Fashion in Song – A Zoot Suit for my Sunday Gal (1942)

Recorded several times by different artists in 1942 including the Andrew Sisters, here is the Kay Kyser version:

I want a zoot suit with a reet pleat
And a drape shape, and a stuff cuff
To look sharp enough to see my Sunday gal

You want a reef sleeve with a right stripe
And a rare square, so the gals will stare
When they see you struttin’ with your Sunday pal
(That’s me)

You wanta look keen so your dream will say
“You don’t look like the same beau”
So keen that she’ll scream, “Here comes my walkin’ rainbow”

So make a zoot suit with a reet pleat
And a drape shape, and a stuff cuff
To look sharp enough to see my Sunday gal

Now, what you want, baby?

I want a brown gown with a zop top
And a hip slip, and a laced waist
In the sharpest taste to see my Sunday man
(In his zoot suit)

A scat hat and a zag bag
And a slick kiss, so the other chicks
Will be jealous when I’m with my Sunday fan

I wanta look keen so my dream will say
“Ain’t I the lucky fellah”
So keen that he’ll scream, “Baby’s in Technicolor”

So make a reet pleat with a drape shape
And a stuff cuff, to look sharp enough
To see my Sunday, Sunday gal

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Canadian Beauty – Mary Pickford

‘America’s Sweetheart’ – the Canadian born actress, Mary Pickford  (born Gladys Smith in Toronto, Ontario in 1892) was also one of Hollywood’s film pioneers, along with fellow Canadians Mack Sennett, Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Marie Dressler, and others. In 1917, around the height of her success, Pickford was given the title of Pompeian Beauty of the Year by the Pompeian Manufacturing Company, and posed for their night cream in a magazine advertisement, also making her Canada’s first international model.

In 1938, after her career had faded, she developed Mary Pickford Cosmetics, a range of make-up products designed to be affordable to the masses. However, the product line  doesn’t seem to have lasted long, disappearing after a couple of years.

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Overlock/Serger history

Although the overlock machine (aka serger) was developed during the 1870s, it’s difficult to find examples of its use in extant clothing predating the 1930s. The overlock machine creates thread loops for the needle to pass through, binding the edge of a seam. Developed as a method for finishing off the tops of socks and other knitwear, the machine is also used for sewing with small seam allowances.

The overlock stitching machine was invented by the Merrow Machine Company of Hartford, Connecticut, and patented in 1889. Another firm, Wilcox & Gibbs, challenged that claim, but lost their case in court in 1905. Although in use commercially since 1893, the Merrow Machine Company produced an “A Class” serging machine in 1932, which explains why serging became a standard method of garment construction in the ready-to-wear fashion industry at that time.

This 1909 dress is the earliest example I have found to date of overlock stitching. Using a serger in this case makes sense as the best method to sew the delicate, lace-inserted translucent fabric to have the least visible seams.

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Glossary – Scroop

Remember when Rhett Butler comments on Mammy’s new red taffeta petticoat when he hears it rustling? That sound is called ‘Scroop’ and is the distinct crisp, scraping sound made by silk taffeta. The sound is achieved by the silk being treated with a dilute acid that hardens the protein filaments. The sound is also achieved in rayon taffeta by using a similar treatment that hardens cellulose filaments.

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Canadian Fashion Connection -Trans Canada Airline Stewardess Uniform

Lucile Garner (right) with fellow stewardess, 1938

In 1938 Lucile Garner became Trans Canada Airline’s (renamed Air Canada in 1965) first female employee. Like their American counterparts, Canadian stewardesses had to be  trained as nurses, but also single, meet strict height and weight requirements, and be between the age of 21 and 26 to start (the mandatory age to retire was 32.)

As a stewardess, her job included a wide variety of responsibilities, from monitoring weather patterns and handling radio communications, to serving suitable food during flights and calming passengers. “Oh, yes, they were all scared to death.” she said in a 2012 interview. “They used to say, “Oh, I love flying!” but, really, they were just trying to be brave about it.”

 

Lucile in the navy uniform, c. 1940

 

Garner also helped a Vancouver tailor to design the stewardess uniform.  The business suit style, with a two-button jacket and centre front pleat skirt, was made up in a beige wool gabardine to match the colour of the plane’s interior, and was accessorized with a brick red handkerchief, red blouse, brown tie and shoes as well as a beige wedge cap with red flash. None of the stewardesses liked the colour, but navy blue was reserved for pilots until 1939 when a navy blue option for stewardesses was offered.

Lucile remained a stewardess for TCA until 1941 before switching to Yukon Southern Air Transport (later renamed Canadian Pacific Airlines), but left the industry in 1943 to marry.  Garner lived until the age of 102, passing in 2013.

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Patent Fashions – Dress Sheilds

The earliest examples of dress shields I have found in garments date from the early 1890s. However, Elizabeth Emerson on a chat group I follow (Fashion Historians United) found a reference to them being a new idea in 1863 when Godey’s Lady’s Book wrote about them:

The New Dress “Shields”

Ladies who perspire freely, and thus so soon destroy light silk, and other dresses, by discoloring them under the arms, will find complete protection by using our light and convenient ‘Shields,” made of a new material, and perfectly adapted to their use. They can be applied in an instant and taken in and out without any trouble, and add no encumbrance, which can be inconvenient or disagreeable to the most fastidious… the cost is so trifling, only twenty-five cents per pair…will save a dress worth as many dollars, it is worth while to employ it in these days of poor goods and high prices. Is it not so?

I couldn’t find any patents for these first examples, but there were plenty afterwards, starting in the 1870s:

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Fashion Humour

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That time Chanel went to Hollywood…

Garbo and Chanel, publicity meeting, March 1931

On January 19, 1931, the New York Times reported film producer Samuel Goldwyn’s announcement: “After more than three years of constant effort, I have at last persuaded Madame Gabrielle Chanel, fashion dictator, to go to Hollywood to co-operate with me on the vexing question of film fashions.”

Chanel’s resistance to work in Hollywood was quashed by the realities of the Depression that had dramatically reduced the number of orders being placed with her atelier. The lure of a million-dollar contract and a studio with over a hundred workers at her command was too appealing to turn down. The New York Times outlined the deal: “She will reorganize the dressmaking department of United Artist studios and anticipate fashions six months ahead, solving thereby the eternal problem of keeping gowns up to date…Thus, Madame Chanel may reveal the secret of all impending changes and the American women will be enabled to see the latest Paris fashions, perhaps, at times, before Paris itself knows them.”

Madge Evans in suit by Chanel, 1931

Chanel arrived in Hollywood in March 1931, in the middle of production of Eddie Cantor’s Palmy Days (1931). She created a few garments, mostly for the star Barbara Weeks, including four versions of the same dress with small differences so that the dress looked its best from different angles and positions.

Chanel then went to work on creating thirty outfits for Ina Claire, Joan Blondell, and Madge Evans who were playing gold diggers in The Greeks Had A Word For Them (released February 13, 1932). The film was set in the late 1920s, so Chanel created contemporary looks with a nostalgic flair – not something fashion was doing at the time.

Her next job was to create gowns for Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never (1931) which was released two months before The Greeks Had A Word For Them.  This was a frustrating experience for both women as Chanel had to contend with Swanson’s unplanned pregnancy during filming. Swanson’s shape had changed in the six weeks between fittings, requiring Swanson to wear a girdle that ended at her knees in order to fit Chanel’s gowns.

With her contract fulfilled, Chanel collected her million dollar cheque and left Hollywood in a huff, never saying anything nice about the experience for the rest of her life.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – The Golden Lion, 1847 – 1898

English-born Robert Walker moved to York (Toronto) in 1829 and by 1836 was operating a dry goods store on King street. By 1847 he had built a stone-fronted store and two years later adopted a golden lion as its symbol. The business was successful and became known for its men’s ready-to-wear. In 1866/67 the store underwent an expansion to open up floor space and bring in more natural light; a 12-foot-high stone lion was added to the top of the building prompting the business to become better known as The Golden Lion.  Robert Walker and Sons, (The Golden Lion) was considered the largest retail business in Ontario in the late 1860s. The store was remodelled and expanded again in 1892, but then went into decline, closing in 1898. In 1901 the lion was removed and the store demolished to make way for Victoria street and the King Edward Hotel. The image below was taken in late 1872 or early 1873.

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Glossary – Shivviness

Shivviness (SHIV•ee•ness)
The uncomfortable feeling created by wearing new or rough underwear. From the old Yorkshire word ‘shive’ for coarse wool or linen.

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