Category Archives: Curiosities

Y’s and Other Y’s, Converse College, 1901

I seem to have a new-found knack for finding antique yearbooks from women’s colleges. I don’t “collect” them, but the illustrations are just so marvelous, and they add a lot to the types of information gathering I’m doing on women’s sportswear. My latest find is from Converse College, located in Spartanburg, SC, and founded in 1889. Converse is still open, and is still a woman’s college, though they do have a co-ed graduate program.

Y’s and Other Y’s is like other yearbooks I’ve seen from the early 20th century. It a mixture of a record of the school’s activities combined with a literary journal of sorts. It’s illustrated with both photographs and drawings, most of which are signed A.C. Coles.

A.C. Coles was Annie Cadwallader Coles, and she was a junior in the spring of 1901. After Annie graduated in 1902, she went to New York, where she contiuned to study art privately. She eventually took up permanent residence in her hometown, Columbia, South Carolina. She never married, and made her living painting portraits of prominent Columbia residents. Annie died in 1969.

For Y’s and Other Y’s, Annie drew a series of sports girls, featuring the athletics of Converse College.

At first glance one might think these drawings were made by Charles Dana Gibson, as they are so much in his style.

Interestingly, even in the drawings that depicted girls engaged in activities which would have required bloomers, there is not a single trace of them in any of the drawings.

At least the skirts were shown shortened.

The photographs of the sports teams also obscure whether or not the team members were wearing bloomers under those skirts. Please don’t miss the girl at the very top, holding the ball in profile.

Or maybe there is a tiny trace of a bloomered leg there in the front row.

I found an obituary for Annie Coles, thanks to the wonders of the internet. From it:

A small woman of spare frame, Miss Coles was an early advocate of healthy diets, some of which have recently come into vogue, and she was a believer in physical fitness. She walked almost everywhere she went in Columbia, and she attributed her ability to continue painting into her 80s to diet and physical exercise.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing

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.

8 Comments

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

Maid of the Mountains, 1912

The minute I spied this book in a local consignment store I knew I was onto something good. But what?

As it turns out, Maid of the Mountains is a cross between a high school yearbook and a literary journal written by the girls at the Southern Seminary of Buena Vista, Virginia. Unlike the slick yearbooks of today (and even of the 1920s), This one appears to be entirely written and produced by the students of the school. The printing was done at a local press, and the photos were glued into the book.

The advances in education for girls played a major part in the movement toward equal rights for women. Schools like Southern Seminary produced a generation of women who were used to being leaders. And in the form of athletic attire, these women were used to wearing pants.

Athletics were a big part of what was happening at schools like Southern Seminary. The yearbook has pages for the baseball team, five different basketball teams, a tennis club, and a riding club. There was a boating club, but they must not have had a swimming pool, as swimming is not mentioned.

There’s not a photo of the baseball team, but a drawing by student May Wichelhausen shows the proper attire of athletic turtleneck sweater and bloomers. The basketball uniforms was similar with sweater (with SS logo) and bloomers.

Bloomers were not worn for tennis. Instead the girls wore the already traditional white skirt and middy blouse.

Two of the girls have words printed on headbands. I’ve tried enlarging them and have no idea what the one on the left reads, unless it is USS something. The one on the right seems to read “… George Do It”. It’s a mystery to me.

The younger girl at left in the back row is wearing the huge bow that was favored by teens at this time. One of the theories of how the 1920s flappers were so named came from the bows that were worn by them during adolescence.

The girls of the riding club wore a hodgepodge of garments, but all seem to be riding astride wearing divided skirts. I was surprised that not all were wearing hats.

This is part of a photo of the freshman class. All these girls were wearing the schoolgirl middy with a skirt right above the ankles. We can also see another flapper bow.

Contrast the freshmen with this photo of the yearbook staff, a group of juniors and seniors. No more middies for this adult-looking bunch…

except for when participating in boating club, of course.

The seniors and the superlatives all got an individual photo included. This portrait of senior Miriam Conklin was typical of the demure pose most girls struck.

But none of that for Miriam Thompson. She was voted most athletic, and to prove it she posed in her sweater and looked directly at the camera. She and her sister Virginia went on to college at Newcomb College, and Miriam eventually became Dr. Thompson, and a faculty member of Limestone College in Gaffney, SC where she was professor of mathematics. She retired in 1969.

Southern Seminary eventually became Southern Virginia University. The original building, the former Buena Vista Hotel, is still used as the school’s Main Hall.

20 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing

I Didn’t Buy… Two 1940s Sewing Pattern Counter Books

I spent Friday at the Liberty Antiques Festival, a show that always seems to produce some amazing things for my collection and “archive”. Fashion books are very high on my radar, and I was feeling especially lucky since finding a 1934 Butterick counter book the evening before at one of my favorite vintage stores, Design Archives. But something about this one looked off.

I moved it and when I did I saw there was another one below it, and I also realized the problem. These two books were much too fat. Realization set in, as I’d seen this unfortunate phenomenon before. These were used as scrapbooks.

Sure enough, these two books contained page after page of miscellaneous newspaper photos from the 1940s. Someone spent a lot of time with the scissors and the paste.

I have nothing at all against scrapbooks. So many of them are charming relics of a person’s life, or a stage in it. That type of scrapbook is an important historical document. But a good look through these revealed nothing about the person who collected all these clippings. It seems to be just a visual compilation of the news of the day, both local and national.

The question came up when I posted these photos on Instagram as to what happens to out of date counter books. I can remember when I was in high school in the 1970s that the local Belk’s store would save them for the home ec classes. I’ve also seen people’s names written across the cover , claiming them when a newer book replaced it. There was one such 1952 counter book in my husband’s grandmother’s stuff.

To a kid in the 1930s and 1940s when resources were tight, getting one of these books must have seemed like a real prize. Can you imagine how many of these books ended being cut up for paper dolls? And this is not the first time I’m seen them used as scrapbooks. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the Simplicity one is the exact same one I spotted in 2008! The scars and scratches all match up.

I did have a moment of insanity when it occurred to me that I might be able to somehow clean these up using a miracle glue remover. But then I thought about how many hours such a project would take. So I left them behind, as I had done nine years ago.

 

12 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, I Didn't Buy..., Viewpoint

Update: 1920s Gingham Romper

I posted my thoughts about this 1920s romper back in June. One of the things I wrote was this:

So rompers definitely were a thing for women, at least in the 1920s and 1930s. Still, I don’t agree with calling a gym suit a romper, no matter how much the garment is similar.

But then last week I found a real shocker in a 1926 high school yearbook.

These are the girls of the Gainesville Athletic Club at Gainesville High School in Florida. Could it be these were the actual basketball uniforms? It is hot in Florida, so maybe they adapted the usual bloomer suit into a light cotton garment.

I do need to make sure you notice that the suits are not identical, though they do seem to be made from the same fabric. And what’s with those belts?

It does pay to keep an open mind when it comes to the past. The minute we start saying “never” and “always” we run into trouble.

I also want to give a big thank you to all the kids over the past one hundred years who worked tirelessly on the yearbook committee. I don’t collect yearbooks, but anytime I run across an older one I always thumb through it to see if I can spot anything interesting. This time I was really rewarded.  Along with several yearbooks dating from the 1920s through the 40s, someone donated a series of photograph albums from the same years to Goodwill. It all ended up in the bins, and while I didn’t buy any of it, the guy who put them in his cart kindly let me photograph some really great photos.

10 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Rest of the Story, Sportswear

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.

10 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Vintage Clothing

Novelty Bathing Caps – 1960s

One of the greatest things about studying fashion history is that there is always something new to discover. Just when you think you have seen it all from an era, something like the swim cap above pops into your etsy  suggestions. Yes, this is a bathing cap, made from acrylic yarn fused to a rubber base.

For those of you not around in the 1960s, bathing caps were on their way out, but archaic rules about women’s hair made them mandatory in many public pools. I can remember that my public pool had such a rule, but as men’s hair grew longer in the mid 60s, we began ignoring it. After all, many of the boys had hair longer than that of some girls. There was no big protest, but the caps quickly disappeared after about 1964.

I was hoping to find an ad for this pigtail cap, as there is a brand name – Cole of California – in the cap. Unfortunately, I came up empty, so I decided to think about style. When were pigtails fashionable? It seems odd that any adult would put little girl braids in her hair, but in the time of little girl looks, also known as the mid 1960s, pretty much anything youthful went. I wore my hair in pigtails, and not when I was seven. I was probably around twelve, now that I think about it.

So starting with the year 1967, the year I turned twelve, I did some research. To be honest, I spent a few pleasurable hours looking through 1967 and 68 Seventeen, Teen, and Glamour magazines. What I discovered was that 1967 does seem to be the year of the pigtail. I found examples in all three magazines, and the December, 1967 Glamour even had a young woman in pigtails on the cover. So I feel pretty confident in dating this cap to 1967.

Here is how the yarn is attached to the rubber. There are no stitches in the rubber. This is more like a rubber thread that is fused on the cap to hold the yarn in place.

Cole advertised in the major fashion magazines, so I’m holding out hope that original ad can be found.

The second cap is just as interesting, but in a more sophisticated manner. If you are one of those persons who feels naked when not wearing earrings, this is the cap for you.

I’ve seen swim caps that were molded to look like hair in catalogs and ads as far back as the 1930s. This one is newer, but when exactly? The biggest clues are the earrings. At first glance I’d be tempted to say 1970s, but by then the swim cap was pretty much over except in pools in retirement villages in Florida. So when were dangly earrings popular?

I found lots of long earrings around 1962 and 1963. Could that be when this cap was made? I’m not nearly as confident in dating this one.

Here’s a close-up of the earrings. The dangles are little fake coins. And look at how they are attached. It has to be some kind of miracle that this survived intact. I’m guessing that it wasn’t worn very much. Maybe it was just too outré.

Unfortunately there is no maker’s imprint. To be honest, this looks to me to be the type of thing that was advertised in the cheap ads in the backs of fashion magazines. Maybe this came from the swim cap equivalent of Frederick’s of Hollywood.

As always, your opinions are welcomed and appreciated.

9 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports