Category Archives: Collecting

1930s Chenille Bathing Suit Cover-up Cape

During a recent lucky streak, I ran across this fantastic cape, which is a bathing suit cover-up.  It is made from machine-made chenille, a fabric that started out as the product of a cottage industry in northern Georgia.  Based around the town of Dalton, Georgia, home workers began making hand tufted bedspreads to sell to travelers going south on the newly finished Dixie Highway.  A local textile mill, Crown Cotton, provided the base material, which is a heavy muslin-type fabric.  By 1910 the homeworkers were setting up stands along the highway to sell to the growing tourist travelers.

In 1917 a manufacturing process was set up. and some of the tufting was done by machine.  Hand tufting was still being done, but it was increasingly mechanized.  At first the product was just bedcovers, but by the 1920s some garments, such as bathrobes and beach wear, were also being made.

I can remember seeing the bedspread stands as a child traveling to visit relatives in the far western reaches of North Carolina and on the road to Atlanta.  Some of the designs were quite bizarre – wildly colored peacocks spring to mind.  And occasionally a stand can be spotted even today, but for the most part, the chenille factories converted to carpets years ago.

I can’t say a lot about the origin of the cape.  There is a small, handwritten label, that looks more like a collections number than anything else.  Could this cape have been in a collection before becoming a part of mine?  It is possible.

I do have two more chenille garments, one a bedjacket and the other a shorter cape.  None of them have  makers labels of any kind.

The neckline is gathered with a cotton robe tie.  There is an extra row of red chenille for decoration.

The back of the gathering.

I don’t have any photos showing a chenille cape, but I did find this jacket.  It is dated July 1939, Mountain Lake, New Jersey.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Southern Textiles, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Late 1940s Shorts and Wrap Skirt

I recently ran across this skirt and a pair of matching shorts, and I bought them even though there are quite a few problems with the two pieces.  To be really honest, I wanted these partly because of the issues and my desire to analyze the set.  Using the questions from The Dress Detective, I wanted to hear the story these pieces have to tell.

To start with, there is a real possibility that a piece is missing.  By looking at sewing patterns and catalogs from 1940 through the 1950s, these sets often came with a matching blouse.  These pieces are home sewn, and there is no way to know if a matching blouse was actually made, but that is the way the pieces were marketed, and presumably, worn.

Here are some good examples from a 1940s brochure from Edwards Department Store in Rochester, New York.  In these photos the top and shorts are attached as one piece, but these were also available as shorts and top separately.

After World War II ended, fabrics became a lot more colorful.  Dyes had been restricted during the war, and I’m sure people were ready for a burst of color.  If you look at fashion magazines starting as early as the middle of 1945, you can really see what I mean.  Interesting designs and color combinations dominated.  In the case of my skirt and shorts you can see turquoise, a chartreuse-y yellow, and two shades of rust, printed on white and accented with black.

As mentioned, the set is home sewn, using simple techniques.  The sewer must have had one of those new-fangled buttonholers that attached to the machine.  The buttons on the skirt are mother of pearl, and they are well-worn.  They seem to be a bit old-fashioned for the piece.  Could they have been re-cycled?

There is a noticeable color difference between the shorts and the skirt.  The skirt looks hardly worn, but the shorts are quite faded.  What does that say?  The shorts were obviously washed more than the skirt, and so we can assume they were worn more.

There is another interesting clue on the shorts, a smear  of dried paint.  Could it be that after the shorts became either worn or not so fashionable (or both) that they were used to wear around the house for chores like painting.  It points to a long life of the shorts and skirt, and possibly a blouse, moving from cute outfit to work attire.

There is one last thing to point out.  At sometime the skirt was shortened as evidenced by the faded line.  During the last part of the 1950s skirt hems did rise, and so this could have been an attempt to make the skirt more fashionable.  Or it is possible this was done years later by a wearer of vintage clothing.  Either way, it is an interesting part of the skirt’s history.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Kerry-Teen Skating Ensemble, Early 1960s

When I think of sportswear, Sears, Roebuck is not a brand that immediately pops into my mind.  But in this case, Sears made a really sweet little skating ensemble, marketed under their Kerry-Teens label.

Kerrybrooke was the Sears, Roebuck house brand from the late 1940s until the 60s.  And even though you can see the little R in a circle symbol, meaning that the name was a registered trademark,I could find no trace of the Kerry-teen name on the US trademark database.

The only reference to Kerry-Teen I could find in my sources was in a 1958 Sears, Roebuck catalog that I own.  Online, I found catalog references to the Kerry-Teen name from 1956 to 1961.

The set that I bought falls squarely within that time frame.  Consisting of a short skating skirt and a sleeveless top, this could be either late 1950s or early 1960s.  Fashion does not obey the arbitrary assignment of decades that we try to impose upon it.

The skater is appliqued onto the flannel skirt.  What makes it really special are the pom-poms on the tops of each skate. 

The skirt is lined with red acetate, which made for fancy twirling on the ice.

I could not decide if the half-belt which is attached to the top goes to the front or to the back.  I’m betting that one could have also ordered a red turtleneck sweater to go under the top.

I was really happy to get this because it is a set, and not just the individual pieces.  It is getting harder and harder to find matched pieces of sportswear, and though the skirt is really great, it helps to better visualize how it was worn when the top is added.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Winter Sports

1920s Bathing Suit from Eff-N-Dee

I have a lot to say about this superb 1920s bathing suit, but I’ll try to keep my enthusiasm for it under control somewhat.  I’ll start by saying a few things about collecting.

Most guides to collecting anything give the same advice to beginning collectors: Buy the very best that you can afford.  After thirty-five years of collecting this or that, I can attest to the value of the statement.  With a few years of experience of looking at objects, it is always the cream that is most appealing.  The reason many collectors become sellers is to sell off the lesser quality items in their collections in order to afford the best examples.

From the moment I first saw the photos of this 1920s bathing suit on the Instagram of SmallEarthVintage, I knew this was an object I had to add to my collection.  Even though I already had two knit bathing suits from the early to mid 1920s, this one was just so much better with those great Art Deco designs that I began looking through my collection to see what I could sell in order to buy this one from Karen.  In the end, I did not have to sell a kidney, nor even a lesser piece that I already owned, as she was running a sale that put the piece within my budget.

The Art Deco designs are not knit into the fabric, but are embroidered over the black wool knit.  There is quite a bit of sheen to the embroidery which leads me to think that it is silk.  It makes me wonder how this would have stood up to repeated dunkings in water, but because of the excellent condition of the wool, I suspect this suit spent much more time on a beach blanket than in the ocean.  These are often found completely stretched out of the original shape due to heavy wearing.

I got help in pinning down a date for this piece from a great booklet by historian Claudia Kidwell, Women’s Bathing and Swimming Costume in the United States.  The booklet was published in 1968 by the Smithsonian, for which Kidwell worked.  Remarkably, the entire text of this excellent source is available online, or it can be downloaded free of charge from Amazon.

One thing that Kidwell points out is that until the necklines began to scoop deeply, even knit suits had to have a button at one shoulder in order to put it on.  Many places had a rule that the scoop of the neck could not be lower than a line drawn across the chest from armpit to armpit.  As the Twenties progressed, many of these rules were either abolished, or more likely, simply ignored.  By the late 1920s a button was no longer required at the shoulder as the neck opening was large enough to fit over the wearer’s body. My suit does have a rather high neckline, and thus, the needed button.

Another hint as to the age is the presence of an overskirt, with the trunks peeking out about two inches beneath it.  This skirt was all that was left of the old bathing dress of the previous decades.  And by the end of the 1920s, it would be gone as well.

By looking at hundreds of photos of swimmers in their suits and after seeing hundreds of existing suits for sale , I can safely say that the majority of knit swimming and bathing suits from the late 1910s and the 1920s were either a plain black, or black with a colored stripe.  It is the geometric design of this suit that separates it from the multitude of plain black suits.  Although the Art Deco movement received its name in 1925 after the L’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes fair held in Paris, the designs were already in use and gaining favor by the early 1920s.  The original owner of this suit must have been a very modern woman.

So, what is the date of this suit?  There’s no way to know with 100 percent certainty without finding an ad or a catalog, but my best guess is between 1923 and 1925. After that time both the skirt and the trunks got shorter, the scoop neck got lower, and the button would have disappeared.

Another interesting thing about this suit is that it does have a label.  It is hard to read, but it is “Eff-N-Dee”.  I’d never heard of this brand, but Karen had discovered that it was the label of a knitwear company in Cleveland, Ohio, the Friedman-Devay Knitting Company.  Having the name of the firm is a good starting place for finding information, but this one has been a bit elusive.  I do know that the owners were S.A. Devay and W.A. Freidman and that the company produced knits for the entire family.  The first reference I found to the company was dated 1915.

One of the most interesting things I found was a listing of knit goods manufacturers in the city of Cleveland in 1916.  I was surprised to see that there were twenty-six makers of knits in Cleveland.  Someone who lives in that area needs to do a study.

Thanks to Karen at Small Earth Vintage for the use of her photographs.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

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.

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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.

UPDATE:

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!

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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.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Sportswear