Daughters of Revolution, Grant Wood

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One of the best surprises at the Cincinnati Museum of Art was this painting by American artist, Grant Wood.  You are probably aware of his most famous (and most parodied) work, American Gothic, but Daughters of Revolution is probably the work of his that has the most interesting backstory. What looks like at first glance a simple statement of the  patriotism of three women is actually a statement about hypocrisy.

Wood painted Daughters of Revolution in reaction to an conflict with the Daughters of the American Revolution.  In the late 1920s Wood had been commissioned to make a stained glass window for the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Because he was not happy with the quality of glass available to him in the United States, he obtained the glass from Germany.  When the local branch of the DAR heard about the German glass, their protests kept the work from being dedicated until many years after Wood’s death.

Thankfully, Wood was quick to show the country what he thought of this interference.  The painting shows three daughters, one who looks suspiciously like George Washington and another like Benjamin Franklin, posing in front of the famous patriotic painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware.  To Wood it was significant that the painting was made by German American artist Emmanuel Leutze, who painted it in Germany using the Rhine as a stand in for the Delaware.  One daughter is wearing pearl earrings (from the Orient), another is holding a teacup (made in England using a Chinese design), and the other is wearing a collar made of fine lace (Belgian, perhaps?).

His point made, Wood continued his assault by making his subjects look like anti-revolutionaries.  What could be more common and sedate than three little old ladies sitting around in their nice clothes drinking tea and talking about their glorious ancestors?

I’ve noticed on the internet a trend toward referring to older people as “cute” or “adorable.”   I think a close examination of this painting shows the folly in that practice.

A side note:

Daughters of Revolution originally belonged to actor Edward G. Robinson, who according to one source, bought it directly from Wood.  The Cincinnati Art Museum obtained the painting from Robinson’s estate in the 1970s.

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Filed under Museums, Viewpoint

In the Snow, 1952

I recently read an interesting quote by The New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman: “Everyone who gets dressed thinks about fashion.”  And while I couldn’t find the quote in context, to me it brings up the idea that being concerned with one’s dress is not for the serious-minded among us.  In other words, fashion is fluff.

The woman in today’s photo may or may nor be a fashionable person, but she is obviously concerned with her style of dress.  Before you go out into the cold weather, throwing on anything that will keep you warm, think about this woman and how she styled herself for the cold.

She limited herself to two colors – pink and black – plus white.  Since her jacket was pink, she chose a black with white snowflake sweater.  Around her neck she tied a black and white scarf.

I suppose the obvious choice for gloves would have been black, but she went with a darker pink with white mittens.

But probably my favorite thing about this snow ensemble is the choice of socks.  How wonderful are those pink socks!

The 1950s are often thought of as a time when everything had to match, but we forget that “matching” can happen in many different ways.  She didn’t do for all pink accessories because the little touch of black at her neck created more contrast and is more interesting visually.

I do have one concern.  For someone who is so stylishly yet appropriately dressed, where the heck is her cap?


Filed under Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs, Winter Sports

Vintage Miscellany – November 22, 2015

Try as I might, I could not zoom in on the slacks-wearing woman’s top well enough to see what the print is all about.  In my mind, it is a novelty print of sportswomen, as I can just imagine a golfer there to the left.

So on to the news:

  •   Until recently, I’d never seen any donation bins for unfamiliar charities.  Here’s why it might not be a good idea to use them.
  •   There is a weird story about Margaret Thatcher’s clothing and how the V&A rejected them.  Or did they?
  •   The first exhibition of clothing from designer/artist Iris van Herpen is now open at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.  I’ll be headed that way soon and will report on all the fantastic weirdness of van Herpen.
  • “85% of FIT’s students are female. Yet if you go by famous names—the Armanis, the Marc Jacobs—more than half of them are men.”  So said fashion historian Valerie Style in a discussion on gender bias in fashion.
  • “As many as half of all natural history specimens held in the some of the world’s greatest institutions are probably wrongly labelled, according to experts at Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.”  I know that has nothing at all to do with fashion or clothing, but it is just too interesting not to share.  We rely on museums to know their own stuff, and it is a bit unsettling when mistakes are found.
  • Have you ever wondered how a sewing machine works?
  • I am not a fan of football, but I’ll admit to a complete obsession with the new Notre Dame uniforms.  How they convinced all those young men to dress as leprechauns for their last game is beyond me.


Filed under Uncategorized

1950s Jantzen Casual Top

I love finding pieces from the great 20th century sportswear companies.  By the late 1940s many companies that had been only making swimwear or active sportswear turned to making sports separates that were suited for the increasingly casual lifestyle of Westerners.  Jantzen was one such company.

What is designed to look like two pieces is actually one.  The cotton corduroy collar and upper bodice is attached to the cotton jersey shirt, using a color scheme that was a popular one in the 1950s.

The label was used in the late 1940s and into the 50s.  There were quite a few variations of this label with that fluid frame around the brand name.  By the late 50s the frame was gone, and increasingly the name “Jantzen” was woven in gold instead of red.

This seems to a a pretty straight-forward piece, but I thought it odd that the label appears to be in the front of the shirt.  Could it be that the collar closes in the back?

I turned it around to see if the collar actually had a rolled front, but it just looked odd.  So I held the top by the shoulder seams to see how the shoulder and the collar were positioned on both sides.  In most garments the back neck edge is smaller than the front.  In this case, it put the opening in the front.

I think my original mistake was thinking that the collar would have been worn open.  After playing with it for a while it became clear that this was meant to be a closed collar top.  Still, it is a bit unusual to see a label in the front of a garment.

I have not been able to find advertising for this top, but my guess is that it dates between 1952 and 1955.  Dolman sleeves, which were cut in one piece with the bodice, were very popular during those years.

Of course the real fun will come when I find the matching pants or skirt.  I’m sure that matching pieces were made because that was how these pieces were marketed – as mix and match separates.


Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Part II

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High Style is one of those exhibitions that has a surprise at every turn.  The black (actually dark green, but it looks black)  dress is by Elizabeth Hawes, and it was dubbed “The Tarts” dress by its creator.  Dating from 1937, it was thought to be suggestive, with that arrow pointing toward the breasts.  On the back of the dress there is a purple arrow that points downward to the butt.

The white and black dress was designed by Madame Eta Hentz.  Lynn at American Age Fashion recent wrote about visiting the Madame Eta archive at the FIT library.  Interestingly, one of the garments Lynn showed was the dress above, so I really enjoyed seeing it.  One thing I’d not noticed in the photos I had seen of this dress  is that the over-lapping “wings” were semi-detached, and so there would have been a bit of movement in the design.


The exhibition was not just about dresses; accessories were well represented.  All the hats above are from milliner Sally Victor.  The hat in the middle looks like an elaborate braided hairstyle and dates from 1937.  The red and green hat at the right had the green jersey forming a turban in the back.


Even sportswear can be high style, especially in the hands of Bonnie Cashin and Carolyn Schnurer.  The plaid ensemble is from Cashin, and looks as if it could be from the late 1960s.  The date is actually 1943, which shows how Cashin remained true to her design aesthetic throughout her career.  Note the little matching spats.

Carolyn Schnurer designed resortwear based on textiles she found in her international travels.  The two garments above were from her “Flight to India” collection of 1950.  You can see the Indian influence in the sari-like draping and in the textile.


I hate that this photo is so blurry, as this ensemble from Claire McCardell is so wonderful.  The striped hooded top is made from jersey, while the skirt is cotton poplin.  The hooded coat is reversible, with one side being jersey, and the other brown poplin.  No wonder her designs were so popular.


All three dresses above were designed by Gilbert Adrian.  The two on the left show how Adrian worked with unusual colors combinations, much in the way an artist would.  The tiger striped dress reveals Adrian’s roots as a Hollywood designer in a design that would have been right at home on an actress.  Actually, all three dresses belonged to an actress, Adrian’s wife, Janet Gaynor.


Here are more hats from Sally Victor.  On the left is one of the hats Victor made based on the art of Mondrian, and next to it is one with Matisse-like cutouts.  The hat that looks a bit like an upside down pie crust was actually called the “Airwave” and was designed for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in 1952.  The First Lady had the hat in several color combinations (the lining being in a contrasting color) and it was available to the public as well.


Most of the designers represented so far in my tour have been women, but men designers were featured as well.  The dress on the left was designed by Geoffrey Beene around 1965.  Would it be too matchy-matchy to have worn that Sally Victor Matisse hat with this dress?  Look carefully at the hem to see that it was scalloped, and that it was lined in bright pink.

The dotted bubble hemmed dress with the red coat was designed by Arnold Scaasi in 1961.  Next to it is a 1955 silk evening dress from James Galanos.  That dress looked to be so light that it would be blown away in a slight breeze.  And finally, there is a pants for evening ensemble by Norman Norell, a revolutionary idea in 1970.


One of the highlights of this exhibition was the inclusion of quite a few garments from Charles James along with the digital deconstruction videos that were developed by the Met for the big Charles James show in 2014.  These videos incorporated x-rays of the dresses which showed the complex structure of the garments, as well as pattern pieces that magically formed the finished garment on display.  It was highly effective.

Two of the celebrated “Four Leaf Clover” gowns were on display.  As with some of the other dresses, this one had no visible means of support, and you could see the interior of the bodice.

I’m not much of a lace-wearer, but for some reason I love seeing techniques of lace application.  The way the lace was molded to the dress was truly amazing.


Another highlight of the James display was the inclusion of some of the original working  muslin patterns.  On the left is one of his ribbon dresses, a development of an idea he had gotten from a stash of wide antique ribbons he found in Paris.  On the right is his pattern in muslin.

The pieced “ribbons” on the right continue around to the back of the dress where they come to a point, with the back pieces fitting neatly under the front.  High style, indeed!

If you are planning to see High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I suggest that you plan for the whole day.  To see High Style, taking your time and taking in all the information presented takes at least two hours (unless you were in the tour groups that breezed through in twenty minutes).  Plus, the rest of the museum is really great.  I was there four hours and could have stayed longer.

Admission to the Cincinnati Art Museum is, incredibly, free, though parking is $4.  They do have a nice gift store, and I’m sure they depend on it to help support the museum.  I bought the companion book  to the exhibition at the museum though I knew I could have gotten it cheaper through Amazon.  I consider the extra price to be a donation.



Filed under Designers, Museums, Road Trip

High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum

I spent a lot of time this past spring and early summer looking at the Instagrams of people in San Francisco and being really jealous.  That’s because they were torturing me with their fantastic photos from a traveling exhibition from the Met’s Costume Institute, High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.  So I was delighted to hear that the last showing was to be in Cincinnati, which is only a five hour drive from me.

We decided to wait for a good weekend weather-wise, and that gift came earlier than expected.  Last week we loaded the car and headed north to take in the exhibition, and to explore Cincinnati, a city we’d never before visited.  I’m not going to beat around the bush.  If you are anywhere near Cincinnati before January 24, 2016, when the show closes for good, you must see this exhibition.

This is especially true if you did not have the opportunity to see the Met’s Charles James: Beyond Fashion show last year.  Much of the James material, including some amazing computer deconstructions of the clothing on exhibit is included in this show.  I’ll tell more about that in part two of this review.

The exhibition covers the 20th century, and includes both fashion from Europe and the United States.  Above is the back of a Jeanne Lanvin silver lamé dress, summer 1923.  Many of the garments were arranged so that the front was on view, and then you turned a corner to see the back.  To me the back of this dress was the most interesting, with the obi-like train and its (barely visible) Lanvin blue lining.  The embroidery was made with very thin ribbons.

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Here are what are probably my favorites in the entire show.   The two capes or wraps are from Liberty & Co. of London, and they are effectively displayed over Fortuny dresses.  Both capes are silk brocade, woven in a peacock feather pattern, a design by Liberty textile designer Arthur Silver.

To the right you get a glimpse of two Callot Soeurs ensembles, both made for Rita de Costa Lydig circa 1913.  Lydig was a collector of antique lace which Callot Soeurs used in their work for her.  Note that the “dresses” under the lace vest and tunic are actually pants.

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In the center are two 1920s dresses.  The lace dress is from Jeanne Lanvin, 1925.  The red is from the lesser-known Suzanne Talbot, but it is a real stunner.  Also from 1925, it is made from one long length of silk.


The simple frock on the left is from Jean Patou.  Patou was known for his sports clothes, and was very influential in establishing the sporty look of the 1920s.  The middle evening dress was not attributed, but proves that a dress need not have a label in order to be fabulous.  The beaded and embroidered dress on the right is from designer Edward Molyneux, 1925.

And just in case you were wondering why I included a photo of the Patou, here’s a close-up of the details.  It is a not-so-simple, simple little frock.

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Both of these dresses are by Elsa Schiaparelli, who was well-represented in the exhibition.  That is a very good thing, as Schiaparelli garments are rarely seen, so it was a real treat to see not only the dresses, but also some of her surrealist jewelry.  The butterfly dress and parasol date from 1937. The blue dress is actually appliqued using cut-outs from a fabric printed with seed packets, one of which forms a pocket.  There is an exposed zipper in the back, a common Schiap treatment, one that  has been repeated in recent years.

One of the real stars of the show (no pun, seriously!) was this Schiaparelli jacket from her 1938 Zodiac collection.  The embroidery was by Lesage, the Rolls Royce of French embroiderers.  Simply amazing.


The lovely Grecian creation on the left is from Hungarian-American designer Eta Hentz.  Manufacturing under the name Ren-Eta Gowns, it’s a bit hard to imagine that this dress was ready-to-wear.  1944.

One the right is one of the many Elizabeth Hawes dresses that was in the Brooklyn Museum collection.  When the collection was taken to the Met in 2009, many of the Hawes pieces were deacquisitioned and sent to auction,a move I did not understand considering the rarity of Hawes pieces.  But it is obvious they kept the masterworks if this dress is an example.  Look closely to see that there is gold piping between the pieces that shape the waist, and the shaping continues to the back where the pieces seem to ripple like a waterfall to the hem.  It is a stunning dress.


The dark pink dress (and jacket)  is from Madeleine Vionnet, circa 1935.  It is, of course, made from a bias-cut silk.  The black dress is also by Vionnet.

The white evening dress is from Madame Alix Gres, 1937.  It’s construction is interesting, as each half (left and right) is actually just one long length of uncut fabric that goes from the hem in front, is folded to form the peplum, across the shoulder, folded again, and then to the hem.

The copper dress is also from Madame Gres, and is maybe the oddest Gres I’ve ever seen.  Still, there is plenty of her trademark pleating and volume.

I’ll continue my tour of High Style in my next post.  I want to finish this one by saying what a great job the Met and the Cincinnati Art Museum have done in making this exhibition such a great experience.  The exhibition space was spread out in such a way that one could view the clothes without feeling crowded or rushed.  Most of the clothes were not behind glass, and so it let the visitors get really close to examine the details.  It was simply a great fashion history experience.


Filed under Designers, Museums

1930s Sports Novelty Print Teddy

Sometimes you just have to break the rules.  In the case of this teddy, I broke two of my self-imposed buying rules:

1. Buy online only from sellers I know.

2. Do not buy lingerie.

I really do not buy a lot online because I greatly prefer the experience of vintage shopping in the real world.  I like being able to examine and learn.  I like talking to dealers.  And most of all I like using my skills to assess whether or not a piece is worth the price and is worthy of a place in my collection.  I also don’t buy online from people I don’t know.  I’ll not go into details, but not all vintage sellers are created equal.

I also have put an end to buying any lingerie.  It just does not, for the most part, add anything to what I’m trying to develop as a collection.  But never say never.

I was doing a rare ebay search for “sports” in the women’s vintage clothing section when this teddy came up.  At first I was sure it was from the late 1970s with those high-cut legs, but I clicked on it just to satisfy my curiosity.  The close-up photos showed an authentic-looking print showing sportswomen (and a few men as well) dressed in mid 1930s sports clothes.  But prints can be deceiving.

The bra section was interesting, with a little gusset inserted for fullness.  I also noticed the edging.  It was looking promising.

The back was fitted by way of a bit of elastic, which looked vintage.

But what sold me on this piece was actually the crotch, or more exactly, the buttons in the crotch.  I was convinced this piece was actually from the 1930s.

And when it arrived, my thoughts were confirmed.  It’s not usual to see a rayon novelty print on underwear of that period, but one of the great things about collecting clothing is there is always something to be discovered, something one had no idea even existed.


Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing