Elise’s gift: the mannish cape

Last week, out of Elise’s gifts, I showed you an exceedingly quirky and romantic and feminine leaf-green velvet evening wrap – a perfect illustration of the mid-late 1930s Medieval Revival.  This week I’m sticking with velvet evening wraps, but going to the other extreme, to illustrate another fashion trend of the late 1930s – the masculine look for women.  Thus an almost severe and mannish evening cape:

The cape

You’ve already had a sneak-peek at this rather masculine monochrome evening cape: I wore it to the premier of Porcelaintoy’s Monsters.

Me in the cape at the launch

I’m afraid the cape hasn’t photographed very well – the contrast of the black velvet and the white satin lining was just too tricky to balance.  I’ll try my best to tell you about it in great detail to fill in the gaps.

Quilted white satin lining, black velvet outer

Like most of the textiles Elise gave me, this cape dates from the late 1930s, as shown by the materials used and the broad shoulders.

Classic late 1930s broad shoulders

The cape outer is black velvet – almost certainly rayon.  It’s fully lined in quilted rayon sateen.

The quilted lining

The lining swings loose from the velvet outer at the hem, allowing the inside construction to be inspected.  The quilted is backed in some soft of fill – definitely synthetic, but I’m not sure what it is.  The fill is foxing badly with age.

The foxed and stained quilt backing

While the lining is relatively cheap, and the outer velvet is probably rayon, a bit of luxury has been added in the cloaks hood with a silk satin lining.

The lux silk satin hood lining

It makes sense that valuable fabric would be used where it makes the most effect: the hood lining is always visible, whether it is hanging down the back, or pulled up, with the silk framing the face.

The hood hanging down the back of the jacket, with glimpses of the silk lining

For all its severity and masculinity, this cape does have one distinct similarity to the leaf-green jacket: the shoulders are gathered in exactly the same way.  The extra stitching controls the fullness, and padding and structure underneath the gathers create the fashionable broad-shouldered effect.

Gathered and controlled cape fullness

The only other decorative detail in the construction of the cape is the double-buttons that fasten the front of the cloak, a feature common to male evening cloaks of the early 20th century.

The double buttons and loops on the front of the cloak

The cape is a commercial garment, as shown by the label in the neck, which still has the original owner’s initials pencilled on it!  The label could be the garment maker, or the department store that sold the garment.

The label. MBH? MRH?

Despite its age, and unlike most of the other garments, the cape is still quite robust and eminently wearable.  I’m not sure if it will get many more outings – I do want to keep it in perfect condition.  I did feel quite fabulous and glamourous in it!  I hope MBH, whoever she was, felt the same when she wore it.

Wearing the jacket

Terminology: What is a cloche?

First, have you seen that there is a ‘bonus’ post this week?  Yep, the ‘Deco Echo’ blouse from my Art Deco wardrobe is being featured over on the Sew Weekly.  I’ll be posting a tutorial on how to make it on Sat or Sun.

Alright, turning our attention to the (suitable Art Deco) term of the week.  What is a cloche?

Cloche, Bijou, circa 1925, Plaited horsehair with silk ribbon embroidery, LACMA

A cloche is a tight fitting hat which comes low over the forehead and at the nape of the neck.  It can have a brim or be brimless.

The word comes from the French for bell.  The first known use for a hat was in 1882.

Cloche’s are famous as the hat of the 1920s.  Their sleek styling matched the shorter, sleeker fashions, and the new bobbed hairstyles allowed a low, tight fitting hat.

Cloche, Lichtenstein Label, mid-1920, Balibuntal straw with grosgrain ribbon, LACMA

1880s origin or not, the cloche hats didn’t pick up steam until the 20th century.  A 1908 fashion article credits the invention of the cloche or ‘mushroom’ hat to Mademoiselle Cecile Sorrell “The Queen of French Fashion”.  Her innovation must have been quite popular, as bridesmaids were wearing it in New Zealand that very year.  Despite her promise to introduce a shape of hat that would make the cloche obsolete, the style was on the rise.  In 1910 hats are describes as being “quite cloche in shape”.  In 1917 they were considered a type of toque along with turban and mandarin shapes.  By 1919 they were one of the leading shapes, though the wide-brimmed portrait hat still reigned supreme.

Cloche, Jardine hats, 1917, LACMA

The early cloche though, is not at all what we envision a cloche hat as looking like.  It had a deep crown pulled low, but also a wide picture brim.  A 1907 article describes it in depth:

Evening Post, 14 September 1907, Page 11

A 1917 ad for ‘full dress’ race wear describes a “A large natural leghorn hat, underlined with black tulle, high cloche crown and drape of shell pink silk velvet; quaint flowers in pastel shades are the sole trimming. A 1918 ad describes the shape as ‘high crowned’.

An early cloche - Ohinemuri Gazette, Volume XXXII, Issue 4218, 21 January 1921, Page 4

Throughout the 1920s the brim receded, so that the cloche became the deep, small brimmed hat that the name now refers to.

In addition to the decreasing brim, the cloche went through a number of style changes throughout the 1920s.  In 1926 the fashion was for the brim to be turned up (image above). A 1929 story on the “Popularity of the Cloche Hat” extolls its virtues “for their is nothing that suits a woman so well as this type of hat, and mentions “the many types of cloche’, including the new cloche – trimmed round the sides with laurel leaves (sounds like my kind of hat!).

In addition to different styles of cloches, one could get cloches in a wide variety of materials: felt, fabric, straw, and 1928 even saw a brief fashion for wooden cloches – extremely expensive wooden cloches at 10 pounds a hat (though Mmlle Sorrell had not thought 40 pounds too much in 1908!).  Another fancy was for matching cloche hats and scarves – quite the thing in 1931.

A linen & silk cloche, ca. 1923, French, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Whatever they were made of, the cloche was the hat of the 1920s.  A 1927 fashion article out of England (as were  most fashion articles in early 20th century New Zealand) expresses boredom with the ‘ubiquitous cloché’.

Ubiquitous they may have been, but they weren’t entirely accepted.  As late as 1925 they were seen as being a bit risque – the attire of the fast modern woman (one who smoked!), as this cheeky story illustrates.

A fast woman of the '20s, cloche on head and cigarette in hand

And not everyone was happy with clochés from an aesthetic perspective.  A 1931 fashion article bewailed the effects of brimless hats that do not shield the face from the sun, and the unflattering effect of a bare brow.

By 1935 the heyday of the cloche was over.  A fashion article warns that only “an extremely chic woman can look smart in a cloche” , and promotes little hats pushed well back on the head to show the hairline – quite different from the pulled-down, forehead hiding cloche.

Still, having been introduced along with shorter hair, and being so suitable for modern lifestyles (and windy climates!) the cloche would never go away entirely, and has fashionable throughout the 20th century in different guises.

Cloche, Hattie-Carnegie, circa-1944, Grosgrain ribbon & feather trim, LACMA

Cloche, Bergdorf Goodman, United-States, circa-1960, Wool knit jersey, LACMA


Merriam-Webster Online

O’Hara, Georgina, The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s.  London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.  1986


Review: Folkwear #210 Armistice Blouse

In designing costumes for the Home Show, I consulted hundreds of photographs of New Zealanders during WWI, and noticed that many women were wearing blouses similar to the classic 1910s blouse pattern: Folkwear #210, the Armistice Blouse.  I’ve had this pattern for years, but never used it.  Perfect opportunity to make it up for Maggie!

(apologies in advance for the dreadful photographs of the pattern.  I spent all day hunting for it, and finally found it once the light was gone.  I’ll take better ones tomorrow and replace them)

What it is:

The pattern

A pattern based on blouses from 1915-1919.  It’s not clear if the pattern is based on an extent blouse, extent patterns, or just a sampling of the most common blouse characteristics from this period, though I really suspect from making it up that it isn’t 100% historically accurate.

The description of the blouse on the pattern

It comes with options for a drawn-thread-work front, or a pintucked front, and for lace trim.

My version:

My version is made of a hard-wearing, washable black silk with a slight slub (I made Mr D a shirt out of this fabric before he was Mr D, some 7 years ago, and it’s still going strong, so I know the fabric is robust).  Too add drama and a sense of change when Maggie’s maid apron comes off, I did the front panel out of a contrast fabric: an ivory cotton with woven in stripes and a faint floral pattern.  It’s trimmed with a delicate cotton inset lace on the collar.

I did the front piece without drawn thread work or pintucks: both are too fussy and delicate for theatre wear.  I did, however, do three lines of inset lace, just to give some sense of detail and handwork, and to tie in the lace trim around the collar.   Rather than having button fastenings down one edge of the front panel, I sewed the front  closed at both edges, leaving it open on the PR edge under the collar, where it fastens with snaps (domes).  It’s still easy to pull on and off over the head, but gets rid of the tricky front fastenings.

The front panel, with fastening hidden under the PR collar edge

I also added a pleat to the centre back, to give Rowena a bit more stretch and ease across the back as she hangs out laundry and dusts onstage.  For such a simple thing, I’m inordinately pleased with it.

The clever centre back inverse box pleat

I also omitted the turn-back cuffs (see ‘The Ugly’ for why), and raised the neckline 2″, to fit with the conservative fashions Maggie would have worn.

As this is for theatre and needs to be robust (and sewn by me, and thus obsessively finished) all the interior seams except the shoulder seam are finished with French seams.  The shoulder seams are bound with bias tape.  Nothing to fray or catch anywhere!

The Good:

The pattern is relatively simple, relatively historically accurate, but also wearable in a modern setting, easy to adapt to different looks, and attractive.  And it really does represent a very common style for the era.  The instructions are reasonably historically accurate, but not quite exact.

The Bad:

There are four five things that are difficult/tricky/irritating or just wrong about this pattern: The instructions, the front facing, the sizing gradients, and the sleeves.

First, the instructions aren’t always clear.  It’s tricky to figure out what the options are and what pieces to use and omit for each option, and there aren’t illustrations for Option A.  Once you do figure that out, the sewing instructions are a bit vague and confusing.  I did a lot of unpicking, grumbling, and pinning pieces on Isabella to figure out how they went together.  Once you figure it out, the blouse is really easy, but the technical writing on the pattern leaves a bit to be desired.

Second, the pattern has you cut a long, narrow, barely curved front facing, which you then finish along one edge with a narrow hem or a back fold, and stitch down to the main blouse fabric.  This is ridiculous.  It’s tricky to cut, tricky to hem or back fold, tricky to install, a pain to sew down,and doesn’t look that good in the end.  A piece of bias tape fulfills the same function much better, with much less work, and it’s already basically finished.  And yes, I’ve seen bias tapes and twill tapes used for similar functions in 19teens garments, so my option is historically accurate.

The facing that should really just be a bit of flat fold bias binding

Third, the sizing gradiations are ludicrous.  In many places they are so slight as to be well within the slight variations that will happen with cutting, meaning that the smaller sizes are a little big, and the bigger sizes not big enough (something other people who have made this have noticed).

The SA given is 1/2", so you can see how tiny those gradients are

For the fourth issue, as other reviewers have pointed out, the sleeves on the pattern are ridiculously too long.  I measure all the primary measurements on my patterns against my measurements (or, in this case, the measurements of the actor) before cutting as a matter of habit, so it wasn’t a problem – I immediately noticed the sleeves were 2″ longer than Rowena’s shoulder to wrist measurement, and did my adjustments before I cut.  I have longer arms, so the sleeves are 1 1/2″ too long on me.  I can’t imagine that there are many people who would find the pattern sleeves to be the right length as they are.

My shortened sleeves pattern

Finally, for the fifth issue, which I remembered after writing the rest of the review, there is the little problem of the waist tie.  Folkwear has you cut turn, and sew, an incredible long and thin tie.  So annoying!  Especially when you go to sew it on and realise that it is a good 15″ longer than it should be (after all, you don’t want the front bow hanging to your knees), meaning that you either have to trim from either end, or cut from one end and sew it with the seam in it off-centre (which is what I chose to do).  And then you look at their pattern illustration, and realise that they didn’t bother doing the waist-tie for their blouse – they used a piece of twill tape!  And there is no way they cut it as long as the tie pattern piece.  So annoying!  The instructions should definitely give using a piece of twill tape or ribbon as an option.

The Ugly:

I really don’t like the turn-back cuffs.  They are odd, tricky to do, and don’t look right to me.  I haven’t found many extent examples or historical patterns with this cuff either, so I omitted them from my pattern.  Easy to do.

View B with the turned-back cuffs (no illustration of View A is given)

The Verdict: 

A good, easy, basic 19teens blouse pattern, with a few flaws.  Know the flaws, know to watch out for them, and it’s good as gold.

 7 out of 10

Meet the Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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