I recently came across this gem in the May 1898 issue of The Delineator, a women’s fashion magazine that ran from 1873-1937.
This issue, which I feel is very timely considering many of us are attending graduations of friends and loved ones or perhaps reflecting on our own graduation(s), is named, the Commencement Number. (Many old periodicals stated the theme of the issue on the cover, “number” referring to the volume.) The magazine features patterns for dresses appropriate for that special day—not just for the graduate, but for teachers and younger sisters too.
I have to say I was surprised Commencement would be the focus of a women’s magazine from 1898, since many women didn’t bother finishing school at that time, if they went at all.
I’ve excerpted some highlights here…oh how they turned a phrase back in the day!
A Day of days to look back upon and inspire by its recollection is commencement day. The tedium and worry of examinations is ended, the hard-earned laurels won; what wonder, then, that the future assumes a roseate hue!
Last time I checked most women in 1898 had the option of either getting married or being a spinster, so I’m not sure where their “hard-earned laurels” were going to take them…
With knowledge as a foundation the affairs of life may be more readily confronted, but the optimistic graduate concerns herself little in serious reflections; her chief consideration on the closing of her school life—paradoxically enough termed commencement day—is her attire.
Oh there we go! It’s all about looking good…maybe things haven’t changed so much…
And this cannot be too simple. Youth needs not the influence of dress and adornment to magnify its natural charms. Who would paint the lily? To adorn the young graduate with finery that attracts attention to itself is, indeed, in questionable taste.
Ok, I’m taking notes: dress plainly.
White is the privilege of girlhood and has thus been selected for the graduate’s gown. Class colors are admissible, but these are represented, when possible, rather in flowers than in materials or trimmings.
Ok, plain white dress, but not too plain, I can have trim in my class colors. Oh wait, and flowers. Or just flowers. Or just trim? I’m confused. Not to mention the fact that these dresses are the farthest thing from plain to me!
Actually I did wear a white dress to my high school commencement, and the style was kind of old-fashioned…but they probably would have considered my white cotton shift an under-garment in 1898.
The article descends into a discussion of fabric choices, many of which I am not familiar with (surah? Brussels or la Tosca net?), and endless details of construction. Construction??? Oh I’m supposed to make a dress like this?! Right.
I can make a mean pillow, I can do slipcovers, but clothing…that takes a bit of finesse…and I can’t imagine tackling a garment of the magnitude presented here! And at the time, it would have been a perfectly normal project to take on…a little something to bang out.
This magazine is almost entirely about sewing your own clothes…hey HGTV House Hunters, that’s why old homes lack walk-in closets with storage systems!
Do you sew? Have you attempted anything as complicated as this? I would love to hear about it! Tell your story in the comments, or share on Facebook!