Currently Re-reading – When the Girls Came Out to Play

You might have noticed over the past two weeks that I’ve made repeated references to one book, When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner.  I actually surprised myself because I was sure I had reviewed this book years ago, but a look back into the archives showed that I merely recommended the book back in 2006 when it was released.

The book is an outgrowth of Warner’s doctoral dissertation , but it does not read like an academic journal.  It was written in an easy to follow narrative style, but it is also richly annotated with end notes.  This is really my favorite kind of book – one that reads like a conversation with a very knowledgeable friend.

Reading the book for the first time was like a revelation.  Even though I’d been studying fashion history for a long time, there were no scholarly studies on the progression of American sportswear.  Through Warner’s research, I was able to fill in a lot of gaps in my own knowledge and thinking about the subject.

One of the big ideas in the study is that starting in the Nineteenth Century there were two separate trends in sports attire for women.  There were clothes that were appropriate for public wearing, such as tennis dresses, bathing suits and bicycling ensembles.  In these areas, women were mixed with men and were expected to follow the rules of proper dress.

The other trend was clothing for a more private environment, especially that of the woman’s college.  In places where women were not mixing with men, they were freer to don less feminine garments like bloomer gym suits.

Eventually the two different sports clothing strands began to merge.  Women who had worn bloomers at summer camp or college were used to wearing the pants, so to speak.  It was an easy leap to wearing knickers for outings and beach pyjamas at home and at the shore.

Over the years I’ve repeatedly referred to this book, and I see it as the foundation of my own studies of sportswear.  As with any study there are always new things to be discovered, and there is still a lot to be learned about how women became pants wearers.  It is a fascinating topic, with all kinds of historical and social strands of learning.

When the Girls Came Out to Play can be purchased quite inexpensively from Amazon, but the great news is that it can be read free online in the pdf form.  Either way, this is a must read for those interested in the development of sportswear for women in America.

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Ad Campaign – Virginia Slims, 1972

Back around the Turn of the Century, fashion dictated that you run around the tennis courts in layers upon layers of clothes.  That made you look elegant when you moved.  If you could move.

I can only imagine the thousands of words that have been written by scholars of women’s studies about the Virginia Slims ad campaign and their crazy mixed message of “You’ve come a long way,” and then, “baby.”  So I’ll leave that issue to others and just talk a bit about the clothes.

In case you are not old enough to actually remember the ads, they put a recreated scene from the past showing how it was for women in the “good old days,” and then the way it was in the early 70s after women got their own cigarette.  The recreated scenes showed an interesting mishmash of Edwardian looking clothing on women who were usually sneaking a smoke.

In the “old” photo above the two tennis players do look overdressed, so what were women wearing to play tennis in 1905?  According to tennis player Violet Sutton:

But it’s a wonder we could move at all.  Do you want to know what we wore?  A long undershirt, pair of drawers, two petticoats, white linen corset cover, duck shirt, shirtwaist, long white silk stockings, and a floppy hat.  We were soaking wet when we finished a match.*

So change these women into white stockings (and shoes as well) and it looks to be fairly close to Violet’s memories.

*Interview with Violet Sutton recounted in “The Sutton Sisters” by Jeane Hoffman, published in Fireside book of Tennis, 1974, quoted in When the Girls Came out to Play, Patricia Campbell Warner, 2006

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Early 1930s Tennis Dress

In the early 1930s as hemlines dropped on women’s dresses, they also dropped on sports dresses.  In 1927 a tennis dress would have its hem right at the knee, and it would have had a dropped waist as was the fashion.  In 1932 the typical tennis dress still mirrored the fashionable silhouette of the day.  There was a waist at the natural waistline, but there might also be a dropped waist as you see above. (I’ve read that before 1935, the waist pointed downward, and after 1935 it pointed upward.  This rule often holds true.)  The skirt was the length of a fashionable dress, quite a few inches below the knee.

In 1927 women tennis players were still wearing silk stockings, though some used roll garters and rolled the hose to the knee.  In the early 1930s the ankle sock appeared on the tennis court, having made the jump from school gym classes.

My dress dates from the early 1930s.  The waist had moved back to its natural spot, but there is still a dropped waist feature.  The sleeveless bodice and the V neckline are also holdovers from the 1920s.  There are no openings to help get the dress on; it fit over the head like a late Twenties dress.   It must have been a struggle, as I could not even get this dress on my tiny half-mannequin.

Even though the skirt is long, the three front pleats allow for plenty of movement.

The back also has the pointed dropped waist, but without the pleats.

There are no signs of labels, and this appears to be the work of a home sewer, most likely a fairly skilled one.  This would not have been an easy dress to make.  Note how the sewer had the ribbed fabric cut on the length for some pieces, but on the cross for others.

This 1935 Saks Fifth Avenue ad is a bit later than my dress, but you can see how the skirt was a fashionable long length.  By the end of the decade, tennis dresses diverged from the fashionable length, rising to above the knee.  Matching bloomers were worn beneath.  On more casual courts, some girls and women were even wearing shorts, something that still is frowned upon at some tennis clubs.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Proper Tennis Dress, 1914

The roots of tennis date to the Middle Ages, but the modern game did not emerge until the 1870s.   First played on the great estates of England, the game quickly spread to the US where it retained its elitist air.  The game was played in private clubs, and in mixed sex company.  In fact, women themselves started playing the game.

In the nineteenth century the game was not the fast paced running game of today.  Players generally just passed the ball back and forth across the net, with little running required.  Women actually played in the fashionable dress of the day (including corsets) with few concessions to the sport.  Pre-1900 photos show women playing in swagged skirts, skin tight jackets and constricting sleeves.

There was a reason.  Private clubs and resorts where tennis was played were prime courting territory.   Young unmarried women  and men wanted to look like suitable marriage material, and that meant dressing in the proper manner.  Even though fashion magazines at the time showed proper tennis attire, the dresses were pretty much what a woman would have worn for any outdoor activity.

A big change in tennis wear for women happened around the turn of the twentieth century.  It was discovered that the dark skirt and white waist combination that was so popular with women was well suited to tennis.  The waist was blousy and loose, and the skirt was A shaped and allowed for movement.  The skirt was still long, but it no longer swept the ground.

About the same time, white dresses for summer became the style, and so before long the skirt was white as well.  According to Patricia Campbell Warner in her book When the Girls Came Out to Play, the choice of the color white also appealed to the elite.  It was hard to keep clean and required a lot of care in laundering, requiring time and resources limited to the well-to-do.

In 1914 tennis player and teacher Miriam Hall published a little book titled Tennis for Girls.  Tennis was becoming a fast paced game that required movement of the arms and freedom of the legs.  Ms. Hall gave suggestions on tennis dress in the book.

Clothing, light of weight, should be worn, enabling one to move freely.  There should be no restriction at the neck, and as little as possible at the waist.  To further this, it is wise to substitute for the corset, some good corded waist, or a boned brassiere, the stockings to be supported from the waist or shoulders.  The use of the round garter is worse than foolish – it is often dangerous, leading to the formation of varicose veins.

The sleeves should not extend below the elbows and the skirt should be wide enough to permit a broad lunge and not longer that five inches from the ground.  The best shoe is of soft canvas with a flexible, not too heavy, rubber sole.  If there is a tendency toward fallen arches, a light-weight leather support should be worn inside the tennis shoe.

In the photo Hall is wearing what looks to be a middy over a sports skirt, pretty much the same outfit that schoolgirls across the country were wearing to school each day.

It took a tennis star, Suzanne Lenglen, to bring short skirts and bare arms to the tennis dress.  When she first appeared in such an outfit at Wimbleton in 1919, it was scandalous.  Six years later women were wearing her look on the streets.

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Vintage Miscellany – July 20, 2014

The guy from whom I purchased this photo referred to it as the Atlanta Tennis Club.  By the late 1910s, when this photo was taken, the game of tennis was firmly established in the USA, though I doubt these young players were members at a fancy club.  Surely they did not allow men to play with just one shoe at the renowned Atlanta Athletic Club!

And so we’ll start off with a tennis story.

*   What does one do with the dress of a tennis legend?

*  Fashion historian Anne Hollander died recently.  Read this article from her in a 1974 New York magazine to get a small taste of why she was so important to the study of fashion.

*   It has been ten years since Geoffrey Beene’s death, and Colin McDowell reminds us of the importance of the designer.

*   Susan has written about a long forgotten danger of bicycle riding.

*  It would not be Vintage Miscellany without a Charles James link.  At the Sunday at the Met program two weeks ago, Zac Posen and “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” co-curator Jan Glier Reeder discussed the design career of James.  Take an hour and watch, or rather, listen, and be impressed by the very fashion-literate Mr. Posen.

*   Eileen Ford, the modeling agency owner, died last week.

*  Weaver Theo Wright shows how he makes a scarf in this interesting photo essay.

*  The Vintage Fashion Guild has unveiled a beautiful new website.

*  Don’t even think about stealing museum artifacts in North Carolina.  We have cameras everywhere, as two thief wannabees found out.

Next week I’ve having some much needed and long over-due hand surgery, so I may be a bit quiet in the comment department.  Posts will still go up, as I’ve got some nice things already lined up and written, and I’ll be reading your comments.  Hopefully I’ll be back to clicking the mouse very soon!

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Camp Fire Girls Ceremonial Gown

As I mentioned in my post about the Camp Fire Girls magazine, Everygirl’s , Camp Fire Girls had “Indian” ceremonial dresses that each girl decorated with her own symbols.  As luck would have it, I ran across an older one this week.

The dresses could be purchased from the Camp fire Outfitting Company, and there is an ad for the company in each of my Everygirl’s magazines.  In 1929 the gowns were priced from $2.65 to $3.60, depending on the length of the leather fringe at the hem and sleeves.  Other items could be purchased, such as moccasins and a fringed leather piece for the neck.  Sewing patterns for the gown were also available.

Leather patches were decorated with symbols.  Girls were encouraged to make up their own private symbols, but for the symbol-making-impaired there was a book of symbols available for 50 cents.

From the 1918 Camp Fire Girls, manual:

The ceremonial gown should be as beautiful as we can make it but there is the danger of confusing true decoration with meaningless ornamentation. This should not be found a common mistake, for Camp Fire Girls are imbued with the very spirit of beauty. If we will keep in mind that our gown is more than a passing fad, more than a girlhood phase of our existence, that it is, in fact, a proud record, writ large with our accomplishments and ideals, imbued with symbols of dear friendship, memory-hallowed, and alive with the promise of hope fulfilled, we will come into a rightful sense of purpose.

I was pretty amazed to find current photos of teens in ceremonial “Indian” gowns on the Camp Fire website.   I would never have guessed that the modern teenager would want to dress up in what is basically a sack with fringe.  There are quite a few articles online about how the “Indian” culture of the Camp Fire Girls (and the Boy Scouts) came about as a reaction to the increasing pressures of modern life.  I suppose what was true in 1915 is even more true today, but then there’s that tricky cultural appropriation issue.  What was a non-issue in 1915 in not so easy to brush aside in 2014.

 

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Ad Campaign – Blassport, 1971

We were discussing earlier this week the revivals of knickers that have taken place over the years.  One was in the early 1980s, reportedly triggered by a photo of Princess Diana taken while on her honeymoon.  A quick look through the vintage patterns at Etsy confirmed that knickers were big in 1982.

I remembered that knickers were a bit of a fad for a short while during my high school years, 1970 through 1973.  Again, I turned to etsy, did a search for “knickers pattern,” and quickly realized that 1971 was the year of the knickers.

I would have been a sophomore or junior during that year, and while I can remember some of the girls at my school wearing them, I was not tempted by the knickers.  At the time I was into really short skirts, and especially, short culottes.  It’s a bit strange that they were allowed due to our no pants rule in the dress code, but a blind eye was turned to culottes and knickers.  I think the attitude was that they were better than the short skirts we were wearing.

It was a good thing that I did not buy into the knickers fad because it came and went very quickly.  Had I acquired a pair I’d have been stuck having to wear them because clothes were expensive and we had to wear what was bought until we either outgrew them or wore them out.  I would have been a fashion has-been!

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