Category Archives: Collecting

1920s or 1930s Barefoot Dancing Sandals

People who have never attempted to sell online seem to have the idea that it’s an easy way to make a buck. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Selling old stuff online is hard for many reasons, but I’m only going to address one of them. And that is that there are so many old things than even experienced sellers run across objects they look at and just scratch the head in puzzlement.

The seller of the shoes above listed them as circa 1900 leather bathing shoes. I knew that was not correct, but what exactly are they? I could see why the seller thought they were bathing shoes, as they really do resemble them in some ways, but I’ve never heard of them being made of leather. After seeing the listing several months ago I forgot about the shoes, but the purchase of a 1929 gym attire catalog revealed the identity of the mystery sandals.

Of course that started a mad scramble to try and re-find the listing, but I had not bookmarked it, and so I was just out of luck. Or so I thought. Last week as I was searching for bathing shoes, these popped up again. Three clicks and they were mine.

The story is made even happier because I have a very similar pink and white gingham dancing romper as illustrated in the catalog, right beside the dancing sandals.

The dancing sandals look rather sad without feet to fill them out. I am so glad I spotted these and was able to add the proper context back to the object.


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Shoes

1933 – 1935 Beach Ensemble

One of my biggest splurges of the past year was this four-piece beach or sailing ensemble. After years of building a collection, I’ve learned that it’s better to wait for really special things to come to the market instead of buying a lot of miscellaneous bargains. This set is a good example of what I’m saying. I spent more on it than I normally spend on acquisitions, but it was such a great addition to my collection that I just could not resist.

Here are the first two pieces – a playsuit/bathing suit, and a rope belt. The neck with those fabulous nautical flags ties with the same rope as the belt. The belt buckle is plastic, and it is a small miracle that the thing has survived eighty something years.

I was hoping the flags spelled out a secret message, but I could not find a corresponding message for each flag.

This is also the case for the buckle, or at least I could not find it in any of the charts. Maybe I’m asking too much of an already fabulous article.

The pants could be added for a more covered up look. You might have expected the pants to be more like traditional sailor pants with the front flap and two rows of buttons, but the designer was too creative for that.

Instead she gave us one row of buttons on the side front, with a diagonal line to the crotch. You can’t tell from my photo but the opening actually drapes and overlaps an interior piece, and there are straps (barely visible on waistband) that wrap and button. It’s such a great design.

The last piece is a little red jacket, which by itself would look rather plain. But with the flags draped over the neckline and the belt buckle directly below, no other decoration was needed.

Unfortunately, the bathing suit is not in perfect condition. It obviously got much more wear than the other pieces, and there is an area of damage right on the front. When I received this the holes looked much worse, but I did a temporary repair in which I stitched the visible fabric to the lining.  In an interesting twist, I would never have been able to afford this had it been in perfect condition. The trick is to balance fabulousness and rarity with condition. The fact that there were four coordinating pieces really adds to the scarcity. I often see bits and pieces of former sets that have lost their mates. It’s sad, actually.

Can you tell this is a knit? It’s a very finely knit rayon and looks quite similar to the good nylons used by better lingerie companies starting in the late 1940s. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between knit rayon and the later nylon, and I’ve seen 1930s knit rayon mislabeled by sellers as nylon.

Dating was made easy due to the single label present. This is the label used when products were made in accordance with the National Recovery Act, or NRA. The act was instituted in 1933, but was found to be unconstitutional in 1935, so there is only a three year window in which items with the NRA eagle symbol could have been made.





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

Bradley Knitwear 1920s Ski Suit

If you have been reading The Vintage Traveler for a while you already know that Bradley is one of my favorite vintage brands. Bradley Knitting Company was located in Delavan, Wisconsin, and was established in 1904.  They made all kinds of woolen knit goods, including swimming suits, sweaters, and other sports apparel.  This company was very important to the small town of Delavan as it was their chief employer, with 1200 persons working there when the company was at its peak.  In fact, they often had to advertise in larger cities in order to keep enough workers.

When I first spotted this set on etsy, I was confused because at the time it was made (late 1920s or very early 30s) Bradley was making only knits, and from the photos in the listing, these pieces looked to be woven. I was pleasantly surprised to get the set and to find they were actually knit.

Yes, this is a knit, though it is hard to tell from this photo. Another interesting thing about the top is the use of the zipper. Even if this dates from 1930 the use of the zipper in a garment is a very early example.

These little black arrow accents were not knit in; they are appliqued on top of the garment. You see this feature quite a bit in late 1920s bathing suits in a nod to the geometric designs of Sonia Delaunay, perhaps.

The straight bodice of the top is another hint to the date of the set. After 1930s jackets became shorter, often ending at the waist. This piece still has the long straight look of the late 1920s.

And what is an old wool garment without a few moth nibbles. I’m showing you this because here you can actually tell that this garment is knit, not woven. I also want to draw attention to the overlock stitching where the collar is attached to the bodice. There are some vintage sellers who insist that you don’t see overlock before the 1970s, but that is simply not true. It was commonly used on early sweaters and other knits, having been invented in the 1880s.

A bit more applique is found in the bands at the sleeve cuffs. And what about that tassel!



Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

1940s SS Neptune Linen Top

It seems like I’ve been on a real nautical kick lately, as the last three items I’ve added to my collection were inspired by the sea. It’s not surprising, really, as sportswear has from its very early days been influenced by clothing traditionally worn at and on the ocean. Garments like the middy blouse were based on the sailor’s middy, and nautical motifs are really common in sports clothing.

Today’s nautical garment is a top from the post-war 1940s. The fabric is linen, and is nice and crisp.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this top, and its original purpose. At first I thought it might be a beach cover-up, but the length seems a little short for that use. The presence of the pockets, and the fact that there are only three buttons keeps this from being a blouse that would tuck into pants or shorts. So I’m going with jacket. I can see this paired with a pair of white slacks, with maybe a tee shirt or halter top beneath.

I love the colors, which are not the standard nautical red, white, and navy. The rope around the life preserver is the very same color as a sash on a late 40s pants set I have. Color is fascinating, because you really can use it to help with the dating of garments.

At first I could not decide if the buttons were the originals, but a very close inspection of the thread used in the making of the buttonholes, and the thread used to sew on the buttons seems to be a match. So I’m pretty sure they are the originals.  And you can tell by the handmade button holes that the jacket was made by a home sewer, rather than manufactured commercially.

The sewer knew her (or his, possibly…) fabrics and took no chances with the linen. To eliminate raveling, the armscye was bound in bias tape, and the seams were flat felled. There are no exposed edges anywhere on the garment.

I looked to see if there was any special SS Neptune, and found a lot of photos of a sailing ship caught in the arctic ice. There have been lots of ships named Neptune, for obvious reasons, and I guess this print was named not for a real ship, but for an imaginary Neptune.


Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

1920 Sports Sweater

This sweater is a real survivor. It’s almost 100 years old, and it has managed to escape the scourge of vintage knits – the moth. I see a lot of these sweaters in old photos from 1915 through 1922 or so, but they are very rarely actually found on the vintage market. Several years ago I let one get away, and I vowed to buy the next one I found that was not held together by a few threads.

It took a while, but finally this beauty came my way. It had everything I was looking for – a great color with contrast, excellent condition, and it was made for a woman (front laps right over left). And who could resist those pockets?

This style was made for both men and women, as shown in this illustration from the 1921 Bradley Knits catalog. The only thing my sweater is missing is a label, but it could have been made by Bradley. Or maybe not, as there were many producers of wool knitwear during this time period.

The details are so nice, and add to my love of the cardigan. This sweet little pocket flap really makes me happy.

The buttonholes seem to be made by hand, using the matching wool yarn. I’m not sure why my colors are all over the place. The sweater is not this purple.

Besides the green stripes, notice the knit-in stripes of red.

And finally, a reminder that the overlock machine was not invented in the 1970s. The overlock was commonly used on sportswear, even earlier than this sweater.



Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Winter Sports

1929 Perfetex Athletic Clothing Style Book

I’m beginning to think that Chicago was the gym attire capital of the US,  as I’ve found another company that was located in that city. I knew about Perfetex because I have a pair of wool exercise bloomers with that label. It made me happy when earlier this week I located a catalog from the company. I bought it because I hoped to find my bloomers included (more about that later) but I found the catalog to be really interesting beyond my own collection.

The actual name of the firm that made Perfetex Athletic Clothing was Chancellor & Vaughan of Chicago. A note inside from the company president was signed C U Chancellor. Even with all that information, I was not able to find out anything about the company. That happens so often when a proper name is also a word with a meaning, such as “chancellor.”

In 1929, big changes where coming to women’s clothing. It wasn’t as sudden as history books sometimes make it seem, as there were hints that skirts were going to get longer, and clothing was going to be cut closer to the body. As for gym wear, for decades the bloomer had been the pants that girls and women wore for athletics. Above you can see the classic combination of middy blouse and baggy bloomers. The middy has short sleeves, and the bloomers are above the knee, but otherwise this is pretty much the same gym attire girls had been wearing for fifteen years.

But in 1929 the bloomer was slowly being replaced by shorts. In the outfit above, the blouse is still made of middy twill fabric, it has the pocket, and the V-neck. But gone is the flapping collar.

Taking it a stop further, here we see the shorts paired with a tee shirt made from jersey knit, which was available in either cotton or wool. Before long girls and women were wearing shorts for more than just basketball.

Click to enlarge

The middy was still pretty much the top of choice for gym. But it is interesting how in just a few years it would be pretty much gone, replaced by a gymsuit that was a blouse and shorts combination.

Prefetex was even selling a similar blouse in 1929. Just add the shorts and you have the new standard that replaced the middy and bloomers.

A while back I posted about a 1920s romper in my collection that is very similar to this one. It’s always good to find items documented with firm dating.

I’m doing a groan about the Barefoot Dancing Sandals though. I saw a pair of these somewhere online (probably eBay) described as bathing sandals, which I knew they were not. So I didn’t bid, and didn’t even bookmark the auction. Not good. Now I need them. Badly.

But getting back to my knickers, I am pretty sure that these are the ones I have. They are described as modern because so much of the fullness has been eliminated and they are shorter than the other knickers offered.

I am truly sorry about my sorry photos of these. I promise to take more time and do a better job. I hope you can tell that these are the same style.

Here’s the side opening with a placket covering the buttons.

The ad copy mentions a “diamond crotch piece.” I’d call it a gusset, and the purpose was to make the fabric “give” more in the area to reduce stress to the fabric. Note the mends on both sides of the diamond. it didn’t work.

To me, a lot of the fun of collecting comes from being able to identify garments like this pair of lowly bloomers. Simple pleasures!



Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

1970s Charlie Chaplin Sweater

I’ve written about nostalgia, and how the idea of our grandparents’ past played such a huge role in the fashions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I think it pretty much started with the 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, staring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as beautiful and stylish versions of two of the nastiest small-time crooks around in the 1930s. The trend continued, and developed into a style of its own in the form of 1930s inspired slinky disco dresses in the mid 70s. Kitsch died, but style remaind.

My sweater is pure nostalgic kitsch. The stars and icons of the 1930s were seen everywhere from posters on our walls to the sweaters on our backs. My sweater is labeled Pronto, and this company also produced sweaters with the images of W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and Little Orphan Annie.  The sweaters must have been popular, as they were even counter-fitted under the label, “an original import.”

This was made before imported became such a problematic word. Seems like the only people really worried about imports in the early 1970s were the textile and garment makers and the trade unions.

This is one object I don’t actually remember, but I was sure it had to be from the early 70s. Because the law concerning care labels went into effect in 1972, the detailed care label is a good indication that the sweater is from 1972 or later. The RN number was another clue. It was registered to Knits by Caron, which was listed as an importer and wholesaler.

But I got really lucky, as there is a book, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp in America, 1947–77, by Lisa Stein Haven, that mentions this sweater. It was advertised in Seventeen magazine in a 1973 Saks Fifth Avenue ad.

The sweaters came in this greenish-yellow color and also in white. The stripes are the same on all the sweaters, with the images of the stars being embroidered on by machine. Close up, Chaplin’s hair looks like a mass of French knots.


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Vintage Clothing