Monday, December 9, 2013

A Fabulous Flea Market Find: An Edwardian Ladies Suit

I meant to post about this earlier, but life gets in the way. Photos are on the way!

On a recent excursion to Santa Cruz, Anders and I had just parked the car and were headed to brunch when we were stopped dead in our tracks. The Santa Cruz Sunday flea market was in full swing, and we couldn't resist taking a look. We agreed that we could both hold off a little bit longer on food and coffee to explore the tables and racks of vintage wares.
Literally the first clothing rack I reached, I saw her.
I say 'her' because that little bit of forest green wool beckoned to me like a little woodland nymph. One elegant sleeve peeked out from a few 1970s atrocities, as if the polyester orange and brown prints were slowly devouring a damsel in distress for a meal. I quickly reached in and found the hanger this sleeve was attached to, and lifted the garment from the Sarlacc pit of floral disco doom.
I gazed at it for a moment, thinking I had a late 1930s coat at first (or 1970s-does-30s) due to the small puffed sleeves that bordered on leg-o-mutton style. Then I saw the skirt underneath the long jacket and knew I had something a good chunk of years older. Here's what else I saw:
Pleats in the skirt, but radiating out from the center front.
Celluloid buttons faded from a deep green to a mustard beige.
Forest green satin covered collar, cuffs, breast pocket welt and pocket flaps.
Ecru silk satin lining.
A woven label much older than the 1930s.
 The cut of the torso area was one that barely whispered of a fad for extreme pigeon front silhouettes, that had barely just faded away by the time this suit was created. Most likely this was made around 1908-10.
I promise, photos are on the way. I think I need to dig for the hat I have that may go well with it.

When I tried it on, it was one of those rare spooky moments that feels like you're putting on a garment you've owned and worn for years, like a favorite coat. Now, I'm of the taller variety with long limbs, so vintage items are often too short for me, if they fit me at all otherwise. This forest green suit fit as though it were made for me in every way, even without all the proper historical underthings.
It's one thing to find something from the 1930s or 40s, but it's rare I can go back this far and find an article of clothing that fits as truly as this does.
The skirt is shorter, hitting just above the ankles.
Normally I would say that perhaps the original owner was shorter than me, but seeing how the jacket fit lengthwise and in the arms, she had to be around my height.
As mentioned earlier, the style and cut of both the jacket and skirt look as though the ensemble was made around 1908. However; the skirt may have been shortened later on, a little after the start of The Great War. Perhaps around 1916. Looking on the inside of the skirt, I can see traces of an alteration to the length.
When the US finally did enter WWI, it was time to make a little go a long way for the war effort, and many women had to make do with a good suit as long as possible. Often altering them to at least reflect the current hemlines that just kept going higher. "Career girls", in the growing force of women entering the workplace during and after the war, had maybe one or (if they were lucky) two good suits.

Here is a perfect example of women's suits from 1907-8, and the era in which the one I found came from. The jacket on the far left and the skirt in the center most closely resemble the cut and style of my green wool suit. There are still examples of women's sportswear from this decade that have even slightly shorter hemlines than these:

Then later on the skirt length was altered to fit in with the shift in style, similar to these below. By 1916, hemlines were reaching almost calf-revealing heights:

 Sheesh! Custom tailored or not, those are some stunningly expensive suits for the time.
Not all ready made garments were this pricey. These must have been aimed at the upper class.
Especially if you consider that the one in the middle for $19 would have been $400 by today's worth. The $32 suit equals out to be about $650.
The yearly US median household income in 1915 = about $687
Damn I want a pair of those boots.

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