A Glimpse into 20th Century “Modas” in Puerto Rico

Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 21, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 21, 1910

La Correspondencia (1890-1943), was founded by Ramón B. López and it quickly gained popularity among the people on the island as it is considered to be the first daily newspaper that was most accessible to the public. It circulated throughout Puerto Rico, with approximately 5,000 copies printed per day. Eventually, it would gain the nickname of “el periodico de las cocineras”, which translates to “the housewife’s newspaper”. The historical newspaper is an excellent resource in understanding certain aspects of Puerto Rican life during the late nineteenth century to close to the middle of the twentieth century, such as dress and clothing. One could ask, what did people wear on the island during that time? What were the fashion trends and influences? What can the pages from La Correspondencia reveal about Puerto Rican apparel? It is important to consider dress and clothing as they are significant parts of material culture and can work to symbolically represent a population’s culture and social environment (Root 198).

In La Correspondencia from around 1909 to 1910, one can find a frequent feature titled “Las Modas de La Correspondenica”. The newspaper feature showcased different clothing and dress styles through illustrations and text. Interestingly, the feature seemed to only show clothing designs for women and young children, but not for men. For example, on the fifth page of an issue from August 14, 1910, illustrations of female figures are shown sporting a blouse, a bathing suit and a dress.

Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910

An additional illustration of a skirt is shown, but without a model wearing it. The illustrations are quite detailed as they attempt to give the reading audience a full view and understanding of the garments. Perhaps illustrations were the preferred media in which to display the clothing designs since photographs tended to be more costly to run. The blouse on the far left is depicted with fine detailed embroidery designs and shading. Interestingly, in addition to the front view of the blouse, beside it the viewer can see an illustration of what the backside of the shirt would look like.

Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910

The figures that wear some of the clothing items are rendered in the same style as 19th century European illustrations. In the article “Puerto Rican Women’s Dress at a Time of Social and Cultural Transition”, found in the book The Latin American Fashion Reader, both scholars Dilia Lopez-Gydosh and Marsha A. Dickson mention that from the seventeenth century and onward, Puerto Rican women would gather their information on fashion and trends from European sources and fashion plates. Hence, one can infer that the illustrations featured in the newspaper come from European sources. The article further exclaims that Puerto Rican women’s fashion was not only influenced by Western trends, but also by the island’s hot and tropical climate.

Each illustration is accompanied by descriptive text that works to convince readers of the clothing design’s beauty and urges them to make a purchase. It is interesting to note that the garments themselves aren’t for sale, but rather the pattern so that the reader can make their own outfit. In the text below the skirt illustration, it explains the simplicity of the design model, how easy its dressmaking can be and how the pattern is cut in seven different sizes. It also describes how the skirt is appropriate for hot days, since it can be made with white linen.

Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910

To purchase the patterns, the reader would need to fill out “Las Modas de La Correspondencia” coupon, which was typically located on the same page as the illustrations. The coupon also asks for one’s name, address, the pattern numbers located near the illustrations and the desired sizes. The coupon’s wording also states that each pattern costs 10 cents.

Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- August 14, 1910

Lopez-Gydosh and Dickson also mention in their article how the economic changes caused by Puerto Rico becoming a United States territory in 1898 had some influence over dress and style on the island. Puerto Rico thus began trading more with the United States than with other European countries (Root 206). As a result, several department stores, such as Gonzalez Padin, opened up in Puerto Rico and offered products and clothing that one could find in New York. Several Gonzalez Padin advertisements are found in La Correspondencia newspaper. Take for example one found in a March 28, 1910 issue that highlights some new items from the spring season.

Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910

Part of the advertisement text expresses “We invite our flatterers and the public in general to visit us so that you can appreciate the novelties personally bought by our representative in New York.”

Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910

Furthermore, another section of the advertisement expresses that “In our clothing department one will find whatever one desires and we guarantee that our prices are lower than those of any store in the United States.”

Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910

Fashion illustrations are also displayed within the ad that are similar to the ones from “Las Modas de la Correspondencia” feature and focus primarily on women and children’s fashion. That is not to say that there weren’t any advertisements for men’s fashion within La Correspondencia.  In a July 8, 1909 issue one can find a Stein-Bloch advertisement showing an illustration of a man wearing a suit, right above one for women’s dresses and corsets. The text for the Stein-Bloch ad does contain some English in the subheading stating, “The first American clothes to cature London.” One can imagine that “cature” is a typo for “capture.” The rest of the text, however, is in Spanish and expresses the different suits, hats, ties and shirts that men can purchase. The ad is also associated with P. Schira and Co., which had stores located in the towns of San Juan, Guayama and Mayaguez.

Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910
Snippet from La Correspondencia- March 28, 1910

Our goal is to provide you with a glimpse of some styles and trends of Puerto Rican clothing featured in the newspaper of La Correspondencia. As seen through the clothing advertisements found within the newspaper, it is evident that Puerto Rican apparel was highly influenced by European and United States trends in the early 20th century. This particular newspaper is a great tool in revealing aspects of Puerto Rican clothing, something that is relevant to the culture and everyday life of that time period.

***Versión en español se encuentra aquí: Un vistazo a las modas del siglo XX en Puerto Rico***

References:

“La Correspondencia De Puerto Rico.” News about Chronicling America RSS. 2016. Accessed June 15, 2018. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/essays/1194/.

Root, Regina A. The Latin American fashion reader. n.p.: Oxford, UK; New York: Berg, 2005,. 2005.

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