Category Archives: 1912 Clothing

1912 Research and an Update

So! I never get around to doing as much with this blog as I intend, but I did just add a bunch of new stuff, because I registered for independent study hours over the summer, doing research on 1912 clothing. It had two components, a big paper and a shorter how-to article for people trying to put together passable 1912-ish clothes for living history (specifically related to a spring course and conference). But I found so many fabulous resources online for the how-to side, and general visual resources, that I ended up doing the how-to component online here, with a little index and a set of posts full of links and summary information. There’s so much incredible information out there on the internet, but it can be shockingly difficult to track down the right stuff – thus why curating the internet, so to speak, is something of a hobby of mine.

The plan is to keep adding links to the 1912 research section, as I find them, and now I’m also thinking of doing something similar for other periods. I have a truly massive collection of bookmarks, and I always wish it was easier to find good sewing and costuming resources, so I think I’ll see what I can do to improve matters. I suspect that keeping my various sewing and costuming resources organized in this form will even make them easier for me to use.

…maybe at some point I’ll even put up pictures of the projects I’ve finished?

Hopefully I’ll be able to do more sewing and more blogging about it! And then I won’t forget how I did things after they’re done. Maybe.

But at least there are 1912 resources, tidily organized!

Sewing in 1912

Guides for 1912 Reproduction Sewing

Dressmaking & Ladies’ Tailoring Manuals from c 1912

Tailoring Manuals from c 1912 (contents entirely or primarily for men)

 Miscellaneous Manuals on Sewing, Mending, and Laundering

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Clothing in New Mexico and the Southwest circa 1912

Was Clothing Different in New Mexico? A Brief Analysis

Certainly, clothing was different in New Mexico; clothing everywhere was subject to regional variation, especially in places with substantial cultural intersections. But in the course of my research, I found that clothing in New Mexico around 1912 was not as markedly different from clothing elsewhere in the United States than I had expected. In the local photographs and newspaper advertisements I surveyed, New Mexican men are often seen wearing three-piece suits, though working men sometimes lack a jacket, and can sometimes be seen without waistcoats as well (though this was considered somewhat indecent). Likewise, New Mexican women are typically seen in dresses and separates like those worn elsewhere in the United States. Both sexes seem to have kept up with east coast fashions to whatever degree they could afford it, with simpler and less modish clothing for people with low incomes.

There’s a common belief that women in the West “must” have worn corsets less than women in cities back east, because it was too hot, and corsets were not practical. But in my experience, for women of a, shall we say, buxom variety, it can actually be more comfortable to wear a corset, with evenly distributed bottom-up support, rather than a modern bra, with support coming in from straps which hang from the shoulders and a narrow band around the chest. Historically, corsetry is not synonymous with tight-lacing, and it need not be painful, dangerous, or even particularly uncomfortable. I have personally worn a corset while in the heat working outside, and it made very little difference, as long as it was made of natural fibers (which breathe), fit well, and was laced properly, not too tight or too loose. So, Western women could have worn corsets. Did they?

My survey of early twentieth century photographs of people in New Mexico and the Southwest indicates that corsets were worn with roughly the same incidence in this region as elsewhere in the United States. Which is to say, they were worn by most women, most of the time, with the exception of some elderly women, some very poor women, and women otherwise socio-culturally outside of any concerns about Euro-American fashion. In the latter category, photographs of Native Americans taken in the early twentieth century often show people in what appears to be the traditional dress of their people, or, in some cases, a romanticized version of traditional dress; unsurprisingly, in these images, none appear to be wearing corsets. But among Euro-American and Hispanic women, the corset appears to have been as common in New Mexico as anywhere else.

This is not to say that clothing in New Mexico was the same as anywhere else – regional variations played a role, more so than they do today, even. Regional variations are particularly marked among the lower rungs of society; unfortunately, these are also consistently the least documented parts of society. It is difficult to find pictures of working class people, subsistence farmers, and the like, especially pictures in their everyday working clothes rather than their Sunday best. Because of the comparative scarcity of such images, it’s difficult to make a broad analysis – the sample size is too small. Hopefully, I will be able to increase my pool of study material and do further research on this subject.

As a general framework, though, my research so far indicates that it is reasonable to assume that clothing in New Mexico circa 1912 was, for many people, much like  clothing in the rest of the United States, particularly among the upper and middle classes of both Anglo-American and Hispanic descent.

Image Resources for Clothing in the Southwest

NM Newspaper Articles About and Advertisements for Clothing

Hispanic/Latino Clothing in the Southwest circa 1912

  • 1912 Project: New Mexico, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, including many of people who appear to be of Hispanic descent and of people known to be of Hispanic descent (such as photographs of the Amador family of Las Cruces).

Native American Clothing in the Southwest circa 1912

Clothing in the Southwest in Other/Various Time Periods

Note: if it has an asterisk*, there is a tutorial, how-to, or pattern on the other side of the link.

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Men’s Clothing circa 1912

Overview

While ladies’ fashion was changing rapidly during the decade of the 1910s, menswear changed very little. One small change did prove to be significant in the long term though: increasingly, gentlemen were dinner or tuxedo jackets instead of tailcoats for less formal evening occasions. The number of occasions for which a tuxedo was sufficiently formal increased during the 1910s and in the following decades until, today, black tie and tails, much less white tie and tails, is required an an extremely limited number of occasions, for an extremely narrow band of the population (high society, fine dining waiters, and cabaret performers, mostly), and the tuxedo is generally thought of as the height of formality.

Three-piece suits and variations thereof were the norm for men around 1912. Waistcoats typically lacked collars, and were cut quite high, leaving very little of the shirt bosom exposed on either side of the necktie. Shirt collars were very high and stiff, often made to be detachable so that they could be readily cleaned or replaced, since they soiled much more quickly then the rest of the shirt. Morning dress with a cutaway coat and striped trousers could be worn for formal daytime occasions, but by this time, the practice of wearing formal morning dress was already more common in Britain than in the United States.

While menswear for centuries has tended to change slowly, it is more variable than it might first appear. Even within the circa 1912 period, there was a great deal of variation – many elements of the suit, shirt, collar, tie, hat, coat, and accessories could be personalized to suit the owner’s tastes, within in a certain range of parameters. Jacket lapels could vary in width and proportion, jacket length varied, shirt collar height and proportion varied, and hats were available in an almost inconceivable array of shapes and sizes. Stripes and other patterns were worn sometimes, especially for daywear and casual sportswear. Sportswear could be extremely colorful, in fact, and dressing gowns (robes) were positively flamboyant.

Working class and rural farming men would still have been likely to own three-piece suits, to wear for “best,” though some men at this point did elect not to wear waistcoats all the time, and when working hard, any man might remove his jacket. In polite company, a man did not sit down to dinner in his shirtsleeves, and lacking both waistcoat and jacket in front of a woman was suspect behavior.

General Resources for Men’s Clothing c 1912

How to Fake 1912 Men’s Clothing on the Cheap

If you need a 1912 man’s costume in a hurry, without much sewing, and inexpensively, your best bet is going to be a thirft store suit. There were various cuts of suit popular at this time period, so your odds of finding something workable in the right size are high. First, look at pictures of c. 1912 suits to train your eye for what to look for. Next, make sure you know your chest and waist measurements so you can easily check if a suit on the rack might fit you (you can check length by hanging it against you). Remember to look for natural fibers! Synthetic fibers like polyester are not only inaccurate, but extremely uncomfortable to wear (especially 100% polyester); they’re very hot and don’t breathe, plus they stain easily.

When you’re looking for a suit, look for a jacket with square, properly fitting shoulders, and a fitted or slightly loose-fitting but tailored shape and fit. It can single-breasted or double-breasted, though single-breasted was more common. Lapels generally tended to be around medium size, though some men wore their lapels wide, so that’s an acceptable option too. Lapels were cut quite far up at the time, tending to end high on the chest rather than at waist level. Jacket length could vary, but remember that this shouldn’t be a long zoot suit style (though there are some baggy, striped suits of the time that stylistically lean in that direction!). Trousers can be medium to loose fitting, but should taper to a narrower ankle, even if only slightly. Overall, the suit should be slightly baggy, but not too much – it’s a balancing act.

If you can’t find a three-piece suit with a waistcoat, it’s acceptable to have a mismatched waistcoat/vest, made from a different but harmonizing material. The waistcoat should fit snugly – much more so than the rest of the suit. The waistcoats typically lack lapels, and are cut with a high, tight V opening. The bottom edge comes to two closely placed points at the front. Vest materials can be livelier than other suit materials typically are – stripes were popular.

Shirts were typically very high-collared, so look for the highest collars you can find, or, if you are feeling adventurous, you could even try removing a shirt collar and adding a homemade (even a paper!) collar, which is accurate. The cut of the collar could almost totally hide the knot of the necktie, depending on its shape. Neckties were highly variable in color and pattern, but they were usually cut nearly straight and tied with small knots.

Don’t forget a hat! In 1912, a decent man simply didn’t leave the house without a hat. Look through pictures to see appropriate styles, and look for something similar. If you are looking to be costumed as someone actively laboring, who would not be wearing a three-piece suit, look for pants cut along the lines mentioned above, and wear them with collar-less shirt and suspenders, preferably the kind of button onto the pants rather than clip on. And don’t forget that hat!

History of Menswear & Tailoring

  • History: Setting the Precedent, a series of articles on the history of menswear, particularly formal menswear, at The Black Tie Guide: A Gentleman’s Guide to Evening Wear (Second Edition).

Suits (daywear)

Formalwear (morning dress, tuxedo/dinner jackets, tails)

Hats & Outerwear

Undergarments

Working Clothes (farming, heavy labor, servants)

  • 1912 Project: Hard at Work, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, specifically of people in working clothes of some variety.

Tailoring Manuals & Guides (see also Sewing in 1912)

Note: if it has an asterisk*, there is a tutorial, how-to, or pattern on the other side of the link.

Back to the site index for Researching 1912 Clothes and Making or Faking Them.

Women’s Clothing circa 1912

Overview

Changing Trends in Ladies’ Fashion

The years 1911 and 1912 represent a transitional in-between period in women’s fashion, similar to the late 1830s and the late 1860s (the years on either end of the full-skirted, drop-shouldered, natural-waisted period). The aesthetic of the 1890s and 1900s was one of voluptuous grace, with delicate materials and delicate colors, while the aesthetic during World War I was more modern and more practical, with a shorter, fuller skirt; an unfitted and slightly elevated waistline; and a great popularity for suits and separates. Examining the two aesthetics side by side, the difference is extreme, though they are separated by only four or five years. In between the two lies a transitional period sharing commonalities with styles on either side, but also with unique elements of its own, in particular the slim silhouette known as the “hobble skirt,” which could at its extremes be narrow enough to limit the length of a woman’s steps, essentially “hobbling” her. This trend lasted only between 1911 and 1914; in 1910 skirts were still falling in a softly flaring bell shape, while by 1915 they had shortened and widened, offering wartime women a practical, modernized style.

The rapid progression of fashions between 1909 and 1915 was essentially the midpoint of fashion’s transformation from what is considered “nineteenth century” to what is considered “twentieth century.” The loosened waist of the 1910s became the straight, dropped waist of the 1920s, and the skirts that shortened just two or three inches around 1915 became the short skirts of the 1920s, complete with a shocking display of ankle and calf, occasionally even a glimpse of knee. World War I influenced this massive transition, in terms of women’s habits of living and need for practicality in dress, as well as in terms of necessitating changes in attire due to wartime austerity measure which required, among other things, the steel that would have gone into the manufacture of corsets.

The Look of 1911-1912

The silhouette was slim, with a long, narrow skirt; a sleek or slightly raised waistline; and preferably an enormous hat. Dresses were still popular, but suits and other separates were very common by this point. Many garments advertised in Sears Catalogs and the like were skirts and blouses or shirtwaists; separates could be very fine and high quality, or they could serve the same purpose and be simpler and quite inexpensive. Society ladies wore shirtwaists and skirts; so did shopgirls and farmers’ daughters going to town.

General Resources for Women’s Clothing c 1912

How to Fake 1912 Women’s Clothing on the Cheap

If you need a 1912 woman’s costume in a hurry, without much sewing, and inexpensively, your best bet is going to be a blouse or shirtwaist and a skirt. Look for an ankle-length or full-length, straight, narrow skirt – this silhouette was also popular in the 1970s, which can help with thrift store costuming (but look out for hot, plasticky polyester). 1970s and 1980s blouses can provide the top half of the ensemble, but you want to look for thin, potentially even sheer, cotton or linen (and rayon or blends could do in a pinch). Look for a blouse without puffy sleeves – this is a period where slightly sloping shoulders are ideal, and puffy shoulders were not the look of 1912. Look at period blouses first, to get an idea of the look. Remember that if buttons look too plasticky, you can easily remove and replace them, even with limited sewing skills.

Don’t forget to top off your ensemble with some kind of headwear – respectable women simply didn’t leave the house without hats in 1912. Large hats were popular at the time – the tutorials below can help you turn a $5 party store hat into a passable 1910s shape waiting for some decorations – even a scarf or piece of sheer fabric or wide ribbon wrapped around and pinned or stitch in place with a fluffy shape can help to give the look of the period.  Gloves ought to be worn outdoors, so if you can find a pair that look roughly right, excellent. For shoes, simple black or brown or tan “granny boots” will do, or low-heeled Oxfords – these are conveniently quite trendy in 2012, and are often perfect for 1912.

These basic elements can go a long way for creating the look of 1912, and if you work to create 1912-style hair as well, you can really look the part. Keep in mind that, in 1912, you almost certainly would have been wearing a corset – even most suffragettes wore corsets. The shape of the corset would change your silhouette, how your clothes fit, and how you stand and move. The ideal figure of the period had slim, sleek hips and a low, gently rounded mono-bosom, assisted if need be by ruffles and padding. The high, out-thrust shape of a modern bra looks incongruous with these styles – you might consider a sports bra or a bra-top camisole to get a more period look.

Trends & Changing Fashions

Day Dresses

Separates (skirts, blouses, shirtwaists, jackets)

  • 1912 Project: Separates, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links.
  • Arizona Statehood Centennial Outfit (dress diary), by Jordan Newhouse, at her blog Heavenly Princess. Details about creating a reproduction 1912 ensemble, including shirtwaist, skirt, princess slip, and more, comparing research to reproduction pieces.
  • 1912-14 Custom Drafted Skirt in 3, 5 and 7 Gores, from a primary source, at Tudor Links.
  • *A Nineteen Teens Pleated Skirt, by Katherine C-G at Koshka-the-Cat. A straightforward tutorial for creating a skirt of the fuller style that became popular following the trend for slim “hobble” skirts, circa 1911-1913. This style is slightly later than most skirt shapes of 1912, but ladies’ suit styles were sometimes shaped like this. The construction information here is very straightforward and, since the skirt is simply cut in rectangles, it can be made without a pattern, by a relatively inexperienced sewist.
  • Two Edwardian Blouses with Cutting Layouts, c. 1910, from a primary source, at Tudor Links.
  • A Nineteen Teens Middy Blouse, by Katherine C-G at Koshka-the-Cat. Like the skirt at the same site, this design is a couple years too late for 1912, but it is nevertheless a good resource, with many detailed construction photographs informative about creating blouses and shirtwaists for the period.

Formalwear (dinner dresses, evening gowns)

Shoes & Hosiery

  • 1912: Accessories and Jewelry, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, which includes shoes and hosiery as well.
  • Edwardian Shoe Candy, an article by Lauren Reeser at American Duchess, with information and images about 1900s and 1910s shoes.

Hats & Other Millinery

Outerwear

Accessories & Jewelry

  • 1912: Accessories and Jewelry, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, which includes shoes and hosiery as well.
  • Help Bling Me, by Kendra Van Cleave at Demode. An article about selecting jewelry to wear with a reproduction 1912 evening gown.

Corsets & Brassieres

  • 1912 Project: High Bust Corsets, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links of/about corsetry, focusing on corsets cut higher than the nearly underbust shape that was the most common style. This less common style provided more support for the bust than an underbust corset and brassiere or camisole.
  • *1911 – All the Steps in One Place by Jo at Bridges on the Body, a table of contents for her detailed series on constructing a reproduction c1911 corset, including extensive fitting information.
  • *1910s Corset Pattern and Instructions by Jennifer Thompson at Festive Attyre, republished for all to see after having been originally published in two parts by the author at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, a fee-based subscription site.

Undergarments

Hair & Cosmetics

  • 1912 Project: Hair and Millinery, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links.
  • Gibson Tuck by Samantha at Locks of Elegance, a photo tutorial for a simple hairstyle popular just before and during the period in question.

Working Clothes (farming, heavy labor, servants)

  • 1912 Project: Hard at Work, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, specifically of people in working clothes of some variety.

High Fashion / Haute Couture

  • Les Createurs de la Mode (1910) by L. Roger-Miles, a digitized primary source book in French about the process of buying ladies’ fashions from Parisian couturiers, including many images, available free for download at the Internet Archive.
  • Les Robes de Paul Poiret (1908) by Paul Iribe and Paul Poiret, a digitized primary source book in French filled with couture gown designs by Paul Poiret, the height of fashion.

The Realities of Buying, Making, & Wearing Clothes

Dressmaking Manuals & Guides (see also Sewing in 1912)

Note: if it has an asterisk*, there is a tutorial, how-to, or pattern on the other side of the link.

Back to the site index for Researching 1912 Clothes and Making or Faking Them.

Overview of Clothing circa 1912

1912 Bookshelf & Influences by Marion McNealy, an article at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, the Costumer’s Companion, a fee-based subscription site.

Catalog no. 124 (1912) by Sears, Roebuck, and Company. A complete digitized copy of the 1912 Sears Catalog, over a thousand pages long and full of wonderful information. Much of the merchandise was affordable for farmers, working families, and others without much disposable income.

For a Sideways Bit of Perspective and Possibly Insight…

Here are several digitized primary source books about the history of costume – written around 1912. Early works on the history of costume are full of misinformation (often including potentially offensive errors and generalizations), but they can provide insight into the prevailing ideas of the day about clothing, fashion, ideals of beauty, and “common sense.”

Back to the site index for Researching 1912 Clothes and Making or Faking Them.

General History of the United States and So Forth circa 1912

Clothes only make so much sense out of context – so this is the land of historical context. Or, for an immersive experience, watching the first series (season) of Downton Abbey provides a crash course in all things 1912 (albeit of a British persuasion). Here are some interesting links for a bit of background information on the period, particularly in regards to New Mexico:

Timelines of New Mexico and world history, before and after NM statehood in 1912, at the website of the Historical Society of New Mexico.

Illustrated history of New Mexico (1912) by Benjamin Maurice Read, a digitized primary source book, available free for download at the Internet Archive.

Representative New Mexicans : the national newspaper reference book of the new state containing photographs and biographies of over four hundred men residents of New Mexico (1912), a digitized primary source book, available free for download at the Internet Archive.

Back to the site index for Researching 1912 Clothes and Making or Faking Them.