Category Archives: Collecting

1910s – 1920 Wool Gym Suit

I started adding gym suits to my collection purely by accident.  Ten years or so ago I was trading some things with my favorite vintage shop when the owner pulled out a 1940s gym suit and insisted that I take it. I was a bit reluctant as I was trying to limit the focus of my acquiring.  I now realize she knew me better than I knew myself.

Since then I’ve actively searched for gym suits, and now have sixteen in my collection dating from circa 1870 through the 1950s.  Considering how women claim to have detested their gym suits, it is surprising how many survive. I’m pretty sure my 1970s version was destroyed decades ago!

I found my latest gym suit at the Liberty Antiques Festival back in April. I almost missed it, as it was folded in a stack of old linens. But something about the black serge caught my eye as I passed by.  The lesson is, of course, to always look through unpromising stacks of linens.

I estimate this one to date from 1915 through 1920.  The photo above is from an Aldrich & Aldrich catalog showing a 1920 gym suit from their inventory.  Mine is a different company, E.R. Moore, but the styling is very similar, with the loose belt that contains the wide pleats that fall from a yoke at the shoulders.

E.R. Moore was founded in 1907, and made not only gym suits, but also academic gowns for graduations and other ceremonies. As far as I can tell, the gym suit production ended several decades ago, but gowns continued to be made at least until 2005. The year before there was a big kerfuffle at Harvard when it rained at graduation and the dye from the gowns ruined graduates’ clothing. The factory building is now loft apartments.

 

One thing I especially love about this suit is that I know the name of the original owner.  Not only is Virginia Hooper’s name sewn into the suit, but a note was attached as well.

I have not been able to identify Ms. Hooper, but the suit came from a consolidation estate company in Indian Trail, NC, which is in the Charlotte area. Along with the gym suit and linens, several boxes of high quality fabrics came from the estate. (And yes, I bought some of them as well.)

 

After looking at the Aldrich catalog, I’m thinking I should have photographed the belt buttoning at the back.

Without the belt you can see how roomy this gym suit is.  No need for a corset here.

In my quest for more information about this particular suit, I turned to When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, and I was rewarded with some nice details about this style of gym suit.  It was designed around 1910 by Florence Bolton at Stanford University, and was based on the English gym slip, but with bloomers at the bottom. It was designed to be worn with a cotton blouse beneath. Practical though it was, this design proved to be unpopular as it was too far from mainstream fashion. Warner points out, however, that before long, most women’s fashions had a similar silhouette. Once again we see the influence of sports attire.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

Saul Steinberg Novelty Border Prints

I think that at some time or another I’ve shown photos of the skirts in today’s post. But after showing these on Instagram I realized I needed to write a little about artist Saul Steinberg and this line of skirts. You may know Steinberg from the many covers he made for The New Yorker. Lesser known were the textiles he designed in the 1950s.

Starting in 1946 Steinberg designed a line of home decorator fabrics and matching wallpapers for Piazza Prints. It was supposed to be an exclusive contract, with Steinberg designing only for Piazza, but somehow he entered into agreements with at least two other firms.  One was another maker of home decorating fabrics, but the other was a producer of dress goods. Probably because he was in violation of his contract with Piazza, Steinberg’s name does not appear on the garment weight goods.

All of this information was researched for the book and exhibition Artists’ Textiles: 1940 – 1975.  The information about the two “illegal” lines was uncovered in the correspondence between Steinberg and Piazza representatives.  Piazza did not care about the dress goods fabrics, as they were not their competition. They were upset at the other lines, as it was a competing company located just blocks from them in the garment district.

The dress goods are all, as far as I know, labeled Regulated Cotton “Never Misbehaves”. Also included is the name of the print.  This modern day cowboy goes to Vegas scene is titled “Tin Horn Holiday”. I know nothing at all about that company  but some of the fabrics have been found in 1950s JC Penney catalogs. Like many of the fabrics in the past, yardage was available to both home sewers and to manufacturers of clothing.

The Steinberg prints are pretty easy to recognize, as most of them have some features in common. One end of the selvage, which is the bottom of the print, has a border that is not part of the narrative. Above you can see random lines along with scribbles that sort of look like words, but don’t actually say anything.  Above that is the story, in this case of a cowboy and bandit, two cat-eyed ladies in a big ole car, palm tree street lights, and a resort casino sign.

Parts of the motif are carried upward into the background. Here you see lots of little cars, probably traveling in for a holiday. As was common, this print came in at least five different colorways.

This print is, I think, called Casbah. Steinberg had spent time in North Africa, and he made a similar drawing during his visit.  This print follows the pattern of hem border, the main story, and then the palm tree motif repeated near the top.

This print also came in white, with red, gold, and blue accents.

This print had the selvage removed during its construction, so I can only guess at a name.  How about Cuckoo?  And I love that goat so much.

In making this skirt, the sewer used the bottom border to make the waistband.  A complete version has sea turtles at the hem.  I’ve seen this print with a black background with bright colors, and someday this skirt will be replaced with that version.

Instagram user gday321 posted a photo of himself wearing a cabana set – swim trunks and matching shirt – made from this print in white with bright colors.  He found his set pictured  in a 1958 Sears catalog. I’ve seen this print referred to as Calypso, though I do not know if that is the actual name.

This last print has been identified as a Saul Steinberg design, and it does look like his work.  It is a bit different in that the background is not filled in with a smaller motif.

All the Steinberg prints seem to have travel based themes, or at least travel destinations for American tourists.  There are several more besides the ones in my collection. An English fox hunting scene has the fox sitting on a “No Hunting” sign while surrounded by hunters on horseback and their hounds.  A Florida themed skirt called “Cypress Gardens” has water skiers and speed boats.  There are two prints that feature trains, “Paddington Station” and one known as simply “Train.” One of the most elaborate designs is a scene in an opera house. There is one that features a roller coaster in an amusement park.  There is one that looks like Innsbruck, with a procession of antique fire engines, and another that looks like Switzerland with people in folk costume and a Saint Bernard dog with his little cask of rum. There could be others, as some of these are rarely seen.

I’m thinking Steinberg must have made more than a little pocket change from these fabrics, as some of them were obviously very popular, especially Tin Horn Holiday. Hopefully more research will be made and more details will come to light about these fantastic fabrics.

Artists’ Textiles 1940 – 1976by Geiff Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Phelp is a great book.  Read it.

 

 

 

 

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1940s Made in Hawaii Bathing Suit from Kahala

This recently acquired halter and shorts set sent me down a rabbit hole of Hawaiian textiles.  The beginnings of the Hawaiian shirt are a bit obscure, but the first ones were probably made from silk fabrics from Japan in the 1920s.  Most of them were made by small shops in small batches. The large scale manufacture of shirts from Hawaiian fabrics started in the mid 1930s.

My set was made by Kahala, one of the first companies to manufacture “Hawaiian” garments.  It was started in 1936 by Nat Norfleet and George Brangier, neither of whom was a native Hawaiian. Their company, Branfleet, was using the Kahala name and label by 1937.  From what I’ve been able to find out, women’s garments were not made until after World War II, but then clothing for women became a major part of their business.

It is possible that my set is actually a bathing suit. It is completely lined in cotton jersey.

What Norfleet and Brangier discovered was that men would buy a shirt made from their Hawaiian fabrics to wear while in Hawaii, but women would continue to wear their Kahala garments after returning home.  I’d say this was much better than today’s not so subtle brag of the souvenir tee shirt.  You could remind the neighbors of your Hawaiian trip while looking fabulous.

I don’t find a lot of older Hawaiian garments here in the Southeast. People here were much more likely to vacation in Florida, or if a little more affluent, Cuba. But from the few older Hawaiian shirts I have been able to closely examine, I can tell you that the fabric is very different from the newer rayons made in the 1980s up through the present time.  My set is rayon, but it is lightly textured, though smooth at the same time.

The button is made from coconut shell, and adds another layer of Hawaiian authenticity.

But the star of this set is the print.  The richness is achieved with the use of at least fourteen colors.  I especially love the light blue used with so much red.

According to my one and only book on Hawaiian shirts, the very earliest prints were tropical flowers and tapa cloth prints. Scenics like mine soon became popular as well.

The Hawaiian Shirt, by H. Thomas Steele, was one of the very first fashion books I bought.  I can remember looking through it in the local B. Dalton book store and trying to justify the purchase. It was published in 1984, so I’m sure it was shortly after than that I added this to my very small, but growing, fashion history library.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

1920s Rayon Pyjamas

One of the great finds I made last week was this pair of 1920s pyjamas. The seller who had them is a regular at the antiques market, and she specializes in things other than clothing, but she usually has a rack of vintage lingerie as a sort of afterthought.  They were mislabeled as nylon tricot, which was a bit puzzling.

Anyway, I was happy to find them.  Pyjamas from the 1920s are hard to find and I am glad to add these to my collection.  Pyjamas are one of those garments that started to bridge the gap between what was acceptable to be worn in the home, and what was okay for public wearing. These are technically lingerie, but many women in the late 1920s followed the avant garde in Italy and started wearing these at the beach over their swimwear.

There are several things that identify these as being from the 20s.  Scallops were a common design feature of the time.  They are seen on outerwear as well as lingerie.  Also, the edges were finished with a picot stitch machine. This newish invention was very popular in the twenties, as it worked so well with the flowy fabrics of the day.

The legs of the pants are straight.  After about 1930 pant legs got wide and flowing, much like the bellbottoms of the late 60s and 1970s.

While examining the pants I got a little surprise. Near the hems were two little slits with finished edges.  I’m thinking there were originally ties that gathered in the legs slightly.

Here I have inserted a piece of ribbon through the slits to make a bow which puts a little pleat in the leg.

I have no way of knowing what the original ties were made of, but I do happen to have some 1920s ribbon in pink and blue.

The top of the little pocket on the blouse and the neckline are finished with a gauze fabric that matches the blue rayon.  It is possible the ties were made from this fabric.

The blouse originally had a belt, as evidenced by the presence of belt loops.  These are located on the side seams, slightly below the natural waistline, as one would expect in a 1920s garment.

There is a line of stitching in the back of the neck.  Could this mean there was once a label?  I’m not sure, as it seems to be an odd thing for a 1920s garment, but what would be another explanation?

There are two different types of stitches in the pants.  I’m pretty sure the pyjamas were commercially made due to the picot edging and the tiny French seams.  But I also think the pants were shortened at the waist. Note the vertical side seam, and the double stitched casing for elastic at the waist. The thread of the casing stitches does not quite match.

In the 1920s most women were not wearing any sort of legged garments, so pyjamas were a big step in the move toward women wearing pants, even if they were seen mainly in the boudoir.

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Liberty Antiques Festival – Spring, 2017.

I’ve been attending the big outdoor antiques show at Liberty, NC since 2005, and in those years I’ve only missed the show one time.  That’s because this antiques show is good. In the past few years I’ve reported that the festival was shrinking, with fewer vendors, but I’m happy to say that this spring’s show seemed to be the most robust in years. I’m hoping that is a sign that the economic recovery that began in 2010 is finally making sellers, and buyers, more confident.

Not only were there more vendors, it seemed as though there were more buyers. In years past I’ve noticed how the majority of buyers seems to be in the plus 60 demographic.  This time around I saw lots of younger people out looking to build collections.  It’s a cheering thought.

Still, one woman I talked with, older than me, was lamenting the state of things, saying I’d missed the golden years of Brimfield.  That may be the case, but I still managed to see so much great old stuff here at Liberty, and I even added a few prime pieces to my own collection.  There will be more on that later, of course. For now, here are some other items of interest.

The days of stumbling across big stacks of vintage fashion magazines seems to belong to the past.  I spotted only one, and as luck would have it, I already have this issue of Vogue in my collection.

Continuing with the doggie theme, I spotted a salesman’s book of textile samples, got all excited only to find that the swatches had been removed and the book reused as a scrapbook.  There were some adorable Scotties in it so that made me feel a bit better.

A lot of clothing dealers don’t like to do outdoor markets, but Liberty has a few that are always there, regardless of the weather. It was warm and dry this weekend which made looking even better, as some dealers only bring textiles if it is dry.

It seems like there are always a few great old dressmaker’s dummies. This one with the bustle back was the oldest one I saw at the show. (And check out the Serro Scottie camper!)

This was a new-to-me item – a homemaker’s workbook.  All aspects of keeping a 1935 house were covered, from sewing to laundry to cooking. My guess is it was used in home economics classes.

This Kickaway box held underpants for little girls, but the company also made knickers for gym wear.  I have a pair in my collection.

Great old poster for Indian motorcycles had a great (big)  new price tag.

These double knit poly bells made a stunning display! Seriously, these are some of the best I’ve ever seen for sale, and all dead stock.

These are probably the oldest roller skates I’ve ever encountered, and only the high price tag kept me from buying them.  The wheels are made of wood, as are the soles.

I’ve also noticed that the Liberty show is attracting more sellers of country antiques.  There were lots of old rustic furniture, handmade baskets, and North Carolina pottery. This is not really my thing, but sometimes these dealers have great older textiles, which makes for a good learning experience.

All in all, it was a very good day!

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Filed under Collecting, North Carolina, Road Trip, Shopping

Flea Marketing Rules

I first wrote this list ten years ago, and I’ve repeated it and updated it several times since then.  Since flea market season is upon us (I’m headed out early tomorrow for the big Liberty Antiques Market!!) I thought it would be a good time to remind myself of my own rules.

Every year I miss some good stuff at the first market just because I forget to follow my own rules.  I thought writing them out might make them stick, kind of like the teacher making you write “I must not chew gum” 100 times!

1.  Go prepared.  Many of these events are partially or entirely out-of-doors.  I keep my VFG totebag packed with a hat, lipgloss, hard candies, tissues and antibacterial lotion.  I usually throw in a snack and a bottle of water. Food is often of the junky variety, so a healthy snack that you bring along might be more to your liking.  Keep in mind that restroom facilities may be primitive (so stop at the closest fast food place before entering) and handwashing not possible.

2. But don’t take stuff you don’t need. If the fair is in a field, a rolling cart is pretty much useless unless it has very large wheels.  Leave your big and full-to-bursting handbag at home, and carry a small bag with just the essentials.  I have a little wrist bag that holds just my cash, cards and cell phone.  I attach it to my totebag so I won’t accidentally drop it.  Do not bring along family members or friends who will slow you down and whine about being bored.

3. Take cash. Many vendors will take a check, but few take credit or debit cards, and they don’t give the best deals if they have to pay bank fees.  Most big flea markets do have an atm, so credit cards can be handy.  Try to have a stash of small bills for cheap purchases.

4. Dress comfortably. For now and the fall, layers are great.  The mornings are cool, but the afternoons hot.  And wear comfortable walking shoes that you are not afraid to get dirty! If it has been rainy and the event is out of doors, take a pair of rubber boots.

5. Identify yourself. With your clothing, I mean.  I carry a Vintage Fashion Guild tote that has a  logo that identifies me as a person who is interested in fashion items.  I also often wear a Scottie dog pin, as I also collect Scottie items.  Dealers notice these things, and will offer you things you might have overlooked.

6.  Buy it when you see it.  I don’t care how big it is, I don’t care that your arms are full, I don’t care that the vendor is very busy and you are in a big hurry.  If you spot something that you intend to buy, do NOT leave the booth without buying it.  If you do, one of the following will happen – You will forget about the item until you are half way home.  You will go back to the booth just in time to see another buyer happily paying for YOUR item.  You will forget where the booth is and spend hours searching for it a second time, but never finding it.  Trust me on this one.  If I had time I’d tell you about the 1920s velvet cape with a Paris label, but it always makes me cry.

7.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Most dealers will give you at least 10%, and if it is near the end of the show, often they will offer quite a bit more. But be nice and not demanding.  Please, don’t be greedy.  If the price is $1, just pay it!  If you pull a pristine Pucci scarf out of a box of ratty old linens, please give the guy his $2 asking price.  It’s good Karma.

8.  Ask dealers if they have what you are seeking. If you find a dealer who seems to have a lot of vintage clothing, or whatever you want, ask if he or she has more.  Chances are they do, and chances are you’ll be going to other fairs where that dealer will be selling.

9. Carry some of your business cards and give them to anyone who might have leads on what you are looking for.  Even if you are not in a “business”, you need business cards if you collect or blog.

10.  Inspect items carefully.  I’ve been known to get so carried away with a find that I neglected to give it a good going-over. This can lead to heartbreak when you get home and realize half of the 1920s Vogue bargain magazine was used to make paper dolls.

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1920s Embroidered and Smocked Frock

Any vintage seller who has been in the business more than a few years will tell you that vintage clothing is subject to fads.  One year vintage wearers want 1950s full-skirted dresses, and the next they might move on to 1970s disco attire.  If the comments on Instagram can be believed, one of the hottest items right now is the “ethnic-inspired” smocked and embroidered dress from the 1920s.

This type dress fits in well with the 1920s fascination with the exotic, something I’ve written about in the past. While there were sewing patterns for the dresses, they were also made abroad. I’ve seen them with labels from Czechoslovakia and the Philippines.

To be honest, I’ve never been able to determine exactly when these dresses were made, but the general consensus seems to be from the mid 1920s and into the early 1930s.  If you look at the placement of the waistline on my dress above, you can see that it’s not exactly the stereotypical 1920s silhouette, as the bodice is shorter than expected.

I spent a pleasurable morning looking through 1920s magazines, and the closest I found was this illustration for a 1926 Vogue sewing pattern.  Witness2Fashion posted several examples, also from 1926.  Fashion illustrations did tend to exaggerate the silhouette somewhat, but even so, my example has a longer skirt as well as the short bodice.  By the late 1920s the waistline was inching upward, and the hemline downward.

Another hint that my dress is later 20s or even 1930 is the little bit of shaping in the waist. There is even an opening in the side to allow for easier dressing.

Quite unbelievably, I found this dress at my local Goodwill bins.  It’s not in perfect condition, but the design of the dress lessens the impact of the problems.  Here you can see that some of the red threads have come loose at the neck. That was a very easy fix.

Not so easy to deal with was a small rip on the upper back. To stabilize the tear, I encased it in organdy and then basted the three layers together. While the tear makes the dress unwearable, it would not detract from the garment if it were to be displayed.

You can see some staining in this photo, which a few gentle handwashings removed.  I also had to do a bit of smock repair.

One of favorite things about this dress is how the dots vary in size, and how the pattern of them on the skirt is the reverse or that of the bodice.  And all the dots are hand embroidered.

Today we think of smocked dresses as being just for little girls.  What a shame!

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