1940s Fashion Letterheads

Six years ago I ran across the correspondence of a clothing sales representative, most of which was rejection letters from firms with which he was seeking a position. I wrote about the letters at the time, but in looking through them recently I was really struck by several new thoughts.

Many of the letterhead illustrations included facsimiles of the labels the companies used. These could be useful not only in helping to date a garment, but also in identifying the maker of a certain label. In the case above, Miss Modern Playtogs, Ethel Lou Creations, and Nina Lou Frocks were all made by the Alton Garment Company of St. Louis, a fact that would be lost if not for documentation such as the letters.

Another important lesson from these letters is how widespread the manufacturing of clothing was in the United States. Fashion history tends to focus on New York (and no doubt, the fashion industry there was very important), with an occasional nod to the California and Florida sportswear makers, the junior dress industry of St. Louis, and the woolen manufacturers of the North and Northwest.

We are reminded that Dallas was another center for sportswear, and that Cleveland had a large knitwear industry. Not only was Saint Louis a center for junior wear, so was Kansas City. And I couldn’t help but notice how many different clothing manufacturing companies were located in Boston.

It’s interesting how the logos and fonts used by some companies looked old-fashioned for the late 1940s…

while others were definitely looking toward the 1950s.

The California companies were more likely to use “California lifestyle” imagery in their logos.

Companies that made clothing for children and teens were more likely to use images of dresses.

Teen and junior lines were more likely to use quirky fonts and design.

And whatever happened to the word frock?

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Dunlop Beach Sandals, 1939

Some time ago I found a pair of 1930s beach shoes from France, so I guess it was bound to happen that I find a pair from Great Britain as well. I would have been happy with just the shoes, but they came in the original box which was just the best icing imaginable.

I spotted these on Instagram (that great enabler of collectors) in the feed of @wideawakevintage. If you are not following her, do please, as she finds the most amazing stuff. After nearly breaking my neck to get to her etay store, I found the shoes were still there and so I purchased them. It was not until the package arrived that I found the box was included.

There’s a real plus to buying from sellers who are obsessed with the history of things. They are on the lookout for ads and such to help with the dating of the things they find. And Michelle of Wide Awake really went above and beyond the duty of a vintage seller, as she not only found an advertisement with my new shoes…

she also found this photo for sale on Etsy with a woman wearing the shoes! I love how she has paired them with ankle socks and a dress, proving that beach sandals are not just for the beach.

Okay, these are not one hundred percent exactly like mine, but they are pretty darned close.

It’s always great to see something I have in my collection in the actual context of it being worn. Ads are great, but it takes a real woman to put these shoes in a real situation.

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How I Collect

One question I get a lot of is do I ever display any of my collection. The answer to that is, “No,” as I’m a collector, not a museum. But it did occur to me that if I were displaying my collection, I’d want to show it the way I collect. By that I mean that I don’t collect piecemeal, but rather, I collect as if assembling ensembles that might have actually been worn by a woman of the era.

I’ve been slowly taking photos of these ensembles and posting them on Instagram, but as I know many of you do not take part in social media, I thought I’d post them here as well. First up are clothes and accessories from 1915-1919.

Above is a 1918ish bathing dress. I bought it years ago in a local antiques mall that had it labeled as a child’s victorian dress. Nope.  There were no knickers, but that’s not a problem as I have several pairs of wool knickers from the same era. The cap was an eBay find from about 2007.  I can’t imagine finding one today. The boots also came from eBay, at about the same time. The Ayvad Water Wings came from the collection of a kindred spirit.

This is what the well-dressed post-Edwardian woman wore for tennis. The middy blouse was made by the  “Jack Tar Middy” brand. When I found it I was not sure the heart-shaped smocking was original to the piece, but I later found an ad showing the smocking. The sports skirt is unlabeled, and it has very deep pockets that are perfect for tennis balls. The boots are Keds. I need a hat.

The skirt and sailor blouse were another lucky eBay find from about twelve years ago. I think it was seamstress made, especially with the hand embroidery in dark blue. The hat is labeled “New York Hat Works” and has silk ribbons and a silk covered button on top of the crown. The handbag is linen fabric embroidered in silk and is most likely homemade.

This outing ensemble is one of my favorites, and as a special thanks to you Vintage Traveler readers, this one has not yet been posted on Instagram. This set started with the skirt, which was a gift some years ago from friend Amanda in Vermont. Like the twill cotton blouse, it is unlabeled. The rucksack was a lucky Goodwill find. It’s from Abercrombie’s Camp. The gauntlet gloves are stamped, “The Buccaneer by Speare” and I found them at a flea market. And again, I need a hat.

I’ll be posting more as I get them photographed. Next up are the early 1920s.

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The Fall Hat Box, 1911, Muhlfelder’s of Albany and Troy, New York

After buying the little purse catalog that was shaped like a purse, how could I resist a hat catalog shaped like a hat box? And even better, this little booklet proves to be a memento of an important event in a woman’s life – that of her wedding.

The owner of the booklet recorded the date of the wedding…

along with her new name and address.

This is a very good clue that Mrs. Klee’s first name was Rose, and the 1930 census provided a record of George and Rose Klee living in Troy. The 1940s census has George and Rose still living at 2231 Burdett Avenue in Troy with their son, daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter.

On another page is the name Rose Ney. And yes, this is the same Rose, as Ancestry.com has her as Rose Ney Klee, born in 1890. There is even a photograph of Rose.  Rose lived to be 96 years of age.

Rose got married in the era of the huge hat. Think Titanic or My Fair Lady. I hope she had a suitably large hat for her wedding.

Muhlfelder’s was established by Jonas Muhlfelder, a German-Jewish immigrant. He worked in the wholesale millinery business in Albany before setting up his own stores for ladies around the turn of the twentieth century. The Albany Institute of History and Art has a fantastic photo of the millinery department of the Albany store.

Veils were for mourning, and also for motoring.

Most of these hats required not only a big pile of hair, but also a very long hat pin. Still, looking at photos of women in hats of this era makes me wonder how they balanced it all. It must have been a big relief to pull out the pin and place the hat on its stand.

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A.E. Lelong, 18 Place de la Madeleine, Paris, Circa 1910

One of the great things about collecting old clothes is that the internet has made it so easy to find like-minded people with whom you can talk fashion history. It was through longtime on-line friend Jonathan that I met vintage sellers Melinda and Jeff, who live in my own community. Seriously, it took a guy from Canada to connect me with people in my own extended backyard.

For obvious reasons, I love visiting Mel and Jeff. They always have something “new” that I’ve never seen. And while museum exhibitions are so useful in learning about old stuff, having access to lovely things and actually getting to examine them is an education apart.

Last fall I was at their place of business when I passed by a blue linen suit waiting for its turn to be photographed.  I’m such a sucker for blue anyway, but this suit was just the loveliest thing I’d seen. I pulled it off the rack and saw the label, A.E. Lelong, Paris. I was familiar with Lucien Lelong whose couture house existed from the early 1920s to the late 1940s, but this suit predated that label. Still, I was sure there had to be a connection.

But even without the label I could tell this was an exceptional garment. The two colors of blue linen were perfectly matched, and the details showed expert construction. Between the label and the superb craftsmanship of the piece, I was intrigued. I took a few photos and when I returned home, began a search for A.E. Lelong.

As it turns out, A. was Arthur, Lucien Lelong’s father and E. was his wife Éléonore . Details are a bit sketchy, but Arthur and
Éléonore owned a textile and dressmaking establishment at 18 Place de la Madeleine in Paris. Their son Lucien studied business, but joined his parent’s business when he finished school. In 1914 he was set to take over with the first collection made under his direction when World War One erupted.

When the war was over, Lucien returned to Paris and resumed his work at A.E. Lelong. Several years later the company was renamed Lucien Lelong.  Lucien was not so much the designer of the company as he was the director. Designers were employed, and with  input from Lelong, the collections were designed and made.

This suit pre-dates Lucien’s time at Lelong, though from what I’ve read he was influencing the activities at A.E. Lelong even before he formally joined the company. What does matter about the suit is the fact that it is a wonderful example of French couture in the early days of the twentieth century. Linen suits from this era are quite common, but most of the ones I’ve seen are white or off white. The blue color is just extra special.

Like so much fine dressmaking from the twentieth century, this set has a combination of machine and handwork. The construction is machine sewn, with the embellishments being applied by hand.

A word about the length, the mannequin is a bit tall for the dress. It is actually to the ankle.

The dress makes a statement even without the jacket. What could be lovelier on a lazy summer afternoon.

The braid was laid on and stitched by hand.

The lace looks to be hand crocheted, but I’m no expert on lace, and machines were making incredible look-alikes buy this era.

The dress buttons up the back with the tiniest buttons.

Instead of buttonholes, the maker made a string of loops out of a continuous thread. This dress definitely required the help of a lady’s maid.

The closure on the jacket is that elaborately knotted braid. The buttons are purely decorative.

When I saw this set, my first thought was, “I want that.” But soon common sense took over. As much as I love this, I have to be reasonable and limit myself to buying sportier items that fit within the context of my bigger picture. So, I did what any friend would do – I sent photos to Jonathan at the Fashion History Museum. He was coming to North Carolina to get the Poiret coat, and I wanted to make sure he saw this as well.

As it turns out, the suit is now at the Fashion History Museum, on display in one of their current exhibitions, Made in France. I love happy endings!

An online search for examples of clothing with the A.E. Lelong label have shown the label to be quite rare. The Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris has four examples.

Thanks to Melinda and Jeff for the use of their photos.

And here’s a photo of the suit as shown at the Fashion History Museum. Thanks to Jonathan for the photo.

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Vintage Miscellany – March 31, 2019

As a girl going to school in the 1960s and 70s, and later as a public school teacher, I’ve experienced both sides of the dress code debate.  In 1971 a lawsuit against my school system forced it to amend the code to allow facial hair for males and pants for females. Even then there were rules. We could only wear pants that were part of a matching set, with a tunic top or vest that came down to the hips.

By the next year we figured out that the new rules were not going to be enforced. By my senior year in 1973, we were wearing the forbidden jeans. I can remember the first day I wore jeans to class. I spent the entire day worried that I’d be sent home to change. My mother had even tried to talk me into taking a change of clothes with me to school.

But the day passed uneventfully, and before long all the girls were wearing pretty much what we wanted. I’m sure that the school officials figured out pretty quickly that a pair of jeans was preferable to the extremely short skirts of the day.

  •  Maybe that’s why the insistence of a charter school in North Carolina that pants on girls is somehow counter to the “traditional values” of the school seems so puzzling. The ACLU sued the school on behalf of three girls, and last week a court ruled that the rule was a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection provision.  Evidently the school’s administration thought they could take state tax money as a charter, but still pass rules based on their religious beliefs.
  •  In other dress code news, we go to British Columbia, where a dress code for the Legislative Assembly written  in 1980 is being used to tell women not to bare their arms. A bare armed protest was staged the next day.
  •   The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, has a new exhibition, Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence , which can be seen until January, 2020. included in older displays.
  •   Marks & Spencer has developed a played based on the history of the store, using clothing from their archive and replicas.
  •    The popularity of period dramas on TV and in film has created work for historical consultants.
  •    There are quilts, and then there are quilts.
  •    How one museum is reconsidering the out-dated notions included in older displays.
  •    What happened when the Soviet government in the 1920s considered a post-revolutionary fashion for women. 
  •    Here’s the fascinating story of Eliza Hamilton, and how her clothing style “froze” when her husband Alexander was killed.

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Bathing Suit Timeline

A recent project has been developing a timeline of bathing suits from the 1860s through the 1920s. From looking at the sales pages and such on the internet, it seems to me that such a timeline might be useful to people trying to place a date on older suits. I’ll be adding to what I’ve got here and will eventually make a permanent page on my long neglected Fuzzylizzie.com site.

For now, here’s a chronological view of sixty years of bathing suit styles, with date and source, but no commentary.

1864, Godey’s Lady’s Book

1865, Godey’s Lady’s Book

 

1871, Harper’s Bazar

 

1876, Harper’s Bazar

 

1881, Harper’s Bazar

 

1885, Harper’s Bazar

 

1892, Harper’s Bazar

 

1895, Le Bon Ton & Le Moniteur de la Mode United

 

1902, Sears, Roebuck Catalog

 

1909, McCall’s

 

1911, Woman’s Home Companion

 

1912, Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Catalog

 

1917, Von Lengerke and Antoine Catalog

1918, The Delineator

 

1921, B. Altman & Co Catalog

 

1925, Bonwit Teller Catalog

 

I’ve chosen to end with the mid 1920s, as after that date there are many more resources for dating, and I want to use images that are firmly in the public domain.  You can see there are some gaps, and I’m working on at least an example from every five years or so.

Putting bathing suits in a timeline really shows how fashion was followed, even in the water.

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