Paul Poiret Coat, Circa 1912

Several months ago I posted that the Fashion History Museum was raising funds to acquire an evening coat by Paul Poiret. Thanks to all who helped with the fundraising (and that included around $600 donated by The Vintage Traveler readers) the coat was added to the museum’s collection, and is now on display in their latest exhibition, Made in France.

I was lucky to be able to see and examine the coat as, believe it or not, this coat was found here in North Carolina!

The story begins last spring, when Jonathan and Kenn from the museum traveled south from Ontario to deliver their Lucile dress to a small exhibition at a local Titanic attraction. They then spent the afternoon with me, viewing my collection and talking fashion history. They mentioned that they had an appointment in Asheville to see a Poiret coat, which really floored me.

As it turned out, the coat was in the possession of Melinda and Jeff of Style and Salvage Vintage, whose business is located here in my little town of Clyde. I didn’t know them at the time, but Jonathan put us in touch, and I eagerly took up their invitation to go to their business and see the coat.

It is a simply stunning garment, beautiful in photographs that don’t fully show just how great an object it is. The gold bits are metallic lace, that wonderful substance that was so prized in the 1910s and 1920s. The exterior of the coat is gold silk, and the interior, which shows through the lace, is the most luscious shade of green.

So how did such a rare object come to be in Western North Carolina. I won’t give the details, but Melinda and Jeff were at a sale that advertised old clothes and costumes. Not known for being shy, Jeff asked the seller if there were other garments not currently in the sale. The answer was yes, there were more, and so arrangements were made to view the rest of the clothing.

While going through the racks, Melinda spotted the gold lace, held her breath, and pulled the coat out. She already knew it was special, but I would have loved to have seen her face at the moment she spotted that label!

The seller, who was working on behalf of an organization that actually owned the clothes, agreed to let Melinda and Jeff take the coat on consignment. They then set about searching for the perfect buyer for the coat.

That led them to contact Jonathan and Kenn,who after seeing the coat, put it on hold and began fund-raising. This February they again traveled south, and this time returned home with this very special garment. After a bit of restoration, the coat can now be enjoyed all all who are lucky enough to visit the Fashion History Museum this spring and summer.

It just goes to show that there are still marvelous things still hiding in attics and warehouses and who-knows-where else. My thanks to Melinda and Jeff for sharing this story, and for letting me use their photos.

 

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – March 17, 2019

That’s Ma in the middle, surrounded by Hella, Ruza, and Nebbs. The date wasn’t recorded, but I’d say right around 1940. Ma has decided that she is going for comfort over fashion, though I’d love to know the color of her dress. Hella is wearing the ubiquitous blue overalls of the era, so great for gardening and outdoors work of all kinds. Sporty Ruza has earned a letter for her sweater paired with a fantastic pair of nautical inspired trousers. And little Nebbs is attired in what was almost a uniform for little boys, a sailor suit.

The young women’s clothes are currently having a bit of popularity, with the overalls in particular being a hot item. I have been lucky to have found two pairs in the past, which is especially good because today I’d have to pay a small fortune for a pair.  If you love the look, a pattern is available from Decades of Style.

Lots of news this week:

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Shopping with The Vintage Traveler – Winter, 2019

Most of my actual shopping lately has been of the online variety. I have been looking locally, but not very much. Between a bit of redecorating my office and a few minor health glitches (bad cold and stubborn back pain) I’ve spent more time at home than usual. I am, like most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, ready for spring and flea market season.

But I have spotted a few things that I thought were interesting, though the office clean-out has made me pickier when actually buying. So here’s what I saw, but did not buy.

The illustration above is from a 1917 catalog for men’s suit salesmen. The lady is perfectly dressed in a sporty ensemble. But why isn’t he in uniform? Navy must not have been playing Army. And what about that goat mascot? The tradition of Navy having a live goat mascot goes back to 1893.

There seems to be a collegiate theme to today’s post. In the first two decades of the 20th century, postcard collecting was a popular hobby, and so postcards for every subject were made. College cards were often illustrated with young women along with a sports theme. At the time this card was made, circa 1906, women were admitted to Penn, but there were no sports teams for them, and certainly not football. They were allowed to watch.

Continuing with the college angle, here was a whole wall of pennants, some school related, others having been bought by tourists.

I had never heard of Savannah Beach, and can’t find a reference to it today. The nearest beach to Savannah is Tybee Island.

This bit of needlework reminds me of a 1930s Christmas card.

I almost bought this Arts and Crafts bag. I thought it was a bit overpriced, and so I left it. I did start thinking about it later and had a bit of non-buyer’s remorse.

This is a block used to print textiles. These are still in use today in parts of Asia, and so I have no idea how old it actually is. Still, it’s an item I never see and so I enjoyed it, even though the seller thought it was crap.

Japanese women meet  psychedelic print. This sort of thing was common in the late 1960s and early 1970s, due partly to the popularity of Peter Max.

Always invite the dog to your tea parties.

Here’s a good example of vintage “up-cycling”. I have seen antique paisley shawls turned into dresses and robes and even quilts, but this is the first handbag I’ve ever found.

This was another “almost” purchase. Anyone who collects vintage menswear needs to seek out copies of this magazine. It is excellent.

If not for the patch I would have thought this cardigan dated from the 1930s or 30s. All the older ones I’ve seen are a slightly different style. Live and learn.

And as a surprise, here’s an item I did actually buy. I found this sweet 1940s wool clutch at my Goodwill bins. This has been an item on my “wish list” for sometime, but I wanted one that was a little special. You may be asking, “What makes this one nice enough to meet The Vintage Traveler’s high standards?”

It’s not just a purse, it is also a muff!

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Fashion Exhibitionism

One of the on-going themes here at The Vintage Traveler is fashion exhibition, and what works (for me, at least) and what does not. I come to this conversation purely as a consumer of exhibitions, not as a scholar of the subject, nor as a maker of exhibitions. So I was pretty excited when the theme of this year’s Museum at FIT symposium was Exhibiting Fashion.  Because the symposiums are live-streamed, I had planned to take it all in last Friday.

If you missed it, then you are in luck, because you can still view all the talks and discussions. There are six hours of content, so you may not want to watch it all. Some of the talks are more relevant than others. You’ll know within a few minutes of watching one if viewing it is of interest to you.

I’m not going to attempt to go into all the topics that were discussed, as that would take an entire book. But there were so many things said that really resonated with me, and there were a few things that I wish had been said that were not.

If you know Valerie Steele (curator at the museum) from her writings and interviews, you know that she has a few opinions about what makes a great exhibition. I’ve heard her say on numerous occasions (including in the symposium) that an exhibition has to be more than just a display of pretty dresses.  And while I have no problem at all in spending a few hours looking at pretty dresses, fashion display has certainly moved past that mindset.

Much was said about how to translate the behind the scenes research into a visual display. While it is always possible to just lay it all out in the display notes, once an exhibition designer gets too wordy, then I’ve noticed that people stop reading. What is more effective is for the exhibition designer to evoke a context to which the viewer can relate. The use of everything from props, hair and makeup, Mise-en-scène , and juxtapositions can add meaning without a word being written.

But to paraphrase Lou Taylor, it really all comes down to the garment itself. The exhibition rises or falls on the selection of what is shown.

Several of the speakers touched on the point that I always try to make, and that is an exhibition does not need to be a huge production designed to pull in massive crowds (that is, to generate a lot of income for the museum) in order to be a fantastic experience. The small and more intimate exhibition can lead to insights not possible when you are jostling for position with hundreds of other viewers.

I was hoping someone would mention the huge walls of mannequins, three and four tiers high, with dresses that are impossible to see past the basic silhouette and a bit of sparkle. Unfortunately, that practice is left to me to say just how much I hate this trend in fashion exhibition. As Lou Taylor said, it all comes down to the garment, so what’s the point if the garment can’t be properly seen.

A lot was said about museum exhibitions as entertainment, as opposed to the museum as a place of education. As a former educator, I can tell you that the two are not mutually exclusive, and several presenters made the same point. Yes, fashion exhibitions are entertainment, at least they are to me. At the same time, I love leaving an exhibition with a new insight or bit of knowledge.

Another point that was briefly hinted at was the fine line between getting a point across and beating the museum goers over the head with the point. The best example I’ve seen of going too far was the Met’s 2013 exhibition on Punk. I’ll not rehash it here, as I wrote a review. Still, I hate leaving an exhibition feeling battered.

If you only have time for some quick viewing, I suggest you look at Julia Petrov’s talk on the history of fashion display. It’s fascinating. It starts at 55 minutes into the symposium.

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Vintage Sewing – 1966 Givenchy Coat

I can’t believe it has been so long since I shared a sewing project. That may be because I haven’t been sewing, except to make repairs and alterations. But a recent cold kept me at home and I needed a project to take my mind off the sniffles. I have had both the embroidered linen and the vintage 1940s rayon plaid for years, and my plan was vaguely for a coat, and I had looked at dozens of patterns trying to decide what design to make.

Having an urgent need for a project got me to settle on a pattern I already had – one that I’ve always wanted to make. I have written quite a bit about a series of four patterns that Givenchy designed for Audrey Hepburn to wear in the 1966 film, How to Steal a Million, so I’ll not go into detail about it here.

I had made McCall’s patterns from this era, and I have always been pleased with the quality of the instructions. This was the case with this pattern. The instructions were straight forward, and the coat went together very easily. I am short, so I shortened the length and the arms a bit. Other than that I made the pattern as drafted. The only thing I’d change is that I would made the pockets deeper. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be making them a bit deeper by adding to the bottom of the pockets.

The coat has some details that might frighten off less experienced sewers, but the instructions were so good that the pocket…

and the buttonholes were a cinch. I was concerned about the bound buttonholes because several of them were set into where there was embroidery, but that did not present a problem.

I put the lining in by hand, as I have had mixed result when trying to bag a lining by machine. It all fit together beautifully.

Once I got started on the machine, I could not stop. I just could not let the scraps of these lovely fabric languish in my scrap bag. So I did what anyone would do – I made a hat.

I had made this mid 1970s pattern before, and liked it. It was a quick and simple make. I do doubt that I’ll wear the hat with the coat. It seems to be a bit too matched.

I bought this fabric at a place that sells factory end runs. Even at a discount place, it was not cheap. Yes, it does wrinkle a bit, but I am loving wearing it, as it is just the right heaviness for early spring, and it is terrifically comfortable.

In fact, I wore it today, a touch of spring on a rather chilly mountain day.

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Vanderbilt House Party at Biltmore Estate

For the past several years, Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has partnered with Cosprop to mount a costume exhibition in the house. Previously they have displayed costumes from Titanic and Downton Abbey, one year they displayed movie wedding dresses, and another, dresses from films inspired by literature.

This year’s fashion exhibition was a bit different, and more ambitious. Cosprop was hired to reproduce some of the actual clothing worn by the Edwardian Vanderbilts, the owners of the estate. To do this, photos were studied, along with other records such as newspaper accounts, letters, bills of sale and other family documents. It’s not entirely possible to know exactly how a garment that had long ago disappeared looked, especially as to color, but enough evidence was uncovered to give John Bright of Cosprop the information needed to recreate quite a few looks.

In the cases where clothing was recreated, the photos on which they were based was displayed along with the garments. The couple above is Adele and James Burden, two of the first visitors to Biltmore, soon after George Vanderbilt moved into the house in 1895.  Adele’s blouse was beautiful, but the sleeves look a bit deflated compared to the photo of her wearing the blouse. This was, after all, 1895, the era of the huge puffed sleeve.

We sort of joked that James’s ensemble can still be bought today at Ralph Lauren.

Most people can’t really relate to the fact that this was George Vanderbilt’s country home, and that the dress code there was much more casual than you would find in a house belong to the robber baron class in New York. There is a multitude of photos showing the Vanderbilts in outing attire. That’s George, ready for a walk around a small part of his estate.

There were several of these tweed and boots ensembles for men on display, but I was surprised that there was no real woman’s walking ensemble represented. Outdoor activities were a big part of what went on at Biltmore, with trails galore, even one that stretched the fifteen miles to the Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge.

This is the photo from which George’s tweeds were modeled. That’s daughter Cornelia before a swim, 1910.

When George Vanderbilt planned and built Biltmore, he was not married. He met and married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898. Their only child, Cornelia, was born in 1900.

In the above vignette, George’s suit was reproduced from a photo of him taken in 1900, but “Edith’s” dress was borrowed from another Cosprop project, the 2000 film, The Golden Bowl. Quite a few of the garments in the exhibition are Cosprop products that were not specific to Biltmore. I don’t know why the decision was made to include these garments, but I suspect it was because of the expense. It’s a lot cheaper to rent an existing dress than to make a new one.

This lovely waist and skirt were recreated from a 1900 photo of Edith.

To me, this was probably the most effective recreation, with the design team going so far as to screen-print the exact pattern of the dots on the ribbon stripes of the blouse. There was an interesting little video for visitors to explain how many of the design decisions were made. Even though this is based on a black and white photo, through research they were able to determine Edith’s favored color palette, and to make a good guess at the actual colors used.

Here’s another recreation from a photo. This is Edith just before her marriage to George in 1898.

Her waist looks much more corseted in the photo.

Here’s another pretty waist and skirt combination. If it looks familiar, that’s because this was designed for the 1985 film, A Room with a View. 

Let’s not forget that there was a little girl in the house, and this setting was based on a 1904 photo of Cornelia and her aunt, Pauline Dresser Merrill. I really love Pauline’s travel ensemble.

Unfortunately, they left out Iwan the wolfhound, who was in the original photo.

And here is Cornelia again, along with her cousin John Brown.

John and Cornelia, 1906.

Not only were the Vanderbilts and their guests represented, but we get a glimpse of the staff as well. Here is the gentleman’s gentleman getting out Mr. Vanderbilt’s motoring accessories.

And this is Martha Laube, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s lady’s maid.

A group of guests have made themselves comfortable in the third floor living hall.

And just down the hall a maid is busy unpacking a visitor’s trunk. Much of the third floor was for house guests.

The basement had multiple functions.  Here was located the kitchen, the laundry, and the food and serving supplies storage. It was also the location of recreation rooms, including this bowling alley.

Past the bowling alley and a line of changing room is the indoor pool. Here on the diving platform are two bathing suits that probably would have never been seen together, The one at top is circa 1920, and the one at bottom is ten years older. Both are a bit too new to fit in with the rest of the clothes on display.

This gymnastics girl was right on point. I would have loved to get a closer look at her shoes. Which leads me to one of my issues with Biltmore clothing exhibitions. The clothes were just out of range to get a really good look, I could not tell if these were antique or newer that just look old.

After the trek through the basement, the tour planners wisely bring the visitor back to the fancy side of things by going back to to the first floor and the magnificent banquet hall. This is where one “dressed” for dinner. Above we see the recreated  Worth dress of George’s sister, Florence Vanderbilt Twombly.

And here is Florence.

Also in the banquet hall was this dress, worn by Edith in 1903.  The dress in the background is from Cosprop’s inventory.

If you visit Biltmore, be sure not to miss the Legacy Museum located near one of the hotels. They do changing exhibitions, with the current one being on travel and recreation. The notes on this motoring duster were not exactly clear, but I am pretty sure it is antique, as is the Louis Vuitton trunk.

There were also lots of photos showing the Vanderbilts and guests at play on the estate. I wish they had recreated Edith’s outing suit.

I really appreciate that Biltmore has a commitment to doing a costume show every spring.  Tickets are not cheap, but they really do try to make the visit as aesthetically pleasing as possible. The floral arrangements alone are worth seeing.

And if you go, why not try the most appropriate dress, as these members of Atlanta Time Travelers did? That’s my friend Liza on the right, along with Randi and Bobbie Jo. Their attire enhanced everyone’s experience!

Finally, here I am with Edith, Iwan, Cedric, and George. The photo prop was based on an actual photograph from 1903. Thanks to Liza for the photo.

 

 

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Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, 1903

In 1903 women were in the S-bend corset, and skirts still were sweeping the ground. Amelia Bloomer’s great experiment with pants had failed, and even women cyclists had pretty much settled on skirts over bloomers and knickers for cycling. So how were women at the turn of the twentieth century able to comfortably participate in the growing sports boom?

Probably the best insight on this issue comes from Patricia Campbell Warner in her 2006 book, When the Girls Came Out to Play. Simply put, women wore skirts when participating in sports in a public (meaning men might be present) way, but they turned to bloomers when the situation was private, or included only women. And there were times when bloomers or knickers were worn, but they were concealed beneath a skirt.

I recently acquired Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, edited by Lucille E. Hill and published in 1903. Hill was the director of physical education at Wellesley, and many of the authors of the sixteen chapters were also associated with women’s colleges. Half of the writers were men.

Another book I’ve been reading (well, actually browsing) on sportswomen in the same era was written by women participants in various sports. This might seem like an advantage, but what was produced was a collection of stories praising each individual sport instead of giving the basics of how to participate. In addition, the topics were definitely targeted toward the British upper class: yachting, stag hunting, and riding to the hounds being covered.

So it has been a real pleasure reading a book that not only is helpful in detailing the clothing women were advised to wear for sports, but also in explaining why, in the customs of the day, such attire was recommended. Not only that, but the photograph illustrations are great.

In her introduction, Hill explains that the only real equipment needed for a woman to get “splendid, daily athletic exercise” is a short skirt and a pair of shoes. Remember, this is 1903, and “short” pretty much means several inches from the ground. In a chapter on cross-country walking it is advised that ” Old clothes are best – warm and not too tight. No constriction of any part of the body can be permitted; loose waists, knickerbockers, and short skirts are always advisable.” It may be that the author, a man, was trying to say “No corsets,” but he stopped short at making that pronouncement. He went on to endorse sweaters and woolen underwear, and to abolish pointed toe boots and any heels over half an inch.

Ms. Hill explained that before participating in sports, a woman must first build up her strength through training at home or at a gymnasium. And while we are not given a written description of what should be worn, we are told for the only time in the book, that corsets are simply not necessary. If a woman cannot give up her corset for exercise, then it must at least be worn loose. All the photos in this section of the book show the women exercising without corsets.

She will soon give it [corset] up, for its support will not be needed. She will have as a result of the exercise a corset of her own beneath the skin, a corset of strong and elastic muscular tissues, much better than steel and whalebone. Anthony Barker

When playing indoors the regulation gymnasium suit of bloomers and a loose blouse of some thin woollen material such as serge is usually worn…

while in the open air a somewhat heavier costume is adopted, a short skirt of some durable cloth like corduroy, and a sweater, or an easy-fitting woollen blouse. Ellen Bernard Thompson

Though the author makes it sound like the skirt and sweater are for reasons of health, I think it is probably a case of not being seen in public in the unseemly bloomers.

There is no distinct golfing costume, but I would advise a short skirt, a shirt-waist that does not bind, and a sensible pair of shoes, large enough to be absolutely comfortable, and with very low heels. Some prefer tennis shoes with no heel at all. One must have rubber or hobnails on the soles to keep from slipping. Frances C. Griscom

When taking up a sport the first thing to consider is the equipment, which should consist of a moderately short walking-skirt, reaching to within four or five inches of the ice, and a pair of well-fitting shoes that can be laced up high enough to give support. Buttoned and low shoes are out of the question. William T. Richardson

The hockey skirt should be plainly made… six inches from the ground all the way round. The shirt-waist, made of flannel, to prevent risk of chills, should be loose fitting. This does not necessitate an ill-fitting garment or untidiness. Petticoats should not be worn, but knickerbockers of the same material as the skirt, fastening at the knee, be substituted. Constance M.K. Applebee

As to costume, looseness is the first and most important particular. The waist should not fit too tight, and it should be particularly free at the elbows and shoulders. The skirt should be short and stiff enough not to get in the way of the knees to to bend so much around them as to bind… Many players wear low canvas slippers with rubber soles, and find them more comfortable and less tiring than leather-bound shoes. J. Parmley Paret

When bowling, women should dress comfortably, avoiding tight-fitting clothes as far as possible. Street shoes are usually worn, but the value of regular bowling shoes is appreciated by the expert. A skirt in short or walking length is preferred, although a long skirt may be worn if occasion demands. A shirt-waist or blouse giving ease at the neck and armholes is essential. Sophie Gundrum

In 1903, it was still standard practice for women to ride side-saddle, and the chapter on riding reflects this attitude.

For my part, I think and hope that the cross saddle for women is more or less a fad, for I cannot see a single advantage it possesses over the side saddle, for looks, good riding, or safety. Belle Beach

Ms. Beach went on to give very particular instructions for the correct riding habit. In the illustration you can see the model is in riding breeches, but Ms. Beach made it clear that the breeches are underclothes, to go under a riding skirt.

In 1903, most women were not swimmers. There was a reason it was called a bathing suit, or even a bathing dress. A day at the beach or lake usually meant a mere frolic in the shallow water. But times were changing. People were beginning to see swimming as a beneficial skill, if not for fun, at least for safety.

The greatest difficulty the female pupil has to encounter is found in the costume which that all-powerful factor, custom, has declared she must wear. Judging from the practical and rational point of view, anything more absurd and useless than the skirt of a fashionable bathing-suit would be difficult to find… A much better garment would be a one-piece loosely fitting garment of fine, light woollen stuff, with the skirt as an adjunct, but not as part of the actual swimming-suit. Edwyn Sandys

What Mr. Sandys is actually describing is the standard gymsuit, perhaps with less full bloomers. As far as I have been able to determine, the difference between an antique bathing suit and a gymsuit is that in a swimsuit the pants are separate, and in a gymsuit the skirt is separate. I am sure there are exceptions, but this is overwhelming what I see in my own research.

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