Newspaper-ad illustrations of women’s fashions
  • The bold beauty of African-designed fashions
  • Postcards of black women with hats
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    Auction Finds

    Ladies fashions on postcards

    The notebook lying on the auction table was about more than just the postcards. I recognized that instantly when I flipped open the cover, which had the label “Ladies Postcards.”

    Sure, there were postcards inside, lots of them tucked into plastic sleeves like those you’d find in old photo albums. But what was on the postcards was the prize:

    Women from the early 1900s and 1920s dressed in the latest fashions. Clothes from another era, another time. Many were Real Photo Post Cards (RPPC) and some had been touched up with color.

    And these women were stylish. Full flowing dress with much too much fabric. Large wide-brimmed hats that appear so unwieldy. Flapper dresses and tight caps that spoke freedom. 

    The notebook of 80 postcards were among items at a new auction house my auction buddy Janet and I checked out last weekend. She overhead the owner say that he used to hold the auction on Saturdays but only a few people showed up. He moved it to a day later; plenty of folks were there last Sunday. The auction was held inside a mall that primarily sold new furniture – tons of which were arranged in the middle of the mall from end to end.

    It was also a way-out-in-the-boonies-mall with a food court consisting of one vendor whose homemade vegetable soup and a hotdog could be had for $4.50. We wondered how the two young women behind the counter could make any money with such low prices.

    Back at the auction a few doors down, about 50 people had gathered for items ranging from ocean-liner menus from the 1940s to mantle clocks to coins to boxing magazines featuring Cassius Clay, Floyd Patterson and Joe Frazier.

    As for the postcards, most had never been postally used. A few had messages written in French with the post date of the early 1900s.

    This period was the tail end of the Victorian age when upper-crust women (the ones who could afford these tailor-made fashions) covered up their bodies mightily and tightened their middles in corsets for that hour-glass shape. It would be 20 years later before the swinging ’20s brought flash and flappers into vogue.

    European fashions were the thing, Paris couture was the epitome of style, and Gibson Girl hairstyles were the choice of coif. Just before the first decade ended, fashion was beginning to loosen its corset. Clothes were slightly more loose-fitting. Women’s magazines helped prod this trend, and paper patterns helped provide clothes for women of less-modest means.   

    By 1910, fashion and dress had become more practical, the stiffness began to ease a bit, and women’s bodies started to take shape in their clothes.

    Then stepped in Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the milliner whose simple and comfortable fashions rescued French women after she opened her Paris shop in 1913. She was one of the most famous fashion designers in the world (who hasn’t tried her perfume?), and she and her company would remain a fashion vanguard for the next 60 years.

    The women on the postcards, however, had not yet adopted Chanel’s style. They were still well within the Victorian mindset of the first decade. The notebook of postcards were pretty popular at auction, producing some hefty bidding that drove the price to $80.

    Here’s a look at some French fashions from the era.

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