"This is one of the most valued 'go to' books in my library with talking points new, even to me." — Alyja Kalinich, Disneyland Costume Designer
Winner of 5 Best Book Awards:
• 2016 Hollywood Book Festival Awards: History
• 2015 Beverly Hills International Book Awards: Performing Arts, Film & Theater
• 2014 USA Best Book Awards: Performing Arts, Film & Theater
• 2014 Family Tree Magazine UK: "Our Top Choice"
• 2013 Kirkus Reviews: Best Books
This volume of style clues for fashion detectives weaves fascinating elements of social history into tales of how, why, and when fashions evolved. Hundreds of sequential illustrations highlight the style flourishes that identify garments for men, women, and children as products of their individual periods. The images are accompanied by highly readable — and often humorous — comments and explanations by author and illustrator Betty Kreisel Shubert. A noted fashion historian, Ms. Shubert is a columnist for Ancestry Magazine and has designed clothes and costumes for stage and screen as well as hotels, restaurants, and casinos all over the world.
Ranging decade by decade from the nineteenth through twentieth centuries, this book offers a simple way to date photographs and clothing. It also provides background that makes less-accessible histories of costume easier to understand. This second edition, enhanced with a selection of new photographs, offers a valuable resource for costumers, vintage fashion enthusiasts, social historians, genealogists, and collectors of nostalgia items. The easy-to-follow format makes it a great browsing book even for those who are unversed in fashion design and history.
"A great reference book. I can't wait to put it to use!" — Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective
"Fascinating! I couldn't put it down. The author shows how social development influenced how we dress. I would certainly include this book in my theater classes for its value to future costumers, directors, and actors." — Allen M. Zeltzer, Professor of Theater, Emeritus, Cal-State University at Fullerton
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Evolution in a Thimble
How Fashions Go Forward and Sometimes Back Again
What if you were still wearing the same clothes you were wearing twenty-five years ago (assuming you have not changed sizes and are not counting your beloved old, but threadbare, "at ease" clothes)? That would reveal either you were Out-of-Style, or the world around you had stopped: exemplified by contemporary people who are still wearing the clothes of biblical times.
In order to appreciate how, why and especially when clothes changed in the distant past of our ancestors, one needs to realize how one's own wardrobe has evolved almost imperceptibly over the years. One needs to understand modern evolution and the psychology of clothes in order to relate to the past. This first chapter is a selective overview of how some fashions evolved from the 19th century into the present.
You will then appreciate that Hoop Skirts did not suddenly "APPEAR" ... they EVOLVED. In fact, they evolved with complete "logic" as the slightly full skirt of the 1830s begat the Birdcage Hoop Skirt, which begat the Triangular Hoop Skirt, which begat the Bustle, which begat the Gibson Girl ... and so on.
You will then realize the short-skirted, flat-chested "Boyish Look" of the 1920s was not born overnight, as was "The New Look of 1947," which, by contrast, exploded full blown on the International Scene.
Certain decades in the 20th century produced more dramatic changes than others due to social upheavals — as in the 1960s and 1970s — which simultaneously spawned widely different fashion sensibilities. It used to be said that it took several years for a new fashion to trickle down from the top of the Social Ladder to become available and worn by the masses. Because of the now instantaneous, electronic transmission of ideas this is no longer true. Whether slowly, as in the past, or rapidly, as in the present, fashions evolved inexorably forward (sometimes backward), influenced by function, mores, politics, wars, films, economics, climate, locale, celebrities, women's evolvement, the whim of fashion designers and the contagion of new ideas.
Because, in the modern world, the same influences are "in the air" and being felt simultaneously around the globe, fashion show runways often show remarkably similar clothes. This happens when an inspiring new idea is introduced: Each auditing designer becomes a runner in a creative relay race, grabbing onto the newest trend and running with it until other designers take it all the way to the finish line. Having exhausted all possible variations, the now over-exposed fashion is declared "DEAD."
I once had a discussion with someone who claimed that designers deliberately make entire wardrobes immediately obsolete in order to stimulate sales. I disagreed. That is not how serious creative designers think: What happens instead is that for some time they have been eking out every variation and nuance of a particular proportion and silhouette. Suddenly BORED, they experiment with the exact opposite of what has been done before or they have an irresistible "idea" they feel compelled to develop.
If others like the look and want to emulate it, that look is IN and everything else is OUT. The exception is the occasional quirky designer who, wanting publicity and ATTENTION, sends deliberately outrageous unwearable clothes down a fashion show runway. They are photographed by the gullible Fashion Press, validated by jaded Fashion Editors who do not "EDIT," and purchased by pathetic Fashion Victims. The clothes then die a quick death to be resuscitated only for Halloween parties.
The best example of a sudden and dramatic style change (that occurred for logical reasons) was the revolutionary "New Look of 1947" by French designer Christian Dior. It sent shock waves around the world and made entire wardrobes of the early-to-mid-1940s immediately obsolete.
World War II was over and suddenly the knee-length, broad-shouldered, narrow silhouette (mandated to conserve fabrics during the war) became full-skirted as the length dropped dramatically to below mid-calf. The previously comfortable natural waist became tight and cinched. The broad shoulders narrowed as shoulder pads were discarded. To achieve this new silhouette, dressmaking techniques reverted to the firm, inner construction of bygone eras to recreate the new (again) hourglass figure.
The tight fit of the New Look was achieved with bust and waist darts which accentuated curves (that is why women loved it). American women quickly accepted this new silhouette when they saw how full skirts emphasized their cinched (and newly discovered) small waists.
Because the peacetime world was also ready for a change, everyone was soon happily wearing "The New Look" ... which lasted until the 1960s. Several short-lived variations of the 1950s were the "Trapeze," the "Bubble," and the "Sack." The Sack was a throwback to the loose-fitting Chemise of the 1920s.
Because these styles were not universally flattering, they were short-lived. However, the boxy chemise, with some refinements, evolved into the popular "Jackie Kennedy Look" of the early 1960s. Jackie's slim boyish figure looked best in gently-fitted, leggy sheaths and gowns; that influenced yet another dramatic change in silhouette and new (again) short skirt length.
The "Jackie Look" of the 1960s was one of grace, polish, sophistication and civilized decorum. But another social influence was simultaneously emerging: Hippies and Flower Children, who were languishing on the streets and protesting on university campuses. They brought a counterculture of uncut (even unwashed) hair, deliberately sloppy, mismatched clothes and the adoration of all things poor, ethnic, drugged and antiestablishment. This spawned the popularity of ethnic-inspired clothes from Third World countries. There was, however, a difference: The Hippies on the streets emulated poor peasants. But, by the 1970s adoration of the dominant youth-culture caused the Beautiful People at the top to also want to look "young and with it." So, they adopted their own ethnic versions: They dressed like Russian Cossacks, European Festival Dancers, and Arabian Harem Girls in rich fabrics with lavish braid and trims. They were the "Rich Hippies."
This was the first time that top American and European fashion leaders had been influenced by people at the bottom of the social ladder. In fact, for the first time since the French Revolution (when it was fatal to look rich) fashion arose from the street to influence the Beautiful People at the top.
Several other looks evolved in the tumultuous, but colorful times of the 1960s and 1970s — each look inspired by what was going on in the world. The adoration of The Youth Cult produced the "Baby Doll." Exploration in outer space produced "The Moon Maiden." The Beatles, in their narrow little-boy suits and sheepdog haircuts, paved the way for their female English counterparts, the Mods (Moderns), whose very short "Mini" skirts and youthful styles soon forced mature women to choose to wear pants rather than mini skirts. (That is, unless they had great legs.)
Other eras did not spawn so many diverse influences that simultaneously produced such varied looks. Because Period clothes required complicated construction and sewing techniques, they took a long time to make, at first by hand, or later, on hand-cranked or treadle-pedaled sewing machines with all finishing done by hand. Since trendy styles don't last long and are poor wardrobe investments, not many "novelty" clothes were accepted into the mainstream of fashion in the old days.
Then, as in the present, most people owned clothes for different purposes, but their wardrobes were more limited in quantity. For example, they needed work clothes, aprons, housedresses (a category that no longer exists because modern women wear sportswear and jeans at home and have automatic washer-dryers), nice clothes to wear while visiting and shopping, sturdy travel clothes because traveling was rugged and, of course, special occasion or Sunday clothes.
When you look at old family pictures, if it is a formal portrait, they are probably wearing their "Sunday Best," with props probably provided by the photographers. If the picture was taken during some activity, such as a picnic, in front of a business establishment, or a souvenir picture on a trip, they are probably wearing garments suitable to the occasion as we do now.
Because everyday clothes were worn until they were worn out (or obviously out of style), any reusable fabric was cut down for children's clothes and aprons. Only "Special" clothes were preserved for posterity and museums. Hence, "self-dated," contemporary photographs of "real people" and their clothes are the most accurate examples of an era.
That is why, in addition to researching numerous history of costume books and periodicals, I have studied hundreds of authentically dated vintage photographs of real people. The purpose of this book is not to show specific "designs," but to distill and to document the easily recognizable style details common to each decade.
When you see Styles Clues for the Fashion Detective (Chapter 10), you will note some overlapping of style details as decades begin and end. You will see that some carryovers from a previous decade are still worn at the beginning of an era, and new trends begin their early evolution at the end of a decade only to expand in influence and exaggeration later.
In the distant past, it took a long time for new clothing styles to cross oceans and prairies. The most influential method for transmitting the latest style was to copy the hand-colored fashion plates in Godey's Lady's Book and other periodicals, which was probably the origin of the compliment, "You look like a Fashion Plate!" Or, they copied miniature Fashion Dolls, dressed in the latest designs, which had been reproduced in actual fabrics, and shipped by boat to America from Paris (a ten-day trip). (Fashion Dolls were utilized again after the end of World War II when the French Fashion Industry needed to refocus attention on Paris as The Fashion Capital of the World.) By the late 1860s, wealthy Americans visiting Paris brought back trunks full of gowns.
Expensive designer originals were sometimes purchased directly by manufacturers and retail stores. Some stores sold the originals to their customers or had their own workrooms copy the sample clothes stitch by stitch. Paper patterns became more available after 1859 — as did sewing machines. This made it possible to duplicate complicated construction and sewing techniques.
In the 1930s, a faster method of transmitting style ideas was utilized by American dress manufacturers: They subscribed to a monthly service which provided mimeographed sketches of fashions just shown on the runways of Paris and New York. The designs were then quickly copied, produced and shipped for sale to retail stores — almost before the expensive, custom-made originals had been sewn and delivered to Couture customers.
Here is how multiple copies were made on mimeograph machines before fax and copy machines existed: A semitransparent film was laid over a sketch of a design to be copied. With a sharp tool, the drawing was traced by hand to cut a stencil. The stencil was then inked and rolled on a mimeograph machine, producing one copy each time it was inked and rolled.
Copied designs were (and still are) known as "Knock-offs" — not so good for Creators — but they helped build the American Ready-to-Wear and Fashion Shoe Industries. The ability to quickly adapt fashions from Paris, New York and subsequently Hollywood, made it possible for all classes of the general public to be well-dressed. However, by the early 21st century these major American manufacturing industries have been decimated by outsourcing to third world countries.
By looking back over your own lifetime at your own photo albums and family videos, you can see how greatly your appearance and that of your family and friends has changed over the years. You probably even laugh at the outfits and hairstyles that previous style sensibilities dictated.
Often, fashions repeat with some variations or modifications: The reruns are identifiable from their predecessors usually by the changed hairstyles of a particular era. For instance, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, film star, Joan Crawford, and American designer, Adrian, popularized the broad-shouldered look, achieved with Adrian Shoulder Pads. These were saddle-shaped (thick at the shoulder and thin near the neck). Shoulder pads became obsolete in 1947 but returned in the 1980s when actress Joan Collins and designer Nolan Miller brought them back in the TV series Dynasty. Soon everyone was inserting shoulder pads into every garment they owned, even sweatshirts and tees. (The 1980s shoulder pads were fatter, wider, and rounder than the 1940s pad, extending well into the sleeve itself.) This lasted until the late 1980s and early 1990s when, in an effort to update our clothes, we removed the pads, resulting in sagging shoulders and sleeves that were too wide and too deep, forcing us to finally abandon the clothes we had so frugally tried to salvage.
Also, back for reruns were the Capri pants of the 1950s and the flare-leg pants of the 1960s and 70s, which returned to fashion again in the new 21st century. Since the fashion pendulum swings back and forth, temporarily borrowing ideas from the past, then again rejecting them, the clothes that used to look "Snappy" ... "Swell" ... "Hip" ... "Outta Sight" ... "Groovy" ... "Awesome" "Cool" ... "Hot" ... soon become démodé. See! Even words become DATED.
It used to be said that a silhouette or "look" lasts about ten years after its general acceptance by the masses. Therefore, realize that people in your vintage photographs may have been simple folks not fashion leaders. They may be wearing clothes they have owned for several years.
Since fashion periodicals or magazines always show advanced designs (and it takes them months to prepare to publish), comparing those featured styles to photographs you are trying to time-date may not result in accuracy. Be aware that the people in your photographs may have adopted those styles later than the printed date on the cover of the periodical that you may be using for reference. So add one to perhaps three years to the date printed on the referenced periodical.
Because changes in fashion develop as part of a logical, sequential process, one can only tell the difference between two changing "looks" after they have fully evolved. The progressive steps that took the style from THERE to HERE may have taken a full decade.
Often, distinguished books on the history of fashion differ in the dates given for certain silhouettes. This is probably because they are studying sample garments from different museum collections around the world or from periodicals of differing origin. For these reasons, and because it is not really possible to know the exact moment in time that a change of fashion took place — except for the extraordinary, sudden emergence of "The New Look" for women in 1947 and the sudden change in men's clothes in the early 1950s — a certain margin of error must be expected in estimating the exact date of the photographs you are trying to time-date. This is especially true of clothes of the 19th century. But do not despair ... in Chapter 9, I will show you How to Trace Your Ancestors ... Literally!, enabling you to sleuth out the nuances of cut, fit, style and proportion that place clothes and, therefore, people within the correct decade of their time in history.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Out-of-Style"
Copyright © 2018 Betty Kreisel Shubert.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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