White Christmas: The Exhibition at the Upcountry History Museum

I’ve talked a lot about nostalgia here in the past, especially how Baby Boomers were brought up with a sense of nostalgia, not for our own past, but for that of our parents and grandparents. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I was fascinated by my mother’s stories of her Christmases, especially when she was a young woman living in Asheville in the early 50s. Maybe that’s why I love White Christmas so much.

I was thrilled to discover that Greenville, SC’s Upcountry History Museum was presenting an exhibition of clothing, props, and ephemera from the movie. Like most movies from the past, the costumes from White Christmas were reused, sold, and scattered over the years since the movie was made in 1954. I was surprised to learn that the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, Kentucky has been collecting items from the movie for fifteen years. What they have achieved in assembling a collection of costumes from the movie is remarkable. I’ll talk more about this as I show the collection.

Let me start with the costumes that probably are the most iconic – the red Santa costumes worn in the finale. These are both replicas, as the whereabouts of the originals are unknown. It is suspected that the gowns were actually repurposed into other costumes, but the evidence of this does not exist other than the fact that repurposing was a common studio practice. The Clooney House has worked closely with Paramount Studios to locate lost items, but the bright red suits and gowns seem to have disappeared.

Note the color of the replica, and the color red in this original poster. More on that later.

Here are Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen as they performed “Sisters” in the movie. The Clooney House is lucky to have both dresses.

This is the dress worn by Clooney. It evidently had been displayed in bright light and the top, while original, is badly faded. The skirt was in shreds, and had to have a complete restoration. The fan is one of two found in storage at Paramount. The other was badly broken, perhaps due to Crosby and Kaye slapping one another with it.

Vera Ellen’s dress was found in the holdings of a private collector in Texas. The bodice had been cut and badly altered into a sweetheart neckline. But the skirt was intact. Having both dresses made the needed restorations clear. Matching lace was found, and Vera Ellen’s high neckline was restored.

Note the difference in color between the studio photo and the actual dresses. Some of it is due to fading, but it seems a bit more is at work here.

Here is a set of costumes from an ensemble dance number featuring Vera Ellen. In true 1950s style, the song is about marriage, and Vera Ellen as Mandy, is a bride.

As a bride should be, Mandy is attired in white, and her chorus-girl bridesmaids are in red. But look at the costumes on display. The color difference is most obvious in the bridesmaids’ costumes, but all are considerably different in reality than in the movie. The difference could be partly due to dye degradation, but a more likely explanation was that color had to be adjusted for the technicolor process.

I tend to go with that explanation because even the matching accessories were the same color as the outfit. And I’ve never seen dye fade that uniform.

The two men dancers’ outfits are the most recent additions to the collection. We were told that the museum is actively adding to the collection, and sadly, the museum was recently outbid for a desired object on eBay

Greatly adding to the exhibition was the inclusion of enlarged photos of the actors wearing the costumes.

Another scene well-represented in the collection is the party scene where Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye announce their “engagement”. Rosemary Clooney wore this lovely dress, which is a much deeper green in the film.

This is Vera Ellen’s dress. At this point I need to point out that Edith Head was the designer of the costumes. At the time, Vera Ellen’s weight had fallen quite low, so Head used tricks to beef her up a bit. The high neck hid a thin neck, the white added a few pounds, and the swag across her hips help disguise her thinness. In recent years some have tried to blame her weight on anorexia, but there’s no supporting evidence that her weight was due to any medical condition.

This dress and the pearls were worn by the great Mary Wickes, the busybody housekeeper.

Costumes from the men in the movie are much less represented. But they were able to locate the uniforms worn by Dean Jagger, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye near the end of the film. The uniforms had been reused and altered by Paramount, so the museum had replica patches and ribbons made to match the ones worn by the stars.

The hat was worn by Vera Ellen, and the gloves were worn by Clooney in her famous solo night club act. The gloves were found at Paramount, but the dress has disappeared from sight.

There’s more, but these were the highlights. After watching this movie every year for decades, it was such a treat to see these costumes, and to know they are assembled in one collection. It would have been nice to see any one of these costumes individually, but how much more impactful it was to see them together. As a collector, I tend to not think of garments as “museum quality”; I tend to think more in the lines of how does a garment fit into a collection.

There are many collectors of Hollywood costumes, and I salute them for saving so many artifacts that would have otherwise been lost. The leader in this area was Debbie Reynolds, who not only saved many items, but inspired others to do the same. Hopefully, some other White Christmas items are thriving in these collections, and that they will someday make their way to the Rosemary Clooney House.

As always, seeing an exhibition is more fun with a like-minded friend. Thanks to Liza for meeting me at the museum!

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Choix des Dernières Créations de Manby

Those who have followed this blog for a while know that my interest is mainly American women’s sportswear. But that does not mean that I can’t look to other countries to see how women were adapting dress as sports for women became more popular. When I spotted this Manby catalog from 1892, I had to add it to my collection of print resources.

My high school French is more than a little rusty, but even I could figure out that this catalog was for tailored women’s garments for sports. The title page tells us that here are clothes for travel, campaign, promenade, sea bathing, riding, yachting, and hunting. Yes, I can relate to all that.

Le Touriste

Manby was located at 21 Rue Auber, and they advertised as a Maison Anglaise, specializing in tailored clothes for English clients. Later advertisements added Americans to the targeted clientele.

The catalog does not give a lot of information about each model offered for sale. I’m guessing that they knew the models their customers were after.

For the most part, the styles don’t look particularly French to me. In a way it seems like going to Paris only to eat at McDonalds.

The Doncaster

But it does give a great look at what English, and probably American, women were looking for in the way of sports clothing in the 1890s.

The Windsor
Constable jacket and skirt
Traveling cape

The clothes look to me as they could have been made in the United States until I got to the illustration on the back cover.

I’ve looked at a lot of images of American women in sportswear, and never have I seen anything that compares to the pants and short “skirt” worn in this illustration. I do have another French print, dated to the 1870s that shows a similar short dress over pants, but it is a caricature.

The artist is Louis Vallet.

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Governor Zebulon Vance Birthplace

Because traveling is so tricky at present, I have talked myself into visiting – or revisiting – historic sites that don’t require an overnight stay in a hotel. There are quite a few places within a couple of hour’s drive, and I decided to start with a North Carolina Historic Site, that of the homestead of the family of Zebulon Vance.

For those of you not in North Carolina, Zeb Vance was a big deal. He was a military leader in a Confederate regiment until he was elected governor of North Carolina in 1862. After the war he was able to make his way back into politics, and ended up in the state legislature, served another stint as governor, and then was elected to the US Senate.

Of course, the story is not quite so simple as what we learned in school in the 1960s. By that time there was a big stone obelisk memorializing Vance in the center square of Asheville and the state had recently bought his birthplace which was north of Asheville to turn it into a state historic site. The memorialization of Vance began in the time of the Lost Cause, and was still going strong as the era of Jim Crow was drawing to a close in the 1960s.

To look at the Vance Birthplace, which is a somewhat recreated pioneer farmstead, one would think that Vance came from humble beginnings. The log cabin birthplace of a famous man is a strong symbol going back even before Abe Lincoln. Fact is, the Vance farm was quite prosperous. When Zeb Vance’s grandparents settled on the property in the 1790s, they brought with them three enslaved persons. Over the years the Vances enslaved at least eighteen people.

The names of the people known to have been enslaved on this property

The last time I visited the Vance Birthplace was with my mother, who died in 1999. So it had been a while. I put this site at the top of my list for several reasons. At the present time, the city of Asheville is trying to decide on what to do about the monument.

It’s very likely that the monument will be brought down. I understand this, but at the same time, it will diminish the meaning of a recently installed work, Reflections on Unity by Henry Richardson. The glass globe is a perfect counterpoint to the obelisk, a monument erected in 1896 as a celebration of a champion of the Lost Cause, Governor Vance.

I was also curious to see if the way the site is interpreted for visitors had changed since my last visit. At the time there was a museum that told the life story of Governor Vance. It was a sort of timeline of artifacts. The house was presented as a typical pioneer house.

I was really pleased to see that the museum had completely changed. There was a display explaining that the Cherokee had lived on the land before the Vance family. There was great information about the enslaved people who lived on the Vance farm, and how people like the Vances helped spread slavery in the Asheville area, not due to being used as farmers, but because they were used in the livestock droving and the growing tourist businesses. And I also learned about the women in Vance’s life, especially his mother and his first wife, Hattie.

The artifacts in the museum are a combination of items actually owned by the Vance family and items from the area that date to the mid nineteenth century. Because Vance was so revered, his family kept many of his possessions, many of which were donated tp the museum.

Side note: I find it quite sad that history museums have worked hard to make interactive displays, only to have them shut down in the wake of this pandemic.

They did leave some drawers with artifacts. Here we see the ubiquitous wool production implements. There was also a wool wheel in the cabin where enslaved people lived. The museum pointed out that most of the textile production would have been done by enslaved workers.

This is a carpetbag, of sorts. After the Civil War ended, many people in the North moved south to take advantage of the fact that men like Vance were prohibited from participation in politics under the rules of Reconstruction. This led to a huge shortage of men who were eligible to fill governmental offices and so “carpetbaggers” moved in to fill the positions. Carpetbags were cheap luggage and were actually made from scraps of carpet. This one, however is made from an overshot coverlet.

Even though the Vance house was made from logs, it is a stretch to call it a cabin. It is quite roomy with two stories and multiple bed chambers.

When Zeb Vance was fourteen, his father died and his mother was forced to sell the property and move to Asheville. The house changed hands and was remodeled several times over the next century. When the state of North Carolina bought the property in 1957, the house was falling down. It was reconstructed using as much of the original structure as possible.

The outbuildings, including this circa 1790 slave dwelling, were brought in from other sites in the area.

Here is the interior of the cabin that housed enslaved people.

The Carolinas are full of pioneer homestead museums, and truthfully, it seems like they are all pretty much the same. But by changing the narrative at the Vance Birthplace, our North Carolina Division of Cultural and Natural Resources has made the site less of a shrine to Vance and the story of the great man and his humble beginnings. By making the site more relevant to modern visitors, it also was made more interesting.

Update.

I forgot to mention that I was at this site for about an hour and a half, and I was the only visitor until I was leaving. So. if you are looking for a safe outing, I suggest you look into your underutilized state parks. If your state is like North Carolina, the state sites are excellent, but underfinanced. So show them a little love and spend a few dollars in the gift shop.

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Vintage Miscellany, November 11, 2020

I have a big stack of vintage and antique photos that I’ve never shared, and whenever I get ready to post a new Vintage Miscellany, I go through the stack to find one that resonates with my mood. The date on the basketball – 1920 – and the ages of the girls struck a chord. These girls and their teacher were among the first women to gain the right to vote under the 19th Amendment.

The girls were too young to vote for president in 1920, but I hope the coach got registered and exercised her new-found legal right. But what really amazes me is that when I cast my first vote for President, Jimmy Carter, in 1976, it is very likely that some of these girls voted in the same election. The past is really not so long ago!

And now for some news…

  • My first historical love was the 18th Century, and I find myself still intrigued, especially when it comes to shoes.
  • Sometimes I’m amazed at some artifacts that survive, like the dress Carlotta Walls wore on her first day of school in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School.
  • Mutton dressed as lamb? Susan at Witness2Fashion addresses the concept.
  • A little late, but the Met has finally opened the spring exhibition, About Time. I’d love to hear from anyone who has seen it. There’s an awful lot of black.
  • In 1920 Jackson, Wyoming elected an all-female government.
  • Fred Perry did the right thing and pulled from the market a polo shirt that had been appropriated by a White supremacist group.
  • Fashion designer Kenzo died on October 4, 2020.
  • Powerful Western clothing companies continue to cheat clothing sewers.
  • Video: A look inside the Costume Design Center at Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Do we need a documentary on Audrey Hepburn? Yes, of course we do.
  • The pandemic has had another effect – the breaking down of the worldwide trade in used clothing. I’m seeing this on a local level. Many thrift stores are no longer taking donations due to a glut of stuff.
  • Video: Watch how FIDM dresses a mannequin in preparation for exhibition.
  • Help save the roof of the Jane Austen house.
  • Here’s more proof of the significance of what we choose to wear.
  • And that leads me to the obvious political nature of the above link. In the past I have been criticised for allowing politics on a fashion history site. But as I have pointed out, clothing is more than just pretty frocks. We cannot separate culture from politics. And yes, I have criticized the clothing choices of the now lame duck administration. Not to do so would have been ignoring the elephant in the room. And yes. I was not neutral, but this is my blog, and I provide the content free of charge. So, please, no comments about how unfair I was to the former-president-to be and his sponges. I am over it.

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Juli Lynne Charlot Update

It’s been my great privilege over the years to know Juli Lynne Charlot, the woman who came up with the idea of the poodle skirt, and who made some of the most whimsical skirts of the 1950s. I had not heard from Juli Lynne in a while, so I was delighted to open my email inbox and find a message from her. Juli Lynne just turned 98, but she has been back at work on new skirt designs. This time she reintreprets the poodle skirt for 2020.

Juli Lynne sent along a press release to announce the skirts, and I’m going to use the words of the release to tell the story.

The full-circle felt skirt, created with the assistance of prominent Mexican artist Carmelina Encinas, depicts an orange poodle sporting President Trump’s unmistakable coiffure and dressed as a winsome waitress, serving up the U.S.A. on a silver platter to a smirking Vladimir Putin, stripped to the waist, seated on a prancing white horse, a lasso in his hand, ready to rope in the subservient canine. Big white letters spell out PUTIN’S POODLE. Two new designs are in progress: on one skirt The Leaning Tower of Pisa accompanies a similarly leaning profile of Our Dear Leader and the lettering reads “A VERY STABLE GENIUS…NOT”. Another skirt will show him in the infamous photo standing in front of a church and holding up not a bible, but a book entitled MEIN KAMPF (no further explanation necessary!).

This was not Charlot’s first venture into the political arena. In 1952 she was invited by a friend of presidential candidate “Ike” Eisenhower to design a skirt in her usual “conversation piece” mode, emblazoned with the words “I LIKE IKE”. This turned out to be a huge success and is said to have contributed to the landslide election of the popular general. For Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election campaign, Charlot designed another skirt, this time with a banner proclaiming “MORE THAN EVER, I LIKE IKE”. A sign in front of the White house reads “no vacancy”.

Then, she decided that it was time for her preferred party to have its say, and the result was an incredibly ingenious skirt entitled “GO TO BAT FOR THE DEMOCRATS”. It features a baseball-bat-wielding donkey and another donkey kicking the daylights out of a defeated elephant, and, in front of the White House, a moving van. The same designs were carried out in many other fashion items as well.

According to an article in Women’s Wear Daily, June 7, 1956, the “other fashion items” included aprons and men’s vests. The only example of these campaign items I have ever seen is the “I Like Ike” skirt. Wouldn’t having all these pieces be a fun collection for the lover of politics.

If anyone would like to reach out to Juli Lynne concerning her new skirt designs, or if any fashion writers or curators would like to be in contact with her, email me and I’ll pass your information along to her.

And please keep the comments civil.

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Gantner & Mattern Bathing Suit, 1920

As I said in my last post, online shopping has been great lately. Maybe it is due to sellers not having as many in real life selling opportunities, but there have been some fantastic things come up for sale this summer and fall. High on my list of purchases is this bathing suit from Gantner & Mattern.

I could talk all day about the attributes of this suit, starting with the colors. By 1920s orange was a popular fashion color, and it remained in style throughout the decade. The blue is also a good 1920s color. In fast, I have another early 1920s bathing suit in the exact color.

By 1920 the women’s bathing standby suit, two pieces usually made of a thin woven wool or blends of mohair and silk was being replaced by the knit suit. Most knit suits were knit in one piece, with the trunks attached to the dress. This suit is interesting because it is two pieces like the older style.

It is also interesting because of the slightly raised waistline. We tend to associate the dropped waist with the 1920s, but in the beginning of the decade the waist continued to be high as it was in the last part of the 1910s. At the same time, the shape of the body was becoming more tubular.

When I first saw this suit on Instagram, the crocheted trim intrigued me. When evaluating a piece of old clothing, you always have to consider that alterations could have been made at some point in the garment’s life. I have actually seen a 1920s knit suit where the back was cut to a fashionable 1930s scoop, with the edges finished with crochet. So I spent a long time looking at the crochet trim, trying to figure if it was original. The uniformity of the color, and the evenness of the applied trim led me to believe the crochet was original.

The real proof can be seen in this photo. Where the label was stitched onto the suit stitches over the orange yarn of the crochet, indicating the crochet was applied before the label.

Here’s a bit of Gantner & Mattern history I wrote several years ago in another post:

One of the great, but lesser-known California swimwear makers of the 20th century was Gantner-Mattern.  Like most of the makers of swimsuits, they started out as makers of knitwear – stockings, underwear, and sporting sweaters.  By the turn of the century, they were making the swimsuits that made them famous.

The company got its start in San Francisco in 1877 at the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company.  By the late 1890s, two employees, corporate secretary John O. Gantner and mill superintendent Alfred Mattern had left Pfister to start their own knitting company.  That was lucky for them because the Great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed the Pfister operation, while Gantner-Mattern was located in a safe area.  Pfister was able to rebuild with the help of two friends, but it is not known if the friends in question were actually Gantner and Mattern.

Swimwear quickly became the main product at Gantner-Mattern.  In the first days of the 20th century, swimming was becoming increasingly popular, and with the purchase of a Gantner-Mattern swimsuit, one got a free pair of waterwings to help the buyer learn to swim, or at least stay afloat!  In 1932, Gantner-Mattern was the first company to produce a topless swimsuit – for men!  Yes, it was still considered indecent in many places for a man to swim without a tank top in the early 1930s, but before long this quaint old custom was only a memory.

Thanks to Over Attired Vintage for this fantastic addition to my collection.

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Shopping with The Vintage Traveler, Spring, Summer, and Fall 2020

Let’s not pretend that the past eight months have been anywhere near normal. All my favorite shopping events were cancelled, and day to day antique and vintage shopping has been difficult. Still I persevered and made a few well-protected trips into those wonderous spaces called antique malls. Here’s a look at what I did not buy.

I love vintage packaging, and had there been a little dog on a leash helping with the Christmas shopping, I would have bought this.

This was just sad. I found the perfect slippers but in a child size.

This is a vintage picnic hamper. I’ve been wanting one for quite a while, but I just can’t seem to find just the right piece. Someday…

There might have been treasure in this box, but I just didn’t have the patience to sort it all out.

I guess I could have used that sportswear sign.

This ready-made collection of eyeglasses surely delighted some reseller who knew these were a bargain at around $12 a pair.

Somehow the thought of cleaning my face with a substance that comes out of what looks like a Comet scouring powder container is not very appealing.

The temptation was real, but so was the fact that I do not need another Scottie bookshelf.

Technically, this quilt was not for sale. It’s part of an old stuff display in a roadside tourist trap. But the applique elephants were just too good not to share.

Sorry about the quality of this photo, but I hope you can tell this is a 1920s salesman’s sample box with an ice skating scene.It’s from Detmer Woolens, and I have a similar box featuring a beach scene. Had this one been in color, I would have bought it.

I’ll let these 1960s boots speak for themselves, and what they are saying is, “I am fabulous!”

So many wonderful vintage posters; so little wall space.

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