Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The 1920s, 1930s,Flappers and Gangsters Oh My!

What a tricky couple of decades! Like Medieval vs Renaissance, the '20s to '30s is another time of fashion that gets confusing. It doesn't help when people throw in specifics like that they're having a Great Gatsby party (what's that all about?).

To fully appreciate the whats and whys of the twenties, you have to understand where it came from. Just eight years prior was the sinking of the Titanic. Tragic event, but an easy one for remembering what the 1910s gave us.

Women were still wearing corsets, long skirts, and big hats to compliment their long hair.

James Cameron's movie "Titanic" is a great resource for fashion of the era. Men were pretty straight forward with their fashion: three piece suits that meant business.  Not unlike modern suits, though with a different collar.

Then World War I came and went and things began to shift. After the war, women started entering the workforce in earnest and the economy was feeling like gangbusters. Aside from the whole prohibition of alcohol thing, people were really enjoying life. Technology was booming, and with the modernizing of everyday things came the overhaul of traditions.

Whereas the silhouette of the '10s was an S curve (busty, butt...ie), the silhouette of the '20s was a completely opposite boyish look.

The waist was dropped, the hemline raised, the hairline raised, the chest and hips flattened, and the hats small. Coincidentally, it wasn't until around this time that women started shaving their legs. The skirts were often pleated or full, to allow greater movement for the dances of the day (like the Charleston).

Enter The Flapper. Made popular by the 1920 film of the same name, the term embodies a new and radical way of living. Flappers were rebellion personified. When most people think of a Flapper, they think of this dress here:

Though this does pass for a modern take on the Flappers of that decade, dresses like this were not the only thing they wore. Expand your horizons; keep in mind the shorter (sometimes asymmetrical) hems and boyish shape and still be a Flapper without looking like everyone else.

Clothing for men became more relaxed, though honestly not a lot changed.

Many people think that the dress for men of the '20s was a pinstriped zoot suit, or gangster suit, like this one:

When really that kind of exaggerated fashion didn't come about until the late 1930s, early '40s. A woman wearing a flapper dress together with a man wearing a zoot suit would have been as awkward as a man wearing MC Hammer pants to the prom in '95.

Which brings me to the 1930s! Think shoulder pads, lovely, lovely shoulder pads. Hemlines started going back down while waists went back up. Hair was eventually grown longer again.

Suits for men became baggier, then eventually the most daring wore the zoot suit. Unlike the '20s which was prospering because of the war, the '30s were being dragged down by the great depression. Though clothing was still beautiful, it seems (to me) to have a more somber attitude. Here is a picture taken from the early 1930s of my very own grandparents. 

My favorite part is her bangs.

The next time you're invited to a '30s party, chances are they mean '20s. And you can slyly smile to yourself for knowing the difference.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Measuring Up

The United States has a lot of different ways to determine what size a person is.  You have Small, Medium, Large and so on, or you have size 6, 8, or 10 which can be the same as a 5,7,or 9 depending on the store.  Not to mention petite vs plus size, and don't get me started on American size charts vs European.  The weird part is that a person is only ever one size at a time; you are what you are, and for the most part your mass doesn't change as you cross the street from one store to another.  Yet mysteriously that street crossing can sometimes transform you from an eight to a sixteen.  Women bear the bulk of the sizing burden, as it seems manufacturers (who are surely all men) made it easy for their own sex.  What's your waist measurement?  That's your pant size, if you're a man.  But even then men don't quite understand what their waist is versus their hips.

My lovely husband George shall demonstrate.

don't ask questions

Women have a strange aversion to knowing what their measurements are, they tend to prefer generic sizes instead.  Women, empower yourselves!  Knowing what that measuring tape says can be a tool for good!  If you buy yourself an inexpensive measuring tape and keep it in your purse, suddenly guessing if something will fit you is...well..less of a guess.  Is there a blouse you like but don't have time to try it on?  If you know your bust measurement is 40", measure the blouse on the hanger at the bust from side to side, pulling so it's taught.  Take that measurement and double it, and that's its size all the way around.  Did it measure 20" from side to side?  Than your 40" bust should fit.  When inquiring over the phone if a store has a certain size, give the clerk your waist measurement instead of a number, and she'll be able to give you a more accurate answer.  Shopping for a child?  How often have you had to tell a clerk, "Well, she's twelve, but she's tall for her age so a child's size twelve might be too short, so she might be more like a small adult, but then it might be too big so maybe she's a size 1?"  If you have one little measurement, it's a whole world easier.  

Little tricks like that only work if you've measured yourself properly. You may consider your waist to be the area a couple of inches below your belly button, but makers of clothing consider the waist to be the point at which your body creases when you bend to the side, which is usually above your belly button.  The chart below is typical of what seamstresses use when building clothing.  Note on the figure whose back is facing us where they mark the waist to be.  The slight V just below the number five is where most people think their waist is.  


   If you shop online it's vital to know what your measurements are, as most stores have a sizing chart like this one from MyBabyJo.com .  You'll notice an interesting thing as you observe the size charts of different shops: The more upscale the store, the larger your generic size will usually be.  That's because places like Walmart like to do what's called vanity sizing.  As time has passed people have tended to get bigger, but we still want to feel like we're small.  So a size ten today is not the size ten of yesteryear.

In example, based on Walmart's website, a woman with a 32 1/2" bust would be a size 2.

Note what size a woman is with an even smaller bustline, based off of this old 1940s dress pattern.

Of course dress patterns are a little differently sized than store bought clothing, but the point still stands.

I suggest printing off one of the charts above and taking  a moment to figure out what your measurements really are. Using the chart as a guide to where your measuring tape should go for each body part you're measuring, be sure the tape wraps around you snugly but not too tight (or too loose), and is parallel to the ground. Wear clothing that isn't baggy. For women, be aware that your bust measurements can change depending on the bra you're wearing, so if you're measuring yourself to find a formal dress, wear the bra you'd wear with the dress. If you're concerned you're just not measuring yourself correctly, drop by your local costume shop or tailor and someone will gladly help you out.  Don't be afraid of what the numbers might show you.  Knowing your actual size, knowing your true measurements, will not only save you some unnecessary frustration but may also help you find clothes that actually fit.  And as they say, "Knowing is half the battle."