Wednesday, March 26, 2014

1920s Fashion from Good Housekeeping (1925)

Hello there!

How's tricks? I spent most of this morning listening to John Cale's Paris 1919 and wishing the wifi in this building had a corporeal form so I could have the satisfaction of throttling it-- pictures. from. phone. to. computer. What is so difficult about this transaction? It's what you were born to do, wifi!  At any rate, I finally did manage to upload the photos I'd taken with my secret iPhone spy camera of a tattered Good Housekeeping volume I borrowed from my coworker Amy's office cart yesterday, and aren't I glad? The slim lines and novelty prints of these almost ninety year old fashion suggestions, and the smooth bizarre melodies of the former Velvet Underground member are soothing my technology rage.

Wanna get a gander at frocks that were a hit before your mother (or maybe even grandmother!) was born? Let the show begin:

Good Housekeeping from 1925 is a mixed bag of interesting, first-half-of-the-last century articles for modern woman of the home. I enjoy flipping through Victrola ads ($50-$200...that was a lot of money then!), torridly romantic short fiction (this one's byline: "The Story of a Girl Who Left Home and Mother for a Man-- but Came Back in Time"), recipes ("Why Macaroni Belongs in Your Kitchen" caught my eye), and home decor suggestions (this one about textile panels is going to have me hunting for a new-old tapestry next flea trip)...but, as if you couldn't guess, my favorite articles are the fashion articles. Nestled in between the cooking suggestions and the very back the magazine's continuations-of-earlier-articles and byline ads, it's the real "meat" of the magazine for me.

An interesting thing to think about when looking through these fashion panels-- how narrow a scope of items, with how broad a variation of pattern and style, are represented in these sartorial suggestions!

Unlike today's modern fashion editor, the editor of 1925 doesn't have to worry about if capes go with culottes, or gladiator sandals versus six inch heels, or if parachute pants trump gauchos...there are the following categories of clothes and accessories in these pages:
  • Dresses
  • Skirts
  • Blouses
  • Scarves
  • Hats
  • Coats/Furs
  • Shoes
  • Jewelry
And that's it, buster! To me, the fascinating thing is how you would stand out as a woman particularly á la mode when the "mode" is very prescriptive. Today, you want to make a statement, go ahead and don your neon tribal print leggings, micro-mini, fun-fur vest, Kanye shades, and platform boots...eyes might be batted your way, but no one's going to haul you off "for a rest". And yes, while your mile long ostrich feather fascinator might have been "shocking" in the twenties', how do you miss offending and instead inspire envy in such a subtle fashion decade?

The answer? DETAILS, details, details. Fabrics, flounces, sashs, bows, hemlines, buttons, colors...all ULTRA important in these pieces. Which is why it's so boring to see women dressed up "like the Jazz age" in a stretch velour black tunic and a string of pearls. "But I wore a feather headband!" No way Mae Murray or La Swanson or other famous clotheshorses of the silent era would be caught dead in something so pedestrian. Bring on the dropped waist and the million buttons and the luxurious silk, sequined gowns. This pinterest board has an amazing collection of what some of the evening wear of the time could look like-- and not every one of them is some dearly expensive Patou designed art piece, some of them are just what a popular flapper with one good dress would wear to the Charleston competition (see: early Joan). I digress, however. I want that high necked, black velvet, flounces to the side dress above and center so bad I could actually die.

I read a quote the other day that maligned my dearly beloved Elsa Schiaparelli, but conversely very kind to Coco Chanel (who designed the cocoon coat in the center of the trio above)-- Balenciaga said of the two designers, "Coco had very little taste, but it was good. Schiap, on the other hand, had lots of it, but it was bad." Ouch! My idea is to have my cake and eat it too-- usually tasteful with wild flights of fancy incorporated with sedate materials. I love nothing more than wearing a black high-waisted pencil skirt with a wide belt, crazy 70s print polyester shirt, black bolero jacket with shoulderpads, and knee high black boots-- if you've ever seen me in person (or followed clothing posts on this blog), odds are you've seen this outfit! Four times out of five it's my work week uniform. I think that combination of good taste and bad keeps things whimsical without being silly. Lord, how I fear looking silly and would rather err on the side of caution. Which is kind of what you have going on here with the mid-twenties' clothes...notice no one is in yak-fur boots, but they still manage to look unique and dissimilar to one another while wearing similar clothes.

The fashion spreads, under the banner article "THE NATIONAL FASHION SERVICE" (how official sounding!), provide descriptions of the color and materials of these black and white illustrated ensembles, along with information about the label, sizes, and costs of the items. The caption to the above panel, for example, reads: 
Straight lines, boyish collars, and silk materials are one of the many fashion paradoxes. The femininity of Roshanara crêpe offsets the masculinity of line in the frock at the left, which is a combination of dark blue crêpe and roman striped stitching. The frock at the right shows the new slashed skirt and is as youthful in feeling as the rest of the present-day mode. It is made of black bengaline with a touch of red.
As I jot down the words "Roshanara crêpe" and "black bengaline" to add to my little list of words to better understand the meaning of later. 

The devil's in the details, as you can see in the lower panel...imagine being a 1920's reader in Kansas and seeing these New York City, up-to-the-minute fashions while daydreaming over a seamstress's sketch pad..."Ok, so let's see...wide peter pan collar on the one...ribbon high neck on the other..." and thinking up what your early fall wardrobe would look like and how jealous the other girls at the Friday night dance would be when they saw you Saturday morning downtown, chic to beat the band. "It's all the rage, you know" are words I wish I could come up with just once in organic conversation, without forcing it. Each issue includes a column about dressmaking, which offers advice and tutorials on how to drape the newest sleeve cut or what a particular stitch really looks like. And the seamstresses in Kansas rejoice!

Hats, as you could imagine, are of utmost importance. How it's worn, how it's trimmed, what it's made of, what shape...though me and my poor bucket headed self remain hatless except in the case of berets and wide brimmed things (which I wear with reasonable frequency), I can admire a cloche in just about every form it's presented here. Little bit of brim here...crazy feather there...and then scarves, ye gods, scarves...I have to learn how to wear one and look graceful as one of these twenties' ladies (as opposed to kooky as someone's grandmotherly art class teacher).


How about the leopard print trim on the pockets and collar of the suit at left. NOW. WE. ARE. TALKING.


Above, you see my favorite outfit out of the entire year. THIS, people, is what I wish I looked like when I left the house every day, society willing. I would trade the straight-up-and-down dress for an identically styled one with a full skirt and wasp waist, but other than that, oh, look, it's me in the illustration. I want to know how to wear a stole like this (and kind of like the little knock off-ish one I got at the flea that I keep obsessively mentioning) without looking like I just murdered Tod from The Fox and the Hound. Can it be done?! I intend to find out (or move to some country where this is more socially acceptable).

Last but not least, I wish this photo had come out less blurry because I am kee-razy about the last dress there. I think those are tasseled panels on either side of the dress, not to mention panne velvet, not to mention side bow...oh! My heart is too full. I was reading a fabulous book about early Hollywood the other day, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim by Frederica Sagor Maas, and while I was sick to death being jealous of her amazing life as a lady screenwriter in the pioneer days of the film industry, one tossed away anecdote wounded me the deepest. "Freddie" talks about having a dressmaker in town (I think her name was Antoinette?) to whom she would bring sketches and magazine clippings of famous gowns she'd liked copied from the East coast fashion houses, and by Godfrey, Antoinette would make them for her at a fraction of the cost! If I had access to a seamstress....I would probably have double zeros for a bank account, because every paycheck would have me running to her with a burlap sack of money in one hand and a magazine illustration of some 20's Lanvin robe de style in the other. If wishes were fishes!

Well, enough about me. How about you! Do any of these dresses catch your eye? How do you like 1920's styles? What's been inspiring you in the world of fashion or vintage goods lately? Let's talk!

That's all for today, but I'll be back here tomorrow (one day closer to the weekend). Have a great Wednesday! I'll see you then. :)


  1. These fashions remind me of Edward Gorey drawings! I love the 1920s fashions and they were kind of mind-bogglingly different from what had come before, don't you think? Only narrow empire dresses seem somewhat similar (to me).

  2. It was Antoinette! (I read that book too. *grin*) This started my morning off right! ♥



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