Sunday, 6 March 2011

Creating a 1920s weekend wardrobe

So last weekend I went to an event set in 1924 in a fabulous big house in Norfolk. The easiest way to describe the event is '1920s murder mystery with added fear' - basically me and my friends go to these things to flaunt around in fabulous period outfits and also scare each other witless while solving a mystery.

I love incorporating vintage into my day to day dress, but that's usually a mix of modern and vintage. Weekends like this are for me an opportunity to wear authentic outfits from head to toe and really feel what it was like to dress in that era. This includes everything from underwear, nightwear to luggage.

Well, I had great fun, both going to the event and putting together the wardrobe, so I thought I would share the process here.

Unfortunately I was so busy having fun that I only had time to get photo's of a couple of my outfits, so some of the dresses are illustrated just on their hangers. All of the vintage items I'll go into more detail about in the future.

So, what makes up a 1920s lower-upper class lady's weekend away wardrobe?

First up: luggage. I own a gorgeous old portmanteau, bought in Camden Market for a snip some years ago.

Its of a slightly different design to the drawer style ones that seem to be more common, but I suspect this works better for fitting in dresses rather than men's suits. Here it is packed, including my Victorian jewelery box and a (not vintage) box to hold vintage style face creams etc

The hats are carried in a vintage hat box:

Second consideration is underwear. From many descriptions of 1920s clothes, you would think that twenties undergarments are terribly simple. Whilst simpler than previous eras, this is not entirely true. The key issue is how to keep your stockings up, and how to control your bust. While you usually hear about skinny young girls with boy like figures wearing minimal underwear, clearly not all women at the time were shaped like that, and I'm certainly not now. A lot of women in the twenties did wear corsetry and serious support wear, it was just designed hold you in and to flatten instead of boost your bust. The classic example of this is a favourite of the time, the Symington Side Lacer, which from the pictures looks a rather formidable garment, but I have never been able to track one down.

I own a 1930s corselette which works well, but this weekend I actually wore my 1940s style What Katie Did corselette, as it is considerably more comfortable, and holds my stockings up well.

I also own an original, terribly pretty lace 1920s bra, but having no under-wiring and being a very basic design, provides no support at all, so I wear it with a modern bra of the same colour to give extra support. Annoyingly, the ribbon strap broke on the original bra this weekend, so now needs some mending.

Beyond that, I have a choice of original french knickers, camibockers and directoire knickers to wear (admittedly with modern pants underneath to preserve them), proper seamed stockings, and then of course a shift in cream and a shift in black (vital for underneath sheer 1920s dresses).

Beyond that, I essentially had six outfits to wear over the weekend.

Outfit 1: Travelling

I arrived in what I would have traveled in. I had made a new coat based on a 1920s pattern, worn with black lace up shoes (modern but the right style and heel), black gloves and the black piped hat I showed in a previous post. I was concerned about wearing the hat; it's delicate, and I squeezed it on over a blonde bob wig, plus it was raining when we arrived and for most of the weekend. Luckily I had also brought along a modern reproduction black cloche I wore the rest of the weekend, that I didn't need to worry about damaging. I also had a (modern) plain little black satin handbag, string of (fake) pearls, and an original cream and black 1930s bakelite bracelet.

Hats and gloves are so important to an authentic twenties outfit. No self respecting lady would have gone outside without hat and gloves on: it was a matter of propriety, and little hang over from the Victorian era that didn't really die out until the 1960s.

Underneath was this original 1920s day dress; one of my favourite purchases but one I find hard to adapt for contempory wear. I also wore this as my day dress on Sunday.

Outfit 2: Friday night dinner

After arriving and having welcoming drinks, we dressed for dinner. The dress here is actually a modern Monsoon dress, found in a charity shop. I can't afford an original beaded twenties dress, much as I wish I could! The original vintage items were all in the accessories, my favourite parts being the shawl and long white kid leather gloves. The shawl is probably actually 1950s, but it is large enough and beautifully embroidered to give the impression of those amazing shawls that were so popular at the time. The leather gloves came from a stall in Islington's Camden passage, and I was terrified of ruining them. Jewelery is my mum's 1970's diamante (as I was being aristocratic, I wanted to pretend I was wearing the family jewels!) with a string of diamante around my head as part of the feathered head dress. The outfit was finished off with cream satin 1980s shoes that looked the part and an original little cream beaded handbag.

Outfit 3: sleepwear

Sleepwear is important because, due to the 'scary' nature of the event, a lot of the spooky things happen at night, so I needed to be authentic looking, decent and warm. I went for a (not original) cream satin long negligee and a white cotton dressing gown with a slight Kimono look to it and a grey art deco-ish pattern. I dream of buying a proper full Kimono for a more authentic look!

Outfit 4: The morning stroll

We went for a bit of a stroll round the grounds in the morning. It was very muddy, so I wasn't wearing anything original, so this outfit consisted of wool tights, a mid-calf pleated tweed skirt, cream wide collared blouse and a long thick wool light brown cardigan. The most vintage part of the outfit was probably the boots: I have no idea their actual age, but I have some lovely brown leather ankle boots that look exactly like originals. A string of beads completed the outfit, which was then worn with the coat, gloves and hat mentioned before.

Outfit 5:Afternoon tea

Original 1920s chiffon flowery dress (rather see though so needed the cream shift underneath), with red suede matching shoes, and a dark brown long cardigan. Apologies that I got no photograph of this outfit (I didn't wear it for long) but this is how the dress looks on the hanger to give you an idea:

Outfit 6: Saturday dinner

Original 1920's dark red crepe de chine dress with beading detail round the neckline, worn with long black satin gloves, black shawl, black beaded bag and red shoes (none original), plus marcatite jewelery; again I only have a shot of the dress on the hanger here:

I had also taken along a variety of 'spare' bits of clothing in case I changed my mind about what to wear. At past occasions, I have also added morning dresses to the mix, but you get to the point when you wonder how ladies had enough time in the day for all these changes of clothes!

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