Category Archives: Collecting

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

1960s Emilio Pucci Pants Set

Photo courtesy of Meloo Vintage

I find that I’m a bit of an age snob when it comes to looking for sportswear for my collection. What that means is that I find it to be a lot more exciting to look for items from the first half of the 20th century than for those from the second half.

I think part of the problems is that so much survives from the 1960s and 70s, that I’ve learned to be really picky about what I pick up. If I have got mid 1960s “scooter” dresses on my mind, I could go to etsy, Ruby Lane, and Ebay and have my pick of dozens of items.  Even with high-end garments like those from Italian designer Emilio Pucci, there are hundreds of items listed for sale at any given time.

So, I don’t really search very hard for things made in the last sixty years or so, but when I run across a stellar example, I’m ready to shop. And when Melissa of Meloo Vintage posted this set on Instagram, I fell in love.

For years I’ve been looking for an older Pucci set, from his days on the Isle of Capri, but I’ve not been lucky to find what I wanted. I dumbly passed on a great ski-themed top from the late 1950s, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. But when I saw this tunic and pants set, I knew I’d found my Pucci set.

It dates a little later, from the early to mid 1960s. Pucci can be difficult to date, as the nature of the prints are outside the whims of fashion. Older prints (from the 1950s) are often on a theme, like the skiing blouse I mentioned. The label used is a big help, and my set has the labels most commonly seen in the 1960s.

I’d love to think that some jet setter bought it in Italy, but instead there is a B. Forman of Rochester label alongside the Pucci one. I have no idea what the little “E” label means.

You can see that a metal zipper was used, but be sure to note the way it was inserted – by hand picking. This is a detail seen more commonly in couture clothing, which this is not. But it does go to show how much more handwork went into high-end ready-to-wear fifty-five years ago than you see today.

The crease in the pants is made permanent by the use of hand picking, and the side seams are secured in the same manner.

What really sold me on this set was the way the print of the tunic was designed specifically to be a top with a scalloped edge. It’s one of things that makes the set so special. Imagine, for contrast, if the tunic was made from the same print, but that it was cut in a willy-nilly manner with no thought to the scallops or to the placement of the center of the design.

What could be more Continental than three-quarters length sleeves with French cuffs?

The bateau neck is actually padded. It’s just one more great detail.

In the late 1960s mainstream fashion caught up with Pucci, and these “psychedelic” prints were everywhere. From what I’ve seen of Pucci garments from the 1970s and later, the print became the design, but in these earlier pieces you can see how Pucci was more than just a bunch of color thrown onto the fabric.

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Late 1950s Catalina Play-Alongs Plus Swimsuit

I found and bought the shirt above so many years ago that I have no recollection or record of its purchase. I know it has to be at least twenty years or so because for a long time it was actually in my closet. But I stopped wearing vintage on a regular basis long ago, mainly because I am so sloppy, and I was afraid of ruining things.

About the same time I began collecting sportswear more seriously, and so the blouse was added to my growing pile of old clothes. I especially loved the label, Catalina Play-Abouts, but since it went into the collection I really haven’t thought much about it.

But, as it so happens, I ran across a set of blouse and bathing suit of this print on etsy. I really wanted the swimsuit, but because I already had the blouse, I decided to think about it before buying. As luck would have it, someone posted just the swimsuit on Instagram, but before I could buy it, the posting disappeared.

By this time I was fairly discouraged, but not so much that I didn’t check the usual vintage venues. And there it was, on etsy, and a bit cheaper than the last one. My luck was improving.

A few days later, another set surfaced on Instagram – this time a bathing suit and matching skirt. But the print was in orange and yellow. But that started me on a further search.

I went back to etsy, and that time a skirt, in blue, surfaced. That brought my set to three matching pieces.

After posting the blouse and the bathing suit on Instagram, Liza of Better Dresses Vintage emailed some newspaper ads she found. The first one for Catalina Play-Abouts was dated 1953, and the last one was from 1960. Best of all, one from 1958 looked a lot like my bathing suit. And even more important was the information that there were also shorts and pedal pushers in the Play-Alongs lines.

After looking all over the internet, I finally found (on Pinterest) this image from a 1959 ad.  I can’t tell what the model is holding, but it might be a shawl or coverup. And I now know the print was made in a matching cabana set for guys.

The addition of this tag is also interesting. The fabric was apparently designed for Catalina, and there is also a copyright statement on the selvage of the fabric that I located in the skirt. And after looking at all the different photos of this fabric in extant garments, I noted that the bathing suits were not all the same design. There were three different suits that I have found.

The buttons on the skirt and blouse are plastic, shaped and painted to resemble bamboo. It’s a nice touch.

So the hunt for more of this line is on. I’m positive they are out there.

 

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Reunited – A 1930s Pajama Set

Two weeks ago I went to a great street market in the nearby town of Hendersonville. They have this little antiques fair every year, but I usually forget about it, and that’s a shame because I do seem to always come up with some interesting old stuff there.

The thing with general antique markets of this sort is that they don’t tend to attract vintage clothing sellers. But that does not mean you can’t find clothes there; it means you have to work a bit harder to find them.

Rule number one is never fail to rummage through a basket of linens. It may look like a basket of white embroidered pillowcases from the top of the pile, but there might be treasures lurking below the pillowcases and faded linen tea towels.

It was in one such basket that I found the above pair of mid 1930s satin pajama pants. A continued search did not produce a matching top, however. I got the vendor’s attention and asked the price. She gave a figure that was well within my budget, so I indicated that I’d take them.

Then she said the words that always make a collector’s blood run cold: “I had the matching top, but have misplaced it.”

She went on to explain that it could be in a box to be taken to Goodwill, or it may have already been donated. She bought the set in a box lot along with two 1920s fancy dresses, and she really had no idea that the pajamas might be of interest to someone. Not that I blame her for that. It’s impossible to know everything about everything, and vintage clothing is not really her thing.

She went so far as to call home to see if her husband could find them in the donate box, but he could not locate them. So I left her my email address and she promised to let me know if the top turned up. Several days went by and I was sure I’d not hear from her, but miracles do happen in the collecting world! She found the top in a box earmarked for eBay sales.

She sent a photo and I agreed to buy it, and several days later it arrived in the mail. It was even better than I’d hoped, but I’m convinced that there was a third piece – a plainer top for actual sleeping, as opposed to this top that is more for lounging. At least I’d not be able to sleep with those big knot buttons!

The satin is a much richer blue (she called it Pepsi blue) than my photos suggest. The fabric is nice and heavy, and I suspect it is a high quality rayon, but it could be silk. I’ll be doing a burn test to find out.

Based on several hints, I’ve dated these at about 1933 – 1935. The sleeves show the unmistakable influence of Letty Lynton with the  fullness. The shape of the pants legs and the dropped crotch also hint to a mid 1930s date of manufacturer. And the pants are closed with a series of snaps instead of a zipper, though zippers are not always used in lounging attire.

I really love the suggestion of a middy collar.

Lingerie is not, for the most part, on my list of things to collect. The exception is pajamas. They played an important role in the pants for women story, and as such, are one of my favorite things.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Shopping, Viewpoint

Brigitte Bardot Bra from Lovable, 1960s

When French film star Brigitte Bardot chose to wear a gingham dress for her second wedding in June of 1959, she couldn’t have known how she would become so associated with that fabric. The dress was pink and white, but that didn’t keep Lovable from using blue and white gingham in a Bardot endorsed bra top.

The dress itself was widely copied, and still is today by companies that make modern “vintage” looks. When the sexiest actress in France chooses a fabric, the whole world takes notice.

I posted a photo on Instagram, and a reader commented that this was actually the top to a bathing suit, and that she had the entire set. The word “bikini” on the label does tend to suggest that there was a bottom piece, and that it was intended as a swimsuit.

Loveable was a bra company located in Atlanta, and I have written about it in the past. It’s a great story, and if you haven’t read my old blog post, it might make you feel good to do so. I have never encountered a Loveable bikini before, but who could resist the opportunity to produce a garment which featured Bardot?

I was happy to get the bra with the original paper tag intact, but even if it were missing, Lovable kindly put Bardot’s name on the label.  So many times the connections are lost when the paper tags are removed.

The Lovable Brassiere Company is no more, and Bardot is now known more for her animal rights activism than for her career as an actress. But somehow the connection between Bardot and gingham lives on.

This bra came from Ballyhoo Vintage, one of my favorite online vintage shops.

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1960s Dulottes by Serbin

Well, it looks like I’m sort of back in business, with a shiny new laptop and a huge learning curve. A lot of changes have occurred to computing in the past eight years and I’m slowly figuring out how to work this new machine. I’m still trying to improve on my photo editing, so please excuse the below par pictures in this post.

I first spotted this great culotte dress on the Vintage Fashion Guild forum. Every week member sellers show off what is new in their shops in a feature called Fresh Vintage, and it’s a great way to see “new” things as they hit the stores. This came from the etsy shop of member Racked Vintage.

At first glance this looks to be a dress, but it is actually a culotte dress, and I’m pretty sure it was designed as a golfing outfit. The front of the skirt is a bit full, which tends to disguise that the skirt is divided.

The back goes even farther with the deception, as there is a skirt panel sewn over the culottes so that from the back it looks like a straight skirt.

My thinking is that the garment would have been very useful in places where the dress code required women to wear skirts in the clubhouse. It would also be useful in transforming from golf course to city street.

Another feature that shows the duo nature of this piece is the large removable pocket. It’s quite necessary when trying to keep up with the paraphernalia of golf, but off the course it just looks a bit odd. So the designer put the pocket on the belt where it slides off and on.

My photos are so poor color-wise. This dress is a very pretty yellow, and the birds, while not always accurately colored, are in nice shades of red, gold, blue and green.

I had never seen this label before this dress, and I love how it hints at the two functions of the dress. The owner got a duo of dresses in one.

I got a bit lucky in researching the label as Serbin had the name dulottes trademarked. At first glance this dress appears to be from the early 1960s, but according the the trademark application, the label was first used in 1967. There are often mistakes in trademark applications, due mainly to the passage of years between the time the name was first used and the time the application was made.  But in this case the first usage and the application both happened in August, 1967, so I’m sure it is correct.

In 1967 and 68 there was a softening of women’s fashion. The mod look was still going strong, especially among the young, but if you look at magazines from the later 60s you see a bit of traditional femininity returning in the form of gathered waists, soft collars, and even ruffles and lace. I’d put this dress in the spring of 1968. Now to find an ad to support that bold claim!

 

 

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