Friday, February 12, 2010

Ladies Home Journal S-36 - "ENGLAND"

After 1905, probably before 1920.

Ladies' Home Journal produced quite a few of these country-themed fancy dress patterns.  Here is their description of this pattern representing England:
"ENGLAND." Pastoral life in England may be charmingly depicted by the eighteenth century milkmaid, whose picturesque dress makes even the most democratic person regret the repealing of all sumptuary law which is responsible for the gradual elimination of the picturesque peasant garb of foreign countries and the adoption of less attractive and usually more tawdry modern dress.
Never let boring old historical fact get in the way of a good marketing strategy.  England is generally held up as one of the few countries which never developed distinctive "folk" or peasant costume, though there are a few garments with strong regional affiliations (farmers' smock frocks and fishermen's ganseys, for example.)

The linking of the repeal of sumptuary laws (which attempted but always failed to control what people wore, particularly in the matter of luxury and imported textiles) with the decline of peasant garb is a real head scratcher as well.

Fancy dress parties or balls were common during the first part of the twentieth century.   They were sometimes used as charity fund-raising events, perhaps on the theory that people might be more inclined to attend if they didn't have to deal with the pressure of being properly turned out in evening clothes.  With fancy dress, just about anything goes.  Recall also the fancy dress party that goes horribly wrong in Daphne DuMarier's Rebecca.

The milkmaid's occupational cousin, the shepherdess, was apparently a common sight at these fancy dress dances.  In a fashion column for February 15, 1914, The New York Times states:
The day has gone by when a group of shepherdesses, some short and plump, some tall and scrawny, some diminutively dainty and some possessing truly Minerva-like proportions, would be likely to meet on the floor at a fancy-dress dance.
The image of the milkmaid has carried a lot of iconography for hundreds of years, for those who are interested in that sort of thing.

Our milkmaid, whose occupation is confirmed by her pail and little milking stool, wears the stock "peasant" laced bodice and long skirt.  The panniers and cap declare her to be nominally eighteenth century.

This pattern, which was offered in one size only, retailed for 35 cents at a time when most Ladies' Home Journal patterns sold for 15 cents.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Simplicity 376 - Utility Robe

About 1930.

I've seen the word "utility" used to describe clothing as early as 1898, but the term gets its last big hurrah during World War II, particularly in Britain, where utility clothing was endorsed by the government.  I suspect the whole idea of utility clothing carried such emotionally difficult connotations by the time the war was over that nobody ever wanted to hear the term again, and I don't think anybody has.

Thus, a utility robe is serviceable and economical to make and maintain.  Simplicity's three-in-one strategy serves them well with this pattern.  Here is the chirpy description from the instruction sheet:

Three distinctly different utility garments for 'round the house wear may be made from this one SIMPLICITY hand cut pattern.
Style #1 With its feminine frill is a dainty, useful morning apron or house-frock.
Style #2 A careful choice of fabrics creates a mannish, tailored, lounging robe.
Style #3 The Hooverette is the ideal garment for the practical side of housekeeping.

This fairly brief passage gives us a lot of information.  First, these garments were for household wear only, although I suspect it was acceptable to go out in the back yard to hang some laundry or to nip on down to the end of the driveway to leave a letter in the mailbox.  Also, even for garments worn only at home, a desire for femininity is recognized (or perhaps just marketed to.)  Lastly, a morning apron and a Hooverette were either perceived to have different functions, or met differing ideas of acceptable or desirable dress.  (For example, my grandmother wore house coats, I wear robes, they look pretty much identical to me, but I would probably shop for a robe pattern rather than one for a house coat.)