Ad for White Stag Separates, 1955
And today, the conclusion of my series on American sportswear:
A very important development in women’s sportswear was the concept of co-ordinates, or separates. These were garments made from the same or matching fabrics that were bought one piece at a time to mix and match. Separates became very popular, partly because women found that with separates they could have more “looks” with less clothing.
Bonnie Cashin for Sills, 1957
Practical considerations were all important in sportswear. For the first time, women’s clothing began to have pockets. Some designers took pockets to a whole new level, as in Vera Maxwell’s travel jacket with plastic lined pockets, and Bonnie Cashin’s skirts and coats that had snap-purse pockets.
By the 1940s, sportswear designers were beginning to gain recognition. Claire McCardell was one of the first to make a name for herself, designing simple and easy to wear clothing. Her “Pop-Over” dress, a wrap and tie kimono-style dress was made for years in dozens of different fabrics.
1946 Bates ad featuring Louella Ballerino
Many of the designers of the 1940s became known for their takes on exotic and ethnic wear. Among there were Tina Leser, Louella Ballerino and Carolyn Schnurer. These designers scoured the post-WWII world for design inspiration. Bathing suits, sun dresses and other play clothes had an international appeal, but with American style comfort and ease.
The growth of the movie industry led to Southern California becoming a vacation resort. Pictures of the stars in Palm Springs and lounging around their own pools combined with a climate that allowed year-round outdoors activities gave rise to a certain casual lifestyle image. As a result, California became a center of sportswear manufacturing.
Catalina ad, 1957
Many of these firms, such as Catalina and Cole of California, got their start making swimsuits, and swimsuits remained an important part of the industry. Other California sportswear names to remember are Addie Masters, Pat Premo, Agnes Barrett, Mabs, DeDe Johnson, Louella Ballerino, Alex Colman, Lanz and Koret of California.
Tom Brigance ad, 1940
As the biggest clothing making center, New York City had dozens of designers and manufacturers who made primarily sportswear. The best known are probably McCardell and Cashin, along with Leser and Schnurer. Also important were Tom Brigance, Jeanne Campbell for Sportswhirl, Clare Potter, Dorothy Cox for McMullen, Vera Maxwell, BH Wragge, Emily Wilkins, David Crystal and Joset Walker.
Pendleton ad, 1953
Sportswear was not confined to the two major centers. There were great sportswear makers all over the country – Bill Atkinson at Glen of Michigan, Lorch of Dallas, White Stag, Jantzen and Pendleton (all three in Oregon), and dozens of Hawaiian and Floridian makers.
By the 1960s sportswear was no longer a novelty. Most Americans were dressing in an increasingly casual manner. Today, the wearer of sportswear from the 1930s – 1950s would seem to be “dressed up” in many communities. These clothes have stood the test of time and the casual wear from the mid 20th century still has a freshness that makes it a delight to collect and wear.