On a recent trip to Virginia I was lucky enough to run across an antique mall that had fifty Seventeen magazines from the 1960s. I ended up buying all of them, mainly because it was obvious that the shop owner was just wanting rid of them and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. That was a month ago and I’m just getting around to looking through them all.
It’s a long process. I’m constantly distracted by the articles and short stories. I finally had to tell myself there’ll be no more reading until I have at least had a good look at all the sports clothing. In other words, I’ve been looking at the pictures.
It’s a fun pasttime. In almost every issue I see something I’ve never seen before. Part of this is because I was born in 1955 and I’m just up to 1964. At nine I wasn’t into anything except the Beatles and horses, so fashion was not exactly a priority. But as a collector, I look for things I need for my collection, and I especially pay attention to objects that are similar to things I already have.
In this ad from November, 1964, the mermaid beach towel first caught my eye. I was so enamored with it that it took a minute before I noticed the fish-shaped beach bag.
I felt like I had won the lottery. I have had the fish bag for over two years, but I had no clue as to its origin. There were no labels and no identifying signatures. So you can see how pleased I was to find out not only the date of the piece, but also how it was marketed to Seventeen readers.
Of course now I’ll be on the hunt for the mermaid towel. It’s an absolute necessity.
I’m really sorry about the long absence, but between a shopping trip and technical difficulties, I just haven’t been able to post. Hopefully things are now straightened out and life as we know it will continue.
I am still working on adding to my print archive. One of my latest additions is this little booklet from sneaker maker Keds. Keds published these booklets through the 1950s, but starting in the late 20s the yearly gender-specific booklets seem to have been rolled into a booklet titled Keds Handbook of Sports and Games.
As you can see from the table of contents, this booklet was not just about sports. The topics ranged from recipes to rope skipping.
I found it interesting that there were articles that focused on prominent women. Helen Wills is not a household name today, but she was a real sports hero in the 1920s.
Only two of the “Great American Women” were great because of their husbands, and Dolly was acknowledged for her own accomplishments during the War of 1812.
One might expect to see only “feminine” topics in a publication geared toward girls, but there were science topics such as astronomy and weather.
There were articles like this one on fabrics, which really was an important part of a consumer’s education. I doubt this was included in the boys handbook, which is a shame.
Unfortunately there was also a bit of questionable advice, as you can see in this paragraph on sunburn.
By 1924, attitudes toward a girl’s education were changing. schools were adding physical education programs, and there are many photos of gym classes of girls in their middy blouses, bloomers, stockings, and white Keds. I think of my Great Aunt Mary, who would have been twelve in 1924. She was so into basketball that her academic studies began to suffer. Her mother despaired, but nothing could keep Mary off the court. But her basketball days ended at seventeen when she graduated from high school. She went on to live a life her mother would have chosen for her, as a wife and mother. She was also my best friend.
These old gauntlets were a recent happy find. When I spotted them I thought, “motoring gloves”. Later I had second thoughts, as most of the motoring gauntlets I have seen had padded palms. Then I thought, “riding gloves” but my resources all showed women on horseback wearing a glove with a trimmer arm.
A look through a 1896 McClure’s magazine gave me what I think is the answer. These are most likely cycling gloves. 1896 was the height of the cycling craze and the magazine is full of illustrations of women cyclists selling bicycles and accessories.
The shape of the gauntlets is perfect for the sleeve of the mid 1890s – big puffed shoulders, but narrow lower arms.
Of, course, I’m not 100% certain these are cycling gauntlets, but part of what makes collecting fun is the research and theories that result.
These gloves are exceptionally fine. The leather is very soft and the craftsmanship is top-notch. There are no labels or imprints on the interior, but each snap is engraved with a lion’s head.
And speaking of the snaps, the “male” part is a design of which I have never seen.
In nice gloves before the 1940s you expect to see little stitched tucks on the back of the hands. These ensure a snug fit. These gauntlets also have the tucks on the fingers.
Now all I need is a little cap like the ones in ads one and two.
The middy has an interesting family tree, so to speak. It started with sailors (midshipmen), was adapted for little boys and then little girls, and ended up as a staple of 1910s and 20s exercise wear for school and college girls. Older women saw the practicality of the garment and began wearing it as casual wear. And now every few years the middy makes a fashion comeback, usually in the form of a dress.
This catalog dates to 1918, at the height of the middy’s popularity. Many girls’ schools adopted the middy with matching skirt as a school uniform. If school group photos are an indication, even school girls who attended small rural schools like the one in the little town where I live wore middies to school.
By 1918, Paul Jones was selling not only middies, but also skirts and bloomers. They continued making sailor suits for girls and boys as well.
Paul Jones middies came in this standard form, but the company also made some interesting variations.
I’ve seen hundreds of middies in my time, but never one like this!
“Take a Paul Jones Middy with you on your vacation- wear Paul Jones Middies to the mountain- to camp- to the seashore- to the country. Buy several Paul Jones Middies for your daughter- let her wear them to kindergarten, school or college- on picnics, outings, on hikes and particularly for sport. Save the fragile, fancy waists for the dress-up affairs and Sunday.”
Paul Jones made middies up to a size 42 inch bust, so they were serious about trying to get women on-board with the middy.
By the end of the 1920s, the middy and bloomers combination was being replaced by skimpier gym suits. Some gym suits retained the middy collar, but it faded away as girls became used to wearing less fabric on their bodies. You might think that middy manufacturers would turn to gym suit production, and some, like Spalding, did. But it appears that Morris & Company, the maker of Paul Jones middies, moved away from middies and into increased production of women’s work uniforms. Under the Paul Jones label, the company made uniforms for maids and waitresses, but especially for nurses. They also made a house dress called the Magicoat, which was a wrap dress.
Morris & Co, was established in 1867 by Edward Morris, as a maker of men’s underwear. Over their long history the company made a wide assortment of garments in their Baltimore factory. Luckily, the company records are now held in the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
I think I’ve said before that when it comes to 1950s and newer clothing, I have become very selective. There are plenty of excellent examples of sportswear from the 50s, 60s, and 70s so I have found there is no reason to settle for anything less than the best. What “the best” consists of is, of course, a matter of opinion. And in my opinion, these shorts are the best.
It’s really all about the print. I’ve always loved a good collage, and this one is so clever. Nothing says “I love fashion” like a good fashion magazine print. So I added these shorts to my collection, hoping I’d have fun with the research.
And of course I did have fun. The first step was to investigate the maker, Majestic. I have seen the label over the years and knew it to be the type of mid-priced clothing sold in department stores like Belk and Dillards.
But just having the name of the label was not terribly useful, as “majestic” as a search term by itself is pretty useless. As luck would have it, the label also had a RN number. These are government identification numbers assigned to a clothing company. A search for the number identified the full name of the company as Majestic Specialties of Cleveland, Ohio. From examining old trademark indexes (available on Google books) I found that Majestic dates from 1940, which is interesting but not useful in this case, as I knew the shorts were 1959 or later due to the RN number.
So I went to Newspaper Archive. There I searched for “Majestic magazine print shorts” and hit the jackpot. I found an ad for the shorts, and learned that there are matching tops as well. The ad was in a May 27, 1960 newspaper.
At this point you might think the story is over, but thanks to Instagram, I learned even more about the print. One of my friends there, @1972Projects, posts vintage fashion photos and magazine covers. Last week he posted this one:
Not only did John-Michael have this one, he also spotted two more of the images in my print as being actual magazine covers. All were from 1956.
Now I’m on the search for that matching beach shirt. It’s good to have goals.
I added this satin rayon and Lastex bathing suit from maker Catalina to my collection for several reasons. The main one is that this is the earliest screen printed design I have ever seen in a bathing suit. Generally, these date to the post-war Forties and the very early Fifties. And Catalina was a major producer of that type of design.
I have dated this suit as pre-WWII, based on the design of the suit and the materials used. As the 1930s came in, most bathing suits were still being made from wool knit. The introduction of Lastex into the yarn made the fit better, but manufacturers were looking for a replacement for the scratchy, slow-drying wool. One solution was adding Lastex to rayon or silk. The material was smooth and kept its shape. It did, however, have an unpleasant smell of rubber when damp. Still, this type of fabric was used from the late Thirties (except for the war years when rubber-based Lastex was generally unavailable) until the early Sixties when nylon and polyester became more popular.
The biggest clue is the style of the suit. The photo above is not of a Catalina suit, but is a Mabs of Hollywood design. Still, see how the suit is very similar in design to my Catalina suit. I could post dozens of suits from 1939 and you would see the same silhouette.
Catalina was formed in 1928 from its parent company, Pacific Knitting Mills. Their earliest bathing suits were made of wool jersey and sported a flying fish logo. (An idea stolen from competitor Jantzen, perhaps.) In the later Thirties, Catalina was still using the logo on some of their suits, but here we see it on a buckle on the straps. It was also on their labels.
This label was used starting in the late 1930s, or possibly 1940. You can still see the flying fish, but I especially love the artist’s palette. Maybe they were trying to stress the new development of screen printed, artistic fabrics.
This stitch was evidently made by machine. I’ve never seen anything like it.
The fabric is stretchy, due to the Lastex, but a zipper is still required to make putting on and taking off easier.
Lots of searching has not produced ads for this early screen printed satin, but I am confident it is pre-WWII.
This is one of the treasures of the museum where I volunteer, the Shelton House in Waynesville, NC. It’s a wall hanging by Kate Clayton Donaldson, and it may look a bit familiar because I’ve shared other works by Granny Donaldson, as she is often called. Granny started making these hangings with crocheted figures in the 1920s, and was soon selling them through the John C. Campbell Folk School which was near her home.
This post is not a detailed story of Granny’s work, as I am in the process of research in the hopes of writing a paper for presentation or publication. I do want to use her as an example to express some opinions about how folk arts and history are sometimes portrayed.
In the recent devastating flooding in eastern Kentucky, people lost their homes and belongings, their livelihoods, and their lives. They have also lost valuable records of their history when storm waters inundated Appalshop, which held “hundreds of thousands of archival pieces from across mediums: film, photographs, artisan crafts, woodworking, musical instruments, magazines, newspapers, posters and personal family archives that have been donated to the group — all depicting life in the Appalachian Mountains.”
For a region whose story has often been told by outsiders, these records were the story of Appalachia, told by Appalachians. And this is important. From the last years of the nineteen century, Appalachia has been “explained” by people from outside the region, most often in an unfavorable light. This continues today in the book by J.D. Vance, who claims to be from Appalachia, but who is from central Ohio.
It is important that any group of people should be in control of the narrative about them. After years of letting others tell our story, Appalachians have been writing the histories that should be read, collecting the artifacts that go beyond the homestead and cabin, moonshine and feuding trope. That’s why I like Shelton House so much. It shows that Appalachians are a diverse group, who were fashionable, educated, and well-traveled. They were not a throw-back to the past, but instead were a part of the greater culture of the USA while still practicing crafts and farming and folkways.
This is Kate Donaldson in the 1930s, during the time she was making her crocheted and woven wool wall hangings. You can see that she is somewhat fashionably dressed, with no sunbonnet nor homespun. Often photos of Appalachians made by professional photographers show evidence of props, which were used to present a more folksy image. In other words, they were telling the story as they wanted it to be, not as it actually was.
I have found quite a few photos of Mrs. Donaldson that were posed on the porch of a cabin, her needlework on her lap. Seen with her is Allen Eaton (from Oregon), who in 1937 wrote a book titled, Handicrafts of the Southern Appalachians. He came to Western North Carolina in 1926, where he became an influential figure in the craft revival that was sweeping not only the Southern Appalachians, but most of the country. In this revival movement poor rural people were encouraged to take up the crafts of the past, such as weaving, basketry, pottery, and woodwork. In most places, even in the most remote corners of the mountains, looms had long been taken down and stored away as cheap manufactured textiles became available. The earliest proponents of the crafts revival had to actually find weavers, some from Europe, to reteach the skills to mountain women and girls.
I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m being too harsh about the craft revival people, because a lot of good did come out of the movement. Weaving skills were saved, old folk songs were recorded and poor people had a source of cash money.
What bugs me about the whole thing is that, once again, the narrative was being presented by people from outside the region. When Allen Eaton wrote about Kate Donaldson’s work, he said that she had been shown a blanket from Italy which was used to decorate the backs of cows during certain festivals. Granny thought, “I can do that,” and set about making copies of the Italian blankets. The story became so widespread that even today, Granny’s wall hangings are more often called “cow blankets”.
Years later, in the late 1950s, Granny set the record straight through the writings of John Parris, a local journalist and collector of stories from Western North Carolina. He would visit people in the mountains who were still practicing some of the “old ways” and then wrote about them in his popular column in the Asheville Citizen. Many of the articles were then published in book form.
When Parris visited Granny Donaldson at her home in Marble, NC, she let him know she had never seen an Italian cow blanket, and that she never called them by that name. To her, they were a “pretty wall-piece”. She started making them after decorating a neighbor’s baby’s blanket that had been left at her house and a visitor from the nearby John C. Campbell Folk School saw it and thought it had retail potential.
What bothers me is that the cow story survives, though John Parris published Granny’s version of the story twice. Like I said earlier, the people in a culture can tell their own stories, without embellishment from outside the culture, no matter how well-intentioned.
If you are interested in Southern Appalachian stories, the books of John Parris cannot be beaten. Especially wonderful is Mountain Cooking, but also look for These Storied Mountains, My Mountains, My People, Mountain Bred, and Roaming the Mountains.