Category Archives: Collecting

Tammis Keefe for Marlboro Shirts

It may not be immediately obvious why I recently added this shirt to my collection. All will become clear when you see the closeup of the print.

If you have followed my writings for a while, you already know that I have a fondness for textile designs by Tammis Keefe. Today she is most remembered for her hankies and towels, but she also designed home decorator fabrics, and for a short time starting in 1957, she worked on textile design for the Marlboro Shirt Company.

If you are like me, the greatest association with Marlboro is with the cigarette brand. Marlboro Shirt Company was an entirely different company, though it does appear that at some point the company was acquired by Philip Morris, which also made the cigarettes. But my story dates to 1957 and 1958, long before that acquisition.

Marlboro Shirt Company had a long history, being formed in 1890. It was located in Baltimore, and for years men’s shirts were the only product. By the 1940s Marlboro had expanded into other men’s apparel, like bathing suits, pajamas, and jackets. In 1957 they entered the women’s shirt market with a new brand, Lady Marlboro.

At the same time, it was decided that the traditional man’s shirt could be made in sports styles, or rather, leisure styles to fit the increasingly casual American lifestyle. Tammis Keefe was brought in to design textiles that would fit into a more casual style. According to a paper written by FIT graduate student Suzanne Chee in 1990, many of the prints were (like mine) conversational in nature. She adapted antique motifs like vintage theater playbills and antique playing cards.  And the shirts were made for men and women in matching prints.

To me, the designs do not look as though they were actually drawn by Tammis Keefe. The style of the ones I have seen all have an antique print look. Or maybe I’m not giving Ms. Keefe enough credit. I’m sure she could draw in more than the midcentury style she is most known for.

The closeup views reveal why I had to have this one. There are tennis players…

picnickers…

hikers…

beach croquet…

and fishers.

I bought this even though it is badly faded. It must have been a favorite piece. The color is actually an olive green, but I can’t help but wonder if it was made in other colors as well. And if anyone has the matching man’s shirt, I’d love to add it to keep this one company.

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Textiles

1930s Collegiate Print Beach Pajamas

Beach pajamas are one of my favorite historic clothing items. They were in vogue for about fifteen years, during which time the concept went through several changes. Much of my interest stems from this garment’s role in making wearing pants in public by women acceptable. Much of my summer has been spent on gathering information, and then writing a paper on the evolution of pajamas on the beach. I’ll be sharing my paper in the future, first hopefully at my regional Costume Society of America symposium, and then here on my blog.

I already had several pairs of really great pajamas in my collection. I have told myself that I did not need any more, so I’ve not been tempted by any I have seen for sale in a while. But I had always wanted this particular pair, with the college pennant design. I felt like this design had been commercially produced because I had seen at least two examples of it.

When my friend Erika who posts as Cattybritches on Instagram posted a photo of this pair she spotted in an antique mall up her way, I was hoping she would be able to retrieve them for me. She was, and this week they arrived in my mailbox. In the collecting business, it really does pay to have friends!

The brand is Sas See Maids. As you can see on the label, they made dresses, smocks, and Hoovers (which was a wrap housedress) as well as pajamas. Note the line, “Made for the best retail trade”.

To put it into perspective, this ad shows these cost just 33 cents, and were found in the bargain basement. For those of you not old enough to have experienced a true bargain basement, my sympathies are with you. Even into the early 1970s the basement in Ivey’s in Asheville was a bargain hunter’s dream. I would spend hours there treasure hunting.

My exact pajamas are not in the ad, but it does mention the college pennant fabric. Best of all, it mentions a beach coat with trim. Dare I dream?

The ad and the newspaper clipping above came from Michelle of Wide Awake Vintage. Yet again, it pays to have friends with similar interests.

The low V neck in both front was back and the extra wide legs put this garment in the 1930 -1934 range. The low back developed about at the same time as low backed evening gowns and low backed bathing suits. The object was to acquire and then show off a suntan.

I hope you noticed the hat, because it is partly why I wanted this set so much. After examining it, I don’t believe it was commercially made. The seams are a bit too irregular, and the finishing is poor. The pajamas fit a person about five feet tall, so it’s possible these were shortened, and the excess used to make the hat. Or I could be wrong. Maybe another hat will materialize and prove me wrong.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

1920s Silk Bathing Shoes

In pandemic times, what would we do without the internet?  I’ll be completely honest – I find shopping in a real store or antiques market and spotting something wonderful for my collection much more satisfying than online shopping. This is especially true of ebay auctions where there’s little immediate gratification. But some things are worth the wait, and here’s my latest example of that.

I spotted these silk 1920s bathing shoes on @1860-1960’s Instagram page, and my poor heart stood still.  Bathing shoes of any kind are getting harder and harder to find, and here was a pair that I’d never seen before. A week later, they were mne, and a week after that, they showed up in my mailbox. I was not disappointed.

These are actually a silk print placed over a canvas base. I have several canvas pairs of bathing shoes. They had to be made of a sturdy fabric in order to survive their hard use on sand and rocks, and in salt water.

Almost all bathing shoes had canvas soles. I do know that Keds made a bathing shoes with a rubber sole, and by the 1930s, rubber bathing shoes had pretty much replaced canvas ones.  I have seen canvas shoes with leather soles advertised as bathing shoes or boots, but no.

My new shoes have a two-button closure. Some have one button, like Mary Jane shoes, some tie, and others, mainly boots, have laces.

I looked for an image in my resources that showed a printed fabric made into a bathing shoe, but was not successful. So I decided to show some  of the history of bathing shoes from photos in my collection. Please note that bathing shoes go back to Victorian times, and some are very fancy.These are rarely seen on the market.

These bathing boots date to the 1910s, and I can’t quite figure them out. I think they lace and the wearer tied them on the back of the leg.

Bathing boots continued to be popular into the early 1920s. Note that the dark stockings have been replaced by rolled white ones.

These could be black, but I’ve seen these in red and dark green as well as black.

A few years later, this woman wore bathing boots which were cut out in the front.

They are not quite a shoe, and not quite a boot.  These date to the mid 1920s.

My new bathing shoes were probably made in the mid to late 1920s, at the end of the canvas bathing shoe’s popularity. In the  1930s, women turned to rubber shoes, or bare feet in the water, with sandals on the shore.

This photo dates from 1929 or 1930. Her fantastic shoes are made from rubber.

I really do want to thank all the online sellers who have persevered during such a trying time. Thank you for keeping collectors like me from going insane!

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

1940s Bonnie Beach Bag

My newest acquisition is this “Bonnie Bag” from the 1940s.  It’s often described as a knitting bag, but period advertising describe it also as a beach bag.  This is a bit of a lazy post, as I bought this bag from Robin of Edgertor at Etsy.  Of all the vintage sellers I know, Robin does the best job of researching her wares. So much of what you will read here is Robin’s work, which she freely shared.

The bag style seems to be quite common, and dated to the late 1930s. Several different companies made these, with some being labeled while others are not. In 1942 W.L.M.Clark registered a design patent for two styles of the bag  – one with an oval wooden plaque, and one with a square plaque.

Here’s one of the patent drawings, with the square wooden plaque. Robin says she doubts that Clark actually invented the design, and I agree with her.  Here is an ad for the bag from May, 1942, months before Clark’s patent for a slightly different design was registered.

It is a clever design, and being made of heavy canvas, they have held up well over the years. Mine shows a few signs of use, but it is in really excellent condition.

My bag was made by A. Mamaux & Son. Would it surprise you to learn that this was a window awning business, not a handbag business?

If you were an awning store in the 1930s or 40s, would you throw out the leftover scraps from awning projects? No, of course not. In this case it really appears that remnants  were used to make a type of Bonnie Bag.

I had been looking for the perfect Bonnie Bag when I saw this one in Robin’s Instagram feed. With that little Scottie, how could I  resist?

The canvas is very heavy – sturdy enough to carry all one’s beach needs.

Expanded, the bag has a totally different look.

I have seen quite a few of this type of expandable bag with no label at all. I don’t think it’s a far reach to assume that these were also made in the home from scraps of canvas, especially during wartime.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports, World War II

Columbia Gymnasium Suit Company Blouse

I rarely buy incomplete garments, but this one was rare enough to make an exception.  I didn’t feel too bad about the bloomers being missing, as I do have several pairs from the same era.

I wasn’t able to locate much about the Columbia Gymnasium Suit Company. Most of the sources were ads in women’s colleges’ newsletters and in sports magazines. The earliest reference I have found is from 1909, but I’m quite sure my blouse is a bit older than that.

The company also made bathing suits, and I found one suit labeled “Columbia Bathing Suit Co.” It was pretty much identical to the Columbia gymsuits I found online.

The addition of this second label helps to narrow the date a bit. The National Consumers League was chartered in 1899, which you can read on the label, in the circle. I’ve seen several Columbia gymsuits with this label in online collections, several being dated to before 1899. Even museums make mistakes!

I’m quite sure that my blouse is from around 1905, or possibly a bit earlier. You see the styling of the typical blouse of that era, with the blousy front and slightly gathered sleeves.

The waist buttoned to the bloomers, the waistband of which would have covered the brown cotton facing that holds the buttons. The buttons are made of glass.

The opening in in the front, with hook and eye closures on the shoulder, and a line of buttons running diagonally to the waist. These are concealed by the deep tucks.

Like many gymsuits and bathing suits made before 1920, this one is made from wool. It’s a very light, open weave wool, but terribly scratchy. Girls must have loved it when cotton became the favored fabric of gymsuit makers.

There is a modern Columbia Sportswear Company. I could find no connection between the maker of my blouse and the current company.

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Filed under Collecting, Gymnasium

Edwardian Divided Skirt

The world is reopening, whether or not Covid-19 is under control.  I’m a bit conflicted, as it seems like the more people are out being “normal”, the greater the likelihood is that we’ll again find ourselves in lockdown again this fall. I have discovered that antique shops are a good compromise between staying home completely and jumping into a swimming pool with 100 strangers, yelling about our right to party.

So, after getting my hair cut for the first time since February, I went to an antique mall in a nearby town, as a little treat for myself. I had never been there before, so I didn’t have any expectations. As I walked up the aisles, I saw ahead a booth that clearly had clothing. Ten years ago I’d have been all excited, but so many booths in antiques malls are now selling modern clothing that I really didn’t get my hopes up.

But, praise be, there were old clothes in this booth! I immediately spotted a pair of old black cotton exercise bloomers. $12! As I grabbed them, I took a quick look around the booth, and then I saw it – an Edwardian divided skirt. This is the garment women wore for hiking, for camping, and for horseback riding. It’s an all-purpose sports garment, with a big secret.

That secret is that the skirt is actually a pair of pants. Unbutton the front panel, flip it to the right, and you are now wearing culottes.

For years women had been wearing some sort of pants under their skirts for sports. The divided skirt was a late Victorian innovation that allowed the wearer to switch from one to the other with the changing of a few buttons.

Even buttoned to expose the pants, the garment could pass for a skirt.

These were sold by the Standard Mail Order Company of New York  City.  There are digital copies of catalogs from that company all over the internet, so I will be doing a bit of searching for my divided skirt.

This was not a product unique to Standard. My 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog has a very similar style  for sale for $12.50 to $20  dollars. According to the inflation calculator, that would have been  $320 to $512in today’smoney. Perhaps Standard was a bit more accessible to the less-than-rich.

And I’m guessing it was more affordable, as I have in my collection of vintage photos various women wearing the garment. It was such a great innovation, which allowed women to ride a horse astride, to safely ride a bicycle, and to romp freely through the woods, Can’t ask more of a garment than that.

My divided skirt shows a lot of signs that it was worn a lot. It’s missing a button, and there are a few small rips around some of the buttonholes. The hem you see with the darker thread is not original. Either the original wearer was very short, or she shortened the skirt in the mid 1910s when fashion dictated a shorted skirt. Either way, it’s a part of the skirt’s history, and will remain.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Shopping, Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs

How I Collect – 1940s, Part 2

Today I continue with my tour through the 1940s. Women started wearing overalls for outdoor work in the late 1930s, but the garment really caught on during World War Two. They were great for gardening and other yard work, but women must have really loved the comfortable overalls, as I have quite a few vintage photos showing women wearing them for leisure.

By the 1940s shorts were being worn on casual occasions, but I’ve also seen photos and magazines ads of shorts being dressed up with the addition of a jacket.

Opps! I used the same hat twice!  Cotton became common in use for bathing suits in the 1940s. This one is a woven twill, but is lined in cotton jersey.  The palm tree cape is made from chenille, probably made at one of the many chenille businesses in North Georgia.

The matching shorts and tee shirt were made by Jantzen, and you can see the original sticker on the shirt.  Thinking about color is so interesting because if you look at many vintage garments you can start to see what colors were popular during different eras. My cute little hexagon shaped bag and the sandals are a perfect match to the green of the tee and shorts.

This golf dress has a label called “American Golfer”.  Women were increasingly turning to skirts, culottes, and even shorts for golfing, so American Golfer began advertising their dresses as good for streetwear.

During the last years of WWII, bathing suit makerCole of California began producing some of the barest bathing suits to date. One was a two-piece similar to this one, but the front of the pants were attached to the back using cord woven through eyelets. Cole ran ads with the suit juxtaposed with a paratrooper, as much of Cole’s production was in making parachutes. Was the assumption to be that they used parachute cord in the bathing suit?

This outfit symbolizes the lucky find. I was rummaging through a box of old damaged clothes at a flea market when I pulled out the playsuit. It ran through my mind that there was most likely a matching skirt originally. Sure enough, the skirt was at the bottom of the box. The sandals came from an old general store in West Asheville, NC. For years the elderly owner went to the store, in spite of the fact that no new merchandise had been added since the early 1970s, and there was stuff still dating from the 40s. There was a big box of shoes, all dumped together and a bit of digging produced this pair, at the original price of $6. I used to frequent the place until the owner became too ill to work. Some years later there was a water line break, the place flooded, and most of the remaining contents went to the dump.

To me, this is the perfect picnic dress. It was designed by Sophie Gimbel, the in-house designer at Saks Fifth Avenue. The shoes were brought back from the Far East by a soldier returning home after WWII.

I love this dress so much, and it has a local (Asheville, NC) label.  The red and white bits are applied flowers, each with a pearl button in the center. The handbag has a lucite Scottie dog clasp!

I am finishing up the 1940s with a truly lousy shot of a beautiful set from the estate of Mary Jane Hefner. Since this was most likely part of her college wardrobe I paired it with a football themed scarf, also from Jane’s estate. Jane had several slacks sets, all in immaculate condition. Was it because slacks on girls were not acceptable at her small town college (meaning the pants didn’t get a lot of wear), or was she just very careful with her clothes? It’s likely a combination of both.

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