Currently Reading: French Fashion: Women & the First World War

Looking through my library, I was surprised to realize how many of my favorite books are actually exhibition catalogs. If I see an exhibition that I love, I always buy the catalog if there is one, but seeing the show is not absolutely necessary when it comes to enjoying the catalog.  A note: exhibition catalogs are not for buying; they are for learning more about what is on display.

French Fashion: Women & the First World War was shown at the Bard Graduate Center in New York last fall. Unfortunately I was not about to attend, but from all the stunning photographs of the exhibition on Instagram, I knew I need to have the accompanying book.

Another great thing about exhibition catalogs is that the curators of the show are usually the writers of the book. From reading a really good exhibition catalog you can see just how much work and research goes into a show that is on view for only a few months. In this way the research keeps on giving to people like me.

I usually leave what I don’t like about a book to the end of a review, but in this case I’m just going to get it out of the way. I hate the way this book is designed. The cover is interesting, but not compelling. The more I look at it, the more I dislike it. But as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover.

My big problem with the design is in how the print is applied to the page. There’s a reason man invented the paragraph. The eye has to rest even when reading the most interesting text. I found the oldly spaced breaks to be distracting.  And look at how the text runs all the way to the margins. There’s a reason man invented margins. Without them the eye tends to run right off the page.

It took a while, but I did finally get used to the format of the text. There are nice cross-references, and the notes are well-placed. But another quirk of the book is how the illustrations were clustered together instead of being interspersed with the text. Okay, I get that I’m being picky, but the older my eyes get, the more I appreciate easy to read text. I did appreciate the size and dark color of the print.

Now that’s out of the way I can concentrate on what makes this book so good. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the research and writing of catalogs that make them such great resources. The writers and curators were Maude Bass-Krueger and Sophie Kurkdjan, with a few of the essays being written by other scholars. There were subjects ranging from the role of gender, to the strikes of the Midinettes for better pay, to fashion counterfeiting.  All were interesting reading. Who knew that before and during the war Germans were printing fake Parisian fashion magazines and then selling them back to French consumers?

The illustration are a real asset to this book – a combination of period fashion illustrations, cartoons, newspaper articles, archival photographs, and photos of garments used in the exhibition. Most illustrations are the size of the page, so you get a really good look. Here we see how the French patriotic red, white, and blue were used in fashion illustrations.

There are lots of photos of this sort, which gives a great look at the French fashion industry during the war.

My favorite photos are a group from the Excelsior Archives showing the French working woman.  The photos are large and clear enough to see the details of work clothes of the era.

From 1917 to 1919, fashion designs could be registered with the Parisian Labor Court. The authors give us a good look at some of these, like this 1917 design and fabric swatch from the House of Worth.

I loved seeing the photos of clothing from the exhibition. I wanted to see more. This Callot Soeurs dress is from 1917.

You can see how the silhouette changed to a more tubular style as a prelude to the 1920s. Both of these dresses are by Madeleine Vionnet, 1918.

All exhibition catalogs should do this. In the back of the book are thumbnails and descriptions of all the objects in the exhibition. They are tiny, but most of them are reproduced elsewhere in the book. As a person who sees a lot of fashion exhibitions, this is a very handy reference to the details of each object.

The book is heavy, but small (8″ X 6″ X 1.5″) and so it is comfortable to hold and read.

So, I’ll not just this great book by the cover, nor by the print layout. Judging it by the content makes it a must-have for anyone interested in the fashions and culture of WWI era France.

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Vintage Miscellany – February 11, 2020

My new favorite thing is a photo album I recently acquired. I only buy entire albums when they tell a story. This one tells the tale of friends on a fishing vacation in the mid 1920s.  It shows these women wearing some of the best 1920s bathing suits I have ever seen, along with some treasures like the plane ride photo above.

And now for some news…

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A Tale of Two Jumpsuits

Anyone who collects or sells old clothing will tell you that most old garments come with a flaw or two. Clothes were worn, and they were often improperly stored. To get a piece with no issues is a real treat.  I acquire pieces with that in mind, because sportswear was especially subject to rough wear.

I decided to buy the pajama jumpsuit above because of the outstanding textile design. This type jumpsuit, which was made from around 1930 through about 1935, was a bit of a fad, and as such, many of the ones I’ve seen are made from cheap cotton materials. This one is no exception, as the fabric seems to be a printed cotton muslin.

But the print was just so good, I decided to get this one from an online dealer.  From the photos in the listing I could guess the pajama had been shortened at the waist. I was right.

Can you see the lines of the old stitches I removed? This had been taken up five inches.  A former owner must have worn this as at shin-length, because I am 5’1′, and the length after removing the stitches is perfect for me.

This brings up the question of when is it best to remove old stitching, and when should it just be left alone. In this case the decision was easy, as the alteration completely changed the original design of the garment as it was intended to be worn in the 1930s.

And the shoddy state of the alterations was another consideration.  Sellers, this is not normal.

And the only reference to this mess in the sales listing was that there was a bit of hand stitching. I’ll say!  To be completely truthful, the seller offered to take the pajamas back, as there were other undisclosed issues, but I was so in love with the fabric print that I decided to invest the work in restoring it and to keep it.

There were also belt loops, which had been concealed in the alteration. I’m guessing that the belt was black, and I’ll be making a reproduction belt for display purposes.

I also recently acquired this 1940s jumpsuit from Susan at NorthStarVintage. She had seen the two other 1940s jumpsuits in my collection that I posted on Instagram and she wisely figured I might be interested in this one as well. (I know this is a woman’s garment because of the way the zipper fold laps, right over left)

I was especially interested in this jumpsuit because it was made by White Stag. I know that White Stag made WWII era workwear for women, as I have a wartime catalog. But the label used in the work attire was White Stag Function Alls. And the Play Alls label is not shown at all in the catalog.

So, where do these fit in? I’d like to think they are from around 1940 or 41, as companies were already starting to make military-inspired clothing for women.  After the US entered the war, it’s not likely that so much metal would have been used. The catalog shows buttons instead of zippers and snaps.

At any rate this jumpsuit shows signs of being used for work. I think the woman who wore this must have been an auto mechanic, as there are tiny little grease stains on the knees. I can see her on her knees changing a tire!

Interestingly, this jumpsuit was also altered at the waist, but this time, the garment was made longer. The waist band was removed and the double thickness of it was made single, adding about an inch and a half to the length.  The alteration was so well done that I didn’t notice it until I was giving the piece a close examination.

Not only did the alterer have to remove and reattach the waistband, the zipper section below the waist had to be removed and reattached. This was the work of an experienced sewer, and it has the feel of having been done in the 1940s instead of later.

Because of that, I’ll be leaving this jumpsuit as it is. It’s more important to me to have the jumpsuit as it was worn, rather than how it was purchased.  It’s a great piece of women’s history, and I love it just as it is.

 

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How I Collect – 1930s

Some time ago I posted photos of my 1920s collection, and now I’m sharing with you the 1930s. I post one of the ensemble shots once a week on Instagram, so if you are curious about what I have from the 1940s, you might want to check into Instagram.

The internet evolves quickly, and now it seems like people are more in tune with a site like Instagram rather than blogs like this one. I have no plans to abandon this blog, but the truth is that a lot of the content that would have been posted here ten years ago, I now put on Instagram. So I encourage you to check out my daily posts there. You might like it, as there are quite a few great fashion history posters there.

Above is a lovely nautical themed dress from the early to mid 1930s. The matching hat and gloves were a lucky online find.

This early 1930s dress is one of my favorites, even though it’s not sportswear. It’s all hand embroidered silk. I still remember spotting it at the sadly now closed Metrolina Flea in Charlotte.  I got the hat there as well. You can’t see them, but there are more flowers beneath the brim.

This linen dress came from the estate of a prosperous business woman in Thomasville, NC. Elizabeth Blair had a very nice wardrobe. The jacket is knit wool, made by Bradley.

This early to mid 1930s bathing suit is wool knit, and came from JC Penney. It was the last of a dying breed, as lastex and rayon were about to revolutionize the woman’s swimsuit.  The beach shoes are from France.

Before there was Rose Marie Reid, there was Reid’s Holiday Togs. This little jumpsuit was one of Reid’s early creations. And there are those shoes again!

I’ve had that sweater so long I can’t remember where I got it, but I know I found it in a thrift store.

In the 1930s sweaters for women left the gym and became street appropriate. And that jaunty hat is one of my favorites. I found it in a local consignment store.

One of the things I’ve found to be really hard to locate is older tennis attire. This one is especially nice because of the matching panties. The set is labeled, “Tennis Queen”.

Here you see one of my chenille pieces that I recently wrote about in my review of Southern Tufts. The bathing suit is a popular Jantzen model from 1937 called the Up-lifter.

In the early 1930s, wide-legged, one piece pajamas became a very popular item for resort and beach wear. This one was made by Vanity Fair, a lingerie company.

Pants also gained ground as casual evening wear, when made in luxurious materials like this velvet pair, and with legs so wide they could almost pass as a skirt.  Starting in the late 1920s there was a fad for “folkloric” embroideries, which you can see in the Eastern European style blouse and the Chinese embroidered sandals.

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Bradley High Quality Knit Garments – 1908

Bradley Knitting Company is one of those companies that no longer exists, but still its wares are well-known to vintage sellers and collectors due to the consistent release of consumer catalogs and their large volume of production. The company was renamed as Bradley in 1905, and so this 1908 is from the very early years of the company. At that date they were already producing the garments which made Bradley famous – sweaters and bathing suits.

You might have noticed the use of the word “coat” to describe what we today in the United States would call a sweater or cardigan. Bradley continued to use “knit coats” until the late 1920s when the catalogs switched to the more modern “sweater”.

I’m not familiar with the term, “pony jacket.” Could it have been appropriate for riding?

Even though sweaters were considered to be sportswear, the catalog stylist could not resist adding a bit of fashion with the huge hats.

I’ve seen this style of knit vest advertised as a golf vest. It would have been an excellent choice to wear for the sport because of the increased mobility of the arms which it would allow.

Bradley also made knits for men and for children. The cardigan above is very similar to what sweater companies made all through the 1920s, but it is a bit shorter in the body.

Heavy wool knits were very casual attire, and the association with sports was strong. I really love this baseball coat. I do wonder if the monogram was machine embroidered or if it was made separately and then attached.

In spite of the large, impractical hat (or is it a bow?), this little girl is dressed to play with her knit coat, short skirt, and softball.

Thanks to this catalog I now know that Bradley first made bathing suits in 1907.  Be sure to read the copy, as it is so unintentionally hilarious!

A note about men’s bathing suit styles: in 1908 men’s suits were still very modest, with the long top having a high neck and small armholes. The trunks are to the knees. By the 1920s the armholes and neck in men’s bathing suits were scooped, and the trunks were mid thigh.

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Asheville Art Museum – Newly Reopened and Better than Ever.

For years I’d not thought about the Asheville Art Museum.  Years ago when the museum had a great program that paired works from their collection with our US history curriculum, I took my fifth graders. The last time I visited was in 2007 when they had an exhibition of the paper dresses made by Mars of Asheville.

But for the most part, a visit to the Asheville Art Museum was just not that exciting. They were limited to a very small space in what was originally the Pack Library (where I spent many hours during my college years in the Sondley Research Library). But several years ago the museum closed for expansion and renovation. They reopened in November and the difference is amazing.

For such an arts-aware city, the old museum felt like an afterthought, especially after visiting the museums in other comparatively-sized cities. The excellent collections at the Greenville County Museum of Art (SC) and that of the Gibbes in Charleston, SC are just two examples.

Not every museum can be the Met or the Louvre, and so it helps when a small city discovers it has a niche to fill. For instance, the Gibbes has a wonderful collection of art from the Charleston Renaissance of the early twentieth century. The Greenville County Museum of Art focuses on South Carolina artists, as well as the Wyeth family.

So what is Asheville’s niche? When a city is located in the middle of “Appalachia” it might be easy to go full on mountain culture, whatever that is. I’m happy to say that what I saw reflects what Asheville and the surrounding area are today.

One of the most beautiful works is not actually in the museum, but is outside in Pack Plaza. This is Reflections on Unity by Henry Richardson. I have to say it is a great addition to the plaza, and seems to be a counterpoint to the obelisk, the Vance Monument. Zeb Vance was North Carolina’s Civil War era governor. (And don’t get me started on that glass and concrete monstrosity in the background, whose construction in the 1980s meant the destruction of a block of historic storefronts.)

I know you all are here for the textiles and clothing, so that’s what I’ll be showing. The inaugural exhibition in the new museum is Appalachia Now! in which all the artists either are from, or work in the area designated as “Appalachia”. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the designation. The area of the Southern Appalachians is too large and too diverse to be defined by a single word. But it’s the word chosen, and I’ll deal with it.

In an exhibition on Appalachia you would expect quilts, but the art quilts of today are a far cry from the Sunbonnet Sue and Double Wedding Rings associated with the craft. The quilt above was made by Kelly Spell, and is titled Spotted Hawkfish. “This particular work was inspired by a fish of the same name…”

What would an exhibition on Appalachia be without an overshot woven coverlet? But this work by Danielle Burke is much smaller and more finely woven than the traditional coverlet. But the design, Carolina Star, is the same.

It is almost impossible to escape the effect of textiles in art exhibitions. These works by Amanda Brazier use her own oil-based pigments from the earth (seen in the little jars) to make paintings that look like weaving patterns.

It might be hard to tell just how small this embroidered work by Amanda Remmen is, so I’ll tell you it is about six inches across. I-81, Winter 2017, is part of a “map” series. The museum has four of these on display.

 

This dress is made of oak leaves dipped in beeswax.  Garment for Remembering the Earth, 2010 -2017 was made by Jennifer L. Hand from leaves she gathered on walks in the woods. The garment is accompanied by a video showing her process.

Sculptor Elizabeth Brim uses traditional blacksmithing techniques to produce metal garments reminiscent of the ones made by her seamstress grandmother. From Italy with Love, 2017.

The area of the museum devoted to the permanent collection is a nice mix of works with regional connections, historical works, and contemporary works. To my delight, there is a section of the work of the teachers and students of Black Mountain College. The sculpture is by Ruth Asawa, and is made of wire. Untitled, circa 1954.

Dorothy Cole Ruddick used thread and embroidery to create the illusion of depth. She studied at Black Mountain in 1945. Untitled; undated.

There is a small section of regional works.  I’ve written about Bayard Wootten and her photographs in the past, and it was good seeing her represented in Asheville’s collection.

Getting a decent photo of this Granny Donaldson Cow Blanket was impossible, but I had to show it as another example of her work.  It’s not as spectacular as the one I recently posted from the Folk Art Center’s collection, nor as detailed as the one in the collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, but the charm of her work is readily apparent.

Asheville quilt artist Luke Haynes puts a twist on familiar works by other artists, as you can see here in [The American Context] Christina’s World, 2012. Haynes had friends strike the poses of works like Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.  The background squares are made of fabrics from old clothing, while the figure is made from new fabrics.

I’m really excited for future exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum. It’s exactly the cultural asset Asheville needed.

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Vintage Miscellany – January 6, 2020

Undated, but from the 1940s, based on slacks, shoes and hair. Little dogs pretty much look the same.

And now some news that won’t make you scream and pull out your hair…

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