Brunswick Town, North Carolina

One thing I’ve learned about historic sites is that the smaller and more obscure places often end up being the most interesting ones. Not that Gettysburg and Mount Vernon and Independence Hall aren’t interesting – they are. But when one visits the “big” sites, one often enters with preconceived notions. On the other hand, when one visits a place barely known, then the tablet is clean, and one is free to learn about the place without the voice of one’s high school history teacher echoing through one’s head.

I did have knowledge of Brunswick. After all, I taught one year of North Carolina history to fourth graders. But in an elementary school study of our state, the story of Brunswick was just a footnote. And now I know that the importance of the site is worth more than a passing nod. And I bet that children in Eastern North Carolina get a better look at Brunswick, just as students in the western part of the state are more likely to study about Thomas Wolfe and the Cherokee Nation.

Spanish Attack on Brunswick,by Claude Howell, 1964-1967

I’m not going to try to tell the entire story of Brunswick here, because my point is actually more generic. In a time when travel is risky, seek out the out of the way places, off the main tourist trail. Brunswick Town State Historic Site is only twenty-two miles from Wilmington, but it’s a bit off the beaten path. The only people there were the few people who sought it out. That made for a great experience both inside the museum and the grounds of the village.

But calling it a village is not really accurate. To see the town of Brunswick you would have to go back in time to around 1770. Today, all that’s left are the excavated foundations of some of the sixty-odd homes that were there in the eighteenth century, plus the walls of St. Philip’s Church. What was once a thriving port on the Cape Fear River was done in by a British attack in 1776. The town was once the winter quarters of the royal governors, and one, Governor Dobbs is buried under the ruined church.

Brunswick was still a thriving port when in 1765 the local merchants staged a revolt against the Stamp Act. Why do students not learn about that in history? It’s always Boston, Boston, Boston!

But upriver Wilmington was gaining in importance, and in 1770, royal governor Tryon moved his quarters to a new “palace” in New Bern. The decline of little Brunswick was sealed when the British burned it in 1776.

The site was abandoned until the Civil War. The port of Wilmington needed protecting, so an earthen fort, Fort Anderson, was built on the bank of the Cape Fear River. It did not fall to the Union until February, 1865. That led to the fall of Wilmington several days later. With its capture, the last important port of the Confederacy was closed.

Today the earthen banks of the fort are still there. It’s easy to see from the position just how important this obscure fort was for the survival of the Confederacy. Between this fort and several others along the river, Wilmington was well protected.

The trail that circles the site of Brunswick and Fort Anderson also includes a bit of a walk by the river and a small adjacent swamp. There’s a sign, “Caution, Be aware of wildlife.” In case you didn’t realize, there are alligators in this part of North Carolina.

And we were lucky to see two babies in the swamp. Look closely! I was just glad that their mama was nowhere around at the time.

Our visit to Brunswick encourages me to see more of out state historic sites. I have a few already in mind. Brunswick was hard hit, first from Hurricane Florence, and then from the coronavirus shutdown. When visiting these small sites, visit the gift shop and spend a few dollars to help out. Books are always a favorite with me.

I felt like the museum could do a better job of telling the story of all of the inhabitants of Brunswick. There are practically no mention of the women, and the people enslaved there were mentioned mainly as being “stolen” during a Spanish raid (seen in the mosaic above} and as workers at Fort Anderson. Of course, this is how history has been interpreted for the past millennia, but let’s hope that money will become available that will allow public funded sites to do a better job of including the stories of all people.

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1880s College Crew Set

This post should have a subtitle. Maybe “Sometimes You Just Get Lucky.” Probably though, “It Pays to Be a Bookworm” is more appropriate. The truth is, unless I had read and reread my favorite book on women in sports, When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, I would never have had an inkling of the purpose of this garment. As it was, it took me a while to actually figure out the purpose of this set, mainly because spotting it on Instagram was so unexpected.

The set has three pieces, and the seller, @vintageloftny, photographed the set with the blouse over the top of the skirt. That’s understandable, as there is elastic in the bottom of the blouse, and it makes sense that it would be on the outside of the skirt. However, something made me stop and visualize the blouse tucked into the waist of the skirt.

Page from 1889 Butterick pattern catalog, reproduced in When the Girls Came Out to Play

Once I saw the blouse in a different light, it rang a bell. The nautical details and the marine blue color pointed to a garment that was worn on the water. I ruled out sailing or yachting because I have been involved in studying issues of Harper’s Bazar from the 1860s through 1900. All the boating costumes shown (and there were a surprising lot of them) were styled in the current fashion, and were worn over a corset. The top two bodices are good examples.

My blouse does not follow the style of the late 1800s. Its loose fit pointed to a use in sports. I suspected it might be for rowing crew, and as good luck would have it, When the Girls Came Out to Play has a whole chapter on how Wellesley and other women’s colleges formed crew teams in the late 1870s.

Wellesley Class of 1886 crew, from When the Girls Came Out to Play

Warner showed quite a few crew uniforms from the 1880s. Each class at the college had a crew team, all with their own special uniform. You might be surprised that the crew teams were not for racing. They were for performing musical spectacles for the public. This would explain why skirts were used instead of the bloomers the young women were accustomed to in gym class. Bloomers were not for public consumption.

Warner put forth the possibility that bloomers could have been worn underneath the skirts, but that there is no evidence of that. My set tends to say no, because it is complete with blouse, skirt, and belt. I would think that if these three pieces had been kept together for 135 years, if bloomers had existed, they would be present as well.

My set is made of the loveliest blue wool, and it appears to have been made by an expert dressmaker. All the tiny eyelets where the string fastens the blouse were made by hand. The white braid was laid on by hand.

Unmistakably nautical in design.

The skirt is also gathered and attached to the waistband by hand.

And the nicest surprise of all is the presence of a nice, deep pocket.

I have dated this piece as probably 1880 through 1886. After 1885 the crews began to turn from comfort to fashion, and most adapted a stylish corseted bodice. However, it’s not quite as silly at it sounds because these bodices were often made of jersey, which did afford a degree of comfort.

The blouse top did remain, however, and was used for gym class and other outdoor activities. I have read articles from the late 1800s that advised women hikers to wear a sports blouse. The page of Butterick patterns seen above is from 1889, and you can see that the puffed sleeve creeping in. My smooth capped sleeves are prior to that date.

I have long kept a list of older sportswear pieces that I would love to own, but a crew uniform was not on the list. I guess I thought that since they were such a specialized item, used for only a short time and in only a few places, it was doubtful one would ever turn up. But in the world of antique clothing, you just never know. Thanks so much to Mary Caroline of Vintage Loft NY.

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Plain Jane by Danuta Overall Knickers

I don’t look for stuff from the 1970s, but when a really great piece crosses my path, I try to add it to my collection. Having lived through the decade, I have good memories of what was cool, but memories can be deceiving. I remember knickers, but in my mind I can’t really place the fad to a specific year or season. My guess is that they sort of came and went from the late 60s to the 80s. I need to do a deep dive into my 70s Seventeen magazine collection to get a better idea of that trend.

What I love about this garment is its strong nod to the sportswear of the past.  The late 60s and the 70s were influenced by a feeling of nostalgia, if you could call it that. For teens, it wasn’t a longing for our past, but instead, that of our parents and grandparents. We longed for the pop culture of the 20s, 30s, and 40s – without the Great Depression and the horrors of WWII, of course. No, we looked to Charlie Chaplin and Bogart, and Clara Bow and Betty Boop.

So where does my latest acquisition fit in? I’d say it’s part Little Rascals and part Rosie the Riveter.  The tweed fabric is a definite throwback to the knickers that boys, and increasingly, young women, wore in the 1920s. The bib shows the influence of overalls, which women wore for work and recreation in the 30s and into the war years. There might even be a bit of the  pilots’ jumpsuit in there.

But this is so typical of much of fashion and youth culture in the 70s. My mother, who was born in 1931, was always pointing out to me how the latest 70s fashions were so similar to what she wore as a young person.

The label is an interesting one. Plain Jane was the forerunner of Esprit. It was started in 1968 by Susie Tompkins and designer Jane Tise. They produced junior clothing under several labels including Sweet Baby Jane (a riff on the 1970 James Taylor album, perhaps).  The company was renamed Esprit de Corps sometime in the late 70s, and by 1980 the label had been changed to Esprit.

The story of the company is not a nice one, though they did make nice clothing. Susie Tompkins’ husband Doug was involved in a nasty union dispute starting in 1974, mainly because he wanted to break his contract with his workers and move production to Hong Kong. You can see who won by looking at the label.

Danuta was Danuta Ragent who designed Plain Jane from around 1973 to 1978.  Jane Tise continued to design the Sweet Baby Jane line, though her shares of the company were bought by the Tompkinses in 1976. My favorite sewing pattern of the late 70s was a Butterick Young Designer,  Jane Tise for Sweet Baby Jane . The design was straight out of the 1940s.

This is such a great design. I love how the line of the bib pockets extends to form the hip pockets.

All the buckles are metal and are adjustable.

Thanks to Robin for sharing the information about Danuta, and whose Etsy shop is one of my favorites.

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – September 25, 2020

This photo of three women reminds me of my own good friends. After thirty-five years of friendship, we still have one another’s back. We still travel together and the bravest of us still wears a two-piece swimsuit. She looks just as fabulous as the unidentified style star in this 1940s photo.

It’s been a rough month, both personally and nationally. I’m still trying to mend my broken toes. They will get better. I hope our country is as lucky.

And now the news:

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Linda Morand and Key West Hand Print Fabrics

You may not know the name Linda Morand, but if you are a child of the 1960s like me, you certainly have seen her face.  Starting in 1965 she was a model in New York, appearing in all the top magazines of the period. But what is interesting to me about Linda is how she got her start. I recently received an email from her in which she told her story.

 I worked at Key West Hand Print Fabrics from the summer of 1964 till the beginning of 1965.  Jim Russell discovered me at 18 when I had run away to Key West to become a painter.  I was waiting tables at a Cuban restaurant near the old Key West building (I think they called it Harbor House before)   He hired me on the spot.  I sold the fabric and he gave me several dresses to wear.  Jim and Peter encouraged me to appear as the lead in Under the Yum Yum Tree.  I wish I had the playbill.  They took pictures of me in Lilly’s fabrics and ran an ad in The New Yorker.  It was my first modeling job!  I left Key West with the encouragement of the wonderful artist community and went on to have a successful modeling career as a Ford model.  All thanks to Jim Russell and Peter Pell.

If you are a regular reader, then you read my interview with Jacq where he told the story of Key West Hand Prints.  This information from Linda gives us a bit more of the under-told story of Key West Hand Prints. Thanks so much, Linda!

UPDATE: Here’s even more from Linda.

 I thought it might interest your readers what happened to me when I went to New York with the pictures.  In the pictures I already sent you, Jim Russell took the color one in front of the screen in the shop. Peter Pell arranged the bolts of Hand Print Fabrics for me to lunge through, and Jim took the picture.  No hair and make-up…just Key West casual.  I met Suzie de Poo and Lilly Pulitzer.  I was so young, but I was trying to look like Veruschka.  Here are some of the first pictures taken when I went to New York.  I signed with the Ford agency. They put me in the teen-age category. 

I only worked in New York for a year.  The resemblance to Jackie [Kennedy] was awkward for me, even though the clients were clamoring for the Look, so I fled to Paris and lived in Europe for several years.  I am glad I did.  
1966, Linda in a Betsey Johnson dress in Mademoiselle magazine.

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Tammis Keefe for Marlboro Shirts

It may not be immediately obvious why I recently added this shirt to my collection. All will become clear when you see the closeup of the print.

If you have followed my writings for a while, you already know that I have a fondness for textile designs by Tammis Keefe. Today she is most remembered for her hankies and towels, but she also designed home decorator fabrics, and for a short time starting in 1957, she worked on textile design for the Marlboro Shirt Company.

If you are like me, the greatest association with Marlboro is with the cigarette brand. Marlboro Shirt Company was an entirely different company, though it does appear that at some point the company was acquired by Philip Morris, which also made the cigarettes. But my story dates to 1957 and 1958, long before that acquisition.

Marlboro Shirt Company had a long history, being formed in 1890. It was located in Baltimore, and for years men’s shirts were the only product. By the 1940s Marlboro had expanded into other men’s apparel, like bathing suits, pajamas, and jackets. In 1957 they entered the women’s shirt market with a new brand, Lady Marlboro.

At the same time, it was decided that the traditional man’s shirt could be made in sports styles, or rather, leisure styles to fit the increasingly casual American lifestyle. Tammis Keefe was brought in to design textiles that would fit into a more casual style. According to a paper written by FIT graduate student Suzanne Chee in 1990, many of the prints were (like mine) conversational in nature. She adapted antique motifs like vintage theater playbills and antique playing cards.  And the shirts were made for men and women in matching prints.

To me, the designs do not look as though they were actually drawn by Tammis Keefe. The style of the ones I have seen all have an antique print look. Or maybe I’m not giving Ms. Keefe enough credit. I’m sure she could draw in more than the midcentury style she is most known for.

The closeup views reveal why I had to have this one. There are tennis players…

picnickers…

hikers…

beach croquet…

and fishers.

I bought this even though it is badly faded. It must have been a favorite piece. The color is actually an olive green, but I can’t help but wonder if it was made in other colors as well. And if anyone has the matching man’s shirt, I’d love to add it to keep this one company.

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The Body Beautiful by Annette Kellermann

 

I’ve written about swimmer Annette Kellermann before, and you might know her as the subject of the 1952 film, Million Dollar Mermaid, staring Esther Williams. She was the woman who introduced the one-piece swimsuit for woman. but what she might have been best at was self-promotion.

In 1925 she promoted a health plan which was outlined in this booklet. She capitalized on a study conducted by Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University which found her body to be the most perfectly formed female physique. She promised that in just five to fifteen minutes a day, any woman could “enjoy the priceless possessions of glorious health, radiant beauty, and a figure fashioned in Nature’s own wonderful mould.”

There are numerous photos of Kellermann’s perfect body in the booklet, most of which appear to have been altered to make her look thinner than she appears in other photos I’ve seen of her.

It just goes to show that  the pressure on women to strive for unrealistic body ideals have been with us a very long time.

I love that on this page Kellermann assures the reader that attaining world-wide fame for her figure has not in the least made her vain. That’s reassuring.

The 1920s was a time when youth and slimness were fashionable. It’s easy to see how this program might appeal to women who had been told their bodies were old-fashioned. Another part of the appeal might have been that in 1925 Kellermann was thirty-eight years old. Though she didn’t advertise that fact in the booklet, she had been in the public eye for about twenty years by this point. People knew she was approaching middle age.

I’d like to say that we’ve finally gotten to the point where we no longer put this type of “perfect body” pressure on women and on ourselves, but then that would be untruthful. Years of exposure to weight loss ads and magazines articles on losing weight, the “helpful” comments of others and subtle peer pressure are powerful influences.

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