1920s Bloomer Shorts by Lafayette Mfg of Baltimore

In the 1910s and 1920s gym wear was a booming business. Most schools were adding physical education classes to the curriculum, even for girls. A need for gym clothing spread beyond the elite colleges and city gymnasiums to schools across America. There were plenty of companies ready to fill the need.

Many sporting goods companies added girls’ gym clothes to their inventory, but in addition what seems to be hundreds of companies were formed to make clothes for gym class. One of these was the Lafayette Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1923 with the mission of providing middy blouses, the standard for girls to wear not only for physical education, but also as classroom attire. The company was formed with partners Maurice Rosenberg, Irma Rosenberg, and Joseph Hinkle. The company’s address was 306 East Lombard Street in Baltimore.

A real plus to this purchase was that the shorts are deadstock and retained the original hangtag. There’s a wealth of information on the tag, without which I don’t think I would ever have been able to learn about the makers.

By far the most useful information provided was the patent number on both the label and the tag. Having the number, I was able to locate a copy of the patent.

If you are wondering why a simple pair of shorts required a patent, the answer is that these are not a simple pair of shorts. Thanks to drawstrings in the back of the waistband, the waist is adjustable from 25 to 34 inches. I can imagine the thrifty mother looking at these with glee, knowing they would continue to fit her growing daughter.

Just pull and tie to adjust the fit.

These shorts have one more interesting feature. At first I was puzzled that the tag called these “bloomers” and the patent called them “knickers” because to me I thought they should be called “shorts”. But these are indeed bloomers, which are concealed beneath the straight legs. It’s an interesting development in the history of shorts, a term that came into use about the time these were made in the late 1920s. The idea of bloomers under shorts persisted in gym clothes. I have several 1960s catalogs that show them.

Research on these bloomers was hindered by the name of the business. With all the towns and streets in the US named for the French hero, plowing through the search results was daunting. Finally, using the name on the patent, and the assumption that Rosenberg was located in Baltimore, I found exactly one useful reference.

Today the location of Lafayette Manufacturing appears to be a parking lot for a hotel.


Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

8 responses to “1920s Bloomer Shorts by Lafayette Mfg of Baltimore

  1. To me, hygienic implies washability. What is that fabric? Cotton sateen?


  2. Claritza

    What a treasure! This post is fascinating to this Baltimore native! Interestingly, Lafayette and the Rosenbergs/Hinkle are not mentioned in the comprehensive book, “A Stitch in Time: The Four Seasons of Baltimore’s Needle Trades,” by Philip Kahn, Jr. Baltimore was a huge manufacturer of clothing, straw hats, umbrellas, etc., originally benefitting from its central position to manufacture uniforms for the North AND the South in the Civil War. Afterwards, many companies continued to make many kinds of uniforms, including military, as well as men’s suits. Sharing this post with the Baltimore Museum of Industry! thebmi.org


  3. Superb research, Lizzie! I’m awarding you an honorary doctorate of fashion and textile history.


  4. jacq.staubss@yahoo.com

    As you have previously covered Bloomers/Middy blouses/skirts- circa 1920’s- i responded re: family photos of my great aunts/grand mother-the middy garb was evident in photos circa 1906-8!? Photos of the Russian and English royality all were wearIng it /in one form or another. Both boys and girls. Later photos – into 1920’s still wearing it. As for Baltimore company – thank you for this! My ather’s family ( cave dwellers) there. I spending considerable time there – i had no idea there was any clothing manufacturing there! Please help us out here! Where & how did this middy craze begin / end? This tired old retired fashion person of yore needs to know! O! PS i have some 80’s fashion catalogs to share with you – if you are interested? Call/email please!


  5. Claritza

    Quick video about Baltimore’s garment industry from the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Highly recommend a visit to view the Garment Loft, if feasible!


  6. Laura

    Can you help me understand what bloomers meant, compared to knickers? What is concealed under the straight leg?

    I would have been one of those thrifty mothers, Delighted to buy only one uniform. Those school required gym shorts were expensive, and the kids would neverr, ever wear them for anythi g else!


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