Category Archives: Curiosities

Hart Schaffner & Marx Style Book, 1909

I usually don’t buy items that are concerned strictly with men’s clothing, but I’m sure you’ve guessed that I was seduced by the cover image of this little catalog from men’s suit and coat maker, Hart Schaffner & Marx.  They call it a style book, as it was not strictly a catalog.  I’m guessing that men’s stores mailed these to customers, as this came with the original envelope.

There are several things that I found interesting about this little booklet.  First, the cover image is more of a life style statement than an indication of what HS&M has to offer. There is no sportswear at all in the style book.

The second interesting thing was the use of women in the booklet.  I’ve looked at hundreds of catalogs that are selling only women’s things, and I can’t remember there ever being men just hanging out in the illustrations.  Sometimes there are children, and an occasional pet, but not men.  But in this little style book for men, women are used, mainly as background props.

Here we have not only the dear old mother cooking a turkey for her sons, we also have a kitty prop.

Here’s one that was a bit unexpected: a woman rabbit salesperson.

I can’t figure out if the woman in this photo is the man’s wife, or merely an admirer.  Perhaps she’s eavesdropping, trying to find out if the man is buying a toy for his son, but hopefully, a nephew.

There’s no doubt about this one.  He’s the man of the house, and there’s the nanny holding the heir.

Even nuns were utilized as background props.

Care about dress and appearance is not a small matter; the clothes illustrated here are made for the man who cares to be correct.

Mother has strayed and is busy looking out to see while father minds the heir.

Not all of the illustrations used women as props.  Here we see the faithful, but sleepy canine companion.

And I saved the best for the last:  a bell-ringing Santa Claus.


Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing

Dolley Madison’s Red Velvet Dress

This past week my husband and I traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina, for a bit of vintage shopping and to visit the Greensboro Historical Museum.  I’ll write more about the museum later because today I want to focus on one particular exhibit – that showing some personal items of First Lady Dolley Madison.  For those of you not in the USA, Dolley was the wife of our fourth president, James Madison.  She was a very popular figure during her time in the White House, and North Carolinians are proud to claim her as a native daughter.

Dolley was born in Guilford County, near Greensboro in 1768, though her family moved to Virginia when she was a child. In 1794 she married politician James Madison who became president in 1809.  During his presidency the US and Britain went to war in the War of 1812.  Things went badly for the United States, and in 1814 the British captured Washington, DC, and burned much of the city including Dolley’s home, the White House.

In August of 1814, President Madison had left Washington, leaving Dolley in the city with orders to leave if the British got close.  When it became apparent that the city was going to fall into enemy hands, Dolley had the staff tear down the red velvet draperies, newly made from silk velvet from France.  The presidential china and silver were wrapped in the velvet to cushion them, and then a portrait of President Washington was removed and sent to New York for safekeeping.  Dolley sent the wagon containing the silver and china on to safety, and then she fled the city.  Hours later the White House burned.

Eventually the United States did win the war, and Dolley was hailed as a national heroine.  Unfortunately she was left in poverty after her husband died in 1836.  She was forced to sell the Madison plantation, Montpelier, and later, her husband’s papers, in order to survive.  She died in Washington in 1849, leaving her possessions to her son and to her niece and companion,  Anna Payne.

Several years later Dolley’s son held an auction of many of her personal items.  Anna Payne bought as many of the items as she could, which then were passed down through her family.  The last of the line was her granddaughter-in-law, who died in 1956.  After her death, a trunk containing the Dolley Madison items were found in her attic of her house in Pennsylvania.  A group of women from Greensboro who called themselves the Dolley Madison Memorial Association traveled to the auction of the granddaughter-in-law’s estate and purchased the trunk.  It and the contents were donated to the Greensboro Historical Museum in 1963.

In the trunk was a red velvet dress that dates to the 1810s.  Instead of being made of thin dressmaking velvet, the fabric is a heavy-weight fabric of the type used for draperies.  I’m sure you have figured out by now that many historians and museum workers have speculated that the dress was made from the curtains that were saved that day in August, 1814.  And it makes sense, as surely many of Dolley’s dresses were destroyed in the fire.

The problem has been in trying to prove the theory.  The DAR thought they had a scrap of the fabric from the draperies, but examination under a high-powered microscope proved that the scrap was not very worn velvet, as they had assumed, but was a satin weave.  That eliminated the possibility of comparing the two fabrics as the DAR piece could not have come from the draperies.

There is quite a bit of documentation concerning the fabric of the draperies.  We know it was red velvet from France.  We know it was saved from the fire.  We also know that Dolley held onto the dress throughout her life.  But we do not know if the dress was indeed made from the famous fabric.

The original dress. Photo copyright Smithsonian Institution

Today, the Greensboro Historical Museum no longer displays the original dress as it is much too fragile.  A reproduction was made in 1988, and the original was put into storage.  It was loaned to the Smithsonian for a special show, and when it was returned to Greensboro, it was put on display for several months.  It now rests in its specially made storage box, away from view.

Some of the original items are on view, including a pair of white satin slippers, a card case, and two glass perfume bottles.

There is a fantastic video that was made for C-SPAN, narrated by the curator at the museum, Susan Joyce Webster.  It really is so great, and has Webster showing the original dress and pointing out the details.  It’s seventeen minutes well-spent.

This dress is also a reproduction.  It came to the museum through a great niece in 1950 and was not part of the Madison treasure trunk that was found in the attic.

If you watch the video you will see just how close this treasure came to being lost.  Considering all the twists and turns of the story, it is really quite amazing that the items were found and saved.


Filed under Curiosities, Museums, North Carolina

1920s Printed Velvet Stole

The thing that keeps collecting old clothes interesting is that there is always something new that one has never seen before.  This stole is a good example.  The textile is a printed velvet, and the print looks like it is from the 1920s.  The problem is, I’ve never seen nor heard of evening stoles being used in the 1920s.  The black reverse side is a deep, plush velvet as well.

I’m still not sure what to make of this piece, and would appreciate any and all opinions and insights.  The tie you can see actually wraps around a button, which is wood covered in the black velvet.

I generally don’t acquire things of this nature, but I loved the print and truthfully, the price was too good to turn down.  And I’m always up for a good mystery!

UPDATE:  A good friend sent a French fashion illustration dated 1920 that shows a similar stole being worn as part of a cloak.  The patterned fabric IS the lining, as most of the commenters suggested.  Thanks to Lynne for coming through once again!


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Vintage Clothing

Currently Reading: The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book

Mountain Artisans shows just exactly how important timing is in business, and in life in general.  After President Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, there were dozens of agencies set up to implement hundreds of programs that were meant to help the poor.  Mountain Artisans was started by a worker in the arts and crafts department of the Department of Commerce, Florette Angel.  Ms. Angel was in West Virginia to help a group of quilters figure out how to market the projects they were making using traditional quilting skills.

It was a good time to be starting a crafts cooperative.  Not only was there the Federal assistance that sent Ms. Angel to the quilters, it was 1968, and interest was increasing in alternative lifestyles such as the back-to-the-earth  movement.  The American Bi-centennial was coming up in 1976, and interest in history and heritage were growing.

Even so, the project got off to a rocky start.  Interestingly, there was money to spend on studies of impoverished people and how they could make money, but there was no money to pay for needed craft supplies.  All the young women who were working to start the business had no experience and they were working without pay.

Help arrived in the person of Sharon Rockefeller, whose famous name helped open doors.  She put the group in touch with the famous Parish-Hadley decorating firm, which arranged for meetings in New York, including one with Diana Vreeland at Vogue.   Through Vreeland, Oscar de la Renta ordered some of the fabric being pieced by the women in the co-op.  The group was on its way.

They also benefited from some excellent press coverage.  Whoever was in charge of public relations did a fantastic job, getting a feature in Life magazine, and mentions in Newsweek and New York Magazine.  The Associated Press and United Press International regularly distributed features on the co-op.

Dorothy Dembosky Weatherford, a local artist, donated her talents as a designer, and her work led to a distinctive Mountain Artisans style.  She liked big bold blocks of color, much in the style of the late 1960s and early 70s.

By 1972 the co-op was a success, and Weatherford won a special Coty award that year for “reviving native handicrafts.” According to an account from the AP in 1972, there were 160 full time quilters, with an additional 60 working part time.  Total sales for the previous year had been a half a million dollars.  A showroom was planned for New York.

Sharon Rockefeller wearing a Mountain Artisans skirt

The success of the group is nicely documented in this book by Alfred Allen Lewis.  Published in 1973, it is a book typical of the time, with the story of the co-op intertwined with directions for making projects based on those of the Mountain Artisans.  I’m not so sure how easy it would be to actually follow the directions, but there are lots of photos of the quilters sitting and sewing along with diagrams showing the design and construction process.

The clothes, which were mainly floor-length “hostess skirts”, were sold in high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Joseph Magnin, and Neiman Marcus.  The co-operative also made patchwork pillows and quilts.  These items occasionally come up for sale today, and they are easily identified because they are labeled.

Quilt made for the Rockefeller baby

In appreciation for all the support she had given them, the group made a quilt for Sharon Rockefeller’s first baby.  Designed by Weatherford, it was not the average baby quilt made from sweet pastels.  I’ve got to wonder if the Rockefellers still have it.

Dorothy Weatherford experimented with modern-looking variations of old quilt themes.

The early 1970s were an interesting time.  People were discovering traditional handicrafts such as quilting, knitting, and sewing, and there was a definite Little House on the Prairie vibe going on in fashion.  The women running Mountain Artisans were wise to capitalize on this interest.

But fashion changes, and the homespun look died with the passing of time.  After July, 1976, interest in “tradition” waned, as Americans discovered the pleasures of disco.  Mountain Artisans closed in 1978.


Filed under Curiosities, Currently Reading

A Matter of Proportion

I spotted this skirt recently at a nearby antique mall, and I really liked it, but for some reason it looked a little off. The mix of colors was so fresh and unexpected, so that wasn’t it.  Still, it left me a bit unsettled.

A check inside the skirt revealed one of my favorite sportswear labels from the 1950s and 60s, Bill Atkinson for Glen of Michigan.  I’ve sung the praises of this label in the past, and I know it to be of good quality and to have a sound design aesthetic.  So what about it bothered me?

I took the skirt from the rack and turned it inside out to examine it.  And there was the story.  The skirt had been shortened.

The bottom squares were originally true squares like the rest of the ones in the skirt.  Even better, there was a band of that same dark pink velveteen that is used in the waistband.  My faith in Mr. Atkinson was restored.

I was impressed that the person who turned this knee-length skirt into a mini did not take the scissors to it.  Instead she turned up the band and half of the bottom squares, which made for a very bulky hem.  I’m guessing it didn’t get a lot of wear as the condition of the skirt was so good.

As a short person, I’ve learned that there is often more to consider when putting up a hem than just length.  Proportion is very important in order for a dress or skirt to look “right.”  Several years ago before maxi-length dresses came back into fashion, it was common on ebay to see 1970s maxis that the seller had cut off to a mini length.  Because the scale of prints in the early 70s was often quite large, the prints were well suited to the maxi length.  But with three feet of fabric sliced from the bottom, the mini versions always ended up looking off kilter.

I’m glad that floor-length dresses made a reappearance in fashion, because it saved many vintage 1970s maxi dresses from the chopping block.

Correction: Spelling error


Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Charm, January 1957

I can imagine that to the average Charm reader, a trip to somewhere in which a swimsuit would be needed in January was just a dream.  It was, after all, The Magazine for Women Who Work, and not for the women who had large sums of money with which to take winter vacations. Or maybe this was meant to be for the “later” mentioned in the caption.

I’m really interested in the idea of swimsuits with sleeves.  Ever since the sleeves were banished from bathing suits in the early 1920s, makers have tried on numerous occasions to bring them back, and in fact, many of Claire McCardell’s designs for swimsuits had sleeves.  Nevertheless, it is very rare for one to come onto the vintage market, so I’m betting they just didn’t go over, especially in the days when much of the object of wearing one was to get a tan.

Today  everything from two pieces of string tied strategically to a long sleeved leotard paired with leggings can pass for a bathing suit.  I rather like the idea of a short sleeved bathing suit, but then I’m pretty much in favor of all sleeves these days.

Bathing suit was part of the International Set line from Jantzen; hat by John Fredericks; copyright Conde Nast.


Filed under Curiosities, Too Marvelous for Words

Trail Cookery for Girl Scouts


This little cook booklet dates from 1945, and while it is not an official Girl Scout publication, the company that printed it made it specifically with the Girl Scouts in mind.  Look closely at the pictures to figure out who made the booklet.

Even without the date, I’d have put this in the 1940s due to the cute pleated shorts all the girls are wearing.

One girl just can’t resist those Boy Scouts on the opposite mountain.

The booklet does not actually tell you how to cook an egg with a magnifying glass, unfortunately.

There are even menus included which predominately feature the product of the publisher.  And guesses yet?

Yes, this booklet was developed by the Home Economics Department of the Kellogg Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.

Those baby bears simply cannot resist Rice Krispies!



Filed under Curiosities