“Stout Figures Present an Interesting Problem,” 1914

HomePattern2_14What is the cause for the problem of stoutness?  Aging.  That is the analysis of the editors of The Home Pattern Company 1914 Fashions Catalog, republished by Dover books. “When a woman begins to leave youthful slimness behind and sees herself going gradually plump and then plumper, and then positively stout, life is apt to seem a tragedy,” read the opening lines.  “Just at present, however, fashion is kind to the stout woman, for large waists are so much the fashion that she need not lace herself in, until her discomfort shows itself in her reddened face.” (6) The styles offer common solutions for the larger woman—vertical lines and surplice (diagonal) closures.

HomePattern3_14On another page of the catalog devoted to larger women, the advice is more specific: no pastel colors, no primary colors, no horizontal stripes. “When a woman finds herself stout, she should stop using the latest styles and instead spend many hours before her mirror to find just what lines and colors suit her best. Then she should stick to these through thick and thin, making only such changes in her clothes as will keep them up-to-date.” But most important, she should focus on her conversational skills. “Like the extremely homely woman, she should make every effort to have her disposition and conversation so pleasing and interesting that what wear she wears becomes of minor importance. (48)

HomePattern1_14Sizes for these “stout” styles went up to a bust measurement of 46 inches, only two inches larger than the standard women’s sizes. In fact, the largest item offered in the catalog was for a “smart mannish shirtwaist” aimed at working women. It went up to size 48. That’s more evidence of just how ubiquitous the skirt and shirtwaist style was for all ages and sizes in early twentieth century America.

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5 Responses to “Stout Figures Present an Interesting Problem,” 1914

  1. I’ve definitely gotten “the reddened face” from Spanx!

  2. eimear says:

    To paraphrase Catherine Denuve, there comes a time when all women have to choose, the visage or the derriere…I do like the tip on brushing up on conversation skills!

    • Stopping By says:

      Although the advice could not be put in a more condescending way, I approve. Actually, I approve of it for all people.

  3. Lizzie says:

    “…she should make every effort to have her disposition and conversation so pleasing and interesting that what wear she wears becomes of minor importance.”

    That’s a rather modern thought!

  4. Thank you for showing the “business girls’ ” styles, too, so we can compare them with the stout styles. I’m still amazed that 100 years ago, styles that made women look larger than they were (and unfortunately allowed them to gain 10 lbs without noticing) were so popular; that floral print with all the horizontal lines and an unfitted bodice would add visual pounds for sure. The problem with letting your waist expand is that your hips usually go along for the ride…. A second look shows that the “stout” model in the center is not so much stout as busty, with a relatively proportionate waist and hips. And, even when older women are mentioned in the text, the illustrations all have youthful faces. Great images!

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