True Vintage: An Edwardian Blouse I Found at Goodwill

It kind of pains me to title this post “true vintage” because that term has always struck me as both pretentious and meaningless, but in this case, it’s a really apt description.

You see, I go into Goodwill all the time looking for “Edwardian stuff,” but not the real deal. The local Goodwills mostly have things dating from the 1980s and onward. The “Edwardian stuff” I look for is costuming-grade things like secretary blouses, long pleated skirts, lacy camisoles, and the like that are perfect for Thrifted Edwardian outfits.

Stuff like this.

As for vintage things, every once in a blue moon I will find a homemade 1960s dress or, once, a chipped 1930s teapot, but nothing mind-blowing. Today I was combing the racks for some work shirts and maybe a nice lace top I could rob of its trimmings. The area where I live is “100 yards from rich” as Chris and I describe it, downwind of the wealthy suburbs, so our Goodwill is blessed with comparatively nice castoffs from the upper echelons of Fort Worth society. The “it” style for spring/summer for the local who’s-who was romantic boho chic with the usual dash of Western flavor Texas is known for.

Stuff like this.

There have been tons of peasant blouses and filmy tops with lace collars that were perfect for Thrifted Edwardian costumes, so I was already hauling an armful when I pulled this beauty off the rack.

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Labelled as a size “Medium” – HA!

 I confess that when I first caught sight of it, my first thought was “Oh! Another nice modern blouse that looks good enough to fake it,” so imagine my genuine surprise when I pulled the hanger out of the polyester sea to get a better view. This blouse was so good at “faking it” because it was real! There are enough similarly-styled modern blouses that no one noticed its age when it was tagged ($4.49), racked, rifled through, or rung up at the register.
I must say I feel quite proud: my “looks-Edwardian” radar is honed enough that it picked up on a real Edwardian/WWI blouse even though it only saw one sleeve smooshed between 10,000 others.

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It’s not a particularly fancy piece by any means, but it has some nice filet lace around the collar and a bit of embroidery at the front. I didn’t take many photos because I wasn’t even planning on writing about it, but I hadn’t posted in a while and, hey, cool 1910s blouse! Why not share? Just further proof that you never know what you’ll find lurking in the racks.

Find of the Month: The Story of a Turn of the Century Woman’s Life in Bodices

July 2014

I actually found this month’s “FOTM” way back in May, but I just now got around to photographing them. I found this set of three Victorian and Edwardian bodices for sale on eBay, and at $16 for the lot, how could anyone (even on a tight budget like mine) resist?

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The woman I bought them from didn’t know much about them except that she got them as a lot together from an estate in northwestern Pennsylvania. The trio span the decades from the 1880s to about 1910.

The oldest bodice of the lot is the small brown one on the left. When I say small, I do mean small: 32 bust, 22 inch waist, and teeny 14 inch shoulders! It’s a young misses’ bodice, however, so the numbers are quite average for a teenage girl in the era. It was likely made for/by the young lady around 1886 or so:

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Young Misses’ Bodice, circa 1886

I can’t be certain of its exact age, but in 1886, “fluffy” pleated fronts like this came into fashion. You can see a similar bodice treatments in this fashion plate from the same year:

Fashion Plate, circa 1886

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The bodice is fairly simple in design. The main body is made of fine wool with a central panel of dotted silk. There is braided trim and little trailing branches of embroidery up the sides (commonly seen on crazy quilts of the era, so perhaps the wearer enjoyed quilting as well). It is missing its collar and two buttons and has many little moth holes, but is otherwise in lovely condition.

The other two bodices/blouses are post-1900. The brightest of the bunch is the eye-catching purple silk stripe blouse (It’s boned inside, so it’s technically a bodice, but the look is that of a blouse):

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Bodice, circa 1901

The colors, styling, and especially the sleeve decoration all point to a date right around 1901. The pouter pigeon front (sort of hidden by my mannequin’s lack of bust) and the bottom-heavy “bishop” sleeves can also be seen in these period fashion plates:

Fashion plate, September 1900

Fashion plate, circa 1901
Yay! Matching purple stripes!

Once again we have lovely dotted silk, this time in lavender and violet with cream stripes. In this case, the seamstress let the fabric do all the talking, cutting it diagonally for the front pieces and leaving it mostly untrimmed. It is missing its collar and most of one cuff, but the other cuff is still intact:

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The final bodice in this lot is a somber black shirtwaist made of very thin, fragile silk:

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Shirtwaist, circa 1908-10

It dates to about 1909, though blouses of this type had been in production for about 20 years between 1895 and 1915. The clues to dating this one are the collar, wide shoulders, and relatively plain, straight sleeves, much like these:

Wool Shirtwaists Ad, circa 1908

This particular blouse was made at home, not at a factory. In fact, it looks very similar to this shirtwaist pattern from Past Patterns:

The pattern is based off of a Butterick pattern from 1909. It has similar sleeves, pleating, and stitching. However, the front pleats on my shirtwaist are separate instead of overlapping, so I’s probably not made from the same pattern, but there were many other patterns available in magazines and mail-order catalogs that a home seamstress could buy, so the pattern this shirtwaist was made from may be out there somewhere still, waiting in a shoebox to be discovered!

Though it may seem rather dull in comparison to its companions, the black shirtwaist does have one standout accent– a fabulous beaded collar:

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This thing weighs more than the rest of the blouse!

The collar is older than the blouse by at least 20 years and is slightly too large to fit properly, indicating that it was probably recycled from an older dress. It brings to mind mourning clothes from the previous century. Though mourning clothes were still around in the Edwardian era, it wasn’t nearly as common as it had been during Victoria’s reign. As you can see in the wool shirtwaist advertisement above, black was a common, fashionable color in its own right. Not every black dress, shirtwaist, or skirt was for mourning purposes! Black has frequently fluctuated in and out of style of its own accord. Still, the measurements of this shirtwaist (38 bust, 30 inch waist) indicate that it was probably worn by a mature woman. She may have carried the customs of her youth in the 19th century with her into the 20th century.

Discovering a trio of bodices together from a single estate with such a clear timeline makes me wonder if they all belonged to a single woman over the course of a lifetime. The way all three are styled reveal a love of simple, unfussy design and, who could forget, the love of polka dot silk! If she were 15 in 1886, she would have been wearing the bright purple blouse right around age 30 and the darker blouse around age 38-40. If only I had an 1890s bodice to complete the decade by decade look at turn of the century clothing! It might just be coincidence that all three were found together, but I treasure the possibility that they belonged to a single woman, mapping her life in fabric and thread as she sewed her way through the changing fashions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Previous Finds of the Month:

 

January 2014

December 2013

Easy Edwardian: Thrifted Turn of the 20th Century Costume for under $10

Practicing What You Preach

Eons and eons ago, I wrote “Costuming on a Budget: Edwardian Edition,” a post about how to put together an Edwardian outfit using existing garments like 1970s maxi dresses and blouses. It’s one of the most popular posts on my blog, so I thought I’d revisit the concept and show an example.

Vintage from the late 1900s is a boon for cash-strapped costumers everywhere looking to costume the early 1900s! I’m a HUGE fan of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s as sources for clothing and costumes. Garments from those eras are usually made of synthetic materials, specifically polyester, which works well from a costumer’s standpoint. It’s not always the best texture or particularly comfortable, but it can mimic nearly every type of fabric weave and finish you can imagine cheaply. Its also fairly colorfast, easy to care for, and best of all, mass-produced, so there’s a wide variety to choose from.

Late 1970s and 1980s clothing is especially wonderful because of the diverse fashion trends (from hippies to disco to power suits) and resurgence of long-ignored historical shapes (ah, balloon sleeves!). It’s usually pretty easy to find 80s stuff among the crowded racks at local thrift stores. I am addicted to thrifting old secretary blouses! They are infinitely useful for 1890 to modern day costuming. You can be anything from a Titanic passenger to a 1930s reporter and beyond with a good secretary blouse!

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One of my favorite 1980s blouses done up Edwardian working-class style.

Recently, I discovered another wonderful costuming source in my local charity shop. Finding blouses is simple. Finding suitable skirts, however, can be a challenge, especially for the 1890s-1910. Full, ankle-to-floor length skirts haven’t been in style for over 100 years…except in formal wear. While browsing the dresses rack, I discovered the joy of two-piece prom, bridesmaid, and mother-of-the-bride dresses. Two piece prom dresses were more of a 1990s and 2000s thing and most current formals are gauzy one-pieces. What’s considered old-fashioned, though, shows up in thrift stores in droves.

This is a lovely Watters mother-of-the-bride gown, in case you are curious.

The perfect skirt is a full-length, a-line, with fitted hips and full hem in a satin fabric that isn’t overtly shiny. With that list of must-haves, finding the perfect skirt would seem nigh impossible, but lo and behold I came across a lonely formal skirt that perfectly fit that description!

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Now, add in one of my (many) secretary blouses, and voilà, a middle-class Edwardian lady’s outfit!

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Marion the Librarian!

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I always end up looking so shrewd in all my photos…

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The blouse and skirt are both polyester, but they look pretty nice, even close up. I can also wad them up and stash them without them getting too wrinkly!

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To get the skirt to fit around my corseted waist, I had to take it in. Not wanting to dismantle the whole thing or disturb the lovely invisible zipper, I just folded under an inch on each side of the closure to create a fat box pleat. Then a tacked it down by hand (it was too thick for the machine). If you find a skirt in your size, this project is completely no-sew!

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Easy Edwardian Overview

1980s secretary blouse – $4.19, Goodwill
1990s formal skirt – $5.49, Goodwill

Total: $9.68

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This photo also reveals the extent of my expansive professional photo studio, complete with  fuzzy cat toy!

Under everything, I wore my underbust corset, a sports bra, a nude stretchy top (the blouse is quite sheer), my multi-tasking t-strap shoes, and a petticoat I made from a sheet for my 1890s dresses. While this look can be achieved easily without a corset and petticoats, wearing both instantly improves the look. I could further enhance my looks with a hat and gloves for outdoor wear. I’d like a nice, long strand of coral beads for a necklace to compliment the skirt. However, how plain or complex you want your look to be is up to you and your means!