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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Fashion Statements

Although I’m possibly now writing for an adult readership - I still maintain that young people who have read Potatoes in Spring will enjoy The House on Schellberg Street – I’m writing this piece the same way as I write fiction for younger people. I see a picture in my head and I have to recreate that in the head of my readers.
However for some of the flashbacks, going back to the late 1800s and early 1900s I’ve had to create the pictures. I’ve had to know what people wore, how they furnished their homes and what the cities were like.
It’s been great fun finding out, especially when it came to dresses.

The earliest scene is in 1883, when Clara would have been almost twelve. She wouldn’t have her hair pinned up yet. Sunday best – or Saturday, for at that time Clara was still Jewish - may have included wearing a bustle. The skirt on the dress would have been knee-length and for ordinary days she would have worn a pinafore over a plain frock or blouse and petticoat.   
By the time Clara is twenty and meets her husband to be in 1891, dresses were still long and full. It is possible that the evening dress she wore for an unorthodox Hanukah celebration may have looked a little like one of these.                                        

By 1900 she is a young mother and la belle époque is just beginning in Berlin and Paris. There was romance and glamour. Electricity was being used more and more. She takes her six-year-old son riding the trams.
Her dress would have still been long, right to the ground, though less full than in the late 1800s. She would have worn a coat and a large hat. Leo would have probably worn a knickerbocker suit similar to the one shown here. The family was reasonably well-to-do and Clara takes him out shortly after he has come back from school.       

We meet Clara’s young family again in 1905. Little has changed in fashion in the last five years but perhaps we can now see nine-year-old Käthe in a full dress coming just below the knee. She would wear this with lace-up ankle boot.
In 1910, Leo is a young man and goes cycling a round Berlin. He would have worn a knickerbocker suit not so very different from what he’d worn as a little boy. There are lots of examples here.
Käthe joins the university and may have worn one of the newer, plainer, just above the ankle dresses in 1917.
In 1918 the whole family goes into mourning as Ernst Lehrs dies on 8 October, aged just 56. Although the family is now Christian, they still observe the Jewish habit of tearing their clothes for the funeral. The strict Victorian rules about mourning were being broken. Though Clara wearing a yellow blouse and having yellow feathers in her black hat are a little controversial there is no expectation that the family will wear black for months on end.
Käthe becomes engaged to be married in 1922. I had the most fun finding a dress for her to wear the evening Hans proposes. Eventually I decided on this. In the early twenties we have the jagged hemline that shows quite a bit of leg though more through the dress than below it. The low waist flatters her figure and the floaty chiffon sleeves show off her elegant arms. I’ve decided that this gentle gold is one of her best colours.       

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