Accessibility of Information


It has occurred to me that I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to make history accessible to others, first through efforts to make it relevant to twenty-eight years of pre-teens, and now through blog posts that I hope help make fashion history a little more interesting to anyone who cares to read them.   It has also occurred to me that at no time has information been so accessible as it is today.

When I was in my senior year of college I had to write a thesis on some aspect of American history in order to satisfy the requirements of my history degree.  I chose as my topic “The Effect of the American Civil War on the Moravian Communities in North Carolina.”  I picked this topic because I knew I’d have access to primary sources that would supply the information I needed.  The Moravian were meticulous record keepers, and many volumes of the records had been translated into English from German, and then were published.

Today I’d not have to be so picky when it came to picking a topic.  Many historical organizations, museums, and universities are in the process of making their archives available digitally.  This is a big deal for anyone who is doing historical research of any kind as it eliminates a lot of travel and expense.

It’s not just institutions that are revolutionizing the way research is conducted.  One of the major digitizers is Google.  The Google Books function not only makes available thousands of out of print books and magazines, the content of them is searchable through Google search.

I’ve mentioned a research project I’m currently working on – women’s hiking and camping clothing of the early twentieth century.  Not only have some of you sent great links to information and images, but Google Books has made accessible resources that I’d otherwise not even have known of.  My favorite is The Outing Magazine, with issues from the 1910s and 1920s being made available.

Fashion history can be found in all sorts of books.  Because I have a source that supplies me with cheap books (also known as the Goodwill Clearance Center) I’m always picking up old books that I suspect might contain tidbits of fashion information.  Books that relate to the history of women or to sewing and clothes making often have little insights into what women wore in the past.

I recently found a book published in 1942, as the USA was entering World War II.  Women for Defense, by Margaret Culkin Banning was a call to action for the women of America, and included was how women were already working for the war effort.  It contains all sorts of little details about dress that make primary sources so valuable, and fashion history so interesting.

Any account of American women in defense begins with these workers whose whole day’s labor is for victory.  They are paid for their work, to be sure, but that does not mean they are not filling an emergency.  It does not mean that they are not in uniform, nor out of danger.  They are literally so in some places, as for example in the Frankford Arsenal where the women explosive workers are urged to purchase two simple cotton uniforms, one red and one blue, colors alternated weekly, in an effort to ensure the wearing of a freshly-washed garment at the beginning of each week.  Not for style or becomingness is the color insisted on, and the fabric is lightly starched cotton – because it is somewhat resistant to fire.  


Filed under Viewpoint

Au Bon Marché Sports Clothes Catalog – Early 1930s


Most of my collecting involves USA made fashion and industry, but sometimes one just has to look at other influences to see the entire picture.  If you are looking at the 1960s fashion scene, you can’t ignore what was happening in London.  And even though sportswear is very often best exemplified as American, you can’t ignore the influence of Jean Patou and Coco Chanel in France in the 1920s and 30s.

Au Bon Marché dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century and was the first grand Parisian department store.  It is still open as Le Bon Marché.

My catalog does not have a date anywhere, but it is from 1931 or 1932. It is full of the delightful things that make one want to pack up the automobile and head for the closest sandy beach.

The front cover folds out and the wares are displayed in a panorama with that sandy shore in the background.  All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The men and boys are still modestly attired in their tank suits (swimming briefs were soon to make their appearance, though).  What is really interesting is item number 14. This is the earliest example I’ve ever seen of a woman’s two piece suit that bares the midriff.

As expected, all the bathing suits are made from wool knit.  What I found to be interesting is that three of the women’s pyjamas  -17,25, and 29 – were also made from wool jersey knit.  Only number 21 was made from the cotton duck cloth one would expect to find here in the States.  The robes or peignoir du bains, were all made from terrycloth.


Number 24 seems to be as risque as the two piece.  I’ve love to see how much of the front is exposed.

And how about the rubber swim cap the little girl in number 28 is wearing?  Scottie dogs on a swim cap!  Actually, all the caps are pretty incredible.


The man in his blouse et pantalon pour la peche ou le bateau could only be a Frenchman, no?


Be sure to notice how one could change the angle of the large umbrella in the center by moving the pole to a different hole.


I’ve wanted a portable gramophone ever since I first saw Sabrina and Humphrey Bogart pulled his old one out of the closet to take on his boating date with Audrey Hepburn. And while I’m fantasy shopping,  I’ll also take that picnic basket.


Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Vintage Miscellany – May 17, 2015

It appears to me – but I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty – that this young woman is wearing the uniform of a camping group, perhaps the Girl Scouts. My best guess is that this photo dates from the early 1930s.  I even have a Girl Scout manual from that time period, and the uniform pictured in it is remarkably similar to this one.

It could even be earlier.  I have an early 1920s manual that an afternoon of on again/off again searching has not located.  I will be updating as soon as the elusive manual is found.

I’m in the process of developing a presentation about women’s hiking attire for a local hiking club.  I’m looking at the late Victorian period through the 1930s and would greatly appreciate any sources or photos that you might want to share.

In the meantime, here is the news…

*   The Imperial War Museum in London has a very interesting artifact – the corset cover a woman was wearing when she was sucked into one of the  funnels of the sinking Lusitania.  The ship went down 100 years ago last week.

*   The buzz about the new exhibition at the Met has been mainly positive.  There are those who do question whether or not the show will engage viewers in having the thoughtful experience that is needed.

* John Frederics gets the credit for making the hats for Gone with the Wind, but there is, of course, more to the story.

*   The Museum at FIT has recently posted two videos from the conservation department that are fantastic.  One by Marjorie Jonas shows her conservation of a Jeanne Lanvin dress, and the other has Nicole Bloomfield describing the work that was done on a Paul Poiret coat.  This highlights the extreme importance of the paper archives at FIT and other institutions.   The Poiret coat was found through Instagram!

*   Earlier I posted a link to how LL Bean duck shoes were sold out in the months leading up to Christmas.  Here’s more about the effect of fashion on “heritage” brands.

*   Splurge and Purge:  the “sin” of fast fashion.

*   Here’s how designer Bill Blass helped trick the Nazis.

*   I have not yet seen the new film about Iris Apfel, but I’m hoping it is full of gems like this: “But 70-year-old ladies don’t have 18-year-old bodies & 18-year-olds don’t have a 70-year-olds’ dollars.”

*   I just found this fantastic blog on the history of women cycling and women’s rights.

*  And finally, the last episode of Mad Men airs in just a few hours here in the USA.  If you have not been watching this program over the past seven years, you have missed a real treat, and I suggest you get yourself to Netflix and watch the entire thing.  I do want to ware you that the sexism in the first seasons is especially hard to stomach, but stay with it to be rewarded with one of the richest viewing experiences in American TV.

The costuming of the show, which takes place from 1960 to 1970, has been discussed to death, but I found it really interesting that people actually donated clothing to the wardrobe department of the show.

I’d also appreciate any help identifying this uniform.  Thanks!

Update:  Thanks to the helpful comments and nudges in the correct direction, I’m confident in saying that this is a Girl Guides of Canada uniform, late 1920s or early 30s.


Filed under Vintage Miscellany

Vintage Sewing: 1940s Fabric Meets 1950s Pattern

I’m always interested in reading how other people approach sewing projects.  Most of the sewing blogs I read have an element of the past to them.  Some people sew perfect reproductions of an era which interests them.  Others use modern fabrics with vintage patterns or vintage fabrics with modern patterns.

My sewing is a bit more eclectic.  I have no problem taking a fabric from one era and pairing it with a pattern from another.  I pretty much know what I like, and which fabrics and styles fit in with my casual lifestyle.  I live in the South so my summer clothes have to be cool and preferably, loose without being sloppy.

I’ve finally found a use for Facebook.  I “belong” to a group called Novelty and Border Print B/S/T (buy/sale/trade).  Most of the active members are 1950s border print fanatics, and so there is always a “new” print to be seen there.  They also post pages from vintage magazines which show border print skirts and fabrics.  If someone spots an interesting novelty print for sale on the web, she will post the link to the sales page. It is really useful the way that group operates.

And that is how I found this great print.  It is from the late 1940s, and it is made of a textured but cool rayon.  The beachy scenes and the two shades of blue were an added attraction.  Quite remarkably, this fabric was for sale on eBay for a $3 buy-it-now.

The downsides were that there were age spots scattered about and that there was barely one yard of it.  Even though I rarely buy fabric over the internet, I could not resist, and so a few clicks later it was mine.  The spots washed out, the dyes did not run, and the fabric did not shrink.  I mention these things because one never knows when using a fabric that is seventy years old.

I know that many sewers buy their fabric with a project in mind.   I seldom have that sort of advanced planning in place.  I see a fabric I like and later I worry about what should be made from it, especially if it is a vintage fabric with the amount of yardage available already determined for me.

Because there was so little fabric, I was limited in what I could do with it.  I decided that I really wanted a casual top, but there was not enough fabric for sleeves.  The solution was to pick a pattern in which the sleeves are cut with the bodice.  I came up with McCall’s 4093, a pattern from 1957 which I had used several years ago.

Several changes were in order.  I did not want the drawstring at the waist, and the fabric was just too busy for details like the tab under the v-neck and the sleeve cuffs.   One solution would have been to make them from a solid, but I decided to just eliminate them.  I also changed the cut of the sleeve somewhat.  The illustration is misleading about how the sleeve cuffs lie.  They look as if they are cut straight across the arm, but in fact they are cut on a diagonal.  I lowered the top of the sleeve cuff to straighten it a bit.

I lengthened the bodice as much as possible, but my skimpy little piece did not allow for much of that, so I put as small a hem as possible, using bias tape to bind the edge.  I left just a peek of it showing on the outside, just because I could.

I used the scraps of a former project to make the collar and facing.  I always save my scraps, as I never know when I’ll find a use for them.  I made shorts from the blue cotton several years ago.  And yes, I do love my bias tape bindings.

The result is nothing fancy, but I’ll wear this a lot.


Filed under Vintage Sewing

Ferragamo, 1938 and 2015

I don’t do a lot of retail shopping, purely because these days I prefer to make my clothes, and because there is so little that I need.  Last weekend I found myself in Atlanta (great niece’s first communion; that was interesting) and staying across the street from a huge shopping mall.  I decided to take my morning walk in the mall and do a bit of window shopping.

I love shop windows, and while the ones in malls are seldom on par with the great ones seen on the street in the major shopping cities, I’m always interested to see what it is that brands think is newsworthy enough to feature in their windows.

The shoes above were in the windows of Ferragamo, Italian maker of shoes that dates back to the 1920s.  In 1928  Salvatore Ferragamo opened his shoe manufacturing business in Florence, Italy, after a time in Hollywood making shoes for the movies.  The business struggled through the depression, but by 1938 was making enough money for Salvatore to relocate the business to a grand palace.

World War II was looming, and Ferragamo was looking to alternative materials from which to fashion his shoes.  One idea was to build the soles and heels from cork.  From 1938 through the 1940s Ferragamo made fanciful wedge heels and platforms with the lightweight cork as a base.

The above shoe is quite well-known.  This particular example is in the Ferragamo Museum, which is still housed in the palace Salvatore bought in 1938.  You can see why I was attracted to the new platforms in the window.  It is a superb example of a company reaching back into their archives to bring out ideas and update them for modern taste.

On the Ferragamo website I found that there are several different styles in this line based on the 1938 cork sole and heel.  I also spotted some sandals and espadrilles  based on the famous Ferragamo Vara (the pump with the bow) which was first made in the 1970s and became the shoe of working women in the 1980s.  And they still make the Audrey, a flat ballet type shoe that was designed for Audrey Hepburn in 1954.

Ferragamo is proof that companies don’t have to reinvent the wheel every four months.  All they have to do is build on the greatness they have already created.

The book that contains the picture of the 1938 platforms is Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More, by Linda O’Keefe.  I bought it while on a school field trip with my fifth graders  to the Mint Museum in Charlotte in 1996, and I and the lucky little girls sitting near me on the bus ride home whiled away the trip with this great little book.  It’s still a favorite, partly because it reminds me so much of the fun we had analyzing the designs and picking out our favorites.



Filed under Designers, Shoes

Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949, Part II

Click to enlarge


In reading about the Schiaparelli for Catalina swim suit I recently bought I discovered that, according to an advertisement, that this suit was the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.” That sent me on an internet search to see if I could actually find photos of the contestants wearing this particular suit.  When I came up  empty I just assumed that it was Catalina suits in general that were the official suit of the pageant.

To my surprise and delight, I got the above photo in my inbox last night.  Julie of Jet Set Sewing saw my Schiaparelli suit and thought it looked familiar.  Then she realized that a photo of the 1948 contestants wearing the suit was hanging in her home.  Julie’s husband found the photo in a shop in Paris.

As you can see, it is the Schiaparelli swim suit, but with the addition of the Catalina flying fish logo.  And even though this was the 1948 Miss America contest, the suit was not made commercially until the next year.  Thus, all my searches for “Miss America Catalina 1949″ brought up a different set of swim suits.

Even though the power of Google is great and it so often leads us to the correct information, it makes me happy that it was a friend who provided the breakthrough on this one.  Thanks, Julie!

Click to enlarge



Filed under Curiosities, Rest of the Story, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949

Some people might think that designer collaborations with mass market manufacturers is a new idea, but they actually go back at least to 1916 when Lucile’s – Lady Duff-Gordon – name began appearing the the Sears Roebuck catalog.  By the 1930s California swimsuit maker Catalina was calling on the designers of Hollywood films to do an occasional suit for them.

I haven’t been able to find any concrete information about the Schiaparelli for Catalina collection, except for the fact that it was in 1949.  The suits were widely advertised so there is a good record of the various suits designed by Schiaparelli.  It’s interesting that I’ve not found reference to this collaboration in any of my print sources, including Schiap’s autobiography, Shocking Life, and the catalog that accompanied the 2003 Shocking! exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In an ad in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 13, 1949, this suit was touted as the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.”

The best fitting swim suit in the county… and hailed by the nation’s prize-winning beauties!  It’s “Cable Mio,” designed by the world-famous Schiaparelli exclusively for Catalina!  White wool cables on Celanese and Lastex Knit.  It’s a convertible – can be worn with or without straps.

The design is achieved purely through the cutting of the fabric to form chevrons.  It’s amazing the effect that can be made through a bit of creative planning and stitching!



I’m sorry about of the quality of this 1949 ad.  It’s a scan of a scan…  I’m still trying to locate my original and I will post a better image when I find it.

Purchased from Ballyhoo Vintage, who always has a great selection of vintage swimwear.


Filed under Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports