Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dressmaking Texts of the 20th Century, Part I: Those Merry Togs

Fundamentals of Dress is primarily a style guide--and, implicitly, a guide to life as an adult woman in 1941--but it includes a few tips on building a wardrobe, including sewing and mending your own clothes. The tone is oddly cheery, given that it was written on the eve of global war; the book's readership is assumed to be pink-cheeked young co-eds, always running off to take beach vacations and dash about in saddle shoes. The most interesting parts are the advice on garment care and appropriate dress for various occasions, both of which have changed immeasurably in the past seventy years (we no longer iron our clothes on the train, for one, nor do we maintain separate wardrobes for afternoon and evening).

Culturally, Fundamentals of Dress is a hangover from the thirties; it gets awfully worked up about the young career girl's first smart interview suit for her exciting, modern new job in a busy downtown office. It winks and nudges about its readers skipping class to go driving or take in a picture, but it expects them to take their studies seriously--no M.r.S. degrees here.

Some highlights:

Socks are appropriate with sport clothes, but hardly suitable for street wear.

Men are not likely to be favorably impressed by a girl who appears too masculine in her attire.

A conservative monthly average for a city girl who is forced to live moderately, but wishes to live well, allows approximately $45 a month for board and room alone.

Take on that nautical air when you hie to the beaches! Join the other merry-makers in merry beach togs.

If you do not wish to make use of the pressing service on some trains, hang your suit with your topcoat; it will look quite restored, should you wish to reappear in it on reaching your destination.

It may be a Ferris waist, or a two-way stretch, step in girdle; it may be a corset cover or a brassiere; or it may be umbrella drawers, bloomers, or scanties. What is worn today will be worn next year, and the next, with variations in style and with new names.

- excerpted from Fundamentals of Dress, by Marietta Kettunen. McGraw Hill, NYC, 1941.

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