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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Ad Campaign – James Kenrob, 1962

Here’s that girl again… in “Americana” Double Knit-mates

Best of the new – sleek wool double knits to mate in seventeen plus ways.  Newest of the new – boldly printed fut blend cardigans that top everything.  The whole kitten’ kaboodle from our “Americana” collection priced to please college and career budgets.

As the ad says, James Kenrob was a division of Dalton.  Dalton was one of the major cashmere makers in the US, and they made wool skirts to coordinate with their high quality sweaters.  In 1959 Dalton registered the James Kenrob trademark.  Under that label the company produced double knits in both wool and synthetic fibers.

I really, really do love this sweater.  I have a thing for argyle and harlequin prints, and I think the color combination of green and blue looks so fresh.  And how about that coordinating cushion and headband, not to mention her hair and the apple!

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Aunt Hannah’s Knit Stockings

I love surprises, especially when they concern a vintage item I’ve bought.  An example is this pair of vintage cotton hand knit stockings.  They came from the same estate as the gym shirt I wrote about last week. and they appear to have never been worn.

I was examining these, getting ready to research the style and such when I felt something crunch inside one of the stockings.  I gently put my hand in it and pulled out a scrap of paper.

“Aunt Hannah knit these.”  Usually when I buy a piece of vintage I have no information at all about who was the maker or the wearer.  And while the note gives only a name and relationship, it does at least somewhat humanize the stockings.  Someone cared enough about Aunt Hannah to document her work, though I’d have loved a last name and date to go along with it.

It is my guess that these were made in that short period of time, the 1910s, when skirts were slowly inching upward and women were wanting nicer stockings since they could be seen.  But since the pattern stops at mid-calf, the skirts that was to be worn with these could not have been more than five or six inches from the floor. The top of the stocking comes to just below the knee, and would have been held up with garters.

They look short, but the size of the foot indicates that they were not made for a child.  Perhaps they were made for a young woman or teen whose skirts were short, but not too short for the era.

Such skill!  Knitters always make it look so easy, but Aunt Hannah had to have had a very fine hand and very tiny needles.

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Vintage Miscellany – October 12, 2014

It’s here, leaf season. The season we here in the southern Appalachians love and love to hate.  Love, because the mountains are at their most spectacular.  Hate, because everyone who can drives up to look at them.  Of course, you can’t blame them.  It is a special time of year.

And for those of you not caught up in gridlock on the Blue Ridge Parkway, here’s the news.

*  The University of Glasgow recently received a grant to spend on adding to their Scottish textile archive.

*   The next clothing sale at Augusta Actions takes place on November 12, and features six rare pieces from the Beatles’ Apple Boutique.  Click on one of the pieces to see more photos, and take mental notes on the label.  You’ll want to recognize it if you are ever lucky enough to stumble onto a piece.

*   John Galliano has been named creative director of Maison Martin Margiela.  Publicity stunt or genius move?

*   The word “heritage” gets thrown around a lot by clothing companies, but there are quite a few companies with interesting histories that need to be celebrated.  That takes us to Madison Avenue Fashion Heritage Week where  sixteen Madison Avenue luxury  stores will decorate their windows with a nod to the company history.  The windows will be on view from October 20th through the 26th, and there is a phone app to help with interpretation (available October 16th).  I hope to see pictures.

*   Michelle Obama finally wore an Oscar de la Renta dress and so everyone had to analyze it.

*  Mrs. Obama also held an event at the White House called the Fashion Education Workshop in which fashion students and major players from the world of fashion spent the day together talking the fashion business.  It ended with a talk by Obama and a panel discussion with several of the First Lady’s favorite designers and Jenna Lyons which you can view on Youtube.  It’s really interesting to hear what these people have to say to fashion students, thought I’m a bit tired of Diane von Furstenberg’s empowerment message. And don’t read the comments.

*  There is a new exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum, Fashioned in America, that celebrates the American fashion industry and American designers.  See it now through March 15, 2015.

*  The Guardian had an interesting article about used clothing donations and how charities have to compete with for-profit clothing recycling businesses.  I find it hard to believe that any charity like Goodwill is suffering for lack of donations, as I see how much goes through the outlet center without ever being sorted.

*    Fashion journalist Teri Agins has a new book out, Hijacking the Runway, which is about how celebrities are becoming more and more part of the stories surrounding fashion.  As an example, at the recent Paris fashion shows there was more attention focused on Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and daughter North West than on the shows they attended.

*  In a recent password change, I somehow “lost” access to my Vintage Traveler Pinterest pages.  I decided it was no great loss and have set up new boards under my old Fuzzylizzie account.  It will be strictly photos of my vintage collection and is a work in progress.

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