A few weeks ago when I received the pink bathing cap from Karen at Small Earth Vintage, I was surprised and delighted by her inclusion of an older gymsuit. The poor thing was in excellent shape except that a former owner tried to turn it into a dress. They took out the inseam, and removed the elastic from the bloomer legs. This person must have been a careful, meticulous worker because none of the seams had been cut, so all I had to do was restitch the inseam and casings for the elastic and then insert new elastic.
Whenever I get something that is damaged or dirty or partly deconstructed, I debate in my own mind the pros and cons of cleaning or restoration. Very often I leave an item as found, as in the case of the embroidered Beatles shirt I shared in April. While the shirt would definitely benefit from a good cleaning and an oxyclean soak, there is too much risk that any washing at all might remove the penciled in but unembroidered illustrations. It’s best to just love it as it is.
But in the case of this gymsuit, there was no reason to not do the reconstruction. There was no later addition to remove, nothing that would be eliminated in the process of resewing the legs.
Nicely embroidered name: Marie Therese Egan. This was done on a machine.
Gymsuits can be a bit tricky to accurately date for several reasons. The first is that from the 1910s through the 1960s, the same type of fabric, a heavy cotton broadcloth, was generally used. And though the styles tended to follow fashion to some extent, some schools tended to be more conservative, and kept to the older styles. For example, during the 1930s shorts began replacing bloomers, but I’ve seen bloomers in gymsuit catalogs as late as 1962.
My first thought about this suit was that it was from 1915 or so, but a little research places it a bit later – no earlier than 1921. An online search for Man O’ War just brought up gymsuits for sale on ebay (and a lot about a horse and jellyfish) but due to a 1929 ad I have, I knew the name of the company that produced Man O’ War – Branigan, Green & Co.
According the the 1921 edition of The American Cloak and Suit Review, the company was recently formed as a maker of middys and gym attire. The owners were Edgar Green and Joseph Branigan, both of whom had worked for Morris and Co, the makers of Paul Jones Middys. The company was located at 1270 Broadway, with the factory being located in Baltimore.
The bloomers on this suit are quite long, several inches below the knee. The 1929 styles are all much shorter. So, early 1920s it is.
The last reference I can find on the company is from 1969. I’m not sure how long the company lasted past that date, as by the mid 1970s more and more schools were doing away with gymsuits, much to the relief of teen girls across the land.
Thanks Karen. You’re the best!