Victorian Software aka Underpinnings

Have you ever thought about Victorian underpinnings?  I mean, really considered all that a real Victorian woman would have worn on a daily basis?  The things that your very own great or great-great grandmother would have worn.

I’ve mentioned before that corsets, bustles, cages, etc. shaped a woman’s body to fit the fashion of the day — let’s think of it as “hardware” (technically, I guess it really was!)  Then there is the “software” such as the chemise, drawers, and petticoats – add collars, cuffs, undersleeves, and corset covers depending on the fashion at the time.

Today, I want to talk about drawers.  Bloomers.  Pantaloons.  There are other terms, but most people know what you’re talking about when you use these words.

I’m not sure exactly when (or if) the term “drawers” fell out of favor.  “Drawers” was the word most often used for this most personal item in the early Victorian years through at least the Civil War era.  In fact, “The Workwoman’s Guide”, originally published in 1838, refers to them as “trowsers” and “drawers”.  By at least 1859, Godey’s Ladies’ Book occasionally used “pantalettes” but Peterson’s speaks of “drawers” in 1858.  One thing is certain – the word “bloomers” referring to women’s underpants wasn’t used prior to the 1850s.  Amelia Bloomer (Ah ha!  See the connection?) advocated wearing long, baggy pants as OUTERWEAR.  At first, “bloomers”  referred to the women who subscribed to fashion reform rather than the actual garment.  Bloomers, as outerwear, didn’t catch on but it seems that, by the late 1800s up to nearly 1930, a lady’s poufy, knee-length under-pants were commonly called “bloomers”.

But I digress.   Today, I’m fascinated by this pair of late Victorian drawers because they’re patched.  There is a portion of the back interior lower leg that is a period repair.  Interesting, because in today’s “throw away” society, we would simply discard it.  In the mid-19th century, fabric was expensive but labor (yourself) was cheap.  While drawers could be purchased ready-to-wear, it’s likely that most women simply made their own – it’s pretty basic:  2 tubes of fabric slightly gathered onto a waistband.

Victorian Drawers (Back View) - Note Pieced Area on Leg C0050

Victorian Drawers (Back View) – Note Pieced Area on Leg C0050

Whether this is a period repair or a simple lack of fabric when they were being made, is hard to say.  In my opinion, the maker of the drawers didn’t have enough fabric for the entire leg and patched together enough fabric to complete it.

My opinion is based on two things:

    The drawers are perfectly clean and white with no evidence of wear.  If it was a repair, surely the drawers wouldn’t be quite as pristine.  If a hole was worn in the area, there would definitely be other areas of wear.  If this is a replacement piece, say caused by The Curse, I believe there would also be some other visible wear.
    In my personal collection is a pair of drawers that date to the Civil War era that have a patched in area.  I wanted to duplicate the drawers, including the patch.  As I was cutting my fabric, I found that I was short in the exact same place as the originals.  I had to make a nearly identical patch in order to make my new drawers!  (This is one of the reasons I love to reproduce antique clothing for my personal use/education – now I have first-hand knowledge of exactly WHY something was done 150 years ago.)

There are 2 photos.  The first is unedited. In the second, I tried to enhance it to show the stitching lines better. The antique drawers are, obviously, the yellowed ones.  They have much fainter seams/sewing lines than my reproduction.  They sewed theirs by hand in kind of a satin stitch.  I confess to much laziness and I did it with my sewing machine.  The antique drawers also have the patched in pieces on both sides of each leg piece, whereas I only had to do it on one side of each leg piece.

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces (ENHANCED)

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces (ENHANCED)

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces

CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

This is actually physical documentation of the age of the antique drawers.  Early – mid 19th century fabric was only 26″ – 28″ wide.  Today’s fabric is 36″ or 45″ wide.  Measuring the larger piece of fabric on the old drawers shows about 26″ – slightly less because of seam allowances.  Mine measure about 36″ – I am, of course, quite a bit bigger around than a 19th century woman!  My patched in pieces would have been much larger if I were using 26″ wide fabric.

Why not piece together underclothes?  They won’t be seen!

I have a patched together Edwardian guimpe and I’m going to keep my eyes open for a pieced/patched together chemise and petticoat.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find a patched chemise because the chemise and drawers are the very first layer of clothing a female would put on and therefore, highly unlikely to be seen.  A petticoat, on the other hand, may have been meant to be seen peeking out from beneath the skirt, at least down near the hem.

What do you think?  Have you ever had a neatly pieced together Victorian article of clothing?  I’d like to hear about it.

How To Buy Vintage Clothing That FITS Part 3

Wow! Time really got away from me last month! With such a late start to summer and way too much rain, I’ve been desperately trying to get the garden in. It’s been a struggle, for sure.

But .. here we go – the final post of the series

Part 3 of How To Buy Vintage Clothing That Fits

You MUST learn to take measurements of your body and of the garments. I know, most of us would rather not face the reality of the tape measure but it’s a necessary evil if you want to wear vintage clothing!

Know Your Measurements to get a great fit

Know Your Measurements to get a great fit

Always take into consideration YOUR problem area. Mine is my waist size. I know that if a dress has a waist measurement less than ……. I just don’t need to fall in love with it. I will NOT lose enough weight. (I might, but … let’s get real.) To use an extreme example: If my bust measurement is 38” and my waist is 32″, I know that I won’t be able to wear a dress with a 34” waist measurement even if it has a 38” bust measurement. (Just so you know … these are NOT my true measurements. Mine are worse. LOL)

On the other hand, if my bust measurement is 32” and my waist is 28” and the apple of my eye dress has a 38” bust and a 28” waist – I can try it on and if the bust is too large, you can have it altered to fit. Easy peasy! (Always keep in mind that it is easy to make a garment smaller, but it can be nearly impossible to make it larger.)

So let’s get real and get out our measuring tape. When shopping for vintage clothing you MUST know your measurements. (I said that already, didn’t I??) Not only your body’s measurements, but measurements of that dress/skirt or top or pants that you already own and love because it fits you perfectly. Compare those measurements. Yes, I’ve repeated that (again!) because it’s IMPERATIVE. If you love that vintage dress – you want to look great in it, and what’s better than feeling great and getting compliments when you wear it?

Here is how to find a vintage dress that fits:

It is considered best that someone else take your measurements because when you take your own measurements, it’s easy to get the tape in the wrong place without realizing it.

Here’s a video that Sandra Mendoza of debutanteclothing.com has done. It is excellent and will show you exactly what to do!

Here are the measurements you should take:

At minimum:
Measure your bust
Measure your waist
Measure your hips

Preferred:
Bust (fullest part)
Waist (smallest part)
Hips (fullest part)
Neck (base of neck)
Back Shoulders (on the back, across from the top of each shoulder where a sleeve would start)
Top of Shoulders (neck to top of shoulder)
Armhole (top of shoulder, around the underarm area)
Full Length (shoulder to floor)
Front Waist Length (shoulder to waist)
Front Skirt Length (waist to preferred hem length)

WRITE IT DOWN ON A PIECE OF PAPER (after you memorize it you can eat it or shred it so no one else will ever know).

NOW … be prepared to add about 2” EACH to the bust, the waist, and the hips. That’s for ease of movement. If your body and the dress have exactly the same measurements, you may feel too restricted to move without harming the dress.

That’s just the start.

Now go to your closet and find that dress or whatever that fits you perfectly. Measure IT. You’ll want to take these measurements, at minimum.

First, lay the dress out on a flat surface. Dress Measurements

Bust: Measure horizontally from the bottom of each armhole and double
Waist: Measure horizontally the obvious waist or about 6” below armpit
Hips The obvious widest area or about 8” below where you measured for the waist.

Back shoulder: Turn the dress to the back and measure straight across from top of shoulder seams

There are other measurements that can also be helpful
Sleeve length
Bodice length
Skirt length
Overall length
Your own special “problem area”

Now – compare your body measurements to dress measurements.

One more thing: take into consideration the shape of the dress. Example: A dress with a fitted bodice and full skirt will be more forgiving of hip measurements but a sheath dress will require a more exact measurement overall.

KNOW THESE MEASUREMENTS BEFORE YOU SHOP – at the very least the bust, waist, and hips.

And knowing your measurements is imperative when you shop online. Be sure you look at the shop owner’s policies, how they measure their garments (because everyone does it a bit differently ~ and there can be special measurements such as with raglan sleeves). Above all, if you have questions or need help, ask. That’s what we’re here for and we want you to be happy with your purchase.

Lastly, don’t hesitate to make alterations to the size after your purchase. We don’t hesitate to have modern clothing altered to fit and vintage is no different. Obviously, this will be easier if you purchase a dress that is larger than you need. One area that is very difficult to alter is the back shoulder measurement, so be careful there. Just remember that alterations almost always void return policies.

One caveat: on “antique” dresses – they are one of a kind fine historic examples that can never be replaced – it’s best not to alter them. Chances are, you paid a lot of money for this garment so you don’t want to devalue it or harm it. IF you are going to wear a fine historic dress (not ever recommended), make SURE it is VERY large so you don’t stress the fabric or threads.

How To Buy Vintage Clothing That FITS – Part 2

As promised … Part 2 of How To Buy Vintage Clothing That Fits: The Details

Our bodies are proportioned entirely differently than they were, even 20 years ago. There are endless reasons for this but consider this – until the 1960s, foundation garments were almost always worn. When you get up every morning and pull on a long line or a fitted, circle stitched bra and a girdle your body will naturally accept and retain the shape the foundation garments give. Clothing manufacturers made clothes knowing that these foundation garments would be worn with them – that is, the dresses were cut and shaped to fit a body shaped by wearing these items.

Wearing a corset like this daily, actually molds the body into a particular shape.

Wearing a corset like this daily, actually molds the body into a particular shape.

You can see this in photographs since cameras were invented. 1840s dresses have an elongated “ironing board” bust and waist shape, 1850-1895 were wide bust, small waist, 1900’s had the s-curve corset that forced the bust forward and the butt back. 1920s – flattened bust, no waist, no butt. 1930s – more naturally curved body and general use of a separate bra. 1940s/50s – uplifted bust and small waist. Late 60s – natural body shape/gradual disuse of girdles and naturally shaped bras – fairly shapeless dresses. We won’t discuss the 70s – the 2000s because by that time, anything goes.

Today, our bodies define the shape of the clothing we wear. It’s all about finding the clothing you CAN wear – some styles, I CAN’T wear. I have to find clothing with certain shapes/fit in order to give me the illusion of the shape I desire and that hide the wrong shape.

Do you remember in my last post when I said that I will refer to the back shoulder measurement when helping me decide which general size to call a dress? That’s because most of us have broader shoulders and we are not used to “fitted” clothing, meaning that today’s garments are made with extra “ease” for movement. Garment makers know that we are used to being free to move, where our foremothers were used to wearing, what we consider restrictive, garments. Smaller armholes did not feel small or tight to them. It felt fitted properly. (Remember, women didn’t regularly wear pants/sportswear until the late 50s to early 60s!) So if you feel just a little pinched in the armholes, don’t slouch! Do as your mama said! Stand up straight and pull your shoulders back. It just might surprise you! 

I say this because, if your dress fits, but still doesn’t look “right” – it may be because you lack the foundation garments that would have been worn when the dress was made. Make the effort to find either vintage foundation garments or modern garments that mimic that shape and you will probably be thrilled with the difference!

Next time … Part 3: The Nitty Gritty

For The Love of Vintage Enamel Flower Pins

I LOVE VINTAGE ENAMEL FLOWER PINS!

Yes, I did scream that.  I do!  I love them!

I LOVE VINTAGE ENAMEL FLOWER PINS!  Yes, I did scream that.  I do!  I love them!  There's something just so very cheerful about them - they're always colorful, bright, and usually pretty big.   And you can  wear them in so many different ways.  Obviously, my absolute favorite way to wear an enamel flower pin is on my jeans jacket, but any jacket will do.    If you have just the right chain, you can usually wear them as a pendant.  Another fun way to wear an enamel flower is on your purse - maybe on the strap, or right in the middle.  So, pin on a bit of sunshine and cheer today!

Having a bit too much fun playing with vintage enamel flower jewelry

There’s something just so very cheerful about them – they’re always colorful, bright, and usually pretty big.   And you can  wear them in so many different ways.   Obviously, my absolute favorite way to wear an enamel flower pin is on my jeans jacket, but any jacket will do.

If you have just the right chain, you can usually wear them as a pendant.

Another fun way to wear an enamel flower is on your purse – maybe on the strap, or right in the middle.

So, pin on a bit of sunshine and cheer today!   (or … just have fun playing with them – like I do!)  LOL

I just listed a few of these in my Etsy shop, so check them out!

Modern Clothing Sizes Make No Sense

I just ran across this from Tim Gunn on WhoSay and it goes so well with Part 1 of How to Buy Vintage Clothing that Fits, that I had to insert it.  Let’s call this Part 1a.

Seriously, the hip measurement of a size 8 at Banana Republic is the same as a SIZE 2 at The Gap?  And The Gap and Banana Republic are essentially the same company.

If this isn’t enough to convince vintage shoppers to take the time and make the effort to measure, measure, measure I don’t know what is.  J

Now REALLY …. Next time:  The Details (or just how to do that measure, measure, measure thing!)

 

How To Buy Vintage Clothing That FITS – Part 1

Once again, I must apologize for the delay. Had a little snafu during a WordPress upgrade followed by carpal tunnel surgery (yay!) … I can finally type again!

As promised, here is Part 1 of 3.

Vintage size 16 is NOT the same as modern size 16!

Vintage size 16 is NOT the same as modern size 16

Part I: The Basics

Do you know what your clothing size is? I mean, REALLY? Well, you say, sometimes I wear a size 10, but sometimes a size 12. It just depends. Maybe I’m strange, but I usually take at least 2 sizes with me to the dressing room, sometimes 3 – one size on either side of the size I *think* I wear.

When we have this much difficulty finding modern clothes that fit, how can we possibly expect it to be easy to find VINTAGE clothing that fits? Especially when it’s extremely rare for a vintage shop to have the same dress in multiple sizes. It’s just NOT gonna happen! Think of vintage clothing as OOAK.

Often, vintage clothing sellers will give an approximation of size – X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large. This is a helpful starting point because we all have an idea where we fall with this method of sizing. Please don’t ask a vintage clothing seller to tell you what size a dress is. We can’t. Modern sizes are very, very different from vintage sizes. I guarantee that I could barely get a leg in a vintage size 16, where a modern size 16 might be a bit big on me.

For instance: on this 1952 women’s pattern, Size 14 fits a woman with a 32”bust and 35” hips.

1952 Pattern Size 14

1952 Pattern Size 14

Now take a peek at the Standard US Clothing Size chart on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_standard_clothing_size . A 32” bust is a Misses’ size 6 on this chart. That’s a real eye-opener! So remember – think MEASUREMENTS, not size.

Shopping for vintage in person is, obviously, easier than online – unless you’re at a vintage fair where there is no place to try things on. Regardless, you need to know where to start. One thing you DON’T want to do is take something to the dressing room and rip or tear the dress or zipper because you started with a dress that looked big enough but … wasn’t. Always remember that the fabrics vintage clothes are made of are at LEAST 20 years old. The thread that holds it together is at least 20 years old. And a lot are pushing 100 years old. You can’t expect old fabrics and threads to take a lot of stress without tearing, ripping, or breaking. And keep in mind that you will be required to purchase an item you’ve damaged.

In my shop, my tags all list at least the basic bust, waist, hips measurements. Often, other measurements will be included so you’ll have a good idea if a garment will fit if you know your measurements. Usually I have estimated a modern size XS, S, M, L, or XL as well.


I made up a chart to help me decide which size estimate will be the most helpful. IN GENERAL, when dress measurements don’t quite match up with my chart, I lean toward basing my estimate on the waist measurement and then take into consideration the back shoulder measurement. EVERY SHOP IS DIFFERENT. But if you know your measurements and the measurements of a dress that will fit you properly, you’ll do just fine. And never hesitate to ask for help. Most of us sell vintage because we love it and we want you to, too!

Next time … The Details

News from Belle à Coeur Treasure Trove Vintage

Ta Da! I’m baaack! After a year-long hiatus … an agonizing year of having my website updated that turned into me going to school and learning HTML! (Turns out, it’s kind of fun … well, so far. LOL) I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the shop’s new look and let me know how you like it. It still has come bugs, but … these, too, shall pass.

Wedding Cupcakes

Wedding Cupcakes

So what’s happened over the past year? Not a whole lot. I kept holding off listing things, thinking the website would be ready. You know how it goes. Last year was a good year to step back a little, though, because both of my children got married! What a year! My youngest asked me to make their wedding cake to save money. This turned into wedding cupcakes. Months of testing recipes and decorations that fattened up the entire county! My oldest used a reception hall that didn’t allow outside bakery products, so I did their rehearsal dinner cupcakes. If you want to take a peek at them, I started a blog “Victim of Cupcakes” to keep track of what I was doing – and THAT turned out to be really fun, too! I’m a little behind on THAT one, too!

What does this have to do with vintage? Welllllll …… my personal vintage stash no longer fits!

Seriously, I HAVE to stay off Pinterest. I discovered Pinterest while researching cake recipes and decorations and it’s turned into yet another fun diversion. I’ve been pinning wonderful things from my shop, wonderful things from my vintie friends’ shops, recipes, jewelry, hints, recipes, shoes, recipes … See where this is going? My personal stash of vintage clothing no longer fits! Follow me on Pinterest so we can share all the wonderful vintage and recipes (I’m never going to fit into my clothing, am I?)

As to shop news, we just came back from the Chicagoland Vintage Clothing, Jewelry and Textile Show & Sale in Elgin, Illinois. Had a great time, visited with friends, made new friends, and sold a lot of goodies! It’s always interesting to see what’s “hot” from one show to the next. I sold a BUNCH of skirts and I don’t think I’ve ever sold a skirt at Elgin!

For the past several years, I have been asked to give a short demonstration/presentation on different vintage subjects. (Yep, that’s me in the video from last February with the Victorian corset, hoops, and underpinnings!) This time, my presentation was “How to Buy Vintage Clothing that Fits”. As promised, I will be breaking it down into a couple of blog posts so that those who attended can refer to it AND so can my readers! I’ll get started on that next week because this one is quickly getting away from me!

Ironing a Housecoat the 1940s Way

(3/1/2016 — the original video that was in this post has disappeared. This is very similar)

Wow! Talk about a new invention that didn’t make it. Ironrite? Actually, it apparently did.

It definitely looks less tiring, just sitting there and feeding fabric into the machine. What strikes me is that we never see her ironing the ruffles. I like my ruffles crisp and fluffy, not smashed flat as it appears this machine would make them. I could be, and most likely AM wrong about that, because there are collectors today that do know how to use the machine and say it makes wonderful pant creases and such. Homemakers in the ‘40s often used large linen tablecloths that are a bear to iron, as well as bed sheets – no permanent press! It must have been a godsend!

Back in the day, (don’t you love that expression – so vague…) doing the laundry was a whole lot more than throwing some clothing into the washing machine with a little soap and softener, then coming back about a half hour later and moving everything to a dryer, followed by hanging up or folding to be put away. I’ll bet that at least a third of all households today don’t even have an iron or ironing board. Yet we still hate doing laundry. The next time you get your grump on when it’s laundry day, just be thankful no one has handed you a rock and sent you down to the river. (I can’t fathom how that would get your clothing clean – what if the river is muddy, dry, full of fish … ??)

One last thing I love in this video – the house dress aka The Housecoat! The similarities are striking, but this one doesn’t have ruffles to iron!

1930s/ 1940s Hostess Dress

1930s/ 1940s Hostess Dress

Researching Vintage Fashion Leads To ….

It’s a good thing I love research!  Not a day goes by that I don’t need to do some research – style, date, labels, materials – the basics.

The best part is when I run across something that fascinates me – usually having little or nothing to do with the original subject, like this video that is a remix of several decades of Chanel fashion.  It’s kind of an odd video, a bit grainy and with a lot of strange background noises, complete with breaking glass (!) but the fashions are wonderful!  Toward the end are some close ups of gorgeous costume jewelry. You’ll see a dress where the fabric design has large leaves – oh, how I wish the film was in color! Then there are several Chanel suits, again – how I wish I could see the colors!

 

Looking at these suits brought to mind the wonderful pink and green linen and wool suit dress in my shop.  I have several wonderful pieces from the estate of a woman whose husband owned a local department store that closed in 1961.  Other that a couple of dresses, including the Mingolini – Guggenheim dress, it looks like she had most of her clothing made for her.  The pink and green dress has a lot of the same lines as the Chanel suits, specifically the slightly lower than natural waistline and boxy jacket.  I always felt this lady must have been quite tall because the skirts of her dresses are fairly long but, as you can see in the video, the style is a bit longer.  (I’m short, so one of the first things I notice about any garment is how much I’m going to have to shorten a skirt to wear it!)

Dare to Compare Hair

That’s it.  I hate T.C.  Not only is she tall, slim, and shapely but now she has MY hair!

I was playing around with this really nice 1940s astrakhan bolero jacket – getting ready to list it – when I thought it would be fun to make up an all mix and match vintage outfit.   I picked out an 80s suede skirt, a 50s nylon blouse, the bolero, and a gold tone multi chain vintage necklace.  That’s when it happened.  She wasn’t really rockin the outfit with that hair.

Vintage 40s Astrakhan Bolero, 50s Nylon Blouse, 80s Suede Skirt

Vintage 40s Astrakhan Bolero, 50s Nylon Blouse, 80s Suede Skirt

This is T.C.'s usual 'do

This is T.C.’s usual ‘do

T.C.'s Borrowed 'Do

T.C.’s Borrowed ‘Do

So I grabbed Lana’s hair. (She didn’t say anything, but I know she was UNHAPPY.  After all, she’s the one with the GOOD hair and her attitude shows she knows it!)  Then I put it on T.C. and the brat looks pretty good!  (Shhhh … better than Lana.  She has a buffalo head.)

 

 

No female is ever happy with her hair.  If it’s straight, we want curls, if it’s curly we want waves.  If it’s brown we want blonde.  At some point in the last 10 years my own hair has become schizophrenic.  For most of my life it has been straight as a stick.  Of course, the 1980s brought us Big Hair.  I came by mine by getting perms every 6 months or so.

But I digress.  The point is  —  now that I see Lana’s hair on T.C. – I want my hair to do that!  I’m the same calico color but … Of course, I also want my body to do that tall, slim, and shapely thing, too!  Oh well, joke’s on her — I have both my thumbs!

Lana and Heady in their "everyday" 'dos

Lana and Heady in their “everyday” ‘dos

 

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