Today’s advice about wardrobe planning 1935 style comes from a college textbook I discovered during my book research . It offers advice on designing and fitting clothing, gaining the most satisfaction from your clothes and handily, a four step wardrobe plan.
1. Understand What Makes a Good Outfit
Your outfit (or as they say, costume) starts with your dress. This was mainly because the new style dresses offered superior comfort and practicality making them the most popular form of women’s clothing at the time, and partly because trousers were still scandalous. Your dress is supported by your hat, shoes, hosiery, gloves, handkerchief, handbag, jewellery, umbrella, coat (or cape!) and the correct underwear. This makes your wardrobe a collection of outfits. I don’t know if you have ever thought about all that, but I haven’t. I only just bought a full-length mirror!
Naturally, your coat and shoes (and hats) need to go with many outfits and must be chosen with careful planning to ensure they will work well across your wardrobe. And you need to think about you; the things you do, where you do them, and how much you can afford to pay. And naturally, the authors assume we want to look our best all the times. And now that I think about it, I really do.
Each of your outfits expresses a common theme or purpose (they call it spirit) through shared colour, texture or consistency of line and detail. The theme draws against your personality and illustrates your relationships; e.g., the clothes you wear at home entertaining your friends will represent freedom and enjoyment regardless of colours and materials while your going out evening clothes express leisure and camaraderie in exotic and fanciful fabrics and details.
When pulling an outfit together you should choose:
- colours that harmonise with your skin. It doesn’t matter whether you choose monotone, monochromatic or contrasting, though the authors suggest coats and shoes in deeper colours, and that contrasting colours share the same intensity.
- similar textures, e.g. boucle with chunky beads, not fine chains.
- consistent details, e.g. a plain, structured work dress needs a plain utilitarian collar, not a fancy lace one.
- a united theme, e.g. your street clothes express your reserve through sober colours, textures and lines.
What Your Outfit Consists of
Their notion of appropriate dress is more formal than is customary today, but as I know many people still dress for church and formal workplaces, here’s what they recommend:
- your outfit should be based on your dress, which provides the colour and textural base of your outfit. The shoes help your dress to represent your theme, e.g. your dignified walking shoe should be a firm and durable but easy care leather with a comfortable heel that provides good balance. It will fit correctly, suit your body, and their colour intensity should sustain and emphasise the overall harmony and balance of your outfit.
- your hat and gloves will match your outfit theme (i.e. don’t wear your gardening gear with your city dresses). The hat should fit well and repeat the lines of your body and face, and your gloves should not be too distinctive.
- your hosiery must be the right colour intensity, texture and design for your skin and/or the outfit (e.g. a semi-sheer mid weight with your tweed suit).
- your handbag can make or break your outfit. It should harmonise with your hat shoes and gloves, complement the trimmings of your dress or match the overall tone of your outfit. It should harmonise with the lines of your outfit.
- your accessories such as jewellery should enhance the line and colour of, and add interest to your outfit. Ideally, they will be in keeping with your personality and stage of life. The fall of the piece should repeat the lines of your body, shape of the face and length of the neck. If you still use handkerchiefs they should be plain white or match your outfit.
- your undies are really important – they protect you from the weather and skin irritations caused by your dress, and they protect your dress from perspiration and body oils. Their tightness, elasticity and comfort play an important role in determining the style of your dress. They should match your theme, e.g. plain and practical for street wear or sheer and dainty for the evening. Regardless they should be soft against the skin and easy to clean.
2. Consider Your Environment and Activities
Sensibly, the authors insist on consistency between yourself, your clothes and your surroundings. Generally, this is quite easy because most of us live in the same place and don’t move around much, or engage in a wide range of activities. They argue that a good part of the beauty of an outfit is its appropriateness, and each is a unique reflection of your environment and activities. For example, you don’t need:
- fur in the tropics.
- a formal suit in a small village (unless you are the undertaker).
- formal structured clothing if you are a stay at home mum.
- loose unstructured clothing for your work in a law court.
3. Understand Your Finances
The authors suggest your household clothing budget is a proportion of your income (after tax ):
- subsistence 10-12%
- minimum comfort 12-15%
- comfort 16-17%
- liberal 18-20%
I’d wager most of us would be in the comfort range. If you’re on your own, it’s easy – all yours! If you’re part of a family, the simplest split offered is 30% father, 35% mother and 35% children. You may need to adapt this for your particular circumstances – if you have lots of kids you might want to allocate more to them, of if you are a stay at home mum take a smaller cut because your needs are greater, or if you are the lawyer take a bigger cut so that you can buy good quality suits.
Bear in mind that a small budget limits the number and quality of garments you can buy, so you need to spend your money where you will get the best value. Buy clothes that work for more than one environment and/or activity, and make them plain enough that you can wear them frequently without anyone commenting.
4. Put Yourself in the Picture
Think about who you are (body and mind), what you do, where you live and what you can afford:
- if you are a slender and generally upbeat person you probably won’t suit dark sober outfits.
- note the frequency, duration and importance of your activities. Do you need distinct summer and winter wardrobes? Work and weekend?
- not just how much you can spend on purchases, but how much time and money you want to spend on clothing upkeep as well. If you want something to last longer than a season, buy with durability in mind. And remember, good taste is not achieved through excess.
Use this information to develop one or more capsules (or to use their term colour unit). Each capsule should be a different dominant colour in a range of values and intensities, though it can include contrasting garments or accessories (if they are the right ones). The contents should (of course) look as if they belong together, and the garment textures should support the capsule’s theme e.g. practical or luxurious.
A Worked Example
Let’s take an example using my friend Katy. She loves chocolate brown – I’m assuming milk chocolate because dark chocolate is almost black and she doesn’t wear black. We’ll pretend she’s a young single woman who doesn’t have much money. Katy’s thinking ahead, planning for a practical and durable brown winter capsule that will do for street and dress wear. She hopes its consistency of colour will disguise its smallness:
- a brown coat for all occasions
- brown figured crepe dress
- brown dress with varied value and intensity
- tan Sunday frock
- henna wool dress
- brown shoes and gloves (she will do well to remember that she needs a shoe that is in between high heels and oxfords, something like a low heeled one strap pump)
- henna, tan or brown hat
- dark brown accessories
Does that make wardrobe planner easier or harder? It takes a bit of thinking and calculating – is that too much? Do you prefer more of a spur of the moment thing?
 Latzke, Alpha and Beth Quinlan. 1935. Clothing: An Introductory College Course. JB Lippincott. (pp. 214-253)