Golden Age of Travel Dream Birthday — Wardrobe Planning

← This is my period help.  Volume two of Harmony in Dress published in 1924 by the Women’s Institute Library of Dressmaking in good ol’ Scranton, PA and their guiding light, Ms. Mary Brooks Picken.

Mary Brooks Picken deserves some of the spotlight here. Born in 1886, she founded the Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in Scranton, PA. She was the first woman to be named a trustee of the Fashion Institute of Technology. She was a member of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Advisory Committee on Women’s Clothing that selected Hattie Carnegie as the designer of the United States Army’s women’s uniform and provided advice and assistance on all elements of the women’s uniform beginning in 1949.

And if that weren’t enough, she was the first female author of a dictionary in the English language — The Fashion Dictionary in 1957.

She has ninety-six books to her credit, all of them about sewing and the needle arts, most of them written in the 1910s, 1920s, and early 1930s and therefore very useful to our purpose. These are not etiquette books written for the upper crust, but rather how-to texts written for women who would be making rather than buying or ordering their wardrobes. From my perspective, Mary Brooks Picken has given me a how-to book for my Dream Birthday Trip.

Now let’s dive into this…

Among chapters on Good Taste, Charm in Dress, the Right Underclothes, and Overcoming Irregularities in Figure, there is a extremely valuable section called “Planning Wardrobes”. And it is to that section that this post will mostly refer.

Along with lists of the proper clothes for a young school girl as well as a collegiate miss, there are sections on wardrobe essentials for both homemaker and business woman. Of course the Trousseau is covered beautifully.

There is also a section “Clothes for Traveling”. Furthermore, the darling woman has broken them down further into lists By Train, By Boat, and By Automobile, taking into consideration the different situations of luggage accommodation as well as social occasion involved in each.

Oh goodie, goodie, goodie!

While she doesn’t say so emphatically, it appears that the list is meant to accommodate a week of travel. The list calls for a coat, 2 dark silk dresses or 1 dark silk dress and a suit, 1 semi-formal dress, 1 hat for traveling, 1 larger hat for dress-up frocks, 4 sets of undergarments, 1 slip, 1 pair bloomers, 4 to 6 pairs of hose, 3 or 4 nightgowns or sets of pyjamas, a kimono or “Pullman” robe, 2 pairs of slippers for daily wear, 1 pair of pumps, 1 pair bedroom slippers, 1 pair of overshoes, 1 pair service gloves, 1 pair dress gloves, handkerchiefs, 1 scarf of silk, wool or fur, 1 umbrella, 1 generously-sized purse, another dark wool dress, a heavy coat, and an evening gown, dark in colour and conservative in cut.

Okay. Well. Hmmm… Not exactly the glamourous period wardrobe I envisioned.

So let’s toss out the list!

What we need to do is count the travel days, count the different occasions for which I’ll need to dress, and then figure out what is appropriate to wear on those occasions.

You with me?

Cunard has rearranged its website a bit, so I’m not finding a list of evening entertainments by journey. Typically, the dinners on the first and last night of the trip (in this case, October 2nd, 7th, 14th and 20th) are informal. The rest of the dinners are formal. On Transatlantic Crossings, they have what they call “Royal Nights” which are themed balls. When I was last on QM2, there was a Black and White Ball and a Buccaneers’ Ball, but I think the Buccaneers’ Ball is only on Caribbean trips. I’ve heard mention of the Royal Ascot Ball and the Masquerade Ball, but I have no idea if these occur on every Transatlantic Crossing. I’ll have to find out. I couldn’t be caught without something Black and White or *GASP* a costume for the Masquerade!

Plus one formal dinner on the Orient Express.

So that’s:

  • nine formal dinner gowns
  • four informal dinner dresses


There may need to be different dresses for dancing if some of the evening gowns won’t accommodate dancing. And if there are special themed Balls, there will definitely be different gowns for each theme.


Then I’ll need something to wear to board each conveyance:

  • three boarding suits with matching hats


And day dresses to wearing during the day:

  • twelve day dresses


There also need to be lounging outfits. There is a lot of lounging on a Transatlantic Crossing.

  • five lounging outfits


Then there’s sleepwear:

  • twelve nightgowns or pyjama suits


And underwear… and stockings… and slips… and… and… and… My God! What have I gotten myself into!?!?!


Tomorrow: You gotta start somewhere!

© 2012 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material.

19 Responses to Golden Age of Travel Dream Birthday — Wardrobe Planning

  1. Do you have a steamer trunk? I think Geoff might have one he’d be willing to sell. ;D

    (I don’t think a modern ship would know what to do with one, alas.)

  2. I think MBP was writing for the everywoman, thus why her wardrobe list seems so dull. She probably believed if you have to make your own wardrobe, it should be the most practical sort. Plus, I believe she was in her 30s or 40s by the 1920s, which could also give her the conservative slant. All the recommendations for “dark” clothing makes me wonder if she was worried about travelling dirt ruining a lighter outfit.

      • Unfortunately, I might need to be more practical, but I won’t limit myself to “dark” colors. Sounds so drab.

        Travel wardrobes fascinate me. A woman on Burdastyle found an old Burda magazine from 1953 that had patterns for a “travel set,” and she made the whole thing.

        I don’t completely like the style, but I like the idea of it and the matching and mixing. I might do something similar, but in brown, pink, and green.

        • Interchangeable pieces are a great idea. Don’t think there won’t be pieces in my wardrobe that will be interchangeable. But I have A LOT of outfits to cover (see today’s (18 Feb) post for more on that). And I figure if I get most of them finished, I can mix and match for the rest.

          And yeah, I’m not crazy about that style; I greatly dislike the 1950s aesthetic. But the idea is excellent!

  3. Your dress schedule is the same for both crossings…even the balls are the same themes:

    Night 1: Elegant casual
    Night 2: Formal (Black & White Ball)
    Night 3: Formal
    Night 4: Semi Formal
    Night 5: Semi Formal
    Night 6: Formal (Royal Ascot Ball)
    Night 7: Elegant casual

      • It seems to basically be formal wear along with emphasis on “elaborately decorated hats or hair fascinators.” There’s usually a hat decorating workshop the afternoon before the ball, which I bet you’ll be a big hit at. 😉

    • Oh, goodness! I’m so uneducated. I’m trying to figure out the difference between semi-formal and elegant casual. Does elegant casual mean something like wide-legged pants and an evening blouse? Being the child of a woman who wore overalls in the 70s, I haven’t a clue about these things (oddly enough, she might remember some things….grandma was from an upper class family and I remember mom saying something about wearing gloves and putting them in your glass if you didn’t want wine with dinner).

      Ugh, I blame the baby boomers and their damn social movement! How am I supposed to dress like a proper lady?

      • This is how Cunard defines them on their website:
        Formal: Black tie or formal dark suit for gentlemen. Evening dress or other formal attire for ladies.
        Semi-formal: Jacket and tie for gentlemen. Cocktail dress or trouser suit for ladies. No jeans.
        Elegant Casual: Jacket, no tie required for gentlemen. Dress, skirt or trousers for ladies. No jeans.

        However, Black tie is NOT formal. White tie (a tailcoat suit aka “soup and fish”) is formal. Black tie (Tuxedo) is semi-formal dinner dress. And of course a dark suit is never appropriate for formal occasions. And a gentleman would never dine without a tie. *wink*

        I will be wearing formal dress every evening. Some of my gowns may be shorter and more suited to dancing than others, however. Skirts and trousers are for daywear. I will not wear them to dine. One must have standards!

        That they have to say “no jeans” shocks me to my core. Isn’t is obvious that jeans are neither semi-formal nor elegant?

        • To the comment on jeans: I know, right?! My goal would be to not wear jeans once!

          I agree–dresses for dinner.

  4. Great stuff! I’m glad to find another Mary Brooks Picken admirer! I have collected much of her work myself, and published a book inspired by her work with the Woman’s Institute called Vintage Notions. You can see it on my website Also, you might be interested to know that I’m doing a fashion design competition with Singer and Coats & Clark that was inspired by Mary’s work and vintage style! More info about that is at: Good to find you!!