Late 1930’s summer in colour

This was another surprise when we first saw the standard 8 films; some of it is in colour, and quite early, too. This is a pre-WWII sequence showing my great-grandparents and my grandmother at their summer house in Bredsand.

They have lunch or dinner in the garden. My great-grandmother Gerda does gymnastics and smells the roses in beach pajamas, great-grandpa Einar or possibly his friend Henning sternly tells the dog Tollie to stay out of the flowerbed, and then the grown-ups go for a picnic by boat with another friend of Einar’s, IP, with wife and daughter. My grandmother is in her late teens and stays behind with a friend. I think my grandma is the girl in the yellow bathing suit playing badminton later on, but it’s hard to tell. There are a couple of boys playing with toy trains who may be my grandma’s cousins, a male friend of hers in a stunning bathing suit and a short end sequence featuring a tightrope walker. It’s summertime in Sundsvall in the late 1930’s.

My great-grandmother wears two different beach pajamas in these films, one of them has a lot of screen time here, and by the late 1930’s she was in her mid-40’s. I always assumed that beach pajamas were worn by fashion-forward young women in the 1930’s, not middle-aged women in provincial Swedish towns, but clearly they were. Great-grandma was affluent and comes off as quite stylish in all of these films, but she is not that young here, and I really enjoy seeing that. Women were expected to dress their age to a much higher degree in those days than we are today, but clearly, there were options to retiring into conservative old lady styles – at least if you had the kind of money and leisure available to these people.

The large, merrily patterned bathrobes also show up an awful lot in these films. Einar seems to have spent a lot of spare time around the summer house wearing a bathrobe and Panama hat; it’s one of two summer leisure uniforms worn by these men over and over. The other one is worn for fishing, hunting and hiking, and we’ll get to that later.

Einar was self-made, he grew up as a penniless orphan with relatives who didn’t want him, became an electrician around WWI, founded an electrical appliances store with a partner and made money. Gerda came from a middle-class background, her father was a sea captain, she had two sisters who never married and worked as switchboard operators for the national telephone company their entire adult lives. Einar and Gerda were sort of nouveau riche, and they seem to have been determined to enjoy the good life they had built for themselves. My grandmother was a spoilt only child who adored her parents.

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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”