Well, what do you know.

1910's suitI bought a late 1910’s suit this week. I KNOW! It fits me, too, and I am not tiny. It has a few moth bites, so I have to learn how to mend them properly by weaving self-fabric fibres into the holes. The skirt is too large at the waist, which also calls for some adjustments. In fact, I think the skirt is a later addition to an older jacket, perhaps a replacement for a worn-out older skirt. The fabrics match closely, but are not the same, and while both jacket and skirt are constructed in a way that is very typical of pre-1920’s garments, the skirt strikes me as a little on the short side even for the very late 1910’s. I’m 163 cm tall; that would not really have been taller than average for a Swedish woman even around WWI, and the hem looks like the original one to me. Perhaps the jacket was made in the early or mid-1910’s with a longer skirt, and a new skirt, matched to the jacket as well as possible, added five or ten years later with the new shorter length of the early 1920’s.

Who knows? It’s a fantastic suit, regardless. Quite sharp, very plain and rather masculine-looking in cut and details, without any embellishment. The jacket has a lapel buttonhole, that’s it, no other details that are not functional. Even the buttons are plain self-fabric covered ones, and this level of stark utilitarianism in a suit clearly made for a woman is a little out of the common way – even very plain ladies’ suits of the era tend to have a little bit of something somewhere. It makes me think of Tatlin’s constructivist suit, which differs from ordinary suits of the era mainly through its radical simplicity; it makes away with all the vestigial and decorative details of a traditional suit.

This one isn’t that radical or different, but it is very androgynous. I’m blown away by how good the straight silhouette actually looks on me. I am one of those women who tend to feel that I need a defined waist to look good, but this suit forces me to re-evaluate that idea. It has no defined waist, but I think it looks great on me. I’m trying to avoid the dreaded F-word here, flattering is nearly always shorthand for slimming, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that looking good equals looking as thin as possible. But, you know, it’s a straight silhouette that doesn’t read as boxy or shapeless, which they very easily do on a body like mine, and I don’t think I have looked as physically androgynous as I do in this thing since before I hit puberty. I like that. That’s some sorcery-level cutting, too, and I will most certainly try to take a pattern from the jacket.

Close-ups, interior photos and nerdy discussion of construction details another day.

 

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On working with old drafting systems

I’ve been making a few 1900’s and 1910’s style garments in the last year and a half, as I mentioned the other day. So far I have produced three fairly casual, sporty daytime outfits, one that aims at around 1895-1905 and two mid- to late 1910’s outfits. Most of my opportunities to wear them are outdoorsy daytime events in the summer season, so the emphasis on sportswear makes sense to me. I also happen to love old-fashioned sportswear; the kind worn while engaging in pleasant activities like crocquet, biking, hiking, picknicking and spectator sports. At some point I will start working on an evening ensemble too, and perhaps some slightly more formal daywear. But I work so much better to deadlines, and at present I don’t have any events on the horizon to which I could reasonably wear a 1910’s evening gown.

So I took the opportunity to try out a few elderly systems of pattern drafting. There were a lot of them on the market in the early 1900’s, it seems. Perhaps the growing importance of ready-to-wear clothing had something to do with that, creating both a whole new range of fit issues and a decline in customers for small-scale businesses. They are aimed both at professionals and home sewers, and many of them are now in the public domain and available for free download if you would like to try it. Archive.org has several. So far I have made garments based on drafts from Professor Saul Schorr’s The American Designer and Cutter, published in 1915, and Professor Isidor Rosenfeld’s The Practical Designer series from 1918. Continue reading “On working with old drafting systems”

On zeitgeist, transitional fashion and the 1910’s

I’ve been dabbling in 1910’s fashions the last few years, collecting a ton of images, reading, making some garments and experimenting with a few different systems of drafting patterns from the decade. I really like the styles of the latter half of the decade, especially, the WWI years and what little fashion there was going on between 1918 and 1920, in the wake of both a devastating war and a pandemic. The influenza of 1918-19 is estimated to have killed between 50 and 100 millions of people worldwide, 3-5% of the world’s population at the time. WWI resulted in the death of about 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians, in comparison. Clearly, the late 1910’s were a bleak time to live in, why is that so fascinating?

Continue reading “On zeitgeist, transitional fashion and the 1910’s”