1913 China-Inspired Dresses

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, February 6, 1913: About the same as yesterday.

Source: Ladies Home Journal (May, 1913)

Source: Ladies Home Journal (June, 1913)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’m going to go off on another tangent.

Today our world is so global—and we think that people lived very geographically isolated lives a hundred years ago.  Well, not exactly—

People considered themselves to be very cosmopolitan. As I mentioned several days ago, students studied current events in China in school—and according to the June, 1913 issue of Ladies Home Journal:

Interest in the political and civic activities of the new China, which is more or less world-wide at this time, let the designers of the garments on this page to look at that country for inspirations for clothes that would be unique and new and yet fit in with present-day modes and the needs and environments of American women.

China has always been known as possessing a wonderful color sense, and the exquisite beauty of its hand embroidery is the marvel of every needlewoman.


These facts are well known, but one might readily question the possibility of finding in the apparel of the Chinese lines that could be successfully modernized, yet that this has been done is charmingly and most convincingly shown by these attractive and absolutely wearable garments.


11 Responses

  1. what lovely oriental inspired clothes!

  2. It would be hard to image how long it would take to travel to China in 1913 and bring back beautiful fabrics for fashion. I bet they were really expensive.

  3. I’m curious if American women started hand embroidering dresses from the influence of the elegant one you featured. PS: I just stumbled onto a site you might like showing some great fashions from 1913; if you scroll down from the first posting there are more dresses. http://www.stickleymuseum.org/blog/archives/1412/

    • Thanks for sharing the great link. The pictures and explanations help me better understand some of the clothes and captions (such as sporting clothes and morning dresses) that I’ve seen in 1913 magazines.

      • You’re welcome. I hope you saw their posting,After the Dance, 1914,for some insights as to the music they played during that era and those dresses remind me of your teenage Grandmother.

  4. I have an old history book from 1910… it is interesting to see pictures of China & other foreign countries and their styles.

  5. Very pretty dresses but also look comfortable. I am amazed at what people knew and how well traveled some were a 100 years ago.

  6. I would wear those today if I had a nice place to go to. I think they are de.vine!!!!!

  7. The dresses are so elegant and softly flowing. Wonder what Grandma would think about the skinny jeans and ladies’ styles today. :)

    • I don’t ever remember her ever commenting on an outfit I wore–either positively or negatively–when I was a child. That said, my sense is that she appreciated clothes that were stylish for her rural community–yet always had doubts about whether her clothes were quite right.

  8. Very nice “tangent” you took us on! :)

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