The Designer, September, 1918

As this September, 1918 The Designer magazine was going to press, World War I was winding down in Europe.  The Allies had begun the Hundred Days Offensive, and the Germans were looking for a way out without total surrender.  At home, though, women continued to harvest the crops and to do other important jobs that were left vacant as male workers joined the armed forces.  Many women wore pants, in the form of farm overalls or certain uniforms, for the very first time.

I’m presently reading an advance copy of a book about the clothing of WWI, Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918, written by Nina Edwards.  Much of the information in the book is about dress in Britain, though Ms. Edwards includes information about clothing in Germany and the US and in the other participating countries.  It’s about so much more than clothing, and it paints a vivid picture of the hardships both at home and in the trenches.

WWI is now 100 years in the past, and that is a very long time. People who can actually remember the conflict are pretty much gone, and as for my own experience, the shared memories of my father and his contemporaries of WWII (which had ended only ten years before I was born) greatly overshadowed any tales I might have heard from a WWI soldier.  My grandfather and great uncles were of that magic age where they were too young for WWI, but too old for WWII.

So while WWII seems so real to a Baby Boomer like me, WWI seems so very long ago.  It is important to read books like Dressed for War, because the author drew heavily from the diaries and written records of people who experienced life during that horrible conflict.  We need to remember that wars are not just dates to memorize in history class.  It is from the stories of history that we can truly learn.

Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918 is being published by  I. B. Tauris, and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is December 31, 2014.

1 Comment

Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

Emilio Pucci in America, Georgia Museum of Art

Emilio Pucci skiing at Reed College in the uniform he designed for the ski team there, 1937. Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

Yesterday I took a museum day.  The Georgia Museum of Art in Athens had just opened a new fashion exhibition and I was anxious to see it.  The topic was Emilio Pucci, who needs no introduction from me.  What many might be surprised to know is that Pucci actually attended the University of Georgia in Athens after transferring from the University of Milan.  He then went on to Reed College in Oregon.

As the title tells us, the exhibition was not a comprehensive study of the career of Emilio Pucci, nor was it a history of the company.  It was about how the Italian Pucci had relationships with American institutions and companies.  The exhibition is quite small, and there are a few gaps in what was displayed, but overall it gives an excellent view of Pucci’s American relationships.  Photos were not allowed (although there was no sign stating such, and it took getting my hand slapped to find it out) and the photos supplied for press do not show any of the clothes as they are displayed, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to use your imagination somewhat.

Probably the best known collaboration between Pucci and an American company was that with the lingerie company, Formfit Rogers.  Throughout the 1960s and into the 70s Pucci designed undergarments and sleeping attire for Formfit.  On exhibit was a panty girdle, and four matching lingerie pieces in blue.

Braniff hostess modeling in a pink Pucci uniform holding an umbrella standing in the front part of a jet engine. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Between 1965 and 1974, Pucci designed uniforms for the stewardesses of Braniff Airlines.  The ensembles included everything from head to toe: hats, scarves,dresses,tunics,pants, leggings, shoes, and boots.  Archival photos show that the stewardesses were allowed to mix and match the pieces, though the staff was provided with clothing that corresponded to various activities and which involved two in-air clothing changes.

Braniff hostess wearing a pink Pucci uniform and a bubble helmet standing in front of a Concorde airplane at the Paris Airshow, 1967. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

The exhibition had this tunic, and it also had the plastic bubble hood.  Archival photos show that the women often wore the tights with a solid dress.

Group photo of early Emilio Pucci hostesses uniforms for Braniff. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas

Group photo of early Emilio Pucci hostesses uniforms for Braniff. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas

The bubble hood was only used for a short period because of its tendency to malfunction.

My favorite outfit from the exhibition was a circa 1955 two-piece swimsuit and matching cape that Pucci designed for Canadian-American swimsuit designer Rose Marie Reid.  The print was a tiny Venice theme, and while I could not find a photo of it online, there is a similar Reid piece for sale.  That set just went to the very top of my wishlist.

I was really hoping that there would be some of the very rare pieces that Pucci did for White Stag in 1948.  They did have the copy of the Harper’s Bazaar in which the pieces were shown, but no actual garments.  And there was no mention of the mid 1950s collaboration between Pucci and the McCall’s Pattern Company, nor was there any mention of the patterns he did for Vogue in the 1960s and 70s.

Even though this exhibition was quite small, I’m glad I took the time to go see it.  The clothing was very well presented, and the lighting was good enough so that the details could be easily examined.  It is well worth a drive if you are in Georgia or the western Carolinas.

7 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums, Road Trip

Ad Campaign – Oscar de la Renta, 1972

Oscar de la Renta interprets the art of ikebana in georgette. Skirt-over-pants costume, $200

I’m sure that by now everyone has heard the news of the death of Oscar de la Renta on Monday.  From the time I was first aware of fashion designers in the early 1970s, Oscar has always been on the scene, so it is really hard imagining American fashion without him.

I’ve  said that if I had the money, I’d wear Oscar and nothing else.  A trip to his boutique in New York was always a treat.  It was the type of place where the clothes were always beautiful, but always very wearable by women of many ages.  He will be missed.

9 Comments

Filed under Designers

Comparing Details as an Aid to Dating Vintage Clothing

Collecting sportswear has a particular challenge in that it does not always follow the fashion of the era.  This is especially true in something like riding breeches that were made for a particular purpose, and thus had to be functional.  Sometimes the collector has to look beyond fashion to come up with a reasonable date for an object.

I have three pairs of riding breeches and jodhpurs.  In order to put them in their correct time period, I have to rely on the details and construction techniques.  I’m not an expert in the history of riding pants, but using what I do know about fabrics, construction, and fashion, I was able to put a date on each pair.

The oldest pair I have is the pair above.  These jodphurs have the full thighs that you would expect to see before stretch fabrics came into use.  The fabric is a sturdy cotton twill.

These pants close using buttons on both sides of the hips.  The buttons are of a type that I commonly see on clothing from the 1910s and 1920s.

The insides of the knees is reinforced with an extra layer of twill fabric.

To keep the pants legs from riding up, there is lacing on the outside of each leg.

These jodphurs actually came with a matching coat which had this label.  The Emporium was in business from 1896 until 1996, which does not help, but the style of the label certainly does.  My best guess for this pair is 1917-1925.

The second pair of jodphurs are also made from cotton twill.  The shape is very similar to the first pair.

These have a hip button closure as well as two leather buckles.  The buttons are plastic, and are a type commonly seen in the 1930s and 40s.

The inside knees are reinforced with fine suede leather.

The bottoms of the legs are not as tight as the earlier pair.  They are held in place by suede straps that button to the hems.

Some of the seams are finished by a type of overlock stitch that is sometimes seen on sportswear from the 1920s through the 40s.  There is not a label present, but I’m pretty sure these are from the 1930s.  Any later and a zipper would be used.  These could be early 40s, but not into the war years due to the use of leather.

My last pair is made from a stretch fabric, a blend of cotton and nylon.  Due to the stretch, the hips and thighs could be cut slimmer and still be comfortable for the rider.

The pants close at the hip with a metal zipper.  Note the loops for a belt.

The inside of the knees is reinforced with leather which was attached by the use of a zig-zag sewing stitch.

The bottoms of the legs open by metal zippers.

Best of all is the label, which told me the fiber content.  It also reveals that these were made in Japan, and there is an RN number.  The number does not tell when a garment was made, but because the RN system was first used in 1952, it can’t be older that that date.  A look at the RN data base does reveal that this number belonged to the Miller Harness Company, which had a store located on East 24th Street in New York.  According to an obituary of one of the owners, Jackie Kennedy was a customer.  I can see her wearing these breeches, and I’m quite sure these are from the 1960s.

I used to be determined to narrow down the exact dating of things, but often it just is not possible.  And when it comes to sports styles that were worn over a period of years, it is often just as useful to know the general dating.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

 

15 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Sportswear

Thoughts on Museum Visits

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Copyright Paramount Pictures

Recently I’ve come across two articles about museum-going.  The first, which was about how museums are good for you, I linked to several weeks ago.  The second one was in The New York Times last week, and was called “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum.”  The title pretty much sums up what the article was about.

I guess I was not surprised to read that people are actually putting works of art and museum visits on their “bucket lists.”  As a person who loves museums, I’ve got a few left in the world I want to see before I kick the bucket.  But in our crazy speeded-up-take-the-photo-and-go world it appears that people are more concerned with announcing to their Facebook followers that they saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night than they are with actually seeing the art.  According to the article, visitors spend about fifteen to thirty minutes looking at a piece of art.

In some of our large museums one could spend only fifteen seconds in front of each piece of art and still not see everything in one visit. The author of the article, Stephanie Rosenbloom, suggests that it is better to focus in on just a few works that are of great interest than to try and see everything.  I know that when I visit a museum, I’m most interested in the works that show fashion, or in works that involve textiles.  I might spend fifteen seconds at a work that does not interest me, but ten or more minutes on the ones that do.  And I’ve been known to spend entire museum visits at one work that really resounded with me.

Rosenbloom also addresses that most polarizing of modern phenomena, the selfie.  Love them or hate them, the selfie photo is a part of our culture, and it is one of the ways to prove to the social media world that one did actually see the Venus de Milo.  Some museums are actually encouraging the practice as a way to identify with a work, much like Audrey does with the Winged Victory of Samothrace in 1957’s Funny Face.

Even if you do not want to read the article, you must click to it if only to see the photo of people in front of the Mona Lisa. Small wonder that so many people who view it say that the painting is overrated.  When I saw the Mona Lisa in 1991, I was completely moved by it, but then my viewing experience was very different from the one we see in the photo.

I was with a small group of friends in Paris and time was very limited.  One of the group really wanted to bee the Mona Lisa, so we tightened up our schedule to allow for a short visit.  In was a cold day in early April and we were at the Louvre when it opened.  We went straight to the Mona Lisa .  Even though the painting is under thick glass and at that time you could get no closer than six feet, we had the best possible viewing of her.  We had beaten the crowds, which were lighter than normal anyway due to it being off season, and so we spent a good thirty minutes looking and marveling and discussing the work.

As we left we went by the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory, and that was all we had time for.  I’m sure some people would think we did not get our money’s worth because we saw so little of the Louvre, but it was the most magical and memorable hour of that trip to France.

Maybe it is because I’ve been lucky enough to see many of the world’s great museums, but today I’m just as satisfied spending an afternoon in one of the many lesser known, but still wonderful museums.  Some favorites are the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Greenville County (SC) Museum of Art, and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC.  And next week I hope to spend the day at another favorite, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens.  They have a new exhibition on Emilio Pucci, who briefly attended the nearby University of Georgia, but I’ll also be spending some time with my favorites in their permanent collection.

UPDATE:  Please feel free to share your own small museum recommendations and museum visiting hints.

11 Comments

Filed under Museums, Viewpoint

Charm, October, 1951

Charm, as the subtitle tells us, was a magazine geared toward the young career woman.  In 1951 a career woman was often an office worker or a nurse or a teacher.  Personally, I’d like to see this woman in a classroom.

Teacher fashion gets a very bad rap, often with good reason.  I’ve witnessed too many teachers wearing ill-fitting dowdy denim jumpers and baggy elastic waist knit pants.  And come October, schools are filled with adults wearing heavy orange sweaters liberally decorated with scarecrows, pumpkins, and if the community allows, ghosts and witches.  But that’s only the beginning, as there are sweaters for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and so on.

Teachers will tell you that the reason they dress like that is because the job necessitates that they be comfortable and look cheerful.  While that is true, it does not mean that sloppiness is requisite.  Whether or not they like it, teachers are strong sartorial role models.  Children notice what the teacher wears and they get a sense of how a professional  is supposed to dress from the woman or man standing in front of them every day.

It may sound as if I’m being over harsh in my assessment of how many teachers dress.  It’s only fair to point out that for every teacher who looks like a refugee from the Quacker Factory, there is another who dresses simply but professionally, like our cover girl.  A trim and neat sweater topping a pleated skirt or a pair of well fitting slacks with a scarf at the neck (brooch optional) makes a good school uniform for the teacher, and sets a high standard for the children to aim for in the future.

Of course, when I retired there were five black pleated shirts in my closet.

4 Comments

Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

Currently Reading: Liberty: British, Colour, Pattern

Liberty of London is one of those companies whose products make my heart skip a beat.  Their Tana Lawn cottons simply cannot be beaten, and the scarves are some of the best in the world.  I always have my eyes open for Liberty scarves and garments made with Liberty fabrics when thrifting, as quality of this caliber comes at a price.  I also appreciate the history of the company, which has its roots in the Orientalist movement of the nineteenth century.

I can’t remember where I first saw this book, but after seeing the photos online I scurried off to Amazon to see if it were available.  This was back in the summer, and the book just arrived last week.  I spent much of that afternoon being absorbed into the world of Liberty textiles.

For those not familiar with Liberty’s history, the author, Marie-Therese Rieber, gives a good overview of it.  She tells about the founder, Authur Liberty, and how his Oriental emporium became one of the world’s most famous stores.  But the best parts of the book are the sections about the Liberty textiles and the clothing made from them.  Above you see two early twentieth century evening wraps.

An interesting feature of the book is that it is somewhat interactive.  The are several envelopes throughout that are filled with replicas of old Liberty advertising and other ephemera.  These are quite interesting, but this type of thing adds considerably to the cost of the book.  I enjoyed playing with all the little bits, but I’m not sure they actually add a lot to the value of the book.

Fortunately, there is more than enough great information in the book to make it valuable to the lover of textiles.   There was an excellent feature on how the Tana Lawns were originally block printed by hand.

In the early 1930s Paul Poiret was commissioned to do designs for Liberty.  The green and ivory gown on the left was designed by Poiret for Liberty in 1933.  Seeing all these early 1930s designs along with the fabric swatches makes me want to spend a week lost in the Liberty archives.

The peacock scarf above is in one of Liberty’s trademark prints, the Hera.  It was created in 1887  and continues to be a Liberty favorite.

In the late 1960s, Liberty prints became very popular with fashion designers, and so Liberty expanded the fabrics available to designers.  Their fabric designers like Bernard Nevill and Susan Collier called upon the feeling of nostalgia for Art Nouveau and Art Deco in their work.

The last section of the book is about modern Liberty prints and the inspirations and stories behind them.  This is the stuff textile lovers dream of.  To fully appreciate this book, you have to love textiles, and Liberty in particular.  It is not so much about fashion, and there is a small section on Liberty furniture and ceramics.  Still, there was enough material that was new to me to earn this book a spot in my library.

 

13 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading