will be possible to include a number of washing gowns and blouses in one’s outfit, which are an absolute necessity to the woman who would present a pleasing picture of dainty freshness and cool comfort even on the hottest of dog days.

In the way of trimming lace reigns supreme, and on every portion of the costume that affords an opportunity for its display there it is in evidence. Cluny and Irish laces are much in favor, owing, perhaps, to the recent visit of the queen to Ireland, and the efforts of the Irish Industrial association to expand the market in that direction. At any rate, the lace is beautiful and effective in fichu, collar, bertha or flounce, and many machine made imitations are used to good purpose on gowns of linen or cotton. Russian lace, in the real flax color, is much sought after for garments of substantial texture, particularly in light weight cloth in pastel shades or in black taffeta silk. Narrow black French lace will be used extensively for trimming these cotton gowns. One of this sort designed for the trousseau of a recent May bride was made of fine white Swiss muslin, with narrow gathered ruffles of the same, edged with black lace, and arranged in deep points about the skirt. The bodice was made with clusters of fine tucks, the outer one of each group being lace edged, while draped about the shoulders and knotted in front was a Marie Antoinette fichu, finished with the lace edged ruffle.

Some charming effects are being shown by the leading tailors in softest cloths of delicate pastel colorings embroidered in an openwork design which shows the soft shimmer of satin beneath, in either a paler shade of the dominant dress color or some effectively contrasted tone, In all black these gowns are particularly elegant, with no touch of color visible, even in the underskirt. An example of this was recently shown in black cloth of the lightest possible weight, with an admirable effect in the well-cut bolero, which was entirely covered with embroidery, which figured again, both as a bordering to the overskirt and the closely-plaited flounce beneath. Palest fawn cloth over ivory satin is one of the most fascinating of  color effects.

An innovation for summer millinery is the velvet fruit, just from Paris. It is produced in all colors impossible to nature, such as cherries in turquoise blue and apple green, besides red, yellow and black. Small velvet peaches are delicately shaded from pale green or yellow to pink and scarlet, while luscious strawberries in black or natural shades are studded with pale yellow seeds and mounted with their own green leaves.

Fashion illustration from August 1905

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July 1900 ad showing the new bolero and lace used as trim.

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Paris fashions of 1908


Tanagra figure from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paris fashions from the spring of 1908 had flowing lines and lacked a clearly defined waistline. Restrictive corsets were no longer needed.

A Strawbridge and Clothier Department Store advertisement, Philadelphia, PA, dated 19 March 1908 heralds the New Style:

“Paris—marvelous Wizard of Dress! More wonderful now than ever. Her magic has conjured beauty from all ages for the Fashions of Spring, 1908. She has studied Greek statues and Tanagra figurines and learned the art of classic grace of line, flowing draperies and tunic bands. She has pored over picture and story of Napoleon’s court, and retains the raised waistline typical of Empire gowns. From the Directoire, she has borrowed cutaway fronts, waistcoats, lace jabots and skirts sheathing waist and hips. She has studied the ancient treasure turned up by the archaeologist’s spade in Egypt for ideas for garnitures. She has revived the embroideries of ancient Byzantium. She has duplicated old Italian, French and Spanish laces. She has gone to Africa for the Algerian sash and the Egyptian alme’s scarf. And the sash and scarf are the sartorial sensation of the Spring in Paris!”

The Exposition of Superb Gowns from Paris was held in the Dressmaking and Tailoring Salon, 3rd floor, East. Gowns, tailored coats and costumes from famous Parisian designers such as Doucet were modeled. The dressmaking salon could recreate a desired costume custom fit to the client.

By December of 1908 even the rather more conservative Mrs. Osborne, who wrote a dressmaking and fashion column for the magazine, The Delineator, was taken with the colors and fabrics of the new Paris fashions. She was very impressed by “the colors of the present year. Nothing more exquisite, more absolutely satisfying to one’s craving for beauty, could possibly be imagined. There are shades of rose color, wisteria and ashes-of-violets that one could almost rave over. The new amethyst dye might inspire an artist, and the revival of bottle-green has an old-world quaintness faintly suggestive of Beau Brummels and highwaymen and other delightful events and personages of the picturesque past.

Yet is it not true that our pleasure in these rainbow colors is sharpened materially by the knowledge that we have but a short time for their enjoyment? The rose and the violet will be superseded by other flowers; bottle-green is sure to become popular and will, therefore, cease to be smart. Even the dull reds and blues and tarnished silver that we have borrowed from old tapestries will seem trite tomorrow. So while they are with us let us enjoy them thoroughly and dismiss them philosophically when they go. Personally, I shall have a lingering regret for the dull powder and mist blues that are just beginning to be worn, the soft, dark mulberry-red and the more emphatic Virginia-creeper crimson.”

On 31 December 1908, Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia  looked back at important events of that spring:

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The December 1908 Delineator provided an illustration showing three styles of dress: one with a lowered waist; one with a raised waistline; and one with a draped sash.

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Underneath the gowns “the sheath-fitting skirts and carefully designed princess gowns necessitate underwear that is as faultlessly fitted as the dress itself. To this end, women are extremely critical and careful that the under-garments shall be without gathers, folds or any sort of extra fullness above the hips. And not only is the dress in one piece, but an undergarment which combines corset cover and skirt in princess style is a most desirable one to wear with these sheath fitting gowns.”

corset cover and skirt

Another option to a separate corset or an unstructured corset cover and skirt combination might be a corset incorporated within the gown. Mrs. Cholly Knickerbocker wrote a fashion column about the new “Frenzied Fashions” on 22 November 1908:

“New Tanagra Gowns with Corsets Sewed Into Them”

“Think of corset and gown in one! But this latest clever thought is not inexpensive. Only the most skilful of stay-makers are employed to make the corset, which is fashioned of the lining of the frock. He builds it absolutely as he would an ordinary corset, following the measurements carefully. When completed it is returned to the modiste, who then proceeds to build the gown upon it.

And such a perfect fit as results! It means a corset for each gown, as the dress is actually made and sewed upon it, but for those who can afford it it is a luxury worth considering. It reduces the underclothing to a minimum. The greatest dressmakers all agree that even the lightest corseting spoils the svelte lines demanded by these artistic frocks. The graceful droop at the waist, the lax pose of the figure, the languid air of the whole silhouette is best obtained when few underclothes and no corsets at all are worn.

This does sound a bit startling at first, but it is an actual fact, that with some of the more extreme of the new Grecian and Tanagra costume effects the corset will be dispensed with altogether. In its place will be worn a little contrivance—or rather two contrivances—of satin, which, while giving the necessary support at the bust and keeping the figure flat below the waist in front, will leave the wearer absolutely free and unhampered at the waist line.”

The Tanagra Gown

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The interior of the Tanagra gown as described by Mrs. Cholly Knickerbocker.

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In the well known and now very affordable book, Couture Sewing Techniques (First Edition), author Claire Schaeffer describes the construction of a built-in corselette.

In this video designer Tony Ward fits the corset to the form and builds the dress upon the foundation.

In 1913, five years after the advent of the New Styles from Paris, the fashion silhouette of 1908 had been only slightly modified. The waistline, if defined at all, was wider and more like an obi or sash. There was still no need for strictly restraining corsets. If corsets were worn they were made of the new elastic material or had few bones. A news story from June 1913 is titled: “Classic Lines Influence Fashions” and it is noted that “the cultivation of natural figure lines is frequently referred to as a revival of the classic proportions associated with antique Greek sculptures or with the unconfined lines of the belles of the First Empire.”

The prize winning Blue Gown of 1913 designed by Ethel Traphagen



The Gazette du Bon Ton magazine has many lovely fashion illustrations dating between 1912-1915 including this illustration by Georges Lepape of a dinner dress from 1913 by Paul Poiret. The link to the 1912-1913 copy of the Gazette from the Smithsonian Library is below.




Tanagra figurine


The Delineator, December 1908


Also in this issue of the Delineator on page 946  is the article “Dressmaking Made Easy–How to Make the Fitted Waist”, by Eleanor Chalmers. The waist is lined and boned and the proper placement for cutting out of the pattern pieces is shown.

Corset Covers 1895-1908


1903 Chester, PA

Shirtwaists and skirts are often seen in women’s fashions of about 1895-1910. Layers of undergarments were worn under voluminous blouses that billowed above long skirts. A corset gave definition to the waist. It was worn over a loosely fitted slip called a chemise which provided some skin protection against the corset’s hardware. The corset reached from the bustline to the hipline. It laced up the back or the front or both. Every season new corset models made their appearance usually in the Spring. By 1908 some corsets extended to the thigh to give a longer line to the silhouette. Over the corset was worn a blouse-like corset cover which concealed the inner workings of the corset. Sometimes the fronts of the corset covers were flounced in tiers to augment the bustline of the outer bodice. These are the styles that my grandmother and her older sisters would have worn.


Kimono sleeve blouse waist, 1908 Philadelphia, PA

Here are a few examples of corset styles all from 1908. The corset molded the body’s mid section by means of the vertical supports of stays and held the cage-like contraption in place with laces, buckles, and snaps.





The metal hardware and rigid framework of a corset could be concealed with the extra fabric layer of the corset cover. Corset covers, drawers, gowns, slips and chemises, were often for sale at January White Sales. Combination undergarments such as chemisette and drawers or corset cover and slip became more popular around this time.


Corset Cover, 1895, Philadelphia, PA


Corset Cover, Hazleton, PA, 1901

Corset Covers could be embroidered or enhanced with lace. These Corset Cover Designs are from the Philadelphia newspapers 1907-08.




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When cutting out the corset cover allow about one inch beyond the scallops to be cut out after they are worked. Baste the cover together before the scallops, which go all around neck and armholes, are stamped.


Here is an interesting pattern for a Circular Corset Cover. There do not appear to be any seams at the sides. I tried to figure out what the pattern may have looked like if it had no seams at either the sides or the shoulders. I first thought it may have been a full circle. I made the full circle pattern up in muslin, gathered the neckline and waist. It is very bubble-like, but now my doll model has something to wear besides a paper towel held in place with a rubber band. I thought the pattern could also be more of a semi-circle. I found a pattern like that from the 1700’s and traced it. When the Center Fronts are joined, it resembles a cone. The pattern description states that a piece of material 27 inches x 54 inches is needed. Half of 54 is 27, so that would be 27 inches square. I haven’t finished thinking about this.


July 1908, New Jersey



If low on funds or just thrifty, one could always downsize a blouse waist into a corset cover. The clip about how to make a corset cover (or sleeveless blouse) from a long sleeved waist interests me. I think I might use a casing and drawstring neckline closure rather than the beading and lace suggested.


If worn (out) under arms, use sleeves to mend.

A few pincushion embroidery designs from 1907 that might come in handy for use on a corset cover.



A couple interesting videos from the  Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center in Carson City, showing the undergarments for a 1860’s costume. Forty years later in 1900, undergarments and the sequence of preparing to be dressed for the day was very much the same. Another sequence of this four part video shows a dress form from about 1900 showing the form with the mono bosom or pigeon breast silhouette popular at that time.







It would appear that a corset cover was not only a useful everyday item of clothing, but the simple sleeveless design was probably one of the first garments that could be sewn easily by a beginner. The opportunity to embellish the surface with embroidery, tucks, gathers and buttons allowed for creative expression. Very little of the corset cover probably showed when viewed from the outside so the embroidered scallops or other fancy work wouldn’t have to be perfectly excecuted.  Clothing construction and design techniques were likely passed on from generation to generation during the making of a corset cover.

1908 was the beginning of the end for corsets. That was the year “Freedom in Fashion” arrived in the States from Paris and was introduced in the major departments stores of NYC. The New Styles would change the silhouette and eliminate the need for restrictive undergarments. I plan to write about that event soon.

1930 Hem Lengths and a Newly Found 1931 Pattern Making System Book


An ad for Sewing Week — April 5 to 12.

Fabrics; Gloves; Handbags; Costume Jewelry; Vogue, McCall and Sye Foundation Patterns.

Thousands of Women Who Know Economic Advantage of Home Sewing Will Welcome This Event for What It Represents in Terms of Homemaking, Art and Education.

Sye Foundation Patterns Book Full View at hathitrust!

Correct styles for the individual; pattern making; simple methods of choosing becoming clothes; pattern making simplified; dress finishing; three volumes in one, by Helen Hall.



What the Well Dressed Xmas Doll Will Wear 1914


Big Doll was a Christmas present from my aunt at Christmas 1952. The photo is of myself holding Big Doll. She had a soft body and plastic arms and legs. I think that is a bandage on her left leg to keep the stuffing from coming out. The doll clothes from the ad  above would have been a good fit for her.


Here is a photo taken Christmas 1952 when I would have received Big Doll as a gift from my aunt.


A Look Within

Timothy Long is the Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts at the Museum of London. He also posts wonderful glimpses of garments he encounters in the process of his work on Twitter. His address is Timothy Long @Fashion_Curator.

Timothy Long is also on Instgram and the first video is from Instagram on Dec. 1, 2016.

“An Early 18th Century Bodice” features short sleeves. Instead of sliding the hand first through the sleeve opening, the sleeve had an opening in the underarm seam. Hooks and eyes kept the sleeve fastened around the upper arm.

That was pretty exciting for me since I had been thinking about just that method for a short sleeved bodice. My pattern has front and back darts and a kimono sleeve with a five sided gusset. I later determined that a left side closure of zipper or hook and eye would probably be sufficient. Still it was great to see a construction detail from 300 years ago that could still have relevance today.

The next video that caught my eye was the bodice of a lovely blue Victorian wedding ensemble from his Twitter feed of Nov. 21, 2016. The long, full sleeves are darted at the elbow and the dart is obviously pleated. The sleeve is not broken into two pieces–above and below the elbow–rather the fullness of the sleeve is manipulated into a design feature at the elbow and the sleeve is all one piece.


I have seen a similar technique from the early 1900’s, but with gathers rather than pleats, and I believe it was called a gathered pleat.