Category Archives: Camping and Hiking

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

So with much encouragement, people across the US took up camping, hiking, and out-dooring, a general term of the time that encompassed many outdoor activities .  It became clear early on that some concessions concerning dress had to be made, especially for women.  One of the first American guides to outdooring was published in 1869.  Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp Life in the Adirondacks, by William Murray, gives a suggestion to women from the author’s wife.  Wear “a short walking dress, with Turkish drawers fastened with a band tightly at the ankle.”

These Turkish drawers were very much like the bloomers that had been advocated by women’s rights activists a few years prior and which had found a place as the bottom half of fashionable bathing costumes.  Mrs. Murray argued that the Turkish drawers were more practical than petticoats.

Despite the advice of Mrs. Murray, most sources of the 1860s through the 1880s don’t mention the wearing of bloomers in place of petticoats.  What was suggested was a light-weight flannel dress with a wide enough skirt hem to allow for a good stride.  In 1884 Harper’s Bazar suggested that “a flannel dress should be included, by all means and it should be made as short and as light in weight as possible, so that it will be suited for mountain climbing and walks through woods where there are more briers than paths.”

By short the writer meant just a few inches shorter than what was fashionable and accepted.  Even in the woods, style was important.  In 1885, Outing, a magazine devoted to the outdoor life, reminded their female readers that “A great deal of your pleasure depends on having comfortable and pretty clothes, nay, even stylish, for the camping-out dress has a style and grace that can be made very effective and becoming.”

The practice of wearing knickerbockers under the hiking skirt coincided with the bicycle craze of the 1890s.  The caricature of a woman in huge bloomers riding her wheel is well-known, but the wearing of exposed knickers on the street was just too extreme a style for most women.  The “skirt convention” as it is called by dress historian Patricia Campbell Warner, was not easily overcome, and despite all the articles and cartoons of the period, it appears that very few women actually wore bloomer bicycle suits.  This conclusion is based on the scarcity of surviving suits and the lack of photographic evidence.

Instead, women bicycle riders began wearing knickerbockers or breeches under a skirt that came to the wearer’s boot tops.  This mode of dress also appealed to women hikers.  Looking back in 1902, a writer for Good Housekeeping magazine stated, “One of the principal reasons camping and tramping are so popular to-day is because women are becoming more discriminating in the matter of dress.  The bicycle taught us the comforts of the short skirt, having cut off trains for one sport, the next step was to evolve fashions where in we might enjoy all of nature.”

In the mid 1890s many articles that addressed the question of what to wear in the woods actually recommended a biking ensemble.  From Harper’s Bazar: “For the [skirt] itself, nothing could be better than a bicycle suit of stout serviceable cloth, the skirt to reach no nearer the ground than the tops of ordinary walking boots.  Under this should be worn bloomers or knickerbockers, just as in bicycling.  Petticoats are as much to be avoided here as when on the wheel.”

Tomorrow:  The hiking skirt becomes obsolete.

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

I may have mentioned here that I talked myself into submitting a paper for possible presentation at my regional Costume Society of America symposium.  It sounded like a good idea at the time, though I wasn’t even sure the paper would be accepted.  Well, it was, and so I’ve spent way too much time over the past few months on the research and writing (and rewriting, and rewriting…) of it.  But the symposium is this weekend, and I think I’m all ready, with a fancy PowerPoint and a new skirt fresh off the sewing machine.

I wish I could take all of you with me, but since I can’t, I’m doing the next best thing.  I’ll be posting the paper here over the next four days, without the fancy PowerPoint, but with the same photos with annotations.  I hope you enjoy it.

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

By the mid 1920s women hikers were openly taking to the trails wearing their knickerbockers and breeches, while the first women hikers, just two generations before them had to make do in the woods wearing skirts that dragged the ground.

There are many factors that led to women wearing pants as a matter of course, and one of them is how the popularity of hiking and camping led women to adopt an increasingly practical way of dressing for the woods.

Hiking as a pastime began in Europe.  As early as the 18th century rich English travelers had been traveling to Switzerland for a bit of mountain rambling.  Hiking tourism really took off with the formation of the Alpine Club in England in 1857, and with the first Cook’s tour to the Alps in 1863.  By the 1880s walking, hiking, and rambling were common forms of exercise for both the men and women of Britain and the Continent.

In the US the situation was different, with hiking not really being an attractive activity until late in the 19th century.  As the US was settled westward, long distance walking accompanied by camping at night was not a choice, but a necessity.  The wilderness was to be conquered, not enjoyed.  In the mid 19th century many Americans were too close to the pioneer experience to have a positive view of the wilderness.

But even as American pioneers were continuing to move into wilderness areas, people in the settled East were taking a more romantic view of nature, perhaps being influenced by European writers and travelers.  At the same time improvements in transportation, especially the railroad, made getting to wilderness areas much easier.

As improved technology gave Americans more free time, the idea of vacations became popular with even the middle and working classes.  Magazine articles and books began recommending an outdoor vacation as a cheaper and healthier alternative to resorts and beach holidays.

The healthy effects of long walks out-of-doors were recommended by Harper’s Bazar magazine as early as 1867. Throughout the rest of the 19th century Harper’s Bazar was an advocate for outdoor walking and hiking.  An article in 1885 stated, “The more of out-door life we have, the better it is for us, morally, mentally, and physically.”

Tomorrow: What women hikers wore in the 19th century.

 

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Camp Dellwood, Part Three

Of all the topics I’ve written about on The Vintage Traveler, the one that generates the most email is that of summer camps.  As I’ve written before, my area was famous for its summer camps, most of which are long closed.  One that seems to universally generate fond memories is Camp Dellwood.  Camp Dellwood was founded in 1926, and sometime later an adjoining camp, Hemlock, was added for boys.  It closed in 1973.

I can remember riding by the camp as a child, as it sat right off the road that we took to travel to my father’s family in the far western part of North Carolina.  I was always envious of the girls riding horses in the riding rink.  The archery targets were set up there as well.

I received these photos from Carol Hastings Sanders, who attended the six-week sessions of Camp Dellwood in 1954, 1955, 1959, and 1960.  She used these pictures, as well as dozens of her own photos and some 16mm movies, to make a 30-minute video, “Going Away to Summer Camp,” with a voiceover describing camp life.  She made it to share with her family and friends, and would be happy to share it with any former campers who are interested.

These photos come from a promotional brochure that Carol says was given out in 1960.  Many of the photos are older though, as they tended to use the same photos year after year.

I’d love to hear from any Camp Dellwood or Hemlock campers, and if you are interested in Carol’s video I can get her contact information to you.

I’m sure this is a creek or spring fed lake, and I just imagine how cold that water was, even in July!

 

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1920s Knickers and Accessories

I thought that with all the talk about knickers and hiking clothes that you might want to see examples from my collection.  The set above is a matching linen vest and knickers.  There is a very similar set in a 1925 B. Altman& Company catalog which shows the vest and knickers paired with a blouse, plain wool cloche,  knee socks and brogan shoes.  I was lucky enough to find a similar blouse which I’m showing here.

The vest has no closure except for the belt that buttons below the waist.  The knickers button on both sides.

I’ve seen this “The Fad of the Hour” in other knickers from the 1920s.  In looking through my catalogs and magazines I first saw knickers for women in a 1919 catalog, and their last appearance was in 1929.  That’s a pretty long lasting fad!

And just because I love this detail, here is the two button closure on the leg band.

Here is another pair, this time in black and white linen tweed.  Note how they button on both sides of the waist.

There are pockets on both sides as well.

Just for fun I paired these with a late 1920s sweater.  This one has a Marshall Field’s label, but I’ve seen this style in catalogs such as Sears from the late 1920s.

This is an odd cross between a middy and a blouse, but seeing as how it is made from cotton duck, I can safely say the intended use was for outings such as hiking and camping.  The bottom band actually folds up and buttons (that’s the exposed seam you can see).  I’ve seen ads for middies that proclaimed their superiority because they did not fasten at the bottom.

These unworn 1920s knee socks were a very lucky find, from Carol at Dandelion Vintage.  Best of all, both pairs are unworn.

Just like in the photos I shared earlier, the decorative tops of the socks were worn over the bottom band of the knickers.

And for the feet, a pair of Walkover brogans.

Topped off with a plain wool cloche, our hiker is now properly attired and ready to walk.

When collecting, I like to think of the entire ensemble.  To me it is just so interesting to see how women actually wore their clothes, and to be able to assemble all the pieces that was necessary for a look.  As another collector once said, “It’s not just about the frocks.”

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Russell Moccasins, and Thoughts about the Past and Present

I recently found this catalog from the W.C. Russell Moccasin Company of Berlin, Wisconsin.  I was pleasantly surprised to open it and find that Russell Moccasins were not just for men.

Click to enlarge

The first pages show both men and women out in the wild, enjoying their Russell boots.  By the looks of the clothing and hair styles, my guess is that most of these were taken in the 1920s and early 1930s.   There is no date to be found in the catalog, but the front cover illustration looks to be more like a late 1930s or even a 1940s style.  Another hint is that the catalog reads that the company has been in business for over a quarter of a century.  Since it was founded in 1898, I know that is later than 1924.

The last clue is the style of the shoes.  These look to be late 1930s, or 1940s.  The trouble with sports clothing and shoes is that while fashion is considered, the styles are a bit more constant than a fashion garment or shoe.  But still, I’m leaning toward late 1930s for a date on the catalog.

This boot was a favorite for hiking and camping.  I’ve seen ads for very similar ones as early as 1922.  I have a pair in my collection from Abercrombie & Fitch, the famous outfitters for adventurers.

Click to better see the moviegram

I thought this “moviegram” showing moccasin construction was very interesting.  And just because I love them so much, here are better views of some of the women campers.

I look at a lot of old images, read a lot of vintage magazines and watch classic movies.  To my modern sensibilities, sometimes the things I encounter are disquieting.  The way people thought about race relations, animal rights, and the status of women can be vastly different from the way I look at these issues.

Right now I’m slowily reading my way through every issue of Life magazine, thanks to Google Books.  To be honest, I’ve been shocked at the language used when referring to people of different races.  Words that today we think are used only by ignorant racists were used freely in a national magazine.  Especially in advertising, women are portrayed as being glorified house maids, being concerned with trivial domestic problems while the man of the house works to support her.  There are photos of hunters surrounded by dead animals, in which sport hunting is glorified.

When I encounter such a disturbing image or passage, my mind has to remind my sensibilities that this was almost 80 years ago, and today at least people are aware of these issues and are working toward solving the injustices of life.  I don’t have to like what I’m seeing, but I have learned to put it in the past where it belongs.   Sometimes I think history lovers tend to over-glorify the past.  I love the images of the women I’ve posted here, and frankly have thought about what a great time it must have been.  I’m glad that the photos do not contain images of dead animals, which they very well could have seeing that they are, after all, in the woods and probably hunting.

Which brings me to the present.  I was really surprised to learn that the W.R. Russell Company is still in business, still producing boots in Berlin, Wisconsin.  I was all ready to link to their site when I encountered a page where customers are pictured wearing their boots, surrounded by their prey.  It was like it was 1933 and these guys were big game hunters in darkest Africa.

I live in an area of the country where hunting is still accepted.   Cars sport bumper stickers like “Hunt with your kid, not hunt for him.”  I realize that some people do still hunt for their food, and I know that hunting does help control animal over-population.  However, I cannot understand why any website that is trying to sell shoes in the 21st century would feature photos of great-white-hunter wannabes.    I respect the heritage of hunting.  It is how our ancestors survived.  But I do not understand gratuitous killing just to make the killer look manly.

My point here is not to bash hunters. My grandfather was a “fox hunter.”  I put that in quotes because in his case being a hunter meant that he and his buddies liked to dress in red buffalo check jackets, go camping, and let their hounds run loose.   My point is that we need to remember the past and to honor it.  But there are some things about the past that need to stay there.

UPDATE:  I have discovered that this catalog dates from 1940.

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Glenn Lowry Mill Campfire Girls, 1920s

I read a notice about a “summer camp fair” where parents can go and talk to representatives from all the area camps.  It seems a bit odd considering that almost all the clientele of these camps are flat-landers.  But anyway it reminded me of some pages from a photo album that I bought several years ago.

The photos were of a group of Camp Fire Girls, and there was also a printed article about their time camping and hiking in Western North Carolina.  Also included was a little song or chant:

I sort of assumed that the name of the camp was Glenn-Lowry, but I’d never heard of a camp by that name in this region, and a search turned up nothing.   In reading the article it mentioned “Whitmire girls” and that is where I got lucky.  As it turns out, these girls were from Whitmire, South Carolina, and they were all associated with the Glenn-Lowry Mill that was located there.

The idea of camping as recreation  in the US arose a generation or so after people who were pioneers and moving into new territory pretty much had to spend their traveling nights camping.  What had once been a hardship was now thought to be a fun way to escape the city and modern life.  In many ways it was a pursuit for the middle class and the wealthy, as the poor factory workers had neither the time nor the money for extended leisure.

But things were different in some mill towns, and it seems that Whitmire was one of the lucky ones.  The wife of the owner, Evelyn Coleman who was from Asheville, worked to develop educational and recreational resources for the workers and their families.  The company ran a YMCA, a bowling alley, and a skating rink.  There were baseball teams and clubs for the kids and for the mothers.  And in the early years, there was a group of Camp Fire Girls.

On this occasion, the girls were camping at Camp Minnehaha, which is located about ten miles southeast of Asheville, near the little town of Batcave.  From there they traveled around the region, taking day hikes to some of the most popular spots – Mount Pisgah, Chimney Rock and Blowing Rock.  It must have been a very big adventure for girls living in a small South Carolina cotton mill town.

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