Katharine Hepburn – Dressed for Stage and Screen

I sort of hate posting about this exhibition, as it is closing, but despite my best intentions, I was unable to attend it until late last week. It was the Upstate History Museum’s  (in Greenville, SC) very first showing of fashion and costume, and they really did lead off with a winner. The show came from Kent State University Museum, which acquired the personal clothing of Katharine Hepburn around ten years ago. I saw this show in 2010 at Kent State, and had really enjoyed it, and since it was so close, decided to see it again.

When Kent State acquired the clothing, they learned that some of the pieces were identified with the name of the production, but others were not. Since I saw the show seven years ago, it appears that some more pieces have been identified, as there were some additions that I did not see the first time around. Someone has haved the very pleasurable task of watching Hepburn’s films with an eye out for the museum’s costumes!

Included in the show are garments Hepburn wore on stage, on screen, and in her personal life. There were quite a few costumes in her possession because if she really liked a particular garment, she would buy it when filming was completed or when the play’s run was over. In some cases, if she could not get the original, Hepburn would have the designer make copies for her personal use.

This green jumpsuit may be such a copy. It was made for Hepburn in 1939 by the designer, Valentina, and was worn in the stage production of The Philadelphia Story.  You can see Hepburn wearing it, or the original, in the photo behind the mannequin. There is also an very similar natural silk one in the collection.

Also from The Philadelphia Story, this gown was also designed by Valentina. The belt is a reproduction. Hepburn also wore this dress in 1973 (thirty-fours years later) when she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.

This dress was worn in another stage production, The Lake of 1934. Remember that famous Dorothy Parker quip about Hepburn’s acting, “She  runs the whole gamut of emotion from A to B”? This is the play being referenced.

Hepburn continued to grace the stage, even after she found fame in Hollywood. These three costumes are from Coco, a 1969 musical in which Hepburn played Coco Chanel. Cecil Beaton designed the costumes, but to add a bit more authenticity to the production, Hepburn went to Paris and purchased some of the real deal. The suit on the left is by Chanel; the pantsuit and gown are by Beaton.

 

Stage Door, 1937, gown by Muriel King. I don’t tend to think of Hepburn as the frilly type, but this proves she could carry it off when necessary.

Hepburn wore this gown in 1949’s Adam’s Rib, opposite Spencer Tracy. In the movie poster seen behind the dress the dress is tinted red so it would stand out from the others wearing black. This dress was designed by Walter Plunkett in 1949.

This gown was designed by Irene, and was worn in 1948’s State of the Union.

UPDATE: I added this photo from Liza at Better Dresses Vintage to illustrate one of the things we discussed during our visit, the quality of workmanship of Hollywood costume departments. Being able to examine the clothes this closeup really lets you see the great skills of the sewers in those costume shops.

In 1967 Hepburn made her last movie with Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. These two ensembles were not actually used in the film, but were the outfits she wore in publicity photos for it. They both show signs of additional wear, and so Hepburn must have worn them in her private life.

Katharine Hepburn also did special productions for television. These two costumes were worn by her in the 1979 production The Corn Is Green. Considering she was seventy-two years of age at the time, she had a pretty impressive figure. She did have a little help from corsetry.

I’m afraid I have to title this photo, “Costuming Gone Bad.” These two are from Love Among the Ruins, which was filmed in 1975, but was set in 1911. The green robe/coat garment was made from a lovely silk, and I really liked it, but that red!  The fabric appeared to be a cheap poly, and the trim was that stuff people used to use to trim lampshades. And so many feathers! I simply do not understand what the designer, Margaret Furse, was thinking. But what do I know? Furse won a costuming Emmy for this made for TV film.

Here’s a selection of Hepbrun’s famous slacks. There are thirty-one pairs in the collection, though not all were on exhibit. Many were custom made to fit Hepburn’s specifications. The jodhpurs were bought at Abercrombie and Fitch. The blue jacket may be the one she wore in On Golden Pond.

Hepburn also had her shoes custom made. There are six of these brown single strap shoes in the collection.

Two trays of Hepburn’s makeup, and you can barely see a hairpiece in the upper right corner.

I had some company on this visit, Liza, the owner of Better Dresses Vintage. Having another fashion history lover with whom to discuss and critique the clothes really does enhance the experience of a visit to an exhibition.

These clothes will be heading back to Kent State where it will be on view from February 2, 2018 to September 2, 2018.

18 Comments

Filed under Museums

Something a Little Different from Jane’s Closet

After all the beige and tan and brown in Jane Hefner’s closet, the playsuit above came as a big surprise. Stylistically it is very similar to her other play sets, but the pattern and color really set this one apart. The only other novelty prints were in her favored muted tones, and while there were a few green items, the red was a real oddity.

It is a great set, probably from 1946 or 47. The little bolero jacket gives it a bit of versatility. But I thought the bra looked to be odd and ill-fitting.

Then I located the problem. There was a little tie that had become separated from the other three pieces. I had already moved on to photographing another garment, and was too lazy to redress the form, but you can see here how that little strip of fabric changes the entire look of the bra.

Color was very popular in clothing and textiles in the post WWII period. Many of the chemicals used in fabric dyes were needed for the war effort, and so colors were limited during that time. But look at any magazine or catalog from late 1945 and you’ll see how color once again played a big part in fashion. And textile designers were not afraid to come up with color combinations that we now can look at as distinctly post war. The red, lime, green, and black in the print of the play set is a great example.

Can you tell how pristine and sharp the colors are? At first I thought the set had been starched, but now I’m thinking that the original sizing of the fabric was never washed out. In other words, Jane never wore this set.

I’m not psychic, but I do know that a buttonhole has to be cut open in order for the button to fit through the hole. The bra fastens  in the back with two buttons, but the holes were never cut all the way through. There’s no way the bra, at least, could have been worn.

And that’s not a bit surprising, because this set is just not Jane’s style. Did she buy it in a moment of weakness, knowing it was fashionable and thinking she could wear something different? Was it a gift from a well-meaning auntie who wanted to see Jane in something colorful? We’ll never know, but it sure added an interesting twist to Jane’s wardrobe.

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

One Woman’s Clothing, Part 2

Back in August I posted some items that I got from Julia of  Carolina Thrift Chick. She had the good fortune to acquire the clothing from the estate of Mary Jane Hefner, a career teacher and guidance counselor. Jane was born in 1931, and so came of age in the years following World War II, and her clothing from that time could be used to illustrate a chapter in a fashion history book on what teens were wearing in 1946 through 1948.

I was lucky to get to visit Julia and see the rest of the clothing. It really is so interesting to see the clothing of one person, especially a person who seems to have saved pretty much everything she wore from her teens to the end of her life.  The clothes date from around 1942 until she retired from education in the 1970s, so there are several different wardrobes. There are the clothes that date to the post-war 1940s, which she would have been wearing when she was still in high school. Then there are college clothes – lots of skirts and blouses. The next phase of her life shows career clothes, with some spectacular 1950s suits and dresses that date into the 1960s. And finally, there is the retirement clothing, poly printed tops and pants to match.

You might want to revisit the first post I wrote about Jane’s clothes. There you can see that she was fond of a certain color palette – browns, beiges, warm tans, and dusty roses. In this new bunch of clothes you will see that Jane, even as a teen, knew what she liked.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at catalogs and magazines from the 1940s in order to get a clear picture of when each garment was worn. All of the garments that I acquired from the estate date from around 1944 through 1952, with the great majority of them dating to 1946 or 47. Also, most of the clothes from that time have her name label sewn into them. When Julia and I looked at and discussed this, we thought maybe she had sewn in the labels for college. But she would have been only 15 or 16 when most of these clothes were fashionable. Maybe she did a stint as a camp counselor and that would explain the labels.

Another thing I used to help with dating was the measure of the waistline of the clothing. Jane was not a small girl, and most of the shorts and skirts have a waist measurement of around 30 inches. But a couple of the pieces, like the dress above, are smaller.

I’ll admit that this piece is a bit of a puzzle. One of the things that make the collection so great is that most ensembles have all the pieces present. I’m pretty sure that this dress must have had a pair of matching bloomers as it is pretty short. I found a reference to 1946 playsuits in a Life magazine article that showed similar sets, but this one is is a bit smaller than her other things from 1946 and 47.

Still I bought this, even without the bloomers, because, honestly, who could resist this back?

Another set that is a bit smaller, but that fits right in with postwar fashion trends is this bathing suit. It is made of woven rayon, and the skirt has built-in rayon panties. Note the style of the bra, as we’ll be seeing that again.

This bathing suit has an interesting label, but there is not a name label. Does anyone know of Beau Jardin Cie?

These two pieces are rayon, and both were exactly the sort of thing one would find for sale in 1946 and 47.

Bare midriffs were popular, and were shown off in tied shirts and cute bra tops. This illustration is from Montgomery Ward, 1946.

Just so you would know that Jane did thrown in a bit of blue from time to time. These are the same shorts as above.

This swimsuit is probably from 1946 or 47 as well. It’s from Cole of California, and I’ve found quite a few similar ones online, but not the exact suit. The front is rayon jersey, but the back is Lastex, a textile that involved wrapping rayon around a rubber thread. It wasn’t available during WWII, and the maker, the United States Rubber Company announced its availability in the spring of 1946. And notice how the style of the bra is so similar to the ivory and black one above.

Here’s a similar style From Montgomery Ward, 1946.

Here’s a great playsuit. It has a pretty strong shoulder line, and little pads for emphasis.

And yes, there is a matching skirt, all in Jane’s favorite colors.

I’m almost ashamed to post this photo as it is just too awful, but you do need to see this great pair of breeches. They are a brown and beige twill, and I’ve paired them with a Jantzen Khara fleece sweater.

These two item might date from Jane’s college years. Khara fleece was developed for Jantzen in 195o. It’s a combination of wool and synthetic fibers.

And finally, here’s another pair of 1940s pleated shorts, this time in linen. I’ve paired them with a blouse that probably would not have actually been worn with these shorts, but both pieces just look so great in the photo. The top is Textron rayon, and the anchors are beaded. So a bit dressy for linen shorts, wouldn’t you think? Still, it does illustrate how mix and match this wardrobe was. I hope Jane was never at a loss when deciding what to wear with what, because it all fit together so beautifully.

I have one more piece from Jane’s closet to show you. It’s a bit of a surprise!

And here a photo of Jane, I’m guessing when she was in her mid twenties.

21 Comments

Filed under Collecting

Vintage Miscellany – January 7, 2018

Compared with these Edwardian women, I am an official weather wimp. Today was the first in over a week that the temperatures climbed above freezing and I’d promised myself a long walk when things hit 33* F. But the reality is that I’ve spent yet another day indoors, curled up with a selection of books. The weather person says 41* for highs tomorrow, and so I’m sure I’ll be able to manage that.

But now for the news…

  •   Cotton is again being manufactured in Manchester, UK.
  •    And not all textiles made in Bangladesh are cheap “fast fashion.
  •    One thing I have learned over the past year is that we can get all tied in knots over what is wrong in the world, or we can look for the special things that inspire hope.
  •    Back in the 1970s they were practically giving these things away.
  •    Here’s a fun interview with the conservator at the Bata Shoe Museum.
  •    The Weather Channel linked to my very-much-in-need-of-an-update article on ski clothing.
  •    Because I also collect paper that has to do with my clothing interests, I was mesmerized by this conservation of an 1868 receipt at the New York Historical Society.
  •    Just because you can afford to buy antiquities, does not mean that you should.
  •    You may have read that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is eliminating their “pay what you wish but we want $25” policy for admission. A lot has been written about the change, but I’ve chosen to link to an op-ed in the NYT. As an out-of-towner who has visited the Met on quite a few occasions, I have paid the $25 on all but one visit, and that time was a run into the museum with a friend to look at one small thing. I’ve gladly paid the full price because it was worth it to me to do so and because, frankly, I could afford to do so. I think the interviewees in the article can explain better than I why the new policy is not a good idea, especially in this time of them verses us.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Currently Reading – Stitches in Time by Lucy Adlington

Looking back at my post archives, I haven’t written a book review since April. It’s not that I’m not reading. Last year I read almost sixty books, half of which were fashion or textile related. I’ve been a bit of a slacker when it comes to posting, to be honest. The current state of affairs in the world have zapped my motivation, but I’ve vowed to try harder to share the wonderful things that I run across.

And to start off, I want to tell you about Stitches in Time. Published in 2015, I had seen the book online, but didn’t feel the urge to buy it. The subtitle, The Story of the Clothes We Wear, reminded me too much of that book from a few years ago where people were interviewed about their clothes. But on a whim a few weeks ago, I put it in my cart. When I received it I was pleased to see that there were over 400 pages, a long bibliography, an index, and even footnotes!

The book is divided into chapters that take on one particular aspect of clothing. There are chapters on pants and coats and undergarments and pockets (and many more). Each chapter delves deep into the history of the garment, for both men’s and women’s clothing. I love that Adlington points out expressions that have made their way into English, things like boot licking.

As someone who knows a bit about fashion history, I pretty much don’t enjoy books that are a fashion overview. But that is not what Stitches in Time is. It’s a group of histories of garments, and it is engaging and interesting. If you know someone who thinks fashion is frivolous, give them this book.

The book is rich in text, but low in illustrations. The illustrations are small and there’s not one for every concept introduced in the text. Personally, I’d much rather have it this way. Isn’t that what Google is for? Read the book with a computer or other device nearby so you can look up what you can’t quite visualize.

There is a small section of color illustrations, but I found them to be of little use. They weren’t referenced in the text so you just have to take them as they are.

Another small consideration is that Adlington is British, and the book is written from that point of view. I know that when it comes to certain objects, the history within the US can be different from that in Britain, Europe, or Australia. Adlington addresses this when it is appropriate, but a reader outside of Britain needs to remember this is a UK point of view.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. It’s very inexpensive, and is a good one to read on Kindle.

And now a question for readers. Do you want more book reviews?

 

20 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading

1920s or 1930s Barefoot Dancing Sandals

People who have never attempted to sell online seem to have the idea that it’s an easy way to make a buck. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Selling old stuff online is hard for many reasons, but I’m only going to address one of them. And that is that there are so many old things than even experienced sellers run across objects they look at and just scratch the head in puzzlement.

The seller of the shoes above listed them as circa 1900 leather bathing shoes. I knew that was not correct, but what exactly are they? I could see why the seller thought they were bathing shoes, as they really do resemble them in some ways, but I’ve never heard of them being made of leather. After seeing the listing several months ago I forgot about the shoes, but the purchase of a 1929 gym attire catalog revealed the identity of the mystery sandals.

Of course that started a mad scramble to try and re-find the listing, but I had not bookmarked it, and so I was just out of luck. Or so I thought. Last week as I was searching for bathing shoes, these popped up again. Three clicks and they were mine.

The story is made even happier because I have a very similar pink and white gingham dancing romper as illustrated in the catalog, right beside the dancing sandals.

The dancing sandals look rather sad without feet to fill them out. I am so glad I spotted these and was able to add the proper context back to the object.

8 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Shoes

Helen’s Photo Album, 1923

This is Helen Ambrose. In 1923 her sister, Emily, made a photo album for her with photos of their family and friends. It’s nice knowing the names of many of the people pictured, and also the places, though I came up empty when searching online for Helen.  Most of the photos that are labeled were taken in Hinsdale, Illinois or Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I bought this album for several reasons, the main one being that it shows Helen in quite a bit of her wardrobe, so that you can get a good sense of her style. We can start with her dark cotton knickers and matching sports shirt. Even better, we get a good look at her canvas shoes and hat.

She must have liked this sport ensemble, as she is wearing it in quite a few of the photos, and seemingly at different times. Here she is shown wearing it with a different hat. The object of her attention is Harold Reynders. He is a regular cast member in this year of Helen’s life.

This photo was taken on the same day at the same location, a golf club in Villa Park, Illinois. It must have been a very informal place to have allowed a woman to play in pants, or maybe they just mistook her for a boy!

There are also photos of Helen wearing her knickers with a middy blouse. Note that she has not yet bobbed her hair, even though she seems comfortable wearing pants in public. In all the photos she is wearing this same hairstyle with the coils at the sides. It gave long hair the look of being short, but it looks a bit old-fashioned for 1923.

Many of the photos are of various members of the extended Ambrose family, including these two little unnamed cousins.

And here’s the middy with a skirt. The skirt does seem a little long for a young woman in 1923, but the year before, skirts lengths did take a move toward the floor. They then began the upward journey to the knee, a length most associated with the 1920s.

Helen is wearing a suit that appears to have been made from jersey, possibly cotton. She’s seen wearing it a lot, and with good reason – she looks great in it. I love the scalloped edge of her collar, and the dark tie around her neck.

Here she is in another suit, this time with a blouse and vest. And note how the hem on this skirt is just a bit shorter than the others. Could Helen have been a teacher? She looks a bit too polished to be a schoolgirl.

The album is quite fragile, and the white ink Emily used to label the photos is fading badly. That’s Helen, Emily, and a friend, Iva. On the right in the wonderful, but unfortunately unflattering, dress is Aunt Em and a possible uncle.

This is Grandmother and Daisy. I’m guessing that Daisy is the child and not the cat, but I could be wrong. I have a strong suspicion that Grandmother never did shorten her skirts.

This photo was not labeled, and I don’t think it is Helen. It does illustrate an interesting tidbit I read in an article in a 1975 American Heritage magazine:

“There was an enormous number of surplus sailor hats at the end of WWI, and soon “Army & Navy” stores were swamped with them. They made good fishing hats, tennis hats, and headgear for general lounging; but pretty girls also discovered that something about a sailor hat, perched atop vagrant curls and hovering over big blue eyes, was irresistible.”

In this case the entire ensemble was appropriated.

Finally, there are some swimming photos, taken at Reed’s Lake, which I think is near Grand Rapids. The bathing suits are great, but it’s their caps that I covet.

And check out the boathouse. A lake near me has one such boathouse remaining from this era, and it is now a historic landmark.

I really don’t want to get into the business of collecting photo albums, but sometimes I come across one that illustrates the times so well that I can’t resist. It’s really a shame that this has been separated from family members who would treasure the contents, but we can honor Helen’s life by letting her teach us about her life and fashions in 1923.

19 Comments

Filed under 1920s fashion, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs