Vintage Miscellany – October 15, 2017

Whatever could have brought about this game of baseball, or softball? Judging by the clothing, it’s pretty much assured this was not planned. But it’s October, and that means it’s always good for a quick game before the season ends.

As for news, the fashion world is being over-shadowed by all the misery that is enveloping our world at present. I’ll try to lighten the mood, but even the fashion news has a dark side. So for that reason, I’m skipping the Harvey Weinstein story and his connection to fashion.

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Warm Up Suit, Tracksuit, Athletic Suit, Gym Suit, or Sweat Suit?

I recently asked on Instagram what this suit would be called.  I got a total of five different answers which are in the title of this post. I was not just being curious. I actually had a reason for asking.

The illustration comes from a 1935 – 36 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog. My aim was to see if people consider this to be a tracksuit. Judging from the answers I received, the answer is yes, this would be considered to be a tracksuit. But in my vintage catalog, it was referred to as a warm up suit.  Is there a difference? In my mind, no, there is not a difference. Both are two piece athletic suits designed to be worn over a smaller exercise ensemble, like trunks and a tee or tank top.

What got me onto this topic is an online course I’m taking through Coursesa, Fashion As Design. It was written as an accompaniment to the Items: Is Fashion Modern at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I thought that the course would give me a bit of the museum experience, as it is unlikely that I’ll be in New York before the show closes in January.

For a person who loves thinking about fashion in a garment-based way, I’m really enjoying the experience. Much of the material concerns the origins of garments that we consider modern. But the course does a good job of pointing out that garments don’t just materialize. They have histories.

Which brings me to the tracksuit. According to the course, the tracksuit dates from 1939, but if you consider the suit above to be a tracksuit, then it is clearly at least four years older, and I suspect, even older that that. Maybe it is a case of terminology. Maybe 1939 was the first year the researchers found the term “tracksuit”.

I really hate being picky about this, but I can’t help but think this is how fashion myths get started. In two different places today I’ve encountered the myth that Chanel invented the “little black dress” in 1926. As much as I like preciseness, I’d rather have a vague dating reference than an incorrect one. An example is that the course gives the hoodie a vague date of the 1930s. I’ve been looking to find an earlier example, but so far I have not found any athletic wear with a hood before 1935. Of course, the hood itself goes back centuries.

Are there any names for this suit that we missed?

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1920 Sports Sweater

This sweater is a real survivor. It’s almost 100 years old, and it has managed to escape the scourge of vintage knits – the moth. I see a lot of these sweaters in old photos from 1915 through 1922 or so, but they are very rarely actually found on the vintage market. Several years ago I let one get away, and I vowed to buy the next one I found that was not held together by a few threads.

It took a while, but finally this beauty came my way. It had everything I was looking for – a great color with contrast, excellent condition, and it was made for a woman (front laps right over left). And who could resist those pockets?

This style was made for both men and women, as shown in this illustration from the 1921 Bradley Knits catalog. The only thing my sweater is missing is a label, but it could have been made by Bradley. Or maybe not, as there were many producers of wool knitwear during this time period.

The details are so nice, and add to my love of the cardigan. This sweet little pocket flap really makes me happy.

The buttonholes seem to be made by hand, using the matching wool yarn. I’m not sure why my colors are all over the place. The sweater is not this purple.

Besides the green stripes, notice the knit-in stripes of red.

And finally, a reminder that the overlock machine was not invented in the 1970s. The overlock was commonly used on sportswear, even earlier than this sweater.

 

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Vintage Miscellany – October 8, 2017

It still isn’t fallish here in the Southern Appalachians, but how could I resist this fashionable pair?

And now for a bit of vintage news…

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On the Road

I’m headed off to the coast for a few days with one of my oldest friends, and I only wish we could look as classy as the young woman above, seated with her aunt on a German beach. It may be October, but our Southern beaches are still warm, and there are lots of historical sights to be seen. To see what’s happening, check in on Instagram. I promise not to be too annoying.

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I Didn’t Buy… Two 1940s Sewing Pattern Counter Books

I spent Friday at the Liberty Antiques Festival, a show that always seems to produce some amazing things for my collection and “archive”. Fashion books are very high on my radar, and I was feeling especially lucky since finding a 1934 Butterick counter book the evening before at one of my favorite vintage stores, Design Archives. But something about this one looked off.

I moved it and when I did I saw there was another one below it, and I also realized the problem. These two books were much too fat. Realization set in, as I’d seen this unfortunate phenomenon before. These were used as scrapbooks.

Sure enough, these two books contained page after page of miscellaneous newspaper photos from the 1940s. Someone spent a lot of time with the scissors and the paste.

I have nothing at all against scrapbooks. So many of them are charming relics of a person’s life, or a stage in it. That type of scrapbook is an important historical document. But a good look through these revealed nothing about the person who collected all these clippings. It seems to be just a visual compilation of the news of the day, both local and national.

The question came up when I posted these photos on Instagram as to what happens to out of date counter books. I can remember when I was in high school in the 1970s that the local Belk’s store would save them for the home ec classes. I’ve also seen people’s names written across the cover , claiming them when a newer book replaced it. There was one such 1952 counter book in my husband’s grandmother’s stuff.

To a kid in the 1930s and 1940s when resources were tight, getting one of these books must have seemed like a real prize. Can you imagine how many of these books ended being cut up for paper dolls? And this is not the first time I’m seen them used as scrapbooks. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the Simplicity one is the exact same one I spotted in 2008! The scars and scratches all match up.

I did have a moment of insanity when it occurred to me that I might be able to somehow clean these up using a miracle glue remover. But then I thought about how many hours such a project would take. So I left them behind, as I had done nine years ago.

 

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The Gabrielle Chanel Myth

It’s been six years since Hal Vaughan’s scathing assessment of Coco Chanel’s behavior during WWII was published, and yet people still seem to be surprised when confronted with the evidence he uncovered regarding her Nazi connections. It seems like everyone knows she took a Nazi lover and was holed up in the Ritz for the duration of the war. But what about the rest of it?

I belong to a great Facebook group, Fashion Historians Unite! A few days ago someone posted a link to a review of Vaughan’s book that was published on MessyNessyChic back in 2012. Even in a group of fashion historians, the story seemed vague, and several rushed to Coco’s defense.

Why is it that people simply do not want to think the worst of a great designer like Chanel? Is it that we just don’t want to think that a woman capable of such understanding when it came to what a modern woman wanted to wear, could be lacking in human compassion and guilty of unconscionable actions? What makes us so eager to swallow the Chanel company’s own re-written history of the woman, a history that places Chanel in Switzerland during the war?

Things are rarely ever black and white. The people we were taught to admire end up having flaws that are repulsive. No amount of the “he was a man of his time” talk can justify the actions of Thomas Jefferson concerning the people enslaved on his properties. It’s hard to celebrate the life of Andrew Jackson knowing that his actions sent the Cherokee and other Native peoples on a deadly journey west.

The Chanel company has a long and important history – one that deserves to be told honestly. Would knowing Chanel was most likely a Nazi herself change the way people feel about the brand? Maybe, but knowing the story of Nazi Germany doesn’t keep people from traveling to Germany today.  It does not keep us from buying Volkswagens. Knowing about Jefferson and Sally Hemings doesn’t keep us from appreciating his accomplishments.

It does seem to be a very strange time in history for Chanel to be pushing the persona of Gabrielle. Instead of concentrating on the Gabrielle Chanel myth (you know, like in this nonsense ad for Gabrielle perfume), a better approach would be to focus on the high level of craft and skill that is associated with Chanel. To see the value, you must watch Signe Chanel, which is a five part series on the making of a  2005 couture collection.

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