Friday, December 6, 2013

1938 High School Year Book: the Senior's Story

1938 School Yearbook for Long Beach, CA
Poly High Schhol's new campus built following the great Long Beach earthquake a few years earlier

This summer I came across an old yearbook in the stacks at a thrift store. Yearbooks have value for dating apparel, hairstyles and noting trends for a certain time. In this case, I was more than interested because it was from the Long Beach, CA school district, published for the Class of 1938, a time when the entire city published one annual for all schools, including junior high with high school. I am guessing this was an economic measure, in part because 1938 was still the "Great Depression" and this book needed to be affordable to all.

In 1938, seniors were probably born about 1920, a few years following the First World War. They would have been the fore-runners of the big baby boom that surged the US population during the 1920's, following the return of soldiers from the war. Unfortunately for this group, life wouldn't be easy for them. When they were nine, the economy crashed, leaving many homeless and often without money for food, let alone clothing.

This annual dates from nine years into that era of hard living. These kids knew nothing else. Long Beach had been a mecca for hope during the 1920's, when during the mid-decade new house starts were historically high, as palm lined avenues were paved and the sunny beach city grew out into the fields behind the bay with Mediterranean style bungalows and apartment buildings.

Only a few years after the big crash, something worse happened: the largest earthquake since San Francisco fell at the turn of the century rocked this seaport city, tumbling homes, businesses and setting the surrounding hillside oil derricks aflame. The population fled inland and up into Los Angeles for safety. Many left town while others stayed to rebuild it.

The high schoolers we see here probably owned only the shoes that you see them wearing. Many of the girls wear dark skirts, which may have been hand-me-downs from a sister or cousin. These basics could be worn with several blouses to make up their school wardrobe. Yet there is a diversity in style and personality that shows how creative they could be on a very limited budget.

Sports programs for young women were in full swing, with modern uniforms often 'checked out' to each girls by the PE department. It's also easy to see that these students are enjoying themselves, and seem to be happy. In our own time, when shopping is recreational and having more than we can use is so common, it's a reminder how unimportant owning things can be.

In looking at this yearbook, I also had another treasure to dig for within its pages. I knew someone who would have been there, and I was hoping to find her. In the roster of senior photos, there she was, known as "Midge", Mary Ellen Hill lived a block from the great new high school, leaving for UCLA after graduation. There she enjoyed a degree in music and the company of her sorority sisters before joining the military and serving on the east coast.

Like everyone else in these photos, within a few years the second great war would encompass their lives, changing their directions and re-orienting their viewpoints from the secure world of high school as we see it depicted here. (Doing a bit of quick math, these students are about 93 years old now, and it's amazing how many are still here to tell us their stories, if we want to hear them.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

1944 RBW Fashion Illustration: Davidow Suits

This ink wash fashion illustration is by RBW and shows Davidow suits for winter, 1944. The signature Davidow soft tailoring is already in evidence by the soft belting and shirt-style jackets pictured here.

I include this Davidow set to reference earlier designs from this label (see previous Davidow post HERE). I also have an earlier post on RBW, the sign-off for Count Rene Bouet-Wilaumez, whose illustrations during the 1930's through 1950's were a signature look for "Vogue" magazine, HERE. On Pinterest I am building a Davidow board with both advertisements and garment photos.

Elsewhere online you can find Davidow posts at "The Vintage Traveler" HERE and at "Past Perfect Vintage" HERE.

Monday, December 2, 2013

18th Century Hair Fashion & A Story of Changing Portraits

The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, has a wealth of artwork dating from the 1700's. From this collection, a recent article discussed how these paintings depict women's hairstyles from the 1700's, and that these silhouettes are known for becoming more fanciful and extreme as the years progressed. Starting with a close fitting hair silhouette at mid-century, hairstyles gained height over the years, becoming the topic of conversation, jokes and public outrage. Feathers, ornaments and hats topped these towering structures.

A unique viewpoint on this topic is brought up in the recent article "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, "Huntington Frontiers", Fall/Winter 2013. In this study, the author shows how hairstyles changed during this time, mentioning the influences of both British and French trendsetters of that era. She notes how hair fashion was transforming more quickly than apparel fashion. Of most importance was that the trending hair silhouettes became a problem when it came to portraits. While the artist may have painted the subject in the height of fashion, these portraits were usually out-dated only a few years later by the inclusion of an extreme hair style.

The out-dated paintings were brought up to date with more current hairstyles when possible. Ideally, the original artist painted over the earlier hairstyle, transforming it into a more acceptable silhouette. The range of success in this technique varied. Today these alterations can be seen using modern technology that allows us to rediscover the original layers.

"Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" is fascinating reading for both the costumer as well as the general fashion buff. It sheds light on past styles and how fashion trends moved quickly, even in the late 1700's.