Category Archives: Collecting

Girls Will Be Boys

Several years ago I ran across Women in Pants by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig.  What I loved about the book was the great variety of photos showing women in pants, from homesteaders who adopted pants as a practicality, to actresses who played male roles, to women who dressed in men’s clothing just so they could have a joke photo made.  Ever since reading the book I’ve been on the lookout for antique photos in which woman were dressed as men, and last week I finally found one.

There was no information at all on the back of this photo, so we can only guess at the intent of the two women who are dressed as men.  And they are dressed as men, not as women who have taken to wearing pants on a regular basis.  With their hair stuck under the hats, and the stance of men with hand in pocket, this seems to be a photo made purely for the fun of it.

Whatever the motivation, it does make for an interesting image.

Interestingly, two people I follow on Instagram also posted antique women dressed as men photos this past week.  One was a family photo in which the poster’s grandmother was one of the women.  It was identified as a photo that the young women had made as a lark.

The other one was a find like mine, with no identification.  The poster assumed that the women were dressed as men because they were transgender.  And while I cannot say with certainty that she was wrong in this assumption, it is much more likely that the women were merely having a fun time making light of the opposite sex.

I think that when it comes to the past, it is easy to assign the knowledge of today’s world when confronted with an unexpected image like Edwardian women dressed as men.  In history it is really easy to take two plus two and come up with five.  I know I’m often guilty of making inaccurate assumptions about the past, but the more I see and the more I read, the better I’ve gotten about seeing the past only through the lense of the past.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing

A Sun Mode Original by Jane Irwill

A couple of months ago I went on a rant about using the correct terminology when describing vintage and antique garments.  Not everyone agreed with me, and I can see why, but because I used playsuit as an example, I’m been looking at lots of images, especially in 1930s and 1940s ads, to make sure playsuit was the proper term.

And it is.  The one-piece shorts and top combination above is most commonly referred to as a playsuit in ads of the period.  Almost all the ads I found, and there were quite a few, also featured a matching skirt which can be worn over the playsuit.

On my recent trip to the Hillsville Flea Market, I pulled the playsuit out of a big pile of vintage garments.  The first thought through my head was, “If only the skirt was here too.”  It was my lucky day, as the skirt soon emerged from the heap.

In most of the ads, the skirt buttons up the front, but in my new example, there is a metal zipper closure.

There is also a label in the skirt, something I did not notice until I got the set home and started a better examination.  I was a bit surprised by the label, as I’d known Jane Irwill only as a sweater maker.  The company was actually called Irwill Knitwear Corporation. But a label is an excellent starting place in trying to learn more about a garment.

The first place I turned to was TESS, the US trademark site.  TESS is a great starting point, because it often gives the name of the owner of the label, and it always has the name of the company that produces it.  In this case, I learned that Jane Irwill was a maker of sweaters and playsuits, and that the company name was Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  The page also states that “Jane Irwill” is not a real person.

According to TESS, The trademark “Jane Irwill” was first used in 1940.  I always take first usage dates on TESS with a grain of salt, as I’ve found many errors over the years.  Often the trademark application is made many years after the first usage, and people being human, make mistakes.  So I really do not give the 1940 date much credence.

My next step was to see what I could find out about the Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  Quite a few sites that list business registrations list the year of incorporation as 1923.  The founder of the company was Irving Louis.  Just because the Irwill Knitting Corporation started in 1923, we cannot assume that the Jane Irwill label dates back that far.  The first actual reference I found to the label was in 1939, in a business directory.

I also did a search for “Sun Modes Jane Irwill”, and came up with several newspaper ads ranging from 1946 through 1954.  It could have been used earlier, or later, as I only located five examples.

So depending on when the label was really first used, I’m looking at a set that could have been made between about 1935 when play sets became very popular, through the very early 1950s when the style changed to a more fashionable line.  This was a basic sportswear design that did not really change much in those years.  So it is necessary to really look at the details to narrow down a date.

Note how long the skirt is.  Add two inches to that length because the skirt was hemmed at some point.  This means that either the wearer was short, or the skirt was shortened to bring it more into style when skirts got shorter during WWII.  The skirt length, plus the relatively weak shoulders tend to suggest that this set is either before 1939 or so, or after 1947.

Another clue is that the skirt is cut in  eight gores rather than in a front and back cut as two pieces.  This uses more fabric, and is another clue that this set was not made during the war.

The next thing I considered was the fabric design and the colors used.  The fabric is a very light blue with a brown stripe.  Some people I know are very good at identifying the possible years of manufacture just from the colors used.  Unfortunately, I am not one of those persons, so without a lot of reading and looking at period examples, that information does not help.  What about the stripes, though?  In looking at magazines from 1934 through 1950, I noticed the popularity of stripes increased around 1940, and they stayed popular throughout the 1940s.

So, my best guess is that my Sun Modes set dates to around 1947 or 48.  I would appreciate any additional insights.

This was a great addition to my collection.  In collecting I’ve noticed that the playsuit is often found for sale, but it is rarer for the skirt to be present as well.  I already had one set that is most likely early 1940s.  It was home sewn using feedsack material, a good example of WWII era thrift.  It’s nice to now have a later example.

Let me add a few words about condition.  This set was quite dirty, so I did hand wash it with great success.  Besides the hemming, there are some crude hand repairs to the sleeves and underarms.  For now I’ll leave them as they are.  I rather like the evidence of the former owner’s hand.

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

1960s Beach Bag That Might Be from Coppertone

If you were around in the 1950s and 60s then you probably are familiar with the Coppertone Suntan Lotion slogan, “Don’t Be A Paleface!”  Billboards and magazine ads showed the little girl with her tan line being exposed by an enthusiastic spaniel.  I recently ran across this beach bag, and immediately thought it was a Coppertone item, probably a premium of some type.

On closer examination though, the word “Coppertone” is nowhere to be seen, though there is a bit of a copyright symbol at the bottom of the girl’s right foot.

Weirder still is the image on the other side of the bag.  It shows a woman in a rather modest bikini, and a very exuberant man in matching trunks.  Still no Coppertone logo, though there is a little bottle of suntan lotion on the blanket.

It does look a lot like a Coppertone bottle.

To add to the mystery, there is another version of this bag that does have the word “Coppertone”, and that was somehow associated with the Olympics.  The bag does not reveal the year, but I’m guessing 1964 or 1968.

Since I bought this, I’ve seen ones like it for sale online, and the listings all use the Coppertone connection.  The ad and image were so well-known, that maybe the actual word “Coppertone” was thought to be unnecessary.

Note the squirrel photo-bombing my first photo.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Summer Sports

1930s Swimsuit with Stars and Rope

There have been a thousand (or more) articles on how to title a blog post, and after reading them all I still struggle with going with anything other than the obvious.  So because this post is about a new-to-me 1930s bathing suit, made from a great fabric of white and blue stars intertwined in a nautical-style rope, the title is pretty much a bare-bones description of the object.

The 1930s were a time of transition for women’s swimsuits.  At the beginning of the decade most suits were still being manufactured of wool knit, but by 1940 a great variety of materials were being used for bathing suits.  The invention of Lastex in 1931 was the first big change, with the elastic thread being added to the wool yarns.  By the middle of the decade Lastex was also being blended with rayon yarns.

Compared to the low-waisted styles of the 1920s, the shape of the 1930s put more emphasis on the bust.  You can see this even in bathing suits, as there is often a seam under the bustline, as you see in my suit above.

Another change one sees in 1930s bathing suits is the return to the use of woven fabrics.  Wool jersey knit made the “dressmaker” bathing suits of the 1910s and early 20 passé, but in the 1930s, the addition of a cotton jersey lining allowed for a good fit in woven fabrics.  The white shorts under the skirt of my suit is cotton jersey, as is the rest of the lining.

Because of the lack of stretch in the outer fabric, this bathing suit has a button closure on the back.  It also has a deeply scooped back to allow for suntanning.  Many evening dresses of the period also sported a deep scoop in the back, so one’s tan must match one’s gown.

At first I though the red had faded to the rusty color you see, but a close examination of unexposed areas of the fabric show that this is the original color.  And what about that texture?!

And talking about 1930s bathing suits, I just had to share this one, which is not, unfortunately, a part of my collection.  It is wool, made in Germany in the 30s.  You can see elements of both the 20s (skirt over matching trunks, all wool) and the 1930s (seam under the bust, neck ruffle).  The photo was sent to me by vintage store owner and vintage clothing collector Ingo Zahn.  Ingo owns Rocking Chair Vintage in Berlin, and was a big help when I needed a German translation a while back.  Thanks for sharing your photo, Ingo!

 

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Filed under Collecting

1940s White Stag Belt with Pouch

I just could not bring myself to call this a fanny pack, and it would have been wrong of me to do so.  The pouch on a belt concept really caught on sometime in the late 1980s (if memory serves me correctly) but this pouch on a belt dates to probably the early 1940s.  It’s a great example of a find that I didn’t know I needed until I spotted it on Etsy.

 

 

I’ve based my dating on two things.  First, the label is very similar to one I found as part of a 1941 White Stag ad for ski clothing.  After WWII, the White Stag label in ski togs was red with white lettering.  The only time I’ve seen the above logo which is so similar to my label is in that 1941 ad.

Just as important is the Alpine folkloric motif embroidered on the belt.  I’ve written about this in the past, and the next few paragraphs are adapted from an old blog post.

Even though the US was inching toward war with Germany in 1941, there was a vogue for clothing decoration that was similar to that of German, Bavarian, Tyrolean or Swiss motifs. This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.

In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership actively encouraged the wearing of  Germanic folk costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images.  The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.

In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935.  Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes  in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler.  By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the  US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.

As  the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular.  Interesting, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress.

But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US?  I  have some theories.  First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s.  Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular.  The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.

Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets.  It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.

If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.

But all historic and cultural explanation aside, I wanted this because I have a small capsule collection of the Alpine motif garments, and this was a nice addition to that group.  I also have a 1940s gray with red trim ski suit.  What luck!

Thanks to IKnowWhatImWearing on etsy for such a great addition to my collection.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Winter Sports, World War II

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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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting

Leo Narducci for Rose Marie Reid

I recently found this swimsuit from the late 1960s or early 1970s, and I bought it because of the interesting label and nice design.  It looks like a rather conservative suit from the front, but turn it around and…

you get a whole other feeling.

I wrote about Rose Marie Reid some time ago after having read a biography of her.  Rose Marie Reid sold her namesake company in 1962, but stayed on as the designer of the line.  She left the company a year later over a dispute over the bikini, which Reid thought was indecent.  The popular line continued, and around 1968 designer Leo Narducci was hired to design the line.

Narducci is not a very well-known name today, but he was well-respected as a designer in the 1960s and 70s.  Narducci graduated from the Rhode Island School of design in 1960, and went to work at LoomTogs, a sportswear company.  Over the next decade he designed for a number of firms, and in 1971 he started his own label, “specializing in soft clothes with casual outlines and elegant materials,”  according to Eleanor Lambert.  As far as I can tell, Narducci worked for Rose Marie Reid from 1968 through the early 1970s.

He also had a number of his designs made into sewing patterns by Vogue in the 1970s.  Do a search for them to see what Lambert meant by “soft clothes with casual outlines.”

This ILGWU label is more confirmation of the age of this swimsuit.  This label was changed in 1974 to include red, so it has to date before 1974.

The Rose Marie Reid company did go on to make bikinis, but the name is still associated with the covered-up but still sexy styles she created in the 1950s.  Leo Narducci is still alive, and here you can see an interview with him from two years ago.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports