Category Archives: Curiosities

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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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing

Knickers – Precursor to Slacks for Women

After all the talk about knickers in yesterday’s post and comments I thought I’d show a few photographic examples from the 1920s.

Knicker is short for knickerbocker, which is a word that became associated with New York after the publication of Washington Irving’s History of New York.  An old-fashioned character in the book was named Knickerbocker, and the name became sort of a synonym for the old breeches-wearing Dutchmen of New York.  At some point the knee breeches themselves became known as knickerbockers.

Women, and especially school girls, had been wearing bloomers for sports since the nineteenth century, but knickers are not the same as bloomers.  Bloomers were very full and were usually contained at the below the knee hem by elastic.  Knickers were much slimmer and were fastened at the knee by a button closure.

Knickers were commonly worn by boys before they graduated into long pants.  By the early 1920s women were also wearing them for hiking and camping.  I guess it makes sense that girls who were adopting the style of le  Garçon, would literally take to wearing his pants.

In most of these photos you can see that young women often wore their knickers with knee socks.  The socks had a decorative band at the top which was worn over the band of the knickers.

A middy was often worn over the knickers, sometimes along with a cardigan.

This woman looks to be a bit old to be wearing a middy, but when camping necessity must have put a lot of odd ensembles out there.

This looks to be a sweater with a middy collar.

A “mannish” shirt and tie were also worn with knickers.

This woman’s pants look more like riding breeches than true knickers due to the narrowness at the knees.  But check out her boots!

This woman appears to be wearing shorts, but I thought her outfit was pretty interesting.  It looks like writing on the shirt, and what an odd choice of shoes for a hike.

Everything you read about women wearing pants in the 1920s mentions that women wore them only in the most outdoorsy of occasions, but here is a photo showing a woman wearing them in front of the Capitol building in Augusta, Maine.  What a fashion rebel!

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

1930s Rubber Bathing Cap

Almost as soon as women took to the water as bathers, they tried to come up with a reasonable solution to keeping their hair dry.   According to my search of the US Patent Office data base, the first rubber bathing cap was patented in 1887.  Over the next thirty-five years or so, bathing caps looked a lot like a present-day shower cap, with a lot of loose space in the cap to accommodate a women’s long hair.

But as hair styles got shorter in the 1920s, the rubber bathing cap became more fitted to the head.  By the 1930s rubber bathing caps looked very similar to the ones that can be bought today.   For that reason, bathing caps are really hard to accurately date.

The cap above was a very lucky find.  I pulled it out of a bin at the Goodwill outlet – a bin of “hard goods” such as plastic toys, video tapes, cookie tins, and all the other stuff people get rid  of.  It was a small miracle that it survived the last eighty years, but most of all, that it survived the mad scramble of Goodwill shoppers in their quest to find a bit of treasure in the bins.

Inside, the only marks were the numbers, 801232.  I thought that it could possibly be a patent number, but unfortunately it was not.  Also note the rubber bands across the opening.  These were thought to help keep water out.  I found dozens of patents for these “seals,” all just a bit different, all an “improvement” over the others.

I have a 1930s Kleinert’s catalog that is not dated, but it did have an interesting bit of information.  It mentioned that Kleinert’s caps were of the new seamless style.  Two of the caps are shown above, and you can see how similar in style they are to my cap, but my cap has two seams that run front to back.

Here is a similar cap shown in a 1932 fashion illustration in Vogue magazine.  Because it is a drawing, there is no way to tell if it was seamed or not, but it does show that this style was used over the course of several years.

In this rather unfortunate photograph, the woman is wearing an early to mid 1930s style swimsuit along with a similar style cap, but with a strap.

The photo above was taken in the late 1920s as an ad for a summer cap.  You can clearly see the seam in the side of one bathing cap, and it is not as sleek as mine or the ones illustrated that are from the 1930s.

My best guess is that my cap dates from the early 1930s.  The earliest patent for making an unseamed cap  is dated 1932.  I’d never given a seam much thought, but a quick look through my caps showed all of the ones from the 1940s and more recent were all seamless.  It must have been a big improvement.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing, Vintage Photographs

Round Hill Originals Decorated Sweater

Several weeks ago Emily at Virgin Vintage posted photos of a sweater on the Vintage Fashion Guild forums.  It was hand decorated with bugs and mushrooms, much in the manner of a Pat Baldwin sweater but it had a label I’d never seen before.

It was a Round Hill Original of Greenwich, Connecticut.  Marvelous researcher Lynne was able to dig up a bit of information.  Round Hill Originals was a non-profit group that was raising money for various charities and cultural groups.  I found where they helped pay for the relocation of an endangered historical building.  They provided a chapel at a Boy Scout camp.

The first reference that Lynne located was 1954, and the last was 1967.  In December, 1967 the group held a  “Mistletoe Mart” in which they sold “sweaters, costumes, and dresses.”

What I’ve not been able to find out is if the group actually decorated the items themselves, or if they bought them to resell.  The work is quite detailed, and is expertly done, so it does not appear that this was just an amateur craft co-op.

I’m sure the answer is out there, and to hopefully hurry up the information trail I have an email in to the Greenwich Historical Society.  Stay tuned.

The sweater is currently for sale in Emily’s Etsy shop.  All the photos are copyright of Virgin Vintage.  Please do not copy.

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Filed under Curiosities, Vintage Clothing

Betsey Johnson Meets the Spring Maid

A few weeks ago an Instagram friend, Carla, posted a photo of a Betsey Johnson dress that had a very familiar-looking print.  If you look carefully at the print above you’ll see young women, all of whom seem to be having a problem with their skirts flying up.

The print is, in fact, a redoing of the Springmaid girl, a topic I’ve written about quite a few times.  What started out as a risque ad campaign for Springs Mills fabrics and sheets was eventually made into a series of fabrics for the company.  Springs Mills not only decorated their corporate offices with the prints, they also had items made up for sale and they offered the fabrics to clothing manufacturers and home sewers.

So how did Betsey Johnson end up with a print that was designed for a bed sheet maker over sixty years ago?  I can’t possibly know for sure, but I have constructed a possible scenario.

A fabric “designer” is wandering through a flea market in search of inspiration.   The designer spots a sixty-year-old shirt made of the Springmaid fabric.  The designer buys the shirt and returns to her office where the Springmaid girls are cut apart and re-positioned, their clothes given a change of color, and then the new design is put on a black background.  The fabric is printed and someone from Betsey Johnson spots it at a wholesalers.  The fabric just screams “Betsey Johnson,” so it is bought and used to make dresses sometime in the 1990s.

Or I could be completely off base, and the fabric maker contacted Springs Mills and got permission to use their design.

Clothing design has no copyright protection in the US, but textile designs are protected.  Regardless, it is really quite common to see  vintage textiles reproduced in this way.  Tammis Keefe and Vested Gentress are two that I’ve written about in the past.  Like I said, it is possible that the maker of this fabric had permission to use the design.  That has been known to happen as in the case of fabric maker Michael Miller using Tammis Keefe designs.  Actually, Keefe has been dead many years and she left no heirs, but Michael Miller gave complete credit to Keefe, putting her signature on the fabrics.

So, no judgement, just an observation of one more thing that can be confusing, especially to newer buyers of vintage.  Yes, those Springmaid girls do look like they came from 1950, but the colors and label say otherwise.

Many thanks to Carla who graciously let me use her photos.

ADDITION:

It has occurred to me that there is a third possibility – that the fabric was actually made by Springmaid.  The company is still in business, and so it is possible.

AND MORE:

Ballyhoo Vintage has a hat lined in this fabric in the original colorway.

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Filed under Curiosities, Viewpoint

Misleading Labels – Mainbocher

Under certain circumstances, my reporting that I’d found a sweater with a Mainbocher label would be a cause for celebrating.  Main Rousseau Bocher was an American who stayed in Paris after WWI, changed his name to Mainbocher, and opened a couture house.  When WWII broke out he returned to the US and continued making clothes, including wonderfully decorated cashmere evening twin sets.

This sweater is not by THE Mainbocher, of course.  A quick search on the US Trademark site showed that this sweater is a product of Stein Mart, a “luxury discounter.”  They have had the Mainbocher name registered since 2005.

I’m not sure how this works, how a company can just take the name of a dead designer and slap it on random clothing.  I do understand revivals, where the label makes an attempt to channel the aesthetic of the designer into the new line (as in the Anne Fogarty revival) or Charles James, where the company actually has an agreement with his children.

I’m sure this happens all the time.  Feel free to share any misleading labels you’ve seen.  I know that about twenty years ago someone registered Claire McCardell’s name, but her family got that enterprise stopped through legal channels.  I noticed that her name has recently been registered as a trademark yet again.

I actually bought this sweater, because despite it being made in China, it is a nice, well-made garment.  It’s the type of thing I wear on a daily basis in colder months.  Somehow cashmere is just a bit more luxurious than sweatshirts.  I probably paid a dollar for it at the Goodwill outlet.

Nice full fashion knitting.  Most cheap sweaters are cut out from cashmere knit and then sewn.  In fully fashioned sweaters the pieces are knit to fit without cutting.

Not bad for a department store cashmere, but not quite couture!

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Filed under Curiosities, Designers

Avoca Handwoven from Ireland

I’ve written about Avoca before, or rather Graham Wynne, whose family owned Avoca for years wrote a great piece for The Vintage Traveler about the relationship between Avoca Handwoven in Ireland and the Carol Brown company in Vermont.  It’s a great story if you have not already read it.

Last week I found a cap with the Avoca Collection label.  The cap is made from a beautiful handwoven wool, very similar in texture to the dress I have from Carol Brown.  And while the Carol Brown dress was easy to date based on style, the cap is a bit harder, being a classic style with a small brim that snaps.

There are some clues on the label, the Woolmark, which was first used in 1964, and the Ginetex care symbols.  These symbols were created in 1963, but were first used in Great Britain in 1975.  Actually, all the information I’ve ever found and read about Ginetex has been very confusing, but I did learn from the Ginetex site that in 1983 a fifth symbol, that of the tumble dryer, was added.  If that information is correct, then I can safely date my cap between 1975 and 1983.

Not that I really care, but I do like to know the stories behind things.  Avoca is still in operation, with wovens still being produced.  The company is now very different, with it having a line of fashionable clothing and housewares.  I could not find on their site where woven caps were still being made, although scarves and throws are offered.

I love the colors used in this fabric.  The medium blue must be the warp, or the base yarns through which the weft is woven.  The weft varies from green to blue to violet. It makes for a very interesting textile, much more so than using the same color year for both the warp and the weft.

Today you can tour the Avoca Mill.  Field trip anyone?

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Filed under Curiosities, Vintage Clothing