On the website for the Thomas J. Watson Library at Metropolitan Museum Library, I browsed through the 1910 catalog for the Gimbel Brothers department store, then in Philadelphia. I had my eye out for clothes and accessories especially aimed at older women. My searches for “older,” “matron” and “elderly” turned up nothing, so I decided to search by size. Larger sizes are sometimes coded older.
The very first offerings were “tub suits,” made in washable fabrics, offered in bust sizes from 32 to 44 inches. Since I knew that other catalogs did not always include the largest sizes, I thought perhaps these suits were designed specifically to accommodate even a busty older woman. However, as I paged on through the catalog I found that the store offered all its suits, dresses, and coats in sizes 32 to 44.
Skirts were a different matter, though. The standard offerings came in waist sizes of 23 to 29 inches. If your waist was larger, from 30 to 35 inches, you had to pay a dollar more. Most women gain inches in their waistlines as they age, and I was a little miffed to discover that I would have to pay extra for my 32 inch waist.
Of course, not all larger women are old; and not all older women are large. Was there anything specifically designed with the older set in mind? The only object I discovered was “toque for elderly woman,” model 7803 above. What makes this a hat specifically suited for an older woman? And why does the woman in the drawing look so young?
If you like fashion history, take some time to look through the Met’s catalog collection. Be advised, though, that the digital search feature is not entirely accurate. I looked for “elderly” and came up empty. The only way I found the “toque for elderly woman” was the old fashion way—by going through the catalog page by page.