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

Everygirl’s Magazine – 1926 through 1931

Everygirl’s was a magazine for members of the Camp Fire Girls.  The Camp Fire Girls were established in 1912 as an organization for girls that was an alternative to the Boy Scouts.  Interestingly, Juliette Low was busy at the same time organizing the Girl Scouts, and in the early days of both organizations there were several attempts to merge the two groups.

Almost all the issues in my collection have ads for middies.  In one issue girls were reminded:

A clean middy a day will keep life gay.  Yes, there are middies and middies.  Not every piece of cloth cut with a sailor collar and long enough to go over your skirt is acceptable to Camp Fire Girls.  We want cut plus style, don’t we? And sometimes we want those stunning corduroy knicker suits.

In the early days of the organization the Campfire Girls were strongly influenced by “Native American lifestyle,” which included members making and dressing in an Indian style dress and making up an Indian name and symbol for oneself.    I’ve seen dozens of these “Indian” dresses for sale over the years.

Through the magazine girls were encouraged to live a healthy and active lifestyle, which included sports of all kinds.  I love how these girls were active and well-dressed.  An article about winter sports reinforced the idea of looking fashionable:

…Gladys, the fashion plate of the crowd, had achieved a very elegant effect.  She wore forest green corduroy knickers, a green suede windbreaker and a green beret, and double socks, the short ones turned down over the top of her ankle-high elk skin shoes.  She looked stunning.  Moreover, the outfit was both warm and practical.

The magazine seems to be targeted toward teen girls,  and this 1931 cover has an older looking girl on the cover.  All the issues mention appropriate dress for girls, but the 1931 issue also includes some pages that actually feature fashions.   I find it interesting that a magazine for a camping organization was also in tune with girls’ desires to look fashionable.

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Made in the USA: Hats by Satya Twena

Late last year I ran across an interesting Kickstarter campaign.  A young hat designer, Satya Twena, was hoping to save one of the last two remaining hat factories in Manhattan.  Twena had been working with hats made at the Makins Factory when she heard that the factory was closing.  Her business had become dependent on the factory, so she decided to try and save it.  She ran a very successful Kickstarter, and the factory is once again up and running.

Contributors to the campaign got to pick out a hat, and I finally settled on this navy woven straw fedora.  It’s a bit different from the hats I usually wear, but I liked it and thought, “Why not?”

There were dozens and dozens of hats to choose from, but I’m very happy with the one I got.  It fits perfectly and looks snappy.

The hats are made the old fashioned way using vintage machines and hat blocks.  The materials are hand blocked using steam and skill to fashion the shape.

I’ve noticed lately that Twena’s company has been getting a lot of press coverage, including Glamour and Lucky magazines, along with the  Today Show.  If you are interested in a new, top quality hat, there are plenty of styles for sale on the Satya Twena website.

And I even found a photo of me wearing the hat several months ago at the Liberty antiques Festival.  I added a scarf for a bit more color.  Seriously, I had women stopping me wanting to know where I got the hat.  One even tried to buy it!

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Ad Campaign – Levi’s, 1954

Look pretty…  and you’re bound to, in these sparkling new separates from Levi’s Denim Family.

I love a good company history, and Levi’s by Ed Cray did not disappoint.  It’s not a complete history because the book was published in 1978, but in a way it makes it all the more interesting to know what has happened in the company in the past thirty-six years.

You might know that Levi Strauss was an immigrant who ended up in San Francisco.  There he opened a dry goods store soon after his arrival in the city in 1853.  His brothers in New York shipped goods to him which he then sold first as a peddler, then as a shopkeeper.  His big moment came in 1872 when tailor Jacob Davis wrote to him about marketing the duck cloth (canvas) overalls he had devised.  To make them stronger, Davis put in metal rivets at certain stress points.

Strauss and his brothers applied for a patent for Davis, and the rest is, well, history.  Davis sold a half interest in the patent to the Strauss family in return for them handling the manufacture of the pants.  Soon Levi Strauss and Company was selling riveted jeans all over the West.

At first the brothers tried having the jeans manufactured in New York and then shipped to San Francisco, but it soon became apparent that shipping problems made a local factory necessary.  A factory was contracted in San Francisco, and it produced the jeans until the earthquake in 1906.  By that time Levi had died and had passed the company on to his nephews.  The old factory being damaged, the company decided to build a new one which was owned by them.  For the next one hundred years Levi’s jeans would be made primarily in factories owned by the company.

Through the years, the growth at Levi Strauss and Co. was ongoing and consistent.  Even though the family grew wealthy and the company greatly increased in size, the product was mainly regional, being confined to the American West.   And the company was still owned and run by the descendants of the Strauss family.

It took World War II to bring about big changes.  Until the war and the scarcity of materials, there had never been any changes in the design of the jeans, which was the button fly model 501.  During the war, the back cinch belt was eliminated along with six buttons that were for suspenders.  And for a while there were no belt loops, but they were added back after the war.  During the war many GIs and war workers stationed on the West Coast had discovered Levi’s jeans, causing a demand for them nationwide.  It was just what the family had been wanting – a new market for their product.

The factory in San Francisco was no longer able to keep up with demand, and so Levi Strauss and Co.  opened factories all over the country.  They also expanded their product line which included women’s wear.  The company had experimented with Levis for women in the 1930s, but the line was not successful, but the more casual lifestyle of Americans after WWII made jeans more appealing to women.  Along with the jeans, Levi Strauss made casual separates to coordinate with the colors of the jeans and the shorts made of denim.

Levi’s became even more popular with young people because they were being worn by actors such as James Dean and Marlon Brando, but it was the counter-culture movement of the 1960s that really caused the jeans market to explode.  Take a moment and think about how interesting it is that a movement that was protesting against the status quo was the catalyst for an economic boom for the denim industry.

After the 1960s the growth continued at a frenzied pace.  International expansion took place, with Levi’s jeans being manufactured in the countries where they were sold.  Changes in the design had to be made, especially through the bell-bottom years.  But by the mid 1970s the company was over-extended in some of their markets, and the quality of the jeans made outside the USA had slipped.  The company had to take drastic action to correct the problems and save Levi Strauss and Company’s reputation.

Through all the years and the ups and downs, Levi Strauss remained a company that was committed to their employees.  During the time that factory was closed due to the earthquake, employees continued to receive a paycheck even though most of them were not able to work.   The owners managed to keep the factory going during the Great Depression.  Factory employees made a higher wage than was the industry standard.  The Strauss family took pride in making sure their employees were happy and not tempted by the union organizers.

The book ends in 1977, but there were signs even then that big changes were coming to the clothing manufacturing industry.  For the first time some Levi Strauss employees lost their jobs due to a reorganization of a distribution center.   It was, of course, a drop in the bucket compared to the American jobs lost due to manufacturing of Levi’s products being out-sourced in the years to come.

Today, Levis Strauss and Company is still owned primarily by the descendants of the family of Levi Strauss.  None of the family is involved in the management of the company.  Very few Levi’s products are made in the USA.  The book sure makes one nostalgic for the good old uncomplicated days of the 1950s.

I lucked into this book at a thrift store, but it can be bought very cheaply on Amazon. It’s an entertaining and interesting book, though the parts where the author sings the praises of the charitable work of the Strauss family gets a bit tedious.

1956

1958

 

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Vintage Miscellany – July 6, 2014

People have been coming to the mountains around Asheville in the summer, hoping for some relief from the summer heat for a hundred and fifty years.  And while the climate here is cooler than that of Charleston and Atlanta, it is still hot in the summer, regardless of what the Chamber of Commerce ads would have one believe.  But this long holiday weekend is straight out of the fantasy of a heat-crazed Floridian – cool and dry.  It’s downright energizing.

And now for the news.

*   Designer Gustave Tassell has died at age 88.  Tassell is probably most remembered for the clothes he made for Jackie Kennedy.

*   Amber Butchart has been writing a book on nautical influences in fashion.  She gives us a little taste of it in this post on the Breton stripe shirt.

*   The Met has added a series of audio interviews with people who knew and worked with Charles James.  These are great.

*   And even more from the Met’s Costume Institute.  They have announced another costume exhibition that will open in October, Death Becomes Her.  Good for them, but now I can’t complain any longer that they only do one show a year.

*   The Waterloo Region Museum in Kitchener, Ontario, and the  Fashion History Museum are currently exhibiting Street Style which  focuses on fashion and architecture in the Waterloo Region.  It looks fantastic, and I love the idea behind this exhibition.

*   In fashion, image is very important, as proven by this article on Kiel James Patrick.  It’s like these people are living in a carefully crafted commercial.  I must add that their products are made in the USA.  I have a belt I bought from them three or four years ago and it looks like new even though I wear it all the time in the summer.

*   Several of the large home wares discounters now have new Vera print tablecloths at very good prices.  There is a lot of fabric in each one, and the uses are limited only by the imagination.  thanks to Mod Betty

*   I’m really not sure what to make of this last story.  In June a shopper in Wales found a handwritten label in the seam of a cheap fast fashion dress that read, “Forced to work exhausting hours”.  Soon another shopper stepped forward with a garment with a label that says, “Degrading sweatshop conditions”.  The company that markets the garments, Primark, claims it is a hoax.

*

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The Colors of Summer: Red, White, and Blue

I love red, white, and blue, not because the colors are somehow “patriotic” but because they simply say “summer” to me.  When we think of clothing classics, we think of the little black dress and the white cotton shirt and the cardigan sweater.  Maybe we ought to also consider this on-going color combination favorite.

To make my point, today I’m sharing some summer clothes from my collection, all of which have some combination of the color trio.  If you are a newcomer to The Vintage Traveler, you can click the links to read the original blog post about each item.

The early 1970s tennis dress above reminded me of tennis star Chris Evert.

Along the same lines is this 1970s  tennis dress from White Stag.  Note the logo on the pocket.

Red, white, and blue always says “nautical” to me as well.  This gathered novelty print skirt from the 1950s shows why.

Continuing with the nautical theme is this  late 1950s or early 60s short sleeve jacket.  Just add navy slacks.

Add these red 1950s Summerettes to make the ensemble complete.

A 1930s beach-goer would have covered up with a red,white, and blue beach pyjama.

For sports spectating, the 1930s woman might have chosen a nautical themed sundress.

Nautical themes were also good for shopping, as seen in this 1930s cotton frock.

Bathing suits have always looked good in red, white, and blue, as in this Jantzen suit from 1936...

And this swimsuit from the early 1970s.

Got something red, white, and blue to sell or to share?  Feel free to post a link in the comments.

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Filed under Holidays, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Updates – The Rest of the Story

It’s been over a year since I posted photos of this fantastic ski themed vest (or waistcoat in certain parts of the world) from Balmoral Knitwear.  This week I was contacted by Mike at Balmoral who wanted to use the photo on their website’s history and heritage page.  How could I say no?

I was enchanted by this piece of folk art that I saw at the Mint Museum in Charlotte last month.  The maker was “Granny” Kate Clayton Donaldson of Marble, NC, where she was a contemporary of my paternal grandparents.

I recently found a little book from 1946 titled Tar on My Heels, that contains lots of little interesting stories about North Carolina.  I was happy to find a short piece on and this photo of Granny Donaldson.

Mod Betty shared her visit to the Peabody Essex Museum to see California Design 1930 – 1965.  One of the items on display was this Cole of California swimsuit that was thought to be a tie-in with the Esther Williams film, Million Dollar Mermaid.

Susan of Witness2Fashion ran across Williams’ autobiography at her library, and sure enough, there she is in a publicity shot wearing a very similar Cole of California suit. To quote Susan:

Her suit has a more complex skirt than the one in the exhibit. The book is a good read — and rather frank about her love life — but full of surprising information. Her working relationship with Cole of California led to her selling 50,000 Cole swimming suits to the US Navy for the Waves to wear! In case the photo isn’t clear enough, she says she liked this Cole suit so much that she wore it in three movies and put it on all the chorus swimmers, too. What I learned: when posing for a photo in a bathing suit, always stand on your tippy-tippy toes! And never dive 50 feet into a pool while wearing an aluminum crown — she broke her neck, because no one realized it would enter the water differently from the smooth crown of a human head. As I said, a good read.

1960's TANNER of North Carolina Dress, Floral Maxi Dress, Tropical, Island Dress

I think one of the most underrated clothing brands from the past was Tanner of North Carolina.  They produced some seriously nice dresses, like this one sent to me by Rosa’s Vintage Finds.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who sent cards and who helped spread the word about Magda Makkay’s birthday surprise.  She was so touched by the well wishes, and I thank all of you for being so kind as to help me make her day special.

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Filed under Rest of the Story