Currently Reading – Portrait of a Woman in Silk

I think I’ve mentioned here that my first history obsession was with the American colonial period.  Since my college days I’ve gone on to other interests, but I’ve recently rediscovered  early American history after reading a biography of Abigail Adams, and then I discovered my latest podcast love, Ben Franklin’s World. It was through Ben Franklin’s World that I found the book that is today’s topic.  The author, Zara Anishanslin, was the featured guest on the podcast, and she made her book sound so interesting that I had to read it.

And I’m so glad that I did.  I love biographies, and you might say the book is a biography of the portrait, which weaves together the stories of four people who had a hand in the creation of it – the woman who designed the pattern of the silk, the man who wove the silk, the woman who wore the dress, and the man who painted the portrait.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of “material culture” (otherwise known as stuff) and what we can learn from from objects from the past.  And while I usually explore the not so distant past, it was so interesting to see a historian travel back 250 years to see what evidence can be found in portraits, bits of silk, drawings, not to mention the usual historical sources of written records.  The challenge of this study was that there were few written records.  None of the four people involved left written accounts of their lives. Other written evidence was sketchy, such as mentions in guild records or other people’s letters.

So Anishanslan turned to what was plentiful – the objects themselves, especially the portrait and others painted by the artist, Robert Feke.  It’s helpful to know how to “read” a portrait, and Anishanslin provides plenty of instruction in the symbolism and clues found in a colonial portrait.  I had no idea you could learn so much about a person just by the careful examination of her portrait.

The woman in the portrait is Anne Shippen Willing, and it now hangs at Winterthur in Delaware.  It was Anishanslin’s recall of the portrait as she was examining designs for Spitalfields silk fabrics housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum that led to her research.  Seeing the similarities between the dress in the portrait and the designs in the museum, she was then able to find the original drawing for that particular piece of silk, which was drawn by Anna Maria Garthwaite.  From there she discovered that the weaver of the cloth was Spitalfields weaver Simon Julins.

One important person that could have added to this story that was not uncovered by Anishanlin was the dressmaker who constructed the dress.  It’s a shame that her (the dressmaker’s) work was not somehow recorded.  But then, she was just a seamstress, out of a multitude of sewers working in a city like Philadelphia, where Willing lived.  If only Willing had kept a diary!

It’s rather amazing that one portrait could inspire an entire book, but Anishanlin left no stone unturned in her pursuit of her subjects. The book is full of tangents and detours, and it is all the richer for them.  This book is not just about the portrait, or the fabric, or the people directly involved in the creation of the two.  There’s a rich study of the importance of botany in the eighteenth century, a close look at New England trade and the merchants who got rich off from trans-Atlantic trade, and the role of slavery in both Philadelphia and New England.

Portrait of a Woman in Silk

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1950s Golf Dress – Babe Didrikson Golfer by Serbin

Some time ago I heard from Marianne Serbin, who was part of the family that owned the clothing company Serbin, and later, Serbin of Miami.  In her letter to me she mentioned that at one time famed athlete Babe Didrikson designed golf dresses for Serbin.  Since then I’ve had this line on my shopping radar, and finally, last month, I found a really great example.

Marianne did not mention when exactly Didrikson worked for Serbin, and it’s likely she does not know, as she would have been a child at the time.  But it is pretty easy to narrow it down to a range of just a few years.  First, Didrikson died in 1955 from cancer which was diagnosed with in 1953.

The length of the dress is quite long, and so the earliest it could be is 1948 or so.

The label reads just Serbin, instead of Serbin of Miami.  The company moved to Miami in 1951.  That may indicate that the set predates 1951 and the move, but that’s not guaranteed.  My 1960s golf set from Serbin does not mention Miami either.

I did find two ads online for Serbin golf dresses from 1949.  Actress Jane Russell is the model, but there is no mention of Didrikson.  It stands to reason that , as a very famous athlete, her name would have been in the ad as well. (The hunt continues.  I’ll update if I find a Serbin-Didrikson ad.)

My best guess is, then, 1950 through 1952.  But more important than the actual date of this dress is what we can learn about how fashion was adapted to fit a specific activity, in this case, golfing.

One of the first things to consider in making a golf dress is the sleeve.  Tight sleeves just won’t do, but in the early 50s most women on the golf course were just not ready to go sleeveless. In order to allow the arms full range of motion, golf dress sleeves were often pleated, and in this case, you can see that there are also buttons to give even more flexibility.

An interesting side note – this type of pleated sleeve appears to have started in the 1930s.  In the early 30s it was often seen on fashionable dresses.  So which use came first, the fashion or the sport?  I have no idea.

When unbuttoned, the sleeve is open all the way to the shoulder.

Another must-have feature on golf dresses was a pocket or two.  I really love how this breast pocket was cut on the bias.

I somehow neglected to take a full-length photo of the back of the dress, so take my word for it that this pocket is on the back, not the front.  It’s large enough to hold a ball, a glove, and a couple of tees.

One thing that made me buy this particular dress was that the belt was present.  So many times in old clothes the original belt is missing.  I didn’t realize until the dress arrived at my house that the belt is actually attached to a large flap in the back.  The flap obscures a large opening and the looseness of it allows for good air circulation.  It also makes the dress more flexible in the upper back.  Ingenious.

Here you can see the back opening.

Another interesting feature is that the dress has a front zipper that extends to the hem.  The zipper is actually a separating one, so this dress is very easy to put on.

Even with all the features that make this a dress for golfing, a woman could also have worn this dress for regular, casual wear.  It fits right in with what was stylish in 1950.

My Dad had a golf tournament  in Miami Beach which was Babe’s first win after her cancer and he presented her with a trophy topped with a diamond studded metal golf ball..quite a thrill for everyone.  Marianne Serbin.  Photo courtesy of Marianne Serbin.

I’m always amazed to learn of how so many otherwise famous people from the past also have a link to the fashion world.  Today, of course, it is just another way for a celebrity to make cash off his or her popularity.  But even a hundred years ago celebrities were being approached by companies eager to add a bit of  star power to their products.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Christina, I have a bit more to share.  Didrikson’s autobiography is online, and in it she mentions the deal with Serbin.  She won the British Ladies Championship in 1947, and after that win she was able to sign contracts with quite a few companies, including Serbin.  Later in the caption of a photo she mentions the ongoing deal with Serbin.  This was in 1955.

Christina also found photos of Didrikson wearing what looks to be a dress very similar to mine.  The year is 1950.   Thanks Christina!

UPDATE: Liza has found an ad in a newspaper for Didrickson/Serbin golf dresses dated March 30, 1949.  Thanks Liza!

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1957 Jantzen Junior Dealer’s Catalog

A lot can be learned from old catalogs.  This one from Jantzen was not made for the consumer, but for the merchants that would be buying Jantzen products for their stores.  This particular catalog is for junior clothes, and I’m sure there were others for clothing for men, misses, and children.

Of course there were plenty of swimsuits.  After all, Jantzen was primarily a swimsuit company.  But what is interesting is how much of the catalog is devoted to other sportswear.

But before I get to the sportswear, I want to focus in one the swimsuit on the left.  This model was the “Holland Check” Sheath, with retailed for $10.95.  (Add in inflation, and this suit would be $93.50.  Jantzen was not cheap.)  In the late 1950s, and into the early 60s, plaids and checks were very popular.  This catalog features several plaid designs.

You can’t really tell what the plaid looks like here, but I do admire the way the designer used the print as part of the design.

Here you see the Holland check as trim on shorts and in a sleeveless top.

Even more Holland check in Bermudas, and as the trim on a blouse…

and on pedal pushers.

And best of all, here is the same check in a fabulous reversible cap.  The check was available in white with red, blue, brown, or black.  I’d never heard of “Holland Check” but it looks an awful lot like Prince of Wales plaid.

A store would pick which pieces to sell and it’s very unlikely that any one store opted to sell the entire line.  I can remember shopping in department stores in the late 1960s and early 70s, and it was common for stores to be selling the same brands, but to be offering entirely different pieces.

As a collector, it is nice seeing all the options available in the same print.  It’s hard enough finding great old sportswear garments, but how challenging it would be to try and assemble all the pieces of a particular line.  Unless one gets lucky, that is, the way I did with a matching line from Tabak of California.  

There was a real “Italian Look” evident in many of the garments.  The influence of Emilio Pucci, perhaps?

There were also references to the nautical influence, as in “Tars ‘n’ Stripes”.

And here’s even a nod to the ever popular middy blouse, though for some reason they chose to spell it “midi”.

Because these were junior swimsuits, targeted toward a teen consumer, Jantzen offered “Accents”, a bra pad.  The description of most of the swimsuits in this catalog mention that there is “space for ‘Accents” bust pads” in the suit.  I’ve got to wonder if there was an actual place in which to insert these pads.  Anybody know?

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – March 12, 2017

Yes, it did snow here in the mountains last night.  After weeks of very warm and springlike weather, winter, it seems, has returned.

All I know for sure about today’s vintage photo is that it was developed in 1956.  It must have been a bit of a warm day, with the man’s sleeves rolled, and the woman’s having unzipped hers.  I think my favorite thing about this photo is the man seen between the pair, waiting his turn to slide while the camera hogs pose.

And now for some news…

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Man O’War Dance Romper, 1930

You want to know what makes a collector’s heart sing?  The discovery of an object she never knew existed!  The romper above has the Man O’War label, which I’d known only as a maker of middy blouses and gymsuits.  But gymsuits weren’t made in cute cotton floral prints.  So what’s the story?

Fortunately, the seller, Belvedere Vintage Wear had done her homework, and when she posted a photo of the romper on Instagram, she also posted the ad above.  It came from a 1930 issue of The Dance Magazine, so it turns out this was a rehearsal garment.

The  Man O’War label belonged to a Baltimore company,  Branigan, Green & Co.  According the the 1921 edition of The American Cloak and Suit Review, the company was recently formed as a maker of middys and gym attire.  The owners were Edgar Green and Joseph Branigan, both of whom had worked for Morris and Co, the makers of Paul Jones Middys.  I did however, find a reference to  Branigan, Green & Co in a 1909 list of clothing manufacturers, under the category of middy blouses.  Perhaps it is just the Man O’War label that was started in 1921.

In 1921, when the label was started, Man O’War was a household name, with the famous horse dominating racing in 1919 and 1920.  Maybe Branigan and Green thought it would be a great name for their label, as it also had a nautical connection, being a type of ship.  That is a ship on the label.

The structure is very similar to gymsuits of the period.  It unbuttons at the shoulder, and the wearer steps into the garment.  It is loose at the waist, but the illustrations in the ad show it being worn with a tie belt.  For the photo I used a piece of bias tape, but a wider ribbon is needed.

The elastic in the legs is pretty much shot, so I’ll be replacing that.  But that is pretty much all that this piece needs in order to made it dance-worthy.

This ad is from 1929, and featured Man O’War’s main product – gym attire. Maybe it was that by 1930 the middy was not as ubiquitous as it had been a few years before that caused Branigan, Green & Co to start branching out.  By 1931 they were also producing a line of ski wear, Adirondack: the Real McCoy for Winter Sports, and miscellaneous sportswear under a label called Good Game.  Over the years other labels were added. In 1955 they started a label for women’s and children’s sports separates called Sandpipers.  As far as I can tell, the company lasted until 1969.

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Henry S. Lombard Yachting Uniforms, Circa 1910

I’ve written quite a bit about the middy blouse over the years, and about Lombard in particular.  It’s a garment that continues to fascinate me, and it has been on my short list of things to study in-depth whenever I miraculously find myself with unlimited time.  But until then, I’ll continue to park my findings and thoughts here.

I think what is really interesting about the middy is how it started as sailors’ attire, was adapted to clothing for children, morphed into high fashion resort and yachting wear for women, was adopted by all classes of women for bathing attire, became the uniform for college girls, and continues to make a fashion comeback every so often.  It has a long and ever-changing history, and it is still associated with the original wearer – the sailor.

This is the fourth Lombard catalog I’ve added to my collection, and it is the oldest.  Unfortunately, it is not dated, but the style of the hair and clothing places it to around 1910.  As far as the company is concerned, I’ve found very little about it.  The front of the catalog proudly proclaimed that Henry S. Lombard had been in business since 1855, but it is highly unlikely that the company was manufacturing women’s ready-to-wear.

I was able to find a reference to Lombard in an 1861 list of Boston merchants and makers.  The company was listed as dealing in “fancy goods.”

The next reference I found to the company was in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology magazine in 1895. There was an ad for Lombard that stated they sold “Yachting Outfits of Every Description.  Duck trousers, Outing clothes, Sweaters.”  We can safely assume that the ad is for men’s clothing, as at the time the students at MIT were mostly male.  At any rate, trousers would not have been made and sold to women in 1895.

In 1895 the making of  ready-to-wear for women was still in the early days of development.  By 1910, there were hundreds of makers of women’s blouses, or waists, and skirts and simple lingerie.  It this time Lombard was still making and selling uniforms for yachting officers and crews.  I found an ad for these in a 1911 issue of Yachts and Yachting magazine.

In my 1918 and 1920s Lombard catalogs, there is a wide selection of not only middies, but also skirts, bloomers, knickers, and breeches.  In this earlier catalog there are only two styles of skirts offered.

Nowhere in this little catalog is the word middy used to refer to the blouses. It is called a yachting blouse, or a sailor blouse.  By 1918, Lombard was calling this type blouse a middy.

I found quite a few ads for Lombard blouses in college magazines.  Both Vassar and Barnard ran ads in 1912.  And the catalog specifically mentions the “college girl” on almost every page.  It’s clear who their target customer was.

And finally, a lovely red coat and cap, or you could order the set in navy, or several different plaids.

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Wes-Mor Sure-Grip Shoe Cleats

If you have been reading The Vintage Traveler for a while you know that I’m a collector of women’s sportswear.  But I also am always on the lookout for items that relate to clothing and sports, but don’t really qualify as garments.  The Wes-Mor Sure-Grip Shoe Cleat falls into that category.

If you are ever bored, spend an hour or two on the Google Patents site.  Some of the oddball ideas will amaze and delight.  And what is fun is to actually find a product like mine that has the patent number right on the box.  Talk about making research easy!

Knowing this product was protected under patent number 2103472 led me straight to the patent and the accompanying drawings from the inventor, John Lascari.  He filed for the patent in  July, 1937, and the patent was granted in December of the same year.

According to the patent:

This invention relates to a shoe cleat and more especially to a device designed to be attached to boots, shoes or the like, to prevent slipping or sliding upon slippery surfaces such as those of ice or wet floors.

An object of this invention is to provide a device of this class which may be readily attached on, or detached from, the sole of a shoe when desired.

To test out the claim of “may be readily attached on, or detached from, the sole of a shoe when desired,” I tried the cleats on a pair of my own shoes.  I had my doubts, as the metal piece seemed to be quite stiff, but as you can see, the cleats worked perfectly.

In an era when most people could not afford to have special shoes for golf or hiking, this was a clever solution to the problem of smooth soled shoes.

Because the patent date is printed on the box, we know that the cleats cannot be dated to before early 1938.  The illustration of the woman on the box seems to show clothing from the late 1930s or early 40s.  There was a trademark application made for Wes-Mor by the Morrone Mfg. Company of Westerly, Rhode Island.  According to that application, the name Wes-Mor was first used in 1945.  I have found, however, that the “first used” date on trademark applications is often incorrect, as it is so often based on the applicant’s memory of something that happened years earlier.  So, my guess on the date is 1939 through 1945.

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