Category Archives: Sportswear

Currently Re-reading – When the Girls Came Out to Play

You might have noticed over the past two weeks that I’ve made repeated references to one book, When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner.  I actually surprised myself because I was sure I had reviewed this book years ago, but a look back into the archives showed that I merely recommended the book back in 2006 when it was released.

The book is an outgrowth of Warner’s doctoral dissertation , but it does not read like an academic journal.  It was written in an easy to follow narrative style, but it is also richly annotated with end notes.  This is really my favorite kind of book – one that reads like a conversation with a very knowledgeable friend.

Reading the book for the first time was like a revelation.  Even though I’d been studying fashion history for a long time, there were no scholarly studies on the progression of American sportswear.  Through Warner’s research, I was able to fill in a lot of gaps in my own knowledge and thinking about the subject.

One of the big ideas in the study is that starting in the Nineteenth Century there were two separate trends in sports attire for women.  There were clothes that were appropriate for public wearing, such as tennis dresses, bathing suits and bicycling ensembles.  In these areas, women were mixed with men and were expected to follow the rules of proper dress.

The other trend was clothing for a more private environment, especially that of the woman’s college.  In places where women were not mixing with men, they were freer to don less feminine garments like bloomer gym suits.

Eventually the two different sports clothing strands began to merge.  Women who had worn bloomers at summer camp or college were used to wearing the pants, so to speak.  It was an easy leap to wearing knickers for outings and beach pyjamas at home and at the shore.

Over the years I’ve repeatedly referred to this book, and I see it as the foundation of my own studies of sportswear.  As with any study there are always new things to be discovered, and there is still a lot to be learned about how women became pants wearers.  It is a fascinating topic, with all kinds of historical and social strands of learning.

When the Girls Came Out to Play can be purchased quite inexpensively from Amazon, but the great news is that it can be read free online in the pdf form.  Either way, this is a must read for those interested in the development of sportswear for women in America.

7 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading, Sportswear

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.

8 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

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.

8 Comments

Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Early 1960s Gymsuit

I think it is pretty incredible that any vintage gymsuit exists.   Talk to almost any woman who had to wear one and you’ll get a long list of what was wrong with the garment, starting with unflattering and ending with hideous.  It seems to be a universally held memory by women over a certain age that the gymsuit was invented to lower self-esteem and inflict psychological pain.

One would think that on the last day of high school gym class there would have been mass ritual burnings of the garment.  Why would anyone keep such a hated thing?

To be honest, I can’t remember what happened to mine.  I graduated high school just as my sister started junior high, so it is possible that my mother made her wear it.  Not that there could have been much life left in it after I’d been abusing it for six years.  That’s right; I wore the same gymsuit for the entire six years of secondary school.  This was back in the day when mothers bought clothes a bit big so the child would “grow into” them.  Not that I grew much after age twelve.

But people did for one reason or another keep their old gymsuits.  I have fourteen of them, the oldest dating to around 1865 – 1870.  But until recently I did not have one that was similar to the one I wore in the late 1960s and early 70s.   Above you can see the latest addition to my little collection.

Gymsuits can be hard to date, as the styles tended to be used over a long period of time.  I was still wearing in 1973 the suit my parents bought in 1968.  And it was really similar to ones I’ve seen from the 1940s and 50s.    But there are a few things that told me this one was newer.

The button-down collar was the first hint.  According to a 1962 Moore Gymwear catalog I have, a style that was introduced the previous year was very popular partly due to “a sophisticated Ivy League, button-down collar.”   This suit was called the “Matadora”, and it is almost identical to my latest gymsuit even though mine was made by Champion.

In fact, my suit has every single one of the features shown in the diagram.

“Nylon and cotton elastic at waist for slender look”

“Button-down Ivy League Collar” and Snaps

“Princess Styling – Long Lines for Comfort” and “Tucks for Form Fit”  This suit has it all!

As I said, this suit was made by Champion.  The RN number is another big help in dating.  The labeling law changed in 1959, and it is known that the first number under the new law was 13670.  Since my number is 26094, I know the number was issued after 1959.  There is an RN number database, but it is of limited use.  For example, this number is now owned by Hanesbrands, which owns Champion.

I’m sure that this gymsuit was once white and that it has been dyed.  You can’t really tell in my photo, but the label is also green.  And the color is terribly uneven.

I love it when the original owner’s name is embroidered on the gymsuit, but I am so grateful my teachers did not have us do this.  It would have severely limited our ability to borrow a suit from a neat friend on inspection day!

These come up for sale quite often on ebay and etsy, but I don’t know of anyone other than myself who collects them.  They aren’t really “fashion”, but they are an important part of the shared history of women who came of age before the gymsuit was finally eliminated by most schools in the 1980s.

9 Comments

Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, 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.

 

10 Comments

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

CLOSED Popina Swim Suit Giveaway – Made in the USA CLOSED

Last spring I posted a review of Popina swimwear after the company was kind enough to send a swim suit to me.  I just loved it, and even though I rarely wear a bathing suit the Popina became my suit of choice when the occasion arose.   The swim suit fits true to size, and it performs beautifully in the water.  Recently I was happy to hear from the owner, Will Levenson because he has offered a Popina suit for one Vintage Traveler reader.

The suit I have is the Grace model, seen above.   I liked that it had the look of vintage swimwear, without exposing a sixty year old suit to sun, salt and chlorine.  It is just one of the retro-inspired bathing suits that Popina makes in the USA.  The company also sells other brands, including Jantzen Swimwear and SeaFolly Swimwear, which is made in Australia.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is post here saying you want to put your name in the hat to win the Popina suit of your choice.   The contest is open until noon on Friday, May 23, 2014, at which time I’ll select a winner at random from all who post on this thread.

Thanks so much to Will and Pamela for providing the suit.  Photo copyright Popina.

63 Comments

Filed under Sportswear, Summer Sports

Beach Party Swimsuit, 1970

I really wonder sometimes where certain clothing styles and fads originate.  An example might be this bathing suit from around 1970.

This style showed up at my local swimming pool the summer I was fifteen.  I wanted no part of it, but there were girls who if they saw a style in Seventeen, then it had to be great, so there they were.  I thought we were there to show off in front of the boys, so why put an apron on to cover up?  Besides, the style was more than a little reminiscent of maternity smocks, and that was a seed of doubt no girl wanted to plant.

Anyway, the fashion came and went, by the next summer bikinis were smaller than ever, but it was still possible to buy or make the silly apron suit.

I spotted this suit from Beach Party at an antique mall in Burlington, NC several weeks ago.  At first I just snapped a photo of it as a reminder that I was never a fashion sheep, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted it.   It appears to be unworn, and in an old fashioned sort of way, was quite attractive.

I love the mix of prints and the red, white, and blue color scheme.  The gingham is right in keeping with the granny chic look that was so popular in the post-Woodstock world.

Little dotty pants.

The back view almost looks like the girls is wearing just a skirt.    Maybe this suit is a bit sexier than I thought.

And there is zero support on the top side, a big change from the highly structured suits teen girls and women were accustomed to.

This Bobbie Brooks ad is from 1970 and shows a similar style.  I think I was right to say no to this fad.

14 Comments

Filed under Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing