Sunday, 11 April 2021

The fashion stakes - 1934 edition

Today's post should have been about my (finally) completed hack-it-or-draft-it dress. Unfortunately, I had an accident earlier in the week and bruised my left hand (my dominant hand) so badly that I can't grip a needle - so the dress remains unfinished.

There is a certain irony to this. Because I haven't been exactly confident that my plan for the dress would work, it has progressed very slowly: any excuse to do something else instead was eagerly snapped up. But of course, now I can't sew, I'm desperate to get on with it.

So in the absence of any sewing, here's something rather different, a 'board game' which appeared in a March 1934 issue of Vogue. Various of the places on the board contain either fashion-forward items which give the players benefits, or fashion faux-pas which lead to forfeits, or even (horrors!) disqualification.

The complete game

Choosing clothing in 1934 was a complex business, with different outfits required for myriad subtly different occasions. Getting it wrong was a source of severe social anxiety, for the middle classes at least. The same issue of Vogue plays upon this concern with an advertisement for the upcoming three issues, headed "One shilling invested in Vogue can save you many guineas"*. It continues "During the next few weeks you will be buying your entire wardrobe for the coming season". Rather than looking forward to a shopping spree on suits, hats, dresses, and accessories (and fabrics), it describes this as a "trying period", with the risk of "costly failures".

Vogue emphasising the perils of shopping

Obviously, Vogue is stressing the difficulties in order to sell its expertise, but the problem was a real one: Catherine Horwood's Keeping Up Appearances: Fashion and Class Between the Wars provides a detailed and entertaining account of the complexities involved. In this context, Vogue's 'Race Game of Fashion' can be seen as a light-hearted way to advise readers what was in, and what was most definitely out.

Small drawings appear on 24 of the 95 places, with the key given at the centre of the 'board' - I have quoted these above each illustration. The rules of the game are as follows:

I particularly like rule three

Now all that is clear, let the game commence!

An elegantly manicured hand throws a dice to begin

Place 2 - Coat with wind-blown silhouette. Player blown forward, three places.

Fashion yay

Place 6 - Too much fur-trimming for spring. Player is exhausted, and misses two throws.

Fashion nay

Place 11 - Military effect with epaulettes. Player confined to barracks. Return to No. 1.

Another fashion fail, but no reason given

Place 15 - Player revives wardrobe with jabot. Receives extra throw.

Jabots were quite the thing at the time

Place 19 - Chinese coolie coat [sic]. Very new. Travel to No. 25.

I feel this image has not aged well

Place 24 - Feather boa. Over-elaboration. Player loses throw.

Also, very strange gloves!

Place 28 - Redingote and redingote stocks. Other players sent back three places.

A redingote is always elegant

Place 31 - Player goes out in stocking cap. Hides head until passed by all her rivals.

Surely no-one actually did this?

Place 37 - Three-quarter length coat. Player moves forward six places.

Obviously highly fashionable

Place 41 - Draw-string neckline. Hangs player up for one turn.

Not quite the thing

Place 42 - Player wears new sailor hat and obliterates rivals. Her next throw is doubled.

Old-fashioned hat styles in the background

Place 46 - Flower garden print frock. Player dances forward three places.

Just the thing for spring

Place 51 - Bare arms and shoulders. Player is cold-shouldered. Waits until she throws a six.

Whereas this is not

Place 56 - Ruched tulle cape. Player is excused next forfeit.

Elegant evening dress

Place 57 - Dropped waistline at back. Rival players drop back two places.

Rivals are blown away

Place 59 - Wind-blown hair. Blows player back to number 52.

Wind-blown is good for coats, but not for hair

Place 64 - Tunic dress. Go forward three places.

Tunic over a full-length skirt

Place 68 - Lots of long monkey fur trimming. Bad taste. Out of race.

The ultimate no-no, but is it the fur itself or the excess that's the problem?

Place 70 - Front coat fullness. Very advanced. Player is excused all future forfeits.

Bonus points for the cute dog, surely?

Place 75 - Tyrolean hat. Player waits for next turn until passed by an adversary.

Presumably such hats were passé?

Place 79 - Crisp blouses. Player moves forward to number 94.

They may be crisp, but they look rather fussy as well

Place 85 - Fan train. Player moves forward with dignity five places.

A fan train, and a footman

Place 89 - Unexpected cheque. Player buys winged ear clips and moves to finish.

Winged ear clips for the (literal) win

Place 92 - Riot of lace and velvet. Player goes backward instead of forward for next two throws.

Fallen at the last fence

Goal - Winner crowned with laurel (while wearing something which looks very like the ruched tulle cape on place 56).

Crowned the victor

* - A guinea was one pound and one shilling, £1.05 in today's money. Guinea coins ceased to be minted in 1813, but the sum continued to be used for high-end goods. By using the word 'guineas' rather than 'pounds', Vogue implies that its readers will be purchasing good quality as a matter of course. (In terms of selling the magazine, though, Georgina Howell's later slogan 'Buy nothing until you buy Vogue' arguably did the same job far more elegantly.)


  1. I love this! But I’m very sorry about your hand.

    1. Thank you Lyndle. It is getting better - hopefully not long to go now!

  2. I think we should try to figure out equivalents for today's fashion! Would tennis shoes at an evening event bring the player forward or backward?

    1. That's a great idea, but I'm so out of touch with modern fashion that I wouldn't know where to begin!