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The Body Beautiful by Annette Kellermann

 

I’ve written about swimmer Annette Kellermann before, and you might know her as the subject of the 1952 film, Million Dollar Mermaid, staring Esther Williams. She was the woman who introduced the one-piece swimsuit for woman. but what she might have been best at was self-promotion.

In 1925 she promoted a health plan which was outlined in this booklet. She capitalized on a study conducted by Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University which found her body to be the most perfectly formed female physique. She promised that in just five to fifteen minutes a day, any woman could “enjoy the priceless possessions of glorious health, radiant beauty, and a figure fashioned in Nature’s own wonderful mould.”

There are numerous photos of Kellermann’s perfect body in the booklet, most of which appear to have been altered to make her look thinner than she appears in other photos I’ve seen of her.

It just goes to show that  the pressure on women to strive for unrealistic body ideals have been with us a very long time.

I love that on this page Kellermann assures the reader that attaining world-wide fame for her figure has not in the least made her vain. That’s reassuring.

The 1920s was a time when youth and slimness were fashionable. It’s easy to see how this program might appeal to women who had been told their bodies were old-fashioned. Another part of the appeal might have been that in 1925 Kellermann was thirty-eight years old. Though she didn’t advertise that fact in the booklet, she had been in the public eye for about twenty years by this point. People knew she was approaching middle age.

I’d like to say that we’ve finally gotten to the point where we no longer put this type of “perfect body” pressure on women and on ourselves, but then that would be untruthful. Years of exposure to weight loss ads and magazines articles on losing weight, the “helpful” comments of others and subtle peer pressure are powerful influences.

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Bradley High Quality Knit Garments – 1908

Bradley Knitting Company is one of those companies that no longer exists, but still its wares are well-known to vintage sellers and collectors due to the consistent release of consumer catalogs and their large volume of production. The company was renamed as Bradley in 1905, and so this 1908 is from the very early years of the company. At that date they were already producing the garments which made Bradley famous – sweaters and bathing suits.

You might have noticed the use of the word “coat” to describe what we today in the United States would call a sweater or cardigan. Bradley continued to use “knit coats” until the late 1920s when the catalogs switched to the more modern “sweater”.

I’m not familiar with the term, “pony jacket.” Could it have been appropriate for riding?

Even though sweaters were considered to be sportswear, the catalog stylist could not resist adding a bit of fashion with the huge hats.

I’ve seen this style of knit vest advertised as a golf vest. It would have been an excellent choice to wear for the sport because of the increased mobility of the arms which it would allow.

Bradley also made knits for men and for children. The cardigan above is very similar to what sweater companies made all through the 1920s, but it is a bit shorter in the body.

Heavy wool knits were very casual attire, and the association with sports was strong. I really love this baseball coat. I do wonder if the monogram was machine embroidered or if it was made separately and then attached.

In spite of the large, impractical hat (or is it a bow?), this little girl is dressed to play with her knit coat, short skirt, and softball.

Thanks to this catalog I now know that Bradley first made bathing suits in 1907.  Be sure to read the copy, as it is so unintentionally hilarious!

A note about men’s bathing suit styles: in 1908 men’s suits were still very modest, with the long top having a high neck and small armholes. The trunks are to the knees. By the 1920s the armholes and neck in men’s bathing suits were scooped, and the trunks were mid thigh.

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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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