Category Archives: Curiosities

Associated Fabrics Corporation, 1939 Creations for the Dance

Dance costumes are a bit out of my area of knowledge, but I just can’t resist a book of fabric swatches.  Today, you would not find a fabric store located at 723 Seventh Avenue, as it is along Times Square, but in 1939 I’m sure a lot of Broadway costume designers patronized Associated Fabrics as it was so convenient to the theaters.

What is remarkable is that Associated Fabrics is still in business, though the company is now located in New Jersey.  They still are a supplier of theatrical fabrics, and according to their website, they now specialize in Spandex.

Associated Fabrics was founded in 1928, not an especially great time for a new business.  They somehow weathered the Great Depression and eventually became the largest theatrical fabrics company in the world.

I always learn something new when looking through a great old vintage reference like this catalog.  Tarletane is, evidently, a starched, net-like muslin.

Metallic and lame’ fabrics were very popular in the 1920s for evening wear, but you don’t see them as often in clothes of the 1930s.  My guess is that they were expensive to produce.  None of the “sparkle fabrics” above are true metallics.

These sparkles are fantastic.  The glitter was just glued on, but whatever glue they used still has staying power.

For even more sparkle, Associated offered sparkle shapes and tape that the costumer could apply to an otherwise plain fabric.

Just look at the range of colors available in duvetyne.  Duvetyne is brushed on one side, like flannel, and these samples appear to be made from cotton.

Yes, these are real silk.

And here’s a selection of rayon.

But probably the most interesting page in the catalog contains no swatches at all.  According to the Associated Fabrics website, just before WWII they were the first company to offer florescent fabrics in the USA.  Here you see the concept, where the fabric was printed to look one way under regular lighting, but under UV lights, a different pattern appeared.  This must have been amazing for audiences in 1939!

 

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The Trickle-down Effect

I don’t believe in trickle-down economics, but I do believe in trickle-down fashion.  In his fall, 1965 collection, Yves Saint Laurent included six dresses that were an hommage to artist Mondrian.  One of the dresses was on the cover of French Vogue in September 1965, and by February there was a sewing pattern available from Vogue patterns.  None of that is surprising, but what is a bit of a revelation is how quickly this dress made it to the mass market.

All of the items in today’s post are from the spring and summer 1966 JC Penney catalog.  This was a catalog that was in homes by the beginning of the season, and so was surely in the works before the end of 1965.  The decision to knock-off the idea must have been made soon after the styles were first shown.

Not only were the styles directly copied, they were also adapted to other garments like tops and skirts, and different colorways were used, apart from the primary colors plus black and white seen in the Yves Saint Laurent originals.

There were even styles for little girls, including accessories.  What about that handbag, and those sunglasses, and that triangle scarf?  A fifth grader was less than nine dollars away from a couture look costing thousands.

 

The Mondrian dress was available in sizes as small as a little girl’s three.

Some of the ad copy referenced Mondrian, while others did not.  Yves Saint Laurent was not mentioned, of course, but some of the copy did mention that this was a look straight from Paris.

It would be interesting to actually see one of these dresses and to examine how it was made.  The YSL originals were pieced, but I suspect these were made from fabric that was printed with the color-blocking, or maybe even with the color blocks and black stripes applied on top of the white base.  At $6 for a woman’s dress and $3.90 for the child’s, it does not seem possible that the time intensive process of piecing would have been feasible.

The trend was short lived.  There were no Mondrian/Saint Laurent designs in the fall winter 1966 JC Penney catalog, and none the following spring either.  If you were to find a vintage ready-to-wear dress of this style, I think it’s pretty safe to say it would be from 1966.

I’ve got to wonder if women wanted to continue wearing these dresses, seeing as how they were so connected to one specific season.  I’m pretty sure that anyone who made the Vogue version wouldn’t have easily given it up, as the pattern was pieced, and was quite difficult to make.  But at $6, I’m betting a lot of the mass market models went straight to the back of the closet.

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Collis Improved Cushion Ankle Support

Sometimes I don’t know how I manage to run across the forgotten and obscure bits of sportswear history, but I’m glad I do.  In this case, it was an item I had no idea even existed – an ankle support.  But HippieSewingMama had it for sale on ebay, and I somehow located it, and now it’s a part of my collection.

For all athletic purposes, though I suspect that even large ladies would not have been using this to help out in a football game.

The support is actually a soft brace, sturdy enough to actually help someone suffering from wobbly ankles.  It’s made from a strong cotton, and is padded.

Henry James Collis of Taunton, Massachusetts made  his first ankle brace in 1906, but the original design was rejected by the patent office as a very similar brace predated his.  He was eventually able to get his patent (note that my box reads “Design Protected”) and over the next few years he continued to patent improvements to the original design.

My ankle support does not have the vertical lines shown as numbers 14 and 15 in the drawing.  These were pockets for “removable stiffening strips” and I imagine many of them were actually removed as the idea seems a bit uncomfortable to me.

The view from the front.

I’m not sure how long Collis made his ankle supports, but here they are in a 1935 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog.  According to this ad, the removable stiffening strips were reeds.  Like I said earlier, uncomfortable!

I have found out very little about Henry James Collis.  He was born in Great Britain in 1873, and died in Massachusetts in 1960.  He held patents not only for ankle supports, but also wrist supports, padded skate straps, an improved watch fob strap, and billfolds.  A search on ebay turned up several canvas items with a H.J. Collis label, including a fishing creel, a game bag, and a holder for fishing flies.  In other words, Collis was a manufacturer of canvas sporting accessories.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler

When the going gets tough, the tough shop for vintage.  As usual, I spotted some really interesting things.  The table croquet set above is complete in the original box.  I am guessing that it dates to the 1880s, but could use some help narrowing down the date.  Click the photo to get a better look at the beautiful label.

In the same store was this cracker box lid.  I loved the big dog carrying the basket of crackers for the child.

Child clothing experts, is this a girl or a boy, or is it impossible to tell?

Progressing through time to the 1940s, I loved how a very fashionable woman was being used to sell Skrip ink.  “Individuality with Color”

This early 1940s (or very late 1930s) sure has shades of  Scarlett O’Hara wearing the drapery.  Gone with the Wind was released in 1939, and of course fashion was influenced.

WWII era instruction book for making hats, or rather, “Fascinating Toppers.”

If I were not so fascinated with clothing, I think I’d collect Edwardian books just for the decorative appeal.  1907

Tammis Keffe is probably remembered more for the whimsical hankies she designed in the 1950s, but she also did work for household linens companies.

Will you have that cocktail on ice?

I’m sorry about the quality of this photo, but windows are impossible when the sun is shining.  I simply could not pass up a vintage sewing themed window, spotted in an antique store.

Even more vintage sewing.  I’ve been tempted to actually buy and use one of these folding sewing stands.

I must have had sewing on my mind.  This box is covered with a Grandma Moses print.  In the 1950s the Riverdale Fabric Company made home furnishing fabrics using Moses’ paintings as the print.

Spotted in a photo album, this photo of a woman circa 1930 was of interest because I own a similar pyjama.

All this talk about shopping has put me in the mood for a trip out to the stores.  Who needs Black Friday!

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1940s Hat with Everything

So when the mood of today’s hats seem frivolous it may be a kind of singing in the dark, the expression of an effort to put a bit of gaity into a world burdened with problems.

It might seem that the above words could have been written today, but actually the year was 1943.  The world was embroiled in a horrible conflict that required the citizens of the world to be brave, and to present a brave face even in the midst of fear.  Teacher and writer Grace Margaret Morton wrote the words in her book, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance.  They sum up perfectly the view many women both in the US and Canada, and in Europe took in response to fear and grave danger.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past several days looking at fashions from the 1940s, with a focus on the top and the bottom – the hats and the shoes.  By 1943 women’s shoes were terribly practical, with oxford styles and mid to low heel heights prevailing in the fashion magazines.  Colors were very limited, with most styles available only in black and brown.

Hats, on the opposite end of the scale, were fanciful and they varied widely in style.  Most prevalent was a modified form of the fedora, but women could buy hats in almost every shape and form imaginable.  Berets and turbans, tiny tilt hats that hovered over the eyes, and towering toques that had to be shaped on a stiffened form were available.

The difference in shoes and hats was based somewhat on the materials used to make them.  The leather for shoes was in short supply, but hats could be made in many different fabrics, most of which were not rationed.

As a sportswear collector, I do not seek out fancy and elaborate hats and accessories, but when I run across something really great, that I feel helps tell a story, then I can’t resist adding it to my horde.  Such is the case with this hat.

It has a little bit of everything.  The general shape is that of a Juliet cap, a form that was popular with young American women and teens.  But the creator didn’t stop with the addition of sequins and ribbon.  To the lower back of the cap, a looping fringe was added, perhaps simulating longer hair.

But what really sold me on this hat was the cut-out heart on the back of the cap.  This hat was a real attention-getter!

My new hat has three labels – the size, the store, Scherman Fifth Avenue, and a New York Creations label.  I could not find any concrete information about Scherman, but most of the hats I found for sale with the label were from the 1940s and early 1950s.  There was also a hat label for Eugene Scherman from the same era.  In addition, I located a reference to a E.H. Scherman hat shop located on West 37th Street in 1922.

I have no way of knowing at present if the three different references are related, but the search continues.  I would appreciate any information any reader might know or run across about Scherman.

 

The most extreme hats of WWII were those worn by French women.  To learn more about how the French used hats as a protest against German occupation, listen to this Missed in History podcast with fashion historian April Calahan.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, World War II

Textile Classification and Weave Analysis Cards, 1915

I had an interesting estate sale find recently.  The card above was only one of about one hundred cards with fabric samples.  What makes these so interesting is that these were part of the coursework at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee.  The cards were completed in 1915 by student Mamie Newman.

The cards were designed by Blanche E. Hyde.  The only information I’ve been able to gather about Ms. Hyde is that she was a teacher at Peabody.  My guess is that she was in the department of home economics.

In addition to Miss Newman’s notes, some of the cards have corrections written in by the instructor.  Ms. Hyde, perhaps?  Miss Newman misidentified the chambray, and noted that it was of average quality.  The teacher’s opinion was that this fabric was below average in quality.  I just know I’d love to find a chambray of this quality today.

The cards with their little textile swatches are delightful, and give a great view of the types of fabrics available in 1915.  Is cotton crepe even manufactured today?

Some of the card describe weave patterns, like this plaid.  Today we think of gingham as a two color, or most often white with a color, check.  Once upon a time gingham was a stripe, but gradually plaids were woven, and today, the fabric is primarily made as a check.

I wish I could say that I brought home all the cards, but that was not meant to be.  The estate company had priced these individually, and to have bought them all would have been around $300!  Still, I did think it was worth purchasing a few as great examples of the type of work  young women in home economics were required to do.  I can just picture the girls in the local dry goods store, driving the proprietor crazy with their swatch collecting.

 

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Mrs. William Stock Wearing a Familiar Looking Dress

I’m in the process of organizing and making good digital copies of my photograph collection.  Actually, I’m waiting for a big snowstorm that will force me to actually stay at home and accomplish the task, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I have been reviewing and categorizing each photo, and when I came to this one, I did a bit of a double-take.  Mrs. Stock’s dress looked very familiar.  Then it hit me.  I have that dress.

The dress is a rayon print with travel tags: Paris, Salzburg, Marrakesh, Edinburgh, and Venice.

It’s 1950s in every way possible, from the pink and olive green used in the print, to the fonts of the words, to the line drawings.  And the design of the dress – actually a skirt and blouse – is also typical of the 1950s.

My dress has no label, but it was commercially made.  I’ve seen the print in another colorway, and in a different type garment – a much fuller skirt.  That’s not uncommon, as a fabric design was often not only used by more than one company, and it might have been offered to home dressmakers as well.

Click to enlarge

Here’s a closer look at Mrs. Stock and her dress.  I love that we can see how she accessorized the dress, with her pearls, bracelet, and especially, the belt.  It’s the only piece that does not match!

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