If the fit and flare of the Twenties makes your heart flutter, look here for suggestions on creating a 1920s capsule wardrobe. As I’ve stated in an earlier article, the concept of the capsule wardrobe didn’t really appear until the late Thirties. Even though we’re still more than ten years ahead of the times, we can still use Twenties clothing to create a great versatile wardrobe.
You might think, after looking at various photos of 1920s clothing, that women wore nothing other than one-piece dresses. This is simply not true, which is a good thing for those who want to incorporate a 1920s capsule wardrobe into their costuming. Suits appeared at the business office, for various sporting events, and at the train station. They came into use quite often during travel because they made it possible to pack few clothes for many different days and occasion. Surprise! The 1920s capsule wardrobe at work during vacation and travel.
First, choose a suit as a foundation. It can be classic or faddish in styling, whichever you prefer. Either the suit above or the one below would prove a great starting point for a beginning 1920s wardrobe. All these photos date from 1922-1924, so they fit well together without trying to emulate the teenager “flapper” look. These are the clothes that real women wore in the Twenties before 1925.
For a 1920s capsule wardrobe you only need one suit jacket to start with. The top example is more flirty and fun, while the bottom suit is more businesslike. Its jacket would work with a variety of skirts. Choose one that fits its intended wear. The best reconstruction in the world won’t work if you choose an after-five dress and all you attend are afternoon tea parties! You will look just a bit out of place wherever you go.
So, assuming that you plan to live during the daylight hours, a simple suit gives you a matching jacket and skirt. You could choose any color, from peach to dark brown, or from dark green to blue. Make it a color you like, and that you can build a wardrobe around. Remember, it’s hard to match pinks and reds with like colors unless the fabrics were designed to go together. It can be done, but it takes time, patience, and fabric swatches.
This skirt blends well with the double breasted jacket. Or, if you prefer, here’s another, more dressy option.
The skirt with side draperies on the bottom is actually much easier to construct than the tailored skirt above it. Either one would look nice as part of a small 1920s capsule wardrobe.
Of course, once you have your skirts all determined, you need blouses to finish the outfit. A 1920s capsule wardrobe shines here. Blouses and tops were popular, with distinctive designs and folksy embroidery. Here are some examples:
With one suit, one extra skirt, and three blouses you have a total of six outfits, worn with or without the jacket. Because the jacket likely won’t work with all the tops you select, you can count on six ensembles instead of nine. Add a simple white silky top without too much decoration and the draped skirt above, and you have a nice dressy combination as well.
Once you have six workable pieces, enough to take up a few inches in your closet but no more, you can evaluate your new wardrobe and decide what additional pieces you need. In the next article I’ll give examples of add-ons that will take your small 1920s capsule wardrobe to the next level. Plus, it will become even more versatile.
You’re interested in building a Titanic-era wardrobe. But you have limited funds for costuming, limited space, or both. What to do? First, if you haven’t, read about buiding a very basic 1910s Capsule Wardrobe here. Then come back and we’ll continue building your collection with 1910s wardrobe accessories.
If you’re still in the planning stages, that’s okay. Planning is a lot of the fun. Creating it is the hard part, especially if you sew the set yourself. You might even put the entire ensemble together in your mind and then decide it’s not what you want. That’s okay too. But if you do decide that 1912 is your year, then you’ll need a few pieces to wear. Then you will need some extras.
Adding The Extras
Currently, if you are building an historic capsule wardrobe, you have two skirts, three blouses, and a jacket. That’s enough for a dozen different outfits. But how do you make it a bit more distinctive? The same way the original wearers did. You use accessories of various kinds.
Wear a girdle
One possible accessory lies in the belt or girdle. Made from velvet, fabric or ribbon, and sometimes trimmed with fur, these belts made a statement. A draped belt could be decorated with an eye-catching ribbon rosette. Or perhaps you have a bit of silk and some dark cord. Make the belt from the silk, stiffened and lined to hold its shape, and then use cord or braid to embroider a design like the one in the upper left corner of the illustration at the top of this post.
Your belt can be drapey or tailored. Let it match your outfit and your personal style.
Carry a handbag
These are illustrations from 1912. Make a purse with a little metal closure. Or choose one that folds over like No. 90 above. Perhaps you’d like to carry a miser’s purse like the ones in the bottom row. They are a bit more difficult to keep hold of, but they are classic and were still in use at the beginning of the Twentieth century. Basically they are made of two pieces that look somewhat like an hourglass or a dumbbell. Rounded at both ends and thinner in the middle. The middle part has an opening, which you can barely see in the photo on the right. Two rings hold everything secure at the top of each larger part so that nothing falls out. You move the rings back and forth to access the items.
Add a Wrap
You may be chilly. Or you might want a knitted or crocheted extra layer for effect. To make your own shawls, sweaters, and crocheted jackets, look no further than the 1915 Beehive Woolcraft book, available from the Antique Pattern Library. This particular illustration, and the instructions, are in PDF number 2, although you will want PDF 1 for basic instructions, yarn sizes, and so on. PDF 3 includes socks and gloves for the 1910-1016 period. Frankly, they’re all great. Get them all.
You might need to do some conversions for sizing or different sized yarn, but these patterns are definitely doable. And you’ll look great in them! (The first illustration, top left, is a man’s vest. Everything else is for women’s sizing of the period.)
Dress Up That Blouse
With a little creativity and some time, you can make collars and jabots to dress up the blouses you make. Add a few of these, and it doesn’t matter how plain your waists. With a little ruffle magic you can transform the everyday suit shirt into a great afternoon ruffly visitation creation.
Special Occasion Magic
Everything listed above is for everyday wear. Add a couple special belts, or that amazing belt and sash combination in the belt photo, and you have some interesting alternatives for your six basic pieces. Then if you continue with changable collars or jabots, a couple purses, and a shawl along with a sweater, you have a gorgeous and complete wardrobe for most occasions.
But what if you do all this, you find that you love it, and you have a special occasion? Although these can’t be actually considered 1910s wardrobe accessories, they are wardrobe extenders. But like masquerade clothing, you should only include them if you have the spare cash for the cost and if you think you will get some use out of them.
Splish splashing away
If you live near the seaside, you might find yourself with an invitation to the beach. These dresses usually consisted of a top, short bloomers, and a skirt over the bloomers. Often everything buttoned into a waistband on the blouse. These were most often made of a light wool. Cotton clings when wet, and a twill gets dangerously heavy. If you’d rather start with a real pattern, look at Folkwear’s Bathing Costume. Folkwear drafted the pattern from an 1890 original, but it will give you somewhere to start along with “current” illustrations.
Here we go a-motoring
These are automobile coats. You don’t mean to say that you’ve been in an automobile without one! The dust! The wind! How did you ever manage?
The automobile coat kept the dust and grime from the road off your clothes. It also kept you a bit warmer in a car that may be a bit drafty. While in no way a necessity, if you plan to go motoring to your next picnic, you might want to consider one of these. It will ensure that you arrive at your destination clean, tidy, and serene.
That special evening
Finally, we get to the clothing that most people think of when they envision the Titanic Era. This is a formal evening gown that exudes drapery and class. Compared with everything else in your wardrobe you can see that this stands out like an ostrich. However, if you need something like this, nothing else you have already will do. So purchase the net or the sheer sparkly fabric and have a ball. You will be gorgeous.
The End, or the Beginning
As you can see, six pieces of clothing are only the beginning to wardrobe prep if you want them to be. You can add all kinds of things to add spice, and even include special occasion clothing to round out your mix. Or you can take your six pieces and add some more utilitarian items to your stash to round out your wardrobe.
An entirely different approach
This is called the Five Dollar Wardrobe. In 1912, with five dollars and knowledge of how to use a sewing machine, you could have a servicable set of clothing like this. The assortment includes one suit with a blouse. The jacket was lined with flannel and a fake silk. The blouse had a kimono shoulder and was made from white silk. Moving left to right, the woman holding the teacup wears a house dress. It uses hand-embroidered eyelets down the front as decoration, and scallops made from piping created out of the dress material. The black and white checked dress that comes next actually cost three times what the house dress cost. The dress trim used cross stitch in black to x out some of the white lines and form a border. The last dress pictured, made from white net, functions as a party dress. It cost less than anything in the room other than the house dress.
You can see that this is a viable option for wardrobe planning. However, you get four outfits instead of twelve with an investment of six pieces. Five outfits if you wore the blouse and skirt without the jacket. Adding an extra blouse would give you two more outfits. These dresses, while lovely, do not mix and match on their own. They’re designed to appear together. Often they are created in one piece.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into 1912 clothing planning. Next we’ll take a little jump in years and plan a Twenties Capsule Wardrobe.
Last time, we talked about the concept of the original capsule wardrobe. You can find that post here. If you love the time of the Titanic through the First World War, you can create a stunning 1910s capsule wardrobe. Your collection can be as authentic or as inauthentic as you like.
Fashion changed quite a bit in the middle of the Teens. Before 1915 your 1910s capsule wardrobe will look like the fashions of the Titanic or Downton Abbey. After 1915, however, your wardrobe will look more like a World War I recruitment poster. Make a skirt and blouse from white, with simple lines, and you have a Suffragette costume using either half of the decade.
Suppose you want a wardrobe that emphasizes the first half of the decade. All the photos in this post come from 1912 and 1913 Good Housekeeping fashion pages. Unless you have access to a fashion historian on a regular basis, anything you create in the 1912-13 two-year span will work well together.
First The Foundation
For these outfits you will probably need a foundation garment like a 1910s corset. If you don’t, your shape is amazing and I wish I was still built like that. I need a corset.
You can find illustrations of corset patterns and draft them up to your size. I don’t have that kind of patience for fitting a corset, so I bought the 1913-1921 corset from Scroop Patterns. It’s close enough to 1912 for what I need, and it goes through 1920, which is one of my greatest loves in fashion history. So it matches almost everything I’d need in a corset.
Creating Your Capsule
Let’s start with a suit. That was a very 1912 thing to wear, and it provides a great foundation for the rest of your wardrobe. So you select one of the two suits in the top illustration. They are both attractive, flattering, and they have great skirts with them.
Now you have your suit. Skirt and Jacket. Choose a color. Let’s say dark blue. You, of course, can choose any color you like. Depending on the season, black, green, brown, maroon, unbleached linen, and yellow were all popular colors. But we are going to start with a dark conservative blue. For one reason, it’s easy to find fabrics to match or blend with it. We have one jacket, and one skirt.
Next we need to add another skirt to add some variety. It should be in a color to harmonize with the jacket, either another shade of blue or the same shade as before. It can be the same or a different fabric.
The dark skirt pictured here would be perfect. It has an easy construction but looks very different from either of the suit skirts above.
Now that we have two bottoms we need some tops. Any of the blouses pictured in the illustration above would work, but the two white blouses offer more versatility. Both of them would fit under one of the suit jackets. Let’s keep looking.
This illustration offers five different blouses, and four of them would work. You could include the embroidery, or not. The needlework does finish the blouses nicely, but it might make them a bit too memorable for a classic interchangeable wardrobe. The fifth blouse, with the apron held in place by the belt, won’t work with the suit unless the apron detaches from the shoulders somehow. Then you would get two blouses for the work of making one.
Choose three of the six possible tops. Now you have two bottoms, three tops, and a jacket.
With the skirts and blouses alone you have six possible outfits. Add the jacket to each one and that makes twelve. You will have a very respectable Titanic-era wardrobe with just a few pieces.
Finding Your Look
Paging through magazines like Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, the Delineator and the like can lead you to all kinds of design ideas for your chosen era. Examples of these magazines live on Google Books and the Internet Archive.
Once you have an idea what you like, put it together with a six piece wardrobe like the one discussed above. You can always add to it later. In fact, that’s the subject of the next post. Stay tuned for 1910s Wardrobe Accessories.
Today’s poem, Humanity, from 1874, is by Harriet Bush Ewell. You may remember the first Bush family poem I wrote about, called October. Although Harriet had fewer poems published than her older sister Belle, you can see with Humanity that she also had a gift for rhyme.
Harriet lived and worked at Belvedere Seminary in New Jersey. The school accepted students from kindergarten through graduation. It offered all customary subjects plus some extras. At one time the school even had an astronomy instructor on staff. Harriet taught music. Her two older sisters ran the school.
On June 23, 1870, Harriet married Belvidere Seminary’s mathematics teacher, Arthur Ewell. She was about 33 years old. Arthur was six years younger. The wedding capped a three-day anniversary celebration for the school. June 21 and 22 focused on the student’s achievements, with an address to close the celebration by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The next day the celebration continued with wedding and cake. The newlyweds spent the rest of their careers and lives working at the school, leaving it more than 30 years later.
Harriet was a Spiritualist, and Belvidere Seminary was a Spiritualist school for children. Spiritualism became a cultural phenomenon a little after she was born, and she and her two much older sisters spent their lives as Spiritualists dedicated to teaching the younger generations.
After the school closed, Harriet accompanied her husband and her sister to New York, where they settled at a Shaker Community. Her sister Belle officially joined the Shakers before she died. However, it seems that Harriet and Arthur never did, although they lived in the community and were active participants. (The Shaker Museum Facebook page discusses
Her poem Humanity was specifically written for the Spiritualist publication Banner of Light. It was published in December of 1874.
by Hattie (Harriet) Bush Ewell
Each life on the earth is a poem,
A volume of measure and rhyme,
With pages of truth and of beauty,
With stanzas both grand and sublime.
Each deed is a line from that poem,
The record of glory or shame,
That leads to a beautiful moral,
Or covers with sorrow the name.
The chapters are wonderful stories,
Of love, of unkindness, of hate,
Of the soul in its struggle for freedom
Through many a battle with fate.
The leaves of this book have a gilding
From the gold of a beautiful life;
How sad that they ever are tarnished
By the fingers of envy and strife.
The type is full often illumined
By the smiles of the good and the true;
And each year we may add to our treasure
Some pages both charming and new.
This is the only poem by Harriet I could find. Her description of each life as a poem, tinged with gold, added a positive note to the day. I hope to discover more, dated later than 1875, to see how she matured as a poet.
If you enjoyed this poem Humanity from 1874, you might also enjoy Harriet’s sister Belle’s book of poetry, Voices of the Morning.
For quite awhile I’ve been intrigued by the capsule wardrobe concept. Not because it’s such a new idea, but because it isn’t. The capsule wardrobe arose from necessity rather than fashion.
The term Capsule Wardrobe first appeared in the late 1930s and resurfaced in London during the 70s. A London boutique owner hit on it as a marketing term, and it took off for a second time. Here’s the Wikipedia article about it, in case you’re interested.
Original Capsule Wardrobe
The concept behind the original capsule wardrobe was simple. Two skirts, three blouses, one jacket, perhaps a pair of shorts for summertime, and you’re ready for a season of clothing. It reduced clothing planning to the bare minimum. It saved closet space. And most important of all, it saved money over purchasing readymade clothing that did not match.
The Great Depression was in full swing in 1938 and finding the money for new seasonal clothes proved difficult if not impossible. Fabric was expensive, and in the Forties due to the war effort, somewhat scarce. Clothing costs soared after WWI, and had dropped again by 1923, but not to the prices consumers had seen in the 1910s. Families could see that clothing was becoming more and more expensive. And once the Depression hit, money to buy that clothing might be nearly nonexistent. What was a family to do?
The answer was to plan a seasonal capsule wardrobe. Several pieces of clothing made from one long piece of fabric saved on fabric usage, for one thing. Any leftover scraps of the material could be fashioned into a matching hat or purse, a definite plus. Leftover blouse material could line the hat, the purse, or be fashioned into matching handkerchiefs if enough existed.
Using It Today
Why does the original concept interest us today? For one thing, it’s much smaller than the set of clothing used for the term now. A sample 2020s capsule wardrobe might list three pair of shoes, two skirts, two pair of trousers/pants, one pair of blue jeans, several tops, a dressy blouse or two, one to two dresses, a dressy dress, and one to two purses. That’s not a capsule wardrobe. It’s a full wardrobe created with some planning, what we used to call Wardrobe Planning or a Trousseau.
If you enjoy a specific time in the historic past, you might want a small wardrobe you can wear. A small capsule wardrobe fills that need without breaking the bank or your storage space. But only if you keep it to the bare minimum.
Take Six Pieces
Of course, if you create a five or six piece capsule wardrobe and decide you want to wear these clothes all the time, you can always increase your pieces. Add a vintage winter coat and perhaps a vintage pair of slacks or bloomers. Pedal pushers were the knee-length capris of the Fifties and Sixties and they’re darling. I remember wearing a pedal pusher outfit of my grandmother’s as a preteen, and feeling beautiful in it.
Pick a time you like, and begin to build an ideal small wardrobe. Take two bottoms, three tops, and something that pulls it all together like a sweater or a jacket. Perhaps a white knitted shawl will work, depending on your time period. If you live in a warm climate your extra piece might be made of sheer fabric. Or it might be physically small, like a bolero vest.
Back to the Sixties
In the photo above, the 1965 home dressmaker could create an entire wardrobe from this one pattern. Let’s say she purchases this pattern and a ton of fabric in four coordinating colors. She buys a blue print, blue solid, yellow print, and a yellow solid. From the blue solid she makes a full dress and a long coat. From the blue print she makes a blouse and skirt. The yellow print gives her a blouse. From the yellow solid she makes a jacket, skirt, and blouse. Now she has three blouses, two skirts, a full dress, and a long blue coat that she can wear with anything. For a bit of extra glamour you could add an extra long coat in yellow, but it’s not necessary. One coat is plenty for a season, especially with a suit jacket that goes over a skirt and blouse.
Whatever you do, pick classic, timeless pieces that you love. If you don’t love it you won’t wear it. The whole point of the vintage capsule wardrobe concept is to allow you to dip into time-period fashion as much or as little as you like.