1930s Swimsuit with Stars and Rope

There have been a thousand (or more) articles on how to title a blog post, and after reading them all I still struggle with going with anything other than the obvious.  So because this post is about a new-to-me 1930s bathing suit, made from a great fabric of white and blue stars intertwined in a nautical-style rope, the title is pretty much a bare-bones description of the object.

The 1930s were a time of transition for women’s swimsuits.  At the beginning of the decade most suits were still being manufactured of wool knit, but by 1940 a great variety of materials were being used for bathing suits.  The invention of Lastex in 1931 was the first big change, with the elastic thread being added to the wool yarns.  By the middle of the decade Lastex was also being blended with rayon yarns.

Compared to the low-waisted styles of the 1920s, the shape of the 1930s put more emphasis on the bust.  You can see this even in bathing suits, as there is often a seam under the bustline, as you see in my suit above.

Another change one sees in 1930s bathing suits is the return to the use of woven fabrics.  Wool jersey knit made the “dressmaker” bathing suits of the 1910s and early 20 passé, but in the 1930s, the addition of a cotton jersey lining allowed for a good fit in woven fabrics.  The white shorts under the skirt of my suit is cotton jersey, as is the rest of the lining.

Because of the lack of stretch in the outer fabric, this bathing suit has a button closure on the back.  It also has a deeply scooped back to allow for suntanning.  Many evening dresses of the period also sported a deep scoop in the back, so one’s tan must match one’s gown.

At first I though the red had faded to the rusty color you see, but a close examination of unexposed areas of the fabric show that this is the original color.  And what about that texture?!

And talking about 1930s bathing suits, I just had to share this one, which is not, unfortunately, a part of my collection.  It is wool, made in Germany in the 30s.  You can see elements of both the 20s (skirt over matching trunks, all wool) and the 1930s (seam under the bust, neck ruffle).  The photo was sent to me by vintage store owner and vintage clothing collector Ingo Zahn.  Ingo owns Rocking Chair Vintage in Berlin, and was a big help when I needed a German translation a while back.  Thanks for sharing your photo, Ingo!

 

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Vintage Miscellany – August 21, 2016

There’s a touch of fall in the air here in the North Carolina mountains.  Soon it will be all about slacks and sweater vests.

I don’t dress in historical clothing, but I have friends who do, not as a full-time endeavor, but as a special activity.  I’ve been out with these friends, and the attention they get is incredible.  It makes for a positive experience for everyone.  But I can also see why any privately owned attraction would have historical dress guidelines.  These attractions work hard to create the atmosphere of their sites.  In the same way that Walt Disney World does not allow adults to wear “costumes or clothing that can be viewed as a costume”, any privately owned site has the right to place limitations on visitors that do not  infringe on civil rights.

 

 

 

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler: Southeast Tennessee

Sometimes I get a place that I’ve visited on my mind, and I just can’t shake it until I make another visit.  In the latest case of this shopper’s disease, I was thinking of some little towns in the southeast section of Tennessee.  The last time I’d been to these towns was in 2009, on a trip with my sister.  Perhaps that is the reason the area continues to have a special appeal.

So on a whim, I headed west, along with my non-antiques-obsessed but very patient husband.  Our first stop was the westernmost town in North Carolina, Murphy.  I knew of at least one good antiques mall in Murphy, and I was not disappointed.  Above are pictured a trio of 1920s  store displays of hosiery.  Can you guess which one was added to my collection?

We found another, smaller store in Murphy that had a great selection of antique and vintage photos and postcards.  I found some super sports related ones, including a 1915 illustrated postcard of a young woman bowling.

I’ve always loved shopping in Cleveland, TN, and I can’t believe it has taken me so long to return to this favorite little town.  There are several top-notch antique malls, and the photos came from three of them:  The Antiques Parlour, Mora’s, and Relics.  All had some seriously wonderful things, including the shoes above, which I bought.  Made from canvas with leather soles, I could not find a maker’s label.

After seeing Manus X Machina at the Met this summer, I’ve paid special attention to anything made with feathers.  There is a real art to working with feathers, to get the design to accentuate the structure of the feather.  I did not buy this hat, but I did appreciate the skill of the milliner.

These 1960s stretch lamé boots were never worn.  Could it be that the original buyer saw them and pictured herself as a swinging mod, but then lost courage?  I hope not.

If I were a collector of vintage children’s clothing, I’d have come home broke.  Almost every shop we visited had so much little cuteness!

I also found lots of very nice vintage patterns, but my vow is to buy none unless they are for my own use.  Still, these were hard to pass up, and almost made me wish I loved to be a pattern seller.

To prove a point, I do not buy every Scotty dog tchotchke that I run across.  I’d like to, but I do not.

Can you imagine a time when driving an automobile was so special that a series of books was written about it?  I need their hats and scarves.

And here’s a titillating look at a shapely ankle.

I didn’t buy this card, but I probably should have, as it really sums up our day.  “When he’s being obliging, don’t overtax him.”  It was time to head for the hotel, the pool, a cold drink and dinner.

We spent the night in Athens, TN.  I went off by myself to an old favorite antique mall in town only to find it had lost its lease and was closing.  That’s a real disappointment, but one I’m seeing more and more.

Is there anything more fun than a vintage button card?

The next day started in Sweetwater, TN, a very small town which has given over its downtown to sellers of antiques, vintage, and collectibles.  In other words, it is my kind of place.  The businesses in the town have changed a bit since my last trip with two of my favorites having disappeared, but there was still plenty to make me happy.  I found some 1970s Seventeen magazines, a wonderful little 1940s box handbag, and even Tim found a few things he just could not live without.

I loved this example of the 1970s nostalgia craze.

One store, Antiques at the Mill, had a nice selection of antique and vintage sewing machines, plus lots of patterns and other sewing stuff.  But even my eyes were beginning to glaze over from just the sheer volume of all of it.

Out next stop was Maryville, a town which I had fond memories of past finds.  But it was disappointing, with the best shops gone, and the others not really having any good fashion related material.  I did think this authentic vintage sign was interesting.  $695.

This was some seriously cute fish fabric that was backing a seriously ordinary 1950s quilt.

We finished the shopping in Townsend, TN, in two nice malls that were full, but not of stuff for me.  I have managed to avoid collecting these 1920s and 1930s sporty girl figurines.

We took the scenic route home, through the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  As a final treat, we got a fine view of a large herd of elk resting in a meadow.  No photos, unfortunately, as we were too caught up in the moment to pull out the cameras.

 

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1940s White Stag Belt with Pouch

I just could not bring myself to call this a fanny pack, and it would have been wrong of me to do so.  The pouch on a belt concept really caught on sometime in the late 1980s (if memory serves me correctly) but this pouch on a belt dates to probably the early 1940s.  It’s a great example of a find that I didn’t know I needed until I spotted it on Etsy.

 

 

I’ve based my dating on two things.  First, the label is very similar to one I found as part of a 1941 White Stag ad for ski clothing.  After WWII, the White Stag label in ski togs was red with white lettering.  The only time I’ve seen the above logo which is so similar to my label is in that 1941 ad.

Just as important is the Alpine folkloric motif embroidered on the belt.  I’ve written about this in the past, and the next few paragraphs are adapted from an old blog post.

Even though the US was inching toward war with Germany in 1941, there was a vogue for clothing decoration that was similar to that of German, Bavarian, Tyrolean or Swiss motifs. This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.

In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership actively encouraged the wearing of  Germanic folk costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images.  The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.

In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935.  Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes  in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler.  By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the  US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.

As  the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular.  Interesting, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress.

But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US?  I  have some theories.  First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s.  Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular.  The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.

Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets.  It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.

If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.

But all historic and cultural explanation aside, I wanted this because I have a small capsule collection of the Alpine motif garments, and this was a nice addition to that group.  I also have a 1940s gray with red trim ski suit.  What luck!

Thanks to IKnowWhatImWearing on etsy for such a great addition to my collection.

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Bad History, and a Bit about Lastex

Beauty Mask using Lastex, filed in 1933 by Ronald Giuliano

When I posted about how “the internet” is changing clothing terminology, I felt like I was a bit of a grump, and thus vowed to not to write about things that irritate me.  But an article on the fashion site, Fashionista sent me over the edge. When I saw a link to “How Today’s Biggest Swimsuit Companies Got their Start Knitting Wool” come up on Twitter , I knew better than to click to it.  I did it anyway.

I appreciate that sites like Fashionista are willing to devote space to fashion history articles.  What I don’t appreciate is the lack of fact checking and the use of freelance fashion writers instead of fashion historians.

The big issue I have with this article is this sentence:

 Starting in the mid ’20s, swimwear companies began to weave elastic, known as Lastex, into the suits, offering a far more flattering fit…

Being a collector of swimsuits, I knew I’d never seen one from the 1920s that contained Lastex, and the earliest ones I remembered being advertised were from around 1935.  Susan at Witness2Fashion wrote about Lastex last year.  The earliest use of Lastex she found was in 1932, in a Sears catalog, on a page of girdles.

So I went in search of the facts, hopefully in a well-researched article that told the history of Lastex.  I didn’t find it, but a series of rabbit holes led to the names of Percy and James Adamson.  After finding the names connected with the development of an elastic thread, the main source of information turned out to be old court documents.  It appears that the Adamsons were in court a lot.

In 1926 the brothers Adamson formed a little company hoping that Percy’s experiments with new yarns would lead to a money-maker.  In 1930 Percy was successful in making a rubber thread, wrapped with cotton or another fiber.  He filed for a patent and then in 1931, refiled as he had made improvements.  He also filed for a trademark for “Lastex”.  He then contacted the United States Rubber Company, who entered into an agreement with Percy.  US Rubber would get the trademark for Lastex, manufacture the yarn and pay the Adamson Company royalties.

There’s a lot more to the story (lawsuits…), but it really does not add to the basic story that Lastex was invented in 1930, and patented and trademarked in 1931. In looking through dozens of patents, mainly for stockings, underwear, and swimsuits, it becomes obvious that Lastex really caught on around 1934 or 35.

All this leads us back to the Fashionsta article with its problematic line.  The mid 1920s date has now been assigned  by a large fashion website to the usage of Lastex in swimsuits.  As of today the article has been shared on social media 514 times, and that does not include all the retweets, and Facebook sharing.  Yes, my blog post sets the record straight, but only a thousand or so people will read this, and I’ll be lucky if it is shared ten times on social media.

I realize the purpose of Fashionsta is to turn out fluff pieces that no one really takes seriously, but there are people who have read the article and will remember that mid 1920s date.  In one article, history is changed.  How long will it be before swimsuits containing Lastex are advertised for sale as being from the 1920s?

The article also relates the story of Annette Kellerman’s arrest on a Boston beach in 1907.  As I posted last week, there is very little documentation to support the story, although years after the fact Kellerman was fond of relating the tale.  The earliest reference that I can find to the incident is a syndicated newspaper article from November, 1932.  The information for that article came from an interview with Kellerman.  I’m not saying the arrest did not happen, but I do believe this would be a great topic for further study.

One last thing and then I’ll shut up.

…women wore swimsuits of fine ribbed wool to the beach. Typically shaped like a knee-length romper, or featuring a vest or short-sleeve top with shorts… They were only available in dark colors, with a minimum of decoration: perhaps some stripes around the knees, buttons on the shoulders or a tie at the waist.

No. Even though the most common suits were black and dark navy, other colors were definitely available.

An early 1920s bathing suit in my collection

 

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Miss America’s New Fashion Collection, 1961

For those of you too young to remember Toni, it was a hair care line with the premier product being the Toni Home Permanent.  For years the company had an ad campaign in which identical twins tried to fool you as you guessed, “Which twin had the Toni?”

This 1961 booklet from Toni doesn’t feature twins, but it does have the reining Miss America, Nancy Anne Fleming.  In the early 1960s, the Miss America contest was a very big deal, so it must have been an advertising coup for Toni to have her represent their products.  But it’s not just Toni.  As you can see, McCall’s Patterns and Everglaze Fabrics teamed up for this interesting campaign.

The pattern and sewing machine companies must have been really excited about Fleming being chosen Miss America.  In one of the most original talent presentations ever, Fleming took a rack of clothes she had sewn herself onto the stage, and did a little fashion presentation.   It was like a commercial for home sewing.

And the promotion of sewing by Fleming didn’t stop after she won the coveted crown.  In this booklet, she not only talks about sewing, but also models a collection of eight designs that McCall’s called the Miss America Collection.  Each design was made of Everglaze fabrics, and a new hairdo was designed for each outfit, complete with roller setting instructions.

Some of the outfits and the hair styles are too old for a nineteen-year-old, but others, like the two above show just how youthful early 60s fashion could be.

Do they still refer to Miss America as a “queen” or has that fallen by the wayside?

It’s possible that this booklet was included in specially marked packages of Toni.  In the back there is a coupon for a free pattern from the collection, along with a reminder that “Everglaze fabrics are among America’s favorite cottons.”

After her reign was over and she crowned the 1962 Miss America, Maria Fletcher of Asheville, Fleming used her scholarship to attend Michigan State, where she graduated in 1965.  She was married, had two kids and a career in broadcasting.  She was on an episode of the Love Boat in the 1980s, and married for a second time to Jim Lange, the longtime host of The Dating Game.  Today she lives in California.  I wonder if she still sews.

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Vintage Miscellany – August 7, 2016

Bikers, circa 1895

I’m really enjoying the Olympics, not that I’m spending much time watching them on television.  No, I’m enjoying all the vintage sportswear photos on Instagram and Twitter.  The people I follow have really come through for me!

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