Between the 1930s Stitches

Throughout the 1920s and 30’s Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s fashions by shifting women’s dress away from constricting corsets, bustles, and long trains. She designed comfortable clothes with a relaxed fit, which gave women greater freedom of movement and autonomy. She introduced the 3-piece suit as a cardigan, blouse, and skirt, which became a part of women’s sportswear attire throughout France and the United States.

Coco Chanel with Lady Abdy, May 1929 Wearing 3-piece suit with cardigan, pull over, and skirt; patterned jersey fabrics were specifically manufactured for her collections; Courtesy Sandy Black, 2012
Coco Chanel with Lady Abdy, May 1929
Wearing 3-piece suit with cardigan, pull over, and skirt; patterned jersey fabrics were specifically manufactured for her collections; Courtesy Sandy Black, 2012

Below are Vogue advertisements that prompted Americans to purchase the latest 3-piece suit knitwear. “Smartsport” was a leading knitwear brand in the United States, and Cohen Bros. was a large knitwear manufacturer during the 1930s.

Vogue Archive 76:6 - Advertisement Cohen Bros. January 15, 1930
Vogue Archive 76:6 – Advertisement Cohen Bros. January 15, 1930

This particular ad emphasizes the “boyish” straight silhouette, which originated in France. It represents the ideal body of the time and reflects “chic, grace and elegance.”

Vogue Archive 77:2 - Advertisement: Cohen Bros. January 15, 1931
Vogue Archive 77:2 – Advertisement: Cohen Bros. January 15, 1931

This particular ad indicates different possible yarn types- Chiffon Boucle, Chiffon Ratine, French Flakette, English Knobtex of the knitwear. It also emphasizes unique designs created through the Jacquard loom, Angora trimmings, and modernique motifs.

Vogue Archive 77:7 - Advertisement: Cohen Bros. April 1, 1931
Vogue Archive 77:7 – Advertisement: Cohen Bros. April 1, 1931

The “moderinque” motifs on the blouse in this ad are reminiscent of a knitted blouse with floral motifs in Cornell’s Costume Collection.

Stockinette knitted blouse; Part of 3-piece ensemble; Owned by Mrs. Gertrude Remey 1931-1932
Stockinette knitted blouse; Part of 3-piece ensemble; Owned by Mrs. Gertrude Remey 1931-1932

The owner of this blouse was Mrs. Gertrude Remey. Her husband, Mr. Charles Remey, a Cornell alumni, donated this blouse, cardigan, and a skirt to the Costume Collection in 1940. Mrs. Remey was considered “the best dressed woman” in Washington DC during her time. Mrs. Remey most likely obtained the ensemble from Paris on one of her yearly visits. It is unlikely that she purchased the ensemble in an American store because they are advertised as “low-pitched in price” and she had the wealth to purchase expensive clothes. Mrs. Remey most likely wore the outfit to a sports event that she attended to with her husband.

I was amazed by the great condition of this garment. The underarm areas were slightly discolored/ stained most likely from wear, but the knit stitches are well-preserved and there is no snagging.

This blouse was most likely made on a flat v-bed knitting machine since it has seams. The jacquard floral designs among the knitted stitches lie beautifully in tact despite their age of over 80 years.

Detail of floral jacquard floating wefts on blouse; Owned by Mrs. Gertrude Remey 1931-1932
Detail of floral jacquard floating wefts on blouse; Owned by Mrs. Gertrude Remey 1931-1932

This is an interior view of the floating wefts that create the floral motifs on the blouse. There are a few snagged weft yarns, but this is expected when there are long wefts. It is amazing to see Jacquard designs at this time. The major knit machinery manufacturer, STOLL in Germany, developed their first motor driven Jacquard machine in 1926. The results seen in this knitwear conveys the success of knitwear technology at a time when it was developing.

I believe that Mrs. Remey wore this garment only a few times since she passed away in 1932, and the estimated date of purchase is 1931-1932. This blouse can be considered relatively new, which explains its good condition.

Measuring
Measuring in the Costume Collection

I’m glad I got to learn about the history of this particular garment because it further conveys how all clothing, across time, has its own biography that makes it special.

This particular garment was part of a time in US history when women were enjoying freedoms in dress and were gaining an active presences in society. Mrs. Remey was known as a “sparkling and gracious host” in her parties, she was a sculpturess, and was actively involved in the community and the National Women’s Club in Washington DC. She helped establish “International Memorial Lane,” that commemorated women from different countries.

As a woman in the upper class with access to disposable income for the latest fashions, Mrs. Remey may not have been representative of the average American woman, but the Vogue advertisements certainly imply that the “look” of an upper class woman was attainable. The label “Smartsport” offered women the opportunity to buy these French inspired 3-piece suits for a lower cost without having to travel all the way to France. This embodies the democratization of fashion with attempts to make the popular, high-demand suit style accessible to all women.

3 piece ensemble on a dress form
Mrs. Remey’s 3 piece ensemble on a dress form in the Costume Collection

One Comment Add yours

  1. Beautiful vintage knitwear 🙂

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