University Girl Wardrobe Essentials

What are the fashion staples any university girl must have in her wardrobe?

If you were one of the lucky young women attending university in the 1940s, numerous magazines had entire sections dedicated to helping you budget and obtain the perfect collegiate capsule wardrobe. I recently came across a number of these articles from both Women’s Wear Daily and American Vogue, dating from 1940 to 1946. The recurrent theme is how to achieve the most variation in a wardrobe with the fewest essential items. Naturally, there was wide variation in what was deemed essential, and proposed budgets varied from $100 for an austere annual collegiate wardrobe (Vogue, August 1941) to a lavish $1,400 (Women’s Wear Daily, December 1940). What then is the verdict on the wardrobe essentials for a 1940s female collegian?

Following the lead of the articles from the time, I’m going to break the wardrobe necessities down into categories. These will be: Dresses, Suits, Separates, Outerwear and Extras.

‘$100 Campus Wardrobe’, Vogue August 15, 1941

Dresses: A college girl would ‘need’ anywhere from three to ten dresses. In the most austere case of three dresses, she would need one formal dress, for events such as faculty dinners or serious dates. The other two dresses would be day dresses, either in cotton, rayon or silk, and preferably one in wool. For a girl with a larger budget, two nice dresser were necessary, one for formal events, and one ‘dressy black crepe, for fall date and town wear.’ She would also have at least two wool, two or three rayon or silk prints and four to six cotton dresses.

Suits: The most highly advertised item was a fashionable suit. The girl on a $100 budget might have one suit, while more fortunate girls would have three to six. In 1942, Vogue listed tweed as the number one must-have suit material, but in 1946, it had been ousted by gabardine, preferably in black, navy, brown or beige. In 1946, the tweed suit was still one of the top preferences, however, and was seen as ‘an intrinsic part of campus wardrobe.’

‘Campus Wardrobe’, Vogue, August 15, 1942

Separates: Separates were highly valued by college girls, as they added much variety to a constricted wardrobe. These items fell into their own categories: blouses, sweaters, skirts and trousers. At least three blouses, a mix of white collared masculine  shirts and feminine styes, were recommended. A simple wardrobe would have at least two sweaters: one long sleeve turtleneck in a subtle colour such as black or grey, or a bolder red, and another sweater in a college-specific colour. The most minimal wardrobe would feature two pleated skirts; a better funded one would have four, in plaid, pastels or checks. Finally, trousers. While never listed as essentials, tailored slacks, pedal-pushers and mens bluejeans were listed as ideal additions to a collegiate wardrobe. Some universities showed approval with loose regulations on length and styles. 

Coat: All the articles agree that every college lass needed at least one good wool coat. Brown, camel hair and beige box coats are recommended.

Extras: Finally, all the extra bits that pull a wardrobe together. Undergarments aren’t included in the descriptions, except where specific mention of the importance of stockings is made. The importance of a good hat and gloves is very explicit, however. Minimalist wardrobes suggest one hat and a turban, with one pair of versatile all-weather gloves. Berets in dark or bold colours are suggested, as are feminine felt riding hats. To finish off a college wardrobe is a sturdy pair of shoes. One or two pairs of oxfords or ‘moccasins’ are essential.

So, do you have all your college wardrobe essentials?

 

Both images accessed via Proquest.

Julliard’s Gourmet Colours

 

While in New York our class was fortunate enough to visit the archive of the Brooklyn Museum. One of the pieces that we were shown was a whimsical little catalogue of dyed fabrics called Julliard’s Gourmet Colours from autumn 1949. In truth, the word ‘catalogue’ is loosely used to describe what was, in actuality, a treasure trove of beautiful fabric swatches, whacky illustrations and a plethora of food-related puns. These curious little boxes were local to New Jersey, only produced once or twice a year and were made for the benefit of clothing designers and manufacturers who may have been interested in using their fabrics.

The ways in which the accompanying booklets described the look and feel of their textiles was truly a work of poetry; the gastronomical metaphors perfectly embodying the potential haptic visuality of fabrics and clothing. The booklet states: “Gourmet colours have subtlety and unique distinction of a great chef’s masterpiece… for, like a memorable dish, they are skilfully blended by experts and served up in the most attractive and tasteful guise.” With dye names such as ‘cranberry sauce, ‘black mint’ and ‘hot spice’, it becomes easier to see how one might begin to view an outfit as a perfectly crafted meal with high quality ingredients.

They go on further to write that the texture of certain fabrics may be “smooth as a mousse… or crisp as melba toast, or soft as soufflé… or as deliciously light as meringue.” Here, language is used as a means to suggest that there is a desire to devour when looking at something we deem to be aesthetically pleasing. They also write: “these Julliard fabrics have been designed and dyed in Gourmet colours to provide a gracious setting for milady.” In this sense, an interesting comparison can be drawn between the way in which the fabrics are being described and the way in which the gaze operates within society. In describing fabrics using food-related terminology and comparing women’s fashion as a ‘gracious’ table setting, we can see how fashion might be used as a means to be devoured and ingested by the look of others. This quirky and unique fabric catalogue epitomises the tactile and digestive nature of looking in a manner that almost satirises and parodies the devouring potentiality of the gaze.

By Niall Billings