Update: 1920s Gingham Romper

I posted my thoughts about this 1920s romper back in June. One of the things I wrote was this:

So rompers definitely were a thing for women, at least in the 1920s and 1930s. Still, I don’t agree with calling a gym suit a romper, no matter how much the garment is similar.

But then last week I found a real shocker in a 1926 high school yearbook.

These are the girls of the Gainesville Athletic Club at Gainesville High School in Florida. Could it be these were the actual basketball uniforms? It is hot in Florida, so maybe they adapted the usual bloomer suit into a light cotton garment.

I do need to make sure you notice that the suits are not identical, though they do seem to be made from the same fabric. And what’s with those belts?

It does pay to keep an open mind when it comes to the past. The minute we start saying “never” and “always” we run into trouble.

I also want to give a big thank you to all the kids over the past one hundred years who worked tirelessly on the yearbook committee. I don’t collect yearbooks, but anytime I run across an older one I always thumb through it to see if I can spot anything interesting. This time I was really rewarded.  Along with several yearbooks dating from the 1920s through the 40s, someone donated a series of photograph albums from the same years to Goodwill. It all ended up in the bins, and while I didn’t buy any of it, the guy who put them in his cart kindly let me photograph some really great photos.

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Bonnie Cashin and Fashion Issues

It’s been sort of a slow two weeks in fashion stories, and I was worried there would not be enough material to do a Vintage Miscellany post. Turns out I was right, so next week will bring the regular post. But for this week, I want to focus on two items concerning American designer, Bonnie Cashin.  Yes, Bonnie has been in the news, but not in a way that would please her fans.

The first item stems from a post on Jonathan Walford’s blog. Raf Simons, who is now working at Calvin Klein, sent an orange cape down the runway that looked familiar to instagrammer @vrazdorskiy, who posted a side-by-side photo of Cashin’s cape and the one on the Calvin Klein runway. It doesn’t take a fashion expert to see that this is the same design, and if you were to play a “spot the differences” game, my guess is that you’d be stretching it to name three differences, mainly in color.

In response, Stephaine Lake, who wrote the book on Cashin and who owns Cashin’s person collection, started a new Instagram account, @cashincopy. We all know how important  Cashin’s work was, and how she continues to influence designers. But being inspired and issuing blatant copys are two different matters.

And here’s an ironic quote by Simons from this month’s Vanity Fair: “I’m not romantic about the past. Once it’s done it’s done. I’m romantic about the future.”

Well, so much for that.

The second story is one that Lake posted on Instagram, concerning a bag that Cashin designed for Coach in the early 1970s, called the Rural Free Delivery. In this case, the design was not copied, as it is Coach that is re-releasing the bag. What is interesting is how Coach is handling the history of the company, and how it is being misinterpreted by fashion writers.

The story in question is on the Glamour website, and is titled, “Coach Is Rereleasing a Bag From Its Archives.”  The writer states that the bag is from Cashin’s first collection with Coach, in 1972. Actually, Cashin first designed for Coach in 1962, which was when the first Coach items arrived on the market. The 1941 date is misleading, as while the company that eventually gave birth to Coach was started in 1941, Coach was a different division within that company.

So what’s the big deal about the date when a company was established? Coach itself uses 1941 in the name of their collection. But how long will it be before people selling vintage Coach bags on eBay start dating them to the 1940s and 50s?  In a rush to make Coach a “heritage” brand, the real story is diluted, and people are missing out on the authentic, and very interesting story.

The term “Cash and Carry” is an old grocery wholesale phrase, and it was extended in WWII to be a policy of the US selling supplies to countries as long as they paid cash and carried off the goods themselves. Bonnie Cashin adopted a pun on the phrase, Cashin-Carry, to describe her line of totes. I’ve never seen the term referred to as “Cashin Carries” as stated in the article. It completely misses the meaning of the pun.

And finally, Cashin was not a “creative director” at Coach. The term was not even in use at that time, and according to Lake, Cashin worked on a royalty basis. Her contract was not even with Coach; it was with the parent company, Gail Leather Products, a leather goods wholesaler. And besides, Cashin never “directed” any assistant designers, as she alone designed everything that carried her name.

It’s no secret where the writer got the “creative director” phrase, as Coach uses it on a page that introduces the bag.  But on the sales page itself, there is not even a mention of Cashin. There is a big deal made about “artist Keith Haring’s iconic illustrations” which are on a hangtag and the cloth lining. I’d love to have the job of “creative director” at Coach. You just dig into the archive, pay royalties to a deceased artist’s estate, and voilà! A brand new bag, or as Glamour put it, “new and improved”.

Thanks to Stephanie Lake for answering my question and clarifying the story for me.

 

 

 

 

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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 2

Georgia O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929, and she continued to travel there to paint every summer until her husband, Albert Stieglitz, died in 1946. After settling his affairs in New York, she moved to New Mexico permanently in 1949, returning to the city only for visits.  It’s during her time in New Mexico that I tend to think of her, seeing as how I can remember her in television interviews (60 Minutes?) that she gave from her homes in the desert.

After O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico, changes began to occur in her wardrobe. All of the existing early clothing is either black or white, but in the desert, color began to creep into her closet.  Not wild, bright color, mind you; but colors of the earth and the sky.

Another change is that few of her garments from this later period are home sewn. It could be that she was too busy painting and running the two homes in NM. Or perhaps she was simply able to find suitable clothing for her lifestyle.  One example of this was a fondness for Marimekko. There are four Marimekko dresses (including the one above) existing today in the collection. They are more muted colors like gray and brown and black and green. These dresses have the early 1960s Design Research label as well as the Marimekko one, so they must have come from the Design Research store, either in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or in New York.

Here’s another view of the striped Marimekko, along with another one in the middle. The dress in front is from Claire McCardell.  O’Keeffe must have liked this dress, as she had a copy made in blue.  There is another McCardell dress in the collection, though it is speculated to have been a gift, as it does not look like the other garments O’Keeffe choose for herself during this period (little flowers and stripes…)

It was at her desert homes that O’Keeffe also took to wearing rugged workwear. There were several denim shirts, plus that great gingham one that was a gift from a friend. She wore jeans, and there is an early pair of Levis for women in the collection.  She also liked Keds and BF Goodrich sneakers.

It’s hard to tell, but in the photo of O’Keeffe (taken by Don Worth, 1958) she is wearing the same dress and jacket as in my photo from the exhibition.  The jacket is a French worker’s jacket. The dress appears to be made from a sari fabric, as the purple parts and the red have the same weave pattern. It is possible that this one was made by O’Keeffe, or it could have been made by one of the local dressmakers who came to make her clothes in the later years of her life.

I really hated not being able to get a better look at this dress, though I can see why the exhibition designer wanted to show it as it was worn in the archival photograph. There is an excellent photo of the dress in the accompanying book.

Here was a surprise – this dress was from Emilio Pucci, 1954. What made this so interesting is how right next to the dress was this work by O’Keeffe:

This work by O’Keeffe, In the Patio IX, was painted around 1964.

And this was one of the real strengths of this exhibition. It clearly showed how O’Keeffe’s aesthetic was her life – in her clothing, in her surroundings, and in her art.

When you have good friends, you get really great gifts. Actually it’s not clear whether or not this was a gift, or if O’Keeffe commissioned it.  You may recognize it as the work of Alexander Calder.  Later, O’Keeffe had this piece copied by a craftsperson in India. She was always having the things she loved best reproduced.

There are many photos of O’Keeffe and her Calder pin. In this photo by Bruce Weber, 1980, she is also wearing what must have been a favorite belt, made by Mexican artisan Hector Aguilar, circa 195o. It is in many of her photos.

Click for a better view of the shoes.

Beginning around 1960, O’Keeffe began to make the wrap dress one of the key parts of her wardrobe. In her closet were twenty of them, all pretty much of the same design. One has a Neiman Marcus Model’s smock label, and another one is labeled Sidran, Dallas. The others are copies made by her dressmaker in Santa Fe.

The shoes are also in multiples, the ones on the left being by Ferragamo, and the ones on the right a design labeled Saks.  There are eight pairs of the Ferragamos, and to my delight, the ones on display were arranged so that the labels could be read. One pair has the older “Creations Ferragamo” label, and the others, a label, “Salvatore Ferragamo” that dates from the late 1950s. It is apparent that she bought these shoes over a long period of time.

This blue pair is a bit different from the others, which have a little leather tie. These must have been reserved for special wear, as they show much less wear that the others. Or maybe she decided they were not to her taste.

Starting in the 1950s, O’Keeffe did quite a bit of traveling. She brought back textiles and had clothing made for her in Hong Kong. She also shopped in Santa Fe for kimono and other Asian textile objects.

This silk suit was made for O’Keeffe in the late 1950s in Hong Kong.

You can see that O’Keeffe never gave up her beloved black. Most of the formal portraits she posed for continued to show her in black. This suit was probably acquired in Spain, as it has the Eisa label – the label Balenciaga used in his home country.

The hood on the right is unlabeled, but O’Keeffe is shown wearing it in a series of photos taken in 1952.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern will be at Reynolda House until November 19, 2017. It then travels to Salem, MA, where it opens on December 16, 2017 at the Peabody Essex Museum.  If you can’t make it to either location, but are a big fan of O’Keeffe, I do recommend the accompanying book, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern by curator Wanda Corn. The book adds another dimension to the story, with views inside O’Keeffe’s New Mexico homes.

And finally, a big thank you to Reynolda House for bringing this fabulous show to North Carolina.

 

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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 1

I wasn’t too disappointed about not having a trip to New York City planned for this summer until I read about Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. I even gave some serious thought to forgetting about our trip to Chicago, and instead, planning to head to NYC. But as it turned out, that wasn’t necessary, as I discovered that the exhibition would be traveling to Winston-Salem, NC, a mere two and a half hours’ drive from my home.

There’s so much to show and to say that I’ll be dividing this exhibition review into two, and maybe even three parts. O’Keeffe’s life is well-documented, so I’ll keep the biographical information to a minimum. It won’t be so much her art and life that I’m writing about, so much as the way she lived her life. And that was in a very modern way.

For a while, O’Keeffe worked as an art teacher, and she sometimes did illustration work for Vanity Fair magazine. It is thought that the fashionable work above was used by her as an example in her classroom. It’s very much a work of it’s time, 1916-1917, but I’d never have guessed it was by O’Keeffe.

After a time teaching in Texas, O’Keeffe moved to New York, and the first group of garments in the exhibition date to her time in the city. Several themes are shown. O’Keeffe was consistent in the details she liked in her clothing. She followed fashion in her own way. She loved black and white, and often wore a combination of the two to produce a desired effect. She and her photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, carefully crafted her image using her clothing.

Take the dress above. It is one of the garments in the exhibition that has been attributed to O’Keeffe. She was, like many women of her time, an accomplished needlewoman. Many of her clothes from her years in New York are thought to have been made by her. You can tell that this dress dates to the 1920s, even though it might not be considered the height of fashion. She loved ties, and here you can see them at the neck and the wrists. And this dress is in a shade of white.

There were four dresses in the same shade of creme. The one you get the best look of is dated to 1937, but it looks  earlier to me, maybe early 30s. But regardless, it shows O’Keeffe’s commitment to the color over a period of years. All the dresses are made of silk, and all seem to be expertly home-sewn. It is possible that O’Keeffe made all these dresses.

Because there is such a good photographic record of O’Keeffe’s life, the many photos of her were used to help date the garments, especially the later ones.

It’s regrettable that my photo is so poor. My “real” camera malfunctioned, with the flash stuck in the on position, so I had to rely on cell photos. Still, I hope you can appreciate this grouping of the other main color in O’Keeffe’s early wardrobe – black.

The cape on the left has a label, Zoe de Salle, who, it seems, specialized in capes. Is it the same cape as in the iconic photo used in the exhibition promotion (the one at the top of my post)? No, as that photo was taken by Stieglitz in the early 1920s, and Zoe de Salle’s salon dates from 1936. Still, it’s a look she turned to on many occasions.

The dress on the right was probably made by O’Keeffe in the 1930s. Of interest is the white tie at the neck and the white cuffs. And although this dress looks like it has a fitted waist, what you are seeing is actually a cummerbund.  O’Keeffe was photographed wearing this dress for years. A favorite, perhaps? From the archival photographs, it looks like she had two versions of this dress, in wool and in silk. It appears that she loved vertical pleats and tucks.

This 1920s coat also appears to be made by a dressmaker, though the quality is not as high as some of the other garments. Still, you can see touches of O’Keeffe’s style in contrasting white on black collar.

These three white blouses are also in the “attributed to Georgia O’Keeffe” category. Stylistically, they date to the 1930s. The one on the right is the plainest, being made like a shirt, from silk. The other two are a bit more interesting to ponder.

click to enlarge

Can you see all the pintucks? If not, be sure to enlarge the photo, because they are an important feature in this 1930s blouse. The tucks are quite finely executed, and the question has been brought up (on Facebook), was it possible for a hobbyist sewer like O’Keeffe to execute such a difficult design, with the tucks providing all the shaping of the blouse?

Click

And what about this one, with the complicated crossing of pintucks, and the faggotting between that panel and the small ruffles? Would a busy artist have the time to devote to such a time-intensive sewing project?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but do note that the blouses have elements that put them squarely in O’Keeffe’s style, with the tie at the neck and the vertical lines of the pintucks. Consistency of style is one of the hallmarks of O’Keeffe’s clothing. When she found what she liked, such as a little tie at the neck, she stuck with it and adapted it to fit the fashion of the day.

Starting in the late 1920s O’Keeffe had been spending her summers in New Mexico. Stieglitz died in 1946, and O’Keeffe moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949. Over the years she had painted New York many times, and the painting above, of the Brooklyn Bridge, was her last. It’s full of symbolism, with the dark of the bridge representing the city, and the blue sky New Mexico. As a final nod to Stieglitz, there is a heart in the center.

Next, O’Keeffe in the desert.

 

 

 

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Reynolda House Costume Collection

When I first started documenting my visits to costume collections and exhibitions in 2003, the first place I visited was the Reynolda House in Winston-Salem. Reynolda was built by the RJ Reynolds family, who had made a fortune in tobacco. RJ’s wife, Katherine Smith Reynolds, was actually the driving force behind Reynolda. She bought the land as a working farm and later planned a sixty room house for the family.

Before falling in love with Katherine (who was his personal secretary, second cousin, and 30 years younger than he) RJ had long been Winston-Salem’s most eligible bachelor. Katherine was a good example of the “New Woman” of the turn of the 20th century. She was educated, earning a degree in English in 1902. She taught for a while, and then went to work for RJ Reynolds. In February, 1905, the two were married.

Reynolda House stayed within the family until 1964, when the estate was incorporated as a nonprofit dedicated to art and education. In 1967 the house was opened as a museum of American art. The Reynolds family had not been big collectors of art, but it was a good time to be buying art and the collection was able to grow.

In 1972 many articles of clothing belonging to the Reynolds family were found stored away in the attic of the house. After conservation, the clothing collection was put on display in the attic, where special cases were built. Because most of the original wearers of the clothes were then deceased, the curators used family stories, photographic evidence, and the house archives to figure out who wore each item. Some are still not entirely attributed.

The dress above is an example. It was most likely worn by Katherine Smith before her marriage. The style is very much what a young woman would have worn around the time she graduated from college in 1902.

According to family interviews taken when the clothes were found, Katherine was an accomplished seamstress. Even though she came from a privileged background, it is likely that fancy hand sewing was part of her education. This negligee was said to have been made by her for her honeymoon.

Her wedding suit still exists, but I’ve only seen photos of it. Some of the articles are too fragile to display, or it could be that I’ve just missed it as the clothes are rotated from time to time. Again, family tradition holds that she made her suit, but she would have to have been a real expert as it is quite elaborate.

For their honeymoon, RJ and Katherine did what rich people usually did – they went on a tour of Europe. While in Paris, Katherine commissioned two gowns from the couture house, Compagnie Lyonnaise. The one here is made from crepe de Chine, and is decorated with multiple lace medallions, silk embroidery, and tiny buttons.

All those ovals are inset lace, and I wish you could better see the embroidery. Quite nice!

Here’s a very fancy sleeve, and a tiny taste of the back detail.

The couple first lived in Winston-Salem, but in 1912 Katherine’s house in the country was begun. It was finally finished in 1917, but unfortunately, by that time RJ was seriously ill. He died in 1918, having lived in the new house for only a few months. Katherine and their four children remained at the house. She quietly remarried in 1921, the groom being the principal of the estate’s school, and a much younger man.

This dress belonged to Katherine, and was made for her by New York dressmakers, Frances and Co, around 1922.

Without a doubt, this cape is my favorite of the pieces currently on display. It from Paris design house, Boué Soeurs, who were known for their use of constructed flower ornamentation.

I love how the tie ends are pulled through the wreath of fabric flowers.

Sad to say, but Katherine died in 1924, after giving birth at the age of 44. The four Reynolds children were put under the trust of relatives and continued to live at Reynolda. I didn’t take photos, but one section of the attic is devoted to their toys.

There are also some clothes that belonged to Katherine’s daughters.  This stunning gown and mantle was made by New York designer Jesse Franklin Turner for Mary Reynolds Babcock. The dress is a rich satin, and the mantle is velvet. There is a 1937 portrait of Mary wearing this dress on the Reynolda website.

This Hattie Carnegie gown with matching jacket was worn by Katherine’s daughter Nancy Susan Reynolds Bagley. It dates to the mid 1950s.

Horrible photo, but you get the idea, right?

The attic also contains lots of hats and accessories. These were probably worn by Katherine. Note the transparency of the lace hat on the left. So beautiful!

There are also some very nice hats from the 1930s and 40s that belonged to the Reynolds daughters.

I first visited Reynolda House in 1971 while on a class trip to see the historical highlights of the state. The clothes had not yet been found, but I remember so much from that first visit. Since then I’ve been back several times, and each visit brings new discoveries. Even without that lovely attic, the house is worth a visit. There is the best miniature Calder mobile, and one of my favorite Grant Wood paintings, and the most exquisite Maurice Prendergast painting.

And to make it even better, right now they have a special exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. Because I was going anyway to see the Georgia O’Keeffe show, I requested permission to take photos in the attic and was thrilled when I was granted permission.  So this is a rare glimpse of a truly stunning collection. My thanks to the publicity office at Reynolda.

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Vintage Miscellany – September 3, 2017

Cooler weather here in the middle South has me thinking of sweaters, and great boots, and knickers, and even a beret. But I have a feeling that 70* highs are not going to last.

So on with the news…

I’ve written before about how fashion historians and museum curators are still having to defend the wearing of clothing as a valid area of study. If you paid attention to the news last week, you saw first hand the large role fashion plays in our perceptions of people as they try to use fashion to serve their own ends. First up:

  • #stilettogate The First Lady’s choice of footwear was roundly criticized as being inappropriate for a flood zone. But seeing as how she was headed, not for floodwater, but for yet another photo opp and pep rally, seems to me both the heels and the pristine-right-out-of-the-box sneakers (and the president’s khaki pants and what look to be suede boots) fit the purpose quite well.
  •  #hatgate is a bit more troublesome. And if you don’t have $40 for an official 45 USA hat, the Flotus hat the First Lady wore has already been ripped off and is selling all over the internet for $16. Now we can all be first lady, or at least wear the hat.

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1929 Perfetex Athletic Clothing Style Book

I’m beginning to think that Chicago was the gym attire capital of the US,  as I’ve found another company that was located in that city. I knew about Perfetex because I have a pair of wool exercise bloomers with that label. It made me happy when earlier this week I located a catalog from the company. I bought it because I hoped to find my bloomers included (more about that later) but I found the catalog to be really interesting beyond my own collection.

The actual name of the firm that made Perfetex Athletic Clothing was Chancellor & Vaughan of Chicago. A note inside from the company president was signed C U Chancellor. Even with all that information, I was not able to find out anything about the company. That happens so often when a proper name is also a word with a meaning, such as “chancellor.”

In 1929, big changes where coming to women’s clothing. It wasn’t as sudden as history books sometimes make it seem, as there were hints that skirts were going to get longer, and clothing was going to be cut closer to the body. As for gym wear, for decades the bloomer had been the pants that girls and women wore for athletics. Above you can see the classic combination of middy blouse and baggy bloomers. The middy has short sleeves, and the bloomers are above the knee, but otherwise this is pretty much the same gym attire girls had been wearing for fifteen years.

But in 1929 the bloomer was slowly being replaced by shorts. In the outfit above, the blouse is still made of middy twill fabric, it has the pocket, and the V-neck. But gone is the flapping collar.

Taking it a stop further, here we see the shorts paired with a tee shirt made from jersey knit, which was available in either cotton or wool. Before long girls and women were wearing shorts for more than just basketball.

Click to enlarge

The middy was still pretty much the top of choice for gym. But it is interesting how in just a few years it would be pretty much gone, replaced by a gymsuit that was a blouse and shorts combination.

Prefetex was even selling a similar blouse in 1929. Just add the shorts and you have the new standard that replaced the middy and bloomers.

A while back I posted about a 1920s romper in my collection that is very similar to this one. It’s always good to find items documented with firm dating.

I’m doing a groan about the Barefoot Dancing Sandals though. I saw a pair of these somewhere online (probably eBay) described as bathing sandals, which I knew they were not. So I didn’t bid, and didn’t even bookmark the auction. Not good. Now I need them. Badly.

But getting back to my knickers, I am pretty sure that these are the ones I have. They are described as modern because so much of the fullness has been eliminated and they are shorter than the other knickers offered.

I am truly sorry about my sorry photos of these. I promise to take more time and do a better job. I hope you can tell that these are the same style.

Here’s the side opening with a placket covering the buttons.

The ad copy mentions a “diamond crotch piece.” I’d call it a gusset, and the purpose was to make the fabric “give” more in the area to reduce stress to the fabric. Note the mends on both sides of the diamond. it didn’t work.

To me, a lot of the fun of collecting comes from being able to identify garments like this pair of lowly bloomers. Simple pleasures!

 

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