Category Archives: Curiosities

Keds Display Ideas. 1940

It seems like someone is always trying to sell us something. With the internet and companies tracking our every click, we are subjected to targeted ads everytime we open a digital device. Websites we visit are covered with display ads.  There’s nothing subtle about it.

Stores have always known that to sell a product, the consumer has to notice it. Store windows have been designed to draw people into stores, and once in the store, displays are set up to attract attention. It’s true today, and it was true in 1940,when the footwear manager of sales at Keds sent out a portfolio of suggested ways to promote Keds in windows and in the stores that sold them.

As you will see, there was a central theme that stores were being encouraged to emphasize. Can you spot what the theme is?

All the displays were built around several counter display cards like the two seen above. I’ll guess that the cards were a part of the display package that included my display booklet. The above display was titled Gardening and Leisure.

Vacation and Camp features a counter card with hikers. I wonder where they got that little tent.

Keds are also great for leisure hours, but who in their right mind thought doing laundry in a wringer washer was part of leisure? It’s obvious that Mr. Adman never did a load of washing in one of those monsters.

The booklet also had suggestions for the Kedettes line of shoes. Kedettes was still made of canvas, but were a step dressier than sneakers. Here’s the consumer is reminded that Kedettes go well with one’s playtogs, like that playsuit.

There was even a display suggestion for the piece goods department.  I really wish these photo were in color. I’ve seen these shoes in vintage magazine ads and they are so bright and colorful.

There were also suggestions on how to pair Kedettes with hosiery. Somehow I can’t quite picture these comfortable shoes paired up with a girdle and stockings, but then I’m looking at this through modern eyes and a more casual mode of dress.

So, if you were so busy admiring the photos that you forgot to think about the common theme, it is washable, here spelled out in washing powder. So that explains the washing machine in the leisure display, and the tub of cotton suds and tiny washboard.  I can’t imagine putting these shoes in a washing machine, as was implied, as a gentle hand wash is all I’d dare expose my Kedettes to!

Added 1941 ad:

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Shoes

Women’s Softball, 1938

A while ago I found an interesting item at a local antique mall, a 1938 scorecard for women’s softball games at Madison Square Garden. There was a league – the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League, and other leagues across the country as well. Because of the movie, A League of Their Own, the All American Girls Baseball League of the 1940s is well-known, but I’d never heard of  a women’s softball league.

Growing up, I was well acquainted with fast-pitch softball. Our local YMCA, which was administered by the town’s primary employer, Champion Fiber and Paper, fielded a team, the Champions of Canton.  It was a team of men, and I don’t remember there ever being a woman’s team.

The Champions were big in Canton. Rumor had it that any excellent ball player could get a job at the paper mill, and I’m sure that’s the way it worked all over the country. Many factories and other businesses had softball teams, and competition for the best players was high.

After finding the scorecard, I went on an internet search for information about the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League. The best find was a series of photos of the New York Roverettes and the Americanettes with Babe Ruth, taken in 1938, the same year as my scorecard.  (I linked to the photos, because I don’t use photos from Getty on my blog. They have been known to sue.)

The uniforms were interesting and quite flashy, being made of colorful satin fabric. By the late 1930s most women’s teams had adopted shorts, but some more conservative communities in New England and in Arizona’s Cactus League fielded their women’s teams in long pants.

Wanting more information led me to Erica Westly’s book, Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game. Westly tells of how softball started as an indoor sport, but by the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, it had moved outdoors. It was the 1933 Fair that helped popularize the game. In 1938 it was again played indoors, at Madison Square Garden. In biweekly games the New York Roverettes would play visiting teams from around the country and Canada.

The back of the program gives us a look at the types of businesses that sponsored teams. The Num Num Girls of Cleveland were sponsored by a potato chip maker. The Newark Poppy Mills was a knitting factory.

Here’s the scorecard of the International game between the Toronto Langley-Lakesides and the Roverettes. Interesting that all the coaches and managers were men, though that began to change in the 1950s when women were allowed in the management ranks, and for the first time, Black women were allowed on the teams.

South Bend Blue Sox Baseball Dress, worn by Besty Jochum, National Museum of American History, catalog #1983.0183.01

Fastpitch gives a good look at the origins of The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  Started in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley in order to keep revenue flowing through Wrigley Field during the war, it was originally a softball league. The name was changed to baseball, and the rules were a mix of both games. Wrigley came up with the idea of the players wearing skirts with little bloomers beneath. He felt like skirts were more womanly.

He also mandated that the players could not wear slacks off the field, and they must always wear makeup and lipstick, and wear high heels when not playing. There were lots of rules, but the pay was good. Many of the best softball players gave up their satin shorts to play in Wrigley’s league.

Seeing the Smithsonian’s South Bend Blue Sox baseball dress made me wonder if any of the much more common satin shorts ensembles are in any museum collections. I found a site for the National Softball Hall of Fame which is located in Oklahoma City, but there is little information on the site about the collection. I would bet that there are many located in local historical society collections. Get in touch if you know of one.

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Filed under Curiosities, Sportswear, Summer Sports

WWII English Siren Suit

A lot of the fashion origin stories one encounters are not entirely true, but the one about pants for women being popularized during the World War Two years is pretty much accurate. Many Western women had been wearing pants of some form since the middle of the nineteenth century, and as the 1940s approached, more women were wearing pants for sports, leisure, and work. But it wasn’t until war broke out that more and more women began wearing pants as they took over jobs traditionally allotted to men.

Women had been wearing pants as part of a pajama suit since at least the 1910s, but WWII brought a new nighttime pants suit to those in England and France – the siren suit. The siren suit was designed to go over one’s nightie in case the air raid sirens went off and it became necessary to head for the nearest shelter.

The siren suit (I’ve also seen it referred to as a blitz suit) was designed for speed of dressing, comfort, and warmth. The style above shows buttons or snaps, but most examples I’ve seen in photos show the suit as having a long front zipper. Most styles have multiple pockets in which to stow essentials that may be needed during the time in shelter. Many also had hoods, and were made of warm fabrics.

Which brings me to this garment, one of the newest additions to my collection. I recently was the high bidder on a few lots from an auction house that specializes in old clothes and textiles. I always enjoy this auction’s offerings, as they usually have nice sporting things. This last auction was no exception, so I sent in a few bids and crossed my fingers.

The jumpsuit was paired with a 1930s outdoors ensemble from the 1930s, consisting of pants, jacket, and matching hat. I wanted that set, and to be honest, didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the jumpsuit. It was described as being a 1940s one-piece ski suit.

When the package arrived, I acted like a kid on Christmas morning, and then got down to the work of examining each piece. When I picked up this one, I immediately got the feeling that this was no ski suit. Actually, I should have noticed this just from the photos, but like I said, I was distracted by the other piece.

On reflection, I realized that I’d never seen a photo of a woman’s one-piece ski suit from the 1940s. That does not mean this type was not made, only that if they were, they had escaped my attention in the many hours I’ve spent looking in fashion magazines and catalogs. Then I started thinking about the legs of my new suit. A ski suit has to have leg hems that are narrow, to keep the snow out. These are anything but narrow.

At this point I knew it was time to look at the details. First up was the center front zipper. The pull had an odd shape (not too unusual for earlier zippers) and I got out my new magnifier to read the brand name stamped on it. The brand is Lightning. This was the first clue this item was not manufactured in the US, as Lightning zippers were made in England.

There are also two zippers on the back, as this jumpsuit has a drop-flap to aid in the use of the toilet.  My apologies about this photo as it is upside-down, but it has a very useful patent number and the words “Made in ENG”. Actually the patent number, 472518, has escaped me, and I’ve searched both US and UK patents.

I put the patent search on hold and took another look at the interior of the garment. The edges were serged, or overlocked, but in a style of stitch with which I am unfamiliar. Again, this points to a foreign manufacture.

I finally began to see the light. Big, functional pockets, a front zipper, wide legs, and a drop seat all told me this was not a ski suit. The fact that it was most probably made in England pointed to the siren suit, a garment you’d not expect to see in the US.

As I stated, I’ve never seen a one piece ski suit for adults of this era. Women were wearing jumpsuits and overalls for work, and these, while not terribly common, are found in the US fairly easily. But they are made from cotton or lightweight gabardine of wool, sometimes with cotton mixed in. This is a nice, textured wool and is quite hefty.

The drop seat also makes no sense in a ski suit. After skiing where you get wet (and this fabric would really make the snow cling) and cold, and you would change into something dry as soon as possible.

A former owner had sewn the flap shut. I can see why, especially if it has been worn in recent years as a jumpsuit. There is a bit of a gap between zipper and buttons. There is also a bit of a belt loop that was hidden under the stitches. I’m assuming there was a matching belt.

And speaking of buttons – these are not the originals. They are modern replacements, and while they match nicely, the buttons on the flap are too large for the holes.

There are four roomy pockets, and this one on the chest has a bit of a pocket within a pocket. Could it be for eyeglasses?

The other pockets expand to hold things and each has a single button closure. If you were headed to the air raid shelter, these pockets would be very practical, and could hold everything from your identification papers to a snack.

But these pockets make no sense on a ski suit, where the patch pockets are not secure enough to keep things safe while hurtling down a mountain. Most ski pants and jackets have deep inset pockets, and these are generally zippered.

The presence of a hood certainly seems to say “outdoors wear” but this hood is quite loose around the head, and there is no way to secure it. A ski hood or cap would tie or fit snugly on the head.

It would be warm, though!

In spite of the wrong buttons, the missing belt, and the mis-attribution of the piece, I’m very happy with this purchase. I already have quite a few ski ensembles, but where would I ever find a siren suit?

Thanks so much to Jonathan Walford at the Fashion History Museum for the help. Also, the photo of the pattern is not mine, and since I found it on Pinterest, I can’t locate the origin. My apologies to the owner.

UPDATE: The pattern belongs to Miss Rayne, and she has graciously agreed to let me use it.

 

 

 

 

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

When Casual Corner Was Cool – 1973

We all remember Casual Corner, don’t we? Twenty years ago it was the blandest of all the boring shops at your local shopping mall. But if you are old enough, you can remember when Casual Corner was young and hip.

I can remember very clearly the Casual Corner at McAllister Square Mall in Greenville, South Carolina. When I was a kid we drove down to Greenville occasionally to outlet shop and to visit cousins. By the early 70s we added McAllister Square to the mix. Shopping malls were a new thing, and Asheville didn’t even have one yet, so all your modern shopping happened on trips to Greenville or Atlanta.

Casual Corner was first on my list of places to browse. I can recall buying only one item in all the years I loved the store because most of what they carried was over my budget. But once they were having a really great sale, and I bought a printed sheer cotton blouse, with purple and pink romantically entwined flowers. I could have made this myself, but it was a big treat having a blouse from my favorite place of sewing inspiration. I wore it until it fell apart.

By the time Casual Corner closed in 2005, it was more of a store for career women. Most of the inventory was their own brand of goods. But in the 1970s Casual Corner carried lots of brands that are remembered fondly by girls of the Seventies – Whiting and Davis bags, Organically Grown, Levi Strauss, Sweet Baby Jane, and Happy Legs were just a few of them.

I was pretty happy to run across this catalog from the 1970s on eBay. It’s just the sort of whimsy I associated with Casual Corner. There is no date anywhere, but from the beginning I was convinced this was from 1973, the year I started college. More on that later. First, the clothes…

I’m not going to make many comments about each page, as these clothes pretty much sum up what young women and girls wanted to wear in 1973. It was all about nostalgia and if you don’t see the 1940s in these designs, then look again. From the platform shoes to the puffed shoulders, 1973 was all about the idea of the 1940s.

Were the pants legs really that wide? Well, no, but we thought they were, especially as they swished around the tall platforms, making us look six inches taller.

There was also a bit of a cartoon vibe to 1973. And this was before smoking became such a touchy subject. I wouldn’t have blinked at the smoking image on this “wrappy satin top with angel sleeves.”

Here’s more 1940s in the form of a turban, mixed with a bit of a 1920s biplane.

Wrap sweaters were also very big, and stayed in style for the next few years. I made my own, having access to great chunky knit fabric in the knitting mills’ outlet stores.

Here’s another reference to smoking, and the Camel logo is also a bit of a 40s throwback. We all thought people who smoked Camels had to be WWII vets.

My heart skipped a beat when I read the description of the cardigan at the bottom of the page. It’s the 1970s sweater of my dreams.

I really enjoy the tourist sweater too, with scintillating strips and city names (New York, Miami, San Francisco) knitted in lurex.

Could that be the start of the leisure suit? And that sweater at bottom? I had similar ones in every color. We loved the Fair Isle look.

When I got to this page I knew I had an image to confirm the dating of the catalog. The Charlie Chaplin bag was made by Whiting & Davis, and the story goes that this bag and others that featured silent screen stars had to be pulled from production due to copyright infringement. Because of that, the bags are pretty rare today, plus the fact that they cost $20, which was a lot of money then.

I knew I had an image of this bag in a 1970s Seventeen magazine, but rather than head to the magazine stacks, I took the shortcut of an internet search. What I found was surprising. Several websites dated this bag to 1976. The more I looked and read, the more I realized this is a case of information being copied and re-copied from the same original source.

All that sent me to the magazines stacks – the place I should have gone to in the first place. I started with 1973, and there was the photo I needed, in the November, 1973 issue of Seventeen.  This confirms that my catalog is indeed from 1973.

As for the 1976 date, the only way that could be true is if Whiting & Davis re-released the bag that year. I tend to think not, but I’m open to being corrected.

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Filed under Curiosities, Shopping

The Art of Reweaving

This swatch is on the reverse side of a very lovely vintage skirt. You are looking at one of the best examples of reweaving I’ve ever seen.

Here is the front of the same section of the skirt. Don’t bother looking for the mends as they are completely invisible. Reweaving is one of those skills that sounds simple to acquire, but is, in fact, quite difficult to do properly. I know because I’ve tried, with varying success. I would never attempt to reweave such a complicated and finely woven plaid.

In this enlargement you can better see how the reweaver used a needle to replicate the pattern. And in the center is the hole. Reweaving is still practiced today, but be prepared to pay for the service. This is highly skilled  work.

And here’s the suit, part of the collection at Style and Salvage, a local vintage business. I love visiting and watching them work because there is always something new to see and to learn.

I can see why the original owner had this suit repaired. It is a great set, and she bought it at Miller’s, THE department store in Knoxville, Tennessee. And this was during the time that people did not see their clothing as being disposable. Repairs were considered part of the upkeep of nice things.

The curve of the collar is repeated in the pockets.

I’m not familiar with the maker, Elynor, but a trip to the trademark site told me the company first used the name in 1927. It was one of the many quality suit makers in the New York Garment District.

Stroock was, as the label clearly proclaims, a fine woolen cloth manufacturer. The history of the company dates back to 1866 as a maker of blankets of fine fibers including cashmere and vicuna.

Thanks to Mel and Jeff at Style and Salvage for allowing me to share this great suit.

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Filed under Curiosities, manufacturing, Sewing

Calamity Jane’s Duds: Historical Center’s Exciting Discovery

Usually a back issue of True West magazine would not interest me, but this one found at the Goodwill Treasure Center caught my eye with the word “Duds”.  And then there was a photo of some interesting looking clothing along with Ms. Calamity herself.

Note the publication date of 1990. This was pretty much pre-internet, and so the nature of research was very different than a search of this nature would be today. in 1989 Elizabeth A. Brink, researcher at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming was given the task of determining whether three garments thought to have belonged to Calamity Jane were, in fact, hers.

The items had come to the Cody Center from the collection of artist Frederic Remington.  According to an 1897 inventory of Remington’s studio, there were no items belonging to Calamity Jane. But a 1916 catalog of the contents listed her vest, coat, and trousers.

Brink turned to photographs to see if any of the objects at the Cody Center matched up with garments Calamity Jane wore in publicity shots. Brink was able to locate around two dozen shots of Jane, most of which are easily accessed today on the internet. In 1989 Brink had to rely on the Center’s library, which fortunately, was up to the task.

In three of the photos Calamity Jane is wearing the outfit above, a coat, vest, and trousers. That certainly sounded promising. In fact, enough of the decorated vest was showing so that Brink was able to positively identify it as being the vest in the Bill Cody Historical Center’s collection.

To add to the evidence, both in the photo and on the garment, the third button down is missing.

Brink then turned her attention to the coat. A garment in the collection, a pullover shirt with beaded American flag decorations was labeled as being the coat. But there was no such garment evident in the known Calamity Jane photos. Encouraged by the presence of the vest, Brink decided to closely examine the other garments in the Remington collection.

She found a coat that was very similar to the one Calamity Jane wore over the vest in the three photos. In the old photos, there was fur at the cuffs, but no fur was present on the existing coat. However, a close examination of the sleeves revealed needle holes and threads where fur could have one time been attached. She was also able to match up the tear on the lower front seen in the photo with a repair in the garment. The final clue that this was Calamity Jane’s coat was found in the buttonholes, which had a distinctive pattern, with some being vertical, but others being horizontal.

The pants were also mislabeled, but another search found a different pair that matched those being worn in the photographs. They were identified by the matching brass buttons and a patch on the left leg.

I went on a search for an online version of this story, and was unable to locate it. The article by researcher Brink is referred to in much of the literature on Calamity Jane, but I felt that this great story needed a presence on the WWW.

 

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Museums, Vintage Photographs

Late 1940s Photographic Prints on Fabric

Late in 1947 the big news on the textiles front was the development of a process that allowed photographs to be printed on fabric. It was so big that Life magazine reported on the new printing processes in December of 1947. Today, photos printed on fabrics are everywhere, and one can even do it at home on their own computer. And when I think of vintage photo prints, I tend to think of those from the 1970s that were printed on polyester knits.

Occasionally a photo printed piece from the 1940s surfaces on the market. Most of the ones I have seen are multiple photos of a place. I have seen prints of San Francisco and of Seattle. I have also seen a fabric that had a variety of travel destinations. And at the present time there are Florida and Hawaii themed photo print garments for sale on eBay.

I had been wanting to add one of these unusual prints to my collection, but had been holding out for a woman’s garment in a travel print. As luck would have it, I stumbled on a sports themed print on a scarf instead.

This scarf is from the late 1940s or early 50s, and seems to be printed on parachute silk. I say seems to be because there is not enough available random fiber to do a burn test. The other alternative is that this is a thin and crisp acetate.

I especially love that most of the sports people are women, and that they are dressed in practical clothing for active sports.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities