Category Archives: Collecting

Irene Brown Cashmere Sweater for Golfer


I’ve been on a lucky streak online recently, as far as finding great stuff for my collection.  Above you can see my new favorite, bought off eBay from seller lindys4sale.  It is cashmere, and is decorated with velveteen appliques, accents with beads, embroidery, and the occasional bit of leather.

Irene Brown of Detroit is a new name to me, and an internet search showed up only a few references, all in Michigan newspapers dating from 1962 to 1968.  I found two other examples that had been sold online, both of which used applique to decorate the sweater.

One thing I can tell you about Irene Brown is that the sweater that bears her name shows top notch workmanship.  Each little piece was cut from velveteen or leather, and then was expertly appliqued to the sweater.  The letters shown above are about an inch and an eighth, are beautifully finished and then embroidered on one side to mimic a shadow.  The number on the flag and the dimples on the ball are made with beading.

Even the sides of the sweater and the sleeve cuffs are decorated.  The two other examples I found of Brown’s work also had gathered cuffs like this one.  Perhaps it was a trademark of her designs.

The back of the sweater has one big applique of a golf bag and clubs.  All the design on the bag was made through embroidery.

The interior is not lined, so you can get a good look at the handwork.  I would have expected a sweater of this quality to be lined, but I can find no traces of old lining threads, and the other examples I found do not seem to be lined either.

One thing I really love about vintage golf prints and such is that the 19th hole is almost always referenced.  That little cocktail is enough to entice me onto the golf course.  You’ll find me in the club house.



Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Super Find Becomes Albatross Becomes Happy Memory

I recently found a stack of wonderful old linens at my favorite shopping place.  As so often happens, a load of donations go in after the closing of an estate, or maybe a move to a smaller house.  Anyway, I sometimes find the entire contents of the linen closet, and that usually means at least a few great novelty prints.

This souvenir tablecloth from Cuba was the best of a really sweet group of printed tablecloths.  These tablecloths were very popular in the post WWII era, and I imagine that most homes had at least one – a Christmas theme cloth perhaps.  I still have the one my mother used on our holiday table.

Tablecloths were also a great vacation souvenir, and I’ve seen printed ones with destinations from Alaska to Florida and beyond.  Most that I’ve found are not labeled, but I know of one company, California Handprints, that made novelty and printed tablecloths.  My guess is that this one, though sold in Cuba in the 1940s or 50s, was actually made in the USA.

I was really happy to find the Cuba one, especially after checking the prices on Ebay.  So I took a few photos, wrote up my listing, and put it on Etsy to sell.  I also posted a photo on Instagram, where a fellow vintage travel enthusiast saw it.  She emailed with the great news that she and her husband are traveling to Cuba soon.  I clicked over to review my listing, but found it had disappeared.  After a long search, I discovered that Etsy had deactivated the listing.

That was a bit puzzling, but the next day I got an email that stated that the tablecloth was in violation of the US embargo against Cuban products!  I sent an email back explaining that the tablecloth was made before the Cuban Revolution and the embargo.  It was probably made in the US, and then imported to Cuba where a tourist bought it and brought it back to the States.  In other words, it is not an illegal Cuban product.

No matter, as the diligent people at Etsy can’t take a chance that the selling of my tablecloth might be the very thing that allows the Cuban government to break the (already weakened by US law) embargo.  So my option was to stick it on eBay where there are several similar ones up for sale.

But it just left a sad feeling, with my happy find turning into a problem.  I had to find a way to break the evil spell cast upon my innocent tablecloth.  So now the tablecloth is on its way north, to the lucky Beth who will soon be traveling to Cuba.

And by the way, the email from etsy’s legal department asked me to please keep our email exchange a secret.  They are probably embarrassed for the world to know that legal communications are headed with “Hi there” and are signed with a first name only.  Seriously.

But enough of that!  I’m not one to hold a grudge so instead of making fun of Etsy Legal, let’s look at the great details of this print.  Aside from the sleeping guy under the sombrero in which the designer got his Latin American countries confused, the print is full of references to the fun things one would encounter in the “Holiday Isle of the Tropics.”

Cruise ships! Tennis! Skiing! Rum! Sailing!

Dancing! Show girls! Tobacco fields!

And a whole corner of the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay!

I have opened my annual Etsy pop-up shop, in which I try to make a few bucks to support my collecting habit.  I sell vintage sewing patterns and other vintage finds from the past year that I’ve decided not to keep.


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Shopping

Variations on a Theme: Bloomers

Sometimes when I go on the hunt for vintage clothing, a theme appears.  Last week the theme was bloomers.  I first spotted this gymsuit with bloomers.  It has a nifty feature.

How about that!  Convenient, but I’m betting the girl who had to wear this suit hated it, and especially hated the drop bottom.

That girl was Margo Kellow.  The gymsuit was made a a company that is new to me, Pennco, or the Pennsylvania Apparel Company.

No sooner had I spotted Margo’s green suit than I saw these big black bloomers flapping in the wind.  I’m pretty sure that the vendor thought they were funny, and she seemed genuinely surprised when I asked the price.  The other shoppers then began to have a few laughs at my expense.

No matter, as I know a great pair of bloomers when I see them.  These are very long, and quite old, probably Edwardian.  Note the use of an overlock stitch.  Yes, the overlock was used this early, having been invented in the 1880s.

It’s very possible that these bloomers once had an attached blouse, as the waist band stitching has been removed.

It was not all gym attire, however.  This is an apron made in the shape of bloomers, which mirror the woman in the print.

Cute, no?

When I returned home, a package was waiting.  In it was yet another pair of bloomers, these a bit later than the top pair.  I got these from my new favorite etsy shop, Poor Little Robin.  Again, we are lucky to have the name of its original owner, Martha Wilson.

All these bloomers got me to thinking about my next research project.  I’m getting a pretty good selection of gymsuits, and so I’m going to be working on a timeline of the changes made in girls’ gym attire over the years.  Hopefully I will have enough information to write a paper for presentation at Costume Society, but if not, I can still post my findings here.

Later on I may be begging for help in the form of your family photos.


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Shopping, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

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.


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.




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.


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!



Filed under Collecting