Friday, June 24, 2011

I Think I Bought a Sweater at Sears Once; It Was Not This Stylish

I discovered last week that my university's library includes a fair-sized collection of restricted access art books. I checked out the textiles and fashion section, on a hunch, and hit the goldmine--tons of books about vintage clothes! Interestingly, the most useful turned out to be Everyday Fashions of the Thirties As Pictured in Sears Catalogs (which is only ten bucks, and can't be checked out of the library for more than two hours, so I'm seriously considering just buying it). It's such a jackpot because it features A) actual outfits of the period, unfiltered by modern sensibilities, with B) vintage styling and C) fairly detailed descriptions of fabric, notions, and construction details, all topped off by D) the original pricing! I love being able to see how much the clothes I'm making would have been worth to the average middle-class woman of 1938.

The other super-fun thing about this book is the clear progression of the design; in 1930 or '31, it's all drawn in the Art Deco style of the twenties, but by 1939 the photography style dates the catalog very clearly to the WWII period. Some of the late-thirties outfits are even more "forties" than those from the sequel, Everyday Fashions of the Forties etc.

Some highlights:

The decade was full of these tea-length or slightly shorter skirts with the fullness controlled by several released pleats. I love them. So much. I have some wool/silk blend coming in the mail, so if it has the right hand for it I'm going to whip up something like the skirt on the right:

This sweater advertisement is very clearly competing with home knitters--it's interesting that by the mid-thirties, a mainstream mid-priced company like Sears could make this claim:

My grandfather lives in these all-in-one khaki work suits--I asked my grandmother why once, and she said his father wore them when he was a kid. My grandfather was born in 1931; this advertisement ran in 1939:

By the late thirties, pants were acceptable casual wear for women and many outfits are offered with skirt and trouser options. The two models, standing side by side, sometimes look a lot like a butch/femme couple. For example, these ladies:

By the way, the text at the top of the picture reads "Hollywood says: suit the woman in mannish flannels!" Girl on the left is rocking those mannish flannels and casually bumping elbows with girl on the right, who thinks her trouser creases are sexy.

I've got a whole sketch in my head for these two:

Jacket Girl: "Your hair looks really shiny today."
Blouse Girl: "Oh, really?"
Jacket Girl: "Yeah. And you're really pulling off those button-flap pants."
Blouse Girl: "Oh. Thanks!"
Jacket Girl: "Usually those are ugly and impractical, but they look kind of okay on you."
Blouse Girl: "Uh."
Jacket Girl: "As we seem to be on a boat, how would you like me to take you for a ride?"
Jacket Girl: "I have a nautical-themed pashmina afghan."