Patent Fashions – Pantyhose

On November 9, 1956, Ernest G. Rice filed for a U.S. patent for a garment that combined stockings with an opaque panty. In his description he writes: “…a combination garment in which a pair of stockings and underpants are unitarily formed…that eliminates the need for garter attachments and belts.” His idea wasn’t new – dancers had been wearing tights for decades, however, his improvement was in the addition of an opaque panty, reinventing it for fashionable use. Sixteen months later, on March 18, 1958, Rice was granted his patent and pantyhose hit the market the following year. Sales shot up in the late 1960s when the miniskirt soared four inches above the knee, and until the late 1990s pantyhose were a staple of every woman’s wardrobe. In the process of researching pantyhose history, I came across this interesting website that is still in development but outlines a history of stockings.

Sumptuary Laws

I just received a copy of the book Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History, by RIchard Thompson Ford. It’s now in my ‘to read’ list, but it might be a while before I get to it… I found a reference to this book during one of those rabbit holes that are easy to fall into when I was researching 18th century sumptuary laws. These were laws enacted to limit access or restrict use of certain materials or styles to specific people, usually with an eye to keeping everyone within their class and not dressing like their social betters.

One such law I came across recently in an article about Swedish lace making refers to two acts. In 1767 Sweden, His Majesty’s Directive against Luxuriance and Superfluity was enacted to minimize commoners from wearing luxurious materials and accessories, as well as limit ostentation amongst aristocratic ladies when not at court: “For the prevention of a harmful luxuriance in Ladies’ costumes, all trains on Ladies’ costumes of whatever kind are forbidden as from the 1 January 1767…” As well, this edict also limited silk and wide lace trims to court wear only. Three years later, a 1770 sumptuary law extended restrictions to men’s clothing: “All Male Persons in general are forbidden at a Penalty of one Hundred Silver Riksdalers…to wear Silk Velvet, and Silk fabrics in Clothing, Lining, by which is meant Coats, Frock-coats, so-called Surcoats, Jackets and Waistcoats; Likewise forbidden at the same Fine are all Galloons and Embroidery in Gold, Silver, Silk or any other kind, except for what officers and the parading Burghers of the town have the right to wear on their Hats and Caps; Also forbidden for Male Persons at the same Fine are Lace and Mountings on Canvas for Cuffs…”

Patent Fashions – 1934 Office Coat

While the label in this jacket suggests it is better for combating perspiration, the actual patent for the jacket has no such claim. The patent is for an additional underarm piece that resembles a dress shield, its purpose is to reinforce the underarm seaming of a lightweight coat or jacket designed for wear in an active working environment.

We forget that in the past many occupations required workers to wear jackets for employees outside of middle-management desk jobs – clerks and tradesmen also wore jackets. As this is called an office coat in the patent application, this would be worn by the likes of mailroom boys, and assistants in print rooms, photo labs, and delivery docks — really any office jobs that required activity.

Fashion in Song – Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs Murphy’s Chowder – 1898

There was a fondness for ‘Irish’ songs at the turn-of-the-century, although few were actually Irish melodies, but rather comic or sentimental songs with Irish themes or characters. This song was written by George L. Geifer in 1898 and originally recorded by Edward M. Favor in 1901. It was later recorded by Bing Crosby on December 6, 1945.

Mrs. Murphy gave a party ’bout a week ago
everything was plentiful the Murphys they’re not slow
they treated us like gentlemen we tried to act the same
except for what had happened well it was an awful shame
When Mrs. Murphy dished the chowder out she fainted on the spot
she found a pair of overalls at the bottom of the pot
Tim Nolan he got hoppin’ mad his eyes were bulging out
he jumped up om the piano and began to scream and shout

Who Threw The Overalls in Mrs, Murphy’s Chowder?
Nobody spoke so they shouted all the louder
it’s an Irish trick that’s true
I can lick the Mick that threw
the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder

Well they fished the pants from out the soup and laid them on the floor
every man swore up and down he’s ne’er seen them before
they were plastered up with morter and worn out at the knees
they had their manys ups and downs as we could plainly see
when Mrs. Murphy she “came to” she began to cry and pout
she had them in the wash that day and forgot to take them out
Tim Nolan had apologised for what he said that night
so we put the words to music and we sang with all our might OH ! CHORUS

A Hundred Years Ago – The World and Fashion in 1921

For Canada, 1921 was a better year than 1920: William Lyon McKenzie King, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister (and popular at the time), was voted in for the first time; Agnes Macphail became the first woman to be elected to Parliament; and University of Toronto biochemists Drs. Banting and Best announced the discovery of insulin for treating diabetes. Some Canadians were also happy that prohibition began to be repealed through plebiscites. However, for much of the rest of the world, 1921 was a difficult year.

In the United States, Warren G. Harding became president on March 4. In an effort to curb high unemployment, Harding signed the Emergency Quota Act that restricted the number of immigrants to three percent of those from countries already in the U.S. as of 1910. The Act especially limited Eastern and Southern European immigrants. As a result, Eastern European Jews began to immigrate to Palestine instead of the U.S.

Immigrants at Ellis Island, 1921

A race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma began with an accusation by a white woman of being assaulted by a black man. Although the charges were dismissed, sensationalist media coverage fueled fear and misinformation and the event escalated into a two day conflict that left the prosperous black neighbourhood of Greenwood a smouldering ruin with over 300 dead and a thousand injured. 

The Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (as it was known from 1917 to 1922) was in the midst of a civil war. In March 1921, a rebellion by Russian sailors in the city of Kronstradt ended with thousands of deaths. A famine brought about by a combination of the civil war, bad government policies, and a severe drought gripped the new country. It is estimated that by the time the famine ended in 1923, five million Russians had died.

World War I was finally concluded when a treaty between the United States and Germany was signed (the U.S. had not ratified the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.) Reparations were determined by the allies that required Germany to pay the equivalent of 2.5 billion gold marks per annum to a total of 132 billion gold marks. Germany printed money to make payments, which lead to hyperinflation, riots, and the assassination of the former Finance Minister. (the debt was finally paid off in 2010.) 

With general political unrest, Adolf Hitler became the chairman of the National Socialist German Workers Party. By the end of the year the Sturmabteilung (brownshirts or SA) had been established.

From 1921 to 1925 the Nazi Party offices were at 12 Corneliusstresse, Munich. This photo taken in 1921

For those looking for a median between extreme politics, the new word ‘centrism ’ was coined, although extremes seemed to be growing faster than middle-of-the-road politics. The International Working Union of Socialist Parties was founded in Vienna. Throughout the year Communist parties were established in Italy, Belgium, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Spain, and China (by founding member Mao Tse-tung.) In Italy, Mussolini founded the National Socialist Party, which won 29 seats in a parliamentary election that year.

There were labour strikes by miners in Britain, the United States, and South Africa, and a general strike in Norway. Unrest elsewhere led to the assassination of the Spanish Premier, as well as the Portuguese and Japanese prime ministers.

With anti-colonial riots in Egypt and home-rule battles in Ireland, Britain regrouped, creating the British Commonwealth of Nations. Afghanistan was given its sovereignty and Northern Ireland was created by an act of Parliament, paving the way for the creation of an Irish free state (Southern Ireland) with the signing of an Anglo-Irish treaty at the end of the year.

Anglo-Irish treaty envoys, 1921

Extreme weather events included: a summer heat wave in Europe, a geo-magnetic storm that caused extensive damage to electrical systems, especially along the Eastern seaboard of the U.S., and flash floods in Colorado that drowned 1500. A boll weevil infestation decimated Georgia cotton crops that led farmers to plant peanut crops instead.

The sinking of two ships, the Hong Koh in China and the Santa Isabel in Mexico, took over 1200 to their death, and a nitrate factory explosion in Oppau, Germany killed over 500. An outbreak of Sleeping Sickness in the U.S. claimed nearly 1,000 lives, and Franklin Roosevelt contracted Polio while swimming at Campobello, Nova Scotia, rendering him a paraplegic.  

Catching world attention was the trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists who were convicted for the murder of two men and the robbery of a Massachusetts shoe company’s payroll. Conflicting evidence and recanted testimony did not sway the jury, and despite protests around the world, the cause celebres case ended with their eventual execution in 1927. 

The New York Yankees purchased 20 acres in the Bronx to build Yankee Stadium. Their star player, Babe Ruth hit his 138th home run in 1921 to become the all-time home run leader in Baseball. Ruth would go on to extend his home-run record to a total of 714 by the time he retired in 1935, a record that would stand until 1974. Also breaking records was boxing’s first million dollar gate to see Jack Dempsey knock out Georges Carpentier.

Babe Ruth in the 1921 World Series

A new dish introduced from Italy became popular – breaded and fried zucchini. Other new foods included: the Bloody Mary cocktail, sugared jelly candies, ‘iodized’ salt, and chocolate covered ice cream bars called ‘I-scream’ bars. They were soon renamed ‘Eskimo Pies’ and then renamed again in 2020 Edy’s pies (because Eskimo is now considered derogatory), after company founder Joseph Edy. New brands hit the grocery shelves: Wonder bread with its distinctive red, yellow and blue balloon-print packaging, Wheaties breakfast cereal, French’s mustard, and fictional company mascot and spokeswoman Betty Crocker for what would become General Mills Foods.

1921 also saw the birth of fast food with the creation of the White Castle hamburger chain. Founded in Wichita, Kansas, the steam fried hamburgers, 18 per pound of ground beef, were cooked on a bed of onions in an open kitchen where customers could see their food being prepared. The original burgers cost a nickel. At the higher end of dining, Sardi’s restaurant opened in New York City.

Top songs of the year included: Irving Berlin’s “All By Myself”; Marion Harris’ “I Ain’t Got Nobody”;  Eddie Cantor’s “Margie”; Al Jolson’s “Avalon”; Ethel Waters “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”, and a host of dance tunes recorded by the band leader Paul Whiteman including “Song of India”, “Say it with Music”, and “Cherie”. 

In theatre, the first major play of the Harlem Renaissance, “Shuffle Along,” debuted on Broadway, launching the career of Josephine Baker. In Prague, Karel Capek’s play “R.U.R”, which introduced the word “robot”, premiered.

British writer Agatha Christie published her first novel “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, which introduced her character Hercule Poirot. New York publishers, The Little Review, were convicted of obscenity charges for publishing “Ulysses” in its entirety. The Best-selling English language books of 1921 included Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, and the Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. 

The top grossing Hollywood film of 1921 was “The Kid”, a full length comedy-drama written, produced, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin in his Tramp character, with Jackie Coogan playing the kid. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and The Sheik made Rudolph Valentino an international heart-throb. Star of Brewster’s Millions, comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was arrested for fatally injuring Virginia Rappe at a party. Although he was acquitted of rape and manslaughter, the scandal ended his career.

As the world entered the modern era, old companies adapted to making new products. Studebaker, stopped making wagons to concentrate on automobiles and Boeing ceased furniture production to specialize in airplanes. The first electric home refrigerators came on the market, and more stations were broadcasting through wireless telephony (radio) – 1921 saw the first radio broadcasts in the U.S. of religious services and sports events. The German company Braun, Japanese company Mitsubishi, and the American company Radio Shack were all founded in 1921 as radio parts manufacturers.

1921 firsts include: the Corgi and Shih-tzu dog breeds, the polygraph lie detector test, Dude ranch holidays, pogo sticks, the colour fuchsia, Jungle gyms, ‘penthouse’ apartments, and a growing trend for initialism (I.B.M., I.R.A., and I.Q. all appeared in print for the first time.)

In 1921 your patootie (girlfriend), might slenderize (diet) to wear a slinky (close-fitting, sexually attractive garment) dress. Other new words for the year include the slang: applesauce (nonsense); goofy (silly); check-up (doctor’s exam); hitchhike (get a ride); derogatory terms (fag, dyke, and hebe); insults (lame-brain, schizoid, basket-case, skid-row, and goon); and the exclamations (shush and phooey).

Idioms first appearing in print in 1921 include: “he was taken to the cleaners”; “Send it down the pipeline”; “For crying out loud”; “Go off the deep end”; “Wrong side of the tracks”; “Look down your nose”; “Hot and bothered”; “For the hell of It”; “From the horse’s mouth”; “A spanner in the works”; “Between a rock and a hard place”; “Blow-by blow”; and “Cold turkey”.

In fashion, women’s styles were a little shorter and looser than they had been in 1920. Tops bloused over lower waistlines, and necklines were becoming more open. Transparent chiffon blouses and dresses that exposed forearms and collarbones through sheer fabric were gaining popularity. 

scrapbook of fashions, 1921
Scrapbook of fashions, 1921

In Zion city, Illinois, openwork stockings, and bare necks and arms in public places were banned, with fines of up to $200. A woman visiting Zion who was wearing a dress of transparent material that exposed her collarbone and forearms was arrested at Zion’s train station. Also, in 1921, Sunbury Pennsylvania regulated women’s skirts to be not shorter than 4 inches below the knee. Ohio would not allow a décolletage deeper than two inches, and even though not enacted, discussions about regulating dress styles took place across the U.S.

With shorter hemlines, women stopped wearing boots for daytime. Bar strap shoes had been popular since the 1890s for dressier occasions, but in 1921, the Mary-Jane pump (named for the character who played Buster Brown’s girlfriend in shoe advertising from the Brown Shoe Co.) with its instep strap became the most popular daytime style of footwear for women. 

Men’s fashions changed little from the previous year, although the pant was becoming slightly fuller in cut. A new style – Plus Fours, were knickerbockers with an additional four inches in the leg to produce an overhang at the knee. It was popular at first with golfers, but the style caught on with collegiate-aged men for day wear. 

Thomas Armour, 1921

The problem with plagiarism of Paris couture was taken on by Madeleine Vionnet when she targeted copyists, especially in the US, with a campaign in 1921 that saw the creation of The Association for the Defence of Fine and Applied Arts. The purpose was to register models and pursue counterfeiters. This was the origin of numbering and registering haute couture dress designs.

The magazine L’Officiel, the official publication of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, was launched in 1921. This trade magazine was directed principally at international buyers, both corporate and individual, as well as those working in the fashion industry. In other fashion news, Chanel introduced her No. 5 perfume, and the luxury brand Gucci was founded in Florence.

Fashion in Song – Shoes (2005)

This song was originally written and recorded by Shania Twain to promote the second season return of the ABC television program Desperate Housewives (2004 – 2012). The song was not used and so Twain released it in September 2005. The song peaked at #29 in the Country Music charts in November, 2005.

Tell me about it… Ooh! Men.
Have you ever tried to figure them out?
Huh, me too, but I ain’t got no clue – how ’bout you? 

Men are like shoes
Made to confuse
Yeah, there’s so many of ’em
I don’t know which ones to choose
Ah, sing it to me
If you agree 

There’s the kind made for runnin’
The sneakers and the low down heels
The kind that will keep you on your toes
And every girl knows how that feels
Ouch, ah, sing it with me 

You’ve got your kickers and your ropers
Your everyday loafers, some that you can never find
You’ve got your slippers and your zippers
Your grabbers and your grippers
Man, don’t ya hate that kind?
Some you wear in, some you wear out
Some you wanna leave behind
Sometimes you hate ’em
And sometimes you love ’em
I guess it all depends on which way you rub ’em
But a girl can never have too many of ’em 

It’s amazing what a little polish will do…
Men are like shoes… 

Some make you feel ten feet tall
Some make you feel so small
Some you want to leave out in the hall
Or make you feel like kicking the wall 

Ah, sing it with me, girls
Ooh! Mmm.. 

Some can polish up pretty good…
Ah, men are like shoes.. 

It’s amazing what a little polish will do
Some clean up good, just
Some you can’t afford, some are real cheap
Some are good for bummin’ around on the beach 

You’ve got your kickers and your ropers
Your everyday loafers, yeah some that you can never find
You’ve got your slippers and your zippers
Your grabbers and your grippers
And man, don’t ya hate that kind? 

I ain’t got time for the flip-flop kind…
Men are like shoes!

Fashion in Song – Have you Seen Miss Molly’s New Hat? (1938)

This song was sung in Spanish by the actress Rosita Serrano in the 1938 German film Es Luechten die Sterne (The Stars Shine). The story behind the comic song comes as the result of a pancake falling out a window onto Molly’s head, and is mistaken for a new hat style. Here is a loose translation of the text in English:

Have you seen Miss Molly's 
new hat yet?
Oh, it's so chic. Oh, it's so beautiful.
But it's not a hat, it's a chapeau.
It's only available in Paris - and nowhere else.
Silver Molly
Wow, the rumba
With a hat, yes
She bought it yesterday in Paris
The mania returned
Because of your mania, your mania, your mania...
Silver Molly
No, no, don’t think about love anymore
From her land that rubber
Heaven saw the flower
No, no, no, don’t think about l'amor
Don’t think about love