You’ll Need Fourteen Bakelite Buttons

by Erin on August 10, 2007


Vogue 6979

At *least* fourteen. If you want to make view A, of course, and who wouldn't?

Marie Christopher just sent this to me, completely bumping what I was going to post today (don't worry, it'll keep), commenting "Totally Katherine Hepburn — buttons! Hat!", which sentiments I echo.

As much as I love 1930s clothes, though, it's always accompanied by the tristesse that comes with knowing that I am totally unsuited to them. Totally. And not in the good way — the way where you KNOW something doesn't suit you, but it makes you so happy that the wearing of it casts a glow, a glamour of happiness over you that cancels out the unsuitedness — but in the way where I look like somebody's least-liked bridesmaid.

If I could only go a couple minutes in Willy Wonka's taffy-pulling machine, like Mike Teevee, then I could "do" 1930s. A few more inches, spreading my body mass across a slightly longer frame, and voilĂ ! A Hepburn's life for me.

Until that technology is perfected and marketed on late-night cable (as the Wonkamatizer?), though, I'm afraid I just have to look. But some of you, I know, can rock this look backwards and forwards, so go ahead and click on the image to visit VicVelvet's auction. And start looking for those buttons …

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

La BellaDonna August 10, 2007 at 12:20 pm

I have some words of comfort for you, Erin, and the many women who would like to be like the willowy 30s giantesses. Look at the measurements. That giantess is going to be about 5’4″, tops, and the pattern makers think her proportions are going to be about 36″ bust, 30″ waist, 39″ hips. There are A LOT of women who can wear those proportions. The secret? Those willow trees… are actually pears! A Strange Word Of Comfort: Remember how I said, miles back, that the Hourglass, unlike every other body shape, MUST wear fitted clothes? I have discovered as the Hourglass gets older and thickens – not from gaining weight, per se, but because the fluid in the disks in the spine compress, causing the Hourglass to become both shorter and a bit thicker-waisted – she is actually able to wear clothes of the Thirties and look attractive in them. There are few who cannot wear them, in fact. Although the pictures all seem to show linear ladies, or inverted-triangle ladies, the truth is in the measurements: the manufacturers knew they were designing for many pear-shaped ladies. There’s a LOT of illusion going on. If you love it, you CAN wear it!

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Erin August 10, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Oh, Bella, you always know exactly what to say to make me feel better. :-)Maybe I’ll pull a few of my 30′s patterns out and give them a whirl …

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Vyola August 10, 2007 at 1:11 pm

Mmmmm, Kate Hepburn.It would also be a fabulous homage to my other favorite, Myrna Loy. She combined sex and elegance so well — on her, tailored clothes always seemed to indicate restraint rather than repression. You just knew that she was perfectly comfortable in any situation.

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enc August 10, 2007 at 1:13 pm

Sayyyyyyyyy, Those fashion sketches feature exaggerated body parts–will you get a load of the femurs on that woman!? Look how disproportionate they are to her arms! She needs to be run through the ReProPortionAtorIzerMatron!There, now, doesn’t that feel better?

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Zoltar Panaflex August 10, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Pity, I have a good assortment of Bakelite buttons of a variety of personalities going totally to waste (because of my waist?) unless I get hopping and make a variety of toppers which require one button at the neck.I too, love the spare 30′s designs but because I’m built like the Queen of England, and not a slim sprite, I’m doomed to tailored suitpants for eternity.Luckily 30′s boudoir gowns flatter the boobage.

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Ivy Frozen August 10, 2007 at 1:58 pm

That is what I noticed first: how disproportionate the women are. (After oogling the dress, of course.) Their feet are tiny and look how long those thighs are. The red and white striped woman is actually kind of scary, an alien or some new species of human.

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Ari August 10, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I agree, those women are ridiculously out of proportion. Perhaps they all had a go on the Wonkamatizer?The dress is loooovely, but having to do up all those buttons? Aaaugh!~Ari

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Anonymous August 10, 2007 at 2:30 pm

I was at the Brimfield Antique Fair (in MA) a couple of years ago and there was an enitre stall of bakalite stuff (bracelets, buttons…) unfortunately I didn’t actually buy any buttons nor am I fit for ’30s wear either, oh well. (they did have a lovely shirt for sale to, it read, “wake up and smell the bacalite!”)

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Latter-Day Flapper August 10, 2007 at 2:35 pm

Sigh. I am such an inverted Thirties shape it’s ridiculous, and I refuse to wear shoulder pads, under any circumstances (scrawny chicken shoulders or no; this is one body flaw that would be more irritation than it is worth to correct with padding). I love Thirties dresses, though. All that creative piecing and the clean lines! Waaah!

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Mopalia August 10, 2007 at 3:16 pm

OK, I had some fun with this. Using the proportions at http://drawinglab.evansville.edu/body.html, a nice tutorial on drawing the human body, I found that the total human body should be 7.5 times the length of the head; in a drawing, 8 looks better, so we’ll go with that. I measured he model in the patterned dress, since that was the easiest to see body proportions. The head is .7 cm, and the body is 7 cm, which means that the body is 2 head lengths too long for reality. The extra length is almost all in the legs, since the head to hip measurement would be 4 heads long, and the sketch shows it at ~3cm, or 4(.7), which is 2.8cm. Even though I’m short waisted, I’ll concede that she could be long-waisted. This means that if you lop the models off a little below the knees, you’ll have a more realistic body length. Feel better? ;)

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Kate August 10, 2007 at 3:43 pm

Ye gods! Gorgeous. I have the hats but does it come with the shoes? Oh (sigh) I do love this look but all those buttonholes to make (bound, of course) Yikes!K Q:-)

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Adrienne August 10, 2007 at 5:28 pm

Erin, I have been “lurking” for a while – I LOVE your site! Yoda would best describe my present 5′ tall X 5′ wide self. I LOVE these vintage styles; Regency, Victorian, I LOVE Edwardian and perhaps right through to the 60′s! Although there are no good patterns for me, I can “dream” by visiting here and collecting old patterns. I would love to wear a dress again! I just cannot fit myself anymore! I hate pants (no offense intended) and I envy all of you who can get into them! Keep the pics coming! Ilove the waitress comments and if I were thinner, YES! I’d wear it! At 50, I am also senile enough to do it! This is so much fun! – Adrienne

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Theresa August 10, 2007 at 6:46 pm

I too love the dress – but egads! I do not want to make 13 butttonholes- oh nay nay!

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saidee August 10, 2007 at 8:00 pm

I love the sleeve treatment on this; in fact, the whole bodice is fabulous and could be lifted and given a different skirt. I specialize in stating the obvious, so here goes: in Fashion Illustration, students learn how to draw these women with ridiculous proportions. I haven’t taken the class yet, but the instructor I talked to about the class said she prefers ‘virgins’ who have never taken any art classes. I bet it’s because we haven’t been ‘corrupted’ by learning how to draw realistic human proportions!A former classmate wanted to draw REAL women to illustrate her fashion designs and this instructor would not allow it!

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Sewing Siren August 10, 2007 at 9:52 pm

The flat sketch of the shorts is kind of weird too. I used to do flat sketching and usually they are insanely tight.

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Anonymous August 11, 2007 at 8:14 am

Vyola, I’m an admirer of Myrna Loy as well. I watch Thin Man movies in part to drool over the clothes.The shorts… didn’t I wear something like that in Junior High? That’s where the inspiration for Hot Pants came from!I love this dress and may try to brazenly plagiarize it using my sloper. As for whether it would be flattering on a pear shape, well, all of the women on my mother’s side are extreme pears, and my maternal grandmother looked good in her 30s clothes, from what I’ve seen of her in old photos (she died long before I was born).

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Susan Marie August 11, 2007 at 8:20 am

I also love thirties clothing and admire Kathrine Hepburn’s physique far above my own. It is my doom to attend a Pilates class taught by one of these tall, willowy, slim women. She is very encouraging- insisting that we can all have the shape we want if we work hard at our Pilates. I keep attending, but I know that no amount of exercise is going to cause my frame to shoot up 4 inches- which is really the only way I can think of to make me even slightly resemble Katherine Hepburn. Sigh. Maybe I should make that dress for my instructor in lieu of payment- then at least I could look at it…

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Diane August 11, 2007 at 11:00 am

Fashion illustration is usually based on 9 Heads with a book of the same name. In reality, not even stick thin models are 9 heads!This reminds me of a cheongsam dress but with big buttons instead of the traditional loop and ball or frogs.

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renee August 11, 2007 at 11:45 am

I am echoing Diane’s comment: I’ve taken fashion illustration and it is indeed based – then as well as now – on the “9 head” principle. Nothing close to reality, and it is mostly lengthining of the legs and torso. If you look at photos or film of thirties & forties women you’ll see that they are pretty average figured, but somewhat shorter than women today. However in film then as well as now, they are always paired with a man who is much taller – to help the illusion that she is demure and slight. Along with that, ‘He’ is often in a suit with large shoulders ( pads ) to strengthen the image. Having worked in film costuming, this is mostly still the case – most actresses are not much over 5’4″ and rarely over 110 pounds, yet they look ‘normal’ because ALL of the other actresses are tiny too! When someone needs a size 10 or heaven forbid a 12 in ready-to-wear, everyone thinks she’s huge….it’s all realitive. At 5’9 and about 148 pounds (and way larger than most cast members), I wear what I like, and it’s 40s & 50s dresses, which when they fit properly, are really pretty slimming!

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Latter-Day Flapper August 11, 2007 at 3:02 pm

I’ve discovered that, minus the shoulder pads, I fit perfectly into a 1950′s size 16-18, depending on the cut, only I do it without the Undergarments From Hell. Modern fashion has no concept of that kind of curvy.

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Elizabeth August 11, 2007 at 3:47 pm

I so understand your comment on the two types of unsuited-ness in styles. I have been in love with the idea of a high waisted pencil skirt with a puffy sleeve top lately. However, I know that if my 5’1 self was to wear this style, it would be caught in a family photo and I’d be doomed to laugh at myself for Christmases to come. Ahh… the sorrow!

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Anonymous August 11, 2007 at 3:49 pm

Ich kann es nur auf Deutsch sagen: Das Kleid ist wunderbar!!!! Gre vom Bodensee von ellen – seelenruhighttp://www.ellen-schnell.de/seelenruhig/

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Thoughts on Life and Millinery. August 11, 2007 at 7:34 pm

“Buttons! Hats! Gloves!!!”Marie-you missed mentioning the gloves! Are you feeling OK?

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harthad August 12, 2007 at 10:23 am

In addition to all the comments about the long, lean lines of the 30′s being exaggerated, I’d also add that lots of 30′s dresses feature soft shirring and blousing for the tops and sleeves; I can get away with these because the extra volume on top balances my big hips. So, no reason to despair, Erin!

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Char August 13, 2007 at 12:49 am

The 30′s is my favorite fashion decade! This is in my size too-so tempting…

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busy91 August 13, 2007 at 8:19 am

Yes A is georgeous. Of course size 16 would not be the move. Then or NOW! LOL!

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jj August 13, 2007 at 12:03 pm

Oh god… this is GORGEOUS and totally appropriate for my weird figure (short, short waisted, wide shouldered). I’m only one size away… that can be adjusted right? And then I think of the endless buttonholes and turn away from the screen in despair.

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Ang August 14, 2007 at 9:41 am

Having been in the wonderful, yet cruel position of being able to try on many 30s pieces, I have to concede that I am unable to pull them off. Even bias cut, while I can often get into the dresses….just hang wrong, and I’m too short and curvy to look right. I have an utterly smashing dressing gown on my site with great batwing 2 tone black and aqua sleeves and a beaded collar that I tried on, and it fit, and then I looked in the mirror and realized 5’2″ is just not the right height for that kind of cut. Makes it easier to part with the things, but I will always yearn to be taffy-stretched to a bit taller and lithe-er proportion to be able to wear those dresses!!Ang

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La BellaDonna August 14, 2007 at 4:45 pm

JJ, don’t despair over the buttons. Worst case scenario: see if your local tailor/drycleaner will put them in for you!Failing that: CHEAT. Sew the buttons on, and hooks and eyes (NOT snaps!) below, and avoid the problem altogether.

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La BellaDonna August 14, 2007 at 5:03 pm

Zoltar, when you say you’re built like the Queen of England, what exactly do you mean? She was a bosomy hourglass as a young woman, and has widened a bit (see “disks,” above) as she’s aged. Are you hourglassy? Are you top-heavy? These patterns actually are designed to be kind to the rectangle, the inverted triangle, and even the moderate pear. They’re a little tough for the exaggerated hourglass, but for the hourglass who’s begun to widen through the middle (see “disks,” above), she can actually wear them.DISCLAIMER: You can still use your discretion, ladies. The pears may want more detailing on the chest, or bias cut in only portions of the dress; the rectangle may want that narrow belt, if there is one; the inverted triangle may want more emphasis below the waist. Dorothea, I expect you’ll need to look for somethink sleeveless – even halter-necked – to elongate you … unless you are a very curvy hourglass. In which case: make a plain 50s fitted bodice, and pinch the skirt part of the 30s dress and attach it! You’ll have at least some of the features you like.

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Kate in England August 15, 2007 at 3:32 am

La Belladonna, I think I love you – thank you for pointing out that the pattern makers, at least, realised who their end-user was. I may try some 30s patterns yet (although I’m 5′ 9″, so that puts me off too). I wish today’s pattern makers (especially at Vogue) would realise that we are not all shaped like wooden bricks placed on top of each other.

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La BellaDonna August 15, 2007 at 11:28 am

*Smooch!* Kate, you of all people should look quite striking in those 30s dresses! The only caveat for you is having to pay attention to where you lengthen the patterns; are you long through the chest, the midriff, the pelvis, or mostly in the leg? Are you a pear, or another shape? Your height shouldn’t put you off trying any period patterns; ever since Charles Dana Gibson, the tall lady has been much admired and sketched, leaving the rest of us to try to look like her! Often quite successfully: A lot of those 1930s screen goddesses, who look so swell in those 1930s clothes, averaged about 5’4″. Claudette Colbert was a bit shorter at 5’2 1/2″ [despite allegations of 5'4" elsewhere; my stats come from her dressmakers]. Mae West was also very short. Believe in the power of illusion! – and the power of proportion.Hmmmm. You know, it would be possible to replace those buttons with zippers – or at least put zippers underneath them …

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Kate in England August 16, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Oh thank you Belladonna for your inspiring words! To answer your questions (just in case you should return… sorry Erin for the journal hijack) – pear-shaped and long-waisted. I look good in anything v-necked, or empire line (as long as it’s not gathered below the bustline as well as above it because then it gets too voluminous) and, for some reason, TERRIBLE in anything princess-line (at least in the frock dept). Must be all those acres of midriff (there’s about a foot between my waist and the widest part of my hips). I’m amazed all those 30s stars were so short (oops, sorry – I know 5’4″ is an average height but I come from a tall family and am married to a ludicrously tall man so, you know…) Believe in the power of illusion – I may just have to make that my motto!

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beth August 16, 2007 at 10:34 pm

Must have those SHOES!Why can’t you get low-heeled red and white spectators anymore? Did somebody, at some point, decide they were a bad idea? Unpossible!

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