Vintage Miscellany – February 18, 2018

Is winter ever going to end? Is it just me, or has this been a particularly depressing season? Maybe what I need is a good old-fashioned weenie roast. Thanks to Lynn at American Age Fashion for the photo.

And now I’ll try not to add to the depression with the news…

      • The last link comes with a bit of commentary. I’ve stated before that I have mixed feelings about the reporting fashion history gets in non-history websites.  On one hand I love that fashion history seems to be having a moment in the sun, but on the other I find it really hard to trust the telling of a fashion history story by a reporter who is not familiar with the subject. A new concern came up last week on twitter – that of non-history writers taking the information found in fashion history discussions and rewriting it for their more general audience.  Of course, this practice happens in all sorts of disciplines, not just history, but history is what I pay attention to and what I care about.

      • The article that started my thinking on this subject appeared on The Atlantic site. Being about pyjamas and WWI, it was just the sort of thing I’m always looking for, but the problem was that I’d already read this information. It wasn’t on The Atlantic site, but in a Twitter thread authored by fashion historian Lucie Whitmore. To be fair, the author of the article gave all the credit for the research to Ms. Whitmore, but it turns out, Whitmore had been contacted by the author and declined to participate in the article. So the author wrote it anyway.  Legally, there’s nothing wrong (that I know of anyway) but it made me sad that Whitmore lost control of her research because she shared it freely in a Twitter workshop.

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Hood Leisure Shoes and PF Flyers

One of the sad facts about collecting sportswear is that the clothes and accessories were usually subjected to hard use. For that reason there seems to be at least a dozen pairs of 1920s fancy dress shoes on the market for every pair of canvas sporty ones.  So even though the circa 1918 shoes pictured above are not particularly pretty or stylish, they are in really great shape to be sport shoes that are one hundred years old.

Hood is not a well-known brand name today, but at the time these shoes were made, Hood Rubber Products was a major player in the rubber products industry. The company was located in Watertown, MA, and was founded by Frederic and Arthur Hood in 1896. By 1920 they made a variety of rubber products and had a work force of over 10,000 people. At peak production, Hood turned out close to 90,000 pairs of shoes a day.

Click to see entire ad

This ad from 1918 shows my shoes, the Classic Oxford, though they have the lower heel shown on the Vassar Pump. I’ve seen many photos from the late 1910s and the 1920s showing women in tennis attire wearing this style shoe.

I found an interesting tidbit about how Hood wear-tested their new products. They used the children of employees, giving them shoes to wear for a year. After that time the shoes were turned in to the company where the wear was analyzed. Then new shoes were given out for the next test period.

In 1929, Hood was bought by a competitor, B.F. Goodrich. Shoes under the Hood name continued to be made, along with Goodrich’s own brand. In 1933, Hyman Whitman was granted a patent for an arch supporter, which was obtained by B.F. Goodrich and became the basis of their “Posture Foundation” sole.  This became the famous PF Flyer tennis shoe.

Above is part of a B.F. Goodrich ad from 1947. PF Flyers were initially a shoe for children, but the PF arch supporter was used in adult shoes as well starting in 1937.

What I did not know was that shoes manufactured under the Hood name also used the PF arch supporter. This is the insole of a pair of circa 1948 tennis shoes from the Jane Hefner estate. It has the PF name, along with the patent number of the arch support owned by B.F. Goodrich. I would have thought these were the Goodrich brand if not for the Hood trademark right above the “PF”.

Here are Jane’s tennis shoes. They are in quite a poor state, not because Jane wore them to death, but because of improper storage. The canvas is not worn at all, and the soles show no signs of wear either. I suspect these were bought because of a requirement for gym class. Jane was not an athlete! Her casual shoes were a pair of well-worn saddle oxfords.

In 2001 the PF Flyer name was bought by New Balance, which still makes the shoes. Hood stopped production in 1969, but the brand has been relaunched as a maker of men’s rubber-soled boots.

 

 

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Women Airforce Service Pilots

Last fall I was on Topsail Island, NC when my fellow museum-loving friend and I stumbled across the Missiles and More Museum.  Despite the unappealing name of the museum, we decided to check it out, and we were so glad we did. To me, the most interesting display was one on the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. The exhibit was there because nearby Camp Davis was one of the 120 bases that utilized the services of the WASPs.

The WASPs came about in 1943 because there was a shortage of male pilots. Women were recruited in an effort to free up men for combat flying, as the women were to do domestic, noncombat flying only. They ferried planes and military personal from place to place, and they towed targets used in artillery practice.

At Camp Davis the WASPs towed targets behind their planes as they flew over Topsail Island where men were learning how to shoot at a moving target.  It was very dangerous work. Over the two and a half years the WASPs were activated, thirty-eight of them were killed.

 

In order to become a WASP, a woman had to be between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five (later lowered to eighteen and a half), be at least five feet tall, already have had flight training and be an experienced pilot. After the program was announced, over 25,000 women volunteered, but most were not qualified. 1,830 were accepted, with 1,074 actually finishing the training and becoming WASPs.

Probably the most surprising thing I learned was that WASPs were not technically in the military. They had all the training an Army pilot had, wore uniforms, marched, and did daily calisthenics. They were military in everything except name.

It meant that when the WASP was disbanded near the end of the war, the women were not entitled to any recognition or benefits. It was not until 1977 that President Jimmy Carter signed a bill sponsored by Senator Barry Goldwater that the WASP was recognized as a military division.

I love that the WASP had their own mascot, Fifinella. This was a product of the Walt Disney Studios, who supplied quite a few cartoon characters as military mascots.

Today there is a National WASP World War II Museum in Sweetwater, Texas, where most of the WASPs received their training. Friend Lynn at AmericanAgeFashion sent their 2018 calendar to me. It’s full of both vintage photos of the women, and photos of the surviving WASPs today.  This museum is definitely on my list of things I need to see.

In the July 19th issue of 1943, Life magazine did a feature on the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which a month later became part of the WASP. The cover girl was Shirley Slade of Chicago. (Love her little horse pin!) You can see this feature at Google books. Many of the most commonly seen photos of the WASPs came from this Life article.

If you want to know more about the WASP, I suggest you listen to the two-part episode on Stuff You Missed in History Class.

 

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McEwens of Perth, Scotland Wools, 1961

Today I wore a skirt I made from Pendleton Black Watch plaid, and that reminded me that I had not talked about a group of brochures I have that advertise Scottish plaids and woolen knits.  McEwens was actually a department store which operated for nearly 150 years before closing in 2016. McEwens had a feature that people today would consider to be a real luxury, but which was fairly common in nicer departments stores in 1961. That feature was a department that made clothing to order.

My brochures are advertising skirts made from wool. There were sixteen skirt styles from which to choose, and sixteen different tartans. A buyer would fill out the order form which asked for the correct measurements. She would then order either a waistband or a petersham waist. She could order pockets for an additional charge. The item was truly made to order.

All the style names start with “glen”. The prices quoted beneath each style was just for the sewing charge. The fabric had to be bought for an additional charge.

If you wanted a truly coordinated ensemble, you could buy your sweater from McEwens using this handy chart that told which sweaters would match. I really love the Black Watch skirt above with that deep green twin set. You probably gathered that because I have it pictured three times.

The custom department at McEwens also made other garments, like these coats and jackets. Note how much more it cost to make a jacket than a skirt.

For home sewers, McEwens sold the fabric by the yard.

This catalog showed some of the made-to-order items along with what might be considered the types of items tourists visiting Scotland were looking to buy. Things like kilt pins, tartan neckties, and tartan scarves.

A shopper could not only choose the style of handbag, but also the tartan used and the color of leather trim. I can’t imagine what this would cost today, but the best that I can figure, these cost approximately $120 in current dollars.

I find so many vintage tartan scarves that I think every visitor to Scotland must buy at least one. It has to be a rule, right?

I think I need a pair of New Caledonian dancing sandals.

 

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Vintage Miscellany – February 4, 2018

Click to enlarge

When it comes to human beings, it’s best to never use the word never as there are always going to be exceptions to the generalities. This photo is a good case to show what I mean. Except for women on ranches and farms, and except for performers, and except for women climbing mountains, and except for women wearing pajamas on beaches, it is pretty much accepted that women did not wear long pants in public before the 1930s. But check out this girl squad and their long overalls. Of course we know young women have long raided the closets of their brothers, but these pants all look new, and were maybe bought for the occasion.

There’s no date on the photo, but my best guess based on the hair styles and shoes, is late 1920s. Probably even more surprising than the overalls is the one girls who appears to be wearing shorts. And check out her rolled stockings.

This is one of those times when I’d gladly pay to know what exactly was happening in the photo. The presence of the book being held by one of the girls might be a clue.

And now for the news…

 

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Peerless Patterns Pajamas, 1919

Click to Enlarge

One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer is when did women start sleeping in pajamas. This is important to me because it was pajamas-wearing that led to women wearing pants as a beach cover-up, which led to women wearing pants other than bathing suits, knickers or breeches in public.

It’s not like women were not already wearing “pants” of some sort before the twentieth century. Drawers and pantaloons as underwear had been around for a long time.  And while bloomers did not really catch on when Ms. Amelia advocated for them in the 1850s, nor when the practicality of them for riding bicycles came up in the 1890s, thousands of schoolgirls were wearing bloomers in gym class from the 1860s onward. Women who loved hiking had taken to wearing knickers and divided skirts.

It seems a bit surprising to me that in all my resources, I can’t find an example of women in pajamas before the year 1912. I feel pretty sure that this is not the beginning of the practice, but I’ll be the first to admit that my resource library is a bit thin in the pre-1920s years.

According to the 1912 Spring and Summer catalog from the Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Company, “Pajamas [are] the latest idea in underwear.  Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year…For traveling, pajamas are convenient…”  Even so, it appears that the nightgown continued to be the sleeping garment of choice for most women. It wasn’t until 1918 that I’ve found pajamas offered in a variety of styles in mass market and sewing pattern catalogs.

Starting in 1917 or so, pajamas became more prevalent in the catalogs I looked at, and a new, similar garment appeared – the work overall. During World War I the necessity of women taking on jobs that were traditionally thought to be for men led to women adapting a male garment, the overall work pants. I can’t help but think that the increased popularity of pajamas for sleeping is related to the adoption of overalls for working.

I do have a few things to say about this odd garment. It would keep a camper warm on chilly nights, but bless her heart if she had to answer the call of nature while wearing this suit. I keep fantasizing that the odd way the back seam zig-zags means that it is open below that horizontal seam. That would be most helpful.

Lastly, the text describes the pants above as “bloomers” but they are actually an odd combination of bloomers and knickers. Bloomers usually have an elastic waist, very full legs, and elastic at the bottoms of the legs. Knickers usually button at the waist, have less full legs, and have a band that buttons at the bottoms of the legs. Blickers?

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The Dress that Launched a Thousand Sleeves

Lovers of old movies and followers of fashion history will recognize the image above as Joan Crawford in the famous dress from Letty Lynton, from 1932. The clothes were designed by the designer at M-G-M, Gilbert Adrian. So much has been written about this dress (with one of the best analyses coming from friend Susan at Witness2Fashion) that I really don’t have much new to say about it. But while looking through my 1934 Butterick pattern catalog I could not help but notice how influential were the sleeves on this dress.

Throughout the late 1920s and into the 30s, fashionable hips were impossibly slim. One way to give the illusion of leaner hips is to widen the shoulders. That’s what Adrian did with these spectacular ruffled sleeves. It didn’t take women long to realize the trick that worked for Crawford might do them some good as well.  Clothing manufacturers rushed copies of the dress into production, and it was a huge hit.

Two years later, the ruffled sleeve was a standard in women’s clothing. While most women would not wear the over-the-top version from the movie, ruffled sleeves were available from very full to barely there.  Even sleeves that were cut relatively straight often had a pleat at the top of the sleeve cap that gave a fluttery effect.

Even though there were all sorts of ruffled sleeves, the one thing all the dresses has in common were the very straight, very slim skirt.

The bateau neckline and the extensions over the shoulders tend to further elongate the shoulders.

Here are ruffles in a slightly more tailored look.

As much as people love fashion and looking stylish, it’s doubtful that most women across America could have pulled off a full-blown Lynton look. Most of the actual dresses from this era that I’ve seen have ruffles more like the dress pictured above. In fact, this look is quite commonly found on the vintage market.

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