Wednesday, August 10, 2016

1920s Bathing Suit and Swim Boot Details

I'm excited to be heading off to the 1920s in a few weeks, so I've been doing a lot of 20s sewing to get ready! The first project on my list was re-doing my 1920s bathing suit and adding swim boots.

The suit was initially a quick and dirty project the day before an event, and is made from a pair of stretchy athletic pants and a knit dress (both black). It was perfectly serviceable, and I'm glad I had it (it would have been sad to miss the swimming!), but I had really wanted it to be improved before I wore it again. I originally wore it with black ballet flats as makeshift swim shoes, as little bathing slippers were popular during the early 20th century and the rocky terrain especially called for them. 

bathing suit and slippers last summer
actresses on the beach, 1926--Myrna Loy, center, is wearing bathing slippers
The shoes were falling apart when I used them, and they didn't survive the excursion, so I decided after that that I really wanted to make new bathing slippers for this year. I mentioned this to my friend Quinn, and she was kind enough to pass my desire along to Gina of Beauty From Ashes, and Gina shared the pattern she drafted for bathing boots from an original pair. Thank you, Gina! This was incredibly generous and I am so grateful! 

Quinn has posted about her bathing boots already, and she was good and took lots of in-progress shots. I was not! So I recommend popping over to check out her interesting research and images. I do have some inspiration images to share though!

Ohio, 1920s
Atlantic City, NJ, c.1920
souvenir postcard of movie actress Phyllis Haver on the beach
I'd already fallen in love with several yellow and black bathing suits, so I knew I wanted to go for yellow trim with my existing black suit. I purchased yellow and black cotton canvas online for my swim boots, and used the extra yellow canvas to trim the neck of my bathing suit dress and add stripes to the skirt and shorts. 

bathing suit (with matching cape!), 1920s (MFA)
knit suit, 1920s (via)
I decided to go with diagonal stripes because I thought they looked particularly sporty, and I'm quite pleased with the finished suit!

at the beach!
 Starting with modern clothing was a sneaky cheat to make this an easy, cheap project. Plus, it's very sturdy and machine washable, which is handy when dealing with sand and saltwater.

admiring art at the Nantasket Beach DCR building, which was originally built in the 1910s
Gina's boots patter went together easily, although our use of thicker cork for the soles meant that there was a lot of hand sewing. It worked out in the end, though, as the boots are very sturdy and help up well through beach adventures. I'm excited to wear them again! 
boot selfie?
Girls in boots and barefoot in the waves
 There are only two minor problems with this bathing ensemble: the stripe on the bottom of the shorts is a different color yellow, and my boots are too big. The alternate yellow is left over from the earlier iteration of the suit, but I didn't want to replace it with canvas because I was worried the less stretchy canvas wouldn't be able to handle my thighs. I've done too many squats to be contained! ha. The boot size issue is a little more confusing, but I think it's from a combination of tracing the pattern onto each piece (and thus getting a little larger each time between cutting and tracing) and my paranoia about ending up with too-small boots. I overshot! Oh, well. They look a little silly and duck-footy on land, but they're great paddles in the water.

 Overall, I'm incredibly pleased with this, and so excited to wear it again! I love the beach in any period, so it's a treat to be able to swim and wear silly clothes at the same time.

I am a ham in every period

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Adventurous Aside

My term is over today!! Two more papers to turn in and I'm home free to catch up on blogging and sewing and planning for some truly epic upcoming events. Whoo!

In the meantime, I am feeling truly grateful to be surrounded by friends who are wonderfully nutty and creative and talented...check out this video of us being ridiculous (edited into something coherent) for the moment, and I'll be back to sharing research and sewing progress in the near future!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Day at the Beach (in Black and White)

We've had some absolutely beautiful, bright, scorchingly hot weather the past few weeks, so I was thrilled to head to historic Nantasket Beach for an outing with the Tweed Club!

at Nantasket
Of course, Saturday morning dawned clear and bright...and cool! Possibly the coolest day we've had in weeks, with the promise of thunder. Not an ideal beach day. But that meant that we had the place to ourselves, which turned out to be perfect for taking pictures and running amok in true 1920s fashion. Plus, our period bathing suits (and all the aforementioned running amok) kept us nice and warm despite the weather. Perfect!

Nantasket Beach was the perfect location for a 1920s outing, as it's been a popular seaside destination for Bostonians since the 19th century. The boardwalk was full of amusements in its heyday, from the Klondike Arctic exhibition (complete with live polar bears) to towering roller coasters, carnival games, and wandering circus performers. 
Nantasket beach (and parking!), c.1920s
Beginning in 1818, Bostonians eager to escape the city could take boats from Boston to Hull--everyone from U.S. presidents to workers on their day off would--by the 1890s, over two million passengers were making the trip each summer. Resorts, restaurants, and the amusement park entertained visitors when they weren't on the beach.

postcard of Paragon Park, early 20th century
One particular amusement (a wildly popular one in Boston!) of Paragon Park was the carousel. Opening in 1928, the Paragon Carousel (known as PTC #85 for its manufacturer, Philadelphia Toboggan Company) features 66 hand-carved realistic-style horses and two Roman chariots (also pulled by horses). While the rest of the park has been dismantled, the Paragon Carousel remains as a historic legacy with its own museum and restoration workshop (which is an amazing process, still done by hand). 

the Paragon Carousel
James Hardison works on carousel restorations, courtesy of the Paragon Carousel Museum
Best of all, you can still ride it!

riding the 1928 carousel in our bathing suits
Given the gray weather and our sporting togs, I was feeling inspired by photographs of beach adventures from the period, and I wanted to capture the same feeling:

girls at Revere Beach (also MA!), 1919 (Boston Public Library)
1920s (Art Institute of Chicago)

So when editing the photos, I decided to shift into black and white. I love the way these turned out! And don't worry--I have another post on my outfit (specifically my super cool new bathing boots) coming soon...and those images will return to lovely technicolor. But for now, enjoy the brief dip into the 20s!

I am a ham.

Our fabulous tweed club hosts did a great job organizing the outing, and it was a blast to attend! Thank you!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Feathers and Lace for the 1920s

I was lucky enough to hit a Unique Vintage sale a few years ago, and so it's been a long time since I made a 1920s evening dress. I associate the 20s with glitzy beaded and sequined ensembles, but lately a few particular dresses have been speaking to me that go against the image--they're chiffon and feathers instead. A very different kind of glamour, and I'm very excited to try it out!
Marion Morehouse in an airy Louise Boulanger dress, 1926
I found some pretty great ostrich feather trim on eBay for a decent price, and snatched up 11 yards in a pretty periwinkle blue. The feathers came today, so now I can bring them to the fabric store to find fabric in a matching color! In particular, I'm very inspired by this dress:

beaded chiffon dress with marabou skirt (via)
Last trip to the fabric store, I found some really lovely gold lace. My plan is to make an overdress of gold lace, an under dress of something periwinkle, and then layer feather trim over the skirt panel to create the feather effect. 

detail of the marabou feathers sewn to chiffon
I'm pulling additional inspiration from some other glamorous numbers, which are trimmed in ostrich feathers rather than marabou I think:
Louise Boulanger, 1928 (via)
Chanel, 1920s
posed shot of girls (possibly performers?) in feather-skirted dresses
Peggy Hoyt, 1927 (via)
serious feathers, Fashions for Women, 1920s
Hooray for new materials to make an otherwise entirely unflattering decade feel downright fabulous! Now I just have to find the right fabric...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Real Versus Repro: A Study of Hobby Hats

After my somewhat guilt-ridden recent post (which, thank you everyone for the support! I'm feeling much less guilty about buying corsets now), I thought it would be a good opportunity to drag this out of the draft pile and say something positive about buying items!

In particular, I'm jumping forward in time to the 1940s.

members of the Women's Army Corps in England, 1944
I really enjoy participating in WWII events as a War Correspondent, but recently I've also become more interested in adding a Women's Army Corps (WAC)* impression, because I love being able to talk about (and demonstrate) the ways in which women were actively involved in the war part of the "war effort." This is somewhat out WWII was a barrier-breaking era for women who were fighting to create a space for female participation in traditionally male domains, and there is so much there to research, interpret, and share.

ok, this is actually a Hoover vacuum ad from 1944, but the ad focuses on how "women today" have to be stronger than I'll take it
I've been lucky enough to meet (in person and virtually) some fantastic women who represent WACs and other military branches (and other nations!), and I'm excited to get back to events! To help with that, I've been working on expanding my warco wardrobe to include the pieces of a proper enlisted WAC uniform. I already have a lot of them, as warcos wore WAC uniforms after the US joined the war, but there are some key pieces I was missing. One of those items is a WAC cap (known as the "Hobby hat," Olveta Hobby, first WAC director), which was the original hat issued to WACs for wear with their service uniform. The WAC cap was worn until 1945, but was notoriously uncomfortable (it's entirely round, which heads are not) and difficult to keep in form (it's not very stiff).

WAACs in Hobby hats, 1942 (posing for Life Magazine)
Garrison caps were approved for WAC wear in 1944, so wearing a garrison cap is totally reasonable (and I actually already have one, which is nice). But there's a couple of things I really like about the WAC cap: it was designed to be "distinctly military" in style, to align the WACs with the rest of the US Army, and it was intended to make WACs distinct from other women's service groups that wore garrison caps.

WAC recruitment poster, with Hobby hat on the bed
enlisted WACs, 1943
Although it's pretty common among WWII reenactors, wearing original items still weirds me out, so if at all possible I try to find reproduction items for my collection. Unfortunately, reproduction WAC caps aren't common...but originals are also scarce, and can be well outside my budget. Luckily this project doesn't really have a deadline, so I could afford to wait and hope.

And it paid off! A manufacturer has started making reproduction WAC caps, and several sellers listing them on eBay. I ordered one in "olive drab serge" from kleiderkasse, because they had free shipping and good reviews. It came in time for my friend to borrow for the Collings WWII weekend in the fall, so I was able to see how it looked with the rest of my uniform (there are some pictures of her wearing it at the link). It doesn't match exactly, but it looks pretty good!

Then over the winter another friend sent an original WAC cap my way. I didn't worry about the size, because I don't plan to wear it for events (as it turns out, it's really close--just a hair too small), but I wanted to see what an original Hobby hat was like, and to compare it to my repro.  

So here is a tale of two hats! A couple of notes to keep in mind:

-I haven't done anything to re-shape the original, but some steaming/shaping was done by Quinn when she wore the repro (it was badly crushed during shipping)

-Both hats are sporting original enlisted insignia (I purchased an insignia on eBay for the repro)

-The hats have different buttons (original-Bakelite, repro-brass), but both are correct to different periods of the war

-Neither is stuffed in these images, so they're both a little floppy

-I didn't take measurements, as the hats are different sizes

Now on to the hats:

my original Hobby hat (left) and reproduction (right)--you can see there are some differences, but they're pretty similar overall

a close up to show the fabric and color differences--the colors are more different in person, but I think this is mostly due to the white threads in the serge the reproduction is made out of. I believe the original is wool (same material as the rest of the uniform)
in profile, the original is a bit taller but other wise the shapes are similar

close-up of the original band and button--the Bakelite eagle button indicates this was an earlier issue

the reproduction band and button--the brass eagle button is still accurate, just for later in the war. the white topstitching on the band (and elsewhere) less so
an above brim comparison--the original (top) appears to have a rounder/curvierbrim shape than the reproduction (bottom), but again they're decently close
insides--both lined in something shiny, with a twill band. the original (right) has some serious staining on the inside, as well as a plastic piece sewn to the lining at the crown (to help hold its shape?)
name tag in the original cap from its owner--I googled her and couldn't find much, but there was one Army record of a Mabel Adams from Baton Rouge, LA, who enlisted August 1943 and is listed in the 26-30 age range

size tag on the original, and you can see more of the plastic piece on the crown
wearing the original (please ignore the post-gym attire...)

wearing the reproduction--the color difference is much more notable here. I did make an effort to order my hat size, but this was somewhat larger than expected--I'm not sure if that's because these run large, or because I rounded up on my measurement (I was worried about fitting styled hair underneath). I haven't tried it on with my hair done yet, but it's possible I need to order a size down.
I hope that this comparison is useful to anyone considering buying a reproduction WAC cap! Overall, I have to say that mine is pretty good, and if you're not too picky about matching pieces, it's a great addition a WAC impression. I'm excited to wear mine in the field!

16th company, 3rd regiment, 1944 at the WAC training center in Fort Des Moines, IA
*I'm using WAC in this post because that's what I'll be doing, but the WACs were initially founded as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and much of what I'm discussing deals with WAC history when it was still the WAACs. I'm sticking to WAC for simplicity, but throwing that out there.

For more on WAC uniforms:

Blitzkrieg Baby (if you're a reenactor, I also recommend her forum!)

Dressed for Duty (volumes 1 and 2), Jill Halcomb Smith

US Army Women's Museum (Ft Lee, VA)