A month or so ago someone posted on a public vintage clothing board about women wearing turtlenecks. She had found a vintage turtleneck in a thick wool, and the label looked to be older than the 1930s, but she didn’t know if the turtleneck had been around for that long. Adding to the confusion is the fact that turtlenecks are so associated with the 1960s.
But sure enough, the turtleneck has been around as a sportswear item for over 100 years. It’s hard for us today to imagine wearing such a bulky, heavy sweater to play basketball in, but then again, we’d not be wearing a corset either, like the girl in my drawing above!
The bottom part of her ensemble isn’t showing very much, but chances are she is wearing a pair of voluminous bloomers. It was the advent of organized team sports, in particular, basketball, that banished the skirt from the gym. Basketball was invented in 1891, and by mid-decade, the game was being played at most women’s colleges. Previously, women had worn long bloomers under a skirt for gym exercise.
Basketball was just too vigorous to be played in so many bulky clothes, so the skirt went, and the bloomers were shortened to just below the knee. Still, if leaving the gym, the women had to wear a skirt over the bloomers. It was just not acceptable to be seen wearing pants. (As a side note, this is the reason women’s field hockey teams have always worn skirts. The game was played outside, and so a skirt must be worn.)
It just goes to show how valuable antique photos and prints are in seeing what people actually wore. I have a hard time passing up a pile of old photos, because I just never know what sort of treasure will be found in it!
Illustration is from an antique postcard in my personal collection.