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At 4:40 pm on Saturday, March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory employed 500 mostly immigrant woman and children to make blouses, or what were called “shirtwaists” back then. The company rented the top three floors of the ten story Asch Building located in Greenwich Village, NYC. The staff worked 52 hours a week for approximately $7 to $12.

Shirtwaists buttoned down the back and usually had a high collar. They were worn with long gored skirts and a belt. Sometimes women sported a men’s style tie or a cameo at the neck.

On that spring afternoon, a fire started on the 8th floor in the scrap bin underneath one of the cutter’s tables, perhaps from a lit match, a cigarette or something else, no one knows. Because of the vast amount of piled fabric pieces (two month’s worth), the fire spread quickly. Workers on the 10th floor were able to escape onto the roof, but others were trapped due to locked doors, flames, and a single faulty fire escape that collapsed. Many workers jumped from windows; others jumped down the elevator shaft after it quit working from the intense heat.

That day, 23 men and 123 women and young girls lost their lives.

The shock and horror of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire prompted changes in factory regulations.

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One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

Gotta love those extreme sleeves of the Late 19th Century.

puffsleeves

Over-sized puffy sleeves on this otherwise simple cotton dress is the descendant of the Leg of Mutton Sleeve, which enjoyed a revival in the 1890s after its debut in the early part of the century.

By the 1890s hoops and bustles were out of fashion. As women were becoming more independent, some fighting for the right to vote, they needed to get around more easily. Simpler skirts paired with shirtwaists (blouses) were the look and when the skirts narrowed, the sleeves expanded.

lom.sleeves

A tailor-made with leg-of-mutton sleeves. c.1895. Image from Survey of Historic Costume (Fairchild Books).

 

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