A 1920s Aesthetic for Today

It has been a while since I have posted anything 1920s here!  Unfortunately, part of the reason is not only the fact that the decade’s silhouettes can be hard to love on myself, but also the fact that I want something from that decade to wear today without looking like I am doing historical re-enacting.  It seems to me that something pre-early 1930s can easily be obviously vintage.  I generally love to bring my vintage style into my everyday life and wardrobe in a way that keeps it modernly appealing yet still true to the history of the decade’s fashion.  This is a hard balance to find all the time, which is why you don’t see as much 1920s things in my list of makes…and also why I am posting (with great excitement) about my newest Burda Style dress!

I somehow feel like life is so much more fun, free, and easy in this dress.  There are no closures (zippers, or the like) needed with the bias crossover bodice.  It is a popover dress that is flowing, comfy, unconfining, and freshly different.  I absolutely LOVE the garment make of mine.  It embodies the late 1920s crazed hype that lived life to its fullest – and foresaw many of the modern conveniences (television, computers, etc.).  The late 20’s overdrive (1927 to the crash of 1929) produced both short above-the-knee skirts and many avant-garde inventions that would not been seen for many decades later.

This era of the 20’s had an amazing modernity that I feel has been captured by this dress.  There is a zig-zag print on the skirt to pay homage to the hardened, mathematical form of Art Deco that flourished in the time.  The bodice is a mock-wrap to pay homage to the popular fashions of the few years before (1926 and 1927).  It’s also made from a soft textured gauze which reminds me of the lace, sheer, and interesting fabric bodices of many fashions in the 20’s.  The high-low hem with a fishtail skirt ‘train’ is later, very 1927 to 1929, though (see this post for more info).  All of these years are my favorites to this decade.  So – yes – this dress is a rather accurate combo of everything I love best in the 20’s from an unexpectedly modern source!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton gauze for the bodice, with a poly blend gabardine for the waist ‘belt’, a poly print lined in cotton muslin for the skirt

PATTERN:  Burda Style #118 “Wrap Dress” from April 2015

NOTIONS:  nothing complicated was needed to finish this – just thread and scraps of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 30 plus hours…it was finally finished on May 28, 2018

THE INSIDES:  a combination of French, bias bound, and raw seams

TOTAL COST:  This is a project that spanned 3 years, so I do not remember anymore but I know it didn’t cost much with 1 yard for the bodice, and about 2 yards for the skirt, with only scraps left over from these two projects (here and here) for the contrast belt.

My 20’s style dress project counts for my monthly “Burda Challenge 2018”, my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series, plus the “Sew Together for the Summer of the Wrap Dress” challenge.  Now, you might say this is only a mock wrap and not a proper wrap dress.  Well, yes and no!

The name for the pattern is “Wrap Dress”, for the first thing.  More than that, though, the full ‘lap’, cross-body, tie-on dress that we tend to think as a proper wrap didn’t quite look the same 90 years back.  In the 1920’s, a wrap dress was a garment that was often faking it, with a cross-over bodice, a one-piece skirt, and a sash or tie of some sort on one side to continue the deception.  A mock wrap to us of today was a full wrap dress in the 1920’s.  Not only this, but mock wraps were immensely popular in the decade anyway, even in the blouse or jacket form.

By the next decade of the 1930s, wrap-on dresses were normally a one piece, full tie on garment, closer to what we are used to today, with a caveat.  They were often reversible and considered more of an apron or pinafore like garment meant for housework or grocery errand duty…the hum-drum efforts which only result in sweat and grime appearing on one’s clothes.  Many of these full wrap-on dresses were called “Hooverettes”, after the American president at the time of the Great Depression.  These were like a gloried robe for women to iron easily and look sensibly cute yet incredibly comfy to do all the things that the hard times required of them.  With the rationing of the 1940’s, an easy-to-make full wrap-on dress was glamorized even further to being included as possible for evening looks (with the right fabric).  The 1950s and 60’s widely used wrap dresses with great ingenuity in many of their designs, but Diane Von Furstenberg and the trending Boho Hippy look in the 70’s democratized the wrap dress as we know it today for all shapes, occasions, and materials.  Yet, according to this article, even for Ms. Furstenberg, her early “wrap dresses” started off as a cross-over top paired with a skirt!

Now, for as easy as this dress is to wear and put on, it was one of my most difficult makes, especially among Burda patterns.  As you see the dress now, it is in its re-fashioned form.  Yes, I do re-fashion my own makes…I’ll do whatever it takes to save a project and turn it into something I love!  So, this dress is not the original design – very close but still slightly adapted.  I did make the dress according to the pattern back in 2016 (at left), and it did turn out well after some difficulty with the curved, drop waistband.

However, as nice it looks on the hanger, the final fit on me was less than complimentary.  The gauze had more of a give/stretch than I expected, the dress’ fishtail train hung past the ground on me, and the drop waist back was way below my booty.  I really didn’t like that much of the contrast waistband, after all, too.  I did like the general shape, the colors I chose, and the print/texture combo.  So, the dress had been saved to sit in my “projects half finished” pile (which is quite small, I can brag) for these last two years until I felt I had the right idea of how to re-work it.  No wonder it feels so good to finally wear this!  This dress makes shaking my booty so good looking with such a swishy skirt!

A good drop waist dress should fall (in some small portion) somewhere through the hip area, slightly above the true hip line yet at least 5 inches below the true high waistline.  It technically should not be much below the bend of your body when you sit, from my understanding.  Thus, to ‘fix’ my dress, I figured on leaving the hem alone and making a new straight line (taking out the curved “belt”) across and around the mid-section, parallel to just below the bottom of the front contrast waistband.  I did want to keep a small portion of the contrast “belt” to transition the two fabrics with a solid color and give the appearance of a mock half-belt panel.  It was sure tricky to straighten out the skirt in turn around the back with that amazing bias to the skirt!  In the 1920s, the waistline traveled all over from very low to almost non-existent, but this dress’ waistline is a slightly higher, later in the decade style to match with the skirt.  Otherwise than this re-fashion step, I kept the bodice as it was except for pulling up the shoulder seam slightly.  To keep the full skirt weighted down nicely (so it wouldn’t turn wrong way up like Marilyn Monroe over an air vent) and keep it opaque, I fully lined it.

This dress’ skirt does need a tiny 1/8 inch hem so that it doesn’t get stiffened at all.  At the same time, such a tiny hem on a skirt like this was a major pain.  It might not be immediately obvious, but the length of hemline just seemed to keep going, and going…but all that turns out well in the end is worth it in my opinion.  Do tiny hems wear you out and seem overly tedious like they do for me?

It was entirely my idea to make a long tie piece and stitch it to the left side of the bodice, thereby continuing the mock wrap dress deception!  I especially like how much this little touch adds to the dress.  This is again another true 1920s feature, as most of the era’s mock wraps had ties on the corresponding side to continue the illusory appearance.  To me, the tie also adds a touch of asymmetric that was also so popular in the 1920s.

Somehow it seems so much easier for me to interpret a modern take on the 20’s when I am starting with a pattern from today, versus starting with an old original pattern.  I almost always recommend others to use vintage patterns because I think that they offer so much to learn from and have better details.  However, there are so many modern patterns that have veritable 1920s features if you know what to look for.  This presents two interesting points.

Firstly, here I am saying it’s hard to make an old 20’s pattern look modern, yet I’m also saying that many modern fashions (patterns and ready-to-wear) have very 1920s features.  Perhaps the era between WWI “The Great War” and the Depression of the 1930s has more in common with us of today than we think.  Looking at old fashion plates or extant garments might not make this as obvious as it could be…it just takes the styles of today to give us a new perspective!

Secondly, this proves how important it is to pepper one’s awareness of current styles with a knowledge of fashion history.  A good overall view of the big picture might just be something specific to me as others have told me, but looking around and seeing the beginning of a trend is always a good idea. Actually, style is something that seems to only be recycled over and over again the more one sees.  Besides, often finding the source, or at least seeing the ways a detail is re-interpreted, is fun, interesting, and always worthwhile…not to mention the benefit of giving me more ideas for my projects!  Don’t be afraid to dive into some fashion research next time you start wearing the “newest” thing and find out the reference of where it came from!

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Three Eras of Ladies’ Changing Underwear Styles – Part Two, 1920s and 1930s

Here is the second part of my post on vintage and historical lingerie that I have made in the last year.  Part one was a princess seamed slip from the 1910s era.  As in my title, this one will focus on 10 years during two decades primarily – the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.  Between these two posts, I hoping to provide an overview that will give a good picture of how fast things had changed between 30 years to give a backdrop for “modern” underwear as we know it to be now.  Not all that long ago, the first layer for women was quite different, but not a bad different.  After all, I hope to show, too, how this lingerie from the past had a ‘what’ with a ‘why’ that explained its presence, and it is wonderful to wear and easy to sew.  If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, you need to – and if you have made some vintage undies, let me gush with you and say…isn’t it awesome?!

I went for two landmark, quintessential styles – the Kestos bra of the 20’s and the bandeau and tap pants set of the 30’s.  This was for three major reasons.  First, I had patterns of these available and on hand.  This is the practical and basic reason.  Secondly, I wanted to see what the big deal was about these and find out for myself why they were so popular and groundbreaking (besides shocking) for the times.  Thirdly, these filled in a gap for me. I have a vintage original 1950’s corselette bra, a deadstock 1940s bullet bra, a pair of 20’s style bloomers, a whole set of underclothes for the 1910 era, as well as a few individual tap panties (here and here), so a Kestos bra from the Flapper era with a full-out fancy, novelty colored 30’s set was just what I needed for a whole 50 years of undergarment history at my availability.  I did need some new underwear anyway, and I’ve wanting to try my hand at some brassieres, so these pieces were my first step.

Compared to the slip of the last post, the pieces presented in this post see much more wearing.  First of all, they are closer to “modern” skivvies.  They are very comfortable to wear and I actually prefer them over undies of the current style.  They also work great with fashions from the matching, appropriate eras (of course!) and, although they do not sculpt the preferred present-day shape, they complement what I am endowed with for a more natural appearance that does work with clothing of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All cottons for the 20’s lingerie, a poly satin for the 30’s set, with matching cotton scraps for the linings

PATTERNS:  A vintage original McCall #7823, dated November 1934 in the closing flap of the envelope, for the aqua set, and a pattern from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen for the Kestos bra.

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand already.  I had been wanting to make these pieces for a while now and so I had everything, even the lingerie notions such as the buttonhole elastic, foam bra cups, and plastic rings for the straps.  Besides those notions mentioned, nothing really unusual was needed anyway – twill tapes, hook and eyes, and thread.  The buttons I used are authentic 1920s pearled shell notions from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The 20’s bra was made in a flash in only 3 hours and finished on January 4, 2016.  The 30’s set was made in about 15 hours and finished on November 13, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All nice and cleanly finished by being self-faced or bound.

TOTAL COST:  The 20’s Kestos bra was practically free to me as it was made with scraps on hand.  The supplies for the 30’s set were bought several years back at (the now defunct) Hancock Fabrics, so I don’t really remember.  As I only needed scraps, on yard of lace, and ½ yard of fabric this probably cost me $10 or less.

I’ll start with the older set of the two!

First off the bloomers you see are bought reproductions, yet (as far as I know) true to the time frame of the bra I made.  Thus, I now have a set that works perfectly to wear under my 1920 ensemble, or any other outfit from the late teens up until 1926 or 1927, when hemlines began shortening up (to the knees by 1929!) as well as slimming down before 1930 came.  Technically, I have read this type of undergarment called ‘pettibockers’, as they are full yet drawn in by ribbons at the knees, but also called ‘drawers’ and ‘knickers’.  However, I have an old original Pictorial Review year 1926 pattern (very much like the Butterick #6194 seen in this post) to make such undie bottoms and they call them ‘bloomers’, so I’ll stick with that term here.

I was tempted to use two handkerchiefs to make this bra, so it could be much like the way the first divided ‘cup’ bra was made by Caresse Crosby in 1913, as the story goes.  The early bras were really that simple and barely supportive, but compared to the corseted figure or the unibosum styles, this kind of bust definition was dramatically innovative!  The Kestos form of this bra in particular is a brand of sorts – it was one of the first commercially manufactured with separate cups.  It was a trademark by circa 1925 (or 1927-ish; accounts differ), and was invented by Rosalind Klin, a Polish-born female designer residing in London.  It also has a very creative and unexpected way of closing, the main visual and wearing trademark that ladies cared about!  The straps for the chest wrap around the body to button closed in front again under the bust.  From my experience wearing this style, it is immensely comfy and so easy to close and put on oneself.  The criss-crossed back prevented any riding up of the straps, and made the bra versatile for many garment styles.  The overlapping front cups supported the straps and stayed close to the body.  I really don’t know why bras ever stopped being made like this!  None of this modern trickery of a back closure you can’t see with its many problems of fit!  Kestos bras had a strong popularity through the 30’s, and even the 40’s as well, yet dissipating after circa 1937.

I really made my version a bit thicker and substantial than the pattern calls for, besides definitely downgrading on the original design, as well.  As you see, the original garment for my pattern was very fine indeed, with progressive early tap panties.  My 20’s bra was a trial garment for me, so I made it basic and straightforwardly simple (much like this one from 1941).  I guess I could add some lace or such now, or even dye it a different color, after the fact that it’s done.  I do now feel confident in making an amazingly fancy version, though!

Jill Salen’s book “Vintage Lingerie” offers 30 patterns of all the vintage/historical garments shown in the book but they are almost all practically Barbie doll size.  Either you need a knowledge of how to transfer sizing using graph paper (which is what her patterns are on) or go to a copy place that will figure out the percent and do large size prints.  I opted for the copy place option, and ended up enlarging this bra pattern 200%, but most of the rest of the 1:1 scale patterns, including the matching panties, need to be enlarged 400%.  Then, add your own either 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch seam allowances.  I have had pretty good successes so far with using patterns from this book.  All of the patterns offered are drawn off of the existing garments shown, and fall in the ballpark of somewhere between a 32 to a 36 or 38 inch bust. I fall in that range and so can generally grade up or down as needed.  For the 1920s Kestos bra pattern, according to how well it fit me with no changes needed, I estimate it is for a 33 to 34 inch bust.

I doubled up on the thickness, to have more support, no see-through, and easily finished off edges.  Each cup on this pattern is two pieces, and I had four cups to have assembled, so I ended up with a bunch of little pieces to keep track of!  This was the downside to making this bra super simple.  The straps on old originals generally are elastic covered in self-fabric casing, but as a wanted to go basic and keep the bra all-cotton, I merely used raw twill tape and bias tapes for the straps.  For my bra, I still needed some elastic to have some give, so the ends of the straps that go around the chest had the last 6 inches become attached to modern buttonhole elastic.  I had this elastic on hand and I’ve been dying to find the perfect opportunity to use it, but I still can’t help but wonder if all my 1930s kestos adefforts to be ‘historical’ (even old 20’s shell buttons, too!) went out the window using such a modern notion.  Nevertheless, I have found a year 1936 Symington Kestos bra, from the Leistershire County Council, which does have very similar looking buttonhole elastic.  Whatever – I love it.  Well, yeah!  It was whipped up in 3 hours, of course I do!

The back the bra closure creates is indeed special.  The way the straps criss-cross behind makes them less confining than the one-restricting-band-around-the ribcage from a comfort point of view.  Once you wear a Kestos bra it’s like a breath of fresh air you never knew you could have with a brassiere.  It also makes the Kestos bra the best thing ever for any low backed dress or top.  No wonder it continued to be a hit in the 1930’s when a wide open back was the popular for evening wear, and slitheringly sexy, manner of showing off both skin and body…as if a bias cut gown needed something like that!  Granted the body form doesn’t fit the bra as well as it fits myself, so it is lower than normal for me.  However, I draw the line at myself publicly modelling this post’s pieces.  If I want the back lower, I could fix that the way they used to in the 30’s and 20’s for a Kestos – make a loop that hooks closed at the back center of my bloomers or tap panties, and connect it to the straps to bring them down…down, to the waist…for the ultimate backless bra!  There are so many options with a Kestos closing bra.  It is the ultimate in comfort, ease, and versatility.

Now, the 30’s brassiere and tap panties I made is the next step in chest closing, bust supporting, and body conscious covering, bringing women’s lingerie recognizably close to today’s methods. The tap pants are feminine and freeing compared the previous era’s style, yet still covering one’s bottom discreetly under skirts and dresses.  The brassiere is basic in design yet Depression-era fancy and more about supporting and shaping than the 1920s were.  Luckily, with the advent of talking motion pictures in 1929, and the advancements of film and filming methods thereafter, there are many glimpses to be had of the early 1930s style underwear for women.  Some of my favorite 30’s lingerie sets seen on film come from Carole Lombard in “Twentieth Century” (1934), Joyce Compton in “Anabella’s Affairs” (1931), and Loretta Young in “Born to be Bad” (1934).  The Hays Code of Decency put an end to such displays of intimates after 1934, the year of the pattern I used for my sewing.

However, there are two films in particular that show an interesting side to the two differing styles of women’s underwear that existed between the 20’s and 30’s – “Three Wise Girls” from 1932 and “The Smiling Lieutenant” from 1931.  You know how some people find it hard to accept change or adapt to the newest mode, even if it is “in”?  Well, undies are not seen, so no doubt many women went back to wearing the old style pre-1927 bloomers and such that they were used to wearing, getting away with it, too, when hemlines came back down to calf length in 1930.  It wasn’t cut and dry, black-and-white, when it came to when, who, and how the two styles underclothes I’m presenting in this post where worn.

If you see what “The Smiling Lieutenant” and “Three Wise Girls” show, it seems as it is was other women and not just clothing styles that convinced (or shamed) women to give up the old styles.  In “The Smiling Lieutenant”, the character of Claudette Colbert is “helping” the married Princess, played by Miriam Hopkins, to “save” her marriage by ditching her mid-20’s style bloomers and wearing the newest tap pants and bra, even adding in the habit of smoking too!  It’s a very dramatic scene that the storyline revolves around, and Claudette Colbert has the Princess lift up her long, ruffled dress to reveal her undies, then performs a tune “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to convince her otherwise (watch it for yourself here).  “Be happy! Choose snappy! There’s music with every ribbon…”  Thereafter, we see the old style bloomers burning in the fireplace, and the princess in a skimpy “teddy” with cut off bobbed hair!  It’s the new feminism winning out over old-fashioned morality. The anachronistic setting suddenly makes sense: the Victorian Age must give way to the Jazz Age.

In “Three Wise Girls”, one of Jean Harlow’s many attempts at finding a job is becoming a model for a dressmaker’s salon, showing off gowns that clients are interested in purchasing.  The lady in charge of the dressing room, Mae Clarke , wearing a one-piece 30’s ”step-in” slip, sees Jean Harlow before she dresses in a slinky 30’s evening gown, and Harlow is criticized on how she looks, with the old bloomers causing wrinkles and bulkiness.  She gives Harlow the newest style of tap pants and bra to wear, telling her (more or less) that if she is going to work for them, this is what underwear she’ll be wearing.  After all, being a model is about the most body conscious job out there!  When Jean Harlow quit working for the dressmaker’s salon, she is seen again wearing her 20’s style bloomers in 1932.  I’m now supposing that it wasn’t just a matter of comfort zone or attachment when it came to not adopting the new styles – perhaps it was also due to a Depression-era thriftiness or just plain lack of money that some women stuck to the old 20’s style skivvies in the 1930’s.

I’d like to think that if I was living back then, in 1934, and had the money and the means, that I would be a woman that would adapt a pair of lingerie just like what I have made!  I made the set out of a wonderful novelty color, as you see, because how could I resist when all the right notions needed just happened to fall in my lap in matching colors!!!  No really, though, ladies of the 30’s did have fun when it came to the underwear made and offered.  There were not only novelty colors and plenty of lace, but also suggestive designs, sheerness galore, and decorative details aplenty.  Check out my Pinterest board on vintage lingerie for more inspiration! 

For being a printed McCall’s this pattern was quite clear in its instructions and generally easy to make.  According to the size, this pattern should have technically been several inches too big for me, so to test it out I made the tap pants first.  They fit me well, and thus I made the bra up unchanged, too, and it just fits me exactly…any smaller and it wouldn’t fit.  Thus this pattern definitely runs small.  This is important to share, as it seems this particular McCall’s is frequently seen for sale on Etsy or Ebay as well as having been re-printedSimplicity Company recently released a year 1937 bra and tap pants set pattern that looks awesome (I have yet to try it) for an easily accessible, slightly later style, and cheaper option if you want to make a set for yourself.

I did do some “updates” to the pattern, mostly when I was sewing the bra.  There is satin outside and cotton inside for my person taste and comfort, when the pattern seemed to expect one layer.  However, the biggest difference is that I added lightweight store-bought bra foam liner in between the inner and outer layers of my bra.  Again, the original design called for cups thin and basic.  I do like how the foam insert makes the bra feel more like a modern piece, with more support and no see-through.  What I don’t like is the center horizontal seam to the foam insert.  Using a pre-made foam cup liner is something I won’t do again, although it fit perfectly with the pattern I was using and made little to no difference as I was sewing.  From now on, I’ll buy my own foam and make my own padding if I want such an add-in again.

I did stick to the original design with the completely non-elastic, no-stretch design.  Everything is non-adjustable and all stitched down in cotton twill tape.  I even made my own back bra closure from scratch to match using the pattern’s pieces (no pre-made notion here)!  Although the straps might need tailoring to be adjusted every so often, it is quite comfy this way.  Nothing is going to move on me or pinch me or fall apart as quickly as elastic does.  Once you ditch the elastic in your bras (as scary as that might sound!), it is really freeing.  You don’t really need it.  It does force you be better at customizing what you make to yourself, though!

The only real change I made to the tap panties original design was to add in an extra dollar in change to weigh it down.  No, I’m not crazy!  The fact that these are a poly satin creates static cling when I wear these in the wintertime.  In order to keep these bias panties hanging down properly and not clinging or bunching up to my waistline, I made lace pockets at the two side seams to hold two quarters each.  It kind of makes these feel like a true Depression era garment…with extra change safely hidden on me!  The waist has no trick – only hook-and-eye closed.  The bias cut to these gives them a body clinging fit that flare out at the hem.

The panties’ faced crouch gusset is sorely understated by these pictures since the mannequin wasn’t fully adjustable to stand on a right or left “leg”.  On me however, the design is ah-mazing!  Much like an underarm sleeve gusset, you clip into the center bottom of the front and back to connect the two with an adapted rhombus diamond shaped piece, then faced that on the inside so the seams are covered.  Wearing History has pattern #4005 from the 1940s that is shocking similar, and her blog provided a tutorial on sewing the faced crouch gusset which was very helpful.  Even still, having something so small with points and curves be faced in such a way that the two sides perfectly line up was…well…exhausting.  But I did it, and it looks just as nice inside as out, only no one sees it.

So – this conclusion of my post brings me to contemplate a few things.  Is it the egg or the chicken?  Does the lingerie influence the fashion or does the fashion influence the lingerie?  Or, does the primary layer for our bodies have its own organic progression?  I do find it interesting that undergarments almost always have not just been about coverage or support, although that is the basic reason for their being worn.  Even today, it’s about molding women into a desired shape, not necessarily customer (or recipient) feedback based.  Is it society based?  What do we women want to wear for our bodies?  What shape do we like for ourselves?  Who really controls our choices in this field?  We generally wear what is out there, much like the rest of fashion nowadays, and if you’re anything like me, searching for the “perfect” lingerie is exhausting, worse than searching for a needle in a haystack.  However, with sewing skills, that is not the only option nowadays!  We have every past era to choose from, and notions, fabrics, and patterns available to order.  Set those sewing talents to good use making something for your body, your comfort and your taste because the first layer of garments is the most intimate, personal, unique!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this duo of posts.  Writing this now makes me want to bust out some more patterns from Jill Salen’s book or that Simplicity re-issue I haven’t tried yet!  As always thank you for reading and please – share your thoughts and ideas!  What do you think about vintage lingerie?

Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
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Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, which I sewed myself as well (post for them here).

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Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

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I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

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My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

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Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

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By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

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The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

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Time for the Tango! My 1920’s Combination “Step-In” Knickers

The new boyish silhouette that became fashionable for women in the 1920’s demanded a whole new styling of undergarments. The desired shape of the day featured a flat chest, narrow hips, broad shoulders, and an obliteration of highlighting feminine curves.  Advancements in home comforts, such as heating, as well as an active lifestyle, heralded lighter underclothes with an enticing beauty and a practical down-to-earth purpose.

I have made a piece of historical lingerie which was born of these wildly transitional time, an undergarment that has a niche in the 20’s that is all it’s own – Tango Knickers.  This is the most unusual, interesting, different, and challenging project I have done in some time.

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THE FACTS:

THE HISTORICAL FORTNIGHTLY CHALLENGE:  #4 “Under It All”.  It was intended for challenge #3 “Pink”, as well, but I couldn’t finish this post in time for the deadline.

FABRIC:  Everything I used came from what was on hand.  I didn’t want to use an expensive fabric on an experimental project. I was planning on using this as a sort of workable muslin.  Thus, the pink fabric is a 100% polyester I have had on hand for maybe 10 years (it’s been too long to remember when it was bought).  It has a embossed type of scroll design on it and it is medium weight, rather sheer, with a soft feel – a beauty of a fabric.  All the lace came from my Grandmother’s collection of lace, which I am now privileged to have for my use.Jill Salen book cover 

PATTERN:  The pattern came from author Jill Salen’s book, Vintage Lingerie, pages 26 through 29, the Tango Knickers

YEAR:  In terms of color, nude tones and white were preferable until 1927, when peaches and pinks became more popular and available (info from here).  Thus, on account of the pastel pink color, these Tango Knickers are more like a late 20’s undergarment.

NOTIONS:  I didn’t need to buy a thing – rummaging through what I had on hand provided everything.  I am glad for this because all the lace I used might have pinched my sewing expenses.  I luckily had 3 spools of Metrosheen pink thread, and even the shoulder straps are two white grosgrain ribbons I used to use for my hair as ties. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  In total, this vintage undergarment took about 12 hours (more or less) and was finished on February 13, 2014 (just in time for Valentines Day!)

100_2605-comp,wTOTAL COST:  Nothing! 

HOW HISTORICALLY ACCURATE IS IT?  The color, the construction methods, the design, and (especially) the pattern are all historically accurate.  However, the fabric sadly misses the mark, and the laces, although vintage, also are not wholly accurate, either. 

THE INSIDES:  Both the side seams and the crouch seams are finished in French seams.  All the edges of the pink fabric that join with the lace are done in tiny 1/8 inch seams, using my new hemmer foot.  See picture at left.  The hip seams with the gathers are covered inside with pink bias tape.  The center front and center back seam, which I added to make these knickers fit, is the best I could make of it, folded open and sewed down on each side to stabilize the fabric.

Symington ad for The Armmori Belt   There is quite a history behind tango knickers which needs a bit of an explanation.  Jill Fields’ book, An Intimate Affair, page 37, on Google Books, and Jill Salen’s book Vintage Lingerie both mention that tango knickers first appeared in 1914, with leg holes extending up the sides allowing maximum movement for dancing.  Later on they were also called “athletic combinations”,  but these tango knickers had several designations during their popularity which specified their construction.  In England, in 1917, the term “cami-knickers” was used for this style of undergarment, referring to the fact that they are a one-piece “combination” of both a top and bottom covering.  However,  in the 20’s, calling tango knickers “step-ins” was popular – after all one does have to step into them, wiggle it up on yourself, then slide the shoulder straps on.  “Step-Ins” was the label which associated lingerie-12tango knickers with them with modernity and comfort(clarified in the next paragraph).  The term “Knickers” was designated to closed-crouch underwear, such as tango knickers or tap pants, versus open “drawers” of previous eras, which had two separate “legs” with an seamless crouch.  At left, is a colored early 20’s Symington ad where three ladies are wearing reducing corsets over their “step-ins”, and my second picture (at right) is a 1920 advertisement drawing.

Looking deeper, apparently the undergarment tango knickers had a significant aura all their own to the culture of the 19-teens and 20’s.  With morals looser and women going of unescorted, tango knickers stood for a new empowerment – they were supposed to create a certain attitude and make a powerful statement by any women who wore them.  The closed crouch of tango knickers, and the fact they are difficult to get out of, conveyed a new sense of modesty for the 20’s.  Tango knickers were especially aligned with the ideals of the Suffragette movement, where women have a hand in controlling their own family, their own bodies, their own mind, and their own country.  To a Suffragette, trousers (separate leg, closed crouch) meant power and a big step towards moving past the cami-knickers all-in-one step insVictorianism of the previous century, with all its corsets and restrictions.  See page 39 of An Intimate Affair, Jill Fields’ book.  The public perception of any one piece “step-in” undergarment, in fact, was much like it was when women started donning one piece overalls and assembling planes during World War II (except “step-ins” were also seen as a youthful trend for all ages).  Public displays of underclothes was introduced, giving all the lace and decorations applied a dual intention to entice and sensualize, such as in the old photo at left.

100_2603a-comp,wThe thigh slits alone were very important to tango knickers.  They are part of what makes a regular step-in a tango knicker.  Having thigh slits allows for full freedom of movement when dancing, and also saves a combination undergarment from being dowdy.  After all, the Latin American dances that were so popular to the 20’s had a much more steamy style than what is normally danced nowadays.  Just watch this dancing scene from the Carole Lombard 1934 movie Bolero, and you might be shocked, but, it is a good example of the hot style of Latin dancing 80 or so years ago.  Carole Lombard is wearing a see through dress, not cami-knickers, but it shows why those thigh slits in tango knickers were needed…for some wild dancing moves!

History aside, the construction of my tango knickers were slow in reaching the ‘finished’ stage, mainly on account of having to get around to enlarging and adapting a roughly drawn, mystery size pattern.  Jill Salen’s book offers 30 patterns of all the vintage/historical garments shown in the book but they are almost all practically Barbie doll size.  Either you need a knowledge of how to transfer sizing using graph paper (which is what her patterns are on) or go to a copy place that will figure out the percent and do large size prints.  I opted for the copy place option, and ended up enlarging the 1:1 scale patterns 400%, then adding either 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch seam allowances.  The tango knickers were the only pattern so far I didn’t add seam allowances to, as it looked like it had a quite generous fit already, and I sewed in tiny 1/8 seams anyway.

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The tango knickers pattern was actually a large rectangle, about 50 inches long in fact.  Two layers of lace, and a panel of fabric in between, are added to the top portion of the tango knickers across the length of the rectangle.  Then the one side seam is sewn together only halfway down the short side of the rectangle.  I said “only halfway” because the large thigh slits are cut into the bottom half of my tango knickers, cut in the shape of a large capitol ‘T’.  There are two smaller rectangles, approximately 16 by 5 inches (without lace), that get lace added to the sides before they get sewn onto (both sides of) the vertical bar part of the ‘T’ thigh slits.  There is a slit cut into the bottom 2/3  of the smaller rectangle and more lace sewn along in an extended ‘U’ shape.  Now the entire thigh section, with the smaller thigh slit rectangle and all the lace, gets a gathering stitch and is gathered into the original horizontal ‘T’ bar cut in the main body of the tango knickers.  Like I said in ‘THE FACTS’ up above, the hip seam is nicely covered and stabilized by light pink, single fold bias tape.100_2602-comp,w

I was so blessed to be able to have just the right amount of lace in the right design and width (according to the pattern) to go into making my tango knickers so special.  My Grandmother’s stash of lace provided just enough, plus only 5 more inches, of  zig zag grid, Deco-styled lace for all entire tango knickers, except for the very top band.  I meant for the top band of lace to be a matching, but especially pretty, different lace, anyway, and what I ended up using had only about 8 inches over what I needed.  All the lace sewn on my tango knickers is old, as evidenced by the occasional brown or yellow stain, but probably not quite vintage.  My guess is the majority of the lace used is a poly type, with the top band of lace being a Battenberg cotton style.  Both types of lace are extremely soft and a dream to work with.  Whether the lace is vintage or not, just using my Grandmother’s lace makes this project so much more meaningful.  I am sure there’s probably a story behind these laces, since some of it had been hand gathered (I took out this stitching to use for my purpose).  There is a lot more (a large tub’s worth) to work with yet, and I am thankful to have a beautiful supply to fuel my creativity.

The finished look of the ‘according to pattern’ tango knickers afforded the biggest laugh I have ever had over anything I have sewn.  They literally could have fit two of me, and looked like an oversized burlap sack hanging on me.  I knew I could not fuss with the side seams at all, and the crouch seam was way too wide to be sensible, so I brought in my tango knickers along the center front/center back, in one continuous line from the front down through the crouch and up to the back.  After opening up the seam, sewing it down, and ironing it, my fix really doesn’t look that bad in my opinion…just a bit odd.  However, like I said above, regarding this as a trial muslin, if I ever want to make another set of tango knickers, I now know exactly where and how much to adapt the pattern to fit myself.  In total, I think I ended up taking in 4 inches on each seam(8 inches total).  These tango knickers are a very nice a wearable muslin, indeed, which brings me to answer the last ‘THE FACTS’ question: WHEN DID YOU FIRST WEAR THIS?  Well, not yet, but I fully intend to wear my tango knickers with the right era appropriate garment.  So far I’ve only put them on to fit them for myself and I really wonder what I will have to go through if I have to visit the bathroom while I’m wearing these.  Talk about a learning experience! 

100_2604a-comp,wI would like to give a big shout out of thanks to the wonderful employees of my favorite fabric store, for letting me use a store dress form to model my tango knickers.  There is no way my tango knickers would look this nice laid out on the floor in our house, and they probably fit much more nicely on the fake body form than on myself, especially, in my mind, the rear view.  I couldn’t have done this post without everyone’s help.

As a parting conversation, I would like to point out that there is a strong and humorous reference to tango knickers that can be found in a classic movie, Topper, year 1937.  In Jill Fields book, An Intimate Affair, page 43, she talks about how “step-ins” underclothes are key to the film’s (and the novel’s) narrative resolution.  At the film’s end (not to ruin the film for you, if you haven’t seen it yet) Mrs. Topper dons something she formerly despised, combination “step-ins”, for her husband Cosmo, symbolizing her “necessary” transition from their old-fashioned sensibilities over to the modern “live fast/die young” ideals of the ghosts the Kirby couple.  I am not saying it’s the best movie morally, but it is a fun classic, and I recommend just clicking on this link to Turner Classic Movies where you can go ahead and watch the whole movie for yourself.  Here’s a teaser for the ladies – it’s a Cary Grant movie!  

     I can’t help but make mention of one last historical association to closed crouch c1920s-france-la-vie-parisienne-magazine-the-advertising-archivesombo underclothes which is very appropriate with the 2014 Winter Olympics going on at the moment.  Page 42 of Jill Fields’ book has a paragraph that talks about how combo “step-ins” were adapted to use as short bloomers worn under women’s 1920’s skating outfits, so they could do all the amazing moves they do nowadays (i.e. leg up, knee to nose, etc.). Yes, public ice skating competitions for women were so popular early in history.  There is a 1924 Women’s Wear Daily ad for the Fitz-U stretchable seamed bloomer, showing a flapper, in a fur-trimmed blouse, striking a beautiful pose on ice.  At right is a French 20’s ad which I find quite humorous – this poor flapper is not so elegant and ready to crash.  1924 was the first year that Olympic figure skating became an official and permanent sport.  Go check out the life of Sonja Henie, a skating medalist and record breaker who began at age 14 in 1927, and as well as this “Bustle” page for more history of women’s Olympic awesomeness.

The picture below is from 1928, showing the Olympic competitors in St. Moritz, Switzerland, performing the “French Can-Can”.

Competitors in the Figure Skating event performing the

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