I have a thing for vintage costume catalogs. I just love the idea of people having galas and dressing up to socialize; there just isn’t enough of that these days.
It is interesting, though, how some people bemoan contemporary Halloween as merely an excuse for people to wear skimpy things and get attention. But old catalogs I see seem to allow for more skin and more leeway in terms of socially acceptable dress (women in PANTS in the 20s?!) even back in the early 20th century. The issue of dress and pervasive sexuality in our culture is a complicated one, but I have a feeling that even when people barely even showed calves, those calves were probably viewed with the same sexual fervor that, hmm, say, Kim Kardashian’s implanted butt is today. I tend to think that human drives and fears and aspirations and perversions remain largely unchanged through history, though we tend to look toward the past as if those people were completely different than we are–and toward the future generation as morally worse than us, change as bad, social mores as crumbling. And yet we as a civilization have managed to not yet fall apart after millennia of supposedly worsening moral depravity. Hopefully some of our biases have been stripped away in terms of gender and race over the last hundred years, but I think sometimes we as a culture collectively pat ourselves on the back far too soon–as if we’ve fixed those complicated social justice problems. (Arguments about the irrelevance of feminism in our time now that it has “completed its goals” come to mind. Ha. HA! Or cultural appropriation and fashion, the outrage over the Redskins being asked to change their mascot to, you know, maybe not a highly offensive caricature.) But…rants make me tired these days. In the echo chamber of social media, the world is flooded with loudly broadcast opinions. We have maybe enough of that. But not enough of Dennison’s ephemera!!
Apparently Dennison put out these sweet little booklets starting in the late 1900s or early 1910s, most of which are now stupid expensive collectibles or reprint editions. But archive.org has three of them! They are mostly full of household decorating tips, party planning and crafts, etc, but there are some amazing illustrations and costumes in them too!
Exhibit A: Dennison’s Bogie Book from 192o. It can be downloaded (here).
Exhibit B: Dennison’s Gala Book, 1922, can be downloaded (here).
Exhibit C: Dennison’s Party Book, 1922, can be downloaded (here) Admittedly I am unclear on the difference between a gala and a party…probably a matter of scale/formality?