Category Archives: Curiosities

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.

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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.

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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.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

Bailey’s Rubber Store Waterproof Coats, Circa 1906

Recently I added this little catalog of automobile coats to my archive. There’s no date on it, but I think it is probably from 1906. Today in the US  we’d call a waterproof coat a rain coat, a garment that gets us from the car to the house without letting us get too wet. But in 1906. a waterproof coat was designed for protection in the automobile. That’s because in 1906, most cars were open, meaning they had no roof for protection against the weather.

To solve the problem of wet and dust, the long coat became standard wear in an open auto. In rainy conditions, one wore a waterproof. When it was dry and dusty, one wore a duster.

Bailey’s Rubber Store specialized in rubber, or waterproof, coats, of course. As the name of the business implies, Bailey’s sold much more than just coats. They were a source of many items made of rubber.

Charles J. Bailey went into the rubber selling business in the 1880s. He had been an importer and seller of laces, but he began experimenting with rubber, and actually invented several new products. One was the rubber flesh brush, meant to increase circulation and improve the complexion. The brush was advertised widely, and became a big seller for Bailey. In 1889 he gave up lace entirely and opened Bailey’s Rubber Store in Boston.

As I said, there’s no date on this little catalog, but I did find a great reference to it in a 1906 issue of The Rubber Age, a trade magazine. A short feature informed the reader that Bailey’s Rubber Store had just published a catalog of waterproof coats. The catalog measured 3 1/4 by 7 inches, and had 24 pages, exactly the same as my little catalog.

There were coats costing as much as $60 in this catalog, but none were as practical as this $10 coat with hood and wind cuffs.

In these pages of coats, you can clearly see the influence of the S-bend silhouette, popular from around 1900 through 1910.

Bailey’s sold both men’s and women’s coats from Burberry’s in London.

Besides coats, Bailey’s also carried goggles and other accessories necessary for motoring.

Charles Bailey died in 1918, and at that time the business was incorporated. Unfortunately the business failed, and bankruptcy was declared in 1921.

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1920s Gingham Romper

About a year ago I went on a rant over how some vintage clothing sellers and buyers have changed the vocabulary of certain garments in order to made them seem more versatile. In particular I was irritated about the use of the word “romper” when the object in question was obviously a gym suit or a bathing suit. I even went so far as to say that women did not wear rompers, that the romper is a garment for a baby or a toddler.

I never like being wrong, but when I am it pleases me that my fellow fashion history lovers care enough to set me straight.  After posting the rant I got an email from Lynne (otherwise known as the best online researcher I know) that contained a 1920s sewing pattern for a woman that was clearly labeled a romper. She also sent along a photo of a very similar garment she has in her own collection.

Properly corrected, I then set off to find an example for my collection.  Last week I finally was able to add the one seen above. There is no doubt this is a garment for an adult, and it is also apparent that this is an outer garment, not lingerie.

Notice that there are snap closures on both shoulders and another on the front of the neck.  This made it easy for the wearer to put on the romper by stepping into it and pulling it up.

The tie belt sits on the top of the hips, giving a proper 1920s silhouette.

The inside legs and the crotch are shaped with the use of a wide gusset. There is elastic in the legs, but it is old, crunchy, and it no longer stretches. I’ll not replace it, but if this ever goes on display some new elastic can be inserted along side the old.

The shoulders have those handy little lingerie strap holders that prevented that embarrassing bra strap slip-up.

I’m quite sure this romper was made at home rather than purchased. The construction is very good, but there are a few places where alterations were made while the garment was being made. There is also quite a bit of hand-stitching.

I tried to locate the photos Lynne sent to me, but failed. I did find an example of a Butterick sewing pattern for a romper in a post at Witness2Fashion. It was included in a feature of costume party patterns. I located another, very similar one from McCall Patterns. 

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. In fact, my romper here looks to be a direct descendant of my circa 1915 gym suit.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Curiosities, Gymnasium, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Benjamin B. Green-Field, or Chicago’s Bes-Ben

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Chicago this spring was to see the Mainbocher exhibition (more about that later) at the Chicago History Museum. I had a feeling that there would be more of interest there than that exhibition, and I  was not disappointed. I was delighted to see that the fashion gallery was named for Chicago milliner Benjamin Green-Field, who worked under the label, Bes-Ben.

Benjamin and his sister Bessie, (get it? Bes, Ben.) opened a millinery shop in Chicago in 1919. The business was successful, and by the late 1920s there were five Bes-Ben shops in Chicago.  In 1939 Bessie got married and left the business. As WWII loomed, Benjamin had to get creative as materials began to get scarce and were eventually rationed. He began to incorporate non-traditional millinery materials into his designs. Everything from toy animals to playing cards became a part of a Bes-Ben hat.  Women loved them.

The Bes-Ben material is scattered around the galleries, but it’s not hard to recognize it when you see it.  This hat was designed in 1957 to celebrate the opening of an exhibition in Chicago of the work of Pablo Picasso.

In an area devoted to the industries and stores of Chicago, I found this display of five Bes-Ben hats.

“Women’s hat, black velvet with chenille bees, early 1960s”

Top: “Navy straw with applique butterflies, 1956”

Bottom: “Grey wool with floral embroidery, 1960s”

“Woman’s hat, black linen with embroidery and mirrors, 1958”

Bes-Ben hats did not come cheap, but at the end of each season all remaining hats were put on sale for five dollars each. The only catch was that you had to be outside the store at 2 am the day of the sale, when the hats were thrown out of the window.  Lucky catchers of hats paid their $5 and went home with a real prize!

Not only were his hats whimsical, Green-Field himself was a bit of a character. He wore this suit in the 1970s.

Today, Bes-Ben hats are highly collectible – the crazier the design, the higher the price tag.

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Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Museums

1920s Embroidered and Smocked Frock

Any vintage seller who has been in the business more than a few years will tell you that vintage clothing is subject to fads.  One year vintage wearers want 1950s full-skirted dresses, and the next they might move on to 1970s disco attire.  If the comments on Instagram can be believed, one of the hottest items right now is the “ethnic-inspired” smocked and embroidered dress from the 1920s.

This type dress fits in well with the 1920s fascination with the exotic, something I’ve written about in the past. While there were sewing patterns for the dresses, they were also made abroad. I’ve seen them with labels from Czechoslovakia and the Philippines.

To be honest, I’ve never been able to determine exactly when these dresses were made, but the general consensus seems to be from the mid 1920s and into the early 1930s.  If you look at the placement of the waistline on my dress above, you can see that it’s not exactly the stereotypical 1920s silhouette, as the bodice is shorter than expected.

I spent a pleasurable morning looking through 1920s magazines, and the closest I found was this illustration for a 1926 Vogue sewing pattern.  Witness2Fashion posted several examples, also from 1926.  Fashion illustrations did tend to exaggerate the silhouette somewhat, but even so, my example has a longer skirt as well as the short bodice.  By the late 1920s the waistline was inching upward, and the hemline downward.

Another hint that my dress is later 20s or even 1930 is the little bit of shaping in the waist. There is even an opening in the side to allow for easier dressing.

Quite unbelievably, I found this dress at my local Goodwill bins.  It’s not in perfect condition, but the design of the dress lessens the impact of the problems.  Here you can see that some of the red threads have come loose at the neck. That was a very easy fix.

Not so easy to deal with was a small rip on the upper back. To stabilize the tear, I encased it in organdy and then basted the three layers together. While the tear makes the dress unwearable, it would not detract from the garment if it were to be displayed.

You can see some staining in this photo, which a few gentle handwashings removed.  I also had to do a bit of smock repair.

One of favorite things about this dress is how the dots vary in size, and how the pattern of them on the skirt is the reverse or that of the bodice.  And all the dots are hand embroidered.

Today we think of smocked dresses as being just for little girls.  What a shame!

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