Friends, I can’t describe to you the paroxysms I experience when I come across something for which I’ve been searching a long time…and it was no different when some months back I came across this 1926 Women’s World issue of The Book of Baby Trousseaux. In fact I’m fairly sure MrSuziwong would say it appeared I had simultaneously swallowed my tongue and had a brain fart when I came across the newly listed eBay auction. The price was ridiculously high, but I nary blinked an eyelid as I pressed ‘BUY’…I HAD to have this magazine folks; I had been looking for it for nearly two years. And it didn’t disappoint.
For someone like me, anything baby-clothing related makes my knees weak…and if you add in an historical context I’m just about hysterical with glee. Let’s go through this booklet page by page – it’s going to take two or three posts folks, but I’m sure you’ll be delighted with the wait as I edit each picture and discuss the page.
Who wouldn’t just die for a vintage themed baby shower??? When I was pregnant with both Misses 24 and 21 we had just moved to new states and barely knew anyone – certainly not anyone close enough to throw me a baby shower so I missed out both times. I really hope that I am given the opportunity to throw a baby shower or two for Misses 24 and 21 when/if they give me grand babies.
Page 3 – Introduces the contents and gives three lists of what an expectant mother would need for her bundle of joy: a simple trousseaux, a slightly more complete one and then the mother of all trousseaux’s that is rather elaborate. Notice that the term “trousseaux” is used and not ‘layette’? Language isn’t stationary…it develops and changes right along with the society that uses it. I do wonder when the term ‘layette’ became the norm and “trousseaux” was phased out. The book does in latter pages use the term ‘layette’ but not as prolifically as the term ‘trousseaux’. Clearly the three lists are aimed at the three classes: the working class family, the middle class family and the upper class/elite family.
These days we consider these three class groups to be a very general way of referring to society – society has developed over time and there has been much discussion by sociologists about reclassifying class group labels and behaviours which have so obviously changed (for so many many reasons). There is even a newly described ‘underclass’ that is stratified below the working class; but let’s not discuss this today as it’s a rather depressing topic. The page discusses that 27 inches is the regulatory length for baby gowns – all babies wore gowns, not just girls.
I adore the next section that discusses the bassinet: “One of the most inexpensive but attractive bassinets can be made from a plain big clothes basket [they would have been wicker in those days]. Some of them have handles on both ends, and others have a handle going over the top. In the latter case I would suggest cutting the handle off. The basket can be fixed in two ways: 1.Paint it inside and out with enamel, putting several coats on to make it look well. If it has handles on each end they can have bows of ribbon tied to them if you care to, you can paint little sprays of forget-me-nots at intervals around the top rim of the basket. A big pillow can be used as a mattress, or you can have a little mattress made just to fit the basket.” It goes on for a few more paragraphs on how to decorate the basket with fabric. I adore the DIY and ‘make do’ attitude of the day. I grew up on these very principles and totally get them.
Page 4 – “Babykin’s Clothes From Head To Toes; soft little garments that conform to the requirements of distinction, convenience and health – a discussion of materials with full instructions for making!” OH my goodness – I just love it. The very first line has me in stitches: “Most doctors prefer to have all the baby’s trousseau laundered before it is used.” It tell us that this was a time when doctors (almost all men) were in a very powerful societal position over women’s health. A woman would have never questioned her physicians advice! The garments that are listed are as follows: shirts, diapers [nappies], bands, flannel petticoats, white petticoats, slips, dresses and nightgowns. The rest of the required garments are listed on page 17: outing cape, nightingales and flannel square. Baby needs not only flannel petticoats, but white petticoats and slips as well. The first two should be in the Gertrude style (buttons at the shoulder). White petticoats should be made of nainsook and slips, being the very dainty garments that they are should be made of fine nainsook, dimity or batiste. According to the author, “Elaborate dresses are not in good taste for everyday wear, but, of course, the baby must have a few best dresses.”
Page 5 -“Ruffly Bonnets For Little Girls And Simpler Ones For Their Brothers”, illustrates the plethora of bonnet types that would be bought for the price listed.Friends did you notice the assumptions in the title? I did – I confess it’s the sociologist in me. The assumption that a family would [dare I say ‘should’] have a little boy. Boys were so very much more valued in that time. You’ll probably get sick of me picking up on these language nuances that highlight the very strong patriarchal attitudes of the time. Forgive me Readers – I can’t help myself; the topic of societal behaviours over time has, and will, always continue to be very interesting to me.
Page 6 -“Sewing Happy Thoughts Into Wee Garments – both sentiment and tradition demand that baby’s first clothes be made by hand.” Friends, you’ll get no argument from me on that note – As you know I’m starting on my Grandmother’s Hope Chest with plenty of time to spare. “What a breath-taking thing it is to unfold a pattern for a first baby dress and realize how tiny all the pieces are! How ridiculously small the sleeves, the yoke, the neck!…For sewing use 90 to 120 thread. Fine needles are also necessary – numbers 8 to 10 are best. For flannel and all-wool materials, use sewing silk, Very tiny little flat buttons are best for dresses and slips.” Friends I use 120 weight thread when I’m hand sewing and 80 weight (and sometimes 50 or 60 wight) when I’m machine sewing. I recently bought some 100 weight silk machine thread. These very fine weight machine & hand sewing threads aren’t found at your local habby store anymore sadly and that’s because people just don’t routinely make these type of garments in fine fabrics like muslin, batiste etc. The US have a strong continuing tradition of heirloom sewing and in certain parts of the country these fabrics & notions are routinely stocked in-store. More recently, as the internet has become more popular, online stores make it easier to get these notions if you’re an Australian heirloom sewer. We do have some embroidery stores that stock some of the fine fabrics and notions, but they’re much more prolific in the USA.
Page 7 – “Dainty Styles That Brighten Baby’s Smiles.” This page is the equivalent of today’s aspirational marketing ads. It presents patterns that one could buy from Women’s World magazine. Sadly, I will likely never own any of these layette patterns – they don’t appear to have survived as I’ve never seen any for sale. In the middle of the page is a flash-back article, “Infant fashions in 1863 – Infant fashions have changed a great deal in the last sixty years – just look at these old pictures from the Godey’s Lady’d Book of 1863! It must have taken weeks to make one of the dresses babies wore in those days, and then think of the washing and ironing.” Seriously Readers…it would take me months not weeks to make a dress like the one pictured!
Page 8 – “When His Majesty Rides Out In His Carriage.” Oh friends…I roll my eyes at the sheer patriarchy of such a heading. “When baby is old enough for his first outing, he should have all the necessary accessories, so we have planned everything from his coat to his carriage robe.” Girls just didn’t get a mention in those days! The whole article either refers to baby in the masculine or with no gender – baby girls were just not valued equally by society in that time; the language says it all. You’d be hard pressed finding an article that uses masculine-only language these days when discussing babies!
One thing I must mention about this magazine is that there is no gender roles for baby boys and girls. There is absolutely no discussion of particular colours assigned to genders. I do know that prior to the early 1900s, babies wore white no matter their gender. Sometime in the early 1900’s society began to dress baby girls in blue and baby boys in pink. By the time the 1940s rolled around and those baby boomer babies had arrived, pink for girls and blue for boys made an appearance. It appeared to drop off again as gender neutral clothing became vogue again. Then in the 1980’s it came back with a vengeance. The phenomenon of colours being assigned to gender has been largely media and advertising driven; food for thought!
Page 9 – “Beauty And Comfort For The Littlest Wardrobe; five practical articles that you can crochet and knit for the youngest member of the family.” A whole page of written patterns for crochet and knitted garments. The knitted blanket has a sweet scalloped crochet edge. I love to make these – they’re so useful and visually pretty at the same time.
Page 10 – “Flannels And Woollens for Wee Willie Winkle; crochet and embroidery trim ten useful articles for your baby’s wardrobe in the winter months.” Another page of DIY; this time for winter months. Another heading that fails to represent baby girls *sigh*.
Page 11 – “The Daintiest Posies Adorn Our Baby’s Wardrobe; suggestions for embroidery that give the finishing touch to the dearest outfit in the world – the secrets of the beauty in these twelve inexpensive articles lies in your nimble fingers.” This page is right up my alley as it has “suggestions for embroidery that give the finishing touches to the dearest outfit in the world.” It even tells the reader that the secret of beautiful inexpensive items for baby isn’t in the garment, but “in your nimble fingers” – and I’m apt to agree.
All of the items pictured could be purchased and then they would be embroidered by hand at home. The items were pre-stamped with the embroidery design. I have a few sweet examples of these catalogue garments that I’ll discuss in another post. Here’s what it says about Dress 4-26-399 (top right illustration): “Dress has wreaths of white satin stitch with trailing flowers winding in and out over a band of hand hemstitching. If desired, feather-stitching or chain stitch can be used in place of hemstitching. Embroidery and hemstitching are used at the hem in front. Narrow insertion is used on each fitted kimono sleeve to hold the fulness. The same insertion and lace are used at neck and wrists. Dress stamped flat on white batiste 80c. Floss 3c. Length 22 inches”.
Feather-stitching was very prevalent in baby embroidery and it still is today in heirloom sewing/embroidering for children/babies. We don’t see kimono sleeves in modern babywear; instead all sleeves are often set-in for non-stretch fabrics and raglan for knit fabrics. I can tell you I didn’t pay 80 cents for the vintage stamped garments I have purchased! No siree Bob!
Friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed the first 11 pages of The Women’s World Book of Baby Trousseaux as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you – I know it’s both text and photo heavy and may take time to load for some of you – I hope you feel the post makes up for any inconvenience.
Check back soon for Part 2 and 3 of the Women’s World Book of Baby Trousseaux.