Aldrich and Aldrich Exercise Suit

I’ve been collecting gym attire for a long time, and I’m glad because several years ago the prices went crazy. The first ones I acquired in the 1990s were actually given to me because they were pretty much unsalable. But in spite of generations of girls despising the gymsuits they were forced to wear, the gymsuit-less generations have decided they are cool. I’m okay with that, because I can already see the prices falling. Seems like a garment that almost every girl who went to high school and college between 1920 and 1975 had would mean there are still millions of the things out there. The supply is starting to catch up with the demand.

I already have eighteen sets, dating from the 1860s to the mid 1970s. Ironically (or maybe not), the one era I don’t have is a late 60s model like I was forced to wear. Maybe it’s time to start looking for a cheap suit. Maybe not.

I spotted this dress and bloomers set on Instagram last week and decided to add it to my collection. I was intrigued by the fact it is knit. I had seen the style before. Someone had the same dress in yellow a few years ago, but there were no bloomers. And recently someone had a similar style in blue. Seems like it had long sleeves.

Aldrich and Aldrich was a large maker of gymsuits. I have one of their catalogs, dating from 1940 where they were celebrating twenty years in the business.

Of course I was hoping to find my new set in the catalog, but the closest I found was the leotard and skirt set above. Notice the similarity in the neckline.

Best of all, the catalog gives an explanation of the use of this knit set. It was used for dance class. But when? I am quite sure it was around the time of the illustrated set in the catalog.

One reason I am so sure is that in a very good stroke of luck, the seller, @fleabitevintage was able to provide me with details about the life of the original owner, Eleanor, who was born in 1923. The set is small, but not tiny, so my guess is that she wore it between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two. So, this one gets a general date of late 1930s or early 40s.

The matching bloomers or panties are not attached to the dress. The waistline is quite high so no skin would show if the skirt flipped up.

I love that neckline.

And if anyone runs across an ugly white dacron snap-front gymsuit from 1967, give me a shout.


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Shopping with The Vintage Traveler

It’s time once again to look at the great stuff I’ve come across but that for some reason I did not buy. You might think that the book above was a definite acquisition, but it was, disappointingly, a book of poems. It was also quite expensive.

This is a bridge tally, which I often see with images of sporty 1920s girls. These are often cute, but they are sometimes sexualized, and the outfits are not entirely accurate.

I can’t remember why I didn’t buy this book by the great Louise Suggs, especially since I have a golf jacket from her clothing line.

These wood burned boxes seem to have been really popular in the early 20th century. I have a golfing girl one, and I’ve seen a tennis girl, but for some reason I just didn’t love the lazing in the sand bathing girl.

I loved these shoes. I mean really loved them. But I didn’t buy them. They are my size and I knew I would end up wearing (and ruining) them.

Very early 1960s Jantzen knit top. Loved it; didn’t need it.

The next few photos are from the Liberty Antiques Festival, which was in April. It’s my favorite shopping experience. This hat form was already sold, ten minutes after the show opened.

I loved this. Bowling images are hard to find.

I wanted this photo, and I was prepared to pay for it. But the asking price was crazy so I had to leave her for someone with deeper pockets. The seller was nice enough to let me take this photo.

It’s a rule that every flea market and antique mall must contain baskets of old hankies. This is probably the best way I have ever seen them displayed.

Do we even use the term “junior” to refer to teenage fashion any more?

This was a nifty little sewing machine kit.

There was an entire set of these amazing signs that led shoppers to Leon Fields Ladies Store.

This sign looked old, but it also appeared to have been repainted. Walk-Over was a well-known brand.

My favorite kind of display.

All ready to fence except for the shoes.

I loved this 1890s calico dress. It’s proof that even a farm wife could aspire to having the latest fashionable sleeves.

I’m a sucker for old pennants, and I did love this one. The first time I ever saw the ocean was at Myrtle Beach.


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Bassett’s Mid-Winter Sports and Parties, 1920

This little booklet details tours for students to the White Mountains in February, 1920. For $32 one got seven days of meals and a twin room. Adjusted for inflation the price is a reasonable $468.

Seth Bassett began taking high school and college groups to the White Mountains in 1907, when winter sports were just getting popular. By 1920 he was offering mid-winter trips that featured skiing, tobogganing, and snowshoeing. Interestingly, the tours seem to be targeted toward girls, rather than boys, though a few boys are shown in the photos.

The main selling point of the tour was the healthful aspect of it.

It means wonderful air. It means air that is better than champagne. It means vigor and strength. It means appetite for healthy, simple food. It means simple joys and pleasures.

The booklet does not talk about clothing, but it is well illustrated with proper attire for winter sports.

Personally, it has never occurred to me to ride a bicycle in the snow.

One really interesting thing about this photo is that all three girls appear to be wearing bloomers. Considering that boys and men were also present, this was a pretty daring clothing choice. Most of the photos show girls wearing skirts with thick socks or tights.

And can we just bring back the word “paraphernalia”?

This girl is wearing the more accepted skirt.

When ski poles were really just poles.

L.L. Bean sold his first boots in 1912, and he continued to make improvements over the years. By 1920 the Maine Hunting Boot looks very much like the ones still being made.

I didn’t realize that the escorted tour group for students dated back so far. In addition to the winter sports trips, Bassett worked with another company to provide trips to Europe, California, Florida, and the Far East.

I hope this little taste of winter helps us here in the mid and southern US through the heat wave.


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February 1967 Vogue Patterns Counter Book

I don’t have a lot of vintage sewing pattern books because they are always expensive. They are also massive and heavy. But occasionally I’ll run across a bargain that is added to my print collection.

1967 was an interesting year in fashion. For the most part styles were still streamlined, a trend that began in the late 1950s and was at its most important as the Mod look. But change was in the air. Designers were beginning to tire of the mini length, and there was a definite turn toward the “romantic”, with ruffles, bows, and gathers in abundance.

One really great thing about the big pattern books is that even though they were issued monthly, they continued to show patterns from previous seasons. Because of that you can see the slow progression of fashion. This super suit is actually from 1966, and though it has elements in common with the Givenchy dress above, (similar collar, bow) it’s easy to see how fashion might be moving in a different direction.

One thing I found to be really interesting was that there were very few teen fashions in this catalog. After all, this was the 60s when youth reigned. Most of the styles they did offer had a very definite Mary Quant vibe.

Quite a few patterns offered a pants option. The hems of these seem to be quite narrow, as bellbottoms were coming on strong. This catalog had styles ranging from slim cigarette slacks to full-on bells. No true hip-huggers though!

Leave it to Pucci to offer something really far out. I’ve seen a lot of vintage patterns over the years, but there were quite a few in this catalog that I’ve never encountered. My guess is this design was just too much for the conservative dressers of the South.

At first glance I thought this Grès suit was from Givenchy. That’s because I have in my collection an almost identical suit made by Givenchy in 1967. The main thing is the checked fabric. I see this same check over and over in this catalog.

I’ve always thought this Lanvin design was a bit odd. It’s from 1964 or 65. Interestingly, that is a jumpsuit instead of a top and shorts.

Simonetta won my heart with this top. It appears to be from 1965.

She also has me with this one.

Since this is the February book, there aren’t a lot of swimsuits. But I do love this one.

I was twelve years old in 1967, so most of the designs in the Vogue book were much too sophisticated for me. Besides, the two stores in my little hometown that carried sewing patterns did not even bother to offer Vogue. To get those, one had to go to Asheville.


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When Factory Outlets Really Were

I recently found a brochure advertising what was a big part of my fashion life in the 1970s – the Vanderbilt Manufacturing Company outlet store. I’ve written about Vanderbilt before so I’ll not repeat the story here, but do check out these two old posts that tell a fascinating story of what was an important manufacturing concern in Asheville.

By 1970 Vanderbilt (no connection to the Biltmore Estate) was primarily a maker of women’s blouses and separates under the Langtry label. There were two factory stores, including one in a fabulous old rock building that dated to when that part of West Asheville provided accommodations for tourists. The building was most likely a restaurant, and ironically enough it was located where my beloved Goodwill bins are now.

There were two outlets, but unless we were looking for fabric, we usually went to the rock building. The other store had big bins of fabrics, what were bolt ends and discontinued yardage. It was sold by the pound, and it was a true treasure hunt. Best of all, the stores were open on Sunday (a rarity in an area where Sunday “blue laws” were just beginning to be done away with). Many Sunday afternoons were spent with my sister and mother bargain shopping at Vanderbilt.

It truly was a bargain hunt. In those days makers used the outlets to sell factory seconds, items that did not pass inspection. It might be due to a dirty smudge, a sewing error, or a flaw in the fabric. But among the damaged goods were plenty of fixable treasures at fantastic prices.

It wasn’t until years later that I found about the relationship between Langtry and Blue Jay Knitting. This fabric mill was located in Asheville near the second outlet. It helps explain why there was so much fabric for sale.

These knitting machines knit in the round. These pieces were great for making tee shirts and dresses.

The sewing floor had over three hundred machines.

This is the cutting room. The fabric would be spread out over the 130 feet long tables in layers.

The day of the mill-connected factory story is pretty much gone, though I hear the Pendleton Woolens store is pretty amazing. Are there any others I should know about?


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History on Two Wheels at the Mountain Gateway Museum

My friend Liza and I are always looking for an exhibition where we can meet up and evaluate the show. When I saw this one advertised, I got all excited because we both love antique biking attire. But after seeing a preview on social media, I doubted it would be worth the three and a half hour drive for Liza. Fortunately this museum was on my way home on a recent trip so I was able to check it out before planning an outing.

In my last post I said that I am usually pretty generous when talking about small regional history museums. This museum, the Mountain Gateway Museum, falls into another category. It is a branch of the North Carolina Museum of History, which is located in Raleigh.

It had been years since I had visited this museum, mainly because I just wasn’t impressed with it. It was a sort of hodgepodge of old timey stuff – tools and churns and spinning wheels. I got the feeling that it was an outsider’s idea of what represented “Appalachia”. Over the years I’ve been in dozens of these assemblages of grandpa’s stuff, which are usually presented without a context of time and place.

But the Mountain Gateway has changed, and for the most part, for the better. There’s still a moonshine still and a spinning wheel, but they have made room for traveling exhibitions from the main museum in Raleigh. That’s where the bicycle exhibition originated.

There was a lot of information, most of it presented on these big hanging vinyl posters. I’m okay with this type of presentation, especially when there are more photos than text. I thought this was pretty text heavy. I read everything because I was interested in the topic, but I can imagine that most people just looked at the photos. Even though the room was nicely arranged, it was very small, and the text panels just dominated the space. And to make it worse, there were very few actual artifacts.

This circa 1900 homemade wooden tricycle was interesting, but it added to the idea that the mountain region was, at the time, largely a region where people were still making all their goods on the farmstead. It just didn’t fit into the narrative they were trying to tell.

On the plus side, many of the photos were of North Carolina women. This is Frances Johnston, a well-known photographer, who did the cross-dressing photo thing around 1890.

There was also a nice discussion on how the bicycle brought a certain amount of freedom to women. Remember how you felt when you got that first driver’s license as a teen? Women cyclists expressed the same feeling of independence.

As the auto really brought the problem of poor roads into focus, bicyclists were also lobbying for better and safer roads.

I guess the biggest disappointment about this exhibit was the lack of cycling costumes from the 1890s cycling craze. Not only that, the biggest representation of bicycling dress was this cartoon form Puck, 1895. The designer of this exhibit liked this so much that it is actually seen twice.

There were several more photos that showed how people actually dressed while on the wheel. This is a closeup of a photo of the Mocksville, NC cycle club in 1910.

All in all, the exhibit was just okay. Maybe that is just my own desire to have seen a representation of how cycling clothing played a role in in the increasing freedoms women were demanding for themselves. But also, we live in a visual world. Larger (and more) photos could have replaced 1000 words. And for goodness sake, show us the artifacts!

Considering this was a state funded and produced show, I expected more. The truth is that we here in the western part of the state don’t get our fair share of state cultural resources, and the state and federal resources we do have often focus on a carefully constructed look at what mountain life was in “the old days”. A great example was the selection of structures within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, with “rustic” cabins and barns being relocated and preserved, while more modern homes were demolished.

But if you are traveling down I-40 east of Asheville, stop in Old Fort to see for yourself. There are also two relocated log cabins on the property, of course!


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White Circa 1915 Dress at the Shelton House Museum

I don’t think I have mentioned here that I’m volunteering at a local history and craft museum. The museum, the Shelton House, has a small, but excellent collection of locally worn clothing. Because small local museums are usually strapped for cash and volunteers, I suspected they would welcome my help working on the clothing. I was right.

My main function right now is cataloging the clothing. The museum was started in 1980, but not until the recent director came four years ago was there a serious attempt to catalog the collection. It was started as a museum of North Carolina crafts, and the bulk of the collection is made up of local crafts. There are other textiles, including quilts, handwoven coverlets, and even a work by my favorite folk artist, Granny Donaldson. I need to do a post on her sometime soon.

Once I got into examining the garments, it became obvious that some of them needed a bit of conservation. I asked the director if I could work with them to do some mending, stabilization, and cleaning. My first project is the dress you see above.

Yes, this is the same dress. I started by giving the dress a through exam and determined that the fabric was strong enough for a wet cleaning. Since the dress is all cotton, this was an easy decision to make. Cottons of that era usually respond well to cleaning.

I’m not a professional conservator, but I have attended classes and workshops on textile conservation. Still, I wanted to be extra careful having been entrusted with this dress. The rule when it comes to cleaning is to start with the most gentle process. With wet cleaning this means a rinse of water. After several plain water rinses, I knew I needed to add gentle soap. The key is patience. I probably rinsed this dress thirty times before the rinse ran clear.

To say I am happy with the result is an understatement! I knew there had to be a crisp, white dress under all that grime.

Part of the process was to look through my collection of antique catalogs in order to pin down a date. The tiers on the skirt along with the surplice front sure look 1915 or maybe 1916 to me. I don’t know if you can see the pink embroidery on the edges of the tiers and sleeves. After looking at so many of these dresses, it occurred to me that the dress originally probably had a pink sash.

So I used a piece of modern satin to construct a sash. I have my eyes open for a piece of wide pink antique ribbon, but for now my creation will have to do. At least it has the correct look.

Close examination shows that the dress had been shortened at the waist, and the sleeves had also been shortened. I returned the sleeves to the original length because it amounted to simply pulling out a basting stitch. I decided to leave the waist as is. As you can see above, it’s a bit of a mess, and it looks to me that the possible sixth tier had been cut.

Also, when I took the after photo I forgot to put on the little matching scarf.

All in all, the dress is in excellent shape. How on earth did that little piece of net at the neck survive the stresses of being on a hanger all these years?

A word about local museums: They do a remarkable job with little resources. They are usually run by people with a passion for the past. The workers do not always have the necessary skills to manage a huge variety of objects, especially in a specialized field like textiles. That’s why I am slow to criticize some of the things I’ve seen in many small museums. So if you have a nearby museum that could use some help, I encourage you to reach out to them.


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