Looking at a Collection

Recently I was lucky enough to be asked to look through a collection of antique and vintage clothing and linens.  I was asked by an acquaintance of an acquaintance, so it shows how important making friends can be, even in the online world.  Anyway, the clothes were the property of a woman who had been in the home economics department of a local university.  She taught construction and pattern drafting.

Even though her interest in clothing and sewing was well-known, her family had no idea about the collection until after she died.  Quite a few large plastic tubs were found, all neatly labeled “Antique Clothing” or “Antique Linens.”  Her cousin, the administrator of the estate knew little about old clothing, and so that’s when I was called in.

Almost all the clothes were Victorian and Edwardian whites – lingerie pieces and white embroidered waists.  Much of the collection was of a very high quality with all the embroidery and laces made by hand.  Other pieces were more common, with little ornamentation and  cheaper laces.  There were chemises and nightgowns and dressing gowns and a few wonderful dresses like the one shown above.

There were vintage linens of all kinds, especially bridge tablecloths.  I love this windmill one.  That one blade moves to indicate the bid.

There was also a nice selection of vintage crafted handbags.  The collector may have used them for inspiration, as she was a contributor to quite a few craft books that were published by Lark Books and in their magazine Fiberarts.

A big mystery was this incredible jacket.  It is not embroidered, it is appliqued, and is all in wool felt.  I’d never seen anything like it and would sure appreciate being enlightened.

The collector’s interests also extended into textile making, and in the basement of her house a huge loom was set up.  You can also see a spinning wheel, a quilting frame and an embroidery stand.  As far as the family knew, she was not actively involved in activities that would actually use these tools.

But she did sew, and this folding cutting table was in her sewing studio.  That big drawer was full of vintage patterns, all neatly categorized.  After much thought, I decided to buy the table, as I’ve been cutting on a folding picnic table.  I’ll be reorganizing my sewing room and will show it later.

It was really a shame that the collector did not leave any information about her collection.  The cousin suspects that some of them were family pieces as they were tagged with a code that included the collector’s hometown.  Others still had price tags attached from where they had been purchased at an antiques store many years ago.  Perhaps she used them as examples in the classes she taught.  She may have used them for sewing inspiration.  As a lover of textiles, maybe she just appreciated them as lovely objects.

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Ad Campaign – Dalton Cashmere, 1956

The Dalton Twins Dash from Desk to Date.

Wendy is Dalton’s captivating sweater of 100% pure imported cashmere… color matched with its own slim svelte skirt of Stroock’s pure cashmere or cashmere blends.

Dalton was founded in 1949 by Arthur Dery and Maurice Saltzman (who was also the owner of Bobbie Brooks), and was  headquartered in Cleveland and  Willoughby, Ohio.  Dalton was best known for their cashmere sweaters, but they also made woolen skirts that were dyed to match the sweaters.  I found the reference to Stroock interesting, as that company’s label is usually found in cashmere and fine wool coats.  For much of the twentieth century Sylvan Stroock’s company was the leading US maker of luxury wools.

And when was the last time you saw the words “captivating” or “svelte” in an advertisement?

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Outdoor Sports and Pastimes, Peck & Snyder, 1886

I’ve tried limiting my collecting to 1914 and later, but I can’t turn down an opportunity to learn about older sportswear, and to occasionally to buy a piece.  I recently ran across an 1886 catalog by sporting goods company Peck & Snyder.  I didn’t know a thing about the company, but thanks to the internet I can tell you that  Andrew Peck and Irving Snyder opened their business in New York City shortly after the end of the American Civil War.  Their claim to fame is the introduction of the baseball card, which they first mass produced in 1869.

The catalog is quite large, and includes both sporting goods and  other amusements like magic lanterns and costumes for fancy dress balls.  Most of the products are geared toward men, and while there are things for women, one has to look for them.  What is most interesting is how women are portrayed in the catalog.  The illustration above is typical in that women engaged in leisure activities, even more active ones than lying in a hammock chair, are dressed as they would be for other, more formal activities.

I guess a lady never lifts her feet onto the hammock.  I’m just wondering how she kept from sliding out of it!

But it wasn’t just women who were wearing regular attire while exercising.  Note that the man on the bicycle movement machine is wearing a vest.  At least he is not having to wear a corset.

It might seem odd that there were exercise machines available for home use in 1886.  I imagine these were purchased by the very affluent.  I know that the Biltmore Estate in Asheville (built by one of the Vanderbilts) has a gym with all kinds of equipment.  That house was built in the 1890s.

The Biltmore House also has a two lane bowling alley.  Peck & Snyder sold balls and pins, though the Biltmore ones came from the Brunswick bowling company. Again, note the clothing, especially of the woman who is getting ready to roll her ball.

The catalog does have illustrations of women wearing proper gym attire.  Ironically, they do not sell it, though there are quite a few pages of men’s athletic clothing for sale.

Those shirts might look like the form of a woman, but they are men’s “quarter sleeve worsted shirts” meaning they were made from worsted wool.

Some of the shoes are unisex.  Here is a selection of tennis shoes.

Peck & Snyder included quite a few pages of skates, both roller and ice.  The bicycle craze was just getting started, so there were only two models, both with the big front wheel.

There were pages of wool, silk, and cotton stockings and tights, which seem to be for men.  I found this interesting because I recently found a very old pair of striped wool stockings that I felt had to have been a sports piece.

Women’s gym outfits like the one above are very hard to find, but there is one in the up-coming Karen Augusta sale.  I wonder how one did jumping jacks with all those layers?

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Vintage Miscellany – October 26, 2014

After showing off those riding pants earlier in the week, I thought I ought to show how the garment looked on a woman in the 1930s.  Now that is a sharp look!

And now for the news…

*   One of the problems that US makers have found in their quest to be more sustainable is that very little organic cotton is grown in the country.  Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin and designer Billy Reid solved the problem by planting their own field.  And more about the project.

*   Yesterday I mentioned how many women first wore pants in their work during WWI.  Today, there is a new generation of women’s workwear that gives a nod to the past. Thanks to Megan T for the link.

*   Converse (owned by Nike) is suing to protect the design of the Chuck Taylor All Star.  Good luck to them, but I can’t see them winning.

*   In the Good News/Bad News department, the wonderful Worn Fashion Journal is calling it quits after ten years.  The good news is that I was interviewed about vintage gymsuits for the final issue.  You can pre-order the last issue and there are some remaining former issues for sale.

*   If you are to be in Madrid before January 18, 2015, be sure to take in the Givenchy retrospective at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum.  There is a bit of an interview with him at The Guardian.

*   If you’ve been thinking that buying goods from a country like Italy means that they were made under safe and fair working conditions, think again.

*   Jen at Pintucks gives us a great look at the history of Jonathan Logan.

*  I know there are several former and present academics who read The Vintage Traveler, so this one is for you.  First the question was asked of why academics dress so badly.  Then a female academic responded with the problems female academics face in dressing for their profession.

*  The next clothing auction from Karen Augusta is coming up at noon, Wednesday November 12th, at the Landmark on the Park at 160 Central Park West at the corner of 76th Street.  It sounds like a great sale, and I’ll be watching to see how this early Pendleton coat goes, as I have its sister in red, and the Met has one in black.

*   Why older women should become the new selfie generation.  I’m trying.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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