Category Archives: Curiosities

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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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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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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Martha Washington College, now the Martha Washington Inn

I just spent a few days with friends in my favorite type of place – a town full of history.  The town is Abingdon, VA, and more specifically, I’ll be telling about the inn where we stayed, the Martha Washington.  The central part of the inn was built in 1832 as a residence for General Francis Preston and his family.  Much of the original structure is intact, including the family’s parlors, and a lovely oval staircase.

The house was sold in 1858 to the Methodist church, which was in the process of establishing a school of higher learning for girls which was to be named for Martha Washington.  The school actually opened in 1860.  Over the years the building was enlarged and new wings were added on either side.

All the sources I’ve found call the school Martha Washington College, though, especially in the early years, it was really more of a finishing school.  A girl could attend for two years if she had graduated from high school, or for four years if she had completed two years of high school.  By the 1920s the school was in effect, a junior college.

There are a lot of legends and ghost stories surrounding the school, including tragic love stories involving students and Civil War soldiers.  I also found a lot of differing information concerning dates.  This is a topic in search of a good researcher!

What made the stay at the Martha Washington so interesting to me was the presence of many photographs and other memorabilia concerning the school that lined the walls of the main floor of the inn.  Most of it was from around 1895 to 1932, when the Great Depression forced the school to close.

Many of the photos from the Teens and Twenties show the girls in sports uniforms.  Here’s part of the basketball team from 1924.

And here are some basketball players from a few years later.

Students were properly attired for golf in 1924.

Many of the photos showed the girls wearing middy blouses, that most schoolgirl of all garments.

The inn really has taken great pains to remember the heritage of the old building.  Each guest room is identified with a different vintage photo of the school and its students.  One of the parlors is named for First Lady Edith Wilson, who was a student at Martha Washington for a very short time.

After the college closed in 1932 (some sources say 1931) the building stood empty for a few years.  But fortunately for Abingdon, a new enterprise opened across the street – the Barter Theatre.  In 1933, young (and out of work) actor Robert Porterfield got the idea to open a theatre and let people pay their admissions with either 40 cents or an equivalent amount of food.

The theatre was an immediate success, and that created a need for a hotel.  The Martha Washington opened as an inn in 1935.

In 1948 Abingdon was the “Second healthiest town in America.”  I would love to know which town was number one!

 

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1950s Golf Dress – Babe Didrikson Golfer by Serbin

Some time ago I heard from Marianne Serbin, who was part of the family that owned the clothing company Serbin, and later, Serbin of Miami.  In her letter to me she mentioned that at one time famed athlete Babe Didrikson designed golf dresses for Serbin.  Since then I’ve had this line on my shopping radar, and finally, last month, I found a really great example.

Marianne did not mention when exactly Didrikson worked for Serbin, and it’s likely she does not know, as she would have been a child at the time.  But it is pretty easy to narrow it down to a range of just a few years.  First, Didrikson died in 1955 from cancer which was diagnosed with in 1953.

The length of the dress is quite long, and so the earliest it could be is 1948 or so.

The label reads just Serbin, instead of Serbin of Miami.  The company moved to Miami in 1951.  That may indicate that the set predates 1951 and the move, but that’s not guaranteed.  My 1960s golf set from Serbin does not mention Miami either.

I did find two ads online for Serbin golf dresses from 1949.  Actress Jane Russell is the model, but there is no mention of Didrikson.  It stands to reason that , as a very famous athlete, her name would have been in the ad as well. (The hunt continues.  I’ll update if I find a Serbin-Didrikson ad.)

My best guess is, then, 1950 through 1952.  But more important than the actual date of this dress is what we can learn about how fashion was adapted to fit a specific activity, in this case, golfing.

One of the first things to consider in making a golf dress is the sleeve.  Tight sleeves just won’t do, but in the early 50s most women on the golf course were just not ready to go sleeveless. In order to allow the arms full range of motion, golf dress sleeves were often pleated, and in this case, you can see that there are also buttons to give even more flexibility.

An interesting side note – this type of pleated sleeve appears to have started in the 1930s.  In the early 30s it was often seen on fashionable dresses.  So which use came first, the fashion or the sport?  I have no idea.

When unbuttoned, the sleeve is open all the way to the shoulder.

Another must-have feature on golf dresses was a pocket or two.  I really love how this breast pocket was cut on the bias.

I somehow neglected to take a full-length photo of the back of the dress, so take my word for it that this pocket is on the back, not the front.  It’s large enough to hold a ball, a glove, and a couple of tees.

One thing that made me buy this particular dress was that the belt was present.  So many times in old clothes the original belt is missing.  I didn’t realize until the dress arrived at my house that the belt is actually attached to a large flap in the back.  The flap obscures a large opening and the looseness of it allows for good air circulation.  It also makes the dress more flexible in the upper back.  Ingenious.

Here you can see the back opening.

Another interesting feature is that the dress has a front zipper that extends to the hem.  The zipper is actually a separating one, so this dress is very easy to put on.

Even with all the features that make this a dress for golfing, a woman could also have worn this dress for regular, casual wear.  It fits right in with what was stylish in 1950.

My Dad had a golf tournament  in Miami Beach which was Babe’s first win after her cancer and he presented her with a trophy topped with a diamond studded metal golf ball..quite a thrill for everyone.  Marianne Serbin.  Photo courtesy of Marianne Serbin.

I’m always amazed to learn of how so many otherwise famous people from the past also have a link to the fashion world.  Today, of course, it is just another way for a celebrity to make cash off his or her popularity.  But even a hundred years ago celebrities were being approached by companies eager to add a bit of  star power to their products.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Christina, I have a bit more to share.  Didrikson’s autobiography is online, and in it she mentions the deal with Serbin.  She won the British Ladies Championship in 1947, and after that win she was able to sign contracts with quite a few companies, including Serbin.  Later in the caption of a photo she mentions the ongoing deal with Serbin.  This was in 1955.

Christina also found photos of Didrikson wearing what looks to be a dress very similar to mine.  The year is 1950.   Thanks Christina!

UPDATE: Liza has found an ad in a newspaper for Didrickson/Serbin golf dresses dated March 30, 1949.  Thanks Liza!

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Man O’War Dance Romper, 1930

You want to know what makes a collector’s heart sing?  The discovery of an object she never knew existed!  The romper above has the Man O’War label, which I’d known only as a maker of middy blouses and gymsuits.  But gymsuits weren’t made in cute cotton floral prints.  So what’s the story?

Fortunately, the seller, Belvedere Vintage Wear had done her homework, and when she posted a photo of the romper on Instagram, she also posted the ad above.  It came from a 1930 issue of The Dance Magazine, so it turns out this was a rehearsal garment.

The  Man O’War label belonged to a Baltimore company,  Branigan, Green & Co.  According the the 1921 edition of The American Cloak and Suit Review, the company was recently formed as a maker of middys and gym attire.  The owners were Edgar Green and Joseph Branigan, both of whom had worked for Morris and Co, the makers of Paul Jones Middys.  I did however, find a reference to  Branigan, Green & Co in a 1909 list of clothing manufacturers, under the category of middy blouses.  Perhaps it is just the Man O’War label that was started in 1921.

In 1921, when the label was started, Man O’War was a household name, with the famous horse dominating racing in 1919 and 1920.  Maybe Branigan and Green thought it would be a great name for their label, as it also had a nautical connection, being a type of ship.  That is a ship on the label.

The structure is very similar to gymsuits of the period.  It unbuttons at the shoulder, and the wearer steps into the garment.  It is loose at the waist, but the illustrations in the ad show it being worn with a tie belt.  For the photo I used a piece of bias tape, but a wider ribbon is needed.

The elastic in the legs is pretty much shot, so I’ll be replacing that.  But that is pretty much all that this piece needs in order to made it dance-worthy.

This ad is from 1929, and featured Man O’War’s main product – gym attire. Maybe it was that by 1930 the middy was not as ubiquitous as it had been a few years before that caused Branigan, Green & Co to start branching out.  By 1931 they were also producing a line of ski wear, Adirondack: the Real McCoy for Winter Sports, and miscellaneous sportswear under a label called Good Game.  Over the years other labels were added. In 1955 they started a label for women’s and children’s sports separates called Sandpipers.  As far as I can tell, the company lasted until 1969.

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