Sewing with Cotton Bags, 1937

Who better to tell a housewife how to sew with cotton bags than a group representing the makers of them, the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association?  This booklet dates from 1937, but I’ve seen similar ones from as recent as the late 1950s, just as paper bags were replacing the cloth sacks.  Generically known today as feedsacks, these bags are a hot commodity, selling for at least $10 each, and the best ones selling for $50 and even more.  Wouldn’t those thrifty homemakers from the 1930s be shocked to learn that what they got free with a purchase of flour or sugar are going for such prices!

Sewing with Cotton Bags is thirty-two pages of ideas of what to do with all those bags.  It was revised in 1937, but some of the styles are several years older, left over from an earlier edition.  The drawing above shows a woman who is more likely from 1932 than 1937.

The pleated sleeve shown above left was a common sports sleeve, and I’ve seen it as early as 1932.  I love how the booklet declares them to be “stylish” which is much better word in this case than “fashionable”!

The “Simple Sports Ensemble” on the left was a standard of any active woman’s wardrobe from the early 1930s through the 1940s.  This one is probably from 1935 or so, due to the long skirt and the sleeves that are not gathered.  The tennis dress appears to be from around the same time.

Wide legged pajamas were a 1930s standard.  That set on the left was designed for sleeping, but many women took them to the beach as cover ups.

Cotton sacks were not just for clothes.  You could also use them to make your summer cottage more charming.

They also worked well as a table cover.  I can imagine all the great junk that was stored out of sight, behind the feedsacks.

The patterns shown in the booklet could be ordered for ten cents each, or three for twenty-five cents.  Most are for aprons and clothes for small children, but some, like the blouses, were really quite nice, and yes, even stylish.

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Vintage Miscellany – July 26, 2015

I had a chat recently with another blogger and friend about photos.  We had both noticed that it is easier to find good photos from the 1940s than it is to find them from the 1960s and later.  Part of it has to be that photos from this later era have not yet fallen into the realm of the estate clearance, but time will remedy that.  So the reason I rarely show a photo from the 60s and 70s is simply because I don’t have many of them in my collection.

I do love this one from the late 60s of a young woman and her grandparents.  Grandma seems to be hiding, but not Grandpa!

My first camera was a little Instamatic that took square photos like this one.  Amazing how much this looks like an Instagram photo, only I didn’t need a filter to get that vintage effect.  The fading happens as a result of the type of processing used at the time.  It’s a big problem, and if you have photos from the 1960s through the 80s, you might have noticed what I’m referring to.

And now for the news…

*    In 1899 Berlin writer  Paul Von Schnonthan surveyed women as to why they had taken up bicycle riding.  My favorite response: “One must be nineteen and have a good figure if one wants to ride a bicycle.”

*  And more about women riding bikes from an open-minded minister in Cleveland, Ohio in 1897.

* Bicycles seem to be on a lot of minds this month.  The New York Times explores how the bicycle craze of the 1890s was an important step on the road to modern America.

*   The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has an interesting Tumblr blog, as you can see by this entry on a textile sample book from the mid nineteenth century.

*   Elio Fiorucci died last week.  For a short time his New York store was the place to shop and party.

*   “I think when you’re paying $15,000 for a dress you’re entitled to a pair of sleeves.” Iris Apfel. Amen!

*   Here’s a fascinating story about a note found in the folds of a kilt made for a WWI Scottish soldier.

*   Can Italy revive their silk industry?  

*   Take a peek inside the couture ateliers of Europe.

*  And finally, here is an interesting article about fake handbags on Canal Street in New York. 

 

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Currently Reading – The Battle of Versailles

 

Can one fashion show have enough material for a writer to craft a book around?  The answer is yes, if the event was more than just a regular fashion show, and if the writer is willing to spend years in meticulous research and conduct numerous interviews.  In this case, Robin Givhan has not only done the background work, but has managed to put the events of one night in November of 1973 into their proper place in fashion history.

In the fall of 1973, fashion public relations representative Eleanor Lambert cooked up an idea to help raise funds for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles.  It involved a fashion show of five French fashion designers, and five from New York (all who were clients of Lambert, naturally).  The show would take place at Versailles and they would charge $235 per person to attend.

The show was never intended to be a competition, but people (and the press) being what they are, it soon turned into a matter of us against them.  The five French designers – Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Ungaro, Cardin, and Marc Bohn for Dior – were all masters of the haute couture, although by 1973 all were also producing ready-to-wear.  The Americans – Anne Klein, Halston, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Stephen Burrows – were strictly Seventh Avenue ready-to-wear designers at a time where it was still widely thought that “fashion” came from Paris and clothes came from New York.

Partly because of all the publicity surrounding the publication of this book, the events of November 28, 1973, are now fairly well known.  The French had a huge, overblown production that failed to wow the audience, but the American models with their free and easy modern dance style stole the show.  American fashion had arrived.

But it’s not the basic story that is so interesting.  Givhan sets the stage by recapping the events of the days, most of which have nothing to do with fashion.  The Vietnam War was finally grinding to a halt only to have the world embroiled in an “oil crisis.”  The French had their own problems with rioting and other unpleasantness.

In places Givhan seems to over-think the atmosphere of the early 1970s.  I remember it as a time of hope and progress, with the war ending and people becoming more aware of the effects of pollution and the lack of civil rights for Black Americans and women.  In describing what life was like for Americans in the early Seventies, it seems to me that Givhan was giving the lifestyle of certain big city groups, with their drugs, disco and sex, to Americans in general.  She comments in her endnotes that many of the people she interviewed for the book had trouble recalling details of their lives in the Seventies, echoing the saying that those who could remember the 60s or 70s were not really there.

One of the real strengths of the book is how Givhan gives an in-depth account of all the major players in the spectacle, including the models.  The Americans took thirty-six models to France, ten of which were Black. In doing the research for the book, Givhan interviewed many of the Black models, and gave an account of each, telling how they were able in the late 1960s and early 70s to find success in a field that had been closed to Black women just a few years before.

Givhan also interviewed some of the surviving designers, including Stephen Burrows, Donna Karan (Anne Klein’s) assistant, and Pierre Berge, who was Yves Saint Laurent’s partner.  Fortunately, she also talked with Oscar de la Renta, who died last year, before this book was published.

To me, the most interesting character was Stephen Burrows.  I was in high school and college in 1973, and I was in love with his designs, not that I could have bought them here in Western North Carolina.  But he also did a line of patterns for McCall’s which made his work accessible to me and other young women across the country.

Burrows is almost like an anti-hero, and if you read or view interviews with him today you can see the same traits that Givhan describes in her book.  He was the most non-competitive participant, as he was just thrilled to be there.  While de la Renta and Halston jockeyed for position and models, Burrows kept out of the pettiness and did his own thing.  He really was a child of the 60s.  And as Givhen puts it:

In 1973, Burrows represented a moment when fashion was connecting to women in ways that were both emotional and practical.  In one of Burrows’s dresses, a woman’s body was free.  And she was on her own, for better or worse.

Even though the “Battle of Versailles” brought American fashion into the spotlight, there seems to be little lasting effect of equality for minorities in the fashion business, especially where models are concerned.  In 2015 we are much less likely to see Black models in a runway show than we were in 1973.

I really enjoyed The Battle of Versailles, and I recommend it to those who like a good dose of history mixed in with your fashion.

 

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What I Didn’t Buy – Antique Hatbox

I really have a thing for old hatboxes, and I’ve been especially captivated after seeing some of the wonderful old ones in the Cooper Hewitt collection.  Antique bandboxes or hatboxes, especially those covered with wallpaper, are hard to come by around here, so I always look at them, even if I know I’ll not be able to afford them.

The one above caught my eye the other day.  While it is not one of the lovely scenic boxes, it is an older one, covered with a nice paper.  The inside had a beautiful border around the rim.

So what was so objectionable about this pretty box? Was it the price or the condition? No, although there were condition issues, and it wasn’t exactly cheap at $65.  The problem with this box was much worst.

The person selling this hatbox put an adhesive price sticker on the lid of the box.  I was hoping that it was one of those semi-sticky things that would just pull off, but a quick look at a loosened corner confirmed my fears.

Someone before me had already tried to lift off the sticker, and you can see where the paper of the box was pulled loose.  Whatever value the box had has been completely ruined by the person who stood to gain by its sale.

Over the years I’ve seen lots of thoughtless stickers slapped onto paper of all kinds.  Usually it is just a nuisance because it is a magazine or a catalog that is still useful despite the sticker.  Unfortunately this hatbox is ruined.

We need to make a rule that no stickers are allowed anywhere near antique and vintage paper.

 

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Vintage Fashion Complete

I’m really pretty good about saving emails that contain information that I way need to reference later on in life.  The problem is that I save them in about ten different folders across three email accounts and so it happens ever so often that I cannot find the email I need.  In this case it was an email from the author of this book, Nicky Albrechtsen, asking to use photos in a book she was writing about vintage fashion.

Since I’m not Getty Images, I pretty much let people use my photos in publications and in college papers, and even an occasional employee handbook.  All I ask is the proper acknowledgement.

I’ll admit I had forgotten about this project, and even after a kind reader emailed to say she had seen my name in the book, I was still a bit clueless.  But I ran across the book in my local discount bookstore, and I immediately remembered that this blog was listed as a source.  And a quick look at the credits reminded me that I’d given Albrechtsen permission to use photos of my Helen Bond Carruthers sweaters in the book.

Both of the above sweaters are mine, and I was properly credited.  How refreshing in a world where one’s photos are taken at will and pinned and copied and tumbled and even instagramed without a credit or link back.

And I was so happy to see that my blog was listed under vintage blogs that are about history, and not wearing vintage clothes.

I spent a great deal of time looking at the book, trying to decide whether or not to buy it.  You may recall that I’ve sworn off books that are about “vintage” rather than about fashion history.  But looking through the book, I saw that there was a lot more substance than I find in most books about vintage clothing.

In the end I decided not to buy it, but to instead come home and read online reviews.  They are overwhelming positive, but the best news is that the project was managed by Frances at Last Year Girl, a voice that I respect.  So now I’m leaning toward getting it, and not just because my ego was bolstered by the mentions.

So, do any of you readers have this book?  I’d love your opinions, privately, please.

And if you are reading, Nicky, thanks so much for letting me see my name in print.

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Trail Cookery for Girl Scouts

 

This little cook booklet dates from 1945, and while it is not an official Girl Scout publication, the company that printed it made it specifically with the Girl Scouts in mind.  Look closely at the pictures to figure out who made the booklet.

Even without the date, I’d have put this in the 1940s due to the cute pleated shorts all the girls are wearing.

One girl just can’t resist those Boy Scouts on the opposite mountain.

The booklet does not actually tell you how to cook an egg with a magnifying glass, unfortunately.

There are even menus included which predominately feature the product of the publisher.  And guesses yet?

Yes, this booklet was developed by the Home Economics Department of the Kellogg Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.

Those baby bears simply cannot resist Rice Krispies!

 

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Exhibition Journal – Yves Saint Laurent + Halston

Back in February I was lucky to see this exhibition at FIT, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s.  I usually like to take my exhibition journal and do drawings on site, but in some cases that is just not possible.  For this trip I didn’t even take the journal with me, as baggage was tight.  Also, I knew that I could depend on FIT to provide excellent brochures about each exhibition.

I was glad that I had decided not to try and sketch.  I had two friends with me, and sketching takes time.  And there is so much to do in New York and we had so much to see.  But the big reason I decided not to try sketching on site was because the Museum at FIT is always very busy.  People are constantly moving around the exhibits and it is hard for me to concentrate with so much activity.  One gallery has seats which are nice for drawers, but others do not, and I can’t draw standing.

So instead I took lots of photos of the details, planning to do my sketches later.  That didn’t happen though, as I just had so much going on in my head with all the other excitement from the trip.  So I decided to rely on the materials provided by FIT.  Because of that, this journal entry focuses more on what the curators wanted me to take from the exhibition rather than my own observations.  That’s not ideal, but sometimes it just has to be that way.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this exhibition is how time gives a clearer vision as to the zeitgeist of an era.   In the 1970s I don’t think many people would have been able to look at the work of Saint Laurent and of Halston and see how they were both pulling from similar influences.  At the time the differences overshadowed the similarities.

But using that marvelous tool called hindsight, we can step out of the era to see where both designers were influenced by the same things.  It was their approach that was different.

I’ve heard the 1970s referred to as “the decade that taste forgot.”  I think this exhibition can put that line to rest.

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