Women’s fashion and architecture came together in home design during the early 20th century.
The women’s shirtwaist, a very popular style during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is widely known as the Gibson girl look.
Well this style was so popular that it was introduced to buildings of the time creating a new look for homes called shirtwaist architecture.
Let’s first examine what this fashion was all about.
What is a Shirtwaist?
The term used for a woman’s blouse before it was called a blouse was bodice. Then from 1890 to about 1918 a new style of bodice came into fashion. This new style was called a “shirtwaist”, “shirt waist”, or just “waist”. The shirtwaist design took the place of the stiff, tight, high-collared bodices of the nineteenth century. Why a shirt would be called a “waist” baffles me.
The shirtwaist blouse was regarded as the model shirt for the independent working woman.
A button-down blouse, the functional shirtwaist was valued for its ready-to-wear, workplace appeal and its simple design, originally modeled on menswear shirts.
Early design is most familiar through the popular Gibson girl look.
By the early 20th century, designers added lace and frills to embellish the iconic blouse, which was already available in every color.
At the turn of the 20th century, production of the shirtwaist was a competitive industry. In Manhattan alone, there were over 450 textile factories, employing approximately 40,000 garment workers, many of them immigrants.
The shirtwaist, however, came to represent more than a momentary fashion trend; the blouse was a symbol of newfound female independence in a time of progressive ideas. With their own jobs and wages, women were no longer dependent on men and sought new privileges at home and at work. The figure of the working woman, wearing the shirtwaist blouse and freed from domestic duties, was an iconic image for the women’s rights movement. (Credit: PBS)
The 1910’s saw a shift away from the popular title of “shirtwaist” to the even more feminine sounding “shirt blouse.”
By the end of the 1910s the specific elements that distinguish between “blouse,” “shirtwaist,” and “waist” became almost non-existent.
What is a Belt Course on a House?
A belt course, also known as band molding or banding, is an architectural term for a horizontal piece of exterior trim.
The trim is about 5 inches wide that runs horizontally around a two story house where the first floor meets the second floor.
The purpose of the belt course or band is to transition between different sections of the wall of the house or different siding materials. Where, for example, upper-storey shingles meet clapboards there has to be a way to end one material and start another in a weather-resistant joint.
Think of how wearing a belt can act as a punctuation where pants end and the transition from pants to a shirt begin.
On a brick structure, the band or belt can be limestone or a contrasting colored brick.
It can also be used to interrupt a monotonous wall or put more or less visual emphasis on the building’s massing.
Many times a house will have a belt course but it has been lost due to insensitive remodeling.
Shirt Waist Architecture
Shirt waist architecture takes this belt course located at the base of the second floor and pushes it up about 4-5 feet higher. It actually makes the 2nd floor look squashed and more like attic space instead of a full floor. This style was popular on Foursquare houses in the nineteen teens into the 1930’s.
Now you know how to recognize Shirtwaist architecture. However, to me this does not make any sense. Here’s why:
A shirt waist blouse is tucked into a dress. With a corset a woman’s waist is slender at the waist in the center of her body.
A belt course located between the 2 and 3rd floor is located in the center similar to a woman’s waist.
This would make sense but this is not the case.
Shirt waist architecture moves this belt course higher and away from the waist.
Shirt waist architecture is actually similar to an Empire waist as in the photo to the right.
Please add a comment if you know more about this!