Category Archives: Curiosities

Girls Will Be Boys

Several years ago I ran across Women in Pants by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig.  What I loved about the book was the great variety of photos showing women in pants, from homesteaders who adopted pants as a practicality, to actresses who played male roles, to women who dressed in men’s clothing just so they could have a joke photo made.  Ever since reading the book I’ve been on the lookout for antique photos in which woman were dressed as men, and last week I finally found one.

There was no information at all on the back of this photo, so we can only guess at the intent of the two women who are dressed as men.  And they are dressed as men, not as women who have taken to wearing pants on a regular basis.  With their hair stuck under the hats, and the stance of men with hand in pocket, this seems to be a photo made purely for the fun of it.

Whatever the motivation, it does make for an interesting image.

Interestingly, two people I follow on Instagram also posted antique women dressed as men photos this past week.  One was a family photo in which the poster’s grandmother was one of the women.  It was identified as a photo that the young women had made as a lark.

The other one was a find like mine, with no identification.  The poster assumed that the women were dressed as men because they were transgender.  And while I cannot say with certainty that she was wrong in this assumption, it is much more likely that the women were merely having a fun time making light of the opposite sex.

I think that when it comes to the past, it is easy to assign the knowledge of today’s world when confronted with an unexpected image like Edwardian women dressed as men.  In history it is really easy to take two plus two and come up with five.  I know I’m often guilty of making inaccurate assumptions about the past, but the more I see and the more I read, the better I’ve gotten about seeing the past only through the lense of the past.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing

1960s Beach Bag That Might Be from Coppertone

If you were around in the 1950s and 60s then you probably are familiar with the Coppertone Suntan Lotion slogan, “Don’t Be A Paleface!”  Billboards and magazine ads showed the little girl with her tan line being exposed by an enthusiastic spaniel.  I recently ran across this beach bag, and immediately thought it was a Coppertone item, probably a premium of some type.

On closer examination though, the word “Coppertone” is nowhere to be seen, though there is a bit of a copyright symbol at the bottom of the girl’s right foot.

Weirder still is the image on the other side of the bag.  It shows a woman in a rather modest bikini, and a very exuberant man in matching trunks.  Still no Coppertone logo, though there is a little bottle of suntan lotion on the blanket.

It does look a lot like a Coppertone bottle.

To add to the mystery, there is another version of this bag that does have the word “Coppertone”, and that was somehow associated with the Olympics.  The bag does not reveal the year, but I’m guessing 1964 or 1968.

Since I bought this, I’ve seen ones like it for sale online, and the listings all use the Coppertone connection.  The ad and image were so well-known, that maybe the actual word “Coppertone” was thought to be unnecessary.

Note the squirrel photo-bombing my first photo.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Summer Sports

Adrian Firebird Dress, 1940s

Don’t get too excited for me, because this is not my dress.  It is in the shop of Guermantes Vintage.  This is a fantastic dress, but it gets even better because there is also a great story attached.

It all started when Guermantes Vintage posted photos of the dress on Instagram.  Jan always has the most incredible stuff, and so she has over 33,000 followers who stay tuned to see what her latest find happens to be.  A day or so ago, one of the persons tuning in was @jupeculotte, who is fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank.  Guermantes posted the photo above, which @jupeculotte recognized as an Adrian dress she has examined in the collection of the Smithsonian.  What makes this so fantastic is that Guermantes’s dress is missing its label, and so she did not know until Caroline commented on the photo that she actually had an Adrian dress.

Caroline then sent to Germantes the documentation on the dress she had photographed at the Smithsonian.  Above you can see the photo of the Smithsonian’s dress, along with the card from the museum catalog.  No doubt that this is the same model dress.

What is really interesting is that another person, Melissa of @meloovintage had this dress years ago, and it too was missing the label.   Could it be that the labels were sewn in a spot that was uncomfortable for the wearer?  Maybe the apprentice sewing in the labels did a poor job and they came loose and were lost?

And this is why I love Instagram.

With all the unpleasantness one encounters on the internet, it’s wonderful knowing that the fashion history and the vintage people seem to be in it for all the right reasons.  Sharing knowledge in this way helps educate us all

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Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Viewpoint

1940s White Stag Belt with Pouch

I just could not bring myself to call this a fanny pack, and it would have been wrong of me to do so.  The pouch on a belt concept really caught on sometime in the late 1980s (if memory serves me correctly) but this pouch on a belt dates to probably the early 1940s.  It’s a great example of a find that I didn’t know I needed until I spotted it on Etsy.

 

 

I’ve based my dating on two things.  First, the label is very similar to one I found as part of a 1941 White Stag ad for ski clothing.  After WWII, the White Stag label in ski togs was red with white lettering.  The only time I’ve seen the above logo which is so similar to my label is in that 1941 ad.

Just as important is the Alpine folkloric motif embroidered on the belt.  I’ve written about this in the past, and the next few paragraphs are adapted from an old blog post.

Even though the US was inching toward war with Germany in 1941, there was a vogue for clothing decoration that was similar to that of German, Bavarian, Tyrolean or Swiss motifs. This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.

In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership actively encouraged the wearing of  Germanic folk costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images.  The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.

In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935.  Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes  in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler.  By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the  US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.

As  the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular.  Interesting, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress.

But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US?  I  have some theories.  First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s.  Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular.  The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.

Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets.  It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.

If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.

But all historic and cultural explanation aside, I wanted this because I have a small capsule collection of the Alpine motif garments, and this was a nice addition to that group.  I also have a 1940s gray with red trim ski suit.  What luck!

Thanks to IKnowWhatImWearing on etsy for such a great addition to my collection.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Winter Sports, World War II

Miss America’s New Fashion Collection, 1961

For those of you too young to remember Toni, it was a hair care line with the premier product being the Toni Home Permanent.  For years the company had an ad campaign in which identical twins tried to fool you as you guessed, “Which twin had the Toni?”

This 1961 booklet from Toni doesn’t feature twins, but it does have the reining Miss America, Nancy Anne Fleming.  In the early 1960s, the Miss America contest was a very big deal, so it must have been an advertising coup for Toni to have her represent their products.  But it’s not just Toni.  As you can see, McCall’s Patterns and Everglaze Fabrics teamed up for this interesting campaign.

The pattern and sewing machine companies must have been really excited about Fleming being chosen Miss America.  In one of the most original talent presentations ever, Fleming took a rack of clothes she had sewn herself onto the stage, and did a little fashion presentation.   It was like a commercial for home sewing.

And the promotion of sewing by Fleming didn’t stop after she won the coveted crown.  In this booklet, she not only talks about sewing, but also models a collection of eight designs that McCall’s called the Miss America Collection.  Each design was made of Everglaze fabrics, and a new hairdo was designed for each outfit, complete with roller setting instructions.

Some of the outfits and the hair styles are too old for a nineteen-year-old, but others, like the two above show just how youthful early 60s fashion could be.

Do they still refer to Miss America as a “queen” or has that fallen by the wayside?

It’s possible that this booklet was included in specially marked packages of Toni.  In the back there is a coupon for a free pattern from the collection, along with a reminder that “Everglaze fabrics are among America’s favorite cottons.”

After her reign was over and she crowned the 1962 Miss America, Maria Fletcher of Asheville, Fleming used her scholarship to attend Michigan State, where she graduated in 1965.  She was married, had two kids and a career in broadcasting.  She was on an episode of the Love Boat in the 1980s, and married for a second time to Jim Lange, the longtime host of The Dating Game.  Today she lives in California.  I wonder if she still sews.

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Filed under Ad Campaign, Curiosities, Vintage Sewing

Swimming Tights by Annette Kellerman

Okay, I know that the garment above doesn’t look like a big deal, but appearances can really deceive.  In 1905 when other women around the world were wearing dress and bloomer bathing suits, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman introduced Europe to the one-piece swimming suit for women.  At the time, even most men were still wearing two-piece bathing suits, consisting of knit trunks that came to the knee with a long tee shirt on top.

But in Australia, competitive swimmers, both male and female, had begun wearing one-piece knit suits for the sport.  When Kellerman went to England in 1905 for a swimming exhibition, she found a much stricter set of rules for women swimmers.  In order to perform, she took a pair of black stockings and sewed them to her suit to provide more coverage.  She was then allowed to perform.

This 1914 ad shows the famous suit

Two years later Kellerman gained notoriety when she appeared on a beach near Boston, and was promptly arrested for indecency.  At her hearing she argued that swimming was a healthful exercise, but that bulky bathing suits did not allow one to swim.  The judge agreed, provided she agreed to wear a robe when not in the water.

Note: On the Powerhouse Museum website, the notes for an Annette Kellermann suit in their collection state, “…the story that she got herself arrested at Boston’s Revere Beach for wearing a one-piece bathing suit is not supported by evidence.”  The story is often repeated, and Kellerman herself related the tale in a 1953 interview.  

By this time Kellerman was quite famous, and so the time was right to capitalize on her name.  The right deal came along in the form of Asbury Mills, who for about twenty years made Annette Kellermann swimsuits.  The early ones were very similar to what she had been wearing, but by the late 1910s, the products were more like the standard 1920s swimsuit for women.  In fact, one Australian site credits Kellerman with coming up with the one-piece suit with the attached overskirt.

My suit has a deeply scooped neck of the type Kellerman seemed to favor.  The photos of her in her very early suits show a small cap sleeve instead of my sleeveless version.

The description of the suit on the site where I found it read that the waist seam stitches were broken.  When I received the suit I realized that there was no waist seam originally and that a former owner had put the seam it to shorten it.  There was so little of the seam left that I made the decision to remove it.

Whenever I have a garment that has alterations or damage, I have to decide what, if anything, to do about it.  Many times I leave it as is, but in this case I wanted the swimsuit returned, as much as possible, to the original state.

I say as close as possible, because the seam did leave a crease and a faint faded area.

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has an extensive collection of Kellerman material, including many of the costumes she wore in movies and public performances.  Starting August 10, much of it will be on display at the museum.

You might have noticed that I used two different spellings of Annette’s name.  While she generally spelled Kellerman with one N, she did use two N’s on her label and in her books.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

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