Lingerie of 1915 and the Questionable Invention of the Brassiere

Lingerie is always one of my favorite parts of pattern catalogs. The Butterick 1915 pattern catalog I recently let go from my collection had some great examples of the lingerie styles of the era, which included chemises, corset covers, brassieres, drawers, slips, and combinations.

The Brassiere of 1915

This catalog was of particular interest, though, for the brassieres. Every now and then there seems to be a mainstream cultural piece gushing about the 1914 invention of the “brassiere” and the supposed liberation from the oppression of corsets it provided, etc. This narrative defines brassiere in an extremely narrow way, ignoring breast bands that go back to Greece and are depicted in 4th century mosaics, medieval finds from Lengburg Castle dating to the 15th century that resemble modern lingerie design, and the many kinds of bust support patented during the 19th century. The Mary Phelps Jacob patent of 1914 is more of a backless bralette, which is a unique design, but far from the first bra available. (To me, it’s another example of the way that we view our historical predecessors as dramatically different from us or somehow more ignorant, confined by uncomfortable corsetry because propriety demanded it, conveniently ignoring our own modern excesses such as plastic surgery.) As long as women have had fabric, I suspect there have been ways we’ve used it to provide breast support while working or engaging in sports.

Brassiere Patent

In the 1915 Butterick catalog, there are many examples of brassieres and bust support in the form of fitted corset covers. (This contradicts the “the brassiere was invented in 1914” narrative as well, since if it had just been invented a few months before, DeBevoise probably wouldn’t have been mass producing the “brassiere” in the spring of 1915.) There is an ad for DeBevoise brassieres that have the monobosom shape of the 1915 silhouette. These would have been made of mostly nonstretch fabric, and patterns for them have always seemed very plain and utilitarian to me, but I think I may have underestimated the possibilities there. Some of the lace and sheer versions are very pretty, and I’m curious enough about what kind of support they could provide that I might have to give making one of these a try.

lingerie of 1915 brassiere ad

There were patterns available from Butterick for similar styles:

The 1915 Corset Silhouette

The brassiere seemed to be gaining momentum as the corset shifted lower to give the straight, thin hipped look that was fashionable then. The brassiere or fitted corset cover would support the bust while the corset gave shaping to the lower torso. There’s a great ad for corsets in the catalog that illustrates the corset style in 1915:

lingerie of 1915 corset ad

I’ve seen discussions of corsetry that describe this garment as oppressive and claiming that this kind of corset made sitting difficult, but it’s clear from surviving garments from the period and patterns for this type of corset that the boning didn’t extend all the way to the bottom of this type of corset. The boning in most examples I’ve seen stops at the high hip, as a typical higher corset’s bones would. This kind of corset often included elastic panels at the hip, too. I doubt moving or sitting in it would be much different than trying to move or sit in a contemporary girdle or Spanx type control garment.

The Corset Covers, Slips and Chemises of 1915

The corset cover is a type of delicate undershirt that if made to fit closely would have provided bust support, but looser styles could be worn with other foundation pieces like corsets or boned brassieres to smooth the silhouette, too. Corset covers typically ended at the waistline or high hip while chemises usually were full body length.
There are several styles for these kinds of garments in the Butterick catalog:

 

Drawers of 1915

Panties or knickers as we currently know them don’t seem to have really been a thing yet as of 1915. The lower body styles featured in this pattern catalog are drawers, and they are for *open* drawers, so they were definitely still being worn in this era. For the most part they seem to still be being worn down to the knee as well.

Combination Undergarments

Judging from the amount of patterns offered for combination undergarments, they seem to have been extremely popular in this era. There are also several envelope chemises, which is the closest thing to the closed crotch kind of undergarment we’re used to today:

lingerie of 1915 butterick 6957 combination 8

The combination combined the corset cover or chemise with open drawers:

This simple garment could be somewhat fitted or looser fit, simple and utilitarian or embellished with embroidery and lace, gathered at the neckline or suspended from shoulder straps, gathered and trimmed at the leg or loose.

I think I need to give these a try, too. In a suitable fabric and with a close fit, these would be basically the same thing as a summery jumpsuit, and they’d have a bit of vintage elegance to them. Maybe when I’m not sleep deprived I’ll give them a go. 🙂

I’ll end this screed with just some advertising gorgeousness for its own sake from another brassiere ad. The illustrations of the time are so beautiful.

Happy Sunday! Have you ever worn or sewn undergarments in the style of this era? I’d love to hear your opinions / experiences / general thoughts on vintage styles being done with contemporary styling.

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Bicyclists and Cersei and Oz, oh my!

Happy Saturday. A morning of bright, clear light here. Drinking coffee as the rest of the house wakes up.

As sewing goes, I’m happily sewing up little samples of lingerie for different sizes to test, learning about the legalities of garment tags, etc. I’m also mulling a jacket project, in part because Game of Thrones will be back on soon and I’ve wanted to make something power-dressing Cersei inspired since the last finale. And also because suffragette bicyclists in spats and bloomers and epic riding habit style suit jackets has hooked my interest.

 

Remember Miss Gulch from Wizard of Oz? Sure, she was a horrible wretch in the movie, but if Frank L. Baum was writing a story set in 1900, could she also have been a caricature of the New Women of the day? Game of Thrones and bicyclists may not seem to have much in common but in my mind they relate because a) I love cinematic representations of women that involve them not always being perfect and good and angelic but instead as creatures capable of the full range of complicated humanity and as straining in various ways against their prescribed societal roles and b) fitted bodices with high collars as activewear for the WIN. Structure wise Cersei’s ruling with an iron fist wardrobe is not so different from the traditional riding habit/”sportswear” of the 1800s. I’ve always found her wardrobe fascinating; even in her more feminine garb of earlier seasons there was often an element of armor; arguably for Cersei her femininity IS a kind of tactical wear. Cersei as a character is fantastic. We feel for her earlier struggles and can understand why her life made her what she now is, although we can’t condone it. We almost root for her strength and defiance when she is imprisoned and powerless and still threatening Septa Unella. But then she gets power, and she’s terrifying. She’s a complicated representation of human ambition who happens to be female. In 50 years I wonder what humanities scholars will have to say about that in relation to the Clinton campaign. Not that I’m equating Cersei and Clinton, but she’s the closest thing we’ve had to a female president, and the reactions to Clinton are so intense it’s kind of fascinating.  I think especially in her earlier days in the White House the world preferred her playing dutiful wifey and baking cookies and not hyphenating her name, and some of the casting of her as shrew figure by the right (then and now) seems loaded with gender symbolism. She’s got a different field of symbolism to navigate than a man, and, well, the rest is history.

But bicycles…the women circa 1900 seem to have been subjected to a lot of mockery and derision for their chosen mode of transportation. Some things I read talked about people looking at it as scandalous because of the physical exertion, the physicality and the fact that (oh lordy) women were sitting on a seat in such a way, that it meant more outings with the opposite sex. And given the eternal strain of youthful generations against the prohibitions of the old, it must have had some subtly sexy, defiant undercurrents that resonated with some subset of the population because there are some great advertisements of women riding bicycles floating around the interwebz. (There are also a large number of topless Grecian goddess type bicycle women?) Here are some from the era that interest me at the moment:

 

And there are a few surviving garments in exhibitions that have me drooling:

 

So I’ll have to play around and see what kind of GoT watching garb I can come up with. 🙂

 

(Photos are all from Pinterest searches of things like “Victorian bloomer bicycle” etc. Most are uncited. Some of the great extant garments are originally from The Met exhibitions, and some of the advertising is originally from the French Gallica website.)

Rabbit Hole of the Day: WTF is a Fichu?

I watch a LOT of period dramas. (Aptly named, quoth the partner. Har har.) And I read a lot of old timey sewing materials, so I know I’ve seen a fichu collar, and I have seen it referenced in pattern books, but ask me what it actually IS and/or how to make it and I don’t really know. So…wikipedia says:

A fichu is a large, square kerchief worn by women to fill in the low neckline of a bodice. It originated in the United Kingdom in the 18th century and remained popular there and in France through the 19th with many variations,[1] as well as in the United States.[2] The fichu was generally of linen fabric and was folded diagonally into a triangle and tied, pinned, or tucked into the bodice in front.

I’ve seen it in books from the 1800s, and especially like this example from Godey’s (source):

GodeysNov1862

Here are some gorgeous examples from 1780s era paintings by Adelaide Labille-Guiard, whose story is fascinating in its own right–I had never heard of her before researching fichus, but she was a talented painter who defied convention by learning painting at all in a mentoring system that typically denied access to women and went on to earn a living as a professional painter and teacher of her craft, painted royalty, and even divorced and remarried in the 17oos! (source for paintings; source of biographical info)

 

Some more pretty pictures of unknown origin:

 

And here are some examples from museum collections (all from The Met, I believe, via pinterest and here):

So how might one sew up one of these pieces of lacy frilly uber feminine indulgences? Like so (from Peterson’s Magazine, found on this treasure trove of historical pattern inspiration here):

fichu petersons magazine june 1877

Or like this, from an unknown source but originally viewed (here):

fichu1 dressdiariesdotlivejournaldotcom

Tea In a Teacup has a great, in depth post on different varieties of fichus and how one might construct and embroider the different shapes (here). She created the following diagram, which is a great starting place for sewing up a few of my own to slip under vests or into necklines that scoop a bit lower than I’d like (what can I say, I’m a prude about my decollete):

teainateacup1

Also cool to see was the ways this historical article comes back from time to time in fashion cycles, as does everything, it seems. (Except maybe the monokini.) For sewing inspiration and some styling and interpretation ideas, here are way too many images of fichus, fichu collars and fichu-esque drapery, mostly from Etsy, Pinterest, Ebay and the Vintage Pattern Wikia. The vast majority of actual fashion pieces are from Dior in the 50s/modern day:

Hour count for 10k hours project: 298

Free Vintage Inspiration: 20s Era Dennison Halloween and Party Booklets

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.

bowiedance
Still waiting on my invite.
No, seriously, guys. Give me the poisoned peach.
No, seriously, guys. Give me the poisoned peach.
Still waiting. Why are there no creepy masquerade balls in my life!??
Still waiting. Why are there no creepy masquerade balls with David Bowie as the musical entertainment in my life!??

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).


bogie2a

bogie2b

Exhibit B: Dennison’s Gala Book, 1922, can be downloaded (here).

gala1 gala2a gala2b gala3

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?

partybook1a
That guy’s hat looks like something out of Eyes Wide Shut. Creepy.

partybook partybook1b

Vintage Sewing Library: Elizabeth Blakely’s Practical System for Drafting. And Dracula.

So I recently considered bidding on a hard copy version of Elizabeth Blakely’s The Practical System for Drafting Ladies’ and Children’s Clothing from, oh, 1907 or so. It went for a higher price than I was willing to pay because, well, we hoarders gotta practice some kind of selectivity once in awhile if we wanna have money for sewing with cotton bag pamphlets.

Much to my satisfaction, it’s available on archive.org for free. Both volumes! Part 1 is (here) and part 2 is (here). What’s that you say? Yawn. Edwardian/turn of the century fashion just isn’t your thing?

Then clearly you: a) did not grow up in the 90s wanting to be Mina Harker or b) you need a visual refresher romp through Eiko Ishioka’s swoonworthy interpretation of the era to remind you of its glorious kinkified potential. Apparently a huge part of the film budget went to elaborate costume design; the idea was that the clothing should tell a story in itself. Let me just put these right here:

Meet our heroine / dream version of our prettier, better dressed self.
Meet our heroine / dream version of our prettier, better dressed self.
Meet her bestie, another woman who we wouldn't mind changing places / wardrobes with.
Meet her bestie, another woman who we wouldn’t mind changing places / wardrobes with.
Girl meets exquisitely pleated dress.
Girl meets exquisitely pleated seafoam colored dress.
Power dressing circa 1890.
Power dressing circa 1890.
But let's not forget about Lucy, our lady in the streets/freak in the sheets who has the BEST lingerie collection in the British empire.
But let’s not forget about Lucy, our lady in the streets/freak in the sheets who has the BEST lingerie collection in the British empire.
Work it, girl.
Work it, girl.Behold the power of embroidery. BEHOLD.
Poor Keanu is the most vanilla boring character in this movie. But I'd rock his look.
Poor Keanu is the most vanilla boring character in this movie. But I’d rock his look.
Enter the prince. *Swoon*
Enter the prince. *Swoon*
Some version of this scenario happens in 97% of my sexual fantasies.
Some version of this scenario happens in 97% of my sexual fantasies.
Blah blah blah our clothes should have 3,000 babies.
Blah blah blah our clothes should have 3,000 babies.
And I kind of forget the rest of the movie after this point. Denouement. Redemption and shit. Let's just pretend it ends here, yes?
And I kind of forget the rest of the movie after this point. Denouement. Redemption and shit. Let’s just pretend it ends here, yes?

I think me and my Mrs. Blakely text need a cold shower.