Category Archives: Proper Clothing

Columbia College, Spotlight on Your Future! 1955

This recruitment bulletin from Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, was sent to prospective students for the 1955-56 school year.  Columbia College is a college for young women, and was established in the 1850s, making it one of the oldest women’s colleges in the US.  In 1915 Georgia O’Keeffe taught at the school.

The study of photographs and literature from women’s colleges is interesting from a fashion history perspective because of the unique environment.  Even in the 1950s women in co-educational colleges were often prohibited from wearing pants or shorts in co-ed situations.  At women’s colleges the dress code was usually much looser.

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The curriculum at Columbia is what one might expect to find at a women’s college in the 1950s.  Home economics, education, music and art were standard courses for women.  There was also a business course, with a short two year certificate.

Physical education courses mandated the gym suit.  This style actually looks quite nice, with the well-fitting shorts.

Dressed for tennis, the girl on the right is wearing a Columbia College jacket.

Dramatic productions seemed to be a popular extra- curricular activity.

I assume that The Postscript was the college newspaper.  Note that many of the students are in jeans and sweatshirts.

There was no explanation for the historical dress, but since home economics was a big part of the program, it may have to do with clothing history.

The bulletin attempts to paint Columbia as an active place where the students were kept safe and busy.  In the early Fifties it was not always taken for granted that girls would even be allowed to attend college.  One of the big stories from my mother’s family concerned her younger sister, Jean.  Jean was an exceptional student, and as a high school senior she was offered a scholarship to Women College in Greensboro, NC.  The problem was that my mother had just dropped out of nursing school to get married, and my grandfather vowed not to let Jean leave home.

A big argument ensued over dinner one night, and my seventeen-year-old aunt got so angry that she picked up the bowl of beans and flung it in my grandfather’s face.  It was a grand gesture, but the best that she was able to negotiate was a two-year business school.  She then worked as an administrative assistant in a bank until she got married and started a family.

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1920s, 1930s Parkside Hat

This hat serves as a lesson that not every piece of historical clothing fits the rules of what defines an era. These photos were sent to me by Mary Jane of Poppy’s Vintage Clothing because she thought I’d love the label.

And she was so right!  Even though this was not a hat for golf, Parkside was using the image of a golfing woman in what was a popular way to promote products in the 1920s.  Susan at Witness2Fashion wrote a post several months ago about how the image of a golfing woman was commonly used in the 1920s as a symbol of the modern woman.

Which leads us to the problem of dating this hat.  The style of the hat seems to be very early 1930s, but the label and the way the hat is constructed on the inside seem to say 1920s.

Until the 1930s, hats were generally fully lined.  The label was usually a large woven piece that matched the rest of the lining.  Such is the case in this hat.  As the cloche began to shrink in the early 1930s, hats were generally not lined, and had a small woven ribbon label sew in.

The image of the woman golfer also looks to be 1920s.  She is wearing a cloche and knickers.

This hat is sort of a cloche, but the back looks to be a bit short.  It is possible that it was meant to be worn more on the back of the head, as the last 1920s brought about a slow trend toward showing a bit of the forehead.

I looked in all my sources to see if there were any hats like this one shown for the mid 1920s or later, but I pretty much did not find any examples.  As the 1920s came to a close, hats were almost helmet-like, with tiny or no brims at all.  This helmet cloche did not disappear on the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1930.  Even in 1931 it was still occasionally seen in fashion magazines.

So when exactly was this hat made?  I’m not enough of a hat expert to say, but my best guess is late 1920s or early 30s.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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Sun Proof Sola Hat

Ever since reading Women Travelers, I’ve sort of felt the need for a pith helmet.  They are a fairly easy item to find, but every time I ran across one, I was not impressed with the quality.  I mean, did Gertrude Bell ride across Iraq wearing plastic and faux leather?  I think not.  But I recently found a hat actually made of pith, and I knew I’d found my hat.

To be honest, I knew nothing about pith helmets before I found this one.  I’ve had to do a bit of homework, and what I found was fascinating.  The hats were originally actually made from the pith of the aeschynomene aspera plant.  This plant was commonly known as the sola with the hats being called “sola topee” in Hindi.  The English thought they were saying “solar topee”, and so the name sun hat, or sun helmet, was also applied to the hat.

Hats made from sola pith were made mainly in India, but also in surrounding countries like Pakistan.  In places where the sola did not grow, other materials were used, like cork.

My hat is a style called the “Bombay Bowler.”  There is a photo of Churchill wearing one during WWII.  Pith helmets date back to the first half of the nineteenth century, but I could not find when this particular style originated.

My helmet is missing the inside band.  It would have covered the writing and gone nearly to the edge of the grey cloth you can see in the top right corner of my photo.

Can you tell that the grey cloth covers a heavy paper that is pleated?  That is to allow for additional ventilation.  There are also four holes that allow air to circulate.

Besides the inside band, this hat is also missing the chin strap which rested across the front brim.

These hats were worn by officials in the British Empire, but they were also available for civilians to purchase and wear.  Perhaps some woman traveler bought this one while traversing the East and brought it home to North Carolina.

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Early 1930s Tennis Dress

In the early 1930s as hemlines dropped on women’s dresses, they also dropped on sports dresses.  In 1927 a tennis dress would have its hem right at the knee, and it would have had a dropped waist as was the fashion.  In 1932 the typical tennis dress still mirrored the fashionable silhouette of the day.  There was a waist at the natural waistline, but there might also be a dropped waist as you see above. (I’ve read that before 1935, the waist pointed downward, and after 1935 it pointed upward.  This rule often holds true.)  The skirt was the length of a fashionable dress, quite a few inches below the knee.

In 1927 women tennis players were still wearing silk stockings, though some used roll garters and rolled the hose to the knee.  In the early 1930s the ankle sock appeared on the tennis court, having made the jump from school gym classes.

My dress dates from the early 1930s.  The waist had moved back to its natural spot, but there is still a dropped waist feature.  The sleeveless bodice and the V neckline are also holdovers from the 1920s.  There are no openings to help get the dress on; it fit over the head like a late Twenties dress.   It must have been a struggle, as I could not even get this dress on my tiny half-mannequin.

Even though the skirt is long, the three front pleats allow for plenty of movement.

The back also has the pointed dropped waist, but without the pleats.

There are no signs of labels, and this appears to be the work of a home sewer, most likely a fairly skilled one.  This would not have been an easy dress to make.  Note how the sewer had the ribbed fabric cut on the length for some pieces, but on the cross for others.

This 1935 Saks Fifth Avenue ad is a bit later than my dress, but you can see how the skirt was a fashionable long length.  By the end of the decade, tennis dresses diverged from the fashionable length, rising to above the knee.  Matching bloomers were worn beneath.  On more casual courts, some girls and women were even wearing shorts, something that still is frowned upon at some tennis clubs.

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Proper Tennis Dress, 1914

The roots of tennis date to the Middle Ages, but the modern game did not emerge until the 1870s.   First played on the great estates of England, the game quickly spread to the US where it retained its elitist air.  The game was played in private clubs, and in mixed sex company.  In fact, women themselves started playing the game.

In the nineteenth century the game was not the fast paced running game of today.  Players generally just passed the ball back and forth across the net, with little running required.  Women actually played in the fashionable dress of the day (including corsets) with few concessions to the sport.  Pre-1900 photos show women playing in swagged skirts, skin tight jackets and constricting sleeves.

There was a reason.  Private clubs and resorts where tennis was played were prime courting territory.   Young unmarried women  and men wanted to look like suitable marriage material, and that meant dressing in the proper manner.  Even though fashion magazines at the time showed proper tennis attire, the dresses were pretty much what a woman would have worn for any outdoor activity.

A big change in tennis wear for women happened around the turn of the twentieth century.  It was discovered that the dark skirt and white waist combination that was so popular with women was well suited to tennis.  The waist was blousy and loose, and the skirt was A shaped and allowed for movement.  The skirt was still long, but it no longer swept the ground.

About the same time, white dresses for summer became the style, and so before long the skirt was white as well.  According to Patricia Campbell Warner in her book When the Girls Came Out to Play, the choice of the color white also appealed to the elite.  It was hard to keep clean and required a lot of care in laundering, requiring time and resources limited to the well-to-do.

In 1914 tennis player and teacher Miriam Hall published a little book titled Tennis for Girls.  Tennis was becoming a fast paced game that required movement of the arms and freedom of the legs.  Ms. Hall gave suggestions on tennis dress in the book.

Clothing, light of weight, should be worn, enabling one to move freely.  There should be no restriction at the neck, and as little as possible at the waist.  To further this, it is wise to substitute for the corset, some good corded waist, or a boned brassiere, the stockings to be supported from the waist or shoulders.  The use of the round garter is worse than foolish – it is often dangerous, leading to the formation of varicose veins.

The sleeves should not extend below the elbows and the skirt should be wide enough to permit a broad lunge and not longer that five inches from the ground.  The best shoe is of soft canvas with a flexible, not too heavy, rubber sole.  If there is a tendency toward fallen arches, a light-weight leather support should be worn inside the tennis shoe.

In the photo Hall is wearing what looks to be a middy over a sports skirt, pretty much the same outfit that schoolgirls across the country were wearing to school each day.

It took a tennis star, Suzanne Lenglen, to bring short skirts and bare arms to the tennis dress.  When she first appeared in such an outfit at Wimbleton in 1919, it was scandalous.  Six years later women were wearing her look on the streets.

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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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Ad Campaign – Blassport, 1971

We were discussing earlier this week the revivals of knickers that have taken place over the years.  One was in the early 1980s, reportedly triggered by a photo of Princess Diana taken while on her honeymoon.  A quick look through the vintage patterns at Etsy confirmed that knickers were big in 1982.

I remembered that knickers were a bit of a fad for a short while during my high school years, 1970 through 1973.  Again, I turned to etsy, did a search for “knickers pattern,” and quickly realized that 1971 was the year of the knickers.

I would have been a sophomore or junior during that year, and while I can remember some of the girls at my school wearing them, I was not tempted by the knickers.  At the time I was into really short skirts, and especially, short culottes.  It’s a bit strange that they were allowed due to our no pants rule in the dress code, but a blind eye was turned to culottes and knickers.  I think the attitude was that they were better than the short skirts we were wearing.

It was a good thing that I did not buy into the knickers fad because it came and went very quickly.  Had I acquired a pair I’d have been stuck having to wear them because clothes were expensive and we had to wear what was bought until we either outgrew them or wore them out.  I would have been a fashion has-been!

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