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Abercrombie & Fitch Summer Sport Styles 1939

I’m always happy to locate a catalog that features women’s sports clothing, especially when it’s from a company like Abercrombie & Fitch. This newest acquisition is from 1939, and I also have the winter 1938 edition. These are the only two I’ve ever seen, so I have no idea how long A&F put out this particular catalog.

If I ever get around to building that time machine, one place I definitely want to visit is the A&F flagship store that was located on Madison Avenue at 45th Street in New York City.  That would be true adventure shopping!

The copywriter lays it out straight – don’t expect frou-frou at Abercrombie & Fitch. But that does not mean the the clothing sold by A&F in the spring of 1939 was not fashionable.

The move toward the very strong shoulders associated with the 1940s had already begun, and you can clearly see it in the sleeves of these rayon and linen frocks. Insead of shoulder pads, the 1930s designer used deep pleats at the top of the sleeve to create the desired width.

By the end of the 1930s, fashionable length in tennis dresses had been abandoned in favor of shorter skirts that increased the players’ mobility.  I love the zipper in the sleeve of the dress on the left. I’ve never seen this feature in a blouse or dress. Usually what is seen is the split sleeve on the right. Both free the arms to make for a better swing.

The dress in the center is the same as the one on the cover. The buttons not only can be unfastened to allow the player to have a wider stride, according to the catalog it “unbuttons down each side so it may be laundered easily.”  All these dresses are available only in white.

Golf attire did not adopt the shorter skirt like the tennis dress. Golf does not require the long stride of tennis, and golf and country clubs tended to be very conservative spaces.  Only one of these dresses was available in white, as color was standard on the golf course.

It’s always amazing to realize how much more conservative swim and beachwear was in the late 1930s than in the late 20s and early 30s. All these suits except the one in the middle are made from woven fabrics, and most likely they all have zippers down the back.  The willowy beach pajamas of a few years earlier have been replaced with slacks.

Riding attire depended on where one was riding. The look on the left was appropriate  for Western ranch wear. The riding coat and jodhpurs were more suited for Eastern wear.

Here we have a selection of clothing for boating. The slacks suit in the middle was made from denim, but the one on the right was constructed of waterproof silk. It was also available in cotton sailcloth.

This page was titled, “Country Compromise”. One could wear her shorts and her skirt too. The set on the left is called an exercise suit, and comes with shorts beneath the skirt.

As much as I love the clothes, I’ll admit that this page of accessories is my favorite. Number 4 is a beach bag from Paris, and that’s a watch set into the wooden lid. Number 6 is described as lastex panties, to wear under sports clothing. And number 11 is a pouch to hold one’s golf incidentals.

 

 

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Clothes, 1926 Filene’s, Boston

I recently found this catalog disguised as a magazine from William Filene’s Sons in Boston. I don’t buy a lot of basic catalogs, but this one focuses on summer sportswear, so it is a good fit within my collection.

I would think that today if the name Filene’s comes up, most people would think of the famous Filene’s Basement. Started in 1909, it was not the first bargain basement (that honor goes to Marshall Field in Chicago) but it did grow to become the most famous. It was probably the most lamented department when the store was closed in 2006 and 2007. Today there is an online Filene’s Basement, but we know that does not count.

But this catalog was not advertising wares from the basement. The dress or ensemble on the cover is not mentioned inside the catalog, but a very similar dress could be found in the women’s department on the fifth floor for $25. The inflation calculator prices that at $362 in 2019 dollars.

The catalog has twenty-two pages, and four of them are devoted to sweaters. This is 1926, so all the sweaters have a long, below the hip, slim line. Filene’s suggested layering the sweaters, much like French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen did. According to a question and answer page in the catalog, “Mlle. Lenglen this year often wears a sleeveless white dress, with three cardigans over it – the first of crepe de Chine, the second of Milanese silk, the third of light wool.”

The tennis dress on the left is made of silk, and is available in white as would be expected, but also in colors to wear off the court. I’d like one in larkspur. The dress on the right is described as being in the Vionnet style. This style is referenced elsewhere in the catalog, always when describing a square neck and a line of fagotting across the top of the bust.

This golf dress was developed with advice from actual women golfers. I can’t see that the necktie helped with the golfer’s comfort though.

There’s that Vionnet-style bodice again. Elsewhere in the catalog, sweaters are described as being Chanel-style.

But to get the real French thing, one had to go to the more exclusive French Shop, which was located on the sixth floor in 1926. There one could have a French designer gown fitted to suit the buyer.

Like so many department stores across the US, Filene’s eventually fell victim to Federated and Macy’s. To make it worse, the old Filene’s store was not converted to a Macy’s store as happened in so many other cities. Instead, the interior of Filene’s was gutted as only the exterior was protected under its historical classification. Today, much of the building is home to Irish fast fashion retailer Primark.

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Award Sweaters from Octonek, 1946

I just received this catalog from a company of which I’d never heard, the Octonek Knitting Company of Seattle. It was a gift, and a very welcome one! My thanks to Mary of @pdxsquared. A friend of hers was cleaning out her mother’s things when this was found, and they just wanted it to go to a good home. And it did.

I have been able to find a little information about Octonek. It was founded in 1913 by J.H. and Theresa Breece. In a 1915 business register their products listed were wool knit items, including  sweaters, cardigans, golf vests, and hosiery.  A 1935 advertisement in a hiking club publication  listed “Knitted suits and dresses, sweaters, wool socks, mittens, caps for skiers, caps, and gloves”. The last print reference I located was in a 1950 Seattle University Spectator newsletter, in which bathing suits were also advertised.

There was a little about the company inside the catalog. Most surprising was that Octonek would make a sweater to order, made to the customer’s measurements. This would be very useful for very short or very tall or very large persons who could not find knits to fit.

We also get a glimpse into the factory, which I love seeing.

Again, we can see Octonek’s willingness to tailor their product to the buyer’s specifications.

As with other garments, the sweaters openings for girls lapped right over left, and those for boys lapped left over right. That, along perhaps with size, is often the only clue as to the gender of the former owner.

I love the term yell leader. Was that a regional thing? Here in the South I’ve only ever seen and heard them referred to as cheerleaders. And yell kings, dukes, and queens are new to me terms as well.

Octonek also made wool chenille emblems, and because they used the same yarns as the sweaters, they were guaranteed to match.

 

 

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1940s Fashion Letterheads

Six years ago I ran across the correspondence of a clothing sales representative, most of which was rejection letters from firms with which he was seeking a position. I wrote about the letters at the time, but in looking through them recently I was really struck by several new thoughts.

Many of the letterhead illustrations included facsimiles of the labels the companies used. These could be useful not only in helping to date a garment, but also in identifying the maker of a certain label. In the case above, Miss Modern Playtogs, Ethel Lou Creations, and Nina Lou Frocks were all made by the Alton Garment Company of St. Louis, a fact that would be lost if not for documentation such as the letters.

Another important lesson from these letters is how widespread the manufacturing of clothing was in the United States. Fashion history tends to focus on New York (and no doubt, the fashion industry there was very important), with an occasional nod to the California and Florida sportswear makers, the junior dress industry of St. Louis, and the woolen manufacturers of the North and Northwest.

We are reminded that Dallas was another center for sportswear, and that Cleveland had a large knitwear industry. Not only was Saint Louis a center for junior wear, so was Kansas City. And I couldn’t help but notice how many different clothing manufacturing companies were located in Boston.

It’s interesting how the logos and fonts used by some companies looked old-fashioned for the late 1940s…

while others were definitely looking toward the 1950s.

The California companies were more likely to use “California lifestyle” imagery in their logos.

Companies that made clothing for children and teens were more likely to use images of dresses.

Teen and junior lines were more likely to use quirky fonts and design.

And whatever happened to the word frock?

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Dunlop Beach Sandals, 1939

Some time ago I found a pair of 1930s beach shoes from France, so I guess it was bound to happen that I find a pair from Great Britain as well. I would have been happy with just the shoes, but they came in the original box which was just the best icing imaginable.

I spotted these on Instagram (that great enabler of collectors) in the feed of @wideawakevintage. If you are not following her, do please, as she finds the most amazing stuff. After nearly breaking my neck to get to her etay store, I found the shoes were still there and so I purchased them. It was not until the package arrived that I found the box was included.

There’s a real plus to buying from sellers who are obsessed with the history of things. They are on the lookout for ads and such to help with the dating of the things they find. And Michelle of Wide Awake really went above and beyond the duty of a vintage seller, as she not only found an advertisement with my new shoes…

she also found this photo for sale on Etsy with a woman wearing the shoes! I love how she has paired them with ankle socks and a dress, proving that beach sandals are not just for the beach.

Okay, these are not one hundred percent exactly like mine, but they are pretty darned close.

It’s always great to see something I have in my collection in the actual context of it being worn. Ads are great, but it takes a real woman to put these shoes in a real situation.

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The Fall Hat Box, 1911, Muhlfelder’s of Albany and Troy, New York

After buying the little purse catalog that was shaped like a purse, how could I resist a hat catalog shaped like a hat box? And even better, this little booklet proves to be a memento of an important event in a woman’s life – that of her wedding.

The owner of the booklet recorded the date of the wedding…

along with her new name and address.

This is a very good clue that Mrs. Klee’s first name was Rose, and the 1930 census provided a record of George and Rose Klee living in Troy. The 1940s census has George and Rose still living at 2231 Burdett Avenue in Troy with their son, daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter.

On another page is the name Rose Ney. And yes, this is the same Rose, as Ancestry.com has her as Rose Ney Klee, born in 1890. There is even a photograph of Rose.  Rose lived to be 96 years of age.

Rose got married in the era of the huge hat. Think Titanic or My Fair Lady. I hope she had a suitably large hat for her wedding.

Muhlfelder’s was established by Jonas Muhlfelder, a German-Jewish immigrant. He worked in the wholesale millinery business in Albany before setting up his own stores for ladies around the turn of the twentieth century. The Albany Institute of History and Art has a fantastic photo of the millinery department of the Albany store.

Veils were for mourning, and also for motoring.

Most of these hats required not only a big pile of hair, but also a very long hat pin. Still, looking at photos of women in hats of this era makes me wonder how they balanced it all. It must have been a big relief to pull out the pin and place the hat on its stand.

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Harford Frocks Sales Cards, 1940s

I think most of us would be familiar with at least one company that marketed direct to consumers in their homes. Examples are Avon cosmetics, Longaberger baskets, and Fuller brushes.  In most cases the salespersons were (are, as some of these are still in business) not employees of the company, but were private contractors who took orders for a commission. There were also several companies that sold clothing. One was Doncaster, who first used members of the Junior League as their “fashion consultants”. Doncaster recently closed after eighty-seven years.

Another fashion company that used direst sales was Harford Frocks of Cincinnati. Consultants were usually women, especially homemakers who wanted to make a little extra money. Each consultant had a sales kit that included cards showing all the available styles. The best part was the attached fabric swatch on each card, allowing the customer to actually feel the fabric.

I haven’t spent a lot of time researching the company so I can’t give a complete history of the company. The president was Clarence Israel, who arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1930s. His papers are held by the American Jewish Archives, but there is probably not much about his time at Harford. His more important work was as a social activist, and he worked to benefit the Jewish community of Cincinnati.

There are several interesting tidbits I want to share, however. I couldn’t find any firm dates for when Harford was in business, but the best source for trying to figure it out was Pinterest. Lots of cards are on view there, with the earliest ones dating to the mid 1920s, and the latest to the mid 1960s.

The company advertised in cheap magazines and comics, and according to the ads, the consultant got a free dress for every three she sold. I also found ads in the want ads section of Popular Mechanics.

The company was located in what is today the American Sign Museum. In 1937 the Ohio flooded, and the building was damaged. They sued their insurance company because it would not pay for damages. The insurance company won the case.

I have thirty-seven cards, but they are double-sided. They are not dated, but the designs look to be 1946 ish to me.  There are all kinds of garments, including  socks for men and “Curve Curbers” (aka girdles). There are suits for women and a few designs for little girls. But by far the best represented garment is the frock.

Each design has a fabric swatch or two, and included are the sizes available. They had three size ranges, what we would today call juniors, misses and half sizes. Some of the designs went up to a 44 inch bust.

The designs marketed to the teen market often had novelty features, like the pockets above.

This two piece dress looks like it has Schiaparelli-inspired buttons, but look closer and you’ll see that the buttons are round, and the top of the notes are embroidered onto the jacket.

Noticeably absent are pants. These shorts were the only pants in the entire set, though I have no way of knowing if some cards, which may include pants suits, are missing.

There were several sundresses with jackets. The horse fabric is a printed pique.

This is a versatile set, but it would be even more so if a pair of shorts were included.

One of the best things about post-World War Two fashion was the return of lots of color. Note that even the shoes are a bright, cherry color.

Like so much of the clothing advertising in the first six decades of the twentieth century, the fabric was up front and featured. Bates was a well-known brand of textiles, and Harford was quick to point out the connection.

Pleated to capacity!

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