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Fabulous Fashions

Oct 25, 2015
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FF-1890s_Aaron Gil_1bAt one point in time, from the mid-1890s, women donned, worked, entertained, and paraded in dresses with sleeves in the shape of a leg of lamb. Leg o’ mutton sleeves they were, and apparently the size of the top-leg part of the sleeve continued to balloon in size until finally falling out of favor around 1906.

Not long afterwards, fashion released the bonds of corsets and the standard hourglass figure and embraced the loose-fitting and the tubular style of the 1920s. Wool and cotton were the most popular fabrics, but this decade also saw the common use of rayon and mechanisms for easier dressing and disrobing, such as snaps, metal hooks and eyes, zippers, and snaps.

 

Chiffon and crepe dress with a dropped waist and beading, 1920s. Gift of the Beth Boadway Estate (Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History; Costume and Textile Collection, 93.3.8). Photo by Aaron Gil, Fotonuova.com.

Chiffon and crepe dress with a dropped waist and beading, 1920s. Gift of the Beth Boadway Estate (Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History; Costume and Textile Collection, 93.3.8). Photo by Aaron Gil, Fotonuova.com.

 

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Then within three decades, fashion once again cinched waistlines and accented breasts, but rather than fashion being a one-note dictum that women adhered to whether or not they liked—or their body looked good in—the current style, the 1950s began to allow some freedoms. Many women wore dresses with no waistline, which were considered sleek and elegant (think: Coco Chanel) and a different dress or outfit was not needed three or five times throughout the day.

 

Taffeta and lace cocktail gown with an illusion bodice, 1950s. Worn by Leonora Curtin Paloheimo (Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History; FCP Collection, 2000.019.0189). Photo by Aaron Gil, Fotonuova.com.

Taffeta and lace cocktail gown with an illusion bodice, 1950s. Worn by Leonora Curtin Paloheimo (Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History; FCP Collection, 2000.019.0189). Photo by Aaron Gil, Fotonuova.com.

 

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The Pasadena Museum of History presents “Fabulous Fashion, Decades of Change: 1890s, 1920s & 1950s,” highlighting women’s clothing—what was worn from morning ’til night—with 40 garments from the Museum’s Costume and Textile Collection.

In selecting the items for display, the curatorial team of Elizabeth Smalley, M.D. and Suzanne Ehrmann, with assistance from Susan Stevens and Roberta Dumas, made sure to include all the garments a properly-dressed woman would have found necessary throughout a day and night in each of the featured decades. Nightgowns, day dresses, cocktail dresses, evening wear, outerwear, and accessories are on view along with varied objects and photographs illustrating the activities and lifestyle of the garments’ wearers. (PasadenaHistory.org)

A period etiquette book describes no less than twenty-four essential outfits required for various activities in a woman’s day!

 

Fabulous Fashions
Now through Feb. 14, 2016
Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St. at Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena 91103
Tickets: General Admission: $7; free for children under 12 and Museum members
For more info, visit Pasadenahistory.org
Or call 1.626.577.1660.

 

Two-piece silk damask evening gown with leg-of-mutton sleeves, 1890s. Gift of Elizabeth Pedder (Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History; Costume and Textile Collection, 95.15.20a/b). Photo by Aaron Gil, Fotonuova.com.

Two-piece silk damask evening gown with leg-of-mutton sleeves, 1890s. Gift of Elizabeth Pedder (Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History; Costume and Textile Collection, 95.15.20a/b). Photo by Aaron Gil, Fotonuova.com.

 

For some, women’s fashions were a source for humor, probably because it was written by men who did not have to be laced into vise-like corsets. While researching women’s fashions during these decades, we came upon a familiar name: The Pacific Union Club.

 

Punch-inside-page

 

The Pacific Union Club is a gentlemen’s club in San Francisco. Right across the street is the famous Fairmont Hotel and both are located within the prime real estate of Nob Hill. (Incidentally, these two edifices were the only two in the area to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire.)

Adair Lara, a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer wrote “The Chosen Few” in 2004, sharing what tidbits she could coax out of sources.

“PU is the pre-eminent club,” said Sally Debenham, a San Francisco socialite. “The crème de la crème. Big, big heavy players in the PU Club. They take it seriously, the little darlings.”

The Pacific-Union’s prohibitions have been characterized, said Merla Zellerbach, as “no women, no Democrats, no reporters.”

The Club is where we attended a cousin’s wedding reception almost two decades ago—500 of his closest friends, he told us sarcastically. Walking up the front walkway, our mother, a San Franciscan native, had to temper her ire. She remembers vividly stories about this exclusive club in which her beloved grandfather was a member—and still grows heated about its no-women policy. (Supposedly there are now ladies’ visiting days or luncheon hours, though the ladies still have to come through the back door.)

We found a humorous illustration about women’s sleeves—we’re assuming in reaction to the horribly named mutton sleeve…

Punch-1895

With further digging, we found that this illustration is from Punch,

…a British weekly magazine of humour and satire established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. Historically, it was most influential in the 1840s and 1850s, when it helped to coin the term “cartoon” in its modern sense as a humorous illustration. (Wikipedia_Punch)

As we have to move on to other stories for this week’s edition, we were not able to find out why or how a British magazine came to be printed by Stanford University or connects with the Pacific Union Club, but we shall connect the dots at some point…

 

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