Category Archives: Summer Sports

Currently Reading: Rose Marie Reid, An Extraordinary Life

After seeing the Emilio Pucci in American exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, I was curious about the relationship between Pucci and swimwear maker Rose Marie Reid.   To my surprise I found that a biography of Reid had been published, so I promptly ordered a copy.

Unless the designer is Coco Chanel or maybe Yves Saint Laurent, designer biographies are actually quite rare.  Some are written as exhibition catalogs, such as the wonderful Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism which was published in 1998 to go with an exhibition of McCardell’s work at the Museum at FIT.  There are quite a few autobiographies from twentieth century designers, some good, some bad.  But a biography of a ready-to-wear designer in a niche market is a rarity.

In reading about the life of a fashion designer – or any important person for that matter – the thing that interests me most is that person’s work and the influences on the work.  There are a few designers, again, Coco Chanel, whose work was so important and so entwined with the time in which she lived that her private life and political and religious views are an important part of the narrative.

Rose Marie Reid, An Extraordinary Life is actually more about Reid the mother, the Mormon, and the woman with whom people had difficult relationships.  Not that the details of her design career are not present, as they are, but the timeline  is fuzzy and confusing.  To a person like me who likes to examine the when of things, it was a bit frustrating.  For instance, the book tells a great story about how Rose Marie first started making bathing suits.  Her new husband, Jack Reid was a swimming instructor who hated his saggy wool trunks.  Rose Marie took a piece of cotton duck to which she added lacing on the sides to make for a good fit.

The design was so successful that Jack took a copy to the local Hudson’s Bay Company store, where the buyer there asked for a women’s design.  From that order the business was formed, and  within a year Rose Marie was overseeing a factory with thirty-two sewing machines.  But the book never says exactly when this all took place.

Of course I realize that history is not always measured in dates.  However, when you are studying design it helps to know when such innovations actually took place.  The best I can figure was sometime between November 1935, when Rose Marie and Jack were married, and 1937 when it is mentioned that Rose Marie’s suits were used in some 1937 games.

Interwoven into the story of the formation of the business are the details of the birth of their children, the disintegration of their marriage, and how Rose Marie prayed through it all.  The theme and the timeline constantly changed and at times I was left shaking my head.

I guess it is important to let you know that one of Rose Marie’s daughters, Carole Reid Burr, was the co-author.  There were endnotes that gave sources, and from that it is easy to see that this book is mainly a compilation of oral family stories.  Numerous interviews were listed as references, and from that I could begin to see why the telling seemed so disjointed.

There were actually sixteen different people interviewed for the book, and along with old letters and newspaper clippings, they seem to be the source for most of the information.  Company records did not seem to be used at all, but that is not surprising since Rose Marie sold the business and franchised her name starting in 1962.  Subsequently there are more details about the many lawsuits in which Rose Marie was involved than there were of the actual business of making swimsuits.

Near the end of the book I finally spotted the name of Emilio Pucci, and began to take notice.  Unfortunately the anecdote was about how he had bought some Rose Marie Reid swimsuits for his staff, and had given one to fashion journalist Ann Scott James.  And that was the end of Emilio, with no mention of the collaboration between him and Reid.

A great deal is made of Reid’s Mormon faith, and I suppose that is understandable considering that the book was published by a Mormon company.  In some ways her faith was important to her design story, as the dictates of modesty by the Mormon Church led her to strongly reject the bikini.   And it was probably this rejection that led Rose Marie to sell the company in 1962.

Besides the fuzzy storytelling, there were quite a few factual mistakes.  The book refers to, but does not explain a relationship with White Stag.  Unfortunately, it is consistently spelled “White Stagg.”  There was also a big discussion of the great success of rival  swimsuit maker Cole of California.  The authors refer to Cole’s Scandal Suit as a bikini, which it was not. (There was a version that resembled two pieces connected by mesh, but even it was not a true bikini.)

It’s such a shame that the story of a company that was the world’s largest producer of women’s swimwear in the late 1950s should be told in such an off-putting way.  Between the preaching of Mormon principles and the accolades of Reid’s mothering ability, I’ve found it hard to go back through and try to establish just the story of the swimsuit company.  Maybe someday I’ll be stranded on a desert island with just this book and a pencil and I can figure it all out.

 

 

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Spalding’s Athletic Library

If you are in the US, you probably recognize Spalding as the brand name of a company that makes sporting equipment.  The company has a very long history, being formed by A.G. Spalding in the 1870s.  His first product was baseballs; Spalding himself had been a pitcher for the Chicago White Stockings. Before long his business was making all kinds of sporting equipment.

Spalding got into publishing when he produced an official guide to baseball.  In 1885 he branched off into guides for other sports, and the series became known as Spalding’s Athletic Library.  Eventually the company was publishing around 300 guides.

I did not buy this book, probably from the early 1920s, as I felt like it was too pricy, but I looked on eBay and prices for these guides are all over the place. It’s interesting that women were featured as well as men in the cover art. The company was making items specifically for girls and women by this time.  I have a 1920s gymsuit in my collection.

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Ad Campaign – Ceeb of Miami, 1960

Thunderbird is the word!

For your sculptured Ceeb swimsuit… get inside this faille Lastex creation from Indian Summer Collection.  A vibrant hand screened print in gold or lilac combinations…For smashing coordinates, try the cotton skirt and the Italian straw hat with matching band and snood.

I find this ad to be a bit confusing.  I suppose the print is a bit “Indian” inspired, with the reference to Thunderbird and the fact that they called the collection “Indian Summer.”  But what’s with that sculpture (Is it African, or is it modern?) and the odd arm gestures?

I love that the ad shows the coordinating skirt and the hat with the matching band and Snood.  But who was still using the word “snood” in 1960?  Odd.

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Mid Twentieth Century Bathing Suit Cover Up

I’ll be honest, there are few things that get me as excited as seeing a fantastic vintage novelty print, especially one that has a beach theme.   Make that novelty print into a wonderful piece of sportswear and I’m moving into the thrilled category.  And to find out that this treasure is actually for sale, that registers into the ecstatic range.

Seriously, this print is about as good as it gets.   The hats, the suns, the waves, the sand!

And that’s not just a collar; that’s a hood.  The interior of the jacket is lined in the green.

Even the buttons are super, being covered with the same green fabric as the lining.

The maker was Ceeb of Miami.  Ceeb was a label of the Miami Sportswear Company, which was owned by Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Brasington and Mr. and Mrs. W.T. Rose.  (I wonder why C.B. got the label named after himself.)  The business is still in operation, and they still manufacture bathing suits in the USA.  According to their website the company was started in 1942, but the US Trademark Database says 1946, with the name being trademarked in 1949.

That means my jacket has to date after 1949, as the label tells us the name is registered.  The print looks early to mid 1950s.  I’m really tempted to take out part of the hem to see if the selvage is intact and if so, does it have any information printed on it.  The more I think about this, the more I want to do it.

Ceeb made a variety of “Florida” fashions including jumpsuits that were really bathing suits with capri length legs.  They could be quite fancy with shiny fabrics and sequins and such. Today their image is decidedly less sexy.

What really has me excited is that I’m sure that out there somewhere is a matching bathing suit.  It is there, I know it.  And I will find it.

You might be wondering how I found such a perfect object.  I found it by way of Instagram.  This has become my favorite way to find new things for my collection, as sellers usually post their new finds there even before they are offered for sale.  It’s like an auction preview, and with me at least, it is quite effective.

If you are a vintage seller, you really should be on Instagram.  It is an excellent way to not only show off things you have for sale, but also to give your business a personal face.  The Instagram accounts I find to be most interesting are the ones that feature the family dog, their garden, their travels, the sunsets.  Throw in some nice historical clothing and I’m ready to follow.

With Instagram, it’s important to remember to be social.  I really find it to be the most social of the big sites.  Perhaps it is because the great majority of photos posted are of a more personal nature (as compared to Pinterest and Facebook, where most of what you see is not original to the poster).  For whatever reason, it is a great place to post photos and get feedback.

For those of you who sew, there is a growing sewing “community” at Instagram as well.  People share tips and show off their patterns and projects.  It’s a lot of fun as well.

Beach jacket from DnJVinage.

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1960s Surfer Shorty Cap from Kleinert’s

Occasionally a find will come along that defies all you thought you knew about a subject.  In this case the object is the Surfer Shorty Cap.  For decades the purpose of the bathing cap was to keep the hair dry, but there is no pretense that this cap will even cover the head, much less keep water out of the hair.

 

What it does do is keep the hair in place, plus it ties with a sporty under-the-chin bow.

There is no date on the package, but from the illustration and the name of the product, this is surely from the early to mid 1960s .  In the early 1960s, possibly starting with the movie Gidget in 1959, there was somewhat of a surfing craze.  The Beach Boys formed in 1961, singing about “Surfin’ USA,” and “Surfer Girl” and Jan and Dean came along in 1963 with “Surf City.”  The Beach Party movie franchise with Frankie and Annette started in 1963.

The people at Kleinert’s must have looked on in horror as Sandra Dee hopped on her surfboard bareheaded, with just a ponytail to keep her locks in place.  Some how the idea of  a surfer’s cap materialized, even though the impetuous surfer girl would not have inclinations toward such a thing.

So the Surfer Shorty Cap was a new one on me.  I’ve not found any advertising for it, and I’ve not seen anything like it in my 1960s fashion magazines.  Anyone with memories of the 1960s recall this one?

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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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