Category Archives: Camping and Hiking

1917, Von Lengerke & Antoine Sporting Goods Exclusively

I know that blogging has now been replaced with Instagram and whatever the social media platform of the week happens to be, but I can tell you that having a more permanent place on the internet can really pay off. The biggest advantage seems to me to be that having a site that is searchable by google brings the blogger into contact with  all sorts of people.

My favorite type of such people is the one who is searching an item she has in her possession, but doesn’t know what to do with it. Through the miracle of Goggle this person finds me, and by the end of our email exchanges, the item is on its way to me. In this case, my new best friend, Joanna, had an old catalog from Von Lengerke & Antoine, a Chicago sporting goods store that was bought by Abercrombie & Fitch in 1928.

This catalog predated the acquisition, and looked to be about 1920 to me. There was no date on the catalog, but using the No. 53 designation on the cover and the fact they released about two catalogs a year put date at 1918 or 1919. Whatever; I was thrilled when Joanne offered to send it to me.

 

There was no date on the cover, nor in any of the pages that give all the information about the catalog, but here in the description of the bathing suit we learn that the 1917 line of bathing suits make up all the latest fashions. The most striking thing about the bathing suit above is the price of it. $50 was a very high price for a swimsuit in 1917. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, That 1917 $50 would buy $1075 worth of goods today.

The other styles were more reasonably priced, but even $20 was a big expense for an item that was not truly necessary. Von Lengerke was not for the bargain hunter.

The bathing caps are really interesting, with the two plain styles being for men. The sad thing for collectors is that few of these seem to have survived.

Another must-have item for the 1917 bather was a pair of bathing slippers. These were made of sateen cotton or canvas, and so survive in greater numbers. It’s interesting that these have leather and linoleum soles. All the ones in my collection have canvas soles.

This may be a 1917 catalog, but the Von Lengerke people did not spring for a new illustration for their outing shirts. This one dates to the previous decade, but since the style didn’t change much, why change the illustration?

But here’s where I really get a bad case of antique catalog envy. I’ll take either of these outing hats, please.

The last item is not clothing, but it is such a great example of how technology was changing the way people thought about camping that I had to include it. The auto was taking people places they’d never imagined, but it took a while for the accommodations industry to catch up. In the meantime, auto camping was a good solution to the question of where to spend the night.

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1920s Wool Knickers for Women

I’ve wanted (or, rather, needed) a pair of 1920s wool knickers for some time, and so my heart skipped a few beats last week when I finally found a pair. I had been hoping to find a pair with a matching jacket, and even told myself I was going to hold out for a set, but the minute I laid eyes on these I knew I had to add them to my collection.

Why all the fascination with knickers? For one thing, knickers were both the shorts and the slacks for 1920s women and girls. Except for bloomers worn in gym class and at the end of the decade, pajamas worn on the beach, knickers and the similar garment, breeches, were the only options women had for wearing pants in public.

I’ve heard lots of stories from women who were young during the 1920s of how they raided brother’s closet to daringly wear his knickers. But by the early 1920s that was not even necessary, as mass-market catalogs like Montgomery Ward carried knickers for girls and women.

The clothing above is from the 1925 Montgomery Ward catalog. On the left are breeches, and on the right is a pair of wool tweed knickers. Note that both button on the side, on both sides actually, and the front drops for convenience. Whenever I find a photo of a woman wearing knickers I always try to see the closure, but usually it is obscured as you can see in the photo above.  The presence of a front fly would indicate the woman is wearing men’s knickers.

My pair has pockets that hide the buttons of the opening.

The seam edges are secured with an overlock stitch made by an early machine of this type. Overlocking is most commonly seen on sportswear in garments before the late 1960s.

Here’s another pair from Montgomery Ward, this time from the 1930 catalog. You can see that the style is little changed from the ones made five years earlier.  Knickers were more utilitarian than fashion, but soon after 1930 women’s knickers disappeared from catalogs. In their place were shorts, slacks, and pajamas. My 1932 Sears catalog has no knickers at all for women. It does have breeches and ankle-length knicker-like pants for skiing, and even a pair of actual slacks. Times were definitely changing.

I’m still in the market for a great 1920s wool knicker suit if anyone happens upon one.

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Mountaineering in Short Skirts, 1904

I recently ran across these two prints that are dated 1904.  To someone who knows about fashion in the early twentieth century, this would seem like a very improbable skirt length for the time.  But they reminded me of the words of outdoorswoman, Annie Smith Peck, who wrote in 1901:

“…Men, we all know, climb in knickerbockers… Women, on the contrary, will declare that a skirt is no hindrance to their locomotion.  This is obviously absurd, and though a few ladies have climbed mountains like the Matterhorn in extremely scanty and abbreviated skirts, I dare assert that suitably-made knickerbockers… are not only more comfortable but more becoming… A scant skirt barely reaching the knee and showing the knickerbockers below, such as some ladies have worn, is as ungraceful a costume as could be devised; and for a woman in difficult mountaineering to waste her strength and endanger her life with a skirt is foolish in the extreme.”

While these pictures seem to show the women in leggings rather than knickers, the outfit is pretty much as Annie described it.

The imaginary women in the prints are also shown as if they were wearing corsets.  What did Annie have to say about that?

“It may not be necessary to add that no one should climb mountains or even hills in corsets.  One must have the full use of the lungs, and the loosest corset is some impediment to the breathing.  As ordinarily worn they are impossible.  Moreover, they greatly increase the heat, impede circulation, and promote rush of blood to the head.”

Images of women participating in sports were popular in the early 1900s.  Artists like Coles Phillips and Howard Chandler Christy were known for their sporty, but still very feminine, women.  This artist seems to be sexualizing the women somewhat, with the posing and the slender legs.

I think the signature is T T Pollock, but I could not find a reference to that name, nor to Polleck.  Maybe someone will recognize it for me.

No skirts for Annie!

Update:  Researcher extraordinaire Lynne has discovered that the artist was Homer Polleck, though some references have his name as Pollock.  He lived and worked in Kansas City, Missouri, and died in 1917.

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Vintage Abercrombie’s Camp Ruck Sack

My Goodwill Outlet Center is a place of wonderment.  Walking through the door one gets a feeling of infinite possibilities.  What will I find in the over-stuffed bins?  Will they be full of seldom worn but already looking tired fast fashion, or will there be pristine vintage galore?

Vintage and antique people seem to me to be the world’s worst lamenters over “the good old days.”  I’ve done my share of it, whining over a closed flea market or an antique mall turned into a decorator marketplace.  People even lament that the Goodwill is not as great as it once was, and the truth is, I haven’t found any early clothing there in a long time.

But I always say that treasure is where you find it, and if you don’t look, it is not going to be found.  I can’t help thinking about what happens to all the unfound treasure at the Goodwill Outlet.  It is bundled to go to a rag house where the stuff is picked through again, and hopefully anything of value is plucked from the piles before they are rebundled for transport to Africa, or even worse, to a textile recycling facility where the clothes are shredded for reprocessing.

On my latest trip to the land of vintage possibilities, I was going through a bin of used handbags and nylon backpacks.  At the bottom of the bin I spotted a scrap of old fabric, and quickly uncovered what you see above.  At first I thought it might be an old military bag, but the interior of the bag had a promising label.

That’s when I knew I had a treasure.  The Abercrombie on the label was David Abercrombie of Abercrombie & Fitch, outdoor outfitters to the early twentieth century adventurers.  The business was started in 1892 by Abercrombie,who was joined in the business in 1900 by Ezra Fitch.  In 1907 the two parted ways, with Abercrombie leaving the business he had started.  The following year he went on to manufacturer and sell camping supplies, and even made items that were sold in the Abercrombie and Fitch store and catalog.

Abercrombie set up his new business, Abercrombie’s Camp, at 311 Broadway. The company also sold through a catalog.  The earliest I could online find was dated 1912.  It seems a bit odd that Abercrombie’s name was continued to be used by Fitch, as the two were competitors for the same market.  I imagine they were often confused for each other, as I was when I first saw the label.  I thought it was an odd A&F label, but instead, was an entirely separate company.

Lucky for me, I do have that 1910 A&F catalog, and it does have my bag, or a very similar one, pictured.  They called it a ruck sack, also known as a Swiss mountain pack.  Mine is the gabardine version.

“The best pack ever devised for the carrying of light loads and the small personal belongings.  Makes an excellent pack for a woman’s use and is handy for carrying a few necessities when ‘going light’.”

One big problem that collectors face in an object like this one is how to best preserve it.  Does one wash it?  Should it be returned to a “better” condition?

To me, one of the charms of a piece like this one is that it shows that it was used.  I’d  much rather have it than a pristine example that did not go on numerous hikes across the Southern Appalachians.

And it was obviously used a lot.  One of the leather straps has about seven inches missing off one end, and the little leather piece that fastens the top flap is partially missing.  I thought about either replacing the straps, or having a leather crafter replace the missing bits, but ultimately I’ve decided to leave them as is.  If I ever display it I may make temporary repairs with brown fabric to show how it would have been used.

I did decide to use a bit of leather cleaner and conditioner on the leather pieces.  I also gave the bag a quick mild detergent bath to loosen any dirt or oil that was not set in the fibers.  I can’t tell that it improved the appearance, though it did produce a very dirty tub of water.

A bonus with this bag is that there is a name.  I can’t decide if it is M. Clark II, or McClark II, but I’ll be searching the records of the local hiking clubs (which go back to the late 1920s)  to see if there is a match.

And here is the bag after the little bit of cleaning.  You can still see all the years of hard use this bag was subject to.

I really can’t narrow down the date of the ruck sack very much.  I know the earliest possible date would be the year Abercrombie’s Camp was established, 1908.  The missing information is how long was this bag in production.  The next A&F catalog that I have is 1939, and the style is not in that book.  Still that is a range of thirty-one years, and I’d really like to do better than that.  If you have an Abercrombie’s Camp or an Abercrombie and Fitch Catalog dated before 1939, I’d sure appreciate hearing from you.

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1920s Tomboy Hiking Suit

 

One of my latest acquisitions came by way of Instagram.  I know that some people think that social media is just for teenage girls to get themselves in trouble by posting nude photos of themselves, or for pictures of the neighbor’s cat, or for showing off your breakfast at Starbucks.  But I say it is what you make of it, and that includes scoping out items for my sportswear collection.

I couldn’t believe this knickers and vest set that was posted by @thegirlcantdance.  I contacted her and she sent more photos and a detailed condition report.  Even though I already have a linen knicker set, this one is khaki twill, and was less of a fashion piece than my “Fad of the Hour” set.  So I was thrilled to be able to add it to my collection.

The tern “tom boy” (or is it “tomboy”?) was already in common use by the early 1920s went this set was most likely made.  I love how the label name fits in perfectly with the idea of girl as garçonne.  A note about the label: Even though it reads “Trademark”, there is no evidence of this label on the US trademark database.  Those of you who were teens during the 1970s might remember a different label that was called Tomboy.

The knickers are fitted at the waist, without a waistband.  I mentioned in the comments a few days ago that you can generally tell female pants from male before the mid 1960s because the great majority of them have a side opening, whereas male pants have a front fly.

Some former owner had a small waist, and you can see the stitching where darts had been inserted.  The buttons had also been moved but I put them back in the original position so that the pants would hang properly.

I’m really happy that this was complete with the button belt.  So often the small pieces are missing.

I think it is interesting that although it was becoming acceptable for women to wear knickers, the manufacturer made sure to provide an over-vest that covered that crotch.

The knicker legs also close with buttons.

How much more do I have to say about knickers?  Al the present I’m pretty much finished with the topic.  But in the world of fashion history, one never knows when a new discovery will be made, so don’t be surprised if I revisit knickers again sometime.

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Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part IV

By 1917 many women were also wearing some form of pants as needed for their work during World War One.  Mass market retail and sewing pattern catalogs offered a variety of overall and work pants for women.  But after the war ended, these patterns and garments quietly disappeared from catalogs.  The skirt convention seemed to have overruled practically in women’s work dress.

But in the woods, knickers and breeches had pretty much put the skirt issue to rest.  Most articles that I found on the subject between 1918 and 1930 mentioned an overskirt only as an afterthought, if it was mentioned at all.  In 1920 writer and outdoorswoman Nancy B. Katz wrote in Outers-Recreation magazine that the skirted woman in the woods was obsolete.

By 1921 some brave women were wearing knickers for other sports, especially golf.  The September 1, 1921 issue of Vogue showed a suit of knickers and matching long vest and declared, “This costume allows for greater freedom, whether for golfing or walking, than almost any other type of sports suit.”

The knicker suit was soon seen in stores ranging from Lord and Taylor to Sears Roebuck. There was even a popular brand of knickers called “The Fad of the Hour.”

So how did knickers for women leave the hiking trails to become a fad?  Many women had become somewhat accustomed to wearing some form of pants, whether in the woods, in the school gymnasium, on the job during the war, or even in the form of a bathing suit.  It may also have something to do with the 1920s idea of woman as garçonne, as dressing for women took on touches of the masculine.

In 1926 Vogue published a slightly tongue-in-cheek article titled, “They Are Stealing Our Stuff!” Author George S. Chappell lamented that feminine fashions were more masculine than not, and that “…hordes of khaki-clad [women]  hikers… throng our summer byways.”

His complaint was too little, too late.  Women were wearing knickers, not only for hiking, but for other casual occasions and for motor-car travel.

Here is a family group in front of the State Capitol in Augusta, Maine, circa 1925.  The young woman on the right is dressed more like her father than her mother.  If not for the cloche hat we might have mistaken her for a boy.

By the mid 1920s pants for women were here to stay, though it would be several more decades before women could freely wear pants on any occasion.  The knickers-wearing girls of the 1920s became the pantsuit–wearing grandmothers of the 1970s, who had learned years earlier the comfort and practicality of pants.

I hope that everyone enjoyed my presentation.  I appreciate all your comments, and especially ant additional information that may add to this story.  The history of women wearing pants is a complicated one with many contributing factors to the end result.  I’ll be continuing to investigate this fascinating story.

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Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part III

By the turn of the 20th century, knickers or breeches under a short, wide skirt became the hiking outfit most mentioned in magazine articles.  There were some exceptions, most notably an article written by outdoorswoman Annie Peck.  In 1895 Peck became the third woman to climb the Matterhorn, but she was the first to do so without wearing a skirt.  In her day Annie Peck was well-known, her adventures being widely reported.  In 1901 she wrote an article for Outing magazine detailing her climbing and hiking outfit and expressing strong views about the inappropriateness of skirts on mountains.

“…Men, we all know, climb in knickerbockers… Women, on the contrary, will declare that a skirt is no hindrance to their locomotion.  This is obviously absurd, and though a few ladies have climbed mountains like the Matterhorn in extremely scanty and abbreviated skirts, I dare assert that suitably-made knickerbockers… are not only more comfortable but more becoming… A scant skirt barely reaching the knee and showing the knickerbockers below, such as some ladies have worn, is as ungraceful a costume as could be devised; and for a woman in difficult mountaineering to waste her strength and endanger her life with a skirt is foolish in the extreme.”

But even the independent Ms. Peck had to concede to the skirt convention when on easier hikes.

“Among our own little mountains it is customary to wear a short skirt… If ladies were independent enough to adopt the plan, as some few have done, of leaving the skirt under a rock, they would generally be seen only by members of their own party… Of course in any case knickerbockers should be worn beneath.”

It seems as if women took Peck’s advice.  In a 1904 article in Outing, hiker Rena Phillips described how she had a big pocket put on the back of her jacket so when out of sight of civilization she could remove the skirt and place it in the pocket.  For the next ten years or so, the knickers and removable skirt seemed to be the most popular option, being mentioned in numerous articles and accounts.  One writer in 1913 claimed she rarely wore her hiking skirt but always carried it with her as it was useful as a rain cape.

As strong as the skirt convention was, it was being challenged by 1916.  In that year William J. Whiting wrote an article for Outing titled “Should the Woman in the Woods Wear Skirts, Bloomers, Riding Breeches, or Knickerbockers?” He argued that the wearing of skirts in the woods was a form of false modesty.

“The skirt is useless, is in fact a positive hindrance, and so by its very presence calls attention to the fact that she is a woman, and modest, or trying to be, thus defeating its object.  Anyone who has seen an emancipated woman dancing over rough trails in glee at her freedom… with no useless freak of costume to call attention to her femininity rejoices that so many now recognize that immodesty of attire is really unsuitability.”

 

Whiting went on to declare that only knickers were suitable for hiking.

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