Girls Will Be Boys

Several years ago I ran across Women in Pants by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig.  What I loved about the book was the great variety of photos showing women in pants, from homesteaders who adopted pants as a practicality, to actresses who played male roles, to women who dressed in men’s clothing just so they could have a joke photo made.  Ever since reading the book I’ve been on the lookout for antique photos in which woman were dressed as men, and last week I finally found one.

There was no information at all on the back of this photo, so we can only guess at the intent of the two women who are dressed as men.  And they are dressed as men, not as women who have taken to wearing pants on a regular basis.  With their hair stuck under the hats, and the stance of men with hand in pocket, this seems to be a photo made purely for the fun of it.

Whatever the motivation, it does make for an interesting image.

Interestingly, two people I follow on Instagram also posted antique women dressed as men photos this past week.  One was a family photo in which the poster’s grandmother was one of the women.  It was identified as a photo that the young women had made as a lark.

The other one was a find like mine, with no identification.  The poster assumed that the women were dressed as men because they were transgender.  And while I cannot say with certainty that she was wrong in this assumption, it is much more likely that the women were merely having a fun time making light of the opposite sex.

I think that when it comes to the past, it is easy to assign the knowledge of today’s world when confronted with an unexpected image like Edwardian women dressed as men.  In history it is really easy to take two plus two and come up with five.  I know I’m often guilty of making inaccurate assumptions about the past, but the more I see and the more I read, the better I’ve gotten about seeing the past only through the lense of the past.

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The Atlanta History Center

While in Atlanta a few weeks ago, I revisited the Atlanta History Center.  My main reason for visiting was to see the latest fashion exhibition, Fashion in Good Taste, but I also took the time to look through the permanent galleries.  It seems like there is always something great to study in the exhibition halls.

Above is a pair of stockings made by Mrs. Henry Clay Hughes in Roswell, which is just north of Atlanta, from her own home-grown cotton.  Circa 1913.

The Atlanta History Center seems to have this overwhelming desire to put everything behind glass, so I’m sorry that the photos are so poor.  From the North Georgia Collins family, accomplished weavers.

English lace making by Betty Kemp.  My mind is officially blown.

It seems like the latest thing in museum curation is the “??? in 50 objects” exhibition.  The Atlanta History Center got in on the trend with Atlanta in 50 Objects.  This is a 1969 Delta Airlines (which is based in Atlanta) stewardess uniform.  It has a sort of mod-meets-granny vibe.

I’ve written about the “Fabulous Fox” before, and it is scary to think about how close Atlanta came to losing this theater.  In 1974 Atlantans joined to raise $3,000,000 to save the theater, which was slated for demolition.  The property was bought by a newly-formed non-profit, and today, instead of a parking garage, the Fox still is home to live performances.

Rich’s was Atlanta’s biggest department store, before being gobbled up by Federated Department Stores (later, the Macy’s chain).  Starting in 1959 Priscilla the Pink Pig monorail took children on a tour over the toy department each Christmas.

The exhibit above is a bit puzzling, as the items are actually more connected to Athens, Georgia, than with Atlanta.  The dress, wigs, and boots belonged to Cindy Wilson of the B-52s.  Wilson designed the dress (see her sketch) which was worn in performances and on the cover of Whammy! their 1983 album.

Before the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Atlanta was home to a minor league baseball team called the Atlanta Crackers. Above is a boy’s uniform from the early days of the team.

Unfortunately, the utilization of so many artifacts combined with the use of glass made for poor viewing of some exhibits.  The visual clutter was quite distracting at times.

Both the suit and the “Votes for Women” sash date to 1918.   The original owner of neither was identified, and it was not made clear whether the suit was actually worn by a woman working for the right to vote.

There was this great display of bathing attire, which was easier to see than my photo suggests.  The white object on the right is a set of Ayvad’s Water-Wings.   The bathing suit on the right was identified as a man’s suit, but I’m not so sure.  By the 1920s, when this suit was made and worn, the tank portion of men’s suits had developed deep armholes.

Of all the objects shown in Atlanta in 50 Objects, this carpetbag is possibly the most significant.  After the end of the Civil War, many Northerners moved south, looking to profit from Reconstruction policies.  These “carpetbaggers” were often poor, and used bags made from carpet scraps to carry their belongings.  Outsiders to the region are still sometimes referred to as carpetbaggers.

And what would a Southern history museum be without its Civil War displays?  I love a great sailor middy, and so here is one.  It really has no connection to Atlanta that I could tell, being worn by Stephen Roach, a sailor in the Union Navy.

Having visited the AHC several times, I spent my limited time there just looking for clothing and textiles.  I was not disappointed.

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A Sun Mode Original by Jane Irwill

A couple of months ago I went on a rant about using the correct terminology when describing vintage and antique garments.  Not everyone agreed with me, and I can see why, but because I used playsuit as an example, I’m been looking at lots of images, especially in 1930s and 1940s ads, to make sure playsuit was the proper term.

And it is.  The one-piece shorts and top combination above is most commonly referred to as a playsuit in ads of the period.  Almost all the ads I found, and there were quite a few, also featured a matching skirt which can be worn over the playsuit.

On my recent trip to the Hillsville Flea Market, I pulled the playsuit out of a big pile of vintage garments.  The first thought through my head was, “If only the skirt was here too.”  It was my lucky day, as the skirt soon emerged from the heap.

In most of the ads, the skirt buttons up the front, but in my new example, there is a metal zipper closure.

There is also a label in the skirt, something I did not notice until I got the set home and started a better examination.  I was a bit surprised by the label, as I’d known Jane Irwill only as a sweater maker.  The company was actually called Irwill Knitwear Corporation. But a label is an excellent starting place in trying to learn more about a garment.

The first place I turned to was TESS, the US trademark site.  TESS is a great starting point, because it often gives the name of the owner of the label, and it always has the name of the company that produces it.  In this case, I learned that Jane Irwill was a maker of sweaters and playsuits, and that the company name was Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  The page also states that “Jane Irwill” is not a real person.

According to TESS, The trademark “Jane Irwill” was first used in 1940.  I always take first usage dates on TESS with a grain of salt, as I’ve found many errors over the years.  Often the trademark application is made many years after the first usage, and people being human, make mistakes.  So I really do not give the 1940 date much credence.

My next step was to see what I could find out about the Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  Quite a few sites that list business registrations list the year of incorporation as 1923.  The founder of the company was Irving Louis.  Just because the Irwill Knitting Corporation started in 1923, we cannot assume that the Jane Irwill label dates back that far.  The first actual reference I found to the label was in 1939, in a business directory.

I also did a search for “Sun Modes Jane Irwill”, and came up with several newspaper ads ranging from 1946 through 1954.  It could have been used earlier, or later, as I only located five examples.

So depending on when the label was really first used, I’m looking at a set that could have been made between about 1935 when play sets became very popular, through the very early 1950s when the style changed to a more fashionable line.  This was a basic sportswear design that did not really change much in those years.  So it is necessary to really look at the details to narrow down a date.

Note how long the skirt is.  Add two inches to that length because the skirt was hemmed at some point.  This means that either the wearer was short, or the skirt was shortened to bring it more into style when skirts got shorter during WWII.  The skirt length, plus the relatively weak shoulders tend to suggest that this set is either before 1939 or so, or after 1947.

Another clue is that the skirt is cut in  eight gores rather than in a front and back cut as two pieces.  This uses more fabric, and is another clue that this set was not made during the war.

The next thing I considered was the fabric design and the colors used.  The fabric is a very light blue with a brown stripe.  Some people I know are very good at identifying the possible years of manufacture just from the colors used.  Unfortunately, I am not one of those persons, so without a lot of reading and looking at period examples, that information does not help.  What about the stripes, though?  In looking at magazines from 1934 through 1950, I noticed the popularity of stripes increased around 1940, and they stayed popular throughout the 1940s.

So, my best guess is that my Sun Modes set dates to around 1947 or 48.  I would appreciate any additional insights.

This was a great addition to my collection.  In collecting I’ve noticed that the playsuit is often found for sale, but it is rarer for the skirt to be present as well.  I already had one set that is most likely early 1940s.  It was home sewn using feedsack material, a good example of WWII era thrift.  It’s nice to now have a later example.

Let me add a few words about condition.  This set was quite dirty, so I did hand wash it with great success.  Besides the hemming, there are some crude hand repairs to the sleeves and underarms.  For now I’ll leave them as they are.  I rather like the evidence of the former owner’s hand.

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – September 18, 2016

I’ve had a not-so-great automotive week involving a lost set of keys and a frustrating two hour trip that ended up being twice as long.  And now my precious supply of gasoline is disrupted  right before I need it to get to the Liberty Antique Fair.  I’m thinking of getting a horse.  These ladies seem pretty proud of their little guy, but I’m more interested in the one photobombing from the window on the left.  I love a horse with a sense of humor.

  •   Tim Gunn addressed the problem of clothing sizes in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.
  •    Prince Charles is doing a science fair type experiment to show why wool is superior to synthetics.  I love the photo of him shoveling.
  •    Investors in Nashville-based denim company Imogene + Willie have accused the company’s founders of fraud and mismanagement of company money to fund their lavish lifestyle.
  •    Rebecca at the Documenting Fashion blog had an interesting conversation with Gavrik Losey, the son of designer Elizabeth Hawes.
  •    Here’s a great little video showing the workings of the Woolrich Woolen Mill. (Thanks so much, Beth!)
  •   A disturbing trend in New York City’s Garment District is the closing of fabric shops, with their former spaces being converted to restaurant use.
  •    There has been a lot of discussion about dreadlocks recently, due to a video showing a confrontation between a black woman and a white man wearing dreads went crazy on Youtube, the brief wearing of dreadlocks by Justin Beiber, and most recently, the wearing of dreadlock wigs by models in the Marc Jacobs fashion show last week.  Dazed has two beautifully written essays that look at both sides of the issue.
  • We all see how others dress, and we all have opinions.  But sometimes (and by that I mean usually) it is best to keep one’s opinion to oneself.
  • What can I say about Kanye West?  For those of you who do not follow the craziness of Fashion Week, you probably need a bit of background.  On the day before the day before New York Fashion Week, West sent out invitations to his fourth “Yeezy” collection which was to take place the next day.  The chosen ones invited to the show were directed to get on special buses on the Upper West Side, with a destination of Roosevelt Island.  This meant a crosstown ride that was actually quite short, but not in New York traffic.  Many spent an hour on the bus, only to get to the venue and be left standing in the heat for another hour or so before being admitted to the outdoor seating.

Once there, another wait ensued, and so by the time the “show” actually started, models who were standing in a formation of sorts were starting to pass out from the heat.  Angry tweets from the waiting crowd showed the frustration of people who were starting one of the busiest weeks of their year, and yet were sitting waiting for the Kardashian clan to arrive so the show could start.

Not surprisingly, the reviews were brutal, but not just because of the wait and the heat.  Robin Givhan called the show “boring.”   So did Cathy Horyn.   But my favorite statement came from Women’s Wear Daily’s Jessica Iredale who called the relationship between Kanye and the fashion press, “abusive.”

I’ve got to agree.  If this disregard for other people was being practiced by anyone other than a big celebrity like Kanye West, do you think anyone in the fashion press would give a care?  Of course not, so I really had a hard time feeling sympathy for people who know better, but who could not say no to such a big star.  Besides, Anna Wintour would be there, but she certainly did not come in on a bus.

The icing on the cake came in the form of one of Kanye’s famous rants, in which he whined about and threatened the fashion industry.  He needs to learn that in order to get respect, one must also give it.

Please, keep comments about Kanye and the Kardashians civil.

 

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Fashion in Good Taste, at the Atlanta History Center

On a recent trip to Atlanta I made time for a visit to the Atlanta History Center.  I specifically wished to see an exhibition of items from their costume collection.  As a museum that focuses on the history of the North Georgia region, the clothes  in the collection are mainly from people who are connected with the area.  This new exhibition, Fashion in Good Taste has quite a few items that were made by designers and dressmakers from Atlanta.

The exhibition was held in Swan House, which is a mansion that is part of the museum complex.  If the view of the rear of the house, seen above, looks familiar, that is because it was used as the presidential mansion in the last Hunger Games film.  The house was built in 1928 for Edward and Emily Inman.  It remained in their family until 1965.  Today the house retains the original furnishings and interior.

The clothing was scattered around the house.  I was surprised to read that this early 1960s dress was from Chanel.  It was owned by Emily Bourne Grigsby, whose life has run the gamut from model at Rich’s Department Store to city planner to lawyer to artist.

One of the problems associated with displaying clothing in such large rooms is that they tend to get lost in the details.  And while the clothes were not behind glass, the large windows let in so much light that it was hard to see the clothing details in most of the rooms.

This stunning dress was worn by Sarah Frances Grant Slaton in 1928 when she was presented at the Court of St. James.  Slaton was First Lady of Georgia from 1911 through 1915.

This was, to me, the most interesting garment on display.  It was designed and worn by Mary Crovatt Hambidge in a style that reflects the art concepts of dynamic symmetry.  Hambidge took up weaving after a trip to Greece.  A decade later she moved to the North Georgia mountains where she started an art center and weaving community.

The halter and skirt on the left belonged to author and Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind.  The set is dated to 1938, two years after Mitchell’s book was published.

Madaline Dickerson Johnson was a member of the flying Ninety-Nines, an organization for women pilots.  This was her flying ensemble of jacket, jodhpurs, helmet and goggles.

This wrap dress was designed and made by Clyde Ingram, who had a dress and costume business in Atlanta. In spite of the name, Clyde was a woman.

Some garments simply defy categorization.  This jumpsuit was designed by Spelman College alumna Ann Moore. After college Moore worked as a designer for many years in Detroit.  When questioned about the jumpsuit, which dates to the 1950s, Moore said they she could not recall the motivation behind the piece.

These two ensembles are also by Ann Moore.  The pants set was part of six matching pieces which Moore called “Ubiquisix.”

The blue dress and coat were made by her for her return to Atlanta on the occasion of Spelman’s 75th anniversary.

This World War II era work overall was worn by Mary Frances Long.

It was part of a grouping of WWII uniforms and work wear.

The exhibition ended with the 1960s.  The pants suit is by French designer Andre Courreges, and was worn by Elizabeth Morgan.  The pink print mini dress belonged to Dean Dubose, as part of her college wardrobe.

Visibility issues aside, it was a nice cross-section of Atlanta-related garments.  I really think they need to have textile shows in the main museum where the amount of light can be regulated.

 

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1960s Beach Bag That Might Be from Coppertone

If you were around in the 1950s and 60s then you probably are familiar with the Coppertone Suntan Lotion slogan, “Don’t Be A Paleface!”  Billboards and magazine ads showed the little girl with her tan line being exposed by an enthusiastic spaniel.  I recently ran across this beach bag, and immediately thought it was a Coppertone item, probably a premium of some type.

On closer examination though, the word “Coppertone” is nowhere to be seen, though there is a bit of a copyright symbol at the bottom of the girl’s right foot.

Weirder still is the image on the other side of the bag.  It shows a woman in a rather modest bikini, and a very exuberant man in matching trunks.  Still no Coppertone logo, though there is a little bottle of suntan lotion on the blanket.

It does look a lot like a Coppertone bottle.

To add to the mystery, there is another version of this bag that does have the word “Coppertone”, and that was somehow associated with the Olympics.  The bag does not reveal the year, but I’m guessing 1964 or 1968.

Since I bought this, I’ve seen ones like it for sale online, and the listings all use the Coppertone connection.  The ad and image were so well-known, that maybe the actual word “Coppertone” was thought to be unnecessary.

Note the squirrel photo-bombing my first photo.

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Adrian Firebird Dress, 1940s

Don’t get too excited for me, because this is not my dress.  It is in the shop of Guermantes Vintage.  This is a fantastic dress, but it gets even better because there is also a great story attached.

It all started when Guermantes Vintage posted photos of the dress on Instagram.  Jan always has the most incredible stuff, and so she has over 33,000 followers who stay tuned to see what her latest find happens to be.  A day or so ago, one of the persons tuning in was @jupeculotte, who is fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank.  Guermantes posted the photo above, which @jupeculotte recognized as an Adrian dress she has examined in the collection of the Smithsonian.  What makes this so fantastic is that Guermantes’s dress is missing its label, and so she did not know until Caroline commented on the photo that she actually had an Adrian dress.

Caroline then sent to Germantes the documentation on the dress she had photographed at the Smithsonian.  Above you can see the photo of the Smithsonian’s dress, along with the card from the museum catalog.  No doubt that this is the same model dress.

What is really interesting is that another person, Melissa of @meloovintage had this dress years ago, and it too was missing the label.   Could it be that the labels were sewn in a spot that was uncomfortable for the wearer?  Maybe the apprentice sewing in the labels did a poor job and they came loose and were lost?

And this is why I love Instagram.

With all the unpleasantness one encounters on the internet, it’s wonderful knowing that the fashion history and the vintage people seem to be in it for all the right reasons.  Sharing knowledge in this way helps educate us all

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