• Norma Shephard

What Makes the Marvelous 1920s Middy Special?


Eachof these five flapper-era girlfriends wears a distinctive version of the 1920s Middy.

I love this snapshot taken by one of my great aunts during the 1920s. These girlfriends are each sporting variations on the popular Middy blouse. Not exactly what they wore to roar at an afternoon or evening dance party; instead, smart-looking skirt, blouse, and sweater combinations suitable for everyday wear and oh-so-trendy during the flapper era.


Stolen From the Boys


As with most classic designs, the Middy has been revisited a number of times with distinctive variations. I wore one myself in the 1960s as a requirement of my Canadian Girls in Training membership. Inspired by the historic British midshipman's sailor suit, the middy style with its large vee-neck collar was appropriated in the 19th century for children's clothing, especially that for boys.


Boy's Middy style sailor suit illustration from McCall's Magazine, April 1898.

Middy dress pattern illustration for girls. McCall's Magazine April, 1898

The common denominator in the illustrations above is the large shoulder-to-shoulder collar. The boy's version boasts matching cuffs and a blouson waist; the jacketed dress is cinched with a belt. For the boys' costume, a military reference is achieved with contrasting colour,

appliquéed stripes, but brass buttons perform the function for that of the girl's. (See more vintage children's patterns and looks in my book Darlings of Dress; Children's Costume 1860 to 1920)

My dad, Norman Hllyer c.1916.

During the Great War, British and North American children were dressed in sailor suits in a show of patriotism, and by the 1920s, many women's sports teams and girls groups adopted the Middy for their uniforms. The traditional cotton twill fabrication ensured a crisp structure that was long-wearing and easily laundered.


This young woman with her fashionable bob, posed for a formal portrait in her brand new Middy. She has softened the look with an embroidered pocket handkerchief.

Fashionable Flappers Flip for the Marvelous Middy


Eaton's Spring & Summer Catalogue ushers in MIddy styles for girls and young ladies.

By the 1920s, the Middy was de rigeur for women and girls eager to create the boyish silhouette so popular during that decade. It's hip-length hemline and fabric belting were the perfect accompaniment to shortened skirts selected for suitable daywear. In this illustration, buttons, scarves, smocking, contrast collars, and embroidery ensure that each individual Middy is distinctive. Patch pockets provide comfort and a handy place to stash a few trinkets or necessities when venturing outdoors. Note that these Middies are belted at the waist, but as the decade prgressed, belts fell more fashionable to the hips.


I'm crazy for the iconic fashions of the 1920s, but so many of them haven't survived, or have begun to deteriorate if they were fashioned from weighted silks. The cotton and linen Middies, on the other hand, remain intact and do a nice job of representing the aesthetic of the era.


Anyone else out there a fan of 1920s fashion?


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NORMA SHEPHARD

HATS IN MIND

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