How much do you know about your grandmother’s fashion sense?
Hollywood costume designer Betty Kreisel Shubert, author of Out of Style, knows more than most about vintage fashion. I sent Betty three unidentified photos and she selected this portrait to study, not knowing the young woman was my grandmother, Arline Allen Kinsel.
After enjoying Betty’s delightful “reading” of Arline’s outfit, and then “The Rest of the Story,” I hope you agree that Betty is a family history fortune-teller when it comes to reading vintage styles.
The Bolero Dress and the Double-Butterfly Hat
At first glance, the overly decorated dress with fancy bolero and fanciful hat trimmed with two, too-tall butterflies, seemed an aberration of popular fashion. . . probably designed by a home dressmaker. (Although the unique hat shows expert millinery construction). [Photo #1, above].
But surprisingly, research showed a dress with identical style lines in a 1915 Sears catalog! The only difference was in Sears’ use of embroidery trim versus eyelet trim in our sample photograph.
As seen in Sears Catalog 1915-1916. Sketch by Betty Kreisel Shubert
Sears fashions were selected for, and sold to, average America women, but were about two years behind high-fashion magazines. Therefore, we can assume that the dress shown n the 1915 catalog could have been worn between 1913 to 1916.
A key style clue in dating vintage dresses in is their ever-changing skirt lengths. Since this is not a full length picture it is helpful that the Sears 1915 dress is shown full length, ending at the ankle and revealing spool heel pumps. This was slightly longer than women were wearing their skirts at this time, but this was obviously a dressy summertime outfit and perhaps the lower skirt could could be left off to adapt to different skirt lengths.
A chart illustrating “The Bottom Line About Hemlines and The March to Modernity” covering the years 1900 to 2000, appears on pages 216-217 in Betty’s book, Out of Style.
Counter to popular fashion in those years, the whimsical hat that dominates the picture is worn tilted UP. . . like a picture hat, instead of FLAT, like a platter hat. The only similar hat I found in the Sears catalog shows a sailor-like, platter hat. Although it was usually worn flat, it could have also been tilted up by a fashion maverick. . . like our lady.
Her hair, shown peeking under the shirred, wired brim is bobbed in the Castle Bob style as worn by popular fashion icon, Irene Castle, of the famous dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle. (“Bobby pins” were invented to contain this hairstyle).
Sears even devoted an entire page to show belts four to six inches wide, emphasizing the mid-to-low waist, as in our sample picture.
From all these style clues, we can conclude that the woman in the picture was a self-confident individualist with a sense of humor who dared flaunt fashion rules. . . so, she flipped her hat UP and added a double butterfly, when the average woman would have only dared to wear ONE!
© 2013, Betty Kreisel Shubert
The “Rest of the Story”
I didn’t know much more about this photograph than Betty when I sent it to her. I knew it was a photograph of my grandmother Arline Kinsel as a young woman. I guessed that it might have been an engagement or wedding photo taken about the time of Arline’s marriage to John LeRoy Paulen 1908. I knew from her correspondence that she owned a sewing machine and that she loved being “in-style,” but I had no idea she might have made something as elaborate as this outfit.
Betty’s careful analysis prompted me to go back to Arline’s photo album and look more carefully at her clothing. I spotted two more photos showing her wearing the dress. And, I discovered something interesting about the photograph my aunt displayed next to the custom-dressed doll in her curio cabinet — it was a different pose than the photo I found in my mother’s estate. Three photos appear to have been taken on the same occasion, but a fourth photo shows Arline in a different pose.
Photo #2 Arline wearing the Bolero Dress and Double Butterfly Hat.
Could this photo have been taken inside a church?
It appears that Arline wore the Bolero Dress and Double Butterfly Hat for her wedding — but it not her first! On the inside cover of her album, Arline clearly identifies Mr. and Mrs. Edwards 3rd, Helper Mt. Although the photos are undated, a marriage certificate notes that Albert Edwards and Miss Arline Paulen were married 11 August 1917 in Evanston, Wyoming.
Photo #3 Mr. and Mrs Edwards 3rd, Helper Mt.
In this photo, Arline is wearing the Bolero Dress sans butterfly hat. What happened to it? Her hair is flying up in the air, and her hand poised jauntily at her waist. There are other differences from the formal portrait too — different bodice, no flowers at the waist, and pearls instead of a medallion on a chain at her throat. I wonder if these are two entirely different occasions.
Photo #4, Arline and Friend. Arline wears the Bolero Jacket and Double-Butterfly Hat
The other album photo shows Arline posing with a friend outside a stone building that looks like a church. Although the flowers at her waist are huge in this photo, it looks like the same dress and hat as photos #1 and #2. I don’t recognize the other young woman in the photo and didn’t find her in the album, but she may turn up in time.
The time frame for these photos appears to be about 1917, the year of Arline’s marriage to Edwards. To confuse things, consider that by August 1917 Arline had already been married and divorced twice — to the same man. Edwards was her third marriage and second husband.
Given that Arline lived in the Western States of Utah and Colorado, it seems likely that fashion would lag behind big-city style. It’s also possible that Arline wore the dress for two special occasions — an earlier event where she was formally and informally photographed (Photos 1, 2, and 4), and a later event in 1917 as Mrs. Edwards 3rd wearing the skirt and eyelet jacket with a different blouse and jewelry and without the hat.
Which leads me to wonder, could Arline have worn the original dress and butterfly hat at her second wedding — the remarriage to Paulen???
P.S. — What do you think about Betty’s assessment of Arllne as a “self-confident individualist with a sense of humor who dared flaunt fashion rules”?
Analyze your grandmother’s fashion sense with Betty Shubert’s new book, Out-of-Style: A Modern Perspective of How, Why and When Vintage Fashions Evolved
Available in hardback and softcover
Read my Book Review of Out of Style
Great Grandmothers are Always in Style