1930s Kit Klein Snow Suit

I had never heard of skater Kit Klein, but after I spotted this suit for sale, I went on a search for information about her. As it turns out, Kit was a speed skater, and a very good one at that. She won gold at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics in the 1500 speed skate, and she won the All Around Womwn’s Speed Skating World Championship in 1936. Both events were more spectacle than official. Maybe that’s why she isn’t widely remembered.

But in the 1930s she was famous enough to have a deal with a clothing manufacturer who produced winter sports attire. Lots of online searching has produced nothing about the line. There is quite a bit from 1930s newspapers about Kit though. Seems like there was a minor scandal when she announced her engagement without mentioning that she was already married. But it worked out in the end.

I already had an early1940s ski suit with the Sonja Henie label. Sonja and Klein were contemporaries, but today Sonja is still well-known. Is it because she competed in the more feminine figure skating, or maybe it was her movie and Ice Revue career? At any rate, Sonja’s endorsement deals included ice skating dresses, wool gloves and hats, and dolls. She became a very rich woman.

I love all the details on this suit. There are two zippered pockets on the jacket.

The pants have a side-buttoning closure with two buckles.

There are nice plastic buttons on the jacket, including ones that allow for tightening the sleeves.

If you are a close observer of the photo, you probably noticed something else about the jacket, a nasty surprise that was not fully disclosed in the seller’s description.

Yes, moth holes. Dozens of them. The seller took a somewhat lackadaisical approach to my complaint, which is really the worst kind of attitude. But one thing I have noted about one type of seller, and that is that damage is no big deal. In fact, it’s seen as the clothing having lived a life, and now the buyer gets to share that history.

I really don’t mind a small bit of damage or wear. My Edwardian motoring coat has a grease stain. A favorite 1930s tropical print bathing suit coverup is slightly faded. Most of my wool sweaters have a moth nibble or two. But this is damage on a different level.

Still, I did decide to keep this suit. The story behind the label is just so very interesting. So now the suit is wrapped in plastic and resides in my freezer, though one person has suggested that I also bake it on low heat just to make sure there are no remaining live bugs. It’s a hassle I didn’t sign up for, but sometimes we are handed challenges in life. I think I’m up to it.

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Nutcracker Costumes at the Upcountry History Museum

On a recent trip to Greenville, SC, I managed to squeeze in a visit to the region’s regional history museum, the Upcountry History Museum. I’ll be writing about that museum’s permanent exhibitions later on. Today we’ll just look at some spectacular costumes.

The Upcountry History Museum hosts a lot of exhibitions with artifacts from other museums. This one incorporates artifacts from ”Walt Disney Archives, The Walt Disney Family Museum, Charles M. Schulz Museum, artists James Ransome and Maurice Sendak, private collectors, and the Carolina Ballet Theatre” though the majority of the objects are from a 2018 Disney film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. I haven’t seen the movie, but according to reviews, it was a bit of a disappointment, with not enough dancing and not enough Tchaikovsky. The costumes were praised, however, for having just the right touch of fantasy.

That’s not surprising, since the designer was Jenny Beavan. Jenny has been designing for decades, having won three Academy Awards for best design, including my favorite, A Room with a View. She’s up this year for Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.

The naming of the costumes confused me, partly because I had not seen the movie, but also because such creative license was taken with the original story and the characters. No matter, these men’s suits were spectacular.

If you know the Nutcracker story, then you know Clara is the main character. I did see the relationship here, along with the costume of the Nutcracker/Captain Hoffman.

I think part of the disappointment with the movie must have come from the fact that Misty Copeland played the ballerina, and there just wasn’t enough of her onscreen to satisfy ballet fans.

A plus to the exhibition was that they included the original movie posters showing most of the costumes displayed on the actors who portrayed them.

Here’s another beautiful Clara costume, as played by Mackenzie Foy.

The show notes talked about Victorian fashion references, but I didn’t see that at all. If anything, Clara’s dress references Regency dress, while most of the men’s costumes look wildly late eighteenth century. No matter. This is a fantasy after all.

As a counterpoint to the Disney costumes, the curators included more traditional Nutcracker costumes from the Carolina Ballet Theatre. Interestingly, I saw a poster of a ballerina wearing this dress. Why I didn’t snap a photo I’ll never know.

There were more Disney artifacts, including a really nice display of background scenes from the Nutcracker sequence in Fastasia. There were other artist renderings of the story as well. And the finale was a display case full of one family’s collection of nutcrackers.

Most of the objects are behind glass, but that didn’t seem to distract from the quality of the display. The glare was minimized, and even the photos turned out alright.

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Thoughts on Local Museums

You all know that I love museums. I love the large, the small, the renowned, and the obscure. Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the local museum, an institution one can find in almost any town, regardless of the size. After spending a summer volunteering at the Shelton House in Waynesville, NC, I have a strong respect for the challenges our small local museums face.

There’s not enough manpower, expertise, and most of all, money. There’s lots of enthusiasm, especially for one’s own interests. I’ll speak for myself. I have lots of interest in clothing and textiles, but little in dolls and woodcraft. That’s why I was so thrilled that the wonderful director of the Shelton House allowed me to concentrate on the things I love.

I still have a bit of work to do in the Shelton House collection, but I am now turning my attention to the museum that is just down the street from me – the Shook-Smathers House in Clyde, NC. This house is also the home of the Museum of Haywood County History. It’s a fascinating place, and is one of the oldest houses in this part of the Appalachians. I’ve been tagging along on tours to see how our local history is interpreted, and it’s been interesting. The photo is of a visitor to the museum who is also a descendent of the builder of the house, Jacob Shook. I was so inspired by her enthusiasm upon visiting the house her ancestor built.

Over the past several years I’ve visited quite a few local museums in North Carolina. Some have been amazing, but others have left me scratching my head. There are several big questions. What is it about history that interests people the most? What do people want to see in a historical museum? And most importantly, what is important about the history of a region?

A common thread seems to be war, especially World War II, and here in the South, the Civil War. The veterans of WWII are dying out, and it seems apparent that every Boomer wants his dad’s uniform and war “trophies” displayed in the local museum. I recently visited two local museums, and both were filled with random war souvenirs and military uniforms. I had to ask myself, “Is this what I wanted to learn about these small Appalachian communities?”

You know that the answer is no. I know that the contributions of the people of Appalachia to the winning of WWII are important. My father fought in the Pacific, my father-in-law fought in Italy, and my mother-in-law worked for the military at home. I know their stories, and they are important. Their stories need to be acknowledged and preserved. But our history is so much more.

The same museum that gave us two Nazi flags and the Japanese rising sun, also had this circa 1800 coat of homespun fabric. It came with a through provenance, including who made it, for whom it was made, and how it was passed down through the family. It says so much about how fashion was important, even in a backwoods area, where women were still spinning and weaving and sewing in order that their families might be properly attired. I’m hoping it is noticed among the Confederate artifacts and the war souvenirs.

I want to give some context to the Japanese flag. This appears to be a Yosegaki Hinomaru, or a good luck flag, which was signed by the family and friends of a Japanese soldier going off to fight in WWII. These flags were often taken by Allied troops from fallen or imprisoned Japanese soldiers. In the case of this flag, it seems to also inscribed to an American Sargent, perhaps after being taken after a battle. At any rate, there’s no way for the visitor to the museum to know, as there is no interpretation of the object. In addition, there is a group, the Obon Society, which works to repatriate these flags to the families of the soldiers in Japan. How much more meaningful this flag would be to the descendants of a fallen soldier than it is as a random war souvenir.

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Working on a 1905 Bodice

After working all summer at The Shelton House in Waynesville, NC, I was pretty much finished with mending, cleaning, and cataloguing the historic clothing collection there. But one job I had left for last, because I knew it was going to take some time. The house collection has a wonderful circa 1905 bodice and skirt. For years the dress has been displayed in a sitting position with a wool cape over it, which I suppose is what has saved it. The skirt is in very good condition, but after I removed the cape, I saw why it had been covered.

The lace on the ivory yoke was almost completely detached. The base of the lace was a sheer silk, and just the tiniest movement made the thing shed tiny bits of silk. It was time to take action.

Not only were the little lace squiggles coming loose, the silk beneath it was shattering. Badly.

So I was encountering not one problem, but two. I knew that the first thing I was going to have to do was put a new silk backing under both layers.

I had a good quality silk of almost the exact color, so I went with that. The first step was to baste the new silk behind the old shattered silk.

My plan was to leave the shattered silk in place. I wanted to anchor the loose threads to the new silk using tiny stitches. After working on a small section I came to the realization that I was in over my head. Not only that, even though I am a careful and neat stitcher, it just looked awful.

A hard decision had to be made. I really strive when making repairs to items in my collection to never do anything that can’t be undone. That includes cutting away bits that are not attractive. But the hard truth was that this dress could either be subjected to hundreds of hours of stitching with an unpleasing result, or the shattered bits could be trimmed away. We chose to trim the worst of the damaged places, but to leave the intact silk.

Here’s the yoke after the lace was attached and the shattered silk bits removed. If your eyes are good, you can detect a slight difference in color. The old silk is mainly on the left, and the new is on the right.

Before starting the repairs I took dozens of photos, and I also photographed each stage of the work. The collar had to be removed, as well as this little placket at one shoulder. The photos were a tremendous help when time came to reconstruct the bodice.

The plan had been for me to mount the bodice on a dress form so you all could see how great it now looks, but common sense took over. The less this piece is manipulated, the better. It is still quite fragile, though the black silk has survived better than the ivory. I am hoping it can now be mounted on an appropriate dress form at the museum.

The Shelton House collection dates back to 1980, and as in many small museums, recordkeeping was irregular. This dress was most likely donated to the museum years ago, but searches of the files that do exist have not turned up any information at all. That’s a real shame, because the dress is so nice – well made of quality materials.

And now it’s on to the next project, the replacement of a yoke in a 1920s dress. Hopefully I can apply what I have learned from this one.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler

It’s time to go shopping and to see what caught my eye, but not my pocketbook.

The graphics on this box of “Tannic Spray” are so great. But what the heck is tannic spray? Was it a bark derivative meant to turn one’s skin to leather? In that case, it’s not needed, because the sun can accomplish that on its own.

I thought this tin of cotton plucks was also nice. I wonder what the cost of this tin of cotton was as opposed to plain old cotton balls.

These two look cute in their little middy suits, bobbed hair, and boots, but just wait until it’s 1926. I see fun times in their futures.

I believe this is a lap desk. I’m not really a fan of cats, but Corticelli Silk used the feline image to advantage.

At first I thought this was a table decoration for a baby shower, but then I saw the Stork Club label. It’s a bud vase that graced the tables at the famed New York club.

Pretty maids all in a row.

Is she driving an automobile, or is it an aeroplane? Either way, it seems to be an odd subject for the inside of a bowl.

The skiing graphic caught my eye, and I probably would have bought these had they not been a bit pricy. I could have used these last week when the temperature here got down to 0* F.

I loved these boots, but they were made for a little boy. What a shame to waste all that style on a kid who just wanted a good boot to tramp around in.

What a wonderful print, made before women caught the biking bug.

I’m a real sucker for patterns that are printed on fabric. I think it stems back to my childhood when I would buy preprinted Barbie clothes to cut out and sew together. But this apron is a generation or two earlier, dating to the 1930s when flour and sugar companies were using the sacks in which they packaged their product as a marketing tool. Someone actually started embroidering this apron, but never finished. What a great artifact!

A Happy New Year to you all! May your vintage shopping trips bring treasures into your lives.

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The Milbury Atlantic Manufacturing Co. Bathing Apparel

I recently acquired this little folder from the Milbury Atlantic Company. Located in New York City, the firm was founded in 1900 by L.A. Wilmot Milbury, as a maker of bathing attire. The goods were produced in Rahway, New Jersey until 1926 when the business closed.

My brochure is not dated, but it is from the late tweens or very early 1920s. It’s really interesting because it contains not just the suits but the accessories as well.

These two pages look to be a bit old-fashioned, even for 1920. Women were rapidly turning to the newer, knit models.

Like these.

I would love to get my hands on the model, second from left. Of course I would also want that hat.

I have several nice pairs of bathing boots, but I love the ones on the top left, and have put them at the top of my current wishlist. I find it amazing that Milbury made over100 styles of bathing shoes.

The union suit is most associated with Annette Kellermann, but here it is modeled by the great diver, Florence Kerner, a name with which I am not familiar.

I am in love with the hats. I cannot wrap my head around 100 styles of them. Today, bathing hats from this era are extremely hard to find, I think partly because they were lined in rubber which degraded over time. I have only two bathing hats from the 1920s, both bought years ago.

There must have been hundreds of makers of bathing apparel in the first decades of the twentieth century. I am always running across ones that are new to me, like Milbury.

I really couldn’t dig up much on the company, but was a gem of a story in the July 28, 1910 issue of The New York Times. Following a slump in sales, Mrs. Milbury, the owner’s wife, decided to take charge of the manufacturing plant. The former boss, Mrs. Robert Tons, was resentful at her demotion so she hatched a plan.

She baked cakes and made gallons of lemonade and invited the other workers over for a picnic. After eating Mrs. Tons talked them into striking, asking for a nine hour day and half a day off on Saturday. When Mrs. Milbury went into work she found the factory deserted. When she finally found some of the workers they told her they were striking because they were friends with Mrs. Toms. Mrs. Milbury said the strike was because of Mrs. Toms’ vanity and hurt feelings at being demoted.

I couldn’t find if Mrs. Toms got her job back. Something tells me she was shown the road.

You can read the account for yourself. The article makes a big deal about Mrs. Milbury having gone to college, and it treats the entire matter as a humorous affair. I also found it interesting that the boss’s job was held by a woman. I’ve seen many photos of workers inside textile and sewing factories, and what I usually see is a room full of women sewers and one man who appears to be the boss.

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Vintage Miscellany – December 18, 2022

Longtime readers of The Vintage Traveler will remember this regular feature that was a sort of news roundup. I stopped doing these posts when I abandoned Twitter last year (as I was using Twitter to store the links), but I am hoping to post interesting news stories from time to time.

Thanks to everyone who continues to send interesting articles my way. I hope to share some of them .

And now for the news…

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