Do We Deserve Nice Things?

Earlier this week The New York Times published an article that insinuated that because he is in favor of programs to raise the American standard of living, President Biden is a hypocrite for wearing his Rolex watch to the inauguration. My first thought was, “I don’t care how much his watch cost as long as he is working to solve the many problems facing America today.”

But then I began to think about why the fact that President Biden has an expensive timepiece bugged the author of the article. Is he expected to give away all his earthy goods and dress in sackcloth and ashes because he supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour? At 78 years of age and decades of public service, has he not earned the right to wear any watch he can afford?

I guess I’m a bit touchy about this because growing up I had two younger siblings who were constantly messing with my things. I was always yelling, “This is why I can’t have nice things!” after one of the siblings broke or lost one of my possessions.

Take the time when Little Brother promised to watch my turtles while I went to get fresh water for their bowl. When I got back outside where he was supposedly standing guard, the turtles had disappeared, never to be found. Or the time my first pair of grownup sewing shears just vanished on Christmas night. After much threatening from the adults, the shears mysteriously reappeared several days later.

This childhood trauma left me with a strong sense that if people want nice things and they can afford them, why shouldn’t they have them. Still, there seems to be a bit of good old Protestant guilt about buying expensive things. Couldn’t the money be better used by giving it to the Church?

Back in the 1990s when state governments still had extra cash lying around, “high performing” teachers got a $2000 bonus. I decided to spend mine on a nice watch. After much research, and the realization that $2000 was not going to buy a Cartier, I settled on the closest thing I could find, the Baume & Mercier pictured above. I spent the entire $2000 on it, and I have never regretted buying it. Still, until now, I’ve never told anyone how much it cost.

I like nice things, and if I want something badly enough I’ll figure out a way to get it. And I figure it’s simply none of my business how much others spend on their possessions. I know I’ll never be able to buy a $100,000 Hermes Birkin, but why should I care if the former First Lady carries one?

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1890s Golf Cape

I recently acquired an item from my most-wanted list – a mid 1890s golf cape. The golf cape is one of those garments that was very useful and popular for a short while, but then faded into obscurity.

Like so much of what I’ve learned about fashion history, I first heard of the golf cape at an exhibition. The fantastic collection of Shippensburg University had loaned it to the Museum of the DAR for an exhibition in 2013. From that time on I have kept my eyes open for such a cape.

In the 1890s golf was a very old sport that was new to the United States. In spite of the problems associated with golfing, mainly that a course had to be laid out and made, the sport caught on. By 1894 there were even several courses that were owned by, and primarily used by women.

The clothing worn by a woman for golf was quite simple. She needed a shirtwaist, or blouse, a skirt shortened to a few inches above the ground, a jaunty cap, and a neat belt. In spring and fall a knit vest would complete the ensemble. But what about playing on chilly days?

The answer was the golf cape, which started showing up in US women’s magazines around 1893. Because golf originated in Scotland, golf capes were made from woolen plaids. Many of them had leather straps on the interior of the cape to allow it to be thrown back over the shoulders when needed.

But why did capes become popular for golf and other sports? The answer can be found in the fashion of the times. The 1890s were the era of the gigantic sleeve.

This cartoon from the March 28, 1896 issue of Harper’s Bazar shows the difficulty of wearing a jacket over these huge sleeves. In the 1890s, capes weren’t just popular for sports. They were worn for all occasions, including evening. In 1894 the Madison Daily Herald reported, “Capes will be worn again and must be continued in vogue while large sleeves are used.”

The reporter was correct. When sleeves began to deflate, the golf cape lost favor, though there are mentions of it in the press even after the turn of the twentieth century. Sweaters were just more practical once they became easy to put on over the shirtwaist.

My cape is made from a heavy double-sided wool plaid, which is blue on one side and red on the other. Is such a fantastic textile even made today?

There are no leather straps, as this cape closes with two buttoned tabs, very similar to those found on nursing capes. In fact, take off the hood, make it a solid navy wool, and this would be a nursing cape.

And now to assemble the rest of the ensemble. That should keep me busy for a while.

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Vintage Miscellany, January 10, 2021

Before anyone accuses me of living in the past, I do realize that the holiday season is definitely over. It’s just that I bought this card way back in February before the world imploded, and then I forgot to post it. But, what the heck? It’s pretty, and I say we need some beauty right now.

And now for the news…

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1946 Butterick Slippers

On a recent visit to an antique mall, I acquired three 1940s catalog magazines for the home sewer. In one of them, Fall 1946 Butterick, was a pattern for slippers, designed to be made of felt. We know that WWII ended a year earlier, but supplies of clothing and such was still a bit iffy in the USA, and totally nonexistent in European countries. The world was still in make-it mode. In that spirit, Butterick published a fun and easy pattern to make one’s own slippers.

I thought I had some felt, but it was not to be found. Then, I thought, why not felt some wool for the slippers, but still I had none that I wanted to risk ruining. So plan C emerged when I spotted my stash of antique wool paisley scraps. I had accumulated quite a nice pile of these scraps from flea markets, and quite unbelievably, the Goodwill bins.

It was obvious that I was turning simple felt slippers into a more time and labor intensive project. But, if there is one thing I have at the present, it’s time. So I cut out the pieces and went to work. One thing I can say with certainty, making these from non-raveling felt would be a quick and easy project. But dealing with the paisley meant that all the edges would have to be secured to prevent raveling.

For the upper edges I simply stitched the right sides of the slipper and the lining (also made from paisley) and turned and topstitched. The soles presented more of a problem.

At first I thought I’d blanket stitch all around the sole, but it just looked too messy to me. I ended up hand stitching black twill tape around the edges, securing the uppers to the sole. You can see that in the finished photo at the top of this post. Finishing involved attaching ribbon ties that threaded through buttonholes. With that, the slippers where finished.

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The pattern is very straight-forward. There are three pieces – sole, heel, and upper toes. I reinforced with heavy interfacing, and lined each piece before assembling. I also added a layer of cotton batting to the soles.

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If you are interesting in trying this project, I have included the pattern pieces, along with a ruler showing the sizing. I wear a size 6 shoe, but I made a toile and discovered that the pattern was oversized. I ended up cutting out the size 5, and even it had to be cut down a bit.

And now, a bit more about the fabric:

Paisley shawls were imported from central Asia into England, France and other European countries starting in the late 18th century. Especially in Victorian times, these were an essential part of a fashionable woman’s wardrobe. Many survive, but many others were cut up to make robes, coats, handbags, and such after they ceased to be fashionable.

One of the pieces I have was cut and sewn into a robe or banyan. While examining it to find pieces for my slippers, I found the above label in one of the sleeves. I posted it on Instagram, because many times the knowledgeable historians there can explain puzzling objects such as this label. No one seemed to know for sure, but after much discussion, I believe it was a label put there by the maker, or more likely, the importer.

Other theories were that it was a museum label, or a cleaning label. I’ve pretty much decided against those two theories, but I’m open to being persuaded. Let me know if you make a pair of these for yourself.

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Remembering Pierre Cardin

In 2018 SCADFASH in Atlanta presented Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future. Cardin has recently died at the age of 98, so I wanted to take another look at this great exhibition.

As the title suggests, this exhibition was an exploration of how in the mid 1960s designer Cardin envisioned clothing of the future. As such, it’s not a true retrospective of Cardin’s work, but rather, an intensive look at what he is most known for, aside from all the hundreds of licencing agreements.

Cardin’s career began after WWII, when he worked first for Paquin and Schiaparelli, and then for Christian Dior. His first collection under his own name was released in 1951. This suit from 1957 shows the short-lived sack-back style, but it also shows Cardin’s love of structure and sharp tailoring.

The great majority of the exhibition was concerned with Cardin’s “space age”, or Mod looks. I really think the main point of this exhibition could be summed up with the photo above. These two dresses, both with a similar aesthetic, are forty-five years apart. The dress on the left was made in 1968, and the one on the right, in 2013.

So I spent time in front of each look, trying to determine if the look was from the Sixties, or if it were a modern re-interpretation of Cardin’s vision from the 1960s. Sometimes I was right, but just as often, I was not.

The dress above is from 1966. No problem believing that, right?

But what about these two? Both are from 2017! I have a lot to say about these dresses, but first let me say that the longer dress was one of my favorites, as well as one of Liza’s, with whom I saw the exhibition. We just adored the 1920s vibe of it.

What I found so interesting was that the fiber content of both as labeled as “synthetic”. That really doesn’t tell us a lot. The more modern dresses were mostly labeled this way (though some were made from wool jersey), but the 1960s ones were made from wool. The value to me of an exhibition of this sort is that I gain some insights on that I thought I already knew. In this case, I was struck at how the highly structured wool fabrics Cardin used created a silhouette so similar to the wool or polyester doubleknit fabrics used by the average home sewer in the 1960s.

This dress is from 1968, and is made of wool. The dress is so structured that I’m guessing it was interfaced and interlined, and then lined in another fabric. In 1968 the girls in my school were wearing similarly stiff and shaped dresses, but made, for the most part by our mothers and grandmothers. It was an easy look to imitate with doubleknit (and often with a bonded interlining) fabric.

Cardin was an early adopter of pantsuits for women. The 1966 one here is quite similar to the suits he designed for the Beatles several years earlier. He also incorporated this usage of zippers into his men’s clothing.

In 1969 women were in a quandary over skirt lengths. The midi and the maxi had been introduced, but many were reluctant to give up the mini. Cardin’s solution of long over short was a common one. The shiny bits are vinyl, and being attached to the wool coat and skirt, it must have driven dry cleaners crazy, as it does museum curators today. Many times the vinyl has not held up. Several years ago I was touring the archives of the North Carolina Museum of History with the textiles curator, who was an acquaintance. The museum had just acquisitioned a Cardin dress from this line. The wool was perfect, but the vinyl was sticky and in really bad condition.

The “Carwash” dress dates to 1969. It was widely copied, but I can remember seeing an original Cardin in a thrift store years ago. That one is high on my list of things I regret not buying.

Along the same lines is this tunic from 1970. Getting dressed in this one had to have been an experience.

Cardin did design for men as well as women, but while the women’s clothes of the 1960s look quite normal to us today, his menswear is anything but normal. The vinyl collar of the jumpsuit was modeled after that of a NASA spacesuit, but I’m pretty sure Neil Armstrong did not have a vinyl brief (codpiece?) over his suit. And note how the placement of the zippers is very similar to that on the woman’s suit seen earlier.

The red and black dress is again, wool and vinyl. I really like this 1968 dress and the way the sleeves are made in one with the yoke, but the presence of the vinyl makes it look a bit uncomfortable.

I hope you can tell this is a jumper over a black bodysuit. This is from 1967, and you can see how Cardin used the diamond-on-a-belt shape on the red dress above.

The three colorful dresses in the middle are all from 2015 and 2016, though Augusta Auctions just sold a 1960s version of the pink skirt with the straps that look like the spokes of a wheel.

Note Cardin’s use of circles as a motif, and go back through the photos above to spot more circles.

Even if the show notes had not pointed out Cardin’s love of the circle, any visitor could not help but notice them.

In the center of the exhibition there was an interesting display of Cardin’s evening looks that I thought were beautifully displayed, and shown, I’m guessing to get the point across that Cardin could do more looks than the Mod styles with which he is most associated. The lace and silk dress above is from 1977.

This very Halston-esque gown is from 2017. It is a spectacular little frock!

I loved the set of this exhibition. It was straight out of a 1960s space age fashion show with pods and circles galore.

Pierre had a very long career, but it’s these looks for which he will be remembered.

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Shopping with The Vintage Traveler, Late Fall, 2020

Most of the actual buying of things for my collection over the past nine months have occurred online. And while I wouldn’t go near the door of a big box store at this point in time, I have found that large antique malls (many located in defunct big box store buildings) are easy places in which to avoid my fellow humans. They are huge spaces with few people. These places have been little spots of paradise for a lover of old things like me.

I try to make each trip count, taking my time to closely examine the goods. Most of the photos in this post were taken in antique malls in Greenville, SC, where I recently met friend Liza. I know that some people refuse to shop with another vintage buyer, but I find shopping with Liza enhances the shopping experience. She sees things I miss, and it’s fun discussing interesting objects.

Magazines were favorites of mine, and I can’t resist a browse through one that may have articles of interest. The American Girl was the magazine of the Girl Scouts of America, and I always look through them, but rarely buy.

I really wanted this sweater box. I was too cheap to pay the $75 price.

I find kid’s middy-inspired outfits to be really interesting, as the middy trend in kid’s clothing and that of young women happened pretty much at the same time. I have to make myself calm down and put the credit card away. I simply can’t add any more categories to my collecting. Still, I loved this little wool sailor suit so much.

Another category I resist is that of kid’s toys, no matter how much they excite me.

This was really nice. It’s a counter card, with Vogue telling the college girls what she must have for the fall semester.

Electric shoe inserts?

Electric footwear dryers!

I want all the threads.

I liked this skates box, but after seeing the sweater one above, I just could not get excited about it.

South Carolina antique stores often have relics of the textile boom of the past. Interestingly and sadly, this great photo was not for sale.

This is an ink blotter, a common advertising giveaway of the past. It’s interesting because the galoshes have clip closures. In the 1920s Goodyear became one of the first companies to use zippers on a large scale – in their galoshes.

I’m a sucker for Christmas graphics that prominently feature blue.

Sidesaddle riders intrigue me.

I really could collect antique sewing machines.

I’m sort of regretful at leaving this beauty behind.

And finally, a great example of a Beacon blanket robe. I have a soft spot for these because after the mid 1920s the fabric was manufactured down the rode from me in Swannanoa, NC. I have an idea for a really niche Instagram – Beacon robe spottings in old movies and TV shows. It’s amazing how often I spot them.

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Currently Reading: Spectrum of Fashion at Maryland Historical Society

The pandemic has really messed with the proposed exhibition schedules of museums. When Americans were finally, in the middle of March, told how bad the virus could be, museums big and small were shuttered, and plans were put on hold. Personally, I was planning a trip to a local history museum in South Carolina to help with the identification of a special sportswear piece that was to go on display last summer. Of course, that didn’t happen.

The Maryland Historical Society, now the Maryland Center for History and Culture had long been working on an exhibition of some of their costume holdings. The show was mounted, a symposium planned, and a catalog published, and then, nothing. It must have been a huge disappointment for all involved in this tremendous project. But all was not lost, because the exhibition eventually was able to open, and will remain so through December.

Not only that, but the symposium was moved online, and it was a delight. Actually one of the bright spots of the pandemic as been all the online content made available to the public by museums and fashion history groups. It’s been quite wonderful. As an attendee of the symposium, I was able to buy the catalog at a discount. And I was so glad I did.

I’ve talked before about how one way to support museums is to buy things from the museum shop. I especially love to buy books. Yes, I know I can get most of these purchases cheaper at Amazon, but while Amazon does not need my money, museums do.

Being a history person, I really do prefer exhibitions that come from a historical perspective rather than a design one. And that is pretty much the case when visiting a history museum. I find state history museums to be particularly interesting because the story of the state can be told through the garments worn by its citizens. This is what we get from Spectrum of Fashion.

The book starts with a history of the clothing collection at the museum. The museum began accepting gifts of clothing in the late nineteenth century, and by the 1940s it was actively soliciting donations. The collection grew quite rapidly, and in the 1970s several exhibitions were launched.

The budget for the clothing collection was quite small, but due to the meticulous work done by Enolliah Williams, seen above, the collection was carefully cataloged and stored. Her records continue to be an invaluable resource, even though she retired in 1985.

There is also an essay devoted to who is likely the most important designer to come out of Maryland, Claire McCardell. This 1955 dress used fabric designed by Marc Chagall. The McCardell holdings of the museum are quite extensive, many of them having donated by the McCardell family.

This cape and hat are part of a footman’s livery. The museum has several items of livery which came from the wealthy Ridgely family. The museum has worked with the Ridgelys’ home, Hampton National Historic Site, to learn more about the men who were formerly enslaved at Hampton, and who continued to work for the Ridgeleys.

This circa 1815-1820 pelisse was another of the Ridgely donations.It was likely worn by Eliza Ridgley. The Ridgely family is well-documented, so researchers at the museum have been able to match many of their garments with the name and biography of the wearer. I find this fascinating, because it was possible not just for the rich Ridgelys, but also for their servants.

One thing I love about this book are the beautiful photographs. Most of the garments are shown full-length, along with a large closeup showing details.

All that rouleaux trim was sewn by hand, and was stuffed with wool. This gave shape to the hem of the gown.

Many of the garments in the collection were made in Maryland, but Marylanders were (and probably still are) a cosmopolitan lot, and they often brought home clothing from trips abroad. This dress from Liberty of London is one of my favorites.

I love how the writers of the book give little insights into the wearer’s life.

So many fashion exhibitions feature only clothing worn by women, but I find that history museums are more inclusive, I dearly love a great man’s embroidered court coat.

And speaking of inclusive, fashion exhibitions (especially those at art museums) tend to feature the clothing of just the wealthy. But here we see a sweet late 1950s cotton frock made by Adina Robinson. When Adina died in 1966 at the age of twenty-nine, her clothes were all stored away, and years later were donated to the museum.

And finally, lets not forget that infamous upstart American king stealer from Baltimore, Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. This ensemble was designed for her by Madame Grès in 1969 when Wallis was seventy-three years old. And under the skirt are hot pants. I can’t help but love this.

If you are from Maryland, you need this book. And even if you are not, you will love it.

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