1910s · 20th century · Build-A-Wardrobe

What to Wear on New Year’s Eve, 1919

In response to the influx of online articles disguised as “what to wear to a 1920s/2020s NYE party” that are really ads for expensive and poorly made sequined “flapper dresses”, I thought it would be interesting (and hopefully educational) to dig up some images of what most women would have been wearing on December 31, 1919.

While humans have celebrated New Year’s Eves and Days (on various calendars) throughout history, in 1919 it is important to remember that the continuing influenza epidemic caused 50 million deaths worldwide. For many, a New Year might have been overshadowed by deaths and altered health of loved ones both in WWI, which ended in November 1918, and the epidemic, as reflected in The Delineator’s (Butterick Pattern’s magazine) December 1919 cover.

Undergarments

Chemises were still in existence, although they had partly morphed into combinations, which had a bifurcated lower half (either through legs which opened with snaps for relieving oneself or a simple, low-hanging strap that buttoned from back to front. Chemises were important in protecting the body from the chafing of corsets, as well as to protect the less launderable corsets from body oil and perspiration. To make your own, you could use Wearing History’s ca. 1917 pattern, which includes both a chemise and combination option. Leimomi of The Dreamstress used this pattern in her Fortnight in 1916 project.

Most women would probably still have been wearing a corset with a camisole, rather than the bust-flattening bandeaus to come (there is one documented in a mail-order catalog as early as 1920 in Everyday Fashions of the Twenties by Stella Blum, so the more fashionable, young city dweller might have one), and if you’d like to make your own, Scroop Patterns’ Rilla Corset is perfect for sallying forth into 1920.

If you were bold enough to try out an early brassiere, you could sew it from Mrs. Depew’s ca. 1910-1925 bra pattern.

For something in between the two, Mrs. Depew also offers a 1910s-1920s corset that has a much straighter silhouette and wouldn’t require a camisole for support because it comes up over the bust.

An underskirt might offer a little flare to skirts that hadn’t succumbed to the barrel shape yet.

Image from the Vintage Patterns Wikia

Garments

Since most places aren’t very warm in December, you might be sporting one of these fur-trimmed ensembles from the pages of Good Housekeeping in December 1919. Note the nearly-ankle length skirts, slouching bosoms, and waistlines resting slightly below the natural waist. Black velvet is a repeated choice of fabric for evening gowns, and many below loosely follow the robe de style sihouette.

Captions, clockwise, starting at left:

  1. “Of grey duvetyne is this smart suit with a short front and back and long side panels.”
  2. “An original creation is this black lace gown over yellow, on which hundreds of little black velvet flowers with yellow centers have been strewn to give it an unusual appearance.”
  3. “With the plain coiffure now worn in Paris, the young girls circle their —- with a wreath of pink roses and blue tulle[?], which they tie with a fascinating, black velvet bow at the back.”*
  4. “This charming, bright green, taffeta gown shows enormous panniers of large loops, lined with silver to give them a shimmer, and finished to one side with pink roses.”

Captions, clockwise, starting with upper center:

  1. “Monkey fur is at its zenith in Paris as can be observed with this black satin manteau and extreme hat trimmed therewith.”
  2. “Swathed in a beautiful gray velvet cape trimmed with gray fur, this Parisienne has donned a large, black velvet hat, the crown of which is circled by a wreath of nasturtiums.”
  3. “So as to be warmly clad for the wintry wind, the Parisienne at the left is clothed in a coat of black velours de laine banded with —- fur and completed by a black panne velvet hat.”
  4. “The combination of black velvet and gray squirrel at the right is always distinguished, and when worn by the possessor of a pretty complexion the whole scheme becomes decidedly picturesque.”
  5. “Comfort as well as charm is expressed by this dark brown —- coat trimmed with —- fur and topped with a pheasant breast toque of exceptional harmony and beauty.”

Captions, clockwise, starting with upper right:

  1. “For the dark woman nothing could be more luxurious than this brilliant — velvet frock, cut on simple lines with the usual side effect, and a long narrow[?] train to give it sweep and —-.”
  2. “Velvet combined with flimsy tissues —- the Parisienne’s favorite selection —- evening gowns, as shown by the —- one of black velvet and cream lace —- a blue feather fan to give atmosphere[?].”
  3. “The old-fashioned silhouette of a tight waist with hoop hips is what is newest in Paris, as is proved by the frock in the center above, made of black velvet and lace, trimmed with pink roses.”
  4. “This gown cleverly combines black velvet with white tulle, one of the sheerest of materials, which is used as corsage and side panels, with pink roses, to give a touch of color in front.”

Captions, clockwise, starting with upper center:

  1. “Parisian coiffures seem to draw the hair straight back in a tight little roll —- flat to the nape of the neck to accentuate the beauty of the head.”
  2. “An original creation is this black lace gown over yellow, on which hundreds of little black velvet flowers with yellow centers have been strewn to give it an unusual appearance.”
  3. “With the plain coiffure now worn in Paris, the young girls circle their —- with a wreath of pink roses and blue tulle[?], which they tie with a fascinating, black velvet bow at the back.”
  4. “This charming, bright green, taffeta gown shows enormous panniers of large loops, lined with silver to give them a shimmer, and finished to one side with pink roses.”

The November issue of The Delineator featured some very glamorous evening wear on its cover.

Looking to sew your own fur-trimmed winter ensemble? This printable, available from Vintage Fangirl, was featured in the December Delineator from the beginning of this post. It could be made from Butterick Patterns 2023 (blouse), 1733 (skirt), 1477 (tam o’shanter – here’s a link to a Mrs. Depew’s tam o’shanter pattern), and 1266 (muff). That is, if you could find them nowadays…late 1910s and early 1920s patterns reproductions are still sparse compared to other periods, despite the temporary rise in interest in this period from Downton Abbey.

Sleepwear

Alternatively, if you are like me and usually spend New Year’s Eve by getting in bed by 9:30 with a good book, you might choose to make up this ca. 1918 sleeping suit (also known as pajamas) which has been reproduced by Past Patterns, with its matching cap. Some sleeping suits even had matching booties!

The December 1919 issue of Good Housekeeping also included a page of lingerie. The center one is reminiscent to me of the sailor-style bathing suits leftover from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, with knotted neckerchief.

*—- indicates a word I could not decipher. [?] indicates a word guessed at.

References

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