Category Archives: Collecting

1930s Sports Novelty Print Teddy

Sometimes you just have to break the rules.  In the case of this teddy, I broke two of my self-imposed buying rules:

1. Buy online only from sellers I know.

2. Do not buy lingerie.

I really do not buy a lot online because I greatly prefer the experience of vintage shopping in the real world.  I like being able to examine and learn.  I like talking to dealers.  And most of all I like using my skills to assess whether or not a piece is worth the price and is worthy of a place in my collection.  I also don’t buy online from people I don’t know.  I’ll not go into details, but not all vintage sellers are created equal.

I also have put an end to buying any lingerie.  It just does not, for the most part, add anything to what I’m trying to develop as a collection.  But never say never.

I was doing a rare ebay search for “sports” in the women’s vintage clothing section when this teddy came up.  At first I was sure it was from the late 1970s with those high-cut legs, but I clicked on it just to satisfy my curiosity.  The close-up photos showed an authentic-looking print showing sportswomen (and a few men as well) dressed in mid 1930s sports clothes.  But prints can be deceiving.

The bra section was interesting, with a little gusset inserted for fullness.  I also noticed the edging.  It was looking promising.

The back was fitted by way of a bit of elastic, which looked vintage.

But what sold me on this piece was actually the crotch, or more exactly, the buttons in the crotch.  I was convinced this piece was actually from the 1930s.

And when it arrived, my thoughts were confirmed.  It’s not usual to see a rayon novelty print on underwear of that period, but one of the great things about collecting clothing is there is always something to be discovered, something one had no idea even existed.


Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

Currently Reading: All the Best Rubbish by Ivor Noël Hume

When I was a freshman in college I discovered history.  I’d always liked reading about the past, but for the first time I became really excited about it.  I was all ready to major in American literature when I was thrown into the core program at my small, public university.  All freshmen were required to take a year of “humanities” classes which consisted of history, sociology, literature and writing.  My teacher of the first term was a history professor, and he approached the curriculum through the study of history, incorporating the literature of the era along with other social studies.  I was hooked.

It wasn’t enough that I was studying history in class, so I went in search of other things to fuel my interest.  I can’t remember how I came to pick up this book by historical archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume, but I suspect it was a happy accident from repeated browsing at the newly opened B. Dalton bookstore in Asheville.  But however I came to own the book, I quickly fell under the spell of the “Pleasures and Perils” of collecting.  For a while my greatest ambition in life was to go mud-larking on the banks of the Thames, as the author made it sound so appealing.

But my life took a different turn, and instead of becoming a mud-larker, I became a teacher.  And I had not picked up this book for thirty-five years.

Recently I was moving furniture around and in doing so was moving books to a new bookcase.  I ran across my much-loved copy of All the Best Rubbish, and was reminded of what it had meant to me all those years ago.  As a result, I put it in the reading queue.

To my surprise, the book seems to have had a lasting influence on my collecting.  Ivor Noël Hume is not only a renowned archaeologist, he is also a collector, and the book, while it tells much about his job at Colonial Williamsburg, is mainly about the things he found over the years and what he learned from them.  The main take-away is this: The most expensive artifacts are not always the most valuable in terms of history.  Simple, everyday objects are most often the ones that can teach us the most about the past.  And while Noël Hume’s examples were often ceramics and glass, the same can be said for clothing.

Collecting only the best and rarest may be satisfying to the egotist or to the person needing aesthetic stimuli to get him through the misery of life in a world of mediocrity, but it does nothing for anyone wanting to know what it was like to live in other centuries.

Another valuable lesson is that value is subjective, and is more often than not, based on opinion.  Something that is thought to be ugly becomes less so when there are lots of dollar signs attached to the item.

Even though this book was published over forty years ago, so much of it will strike a chord with modern collectors:

The collector…has the residue of a lifetime for research and the acquisition of keys to doors beyond which lie journeys, adventures, and dramas that are not uniquely his own.

After all, it it not just the owning of objects, but the history that we can learn from these objects that is important.


I could not resist adding a photo of this 18th century engraving, as the woman on the left and I share a name.  My grandmother was Elizabeth Adams (but was called Lizzie) and I was named for her, being Sharon Elizabeth Adams. I never knew the original Lizzie as she died the year before my birth, but by all accounts she was a kind and generous woman, with not a trace of larceny in her heart!


Filed under Collecting, Currently Viewing, Viewpoint

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.


Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Sportswear

1920s Shawl-Collared Sweaters, Part II

One of the great things about collecting photographs is that I don’t have to look very far for illustrations for my blog posts.  I found the shawl sweaters in my 1921 catalog so interesting that I looked through my collection to see how women wore shawl-collared sweaters in the 1920s.

Above is an early 1920s photo that was taken at a sporting event of some sort, maybe a college field day at a school for women.  There were lots of young women in middys and bloomers, but there were also some very sporty spectators.

I posted this photo some time ago in a quest to figure out what the heck these young people were doing.  A close look shows that at least one of them is wear a shawl-collared sweater.  (They are pulling a log for some unknown reason.)

This sweater looks like a more masculine style, so it is possible that this young woman has appropriated her boyfriend’s or brother’s sweater.  I didn’t show any men’s sweaters from the Famous Fain catalog, but it does show this style of cardigan – a style that changed very little through the 1960s.

This photo is a bit more recent than the others, being dated 1929.  It’s a good possibility that this is a man’s sweater as well, as those made for women tended to be more “fashionable.”  By 1929, this style had been around for a while.

Collecting vintage photos is fun.  They are easy to store and they do not take up much space.  For practically every interest, there are vintage photos.  I have a really hard time limiting myself to just ones of women in sports clothes and to travelers.  I could easily tip over into people wearing Halloween costumes, homes decorated for Christmas, and kids playing with their dogs.  And though I don’t actively collect them, I always look for ones that are somehow quirky, like ones I saw at the Met several years ago.  I could have a category called “people doing nutty stuff in inappropriate clothing.”


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

Famous Fain Knitted Outerwear, 1921

I love old knitwear catalogs, and for the most part have to be contented with the catalogs because the actual sweaters just have not survived in great numbers.  They rarely come up for sale, and when they do they cost more than my parents paid for my first car.

I had never heard of the famous Fain company, but Google books delivered a lot of information in the form of a 1922 issue of Textile World magazine.  The company was started in Brooklyn in 1912 as a maker of knitted swimsuits.  At first their daily output was two dozen suits a day, which they sold at the mill, directly to consumers.  The next year they added machinery to make sweaters and Fain began to grow, but they maintained their business model of selling directly to consumers.  In 1918 a Fain store was opened in Brooklyn, and by 1922 there were six stores, all in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and there was a plan for a new factory and store in the Garment District.  As far as I can tell, Fain sold only through their own stores.  My catalog is not for mail order, but is just a sort of preview of the new styles available in the Fain stores.

Interestingly, the Fain family also started a wholesale division, which was called Navy Knitting Mills.  Between the two parts of the company, the Fains sold $3.5 million in bathing suits, sweaters, hosiery, scarves, caps and various other accessories in 1922.  I’m not sure what went wrong, but Navy Knitting Mills went into bankruptcy in 1923, and Fain went into receivership in 1925.

But in the fall of 1921, things at Fain were looking good.

Fain offered a large range of prices, as you can see above.  Model No. 3008 was made from an “Extra Heavy Weight Zephyr” while No. 3101 was made from a thinner weight.  Still, the detailing on both is very nice, and I’ve made the photos clickable so you can see the details better.  I especially love the way both sweaters slip through a hole and then button to secure.

And for pricing reference, in 1921 $14.95 calculates to $212.07 in 2015 buying power, and $4.95 was worth $70.22.

Fain also made a wide range of wool accessories, like these scarves.  The more expensive one is made of camel’s hair.

Or how about a sport coat and matching tam of brushed alpaca?  Note that one woman is holding ice skates, and the other, a hockey stick.  These were clothes for the sporty set.

I’m not much of a cape person, but I do love these two models, especially the plaid one.

So, what do you think: is this a little girl or a little boy?  Does it matter?  There is a lot of talk today about whether it is right to instill sexual stereotypes in our children by way of dress.  Perhaps we should return to the days when little children were just children.

There were two models in the catalog that if seen out of context, might be misidentified as being from the 1930s.  I’m referring to the red model above and the blue one several photos above.  These are not what one visualizes when thinking 1920s fashion.  To my eye they look like they are ten years too early, but it may be that the company wanted to make a few models for those who were resisting the longer torso of the late Teens and early Twenties.

By looking at model No. 4018 it is easy to see the inspiration for the shawl-collared sweaters that were so popular in the 1970s.  Could there be a more cozy garment on a crisp fall day?  In the early Seventies I had a sewing pattern that included a shawl-collared sweater, and I scoured the local textile mill outlets looking for heavy knit goods with which to sew up my own sweaters.  I wish I’d known about those clever buttoned closures which are so much nicer than the bulky tie belts included with the pattern.


Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

Notes on Collecting and Selling

Every year I do a complete inventory of my collection, partly to make sure my records are accurate, but mainly to refresh my mind about all the things I have accumulated.  I hate to use the word accumulated, as I have been trying over the past five years to make sure that I only buy things that fit in with the rest of the collection.  It’s sort of like reassessing one’s mission statement, except that there is no board of directors to hold me to it!

For every collector there is a reason for collecting, but if I’m completely honest I think the main reason people collect is because they like to shop.  As for myself, I love the thrill of the hunt, the prospect of finding a treasure in an antique store or flea market.  If not held in check, my house would be overflowing with all the great stuff I find.  I try really hard to buy only things that will fit in with my sportswear theme, or that are at least the type of clothes a sporty type would want to wear.

Sometimes I miss the mark.  I see something pretty and lacy and then I get it home and realize that it just is not for me.  Sometimes I think that the collection is actually the the clothes I would have worn had I been around in 1927 or 1952.  And when it comes to the newer end of the collection, the Sixties and Seventies, I know I’d have worn the types of things I’ve collected.

So, I’ve just finished my inventory, and now I’ve got a pile of fantastic things that I know I should have left for another buyer.  With that in mind, I’m passing on a few things for other vintage buyers.  I’ve started with some pretty things from the 1920s, but over the next few weeks I’ll be adding some 1930s and 40s lingerie, some great hats, and some dresses and skirts.  And if I can get the sewing pattern drawer organized, I’ll be adding some of those to the ones I already have listed.

So, if you are serial shopper like me, you might want to check out my temporary etsy store.  I use all the money that is made to finance my online purchases, so the collection will just keep evolving.


Filed under Collecting

1920s Printed Velvet Stole

The thing that keeps collecting old clothes interesting is that there is always something new that one has never seen before.  This stole is a good example.  The textile is a printed velvet, and the print looks like it is from the 1920s.  The problem is, I’ve never seen nor heard of evening stoles being used in the 1920s.  The black reverse side is a deep, plush velvet as well.

I’m still not sure what to make of this piece, and would appreciate any and all opinions and insights.  The tie you can see actually wraps around a button, which is wood covered in the black velvet.

I generally don’t acquire things of this nature, but I loved the print and truthfully, the price was too good to turn down.  And I’m always up for a good mystery!

UPDATE:  A good friend sent a French fashion illustration dated 1920 that shows a similar stole being worn as part of a cloak.  The patterned fabric IS the lining, as most of the commenters suggested.  Thanks to Lynne for coming through once again!


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Vintage Clothing