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 The rose and the violet will be superseded by other flowers; bottle-green is sure to become popular and will, therefore, cease to be smart.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.

dec 1908

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.

At the Intersection of Draping and Flat Pattern Making

garment district

I’ve read through many books on pattern drafting. The body measurements are taken and the draft is begun but what, I’ve wondered, is the basis for those little nuances in the instructions, to add an 1/8 of an inch here or 3/8 of an inch there, at specific points of the draft? I believe the explanation may be that flat pattern drafting evolved from the system of draping on a form. I discovered a rare book, available online courtesy of Cornell University in New York, that may help explain this.

The name of the book is Applied Pattern Designing, illustrated; based on the patternmaking methods of Abram Mayer. Developed and written by Herbert Mayer; technical assistance in compiling the text by Allyne Bane. Illustrated by Eleanor Harrington and Eve Stockhold. It was published by the Mayer Publishing Company, New York, in 1950.

Although I am just starting out, my understanding of what I’ve read in this book so far is that a basic pattern of a bodice or skirt is made by draping a form in a specific way. That pattern is then modified in order to achieve a predetermined design based on a drawing or an actual garment. Ease is allowed at some point and a finished pattern piece is the result. Throughout the text are many helpful notes about pattern lay-out, many that discuss differences in custom and industry methods. The sleeve does appear to be drafted using measurements rather than by draping. However, the treatment of the sleeve is quite extensive and far surpasses what I’ve read in other pattern making and draping books.

Abram (or Abraham as his name is often spelled) was the father of Herbert Mayer. Abraham was born in 1879 and emigrated from Germany in the early 1890’s. The Mayer family lived in Manhattan during the early years of the garment industry in New York City. In the 1915 Manhattan city directory Abraham Mayer was 36 and already a Custom Tailor. In the 1920 census his occupation or trade was Ladies’ Tailoring; in 1930, he was a Designer of Womens’ clothing ; and in 1940, a Dress Designer in Dress Manufacturing. All of his many years of experience are apparent in this book about his patternmaking methods, a loving tribute from his son.

In 1942 Abraham Mayer was 63 and the Director of the Chic School of Pattern Designing near the Garment District in New York City. He was interviewed for a Career Quiz and Answers column–Send Your Questions–Experts Answer Them.

Question–What are the requirements to become a pattern maker and pattern grader?
Answer–By Abraham Mayer, Director Chic School of Pattern Designing, 55 W. 35th St., Manhattan.

There are no specific requirements necessary. It takes, first of all, good common sense, neatness, and an open mind. While pattern making is an art, yet it has been mastered by hundreds of men and women who have made a success in this profession.
Abraham Mayer, Chic School of Pattern Design

Career column: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Sun, Oct 4, 1942, page 30

Full view of the Mayer book:





A New Way to Read a Book

Make and Mend for Victory, 1942. Click to enlarge

Make and Mend for Victory, 1942. Click to enlarge

Another lot of books from online collections for the student and teacher of dressmaking and tailoring, flat patternmaking and draping. In these unique volumes from the past one finds a wealth of interesting facts. By simply reading the text and observing the diagrams and drawings new ideas come to mind. The  pleasurable pursuit of reading, seeking and finding fresh information, is often its own reward. If one is interested in a particular subject, testing by trial and error will eventually lead to a firm grasp of the topic at hand.

If you desire to teach a class, books from these digital collections are always right at hand for every student. Similar to the widely used site, these book depositories of the world wide web support themselves by donations. What a wonderful service they provide for a new generation of learners and teachers. Let us support them as we can.

Make and Mend for Victory,  Spool Cotton Co., 1942

Perfect Fit Patternmaking,  French Fashion Academy

Principles and problems of pattern making as applied to women’s apparel, Book I, 1939 edition.  Charles Kaplan and Esther Kaplan.  I have Book II, 1940 edition so I am very happy to find this.;view=2up;seq=10

Precision Draping; a simple method for developing designing talent, 1948.  Nelle Weymouth Link;view=2up;seq=16;size=125

Sewing Handbook for Use in Extension Work, Feb. 1923.  Colorado Agricultural College, Fort Collins. “Free Pattern Cutting”, p.50, When using newspapers to drape, the columns help as markers for grain direction. Complete directions.

Individualizing Tissue-Paper Patterns. Woman’s Institute booklet, fitting tips;view=2up;seq=26

Costume Designing, Pattern Drafting, Dresscutting, Millinery, 1922.  Eugene Dickinson, Jessica Dickinson.  Children’s dresses, p. 35; Appliqué Cutting, p.36; Circular Ruffling, Plain and Scalloped (or other design), p.37; Draping, p. 33

Parisian Ladies’ Tailoring System  Circa 1918.  A.Z. Zeisler;view=2up;seq=6;size=150

Drafting trousers for men, boys, women a complete and reliable system, 3rd ed., 1945.  Harry Simon.  Boys’ sailor pants, One piece pattern for each leg, p.98;view=2up;seq=18

Designing sack coats, dress coats, and vests, 1917.  Harry Simon;view=2up;seq=46;size=125

 Thrift with a Needle; the complete book of mending, 1954.  Mildred Graves Ryan;view=2up;seq=86

Woman’s Institute books from the collection at the University of Pennsylvania, circa 1915-1934

Designing and Planning Clothes, 1930, Woman’s Institute.  Greek law of division of space; tall, thin figure, neckline, sleeves.;view=2up;seq=22;size=125

Pattern Drafting, Pattern Grading, Garment Making and Garment Fitting,1939.  Edmund Gurney.  From The Library of the New York State College of Home Economics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.  “To Draft the Swagger Coat”, p. 114, same page as Now poem. (“If you have hard work to do, do it now…”);view=2up;seq=114;size=150

Efficiency, simplicity, economy in cutting and making women’s garments, 1917.  Edmund Gurney.  Has a neck and armhole curve that could be easily duplicated on page 23.;view=2up;seq=8

The 15 books listed above make excellent and enjoyable reading. I am reminded of the “Happy Thought” of  Robert Louis Stevenson: “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings” (and queens). I really enjoyed finding these books.

More dressmaking and tailoring books: