Project in development. Lots to come!
1925 Rural School Experience
Hot Springs County Museum & Cultural Center
1920’s Middleton School Immersion program & Online Classroom
The Roaring Decade of Nonsense & Novelty – 1920’s in the New West
A Special Project
The Hot Springs County Museum and Cultural Center, located in beautiful Thermopolis, Wyoming, a tiny and archaelogically significant town central to the state, is building a program that includes visitor immersion into a reproduction classroom and online educational programs. Complete with live docents and storytellers, 4th grade students will attend a simulation classroom complete with activities and lessons the same as children would have done in the mid 1920’s.
Visiting children will dress up in hats and clothes to help them feel like and look like Wyoming rural children in 1925. At least one teacher will be in full costume and full character, and eventually two child docents, a girl aged 8-9 and a boy aged 11- 12 will participate in events and special programs.
Our connection is the lovely Buffalo Gal, Shelly King, who will be the first interpreter and teacher, and who will be modeling and performing for advertising the project.
As with all community projects, the first objective is to involve the community. The challenge for Silhouettes, who would be handling the day to day costuming, was to to just that. Working with local artisans, finding used clothing and reuseable notions and fabrics, and buying from local small businesses was how we would be involved, as well as consulting with the museum’s historians and experts.
Silhouette’s primary role was to research what students, teachers, and parents REALLY wore in central Wyoming in the 1920’s, and to build them to fit. They had to be durable, easy to wear, comfortable to wear, and easy to get into. Fortunately, research indicated that’s what was worn at that time.
The secondary role was to provide history coming from the direction of lifestyle and fashion that is often overlooked in museums unless that facility has extant or real garments. Many end up “just sewing” to get their docents to “look kinda like” it would be, and few if any have anthropological seamstresses. This historical accuracy is the key to the visitor immersion experience.
Specific Time & Place
The history of the region is both ancient and new; ancient with its hot springs and dinosaur bones; new in that it was really only settled by non-indigenous people after the 1870’s, and mostly around 1900.
When one pictures the 1920’s, they usually think first of Whiskey raids, flappers, and Art Deco. While this period and place has a bit of all the “Roaring”, “Nonsense”, and “New Woman” fame of the era, it is more a story of “regular” people hanging on to values, goals, and freedoms in a fast changing world. This is discussed in detail on both the Historical Context and Fashion History Pages for Men and Women to follow.
The 1920’s set the project near the beginning of Wyoming’s political and non-indigenous settlement history. It had only been a state since 1890. Wyoming is known as the “state of equality” for being the first in the world to have women legally vote, and other female firsts, but it is better known for the “Wild West”, or “Old West” as it is promoted for tourism.
The project will include several ensembles for display on mannequins or live docents/interpreters. The primary request is for a historically accurate Teacher’s ensemble. This will be provided with mix and match pieces. We are also providing full ensembles one each for a boy and a girl.
The museum has also requested garments that visiting school children can put on over their own clothes. Design Development will show that we have selected numerous hats plus vintage bib overalls, smocks, and aprons for this purpose.
Read on for the project research and development. Finished projects will be shown below, as well as any photos provided of the project itself.
Continue below to see the finished project:
See the Design Development Page for how we arrived at these decisions. Actual product will vary as decisions are made in construction, but we did actually follow theses sketches in the process. Most of these were built from actual ANTIQUE patterns from the mid-1920’s, or from “scratch” using magazine or pattern pictures. Final design decisions are reflected in the finished garments below.
See pictures of Shelly in the teacher’s ensemble at the bottom of the page!
Bandeau Bra & Step-in Panties
The mannequin is wearing a shirt under the undergarments because she is padded out to size, and the shirt holds her padding in place. The 1920’s undergarments were typically made of one flimsy layer of fabric, and were loosely fitted. There was a wide range of plain cotton to pretty lacey bras and panties.
This interpretation carries the favorite butterfly theme of the day, with the high fashion colors in decorating and otherwise very simple and plain bra and panty pairing. The bra would actually not have darts or an interfacing; we added those because this teacher will be working all day in these undergarments, and we wanted her to feel a bit more comfortable (modest) than historically accurate.
In reality, when Shelly tried these on, they fall low on the waist and lower than the underbust – which is just where they are supposed to be. If you look at this fashion as a whole, you have to think “gravity is pulling me DOWN”, and everything that in modern times fits tightly or forms to the body, is actually more like wearing a tube with weights in the bottom.
As with all fashion of this day, and all vintage patterns, the straps are longer than usual for bra, slip, dress, etc. so that the bodices fall much much lower too. In this case, the bra straps are very long in both front and back. This creates a sewing challenge, for it becomes something like hanging a whiskey barrel around one’s body, and there is no way to bring in the “gaps” under the arms without darting and destroying the accuracy. “Whiskey barrel” gaps are historically correct in this case.
One other “nod” to modern tastes we build in was a hook and eye closure as well as the accurate elastic. The woman of the 1920’s would pull this over her head without adjustment. Since we may have several people wearing the ensemble, we needed adjustability to some extent.
100% cotton with poly lace, the cut of the panties is accurate, and the huge fullness of them – just like virtually every fashion era in history – helps keep the shape of the outer garments for the fashionable silhouette. In this case, that means pushing the skirt out just above the knees where the dress might otherwise tend to “suck in” and not be a straight vertical line above the drop waist. Embroidery is done by machine.
A slip was not part of the original proposal, but in developing the bra and panties, it became apparent with our plan to make a wool garment, the heavier fabrics would need something with more stiffness and body to hold the silhouette of what is somewhat “floppy” fabric.
This 100% cotton slip would have been worn INSTEAD of the bra and panties for daring young women like “flappers”. In this case it’s a layer for modesty.
As with all the vintage patterns, this one has the straight body with dropped waist. the patterns are notorious for having no markings, no instructions, no sketches, and no directions or photos. Basically, there is no way to locate where the waist is supposed to lay for a given size of woman. We made this somewhat as an experiment in the construction methods before cutting into the more expensive projects.
What we discovered was that EVERY dress, undergarment, jacket, etc. in this era is made with a long tubular body of some sort, attached somewhere in the middle of the rear end to a skirt – and that skirt ALWAYS has pleating, or gathers, or enough fullness that a woman can move and walk. Without the fullness right below the dropped waist, there would be no way she could sit or stand or move around. As it is, she has full mobility.
The challenge that brought though is, how is that JUNCTION constructed? One is going from a straight tube into big fullness. On this, one of the simplest designs of the era which is seen in girls’ dresses in particular, there are giant “flaps” in front and back that are cut out of the same piece of fabric as the tubular body. This makes for a difficult joining at the 90 degree angle junction. We think that’s the reason there were so many bows and sashes and laces and such “stuck” on almost every garment at that junction – it’s nearly impossible to make that clean and neat and pretty. It’s much easier to make it messy and cover with a little fan of lace.
This we left alone though, as it is a freebie and an experiment. It worked really well for the intended purpose of keeping the floppy fabrics straight, and providing modesty.
Dress & Scarf
The sailor suit was a high fashion favorite in the 1920’s decade for women, boys, and girls. Very young boys and girls wore a shirt with breeches or skirts, and women wore something like this. In these photos, we see Queen Victoria of England’s daughter, Princess Beatrice, with her daughters (from Spain) in almost exact versions of what we have built.
The drapey fabric and muted, natural colors is the key. While there were different necklines, the neckscarf or tie was the most dominant. In our version, we use an authentic sewing pattern again, which features an open and soft collar with long scarf. This could be worn with a scarf in contrast too for interest.
Our dress features a pleated section in front so walking is possible, plus an integrated belt at the low waist. This ties below the “bum” in back and to the side for dramatic flair. Overall, this makes the wearer look very young. The fabric is hand dyed rayon challis. It is not a commonly used fabric these days, as it can water spot, but it irons a nice crisp line for pleating and waistlines, while being very loose and draping. This type of fabric is key to the long silhouette because the weight of the pleats and belts, and intentional very large and heavy hem, pull the dress down by gravity, and keep it from riding up on the body.
While outwardly appearing very simple, classy, and tailored, it is actually very difficult to build and to fit, because the line is only maintained by keeping it tight over the bum, yet loose enough to slide down the body. That’s why you see quite a bit of fullness in the upper body of the design. It has vintage buttons that look like tiny chocolate candies.
There are many ways the cloche (“bell” in French) is worn and decorated. They were always one size too big so they could go fully over the head, had a brim that could roll up or down, and had some sort of interest.
This one is “tomato red” vintage corduroy from the 1940’s. It is fully lined with the same fabric, and features two big self-fabric buttons. The brim is wired to keep the smooth lines, as it is designed to be very simple and tailored. It will also be warm to wear walking to school.
Again, clean, classy, tailored, and simple is the objective of this key mix and match piece. It is in this ensemble because the depiction is for the school year starting in the fall, which can get chilly. Women of this era didn’t wear much more than this unless it was quite extreme weather, so we anticipate this will be worn coming and going from school.
It is 100% wool vintage fabric from the 1970’s. The design features a fairly floppy collar that is designed to be worn up in the back, and to lay flat in the front to emphasize the long lines of the silhouette. Sleeves are very narrow, as is typical of most authentic and vintage patterns such as the one used for this. As with all 1920’s patterns, this came with few to no instructions, no sketches, and no marks on the pattern. They must have been great seamstresses to build everything out of their heads then.
While this feels like it should have a belt tie low on the bodice, but that is not in the design. It is supposed to hang long and loose under the weight of the fabric. There are tailored pockets, and it is fully lined with a 100% cotton sateen including the sleeves.
The jacket’s real coordinate is the pleated camisole-skirt which makes a complete and professional suit. As with the dress, there is a thick and heavy hem intentionally placed to pull the garment down with gravity.
Wool & Batiste Camisole-Skirt combination
A very typical dress casual and way to stretch the budget, was to have a basic skirt connected to a plain colored camisole top as an “all-in-one” combination reminiscent of the undergarments of the late 19th century. They would then wear a variety of blouses over it which would have lace inserts or be sheer. In many cases, women did not wear any other undergarments under this, but treated it as a camisole bra top.
The color and fabric type and texture was the key to the success of this. A fine fabric like silk would be nice under a sheer and lacey dress blouse, but something more durable and washable was needed for every day cottons or wools.
In this we have selected a 100% heritage cotton batiste because it has a very dense weave and is a quality and very comfortable fabric to wear as a bottom layer (the shirt shown on the mannequin is not part of the ensemble. It is there to cover the padding on her to get the size of our teacher). This is attached to a 100% wool plaid the same as the jacket.
This concept of mix and match was not new to historical fashion. The 1880’s did this quite a bit, although the bodice was more often not attached to the skirt. Today we take forgranted skirt and tops or pants and tops being interchangeable, but one must remember prior to World War 1 when women entered the military and the workplace, only the rare or far western or rural woman would wear anything other than a skirt.
In the 1880’s, they would wear the same skirt for everything, and switch bodices. That is very much what we have here in the ’20’s.
Note the low waistline of the day’s fashionable silhouette, with pleating just in the key spot so the wearer can move and walk or sit down. Placement of those pleats is key; too high and it can rip, but too low and she’s hobbled like the 1910’s skirts.
As with all the projects, this is built from a vintage pattern which had zero instructions and markings. Understanding the pleating and junction of the side seams was difficult, as the center front pleat actually continues underneath the skirt to give full range of movement in the legs.
We also reinforced the joining between camisole and skirt because from experience, we know the heavy wool with the huge hem (again a heavy hem so it will drag the silhouette down) can sag over time. This will be very durable, and even a little stiff, but it will keep its shape over time if the pleats are maintained through drycleaning.
As with all these projects, we are impressed that seamstresses of the 1920’s could build these without any direction. You can see here the beginning of the fashion that would be our mother’s in the 1940’s and 1950’s, although the waistlines would drastically rise from this, the concept of the wool pleated skirt with underlay top would persist.
Fancy Blouse w/Jabot
This was very interesting, as all we had was sketch in the pattern. We made the pintucks individually by hand (instead of the machine tool type that makes several in a row), and fitted it to the mannequin rather than followig measurements. This is designed to go over the camisole skirt which is the same color, and it is meant to be see-through.
This is a 100% cotton very loosely woven fabric, with integrated cotton trim which you can see on cuffs and back waistband as well as on the jabot. It was a fun use of an edging fabric to design this from scratch.
The jabot, which reminds us of men’s 18th century ascots (it seems everything by the 1920’s was borrowing some concept from the past), is integrated into the collar, which is unique to fashion history as usually that is a separate garment. Thus the term “jabot” vs “ascot” or “tie” of some sort. This one can be worn tied or hanging loose like in the picture.
As with the other garments of this ensemble, it is long waisted and ends halfway over the derriere. In this case, however, the waistline is created through use of the tucks for bringing in the bottom of the blouse.
We made the sleeves a bit bigger than the other garments, so they hang a bit “droopier” on purpose. This is a dress blouse as a teacher would wear to a parent conference.
The sleeves and cuffs are the most unique features, however. They are french cuffs which use cufflinks rather than buttons. Buttons down the front as well as the hand made cufflinks are real vintage mother of pearl (MOP) from the Mississippi River and the author’s hometown, “The Pearl City” in Iowa.
This is made from Andover Mills’ “Lady Edith” 100% 1-sided print fabric from their Downton Abbey collection, reproduction fabrics from the 1920’s. We are working with the advisor Carol B. Davey who worked with the Downton costumers in their research. Ms. Davey reproduces the authentic patterns of Mary Brook Pickens and Ruth Wyeth Spears who developed many of the high fashion patterns for commercial use in the 1920’s.
This design is featured as a “mother and me” in the ’20’s. We have made it as an example of a simple project for the museum to have us build for the kids who come to the immersion classroom. It is unlined, but has binding all the way around – some self binding and some contrast, which is sewn on entirely by hand. These can be made to be reversible and in a variety of sizes fairly easily too.
After working so many hours to build the above teacher’s ensemble, it just seemed right to cover up the fancy clothes with something practical for the immersion teacher to wear while working on projects with the kids.
Hand Knit Wool Cardigan Sweater
Hand knit necktie
Accessories (cufflinks & belt)
Combination (camisole/panty in one)
Accessories (hair bow)
Smocks & Dresses for Visitors
Hats for Visitors
Knitted & Crocheted
Knitted & Crocheted
Bib Overalls for Visitors
Shelly in Teacher’s Ensemble (fitting)