Category Archives: Collecting

The Dress I’ll Not Be Buying

Very high on my wish list for a very long time has been a late 1920s white dress appropriate for tennis. The dresses above are from 1927, seen in a B.Altman catalog. It shows the type of thing I’ve been desiring for a long time.

These are hard to come by. It’s much easier to find a fantastically beaded evening dress from 1927 than it is to find a simple white linen or cotton frock. That does not keep me from looking. I have the usual hunting sites, like Etsy, eBay, and Ruby Lane, but occasionally I’ll venture into high price territory, in the hopes that a dress I can afford will magically appear.

So I went to one such high-priced site, and my search for “tennis dress” returned a list of five or six actual dresses, one of which was labeled as 1920s. Unfortunately,  labeling a dress “1920s” does not automatically make it so.

While old, the dress was not from the twenties, but was very similar to the third dress in this group. And this is from a 1931 B. Altman catalog. Still, it was a great dress, and the best part was a little tennis racket motif embroidered on the bodice. Yes, this was an actual tennis dress.

I’ll admit that at first glance I was smitten. I was charmed by the obviousness of the embroidery. Then I started reading the description and looking at the photos. There were numerous stains and even a tear in the fabric. But what really stopped me in my shopping tracks was a description of the underarms. They were described as having “authentic sweat stains”.  A look at the photos confirmed that yes, these sweat stains were indeed authentic.

I can’t remember ever having read an item description where sweat stains were spun into a good thing. Perhaps that helps explain the $1200 (plus $25 shipping) price tag.

For the most part, I don’t complain about what people choose to charge for their old stuff. I figure that the marketplace really does help establish prices. That said, there are definite trends even in vintage clothing that do affect pricing. I long for the old days when I could buy 1950s travel-themed skirts for $40, and when the competition for old sportswear was non-existent, but I realize these fads too shall pass. I can remember when plain Victorian white underwear brought hundreds of dollars, things that today bring less than fifty.

In the meantime the $1225 1920s-but-really-1930s tennis dress will not be added to my little collection.

 

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Late 1940s Photographic Prints on Fabric

Late in 1947 the big news on the textiles front was the development of a process that allowed photographs to be printed on fabric. It was so big that Life magazine reported on the new printing processes in December of 1947. Today, photos printed on fabrics are everywhere, and one can even do it at home on their own computer. And when I think of vintage photo prints, I tend to think of those from the 1970s that were printed on polyester knits.

Occasionally a photo printed piece from the 1940s surfaces on the market. Most of the ones I have seen are multiple photos of a place. I have seen prints of San Francisco and of Seattle. I have also seen a fabric that had a variety of travel destinations. And at the present time there are Florida and Hawaii themed photo print garments for sale on eBay.

I had been wanting to add one of these unusual prints to my collection, but had been holding out for a woman’s garment in a travel print. As luck would have it, I stumbled on a sports themed print on a scarf instead.

This scarf is from the late 1940s or early 50s, and seems to be printed on parachute silk. I say seems to be because there is not enough available random fiber to do a burn test. The other alternative is that this is a thin and crisp acetate.

I especially love that most of the sports people are women, and that they are dressed in practical clothing for active sports.

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1940s Vitality Open Road Shoes

I recently found this pair of wedge heeled shoes on eBay, and was really delighted when they arrived in my mailbox. I don’t buy a lot of shoes for my collection for various reasons, and I’m quite cautious when I find a pair I might want to add to my collection. These more than met my strict criteria.

Condition is a big problem with vintage sporty shoes. It’s fairly easy to find superb examples of evening shoes that date back to the early days of the twentieth century, but comfortable day shoes were often worn until they were done for.  This pair looks like they just came out of the shoe box, circa 1947.

How did I arrive at that date? First, I could be off a year or so in either direction. I have spent considerable time engaged in research involving 1940s and early 1950s fashion magazines. To me it’s really interesting to follow a trend from its first appearances in advertisements, to the days, often years later, when the trend becomes a has-been.

Wedge heels first appeared in 1936 in Italy with designer Salvatore Ferragamo, though they didn’t really catch on until WWII made practical heels more necessary. They continued after the war ended, into the early 1950s.

In trying to date my shoes I looked for two things: ads from the Vitality Shoe Company, and wedges that have a curved, rather than a flat sole. From 1945 through 1954, I found only one ad from Vitality.

This ad is from 1949 and it features three styles of wedge heels. Note that the pair on the bottom left has a slimmer and higher wedge. I noticed this happening around 1947, and by 1954 the old thick clunky-look wedge was gone.  Note also that Vitality calls these walking shoes the Wanderlust line. My thinking is that this line replaced the Open Road line. The last ad I found on-line for Open Road was 1946.

Vitality was part of the International Shoe Company of Saint Louis. At one time it was recognized to be the largest maker of shoes in the world. They made average price range shoes, so it is interesting to see how very well-made my shoes are.

I love the way there is a woven label inserted under the insole. That feature pretty much ended with the 1940s.

During WWII, shoe colors were strictly limited because the dyes used for leather contained ingredients needed for the war effort. I have read there were six colors allowed, but a Smithsonian article says there were only four: black, white, brown, and russet.

At any rate, these shoes could not have been made during the war years with the beautiful red and blue, and the trim of even more colors.  In my research, I noted that by the beginning of 1946, American consumers were once again able to buy colorful shoes.

After the war ended there was an increasing interest in style from the American West. Many service men and women and defense workers had enjoyed the “California lifestyle” during the war, and the Westernwear of Hollywood actors must have also played a part.

I can’t help but think that in today’s world, a cry of “cultural appropriation” might be raised against my moccasin/wedgie hybrids.  With their colorful but vaguely Native or Southwestern vibe, I can see how they could have been just the shoes for women who were ready to wear color again.

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Filed under Collecting, Shoes, World War II

Gym Suit Uniformity

This is a brochure sent out to gym teachers with the aim of convincing them that having all students in matching gym suits was the way to go. It seems a bit odd, because from what I’ve seen, heard, and read, by the time this brochure was mailed in the early 1950s, most schools already had the girls in matching gym suits. Maybe there were some rogue gym suit holdouts in various corners of the USA.

My favorite part of this ad is how the gym suit is being compared to a Rockette costume. Uniformity was very important to the Rockettes, so much so that there was not a Black Rockette until 1988. Even then the director, Russell Markert, was reluctant, claiming it messed up the uniformity.

I also like this chart that pointed out the practical features of the Moore gym suit.

One thing this brochure does not have is the date it was published.  The photos, especially that of the girl on the front (with her gym class lipstick on point) look to be late 40s or early 50s. I set about looking at what might be clues in the text.

It mentioned that Russell Markert was the director, and Gene Synder was the co-director of the Rockettes. I looked for information of both men, but that turned out to be a dead end as both men’s tenures with the Rockettes spanned many years.

One gym suit was labeled as being style A12-66.  I have a 1949 Moore catalog, but this model was not mentioned. There was a style A10-66, so maybe the suit in the picture is an updated version. I also have a 1962 catalog, but by that time the method of numbering the suits had changed. There was a model 12, which was very similar to the model in the picture. Anyway looking at the style numbers proved to be inconclusive.

Finally I looked at the addresses given for the branch offices of ER Moore.  The address of the Los Angeles office was changed from what was given in 1949, but was the same at what was listed in 1962. That pretty much proved the brochure is after 1949, but before 1962, as noted by the change in model numbers.

So I’m going with early 1950s, due mainly to the styling of the suits, and to the girl’s hair and makeup.

One additional note is this also shows how slow to change gym suit styles were. Just the fact that Moore was offering pretty much the same suit over at least ten years goes to show just how hard it is to put a firm ate on these garments.

 

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Catalina Contures, 1960s Key to Confidence in Swimwear Comfort

Here’s one to be filed under “Things I found while looking for something else.” I could also put it under, “Things I didn’t know existed.”

Not that I didn’t know about “falsies” or bust pads; I just didn’t know that Catalina made these for swimsuits back in the 1960s. And considering how much time I spent  between 1965 and 1972 devouring Seventeen and Teen magazines, You’d think I’d have known every product that was marketed to my demographic (otherwise known as the teenager).

I have a fairly decent selection of Seventeen and other fashion magazines from the 60s, so after I found this item, I decided to revisit the magazines to see if I could spot an ad for Contures. I was pretty sure that I’d come up empty, as I felt sure I would have remembered seeing this product, and especially if the mermaid packaging was featured in the ads. And I was right, there were no Contures ads to be found.

From reading many online ads for vintage Catalina bathing suits, it does appear that many of their styles were made with pockets in which to insert the pads. I’m still trying to figure out how that would lead to “confidence in swimwear comfort”.

Looking at this product and the language used to sell it, it’s no wonder so many young women developed (and unfortunately still develop) body image issues. I do hope that all of you who have girls and teens are teaching them that their bodies are not objects that need correcting. Well, unless they have scoliosis or some other medical condition.

It’s really quite remarkable that these have survived at all, much less in the original box in a plastic bag. It’s obvious they were never used. Maybe the buyer had a moment of clarity and decided her breasts were fine as is. I like to think that’s the case.

The condition of the pads is amazing. They look like new, which is surprising considering they are made from a spongy synthetic substance and were wrapped in a plastic bag for fifty years. I have re-homed them in a muslin pouch, after wrapping them in acid-free tissue. Maybe that will help them last another fifty years.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Summer Sports

1970s Design Research and Marimekko Bikini

Here’s a truth about collecting: Sometimes it is easier to effectively collect things that are one hundred years old than it is to collect things one remembers wearing.  When it comes to things within one’s memory, your thoughts can’t help but be clouded by what you actually remember. Does that make sense? Well, here’s an example.

I once went to an exhibition of one woman’s collection of handbags along with her collected contents of what might be in each bag. With the 1900s through the 1950s bags, all was well, but when it got to the late 1960s and the 70s, things seemed to fall apart. I scrutinized each item, as though it was my handbag from that time. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was reading my own experience into the contents of the bags.

It was a valuable lesson.  But it has also made me very cautious when collecting from my own years of wearing fashion, particularly the 1970s. This helps explain why I have more bathing suits from the 1930s than from the 1970s.

Still, I can recognize the good stuff when I see it. This 1970s bikini is a good example. I first spotted it on the Instagram feed of  Selvedge Fine Vintage, and I knew it was something I needed for the collection.

I don’t remember Design Research from my youth, though I do remember the brand that was most associated with that store, Marimekko. Growing up in North Carolina, we used to joke that we could get a copy of a two year old Seventeen, copy the styles, and be on the cutting edge of fashion. It was the truth. Looking back at Seventeen from 1973 I can see how great and cute the styles were, but none of us in the back-of-beyond would have had the courage to wear most of what the magazine was telling us was stylish.

But I would have worn this bathing suit.

I’ve written about Design Research before, so I won’t repeat the facts here. But what makes them important was their association with Marimekko. My new bikini does not have a Marimekko label, but it’s impossible to deny the connection. This suit, if not from Marimekko, was strongly influenced by the Finnish brand.

This was about as skimpy a bathing suit as I would ever have worn. What makes it really interesting is that built into the pants is a way to make them even smaller.

On the inside of the sides is a drawstring that can make the side a few inches smaller.

So as the bikini continued to shrink, bathing suit makers came up with ways for a wearer to have it both ways.

I have another Marimekko/Design Research item from around the same time, a shirt with a similar print. I’m not stretching the truth when I say that an early 70s woman would have worn this shirt as a cover-up for her black and white swimsuit. Many swimsuit companies were showing matching shirts as bathing suit cover-ups during this time.

All the Marimekko patterns have names, and if anyone recognizes either of these I’d love to know what they are called.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Early 1930s Catalina Bathing Suit

When one thinks of pioneers in the American swimsuit industry, Jantzen immediately comes to mind. But lately I’ve been giving a longer look at another major swimwear maker, Catalina. And while it’s probably true that Jantzen was the industry leader in the years between 1920 and 1970, my fresh look at Catalina has revealed a company that is at the top in terms of design.

I recently acquired the suit above, and I wanted it because it shows a link between the traditional one-piece suit, and what was soon to come, the woman’s two-piece. A side view makes this more obvious.

The bodice of the suit is attached only in the front for about seven inches. This feature was also seen in men’s suits at the time, and soon there was a zipper in men’s suits that allowed them, for the first time, to go topless. Women weren’t given that option (not until Rudy Gernrich’s monokini in 1964, anyway), but there was no stopping the shrinking of the swimsuit and the advent of the two-piece.

The two-piece for women first appeared in Europe in the early 1930s, and by 1935 Catalina was making two-piece suits, but it was not until the 1940s that it really caught on in the USA.

I did a lot of searching for my suit, but the closest I found was the suit in this 1932 ad.  The ad does not tell us the fiber of the yarn, but I’d guess that it’s wool, as this is about the time Lastex entered the market and radically changed the way swimsuits were made. After 1933 or so, most swimsuit ads boasted of their use of snug-fitting Lastex.

My suit does not have Lastex, so even though this style of suit was made for most of the 1930s, the later ones (1934 and after) I found ads for all have lastex.

Be sure to read the endorsement of Hollywood designer Adrian. While he did not design this suit, Catalina was quick to draw a parallel between their made in California suits and the movie industry. And isn’t it interesting that “we ‘play to’ their skin tones rather than their hair,” when the movies were still all in black and white!

According to the label, Catalina suits were, “Worn by the Stars of Hollywood”. Later in the decade Hollywood designer Orry Kelly did actually design suits for Catalina, and the company changed the line to, “Styled for the Stars of Hollywood”.

 

In the early 1930s the back was often bared in evening dresses, and so the swimsuit had to also bare the back.

This logo is hard to beat!

Even though this is a swimsuit knit of wool, it is very different from the wool suits of the 1920s. The gauge of the knit is much finer than that used only a few years earlier, the bodice is lined, and there is a real attempt at shaping through darts and contours. This suit had to have been much more flattering that the heavy wool knits of the past.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports