Category Archives: Curiosities

The Ski-O-Tard from White Stag

One of the great things about collecting it that there is always something new to be discovered.  Take the garment above.  It’s a White Stag creation called the Ski-O-Tard.  I was lucky to spot this recently on etsy, and was even luckier that the thing still had the original hangtag attached.

Hangtags often contain very valuable information, and in this case, the most important info was the name of the garment.  Without the unusual name, I might never have been able to learn a thing about the Ski-O-Tard.  And even with the name, I’ve been able to find only a few images, all dated 1948.

Even though White Stag was in the process of copyrighting the name, I think it is safe to assume that the idea just never caught on.  For one thing, all the bunched up fabric between the legs must have felt like one was wearing a diaper.  And while it probably was warm, it was so bulky that wearing it beneath slim-fitting trousers would have been difficult.

Although it was meant to be worn as a first layer, all the photos I found showed it without pants.  One photo is the January 1948 cover of See, a magazine for men, and another was in the pages of the January 8, 1948 issue of The Dispatcher, a Longshoreman Union newspaper.

When I posted a photo of the tag on Instagram, Julie at Jet Set Sewing commented that the Ski-O-Tard reminded her of the Claire McCardell “diaper” bathing suit.  I had not seen the resemblance, but after Julie mentioned it, I certainly did.  McCardell’s suit dates from the early 1940s, so it could be that it directly influenced the designer of the White Stag Ski-O-Tard.

In the 1940s and 1940s, White Stag used this tag in red, but also similar ones in bright blue and in white with red lettering.  Labels from the 1960s are usually white with gold lettering.  I only am telling this because White Stag garments can be really hard to date, as sportswear , while it did follow fashion, did not change as quickly as fashionable dress.   In this case, the Ski-O-Tard has very strong shoulder pads, at a time when shoulders were beginning to soften up a bit.

I thought you might enjoy seeing what the Ski-O-Tard looks like when not fastened at the waist.  Can you see how the concept might have been improved with a bit less fabric at the crotch?

As always, I welcome any additional information about the Ski-O-Tard.

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Filed under Curiosities, Sportswear, Winter Sports

A Night in the Cotton Mill

On a recent roadtrip, we decided to spend a night in the Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem, NC.  What made this choice easy to make was that the Brookstown was once the home of the Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company and the Arista Cotton Mill.

The Salem part of Winston-Salem was established in the eighteenth century by the Moravians, a Protestant group  that had settled in Pennsylvania, but then expanded  into North Carolina.  The group prospered and became involved in a number of money-making enterprises, including establishing a cotton mill in 1836.  The primary name in this and the later mill, the Arista, was that of Fries.  One of the thirty investors in Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company was Francis Fries, who became the superintendent of the mill.

It’s interesting that even though much cotton was being grown in the South in the early nineteenth century, the finished products of yarn and cloth were made elsewhere.  Most Southern cotton was sold to manufacturing companies in the Northeast and in Great Britain.  Until the development of the steam engine, it was not viable to try manufacturing in the South because the fall line, which was needed for water power, was far from the centers of population.  Even with steam power, cotton manufacturing was slow to come to the South.  It seems that most people were just satisfied with the system that was in place.

But the Moravians were entrepreneurs, and were willing to take a risk on cotton production.  Unfortunately, the enterprise was not successful.  Francis Fries left the company to form the Salem Woolen Mill, and in 1850, the cotton mill was sold.  It went through a succession of owners, but eventually  the building was converted into a flour mill.

Click to enlarge

In 1880, the son of Francis Fries, also named Francis, decided to take another go at cotton manufacturing.  By that time, cotton mills were springing up all over the South.  The Arista Cotton Mill was a typical vertical operation, with one floor for cleaning and carding the wool, another floor for spinning it into thread, and finally, the last floor was for weaving.  It was built next to the old Salem Cotton Manufacturing building, which was still producing flour.

After the turn of the twentieth century, the two companies merged, with cotton chambray, also known as Salem Jeans, being the primary product.  I couldn’t find a firm date for when cotton production ended, but one source said the 1920s.  By the 1940s the buildings were being used as a tobacco warehouse, and in 1970 the complex was bought by the Lentz Transfer and Storage Company.

In 1976 Lentz was in need of more space, and so a wrecking company was contracted to tear down the old buildings.  Instead, the owner of the wrecking company recognized the historical significance of the buildings and  through a series of negotiations, the buildings were saved.  Adaptive restoration began, and in 1984, the Brookstown Inn opened in the buildings.

The inn has a very nice historical display in the lobby, with old photos and reproductions of newspaper clippings and documents.  You can see a very small part of it above, and for a better look, the inn’s website has posted some pictures of the exhibit.

I, of course, loved the Fries family photos.  This one was taken at Watkins Glen, New York.

You can sort of see how the Salem Mill building has changed over the years, even though my photo was taken from the west, and the old photo shows the building from the east.  Note the lean-to addition in both photos.  I could not take my photo from the east because the Arista building now stands in the way.

There are abandoned textile mills all over the south.  More and more people are seeing the value in these old buildings, and they are being made into shopping spaces, apartments, and inns like the Brookstown.   What I really love about the Brookstown Inn is how they continue to tell the story of the Salem and Arista Mills.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, North Carolina, Road Trip, Southern Textiles

Lady Fair Yarn Book No. 3, 1921

I have laughingly called myself a Goodwill Archaeologist, but the very nature of digging through the bins at my local Goodwill Outlet does resemble the work of archaeology in some respects.  First, there is the obvious reference to “digging” but there are other similarities.

It is important to note the location of a find.  An archaeologist may find one piece of pottery in a location, and will then be on the alert for more pieces in the same area.  In the same way, a Goodwill Archaeologist knows that if there is one piece of old stuff in a bin, there is a nice likelihood that there will be more.  I have been through bins that held a lifetime of embroidered linens.  Sometimes a bin will contain the entire series of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys books.  If one great item is spotted in a bin, then it is worth taking more time to closely examine the contents of that, and the surrounding, bins.

This strategy paid off  this week when I spotted a few old knitting and crocheting instruction booklets.  These were sold by the millions, mainly by the makers of yarns and threads.  The ones from the 1940s and 50s are pretty common, but I always take a look at them to see if there are any sportswear booklets.

I very quickly pulled out about one hundred booklets from the bin, being careful to excavate the entire area.  A closer look later revealed that the great majority of the booklets were on making various crochet edgings and laces.  But in the midst of all the doilies and laces, I found a real treasure.  The Lady Fair Yarn Book No. 3 was published in 1921 by the T. Eaton Co., one of the great Canadian department stores.

This booklet has forty pages of sports fashions for the entire family.  Being Canadian, there are lots of sweaters for skating and hockey, but there are garments for golf and tennis as well.

Lady Fair was Eaton’s house brand of yarns.  Many of the designs featured angora yarn, as in the tuxedo sweater above.

This suit, recommended for golf, was quite fashionable.

There were not just sweaters and dresses, but also accessories,  such as hats and scarves.

The instructions for this bathing suit also included directions for the stockings.  I found several things to be interesting.  First, that the stockings were knee length, when in the early Twenties it was still the custom in the US to wear full length stockings with bathing attire.  The custom for this varied from place to place, with some beaches in Europe already having done away with stockings by the 1920s.

But what I really love about this bathing suit is how complicated it is, with the straps and buttons and belt and contrasting color trunks that were not attached to the body of the bathing suit.

There were included a large variety of men’s sweaters, for activities like skating and golf.

This garment for a boy might be called overalls, but I’m betting it was more like underwear, wouldn’t you agree?

 

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

Fashion Goes Around and Comes Around

I really didn’t think I’d be writing about sweaters in April, but much of the northern United States has had a bit of snow, and it is even predicted here in the southern mountains later this week.  The way I see it, anytime is right for a fantastic sweater like the one above.  I took this photo at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC several years ago.  Even though this was a sports piece, the sleeve style is pure fashion, and dates this fabulous sweater to the mid 1890s.

You would think that such an extreme style would have had its moment in the sun, never to be seen again, but it seems to me that all fashion is at sometime recycled.

I spotted this 1980s sweater recently at the Goodwill Outlet.  The puffed sleeved sweater was not unusual in the 80s; I had one myself.  What I found to be most interesting was the tight lower part of the sleeve.  My photo is sort of pitiful, but imagine this sweater on a body.  Though not nearly as extreme, the effect would be the same as the 1890s sweater.

I don’t think I would have not made the connection if not for my recent reading of Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa.  Suddenly I’m seeing 19th century influences everywhere.  It just goes to show the power of reading, and looking at lots of wonderful old photographs, to improve one’s eye.

In the latest issue of Dress – The Journal of the Costume Society of America, there was a tribute to Joan Severa, who died in 2015.  Colleagues often referred to her as “Joan Perservera” because once started, she would simply not give up on a project.  Seeing as how she spent almost twenty years working on Dressed for the Photographer, I’d say it was a very accurate moniker!

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Filed under Curiosities, Sportswear

Design Inspiration at Louis Vuitton

I posted this on Instagram, and then decided that I wanted to write a bit more about it.  This is actually two photos.  The top is an illustration from 1921, and the bottom is a currently for sale wallet from Louis Vuitton.  It is pretty apparent where the LV illustration originated.  In fact, the Louis Vuitton website says that the decoration on the wallet came from a 1921 ad:

Ideal gift, this witty and colorful limited edition, inspired by an historical advertisement from 1921, pays tribute to Louis Vuitton’s travel heritage.

After seeing this design last fall (and thinking how perfect it would be for a vintage traveler…) I had the drawing stuck in my mind.  Louis Vuitton recently had an exhibition showing many old travel bags in vignettes with vintage clothing appropriate for travel back in the days before travel became such a hassle.  I couldn’t make it to Paris to see the exhibition, but I did pull out a fantastic book that shows one hundred LV travel cases, 100 Legendary Trunks, just to get another look at those fine old travel pieces.

And that is where I found the inspiration drawing.  The book was not entirely clear, but I’m pretty sure this was not from an advertisement, but was actually a header for a story on auto travel.  The caption reads:

“Du Voyage en Auto, a P.F. Grignon drawing that appeared in the review Femma in 1921.”

All I could gather from my brief searches what that Grignon was an illustrator, something that could have been assumed anyway.  I am totally unaware of what copyright laws are in France, but in the US, any copyright on the image would have expired.  And I’m pretty sure that a company like Louis Vuitton has a legal department that advises in such matters.  Still, I wish that Louis Vuitton would have identified P.F. Grignon on their website where the wallet is being sold.

I could not help but see the similarities between the Grignon illustration and the one I use for my own blog header.  That illustration also dates to 1921, and is from an advertisement for a defunct car company, Jordan.  I searched the original carefully for a signature, but there is none. Because this illustration predates 1923, the copyright has expired. Prior to 1923, copyright protection of a work expires seventy-five years after the first authorized publication.  Still I wish I could credit the artist who made this lovely work.

 

 

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Filed under Curiosities

1950s Sports Car Themed Belt by Calderon

This belt that I recently bought from Carla and Carla on Etsy was chosen for my collection because of two things.  It fits into a general travel theme and it can be paired with my 1950s novelty print skirts. I’m always looking for this type of belt, especially those featuring travel or sports.

I’ve seen these novelty belts advertised as being from the 1950s, 1980s, or even 1970s.  I can see why there is confusion, especially with the 80s.  During that era belts were wide, and were often contoured to fit the waist.  I’ve even seen similar belts from the 1980s that were decorated with African animals or faux coins.  But this one is from the 50s, or maybe the early 60s, when novelties were very popular.

The maker is Calderon.  I don’t know a thing about the company other than they made belts and handbags at least from the 1950s through the 1980s.  Oh, and that they made a high quality product.  My belt is stamped “Handmade” and it has features that would not be seen in lower quality belts.

Note the little leather patch.  These are glued over the metal pieces that hold on each metal motif.  Also, notice how nicely the back of the buckle is lined in leather.

In this photo you can see how the belt curves to fit the bottom of the waist.  A belt this wide, just under two inches, would be uncomfortable if it was cut straight and had to sit on the middle of the waist.

If I were the type to go crazy with a theme, I might pair this belt with this skirt.

I’m always looking for similar belts, so if you happen to spot one, please don’t hesitate to let me know about it.  But don’t bother with this one on 1st Dibs, as I’ve been looking at it lovingly for quite a while now.  And I’ll be looking at it for a while longer until someone lists one on etsy for a bit of a lower price!

 

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

1930s Chenille Bathing Suit Cover-up Cape

During a recent lucky streak, I ran across this fantastic cape, which is a bathing suit cover-up.  It is made from machine-made chenille, a fabric that started out as the product of a cottage industry in northern Georgia.  Based around the town of Dalton, Georgia, home workers began making hand tufted bedspreads to sell to travelers going south on the newly finished Dixie Highway.  A local textile mill, Crown Cotton, provided the base material, which is a heavy muslin-type fabric.  By 1910 the homeworkers were setting up stands along the highway to sell to the growing tourist travelers.

In 1917 a manufacturing process was set up. and some of the tufting was done by machine.  Hand tufting was still being done, but it was increasingly mechanized.  At first the product was just bedcovers, but by the 1920s some garments, such as bathrobes and beach wear, were also being made.

I can remember seeing the bedspread stands as a child traveling to visit relatives in the far western reaches of North Carolina and on the road to Atlanta.  Some of the designs were quite bizarre – wildly colored peacocks spring to mind.  And occasionally a stand can be spotted even today, but for the most part, the chenille factories converted to carpets years ago.

I can’t say a lot about the origin of the cape.  There is a small, handwritten label, that looks more like a collections number than anything else.  Could this cape have been in a collection before becoming a part of mine?  It is possible.

I do have two more chenille garments, one a bedjacket and the other a shorter cape.  None of them have  makers labels of any kind.

The neckline is gathered with a cotton robe tie.  There is an extra row of red chenille for decoration.

The back of the gathering.

I don’t have any photos showing a chenille cape, but I did find this jacket.  It is dated July 1939, Mountain Lake, New Jersey.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Southern Textiles, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing