Brownie Gymsuit, 1930s – 40s

I recently added another gymsuit to my little collection of them.  My best guess is that this one is from the late 1930s, or maybe into the early years of the 40s.  In fact I have a 1940 catalog from maker Aldrich & Aldrich that shows a suit that has a lot of the same features.

Gymsuits are not fashion items, but to some extent they did follow fashion, or at least sports clothes fashion.   In the case of my gymsuit, the pleated sleeves were very popular in the mid 1930s.   Maybe some gymsuit maker noted the fashion and realized that this sleeve was a good one for use in a garment that needed to let the wearer move.

Other features that increased mobility were the pleated skirt and the presence of an inverted pleat in the back.

To make it easier to get dressed in the small amount of time that a school schedule allowed, there were snaps instead of buttons, and a metal belt clasp that did not require buckling.

I’m always amazed at how well vintage gymsuits are constructed.  The fabric is usually a cotton; either a broadcloth, poplin or a lightweight duck.   They were made to last through four years of physical education.

There were quite a few gymsuit makers, but Brownie is a new one to me.  It is interesting that the label was based in St. Louis, home to the fashion industry for the teen set.

A brownie is a sort of elf-like creature, similar to Dobby in the Harry Potter series, but cuter.  They were popularized in the late 19th century by illustrator and writer, Palmer Cox.   The Brownie branch of the Girl Scouts was named for them.


Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear

8 responses to “Brownie Gymsuit, 1930s – 40s

  1. Love the label. And this gym suit by today’s standards is just too cute to wear for exercise – I love the pleats in the sleeves and the back.


  2. I remember 7th grade in junior high school… 1944… we had to wear an ugly tan gym suit…it had a royal blue collar and bloomer legs with elastic around the legs. We would die when the boys gym class would see us in these ugly things. That “BROWNIE THING” looks good in comparison


  3. In the early 70s we had to wear a bright white one that was a poly-blend with an elastic waist and snaps up the front. Completely humiliating and not nearly as cute as this one. What was particularly weird is that we were forced to change into them for a 30-minute gym class where we would never work up a sweat, and then we had to shower and put our street clothes back on. I think we spent more time changing than working out. Thank goodness Title 9 changed everything for future generations of girls.
    And in grade school I remember playing a game called “Brownies and Fairies” in gym that required running across the gym and touching the wall, but what the point was I have no idea.


  4. This is darling! I would wear this just for fun!


  5. Great color! Cute pleats! Makes me what to play a game of dodge ball!


  6. Love that label! And I really like the pleated sleeves. I’m surprised I haven’t seen them more often in my dress finds of the era.


  7. That’s a very interesting color for a gym suit, isn’t it? I remember mine as gray, navy, green, etc. I really like the back pleat detail!


  8. Lynne Johnson

    Wow! That takes me back! We actually wore these in 1964 at Arcade Middle School PE in Sacramento, CA. They were red and bloomers were attached so nothing showed. At the time they seemed very outdated, but were practical. Thanks for the memory jog.


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