Why a 1920s capsule wardrobe?

If you’re a reader of my blog, than you know my love for vintage/historical fashion, especially the 1920s, 1950s, and 1930s . For the last ten years I’ve been recreating mostly vintage pieces, working my way back through the decades. This is due to a few reasons:

  1. Source material: There are so many sources for vintage fashion that are easily available to the lay person. You can still buy vintage sewing patterns online (and in antique shops), reproduction patterns based on archived patterns from the big pattern companies, not to mention the plethora of blogs, books, and youtubers devoted to the subject. If you’re lucky to live in a larger town, chances are you can even pick up a vintage piece at your local antiques store.
  2. Wearability: Fact: Not a lot has changed in terms of silhouette in the last 70ish years. That 1940s shirt dress, or those 1960s capri pants blend so easily into what the average Western lady wears as to not be noticeable at all. Once you move back past the 1940s, this isn’t the case. Undergarments change a lot and hence the silhouette is altered dramatically. (Although for anyone who really loves historical fashion, standing out isn’t a problem at all!)
  3. Skill Set/Intimidation: That Victorian shirtwaist with the lace insertion, scalloped sleeve hem, and poofed sleeves a la Anne of Green Gables requires different sewing/fabric manipulation skills than your basic 1950s circle skirt. Like so many. Personally, I’ve been building my skills up over time, though this is by no means a requirement, just what I preferred doing.

1920s Clothing

Though not the most flattering silhouette for those of us endowed with Gibson-girl worthy curves, fashion from the 1920s has such an allure what with the beaded evening gowns and unprecedented show of ankle that signaled to society at the time that women were giving less f**** than before, that for a lot of costumers it simply can’t be resisted. And I am one of those. The 1920s also saw the rise of rayon, often called “artificial silk,” that had quite a democratizing effect on fashion. Can’t afford those silk stockings advertised in Vogue? You could find them in rayon at a cheaper price. Same went for slinky, swishy evening dresses. And a good thing too since there were a lot of women entering the workforce who earned considerably less than men, something we’re still fighting, grrr.

Where to Start

Like any good outfit from any time period, you have to start with the undergarments. And despite what period dramas and tv shows tell us (I’m looking at you Peaky Blinders…), many woman of the 1920s still wore corset-esque undergarments. Their purpose was to give that gamine, boyish figure so popular at the time, basically flattening the boobs and butt (and tummy, if like me you think a life without cookies is no life at all). This could mean rigid fabrics and even boning (and thankfully elastic!), and could take the form of a one piece that sat just above the bust, down to mid-thigh, a laced girdle, or even a laced bandeau. By no means did all women wear these types of undergarments, some stuck to a pair of camiknickers, or a brassiere and tap pants, I think it was more of a personal choice.

Example of a laced girdle from 1920s made from brocade coutil.*

First Attempt

I already had a pattern for the onesie option (bust to just past the hips) with elastic gussets near the hips and zero boning, which I was okay with since the cotton coutil I bought for the project was quite rigid and high quality. The pattern I had was RH1234 from Reconstructing History. Like any good seamstress I made a muslin mock-up, tried in on and went “WTF!” when it was no where near close to fitting.

I checked and rechecked all my measurements, and the pattern itself. I hadn’t made any mistakes. So I googled the pattern in question to see if anyone else had made it. I found a couple of reviews and they confirmed what I already suspected: the pattern grading was waaaaay off. Everyone else had run into the same problem: their mockups turned out much, much smaller despite measuring themselves properly and cutting the pattern out correctly. Talk about frustrating. Loss of time and money.

Second attempt

So I went scouring the internet looking for patterns, extent garments, museum pieces–anything to give me an idea about how to construct this thing. I knew I still wanted a one-piece corslette with zero boning. And after much fretting over not finding museum pieces that suited what I wanted I stumbled upon the Real Historical Patterns Tumblr and this image:

Bingo. A pattern for one corslette, with front, back, and side panels, and, of course, those all important gussets. And while I was hoping to not have to draft my own pattern (based on an existing one in this case), at this point, I was just happy to find something.

Tune in next time for my first post about actually making this thing!

Have you read my last post about our trip to Germany? You can here!


*girdle image from The Underpinnings Museum, pattern image from realhistoricalpatterns.tumblr.com

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