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False Modesty

October 21, 2009

Once upon a time, on a dusty counter in a small haberdashery store, there lived an old 1941 catalogue for McCall’s patterns. And right at the very back of this catalogue, further back even than the Boy’s and Men’s section, there lurked a tab simply marked Miscellaneous. It was here where all the exiled patterns dwelled that had no other place to live. And tucked away almost at the very end of that pattern purgatory, there, banished into obscurity, dwelled the only two patterns for the elusive TROUSER…

Ha! Isn’t that odd? For some reason here the pattern illustrators seem to have painted themselves into a quandary. Perhaps they realised that they couldn’t illustrate their glamorous models wearing blouses or sweaters or tops with these trousers, for that would imply that these garments could be made from the same pattern. (And all manner of lawsuits might ensue.) But for some reason they chose not to just illustrate just the leggy lower half of these models, despite  that being their method of dealing with the plethora of skirt patterns in the catalogue. To cut to the chase, they chose bizarrely enough to illustrate the models wearing NOTHING AT ALL on top, apart from a few carefully placed props. But, BUT, lest the viewer be scandalized that these models were wearing nothing under that strategic hat or bag, they gave their models flesh coloured underwear. And then promptly wiped their paintbrushes with satisfaction; propriety had been maintained!

In a slightly random way (because today seems like a restless and random day) this “false modesty” reminds me of a painting by Victorian master Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It’s called the Baths of Caracalla, and actually I’m reminded of it very often because a poster of it is hanging in our bathroom:

I’m showing you this not to drool over the light blue fabric swathed around the central brunette (although I covet it often and wonder what fabric it is) but to invite your attention to the bathers in the background. I remember a visitor once commenting on “the naked men hanging in your bathroom”, and it took me a couple of seconds to realise they were talking about this poster. I had to break it to them gently that the poster was not as exciting as it seemed and that the nakedness was an illusion. For most of the men are actually sporting flesh coloured loincloths, or the Roman equivalent of nude underwear. Again, propriety had been maintained :)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nathalie permalink
    October 21, 2009 11:18 pm

    These are wonderful. I love that they have hats and big jewellery, but an absence of tops. And that they’re coiffed and lipsticked already – which makes me wonder what kind of tops they might slip on, other than button-up shirts, that wouldn’t risk ruffling that hair, or brushing against those lips?

  2. October 23, 2009 7:04 am

    That is so funny. And the poster is beautiful. Those gowns, gorgeous!

  3. December 3, 2009 3:48 am

    Oh my gosh, that is too cool! How lovely that you have that old catalog! Someday I’d like to find one, too. Those pants remind me very much of some I was just reading about last night in Fourties Fashion by Jonathan Walford that I borrowed from the library. Really cool!
    I just found your blog and I absolutely adore it! I always love seeing what you have on your etsy store, too. You have some of my very favorite patterns on etsy listed!
    :)

    • glassoffashion permalink*
      December 3, 2009 12:06 pm

      Hi Lauren- thanks so much for your kind words on my blog, and on my etsy patterns!
      I had already found your blog (and your lovely Etsy store), and am totally in awe of your sewing skills. I love that you actually get round to making your vintage patterns up rather than just hoarding them (like myself!)

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