Couture, by Way of the Circus

It’s really a good idea to let people know what you collect.  I get emails from on-line buddies all the time telling me about a cute scottie something they saw on etsy, or a great travel booklet on eBay.  And I have even gotten some wonderful things for my collection from people who were cleaning the closets, and thought, “Hey, Lizzie loves old exercise wear…”  and instead of putting their little piece of history in the garbage, it finds its way to me where I make it feel right at home with the other gymsuits and workout ensembles.

My latest case is this helanca (a very soft and stretchy nylon) leotard, and pair of cotton  shorts.  These items were sent to me by Claire Shaeffer.  If you are a sewer, you may know of Claire’s books on sewing techniques.    Couture Sewing Techniques is a personal favorite.

But before Claire was a sewing expert, she was a member of the Florida State University Circus Actually, I didn’t realize FSU had their very own circus, but it’s a long-standing tradition, being started in the late 1940s.  And in the 1950s, Claire was a member.  The items she sent to me date from her circus days.  Claire included some information about the items, and some priceless photos:

I got them (the shorts) when I went to Florida State in 1957. I was there two years. FSU has a collegiate circus. Generally, freshmen have a routine with 3 guys and a girl. It’s not terribly difficult to thrown around a bit if you have any athletic ability at all.

My sophomore year I had a routine with a guy that was based on a professional act at the time–sorry I have no idea their names. It was much more complex to showcase my flexibility and skills.

Claire never did make a career of the circus, but she has made a name for herself in the vintage fashion and sewing worlds.  She continues to study and write about couture techniques, and she teaches sewing workshops in Palm Springs, CA.  And she was recently featured in Palm Springs Lifemagazine.  Here she is today with some items from her collection of vintage couture.


photos courtesy of Claire Shaeffer.

1 Comment

Filed under Collecting, Sportswear

One response to “Couture, by Way of the Circus

  1. What a fab story! love it! x


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