Review of the Historical Fashion Flip-Up Book “Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”
February 26, 2016
Subuculas, Stays, and Slips!
I like going to Half-Price Books. They have all sorts of out of print and hard to find books, plus a great antique/collectible section! Their Fashion selection, however, is sometimes seriously lacking. I spent one day frantically trying to find the Fashion section after they apparently moved it. I was looking for a copy of The Tudor Tailor, so I asked the front desk after searching through the Art section, the Craft section, the History section, and even the Collectibles section (where books like Fashion in Detail had appeared before) to no avail. Turns out they had no clue where to put fashion books, historical or otherwise, so they stuck them in the “Salf-Help” category! They had very few historical fashion books of any type, but just before I gave up hope, I found this book:
“Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”
by Margaret Knight with awesome illustrations by Kim Dalziel
Inside, there were stylish illustrations of historical fashions from ancient Rome to the 1960s, all with nifty flip-up clothing layers! At $5, I had to have it!
Inside, there are there are 28 thick cardstock pages that detail fashions for men, women, and male and female children in chronolgical order from earliest to latest fashion, starting with the Roman Empire (27 BC to 467 AD), then the Middle Ages (500-1500), the Fifteenth Century/Early Renaissance, Sixteenth Century/High Renaissance, Seventeenth Century, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, 1901-1920, the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s-50s (combined), and the 1960s.
Besides the illustrations, each category included a generously-sized foldout describing the changes in fashion and society during the era. Along the edges of the pages are additional fashion tidbits, like hairstyles, hats, and other information not included on the main feature of the book: the flip-up clothing layers.
Each figure has at least one fancy flip up/open/down piece that reveals information about the layer. For example, the “1635” man’s doublet/coat folds open to reveal his shirt beneath and a brief description of it:
And the “1750s” woman has a layer for her gown and a separate one for her petticoats which both lift to reveal her shift, stays, and panniers underneath:
The adults clothing has more details than the children’s clothing, but the children’s clothing flip-ups do contain bits of information about popular children’s clothing colors and fabrics.
That’s the basic description of the book. Now, for the review!
This such a cool idea! I love the illustrations and the discovery with each turn of the page and lift of a flap. Children and adults alike are curious about the “weird” clothing our ancestors used to wear and this book is a fun way to explore the basics without feeling like an intruder (how many times have you as a reenactor, cosplayer, costumer, or vintage-lover faced that awkward question or unwelcome groping hand?). The basics are all contained in this book, so it acts as a jumping off point for multiple eras without the intimidating immensity of a fashion encyclopedia.
The illustrations are well-balanced with the double-sided flaps containing the detailed text portion so it’s neither too child-like nor too text-heavy. The colors are well-thought-out and suit the general mood of the chosen eras (lighter colors for Rococo, earthy colors for the Middle Ages, and, of course, bright primary colors for the 1960s).
There are a few places where I was disappointed, however. The sections, especially for the earlier fashions, are very broad– some covering 500 years or more! I admit that I am not a scholar of the nuances of these earlier eras, so I am not as disgruntled as, say, an expert in the 1340s would be. For example, the Tudor era (1485-1558) is almost entirely skipped, save for Elizabeth I’s reign.
I can excuse some generalizations because this is designed as a children’s book meant to present the very basics of fashion history in an entertaining and quick manner. In a world when most folks know Medieval fashion only from the Lord of the Rings movies, learning even the most basic real Medieval fashion concepts can be confusing to a beginner. The layers and undergarments, which is the main purpose of this book’s illustrations, are all pretty well-covered (ha ha!) despite the broad time swathes. For the most part, petticoats, garters, stockings, stays, and shifts are introduced in the eras they should be.
There was one era, though, which I thought was done a huge disservice: the 19th Century.
Since this is a book about layers and showcasing the mysterious underwear worn beneath them, it would seem natural to include the many different types of undergarments in the 19th century. It was, after all, probably the most exciting, underwear-centric time in history! There were the short Regency stays and slips, the long stays and crazy-huge sleeve-puffers of the 1830s, the steel-busked corsets and hoop skirts in the 1850s and 1860s, the advent of the bustle in the 1870s and its construction ingenuity in the 1880s!
Were they centaurs? They must have been centaurs.
Yet, the book dedicates only one section to the entire century and only illustrates the 1810s at the very beginning and the 1850s in the middle– with no children’s outfits to boot! So many shapes that I was bewildered by as a curious child (and even as an adult) are skipped over. The bustle is relegated to a few notes in the top right corner. I would not be as disappointed if the 20th Century decades weren’t given their own sections and illustrations despite the relatively uneventful underwear and layers involved. The 20th Century pages have fewer flaps, and there is little change to the undergarments after the 1920s. The most exciting bit is probably the corset and bullet bra on the 1940s/50s woman:
The copy of the book I bought was preowned, but despite that, many of the flaps in the later eras had never been touched even though the flaps of the earlier styles, particularly the Roman, Medieval, and Victorian eras, were more “worn in” from use. Whatever person(s) had the book before me was clearly less interested by the modern era! The underpinnings of the 1400s were far more mysterious than the 1940s, at least in this case. In a few decades, perhaps the 20th Century sections will seem more exciting since they will be more distant from the now.
With that said, this book is all about layers and undergarments, so you are literally undressing the illustrations layer by layer down to their skivvies. Some folks might not be particularly comfortable with this, especially since the Middle Ages allows you to see under the lady’s chemise to see her stockings and she’s nude (of course) underneath:
The illustration is not heavily detailed, but she does have curves denoting her breasts, a little belly button, and the tiniest V where are thighs meet her trunk. Being nude under her shift is historically accurate, but you can easily paste down her shift to make her more modest if you are concerned about it. The children’s layers are not as detailed, so they don’t go down that far and neither do most of the men’s outfits, though the 1960s keeps the playing field even:
The fashions are Euro/Anglocentric (the author worked for the Victoria and Albert Museum), some of the terms are out of date (the book was written in 1998), the corset/stays/bodies information retains a slightly sensationalized tone, and the 1590s woman is wearing inaccurate pantaloons, but at that point, I’m letting my current knowledge outpace the level this book is intended for.
According to Amazon, this book is for ages 5-7 years, but I believe that’s way too young for this book: not because of the revealing nature of it (the whole point of the book is to reveal the hidden parts of fashion), but because this book has a lot of text and details that a younger child might not appreciate. However, for a 7-14 year old, this book would be a really fun, informative introduction to the world of historical fashion! I would have loved a book like this as a tween and I still appreciate it even though I no longer need it. For $5 or even $15, this book would make a great gift to a budding historical fashionista. The quality of the book itself is very high (great paper, wonderful layout, etc.) and it will answer many questions, prompt new questions, and encourage further research.
Great fun for a fashion history newbie!
July 26, 2015
My Too-Tight 1912
So this project began as many of mine do: a challenge. Back in August of 2014 (yes, it HAS been that long!), Butterick released two 1912 patterns in their Retro line, B6108 and B6093.
Butterick’s Retro line is made up of re-released/reworked patterns pulled from the Butterick archives. Most dresses are from the 1930s-1950s, carefully chosen to appeal both to the vintage loving crowd and modern seamstresses. So when Butterick boldly threw two 1912 patterns into the mix, the modern sewing community was less than impressed. One blogger even called them “the latest innovation in birth control!” And, judging by the release pictures, I can understand the confusion:
I actually like the styling of this one and the coat looks very well made, but I can see how with long line paired with such gloriously wide lapels would intimidate the modern fashion palette.
Again, nicely made, but the model is a bit overwhelmed by it (and the hair). Again, it’s not exactly to modern tastes.
1912 isn’t exactly a fashionable year by modern standards (and that polyester lace doesn’t help matters), but to the costuming community, the patterns held potential. B6108 was instantly a favorite and while the long-sleeved example dress frightened folks at first, once people realized that B6093 had a short-sleeved, lace-less option, the patterns flew off the shelves!
For a while, I couldn’t find them anywhere because they were bought up almost as quickly as craft stores put them on the shelves. However, earlier this year, I finally hit a pattern sale at the right time and snatched up a copy for myself. The cover bears the line drawing of both design options. Universally preferred View A lady in green on the left appears in her large, fashionable hat while the poor line model for View B casts down her eyes as though even she knew no one liked her.
“God, Francis! I told the ladies you were going to be fabulous. I vouched for you, and you show up with handkerchiefs stuffed in your cuffs and only one lapel! Take your stupid little purse and go!”
Poor View B! I felt like it was getting way more hate than it deserved, so I decided to do a little research to find which original pattern Butterick based it off of. I contacted the company hoping that they would have more information, but they sent only a very vague reply: “These patterns are inspired by vintage patterns from Butterick in that year. Beyond that it would take some digging to get more answers from you.“
I didn’t press them much further, but turned to my usual Googling method and found out that the lacy cuffs were a brief fad around 1912:
View F in this Sears Catalog ad has the same squared lace cuffs.
And the single-sided lapel? That was a larger trend that was popular throughout the 1910s, especially in 1911 and 1912:
The Delineator, 1911
The Delineator was one of Butterick’s pattern advertising magazines and I wish there full issues to comb through on the web so that I might see if there is either of the B6093 designs in them! How awesome would that be?! But, alas…
The Delineator, November 1911
Day and walking dresses, from 1912, “De Gracieuse”
Silk Dress, circa 1911-1915 (the seller dates it to 1915, but it looks earlier)
Donaldson’s of Minneapolis Evening Gown, circa 1914
This gown is from the Glenbow Museum website which has a tendency to not hyperlink well, so I am including the item number here: C-4600. This is one of those gowns that is dangerous to wear–I might drool all over it!
However, the illustration that most caught my attention was this one:
Mode Illustree, November 5th, 1911
From a now-defunct eBay auction, sadly. But at least the image survived!
I liked everything about it and it looked like a perfect candidate for transforming View A from shamed to acclaimed!
Aside from the single lapel, this dress design has fan of lace that stands out from one side of the collar. Perhaps this was what the designers were trying to emulate in their design? Having an asymmetrical lace drape was popular and could be bought pre-manufactured to add to your dress.
The American Dressmaker, April 1912
Collars with side ruffles in the Sears, Roebuck, and Company catalog from 1912 (see the whole thing here!)
Here’s the dress plan I came up with:
I planned to use some nice faux silk and a sari I had to make a nice dinner dress (I love dinner dresses), but I ran into a few hiccups along the way.
First, I couldn’t find a nice faux silk I liked at a price I could afford. Also, I decided that a nice cotton sateen would be better and more breathable. However, I failed to find that either. I usually find lots of cotton sateen sheets at the local thrift shop, but I failed to find ANY for nearly a month! So I settled for a plain deep blue cotton sheet. Turns out, that sheet would be both a blessing and a curse. I did luck into a 100% silk shirt that I plan to use to make a dickey…at some point…
I cut out the pattern a few months ago, but then life happened and I hit a major sewing slump. By the time I picked the project back up, I realized I’d cut the dress a size too small! This pattern really does run true-to-size, so according to my measurements, I needed a 14 or 16. I’m between sizes thanks to my large bust, so I usually cut a 14 and do a full bust adjustment. This pattern, however, is designed to fit very loosely up top, so the bust size is more flexible. I should have cut a size 14, but instead, I cut a size 12! Guess I was in Simplicity rather than Butterick mode that day. Both companies follow different sizing charts and I fit a size 12 in Simplicity patterns. Oops! So I shifted focus from making a full dress to just creating a wearable (if I lose 5-10 pounds) mockup. Using the cheap cotton sheet worked to my advantage because I didn’t worry about wasting materials and it was easy to sew.
B6093 has a curved, semi-circlar collar/lapel. My inspiration image and most of the period fashions I found have triangular lapel shapes, so I tucked and folded the pattern tissue until I got a shape I like. Folding the tissue rather than cutting it is a great technique because you can make alterations to this particular cutting without damaging the original pattern. That way, you (or someone else) can go back to the original design in the future.
Otherwise, I pretty much made the dress directly from the pattern. I did opt to mix it up a bit and use the short sleeves from View B to match my inspiration dress, but I followed the directions pretty much to the letter.
Butterick lists this pattern as an “Easy” design.
Easy, to me, is something like a drawstring skirt or Simplicity’s Jiffy pattern line from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (only 2 pattern pieces? Sign me up!). The Easy designation on this pattern is really a misnomer. While B9063 isn’t difficult, it’s definitely not Easy unless you have prior sewing experience. It has set-in sleeves, hand-tacked facing (for this mockup, I cheated and used iron on hem tape. Worked like a charm!), interfacing, lining, collars, sewn-in pleats, and an invisible side zipper all of which can be–and in my case, were–finicky.
When I got about 3/4 done (and got distracted with secretary dresses), I discovered that when I put the wrap top together, it gaped–a LOT: a whole two cups worth, and we’re not talking bra sizes…
Ah, the flattering pictures I suffer for costume science!
Patterns are drafted for a B cup. I have DDD/F breasts, so usually I have to do a FBA to get my girlies to fit. Dresses in 1912 still had fairly full tops and are meant to skim over the breasts, not fit to them. Hence, this pattern has a ton of design ease built in (over 7 inches!). It is designed to be worn over a dickey or blouse to keep it appropriately modest, but this much gaping, even over a blouse, would be far too much! Turns out that you must fiddle with the amount of cross-over to get it to lay properly. In my case, that meant closing the V up a bit, subtracting bodice length, and fiddling with the distribution of the gathers in the front to keep my “two scoops” contained!
The invisible side zipper scared me, but it turned out okay considering that I don’t own a zipper foot. Indeed, I own an invisible zipper foot–which would be just the tool for the job if it wasn’t for that fact that it was invisible because it didn’t exist.
I own a very basic Singer “Simple” machine. It works great! But, it did not come with a zipper foot. It came with a button hole attachment and even a button attachment, but no zipper foot. What sort of weird logic is that? Most Easy and Beginner patterns out there require zippers, not buttons, so I don’t know why Singer chose to include button attachments with their beginner level machine. Ah, challenges!
So I sewed that sucker in without a zipper foot! YEEHAW!
It is definitely not invisible, but it works! A raging success, considering I just jammed it under the regular presser foot and prayed.
Speaking of jamming and praying, with the help of my Rago 821 waist nipper, I was able to stuff my size 14/16 body into this size 12 dress to get few photos!
I love the 821 because it does a good job of smoothing from underbust to hips like the columnar corsets of the time did.
Here, you can see how blousy the top is. If I had the B cup bust this pattern was designed for, the flounce would be for even front-to-back. As it is, when I make a “real” dress out of this pattern, I will pleat the back rather than gather.
Ah, those little sleeve crowns! They are from the sleeve head being too tall at the top. Otherwise, the silhouette is very flattering on my body type. The Edwardian era is gold for inverted triangle body shapes!
The pattern has a very long, open kick-pleat on the side seam. It’s not historically appropriate, so I just added a gore made of the sari fabric to fill it in! It’s a nice little accent piece now.
Sitting in this dress was a trick. While the top is very loose, the skirt is very slim. I don’t have huge hips by any means, but the skirt was far too tight even though I have the recommended hip measurement for a size 12 (36″). If you have a large derriere or thighs, going up a size or two in the hips would be prudent!
Here’s the dress on my more-to-size sewing dummy:
I think I did a pretty bang up job of nailing the inspiration image. I have the trim for the bottom saved if I ever lose fit into this dress and want some more pizzazz.
My dress form has a longer torso than me, so the dress hangs better on it. If you are short waisted, you may want to shorten the top of the skirt so the hips fall in the correct place.
I haven’t made the dickey yet, so I tucked some antique lace into the neckline.
I added the little rosette from the drawing by cutting motifs from the sari scraps and mounting them on a pinback.
Despite my stumbles, this pattern went together quickly. It took about a week of sewing 2 hours a day, so 14 hours? Was it Easy? No. Is it suitable for a beginner? I’d say yes. It uses basic techniques and combines them to form an interesting, pleasant-looking design. If you’ve had a bit of sewing practice and are ready for a more complex project, this is a good candidate. I am not a serious seamstress and made a lot of errors from the start, so I wouldn’t say that my experience is what you should expect. If you have the right tools (*cough* zipper foot *cough*) and pay careful attention to sizing, then this pattern will go together very nicely. I certainly like my mistake-filled mockup and look forward to fixing the mistakes in a future dress!
Butterick 6093 – $1.99, Hancocks or Joanns…I don’t remember
Full sized cotton flat sheet – $2.99, Thrift Town
Sari – $22.49, eBay (I still have the bulk of the sari left over since I only used the first yard. So, like $5 worth?)
Pinback – $0.79, Hoby Lobby
1 22″ “invisible” zipper – $4.43, Walmart
Iron-on hem tape – leftovers from a $1.49 roll so free-ish